Inbox: Top three Draft picks in '23?

Plus, gauging if some top prospects might climb even higher

November 10th, 2022

Depending on how the MLB Draft Lottery goes, who do you believe will be the first three players selected in next year's Draft? -- @StevieDAles97

Stevie D, I feel like you set me up with this question on purpose so that I can give my all-too-familiar lecture on the top of the Draft. Even if it was accidental, I thank you.

In a nutshell, here it is: Teams picking at the top of the Draft -- and I would argue throughout the first round, if not deeper depending on the strength of the class -- should never pick based on need. Teams selecting in the top three should take the best player on talent, period. In other words, it shouldn’t matter who the top three teams are; it’s a matter of who looks like the top three choices as of right now (with an entire spring to change things, of course).

Now, a team’s philosophy in the Draft might come into play a bit, so if there’s a team picking that never takes a high school pitcher that high, that might make a difference. But that’s moot because, at present, there isn’t a prep arm that belongs in that conversation.

OK, now that I have that off my chest, let’s take a look at what the top of a Draft board might look like right now. Jim Callis and I are just getting started on building our Draft Top 100, due out in December, so this trio isn’t deeply thought out. We did release separate Top 20 lists of high school players and college standouts in September, so I’m going to draw from that.

The top of the class is more college-heavy, with more offensive options than pitching. We all know, though, that if some college arms step forward, they’re going to move up boards. So here’s a guess at a top three:

1. Dylan Crews, OF, Louisiana State: Crews had an 1.153 OPS at LSU last year and has the chance to hit with a ton of power.

2. Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee: Dollander transferred from Georgia Southern to Tennessee and was dominant in 2022, with a four-pitch mix that could land him atop the Draft.

3. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Ind.) Community HS: Clark has the best all-around tools in the class, and while his summer showcase performances were a little up and down, he showed off all of his tools, plus his baseball IQ, throughout.

A list of a few other names to keep in mind includes: Mississippi shortstop Jacob Gonzalez, Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford and Grand Canyon shortstop Jacob Wilson.

I feel like Zach Daniels with the Astros isn't appropriately ranked on a lot of the prospect sites/rankings. Could his age/recent performance warrant a callup next year? -- @MLO3535

I don’t think enough people are talking about Zach Daniels. Had a tremendous season in SAL. Has power and speed. Thoughts? -- @MattWintner

I have an unofficial rule that when I get multiple questions about the same player, I try to answer them. So if the Matts here were coordinating, then you got me, but I’m guessing not. We talked about Zach Daniels at length on this week’s MLB Pipeline Podcast, so make sure you check that out, especially since Jim Callis is the one who does the Astros’ Top 30 list, where Daniels currently is No. 29.

The multiple questions about Daniels -- not to mention the idea that he “isn’t appropriately ranked” -- made me dig in a bit more. I was expecting some impressive Arizona Fall League numbers to warrant a call to pay more attention to him, so I was a little surprised when I saw he’s hit .167/.286/.306 through 11 AFL games. Yes, he had a good year with High-A Asheville, putting up a 20-20 season with 23 homers and 22 steals. But it was his second go-round at the level and he was older than league average at 23 years old. He also struck out in nearly 31 percent of his plate appearances.

That’s the biggest concern with Daniels, and it's why he’s not ranked higher (and probably shouldn’t be, though the Astros' system is on the thin side). He has impressive tools and that power-speed combination is very intriguing, but there are too many questions about his ability to make enough contact to use those tools for him to move up lists at this point.

How high is Masyn Winn about to climb? -- @verobluecrew

The Cardinals’ second-round pick in 2020, taken after top prospect Jordan Walker, Wynn is currently No. 2 on the team’s Top 30 and No. 51 on the Top 100. That would put him No. 12 among all shortstops. It’s a pretty good ranking, I think.

I really like Winn, especially after seeing him in the AFL and talking to him there. We all know about his arm and his Statcast-breaking throws from short. He also showed off the elite-level sprint speed that allowed him to go 43-for-48 in stolen base attempts during a 2022 regular season that ended in Double-A. He’s shown improvements at the plate, too, with more pop, a better approach and fewer strikeouts, all while being very young for his levels. But even with all of that, I don’t know that he’s grossly under-ranked. We haven’t even begun thinking about what our new Top 100 might look like. There are some names above him in the 40-50 range who I could see him leapfrogging, but if you’re expecting some kind of jump into the top 20, I sense you’re going to be disappointed. However, this is solely my opinion.

Based on what he’s done for Licey, should Elly De La Cruz be the No. 1 overall prospect in the game? -- @RedsInFour

I’m as excited about Elly De La Cruz as anyone, but this felt like a good opportunity to be the sample size police. He’s raced up rankings, finishing the year as our No. 14 prospect after going to the Futures Game, raking across High-A and Double-A to finish with a .945 OPS, 28 homers and 47 steals. And what he’s done so far in the Dominican Winter League with Licey (.313/.408/.484, seven extra-base hits and seven steals) just adds to the buzz.

But he’s accumulated just 76 plate appearances in 18 games for Licey as of Thursday. That’s not even a month’s worth of data to consider. I am encouraged that his walk rate is up and his strikeout rate is down, as his approach is the one area where he did need to approve. (He even said as much when he joined us on the MLB Pipeline Podcast in September.) It looks like he is working on that while continuing to put up numbers. That said, to suggest he move all the way up to the top spot in our rankings because of 19 games of solid performance is a bit much. Could he move up some more if he keeps hitting like that throughout winter ball? Absolutely, especially since the 21-year-old is so young for the level. So let’s revisit this when that’s done and we have more information to consider before his coronation.