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A Decently Early Mock Draft: Version 1.0


Franklin Community High School OF Max Clark; Photo via Bryan Green

The college and high school baseball seasons are winding down, meaning that the MLB draft season is about to kick into high gear. Draft boards are beginning to be solidified around the league, and front offices are attempting to work out scenarios and determine who might be available at their pick. For those unfamiliar with the MLB draft format, it’s quite different from the other American sports drafts. Instead of a set signing bonus value at each pick, the MLB offers a suggestion. A player and his agent are free to negotiate and sign at any value, regardless of the slot suggestion. This leads to a different level of intrigue and a much less predictable draft. For this mock, I analyzed draft tendencies to find likely landing spots. As we approach the draft, I will release a final mock draft that explores some of the rumors going around and other things I have been able to hear from front office members.


Pick 1: Pittsburgh Pirates - Dylan Crews, OF, LSU


Crews is the best player in this draft. That has been known for a while, but his superb 2023 season confirmed his status as the top dog. His batting average stands at .420, and he’s walked 20 more times than he’s struck out. Crews has anchored a strong LSU lineup and posts elite exit velocities and top-tier results. Defensively, he’s nothing special but can get the job done at a corner outfield spot. He’s almost major-league-ready right now and could be a regular in Pittsburgh by the summer of 2024. This pick would be a shoo-in with most teams, but the Pirates have had a history of trying to get creative with their bonus pool. In 2021, they took Henry Davis, a college catcher, with the first pick. The consensus top talent was Marcelo Mayer, but the Pirates passed on him to save some money. If they take a similar route this year keep an eye out for Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford or even Virginia catcher Kyle Teel.


Pick 2: Washington Nationals - Paul Skenes, SP, LSU


Skenes transferred from Air Force to LSU and set the SEC on fire. His arsenal is the most dynamic in the class, and he’s blown hitters away all season long in college, averaging 16.6 strikeouts per 9 innings. Skenes is the prototypical modern pitcher with a loud fastball that regularly touches triple digits, strong offspeed stuff, and the ability to generate a lot of strikeouts. While I’m not a fan of drafting pitchers early, this seems like a no-brainer for Mike Rizzo and company. However, on the off chance the Pirates pass on Dylan Crews, he surely won’t get past Washington.


Pick 3: Detroit Tigers - Walker Jenkins, OF, South Brunswick (NC)


Walker Jenkins, Wyatt Langford, and Max Clark all fall into a very similar tier. All three outfielders are likely top-5 picks, locks to go in the top 10, and can probably go in any order. I think the Tigers would prefer the prep route and are probably going to be choosing between Jenkins and Clark at this spot. Jenkins offers a higher floor and more pop than Clark, making him the likely pick at this spot. Max will command a large bonus, but Detroit has a large bonus pool, so that shouldn’t deter them in any way. Jenkins is worse than Clark defensively, but his strong arm will make him a good right fielder.


Pick 4: Texas Rangers - Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida


This is a dream scenario for Texas. Langford is one of the most polished college hitters in the class and will be able to contribute to the long-lasting success the Rangers are currently building. He’s currently slashing .398/.521/.823. Those numbers show how well-rounded his offensive profile is. In any draft without Dylan Crews, Langford would be a serious contender for the first overall pick. He’s been the second-best hitter in college baseball behind Crews and has shown an advanced approach, power to all fields, and limited strikeout numbers. I like this fit, and I am sure the Rangers would too. If Langford drops to 4, I can’t see a world where Texas passes on him.


Pick 5: Minnesota Twins - Max Clark, OF, Franklin Community (IN)


Clark has been in the spotlight for his entire high school career and has handled the accompanying pressure very well. He’s a true five-tool player and perhaps the most athletic player in the class. Clark’s strength is on display, as he has shown power to the opposite field, especially on the showcase circuit. Defensively, he’s got a great chance to stick in center field, clocking in as a 6.3 60-yard dash runner. My only concern with Clark is that he’s already really strong and might be close to physically maxed out, limiting the potential for a team to further develop his power. Regardless, the Twins would be thrilled to have him, and there is also a good chance a team snags him before this pick.


