Baseball's 2016 First-Year Player Draft, in which some of the best college and high school talents around will be selected by major-league organizations, is scheduled for June 9-11. To set the scene for all of that, CBS Sports recently chatted with Baseball Prospectus draft expert Chris Crawford.
Needless to say, this time of year is an ideal one to give Crawford a follow on Twitter (@CrawfordChrisV) or check out his contributions to Baseball Prospectus. Also, Crawford's annual Draft Guide is essential reading. Now let's hear what he has to say about the 2016 draft ...
CBSSports: So how's the overall strength of this draft class?
Chris Crawford: This is a weird year. It might be one of the strongest classes of the past few years in terms of quantity, but the quality at the top is lacking, particularly in terms of college pitching and up the middle. One week you will look at this group and compare it favorably to the ridiculous class of 2011, another week you'll compare it to, well, the not-so good classes of the earlier part of the decade. When I talk to scouts about it, some variation of the word "frustrating" often comes up, and that's probably the best way to describe it. It's a frustrating group.
CBS: By "frustrating" do you mean hard to get a read on/project in general?
Crawford: I do. Particularly with the college pitching. One week you'll see guys look like future top of the rotation arms, the next they look like backend starters or relievers. The optimist in me says that at least they're showing flashes of brilliance, but they're small flashes, like a flash on an old camera.
CBS: So if you're the Phillies, who are you taking with the No. 1 overall pick?
Crawford: If I'm the Phillies, I'm taking Jason Groome, a left-hander out of Barnegat High School in New Jersey. Despite some late season struggles and a controversial suspension, he's the best player on my board as a southpaw who has shown two plus-plus pitches in his fastball and curve, plus an above-average change. There's more volatility here than I'd like -- which is why the Phillies won't take him -- but I have always believed in taking the best player on the board, and that's Groome.
CBS: So whom do you think they take?
Crawford: The Phillies are playing it close to the vest, but right now it appears they're going to go with either A.J. Puk (LHP, Florida) or Corey Ray (OF, Louisville), and if someone was holding some sort of weapon to my head, I'd guess Puk. There's still a chance they could go the "cheap" route to accrue talent by taking someone like Nick Senzel (3B, Tennessee) or Kyle Lewis (OF, Mercer), but right now I think it's Puk or Ray.
CBS: Why isn't Puk the No. 1 guy on your board?
Crawford: Because he hasn't shown 1.1 stuff on a consistent basis, and because the back issues he's had scare the heck out of me. When he's at his best he'll show a 70 fastball and a 60 slider, so if you get that version it's a fine pick. I just have real doubts about whether or not he can do it enough to justify taking as the first overall player.
CBS: Speaking of Puk's school, the University of Florida, care to hazard a guess as to how many Gator pitchers will be drafted this year?
Crawford: All of them. Seriously, they're loaded. In addition to Puk, they have Logan Shore, a pitcher who has a chance to go in the first-round thanks to his plus control and a filthy command. They also have Dane Dunning, a right-hander who features an above-average change and a plus fastball. You don't see a team have three pitchers go before the end of day one very often, but Florida almost assuredly will.
CBS: So when in the first round do you see the first significant drop-off in terms of your board?
Crawford: For me, there's a couple of big drops. The top three for me (Groome, Ray, and Delvin Perez) are so far and away better than everyone else that I think you have to call that a significant drop-off. After that, the quantity and quality sort of stays the same until right around the top 15 or so, and then things get real muddled against for quite some time. You could argue that's the strength of the class, that if you're picking, say, 27th, you're going to get a pretty similar talent to what was available at pick 15.
CBS: The Braves were pretty active when it comes to trading for competitive balance picks. Did they pick a good draft year to stockpile as many high picks as possible?
Crawford: I think it's always a good idea, but particularly for this year for a couple reasons. One, it's a chance to pick up the quantity we talked about, and two, it gives them more allocation funds, so if someone like Groome falls to them, it's easier to spend close to slot and still be able to pick up some good assets down the road.
CBS: Is there a particular team/scouting department that you're interested to see how they play it this year?
Crawford: Quite a few, but I would have to say Seattle comes to mind. They have one of the bottom five systems in baseball -- which might be a generous ranking, really -- and to be quite honest, Jerry Dipoto and his staff didn't exactly light the world on fire with their drafts in Los Angeles. They also pick right where there's a bit of a tier-change, and some of the names I've heard associated to them at pick 11 are names that would be reaches, in my humble estimation. I'm going to be real interested to see how that group handles this draft, because it's a really important one for reestablishing that system.
CBS: Got a sleeper for us? As in, a guy who doesn't figure to go in the first round but whom you like to exceed expectations?
Crawford: I'll go with Ryan Boldt (OF, Nebraska), and to be honest it's just as much a hope as it is a belief in his ability. He was a top 20 pick before a gruesome injury his senior year of High School, so it's nice to see him regain at least a portion of that stock. He's flashed three plus tools in his hit, speed and glove, and he should be able to stay in centerfield. The power never came, but if those tools are in fact 60-grade, it doesn't have to for him to hit at the top of an order.
CBS: And how about a projected first-rounder who you think might be a reach?
Crawford: One guy I keep hearing first-round talk with is Taylor Trammell (OF, Mount Paran Christian HS, Georgia), and I'm not sure I understand why. He's a plus-plus runner and a pretty good centerfielder, but I don't see anyway the hit or power tool is more than fringe-average, and even that might be a stretch. I get taking a guy like that in the second or third round, but not in the first 25-30 picks.
CBS: So who are your top 10 available as we get set for the draft?
Crawford: 1. Jason Groome 2. Corey Ray 3. Delvin Perez (SS, International Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico) 4. Blake Rutherford (OF, Chaminade College Prep, California) 5. Kyle Lewis 6. Braxton Garrett (Florence HS, Alabama) 7. Mickey Moniak (La Costa Canyon HS, California) 8. Nick Senzel 9. A.J. Puk 10. Riley Pint (St. Thomas Aquinas HS, Kansas).
CBS: Final question: While obviously a lot can and will change, how's the 2017 draft class looking a year out?
Crawford: On paper, it's looking pretty decent, but I warn that this draft looked elite before the season started, so, shoulder shrug emoticon. The college pitching is much better, and there's a potential star behind the plate in Florida's J.J. Schwarz. Long way to go, obviously, but I like that class considerably more right now. Here's to hoping I feel that way in a year.
Once again, check out Chris on Twitter and at Baseball Prospectus, and give his draft book a read.