In a little less than one month, Major League Baseball will hold its annual three-day amateur draft. The draft covers 40 full rounds plus five shorter rounds for compensation picks and competitive balance lottery picks. All told, there will be 1,217 selections made in the 2019 draft.
Unlike the NBA and NHL, the MLB draft does not have a lottery. The draft order is set in reverse order of the previous year's standings, which means the Orioles hold the No. 1 pick in 2019 after losing 115 games in 2018. This is the second time the O's have held the top overall pick. They selected LSU righty Ben McDonald with the No. 1 pick in 1989.
The latest collective bargaining agreement changed free-agent compensation rules, and now all first-round picks are protected. Teams give up later draft picks (and international bonus money) to sign qualified free agents instead. That makes the argument that teams don't want to give up a draft pick to sign Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel pretty weak, but I digress.
There are 30 MLB teams but the first round is 32 picks deep this summer. Here's why:
- Braves: Received No. 10 pick as compensation for failing to sign 2018 No. 9 pick Carter Stewart.
- Diamondbacks: Received No. 26 pick as compensation for failing to sign 2018 No. 25 pick Matt McLain.
- Dodgers: Received No. 31 pick as compensation for failing to sign 2018 No. 30 pick J.T. Ginn.
- Red Sox: Top pick moved back 10 spots from No. 33 to No. 43 for excessive luxury tax spending.
Boston's first-round pick was pushed out of the first round while the Braves, D-Backs, and Dodgers all received compensation picks for failing to sign their 2018 first-rounder. Fail to sign a high draft pick and you get a compensation pick one pick later the next year. The Astros failed to sign No. 1 pick Brady Aiken in 2014 and selected Alex Bregman with the compensation No. 2 pick in 2015.
As a reminder, teams are given set bonus pools each year that restrict draft spending. Teams can exceed their draft pool and pay a tax on the overage, and if they exceed their pool by more than five percent, they have to forfeit next year's first-round pick. No team has forfeited a future pick for excessive draft spending and I don't see that happening anytime soon.
Here are this year's largest bonus pools, via MLB.com draft guru Jim Callis:
- D-Backs: $16,093,700
- Orioles: $13,821,300
- Royals: $13,108,000
- Marlins: $13,045,000
- White Sox: $11,565,500
Arizona has several extra picks this year (compensation for last year's unsigned first rounder and losing Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock to free agency) and thus the largest bonus pool. The bonus pools covers the top 10 rounds with each pick assigned a slot value. Sign a player below slot and you can use the savings elsewhere. Fail to sign a player and you lose the pool bonus associated with that pick. Got it? Good.
With the draft a month away, a lot can and will change between now and draft day. That won't stop us from releasing our first 2019 mock draft, however. We'll have more updated mock drafts leading up to draft day. Here is version 1.0 of our 2019 first-round mock draft.
Pick: C Adley Rutschman, Oregon State
New GM Mike Elias was the Astros scouting director when they popularized what we'll call the "double dip" strategy. In a nutshell, teams use a high pick to cut an underslot deal with one player, then use the savings to select a talented player who falls for signability reasons later. The idea is turning that big bonus pool slot into two highly-regarded prospects rather than one.
For what it's worth, Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports recently said he's heard the O's are not committed to taking Rutschman, which is understandable with a month to go until the draft. No need to finalize the decision now. The guess here is the Orioles will play it straight and use the No. 1 pick on Rutschman, the draft's best prospect, rather than try to "double dip."
Pick: SS Bobby Witt Jr., Colleyville Heritage HS (Texas)
Bobby Witt Sr. won 142 games in a 16-year big-league career that spanned 1986-2001. His son, Bobby Jr., is a power-hitting shortstop who projects to stay at the position long-term. The Royals went heavy on the college pitching in the 2018 draft, though they have generally gone for high school players in the first round in recent years. Witt is not as polished as, say, Francisco Lindor was in his draft year, but he does have legitimate star potential. With Rutschman going first overall, Witt has the highest ceiling of any player still on the board, and Kansas City won't pass on that.