Pick 6: Oakland Athletics - Kyle Teel, C, Virginia


We all know the A’s are working with a smaller budget in free agency, meaning they have to draft well. Teel is someone who Oakland will be able to pay a signing bonus below slot value, which will allow them to sign better players later on in the draft. We saw both the Rangers (Kumar Rocker and Brock Porter) and the Cubs (Cade Horton and Jackson Ferris) utilize a similar approach last year. That strategy has worked out well in the past, and the A’s seem like a candidate to save some money this year. None of that reflects negatively on Teel, however. While the underlying data has always been solid, this year, his results have finally reflected that. Teel has run a 1.157 OPS for the season while showing a solid approach and walking 28 times. He’s surpassed Blake Mitchell as the best catcher in the class and is a lock to go in the first 15 picks. He’s strong on both sides of the ball. His plate approach is impressive, and many scouts have praised his receiving skills. This move could also allow the A’s to grab a prep player in the second round with their freed-up bonus space.


Pick 7: Cincinnati Reds - Rhett Lowder, SP, Wake Forest


While Lowder’s fastball doesn’t light up the radar gun like Skenes, he’s still a power pitcher. He leans heavily on a three-pitch mix and has the best changeup in the draft. He sits in the mid-90s but can dial up the velo if needed. His slider needs to be developed further by whatever team drafts him, but that should not be an issue. The great deception in Lowder’s delivery and his plus control gives him a higher floor than most pitchers. Lowder only walks 1.8 guys per 9 innings, which puts him among the best in college baseball. If Cincinnati wants the best player available at this spot, Lowder is the answer.


Pick 8: Kansas City Royals - Jacob Gonzalez, INF, Mississippi


Gonzalez looked like a top-3 candidate coming into the year, but he’s fallen slightly down draft boards due to a less successful season. He was incredible in both his freshman and sophomore years but saw less favorable results this season. Fortunately for Gonzalez, a “less successful season” is a .435 on-base percentage with 10 home runs. Gonzalez’s solid contact skills and decent plate discipline should make him a staple in almost any lineup. His hitting profile reminds me of Reds’ shortstop Matt McLain quite a bit. Defensively, he probably ends up sliding over to second base, but he could remain a shortstop if he gets faster. Jacob’s defensive instincts are really good, which gives him a 50/50 chance to stay at short despite his average speed. Regardless, he projects to be a solid middle infielder for years to come.


Pick 9: Colorado Rockies - Enrique Bradfield Jr., OF, Vanderbilt


Bradfield is exactly the type of player that I can see the Rockies falling in love with. Their outfield has historically been filled with speedy contact hitters like Bradfield. While I think Colorado probably takes Lowder if he isn’t off the board by their pick, that’s an unlikely scenario, and Bradfield is a good consolation prize. He plays the game in a way that the Rockies clearly like. He’s one of the few hitters in this draft who I think can steal a lot of bases every year. Despite a down year offensively, he still managed to swipe 37 bags in only 59 games. Part of the lack of offensive success was just BABIP not falling his way. I think he can be a solid .270 hitter in the big leagues while offering 70-grade defense and running. His power is better than most fast, contact-oriented players, and he’ll hit a lot of doubles into the gaps. If the Rockies can get him stronger and add some more power, he’ll be a very successful player for years to come.


Pick 10: Miami Marlins - Chase Dollander, SP, Tennessee


Dollander entered the year as a contender for the first overall pick and has played pretty well throughout the year. However, as more data emerged, Skenes, and potentially Lowder, surpassed him. The ERA is a bit inflated at 4.28, partially due to playing in an extremely strong SEC and people being able to catch barrels that wouldn’t be caught with wood bats. Dollander needs to tweak his arsenal a bit once he gets into pro ball but will move through the minor leagues quickly. I think he’ll debut the second earliest of anyone in this draft, behind Dylan Crews. The Marlins have been big on advanced players that require less development in the farm system, and Dollander is just that.


