Leading up to when the first pick by the Detroit Tigers is announced by Commissioner Rob Manfred shortly after 7 p.m. ET on Monday, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo will be working the phones, texting and emailing decision-makers in the scouting industry. Along the way, they hear a lot of rumors, buzz and talk of guys with helium and guys sliding. They will bring that information to everyone here in MLB Pipeline's Draft Buzz.
:: 2018 Draft coverage ::
Kyler Murray was the best athlete in the 2015 Draft, and he would have landed first-round money had he not opted out due to his desire play two sports at Texas A&M because he was the nation's top-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect. Draft-eligible again but poised to succeed Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma (where he tranferred in '16), Murray remains a tantalizing talent -- but one whom teams thought it would be nearly impossible to get him to commit to baseball.
On the night before the Draft, word began to circulate within the industry that for the right price, Murray would agree to focus on baseball after playing football this fall for the Sooners. If true, he could command a bonus of $3 million or more.
Other teams believe that the Reds (whose first two picks are at Nos. 5 and 48) and the Padres (whose top two selections are at Nos. 7 and 38) are the leading contenders to cut a discount deal in the first round so they can splurge on Murray with their second choice. Officials with both Cincinnati and San Diego denied that's the case.
Murray looked overmatched at the plate in his return to baseball with the Sooners last spring and in the Cape Cod League last summer, but he has improved dramatically as a redshirt sophomore. He's hitting .296/.398/.556 with 10 homers and 10 steals in 51 games, though he injured a hamstring in a Big 12 Conference tournament game on May 24 and hasn't played since. The Sooners play Mississippi later today in the championship game of the Tallahassee Regional, the first round of the NCAA Division I playoffs.
Though he's juggling two sports and has sacrificed precious at-bats while doing so, Murray has made nice adjustments at the plate. He's making better and more consistent contact, and he's doing a better job of recognizing breaking balls and not chasing them out of the strike zone. He has the plus-plus speed to steal bases and the bat speed and strength to produce average power.
The son of former Texas A&M quarterback and Brewers farmhand Kevin Murray and the nephew of two-time first-rounder and five-year big leaguer Calvin Murray, Kyler still needs to cut his strikeout rate further and is a work in progress in center field. He'll have to improve his reads and routes, though he has the quickness to recover from his mistakes and eventually should become a solid defender. His arm has regressed on the diamond and currently plays below average.
-- Jim Callis
Tigers considering 3 players at No. 1
And then there were three.
MLB Pipeline has learned that the Tigers, owners of the No. 1 overall pick, have narrowed down the candidates to be selected down to three.
Auburn right-hander Casey Mize continues to be the front-runner and is coming off a strong NCAA Regional start on Saturday when he gave up just one run on four hits, walking two and striking out 11 over seven innings against Army.
The only remaining players on the board are both college players. Florida ace Brady Singer, who returned from a minor hamstring injury on Sunday with a strong Regional start of his own, has been a standout for the Gators for three years and is No. 2 on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft Prospects list behind Mize. The lone bat continues to be Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart, who has terrific all-around skills and will be able to stay behind the plate long-term.
The list has been recently whittled down from five. Wichita State corner infielder Alec Bohm and high school left-hander Matthew Liberatore are no longer in the No. 1 overall pick conversation
-- Jonathan Mayo
Cousin of Rollins, Tarasco on the rise
A couple of days ago, we noted that Bedford (N.H.) High first baseman Grant Lavigne was generating some buzz as a possible late-first-rounder despite ranking 99th on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft Prospects list. Now a player rated a bit lower on the Top 200 is doing the same.
The Twins appear to being focusing on high school shortstops with the 20th overall selection, and Osiris Johnson is a potential target. No. 103 on the Top 200, the Encinal High (Alameda, Calif.) product has climbed Draft boards this spring after improving offensively and defensively. He has plus raw power that stands out at his position, solid speed and the potential to stay in the middle infield after projecting as a future outfielder last summer.
A cousin of former big leaguers Jimmy Rollins and Tony Tarasco, Johnson has committed to play at Cal State Fullerton. But the strides he has made this spring make it unlikely he'll make it to college and could push him all the way into the first round.
-- Jim Callis
Indiana HS OF Schnell entering 1st-round conversation
It started a week or so ago, when in what are regular conversations with scouts, the question was asked: "Where are you?"
"I just got to Florida after a day in Indianapolis," one scouting director said.
"Just arrived in Indy," was a national cross-checker's response to the query.
Another scouting director commented he knew something was up when he saw three other national guys or directors at breakfast in his hotel that morning.
The cause for this sudden rush to Indiana? Roncalli High School outfielder Nicholas Schnell.
It's not that Schnell was an unknown. He is, after all, No. 38 on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft Prospects list. But his name has, in Draft parlance, serious helium, with many teams all over the first round at the very least entering him into conversations.
The first time the left-handed-hitting outfielder with very good tools across the board is mentioned is with the White Sox at No. 4 overall. They have been one of many teams to scout Schnell heavily of late. This isn't Chicago's Plan A, because even the biggest Schnell fans don't see him as the fourth-best player in the class. But he is a backup plan, a money saver that would allow the White Sox to be aggressive with other potential tough signs later on in the Draft. And they wouldn't consider him if they didn't like the Louisville commit's potential.
