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Analyzing the Top 5 Draft Classes of 2023





The MLB draft is truly one of the most confusing events in all of sports. The intricacies of it are hard to understand for both the casual fan and professional evaluators. As opposed to the straightforwardness of the NBA, NFL, and NHL drafts where the best player available is almost always picked, countless factors go into an MLB draft pick. It’s incredibly difficult to predict what will unfold on draft night with even the best of mock drafts struggling to get more than five picks right. Here’s a quick look at the five best team draft classes in my opinion and the drafting strategies they took to get there.


#1, Milwaukee Brewers


First 5 Picks:


Brock Wilken, 3B, Wake Forest

Josh Knoth, RHP, Patchogue Medford HS

Mike Boeve, 3B, Nebraska-Omaha

Eric Bitonti, SS, Aquinas HS

Jason Woodward, RHP, Florida Gulf Coast


Best Non-Top 5 Pick:


Cooper Pratt, SS, Magnolia Heights


Strategy


The Brewers used a classic MLB draft strategy where they went under slot value in their early-round picks in order to sign more talented players in later rounds. This is commonly used among small market teams and teams looking to build depth throughout their system. Instead of acquiring a potential superstar in the first round, the Brewers opted for a solid, yet affordable option in Brock Wilken. This allowed them to spread the wealth and buy down both Eric Bitonti and Cooper Pratt. The prep infielders both graded out as second-round picks on most draft boards but Milwaukee was able to grab them in the third and sixth rounds respectively. The Brewers played this strategy about as effectively as anyone could as they got solid quality throughout the draft while also being able to add some high-upside players.


#2, Tampa Bay Rays


First 5 Picks:


Brayden Taylor, SS, TCU

Adrian Santana, SS, Doral Academy

Colton Ledbetter, OF, Mississippi State

Tre Morgan, 1B, LSU

Hunter Haas, SS, Texas A&M


Best Non-Top 5 Pick:


Trevor Harrison, RHP, JW Mitchell


Strategy


It’s no surprise that the Brewers and Rays top the list of best draft classes as they both are organizations that play in small markets and find success through smart drafting and strong player development. The Rays took a similar approach to the Brewers but in a less obvious way. As opposed to saving a ton of money with their first pick, they got each of their first five picks slightly under slot value. While none of the picks looked like big discounts, the total money saved allowed them to buy big on Trevor Harrison in the 5th round. This is similar to the Rays strategy in most years and it has worked incredibly well for them. Tampa also acquired T.J. Nichols and Drew Dowd who were both quite solid in PAC-12 play and who had hype significantly above where they got picked.


#3, Washington Nationals


First 5 Picks:


Dylan Crews, OF, LSU

Yohandy Morales, 3B, Miami

Travis Sykora, RHP, Round Rock HS

Andrew Pinckney, OF, Alabama

Marcus Brown, SS, Oklahoma State


Best Non-Top 5 Pick:


Liam Sullivan, LHP, Georgia


Strategy:


Going into the draft cycle, no one would’ve believed that Dylan Crews could possibly fall to the Nats with the second pick. He seemed like the most surefire number 1 overall pick in years. However, as mentioned earlier, the MLB draft is so ridiculously unpredictable. Mike Rizzo and other members of the Nats' front office were likely thrilled to be able to get the best player in the draft in the second round. Washington went with a very different bonus pool strategy as they went over slot in each of the first three rounds and looked to save money later down the board. This is pretty much the exact opposite of what Milwaukee did. The key to this strategy is acquiring massive talent in early picks. The Nationals were successful as they added the best player in the class, a slugger who fell too far in Morales, and a high-upside fireballer in Sykora. Most of the cheaper college talent Washington acquired were viewed as good picks and graded out as a good draft as a whole.


#4, Miami Marlins


First 5 Picks:


Noble Meyer, RHP, Jesuit High

Thomas White, LHP, Phillips Academy

Kemp Alderman, OF, Mississippi

Brock Vradenburg, 1B, Michigan State

Emmett Olson, LHP, Nebraska


Best Non-Top 5 Pick:


Colby Shade, OF, Oregon


Strategy:


The Marlins cut one of the most unbelievable deals I’ve seen in recent draft history and I have no clue how to explain it. Miami drafted Noble Meyer, the consensus top prep arm in the draft, with the 10th pick and was able to sign him for almost a million dollars under slot. High schoolers usually command at least slot value and Meyer was projected to go in the 8-14 range. I really can’t explain how Miami was able to get such a discount on such a solid player. While most teams would follow up a prep pitcher with a safer pick, Kim Ng and Co. doubled down and took Thomas White, the best left-handed prep arm available. The Marlins have solid pitching development in place and injecting two high-upside arms offers a lot of hope for the future. Alderman and Vradenburg were both viewed favorably by most data projections. Nick Maldonado out of Vanderbilt in the 8th round was a sneaky pick as well, I expect him to be a big league reliever within a year or two. After taking two risky picks early, Miami took a slew of college players, a common strategy to offer a balance of high upside and high floor. After last year’s disappointment, I was happy to see Miami bounce back with a very strong class.


#5, Seattle Mariners


First 5 Picks:


Colt Emerson, SS, John Glenn

Johnny Farmelo, OF, Westfield

Tai Peete, SS, Trinity Christian

Ben Williamson, 3B, William & Mary

Teddy McGraw, RHP, Wake Forest


Best Non-Top 5 Pick:


Aidan Smith, OF, Lovejoy


Strategy:


Seattle opted for the same strategy as the Nationals and went over slot early to buy down some players. Seattle often goes the prep route early and certainly didn’t veer from that strategy this year. They went with high school athletes in the first three rounds, all on over-slot deals. Similarly to Washington, they made up for the early spending spree by cutting deals with older college players in later rounds. Despite this, they were still able to get Teddy McGraw, seen as a potential first-rounder, and Aidan Smith, a high-upside Texas high schooler. Farmelo was a data favorite and a player I’m very high in as was Peete. All of their first three picks provide the perfect balance between a high upside and a reasonable floor. If Seattle’s player development system can be as strong as it’s been lately, this could end up being the best class of this year’s draft.


 

The draft is never easy to predict and this year was certainly no exception. Every front office spends a year strategizing and each approach the draft in a completely different way. This year in class deeper than most, it seemed to prove effective to spread bonus pool money around the draft and acquire as much quantity as possible. Other strong drafts included the Giants, Twins, Tigers, Cubs, Blue Jays, and Cardinals. However, not surprisingly, the Brewers and Rays flexed their scouting savvy and were able to get creative with bonus space while bolstering their farm systems considerably. Of course, it’s way too early to fully analyze the draft but I predict looking back on this class in a few years, the Tampa/Milwaukee method of drafting will look the best for the 2023 class.


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