Pick: 1B Andrew Vaughn, California
Without naming names, White Sox scouting director Nick Hostetler recently told James Fegan of The Athletic they have "dwindled our list down to about five (candidates) right now" for the No. 3 pick. The ChiSox have not drafted a high school player in the first round since Courtney Hawkins in 2012, and, with Vaughn sill on the board in our mock draft, I don't see Chicago passing on him. They are all-in on college performers. The righty hitting/righty throwing first base profile is historically awful -- you have to hit like Paul Goldschmidt to make it work long-term -- but Vaughn projects to have that kind of bat. He went into the weekend with a .384/.535/.696 batting line with 11 homers in 39 games.
Pick: OF J.J. Bleday, Vanderbilt
Rutschman, Witt, and Vaughn are clearly the top three prospects in the 2019 draft class right now. Things open up a bit after that. Bleday is one of the best college hitters in a class unusually short on high-end college bats beyond the elites, and he adds value in the field as well. The lefty swinger owned a .337/.447/.750 batting line with 21 home runs in 44 games going into the weekend. Only twice in the last 11 years have the Marlins taken a college player in the first round (Andrew Heaney in 2012 and Colin Moran in 2013), those most of that came under a different regime. Bleday offers a nice combination of upside and probability. Miami would jump on Rutschman, Witt, or Vaughn if they fall here.
Pick: OF Riley Greene, Hagerty HS (Florida)
There is a chance no pitcher will be selected in the top 10 picks this year. Unlikely? Yes. Possible? For sure. It's not a great draft class for arms. Not surprisingly, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports the Tigers are leaning toward a position player with this pick. Greene is maybe the best pure hitter in the prep ranks this year, with a history of performing well against high-end competition in showcase events. It's a sweet lefty swing with power and a good approach. Greene may not be much of a defender long-term, but gosh, the kid can hit.
Pick: SS C.J. Abrams, Blessed Trinity Catholic HS (Georgia)
Since GM A.J. Preller took over in August 2014, the Padres have been all about upside. At the top of the draft, in trades, whatever. They want the players with the highest ceiling and Abrams is right up their alley. He's a game-breaking athlete with great speed and baserunning instincts, and sneaky pop as well. Even if he has to move to center field long-term, which is a distinct possibility, Abrams looks like a future impact player on both sides of the ball. There's a chance he'll play his way into top three consideration between now and draft day.
Pick: LHP Nick Lodolo, TCU
In a draft short on top shelf pitching, Lodolo stands out as the best arm in the class as a no-doubt starter with three good pitches and know-how. The Reds would surely love Bleday to fall to them here. Since that isn't happening in our mock draft, Cincinnati is left picking between the draft's best pitcher or several second tier position players. Lodolo it is. He has a 2.15 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 71 innings this spring. This is the pick where things really start to open up. Not a lot of consensus about who will go where after this point.
Pick: OF Hunter Bishop, Arizona State
Generally speaking, the Rangers target toolsy high school players with upside. They've used their top pick on a college player twice in the last seven years (Chi Chi Gonzalez in 2013 and Dillon Tate in 2015) and they haven't selected a college hitter with their top pick since Justin Smoak in 2008. Bishop is one of the biggest risers in the 2019 draft class though. He went from .250/.352/.407 as a sophomore last year to .369/.498/.815 with 18 homers in 42 games as a junior this spring thanks to some mechanical adjustments. The belief is Bishop, the younger brother of Mariners outfielder Braden Bishop, is just now scratching the surface of his offensive potential. Texas likes to roll the dice on players like this.
Pick: C Shea Langeliers, Baylor
Teams do not draft for need -- it is way too difficult to project what your roster needs will be three or four years down the line, so just take the best talent and worry about how it all fits later -- but it is a bit convenient this is a position player draft class. The Braves are loaded with pitching prospects already. Abrams or Greene would be the ideal pick here. With them off the board, Langeliers is the pick. He went into the weekend hitting .324/.391/.493 with five homers in 32 games, and he's regarded as a strong defender who will remain at the position. Langeliers would be the No. 1 catcher in the class in most non-Rutschman years.It's worth noting the Braves hold the No. 21 pick as well -- the No. 9 pick is compensation for failing to sign last year's first rounder -- so they have a nice big bonus pool and the extra pick for the "double dip" strategy. They could try to cut an underslot deal here (Texas Tech third baseman Josh Jung is a possible candidate) and go big at No. 21. For now, I'm going to play it straight with Langeliers, arguably the best player still on the board.
