Rodgers stands out, but top Draft pick isn't settled
Though toolsy prep shortstop 'checks all the boxes,' other candidates could go No. 1
In some First-Year Player Drafts, the No. 1 overall pick is a fait accompli well before the selection actually happens. David Price was like that in 2007 and Stephen Strasburg, arguably the best Draft prospect in history, was even more of a lock two years later. Carlos Rodon entered 2014 with similar momentum, though he lasted until the No. 3 choice in June.
The 2015 Draft lacks that type of clear-cut top selection. St. Mary's (Fla.) High shortstop Brendan Rodgers began the year as MLBPipeline.com's No. 1 prospect and maintains that position on our updated Top 100 list released today, but he's not a slam dunk.
Rodgers' main competition figured to be Duke right-hander Michael Matuella and IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) post-graduate left-hander Brady Aiken (who was the No. 1 pick in 2014 by the Astros), but both pitchers succumbed to Tommy John surgery. Now the consensus is that Rodgers' biggest challengers are UC Santa Barbara righty Dillon Tate and Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson.
With six weeks to go before the D-backs exercise the first choice, there's no strong indication who their favorite might be. Besides the top three candidates, Arizona has been seen heavily scouting players such as Niskayuna (N.Y.) High outfielder Garrett Whitley and Kennesaw Mountain High (Kennesaw, Ga.) catcher Tyler Stephenson. Whitley is considered more of a mid-first-round talent, while that would the upper end of interest in Stephenson.
"If we had the No. 1 pick, Brendan Rodgers would be our guy," an American League scouting director said. "That's the only part of this Draft that is real clear for me. Even though he didn't have a great spring, he's kind of the one guy who checks all the boxes. Maybe he's not a prototype 1-1 guy, but he's comparable to Carlos Correa. He's a shortstop who has power, he's physical, he's got tools and he's performed. His track record makes you confident that he'll be really good."
An offensive-minded shortstop who can make all the plays required at his position, Rodgers he could have five solid-or-better tools when he's fully developed. His season ended April 20 when Lake Mary lost in a district playoff game, though that won't affect him because he was scouted extensively all spring and on the high school showcase circuit.
If Rodgers does go No. 1 overall, he'd be the first shortstop to do so since the Astros took Correa in 2012. The only other time Arizona owned the top choice was in '05, when it chose Justin Upton, another prep shortstop with a potent bat. There's some buzz that the D-backs are less likely to choose Rodgers than other teams would be, which could elevate Tate or Swanson to the top spot.
In a spring when several of the best pitching prospects have gotten hurt or regressed, Tate has soared up Draft boards. Currently ranked No. 2 by MLBPipeline after opening the year at No. 30, he has maintained a mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider while making the transition from the bullpen to the rotation.
Tate missed a start last week after straining a trapezius muscle while weightlifting, but he returned Friday with his stuff intact and spun seven no-hit innings at Hawaii. He has gone 6-3 with a 1.57 ERA in 10 starts, striking out 77 in 74 2/3 innings. Tate would become the first Gaucho drafted in the top two rounds.
"I'd take Rodgers 1 and I'd probably take Swanson 2, but the guy who has pitched the best for me is Tate," a National League scouting director said. "He's a strong, athletic kid who competes really well and has two well above-average present-day pitches."
Swanson has maintained his status as the best college position player while rising from No. 9 to No. 3 on MLBPipeline's list. He has established himself as a bona fide shortstop after playing second base in 2014, when he was named Most Outstanding Player as the Commodores won their first College World Series. Swanson doesn't have Rodgers' power upside, but he's a quality hitter with more pop than most middle infielders and plus speed as well.
Along with right-handers Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler, Swanson is one of three Vanderbilt players who should factor into the upper half of the first round. He's hitting .348/.444/.607 with seven homers and 12 steals in 45 games.
"I'm a big Swanson fan," a second AL scouting director said. "I like him, but he is what he is, a really good player, not a great player. He can impact the game in a lot of ways. I'm not sure I'd take him 1-1, but he's a very good player."
While there's depth in this year's Draft crop, it's thinner at the top than teams picking there would hope. Rodgers might not have gone higher than fifth in 2014, while Tate and Swanson could have gone outside the top 10 selections.