Which of these prep arms will go first in this year's Draft?
How much risk would you be willing to take if you were responsible for making your favorite team’s first-round Draft pick?
That’s the question every scouting director and general manager has to answer. And it goes beyond the first round, of course, especially with teams likely to be creative with bonus pools to pay high-end types more in later rounds. But let’s just look at the first round, or a team’s first pick, for right now for the purposes of this thought exercise.
The top of the class is hitter-heavy, outside of LSU ace Paul Skenes. As we’ve stated many times, the board has a definitive top five. And if you want a hitter, you can take a college player (LSU’s Dylan Crews or Florida’s Wyatt Langford) or one from the high school ranks (Walker Jenkins in North Carolina or Max Clark in Indiana). After that, it’s still wide open, but it’s still leaning towards offense, with seven of the next 10 also hitters.
But they say you can never have enough pitching, right? After Skenes, though, the college crop -- generally considered by scouts to be safer -- is thin. While there aren’t a ton of high school arms to consider high up, there are some intriguing options with first-round potential. This is where the risk-reward balance comes into play, because high school pitching is seen as the riskiest demographic in any Draft class.
It can work out spectacularly well. There are five pitchers in the top 10 active MLB players ranked by bWAR. Three were first-rounders taken out of high school: Clayton Kershaw (No. 7 overall, 2006), Zack Greinke (No. 6 overall, 2002) and Cole Hamels (No. 17 overall, 2002). Adam Wainwright and Madison Bumgarner are two other prep arms in the top 50. If you want to dig deeper into history, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Dwight Gooden are among the first-round success stories.
It can also go wrong, as in never getting to the big leagues kind of wrong. Former No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken might be Exhibit A these days (technically, Aiken was out of high school, but at IMG Academy, when he was re-drafted No. 17 overall in 2015 after not signing with the Astros as the top pick of the Draft in ’14, but you get the point), and he’s also proof that going with a lefty prepster is no guarantee. Tyler Kolek, Trey Ball, Matt Hobgood, Chris Gruler, Clint Everts and Colt Griffin are all high school pitchers taken and signed in the top 10 since 2001 who never pitched a big league inning.
So, that brings us back to this year. There appears to be two high school pitchers at the top of this group: Right-hander Noble Meyer, from Oregon, and lefty Thomas White, from Massachusetts. Anecdotally, there’s a little bit of a split camp over who should (or will) go higher. I did have Meyer going No. 7, to the Reds, in my last mock draft, though it’s way too early for any certainty.
Meyer currently has a better feel for the strike zone and more present pitches, at least consistently. White has the fact he’s left-handed going for him, and an argument could be made that he has a higher ceiling. He had taken a very nice step forward this spring in terms of answering questions about his command, but his final start of the year may have left a bad taste in scouts’ mouths (5 H, 5 BB, 8 ER).
We still have a long way to go here, with private workouts and meetings sure to have an impact on where this pair land. Righties Charlee Soto and Travis Sykora top the next group, with them and perhaps Blake Wolters and Alex Clemmey the only other prep pitchers we’ve been hearing in first-round chatter. It will be interesting to see where they, and the other high-end high schoolers in this class, end up going once it’s go time.