Pick 11: Los Angeles Angels - Arjun Nimmala, INF, Strawberry Crest (FL)


Nimmala is starting to get more attention around the league, which is well-deserved. He is one of the highest-upside talents in this draft class. His athleticism is top-tier, he has plus-plus bat speed, and he hits the ball really hard. Nimmala certainly isn’t as polished as many of his prep counterparts, and whiffs are still a concern. However, the ceiling is so high that most teams will be willing to look past the whiffs. Another pro is that he will only be 17 at the time of the draft, something that teams view very favorably. The Angels have chased after high-upside talent before and could do that again if Nimmala is still on the board.



Pick 12: Arizona Diamondbacks - Jacob Wilson, INF, Grand Canyon


Outside of Crews, I’m not sure anyone in this draft has as good of a hit tool as Jacob Wilson. He has family ties to the league, as his dad, Jack, played in the MLB. While I normally don’t care about that kind of thing, the big-league bloodline is very apparent in Wilson’s game. He plays very smart and has great instincts at the plate and in the field. The D-Backs have prioritized contact in recent drafts, which Wilson excels at. He has struck out only five times in the entire 2023 season. Yes, five times. I understand that the pitching in the Western Athletic Conference isn’t exactly professional level, but only striking out 5 times at any level is remarkable. While high-contact guys normally keep the ball in the park, Wilson has the potential to hit 15 homers a year. This year, Wilson racked up a .635 slugging percentage while maintaining a .412 average. I think he’ll stick at shortstop, but some scouts think he’ll end up moving to third base. He’ll be an above-average defender at either left infield spot due to his arm strength and quick defensive actions. This is a great fit, and, if drafted at 12, Wilson could be a key part of the Diamondbacks’ infield as soon as the 2025 season.


Pick 13: Chicago Cubs - Tommy Troy, INF, Stanford


While the Cubs are probably due for a high-upside prep talent, Troy is too good for them to pass up. He’s top 5 on my board and doesn’t have a single hole in his game. His .394 batting average, .707 slugging percentage, and 17 stolen bases on 18 attempts this season show he makes contact, hits for some power, and has plus speed. He also fields well, and the tools are reminiscent of fellow Stanford infielder and current Cubs’ second baseman Nico Hoerner. The Cubs would love to replicate Hoerner’s success with Tommy. Since Jed Hoyer took over as GM, he’s shown the tendency to draft safely. Troy provides a high floor while still offering legitimate high-ceiling talent. If Arjun Nimmala falls here, the Cubs will likely consider him as well.


Pick 14: Boston Red Sox - Kevin McGonigle, INF, Monsignor Bonner (PA)


McGonigle has been a big riser through this draft cycle. His contact skills and overall talent have skyrocketed him into first-round conversations. He also fits into Boston’s drafting tendencies. They like high-contact guys who have some defensive versatility. McGonigle will probably be a primary second baseman but can play shortstop and probably either corner outfield spot. He doesn’t strike out much, and he’s one of the best bad ball hitters in the draft. Even his chases seem to result in contact, and sometimes even hard contact. It’s hard to predict what his bonus would be, as he could probably go as early as 9 or fall as late as 25, but I assume the Red Sox could sign him for slot value at 14.


Pick 15: Chicago White Sox - Colton Ledbetter, OF, Mississippi State


Ledbetter is a data favorite, as he makes very hard contact and walks a lot. He’s going to be a high on-base guy but will likely whiff more at the pro level. His quality of contact is great, but he hits the ball on the ground too much. Any team that drafts Ledbetter will probably adjust his swing to generate more line drives, which should be a simple fix. If that gets solved, I think the ceiling is incredibly high. Defensively, Colton is nothing special and will probably end up in left field, where he will be adequate. The White Sox could probably get him under slot at 15 and be able to play around with their bonus pool later in the draft, which makes this move even more appealing.



Sources:



"Max Clark" via Bryan Green licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0



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