Pick: RHP Jackson Rutledge, San Jacinto JC (Texas)
With a new front office, it's unclear how the Giants will approach the draft this year. They've been college heavy in recent years, but I'm not sure that matters now. We know this much: Rutledge is an analytics darling with a high-velocity, high-spin fastball he uses up in the zone, plus two potentially above-average breaking balls in his slider and curveball. In terms of raw stuff, no 2019 draft prospect matches Rutledge. The guess here is San Francisco's new analytics-heavy front office jumps on the modern era arm.
Pick: SS Bryson Stott, UNLV
At this point Stott is the best player still on the board, and I don't see the Blue Jays messing around. They'll take the best player. Stott went into this weekend with a .365/.498/.652 batting line and 10 homers in 46 games. A lefty hitting middle infielder with good bat-to-ball skills and a history of good performance at the Division I level will forever be a target at the top of the draft. Even if he has to move to second base, Stotts can do a lot to help his club win.
Pick: OF Corbin Carroll, Lakeside HS (Washington)
It's always difficult to predict where a new front office will go with their first draft, and that goes double for a new front office with a general manager who was an agent up until seven months ago. There's no track here at all. So, absent the ability to make an educated guess, we'll give Mets the best high school bat still on the board. Carroll would be a slam dunk top 10 pick -- maybe even a top five pick -- if he were 6-foot-2 instead of 5-foot-10. Even with sub-6-foot players like Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, and Jose Ramirez putting MVP caliber seasons in recent years, there's still a bias against short players. Carroll can hit though. Nice lefty swing, hits to all fields, and an excellent defensive center fielder to boot.
Pick: LHP Zack Thompson, Kentucky
And with the 13th pick, the second pitcher comes off the board. To be fair, Thompson would go in the top 10 if not for some injury concerns. Shoulder trouble pushed him out of the first round as a high schooler in 2016, and elbow trouble last spring created new concerns. Still, a college southpaw with a knockout fastball/slider combination, two other interesting enough pitches (curveball and changeup), and a 1.88 ERA with 102 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings is hard to pass up in the middle of the first round.
Pick: RHP Matthew Allan, Seminole HS (Florida)
The Phillies have had some rough first-round picks in recent years (Aaron Nola notwithstanding), but it's hard to go wrong with the top high school pitcher in the draft class. Especially in the middle of the first round. Allan has the big frame (6-foot-3 and 210 lbs.) scouts love, the power mid-to-upper-90s fastball everyone loves, and a hard curveball you can dream on. Should Allan slip any further than this, it might be difficult to buy him away from his commitment to Florida.
Pick: RHP Alek Manoah, West Virginia
It matters not that Erik Manoah, Alek's brother, currently pitches in the Angels system. Alek is the best college right-hander in a class short on college arms and I have a hard time believing the best college righty in the draft will fall into the back-half of the first round. Manoah is massive (6-foot-6 and 260 lbs.) and it seems he's learned to harness his power fastball/slider arsenal -- he's cut his walk rate from 5.0 BB/9 as a freshman and sophomore to 2.0 BB/9 as a junior this spring. Manoah has a 1.76 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings.
Pick: RHP Quinn Priester, Cary-Grove HS (Illinois)
The D-Backs would love Allan to slip here so they could use that great big bonus pool to buy him away from Florida, and add an impact talent to the system far below where he should be drafted. Instead, with Allan off the board in this mock draft, I have the D-Backs instead going with Priester, one of the spring's biggest risers. His curveball is among the best in the draft class and he's an intense competitor who starred on his high school's football team. The bet here is the D-Backs grab Priester here, pay him a below-slot bonus, and look to go big with one of their extra picks (Nos. 26, 33, and 34 overall).
Pick: OF Kameron Misner, Missouri
The Nationals rarely pick high in the draft, so they usually go after upside plays to maximize their return, even if it means drafting an injured draft prospect like Lucas Giolito (2012) or Erick Fedde (2014). Misner is not injured, but he is divisive. The raw tools and athleticism are undeniable. Misner has a good lefty swing and significant power potential, plus he draws praise for his makeup and worth ethic, but there are lingering concerns about his ability to make consistent contact at the upper levels. His .298/.462/.524 batting line is obviously good, though it is a tick below what you'd expect from a first round college bat, and his 21.5 percent strikeout rate isn't encouraging either. The raw tools sure are tantalizing though.
