The 2019 Draft is rapidly approaching and like every Draft, there will be countless themes that will come out once things get going on Monday night. That all kicks off with the Draft preview show on MLB Network and MLB.com starting at 6 p.m. ET on Monday. MLB Network will broadcast the first 41 picks (Round 1 and Competitive Balance Round A), while MLB.com will stream all 78 picks on Day 1. MLB.com will also provide live pick-by-pick coverage of Rounds 3-10 on Day 2, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m. ET. Then, Rounds 11-40 can be heard live on MLB.com on Day 3, beginning at noon ET.
Leading up to Monday night, there are many storylines to keep an eye on. Here are 10:
1. What will the Orioles do?
From the start of the spring, it’s always seemed like Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman was the clear-cut favorite to go No. 1 overall. The O’s are keeping things close to the vest, but there hasn’t been any indication that the player who is No. 1 on MLB Pipeline’s Draft Top 200 list isn’t going to be the pick. There’s been a little buzz that Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn could go in the top spot, and high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. never left the conversation. We might not know this one until just after 7 p.m. ET on Monday.
2. When will the first pitcher get taken?
There is no question that hitters are the strength of this Draft class. The first seven in the Top 200, and the top nine out of 10, are all position players. It’s looking very likely that at least the top six picks will all be bats. The first time a pitcher comes up seriously at all is with the Reds at No. 7, who have been linked to TCU lefty Nick Lodolo for quite some time now. They’re looking at some of the other college arms in that spot as well. If, for whatever reason, the Reds go with a bat, we might not see the first pitcher go off the board until No. 9 (Braves), No. 10 (Giants) or No. 11 (Blue Jays).
3. Will a record-low number of high school pitchers go in the first round?
There will be some, but there won’t be many. Last year, there were eight prep pitchers taken in the opening round of the Draft, spanning 35 picks. The 2017 Draft’s first round saw only five high school arms go in the top 30 picks. Back in 2008, only two high school arms went in the top 30: Ethan Martin (No. 15 to the Dodgers), who pitched briefly in the big leagues, and Gerrit Cole (No. 28 to the Yankees), who didn’t sign and was the No. 1 overall pick three years later.
This year could fall somewhere between ’08 and ’17. It seems there are five, at best, high school pitchers who are in first-round conversations: Matthew Allan and Brennan Malone in Florida, Daniel Espino in Georgia, Quinn Priester in Illinois and JJ Goss from Texas. Typically, since high school pitchers are the highest risk to take in the Draft, they tend to slide down a little bit. All five could go in the top 34 picks, but one or two could just as easily make it to the Competitive Balance Round A or the second round.
4. Will a record number of hitters be taken to start the Draft?
With such a weak crop of pitching overall considered to be first-round talent, and all those good hitters at the top, things are pointing towards a record-breaking year. If the top six players are hitters, that would set a new record (The 2005 Draft had five bats to start things off.). The previous record for hitters taken in the first round was 21, set in 2015. That first round had 36 picks in it. This year’s first round has 34 selections, and there could easily be as many as 24 hitters taken.
5. What will the D-backs do with all their picks?
Having multiple picks early in the Draft does not necessarily guarantee success. Just ask the 2011 Rays. Tampa Bay had 10 picks before the start of the second round that year and really only ended up with Blake Snell to show for that haul (Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Goeddel have made it to the big leagues). The D-backs have improved their farm system in recent years, and this gives them the chance to add a whole lot of talent at once. They have the largest bonus pool, north of $16 million, so they can and should aggressively go after impact talent. Picking at 16, 26, 33 and 34 in the first round, they can see who drops to them because of signability concerns and have the financial ability to get deals done. They also can go after high-risk, high-reward type players, like high school pitchers or some of the two-sport stars in this year’s class.
6. Who might be the biggest surprise to land in the first round?
So much is up in the air about this year, really after the top six or so names, that anything can happen. We’ve had a good amount of Draft buzz, hearing about players with serious helium, like SoCal high school infielder Keoni Cavaco. At this point, it won’t be a surprise to see him land in the middle of the first round at all. Kyren Paris, a high school shortstop from Northern California, seems to be gaining steam. He’s popped up sporadically in mock drafts, but with no real certainty. He could sneak up as high as the 20s to a team like Tampa Bay or Cleveland. Looking for a college name? How about UCLA’s Michael Toglia, who has popped up a bit at the tail end of the round in mock drafts.
7. Who might be the biggest surprise to slide out of the first round?
The best bet might be one of the high-end high school arms, because of the aforementioned risk and because there isn’t complete consensus on the profiles of some. Both Espino and Malone have first-round arm strength and potential, but either could be a candidate to not make it in the top 34 picks.
8. Will age matter in the first round?
Much has been made of the age of high school draftees over the last few years. If a prep prospect is 19 or older at the time of the Draft, it can be something that scares teams off. Many organizations have models they plug players’ data into, and being 19 is something that those models don’t like. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to impact Witt at all, who likely will go in the top two picks, largely because of his five-tool potential at a premium position. It might, however, have an adverse affect on Texas high school third baseman Brett Baty, who is 19 1/2. He’s one of the best high school hitters in the class and has the chance to hit for average and power, yet he’s not hearing his name higher up in the first round because of that age issue. Ironically, if Baty were to go on to the University of Texas, he’d be a Draft-eligible sophomore in two years and teams wouldn’t be bringing up the age problem then.
9. How many shortstops will go in the first round?
So. Many. Shortstops. It starts with Witt at the top of the Draft, and he’ll soon be followed by CJ Abrams, the athletic Georgia prepster. And they could both be gone in the top three picks. Other high school shortstops who could go in the opening round are Gunnar Henderson, Kyren Paris, Brooks Lee, Matthew Lugo, Anthony Volpe and Nasim Nunez, with Henderson seeming to be the most likely first-rounder of that group. Throw in Cavaco, who had been showing he can play the position late in the spring, and that’s nine high school shortstops alone. On the college side, there are as many as six who currently are shortsops (Bryson Stott, Will Wilson, Logan Davidson, Braden Shewmake, Brady McConnell and Greg Jones) who are coming up in opening round conversations. Will there be 15 shortstops taken? Unlikely, but double-digits seems extremely possible.
10. Could this be the first year since 2012 the White Sox take a high school player?
There are few certainties in life, but over the past several years, the White Sox taking a college player in the first round has been right up there with death and taxes. The last time Chicago took a prep player was when Courtney Hawkins (remember the back flip?) was the No. 13 overall pick in the Draft in 2012. It’s been all college since then, with four hitters and three pitchers entering the system. If the White Sox were to take Abrams, which has been mentioned repeatedly, it would break that trend. But if Rutschman goes No. 1 and Witt goes No. 2, there’s also still a good chance the White Sox will continue their streak and take Vaughn.