Inbox: Early 2018 Draft predictions

March 15th, 2018

I often joke that if I became Czar of Baseball, the first two things I would do are mandate uniforms with names on the back anytime a professional player steps on a field (including batting practice and especially on the back fields at team complexes) and eliminate limits on signing bonuses for amateur prospects. After Minor League Baseball announced its pace-of-play changes on Wednesday, I now know what my third act would be: put the kibosh on the new rule that will place a runner on second base at the start of any extra inning.

I just don't see this rule having a big impact on pace of play because only a small percentage of games even reach extra innings (only seven percent at the big league level in 2017). If the goal is to save wear and tear on pitcher arms, just declare Minor League regular-season games official ties after the 10th or 11th inning.

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Don't hold me to any of this, because we still have more than two months before the Draft and I'm making speculative guesses more than anything, but I project the first five selections in the video at the top of this Inbox.

I don't pay much attention to Spring Training stats because of the small sample size and the wide variance in level of competition. So Hiura batting .400/.423/.560 in the Cactus League doesn't affect my opinion of him. That said, I already thought he was the best pure hitter in the 2017 Draft and likely to be one of the first position players from his class to reach the Majors.

The ninth overall pick last June, Hiura led NCAA Division I in batting (.442) and on-base percentage (.567) last spring at UC Irvine, then batted .371/.422/.611 in his pro debut. The second baseman's hitting ability overshadows his power, but he might have 20-homer pop. Unless a partial tear in Hiura's throwing elbow leads to Tommy John surgery, he should arrive in Milwaukee in early 2019.

Lucchesi has been spectacular in three outings with the Padres this spring, allowing just four baserunners while striking out six in seven scoreless innings. As with Hiura, the stats don't mean much to me, but I already held him in high regard. Lucchesi has a No. 3 starter ceiling and is a safe bet to at least fit in the back of a big league rotation.

A $100,000 senior sign as a fourth-rounder out of Southeast Missouri State in 2016, Lucchesi topped NCAA Division I with 149 strikeouts that spring. He has continued to confound hitters as a pro, logging a 1.99 ERA with 204 strikeouts in 181 innings and a .201 opponent average in two seasons while reaching Double-A. Lucchesi's 92-96 mph fastball plays up because of life, angle and command, his curveball and changeup are solid secondary pitches and he throws strikes with all three offerings.

Some scouts question Lucchesi's arm action, but it provides deception and he has the athleticism to make it work. He gets overshadowed as only the fourth-best left-hander in baseball's best farm system, but he's one of the 20 best southpaw prospects in the game.

My standard one-sentence answer is that I mainly base my rankings on a prospect's ceiling and his likelihood of reaching it. Beyond that, I consider his floor as well, balance his tools and his performance and put more weight on evaluations from front-office officials, scouts, managers and college coaches than my own first-hand observations.

Readiness for the big leagues isn't a prime consideration, though a player who has a longer track record of performance and has advanced further up the Minor League ladder will get the nod over one who hasn't, everything else considered equal. But I still think Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the best prospect in baseball, even if he hasn't played above high Class A.