Pick: SS Logan Davidson, Clemson
When in doubt, go with the switch-hitting shortstop with strong defensive and baserunning chops. The knock against Davidson is his performance with wood bats. He's put up a .202/.304/.266 batting line in two summers in the Cape Cod League, which has created questions about his long-term offensive viability. This late in the draft though, every player is going to have flaws. It's about finding players with flaws you think are correctable. Davidson's father Mark spent six years in the big leagues from 1986-91.
Pick: RHP George Kirby, Elon
The Cardinals develop pitching as well as any team in the game and Kirby is an excellent project for their minor-league staff. He's an extreme strike-thrower -- Kirby went into the weekend with 84 strikeouts and five walks for a Division I-leading 16.8 K/BB ratio -- with a good mid-90s fastball. Kirby also shows the makings of three good secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) and that's something a strong pitcher development organization like the Cardinals will identify as a place for improvement. A few tweaks and we could be looking at a true four-pitch starter with command in a year or two.
Pick: 3B Josh Jung, Texas Tech
Coming into the spring Jung was a potential top 10 pick and maybe even a potential top five pick. He's had a down year offensively though -- that is relatively speaking, of course, because Jung is still hitting .338/.476/.592 with eight homers this spring (he hit .392/.491/.639 last spring) -- and he hasn't shown as much exit velocity as in the past. Still, the track record is there, and there's no doubt a team in the back-half of the first round will roll the dice on a player who was one of the top prospects in the draft class a few weeks ago.
Pick: RHP Brennan Malone, IMG Academy (Florida)
With a big bonus pool, the Braves are in position to pounce on Malone here, and pay him a bonus more commensurate with his status as a 10-15 range draft prospect. (That would be $4 million or so.) Malone shows four distinct pitches and mid-90s velocity with his fastball. As with most high schoolers, he's in need of general refinement. Command, holding runners, etc. Langeliers and Malone would be great value at Nos. 9 and 21 for Atlanta.
Pick: 3B Brett Baty, Lake Travis HS (Texas)
A few things about this pick. One, Brett Baty is an outstanding baseball name. Two, the Rays also hold the No. 36 pick (their competitive balance pick) and the No. 40 pick (the A's competitive balance pick, which was acquired in the Jurickson Profar three-team trade), so they have a chance to do some funky bonus pool stuff. And three, Baty has shown promise on the mound as well at the plate, so he's a potential two-way player. The Rays are not shy about letting prospects play both ways in the minors (Brendan McKay and Tanner Dodson, most notably). Baty has massive raw power, though it should be noted he turns 20 in November. Overage high schoolers are difficult to evaluate and they don't have a great track record in pro ball. That said, Baty seems like he's up Tampa Bay's alley. He has two-way potential and he should sign underslot, giving them bonus pool flexibility for the No. 36 and 40 picks.
Pick: 1B/OF Michael Busch, UNC
I say this not as a knock against the Rockies but as a general observation: Busch is exactly the type of player who, once upon a time, would go in the top 5-10 picks. He's a college masher with a history of performance, including in wood bat summer leagues. Think Matt LaPorta. Nowadays though, teams can better contextualize college statistics, and they value positional versatility a great deal. Busch, a lefty swinger with big power potential and a discerning eye, has some outfield experience but is seen more as a first baseman long-term.
Pick: SS Braden Shewmake, Texas A&M
Shewmake is a scout's favorite. He's a grinder whose whole is greater than the sum of the parts. He has outstanding hand-eye coordination and rarely strikes out, and he'll pepper the ball to all fields. Shewmake is also a very instinctive player who grew up around the game (his father, Shane, has been the head coach at UT Dallas since 2002) and that allows his tools to play up. It's not a star profile, but Shewmake is a gamer, and he's has as good a chance to carve out a big league career (in some capacity) as any player in the draft class.
Pick: RHP Daniel Espino, Georgia Premier Academy
The Dodgers have two first-round picks this year after failing to sign last year's first rounder, so they're in position to throw some money around. Espino is an elite stuff high schooler with big velocity and big spin, and two breaking balls (slider and curveball) that look like potential out-pitches. It might cost them $4 million to buy him away from LSU, but the Dodgers love upside, and Espino offers plenty of it.
Pick: RHP Jack Leiter, Delbarton HS (New Jersey)
Leiter's father, Al, won 162 games in 19 big-league seasons, and Jack pitches like the son of a former All-Star. He is exceptionally advanced for a high schooler, with the aptitude to set hitters up and make adjustments on the fly. Leiter's fastball is a little short (mostly 88-91 mph), but his curveball is among the best in the draft class, and his changeup and command are very good as well. Leiter would likely be a top 10 pick if teams were convinced he's signable. He is strongly committed to Vanderbilt and it may take $7 million or $8 million to get him to turn pro. The D-Backs have the largest bonus pool and are one of the few teams able to meet Leiter's potential asking price.Arizona holds the No. 33 and 34 overall picks as compensation for losing Corbin and Pollock to free agency, and it's possible they will wait until those picks to take their shot with Leiter. That way, if they do fail to sign him, they won't lose as much bonus pool money. Either way, if Leiter does not sign, he would instantly become the super early candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2021 draft. A prospect with his ability at a player development powerhouse like Vanderbilt has a chance to blossom into something special.
Pick: RHP Seth Johnson, Campbell
Johnson has an unusual backstory. He spent his freshman and sophomore seasons as an nondescript junior college infielder before transferring to Campbell and moving to the mound full-time. Now, despite a very limited track record as a pitcher, Johnson is a first-round candidate because he has easy mid-90s gas and a swing-and-miss slider, plus a polished delivery for someone so inexperienced. Johnson needs to refine his changeup and command, not surprisingly, but he's a great upside play near the end of the first round.
Pick: 3B Tyler Callihan, Providence HS (Florida)
The Brewers have used their top pick on a pitcher once since 2012 (Kodi Medeiros in 2014) and I don't think that's a coincidence. They're a modern operation and these days the trend is taking bats early in the draft because they're safer bets. (Pitchers get hurt, even the best of 'em.) Callihan is a slightly overage high schooler with lefty power and a strong track record against elite talent in showcase events. His best defensive tool is his arm and my hunch is whichever team drafts him will at least consider trying him at catcher.
Pick: SS Will Wilson, NC State
In a draft light on impact college middle infielders, Wilson and his wonderful baseball name have a chance to be drafted much higher than I have him in the mock draft. He's a righty hitter with a quick bat and an aggressive approach -- Wilson went into the weekend with way more strikeouts (37) than walks (22) in 40 games, which is unusual for a first-round draft prospect -- and a chance to remain at shortstop. The sexiest pick? No, but quality middle infielders are always in demand.
Pick: 3B Kody Hoese, Tulane
Few 2019 draft prospects have raised their stock as much as Hoese this spring. After hitting five home runs total and slugging .380 as a freshman and sophomore, Hoese went into the weekend tied with Bleday for the Division I lead with 21 home runs. Some mechanical adjustments -- long story short, Hoese became a launch angle guy -- contributed to a power breakout that dates back to summer ball last year. The added power hasn't led to an uptick in strikeouts --- Hoese went into the weekend with more homers (21) than strikeouts (20) -- and he projects to remain at third base long-term. My hunch is Hoese will be more of a middle of the first round candidate come draft day. He is climbing draft boards.
I should note the Yankees acquired a competitive balance pick (No. 38) from the Reds in the Sonny Gray trade, so they have a good-sized bonus pool, giving them a chance to do something big. Leiter, a local kid, could be on their radar here.
Pick: 3B Keoni Cavaco, Eastlake HS (California)
Cavaco is the rare under-scouted first round draft prospect from Southern California. He was not a showcase regular throughout high school and it wasn't until this spring that he really jumped onto the radar. Cavaco is a four-tool prospect who is missing the hit tool, which is an awfully risky profile, but one loaded with upside. He has big power, great speed, and tremendous athleticism. It's easy to dream on Cavaco. Learning to make consistent contact isn't easy though. The Dodgers love tools and upside and in this mock draft I have them grabbing two such players in Espino and Cavaco. This is the compensation pick Los Angeles received for failing to sign last year's first rounder.
Pick: RHP J.J. Goss, Cypress Ranch HS (Texas)
Unlike Cavaco, Goss has received plenty of scouting exposure this spring (two of his teammates are also projected to go in the top four or five rounds this year). He is a classic high school projection pick. It's easy to see Goss adding velocity to his low-to-mid-90s fastball as he fills out his 6-foot-3 and 185 lbs. frame, and his slider and changeup already have the makings of out-pitches. The Astros are an excellent pitcher development organization, and while I wouldn't say Goss is the next Forrest Whitley, the raw tools are similar.