Schnell comes up once more in the top 10, with the A's at No. 9. The most recent mock draft stuck with college outfielder Travis Swaggerty, but it's known that Oakland does like Schnell (along with Wisconsin prep outfielder Jarred Kelenic, also mentioned in several places). A number of teams potentially in on high school bats, like the Rays, Angels, Twins and Brewers, were all rumored to have an interest. Schnell landed at No. 31 overall, to the Rays, in the latest mock.
It's not uncommon for a prospect, especially one in a cold weather climate, to gain traction as the weather warms if his performance warrants it. That's been the case for Schnell who, even if he doesn't end up going in the top 35 picks, seems more and more like a lock to go on Day 1.
-- Jonathan Mayo
New Hampshire HS 1B Lavigne could go in 1st round
In the first 53 Drafts, only one New Hampshire high schooler ever was selected in the first round. The Blue Jays tabbed Chris Carpenter with the 15th overall choice in 1993, and he went on to collect one Cy Young Award and two World Series rings while being named to three All-Star teams (albeit with the Cardinals).
Bedford (N.H.) first baseman Grant Lavigne ranks 99th on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft Prospects list, yet he could join Carpenter as a Granite State prepster taken in the first round. At least three teams are mulling the possibility of choosing Lavigne late in the first round, according to multiple baseball sources.
At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Lavigne is uncommonly strong for a high school player and has some of the best left-handed power available in the 2018 Draft. He shows feel for hitting and plate discipline as well, making for an impressive package of offensive potential. The 18-year-old is also more athletic than his burly build might indicate, and some scouts believe he's worth trying in the outfield.
If Lavigne does sign this summer, he'll attempt to become the first hitter drafted out of a New Hampshire high school to reach the big leagues. If he doesn't turn pro, he'll head to Wake Forest.
-- Jim Callis
No. 25 prospect Vasil withdraws
Mike Vasil, the Boston-area high school right-hander who is No. 25 on the Top 200 Draft Prospects list, has withdrawn his name from consideration for this year's Draft, MLB.com has learned.
Vasil sent a letter to scouts telling them he did not want to be drafted and planned to head to the University of Virginia. The email reads:
Dear New England Area Scouts,
As the MLB Draft Day approaches, I want to thank the 30 Major League teams, especially the Area Scouts that have taken the time to evaluate me as a player, and get to know me as a person. Baseball is a part of my life today and will be an important part of my future. I enjoy studying the game, training for it and competing. Becoming a Major League Baseball player is my dream, and I believe I am more than prepared for that path based on the training, life skills and education that I have received from Boston College High School and my family.
However, the one thing withholding me from entering the draft on June 4, 2018 would be attending the University of Virginia. A baseball career doesn't last forever, and as I think about my future I realize that I want to be known as more than just a good player. Attending the University of Virginia will afford me the tools for the next phase of my life. Not only will it prepare me for a potential career in the MLB, but will also provide me with other excellent career opportunities. It will shape me to become a "professional". For these reasons, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft and attend the University of Virginia.
Vasil looked like a potential top half of the first round Draft pick early this spring until he walked off the mound in an April start holding his elbow. He answered some questions about his health by returning to the mound last Tuesday and throwing four shutout innings while striking out six. As of now, the letter is merely a request. Vasil has to petition Major League Baseball and the league has to make it official. Once that happens, the 6-foot-4 hurler would become eligible in 2021 after three years with the Cavaliers.
-- Jonathan Mayo
Louisville's Stowers rising quickly
With an array of solid tools and coming off a decent sophomore season at Louisville and a similar summer in the Cape Cod League, Josh Stowers entered 2018 with the upside of a third-round pick.
But Stowers' right-handed swing got out of whack early in the year, perhaps because he was trying to do too much. It took him nearly a month to connect on his first home run and he was hitting just .290/.444/.451 with two weeks left in the regular season. Stowers looked like he'd fall into the fifth- to seventh-round range, and we left him off the Top 200 Draft Prospects list.
Ever since then, however, Stowers has been one of the hottest hitters in college baseball. He has gone 24-for-46 (.522) in his last 11 games with five homers, 11 extra-base hits and seven stolen bases. His stroke looks better and he has gotten more aggressive at the plate, improving his overall slash line to .341/.470/.572 with nine homers, 33 steals (ninth in NCAA Division I) and 46 walks in 58 games.
Stowers has hit his way into the third or fourth round, perhaps even higher to a statistically minded club that will love the fact he has more walks than strikeouts (35). He doesn't have a true plus tool, but a team that likes him could put 55s (on the 20-80 scouting scale) on his hitting ability, speed and center-field defense. Others think he fits better in left field and is more of a tweener than an everyday player at the big league level.
-- Jim Callis
No. 2 prospect Singer out for SEC tourney
Scouts hoping to see Florida ace Brady Singer pitch in this week's South Eastern Conference Tournament won't get to see him in a game.
Singer, No. 2 on the Top 200 Draft Prospects list, tweaked his hamstring while warming up before his scheduled May 18 start against Mississippi State and was held out for precautionary reasons. The Gators continued to err on the side of caution and decided Singer would not pitch at all in the conference tournament.
Singer will, however, throw a bullpen Saturday, and he is heading in a positive direction with a scheduled return to competition on June 2 in regional play. Had this been the postseason, Singer likely could have pitched through the minor issue, but with a potential long run to Omaha ahead, Florida opted to hold him out of action this week.
Luckily for scouts, Singer wasn't the only attraction. Including him, there are seven players in the top 50 of that Top 200 list in action, starting with No. 1 Casey Mize. Coming off the two roughest starts of his season (11 IP, 10 ER), the Auburn ace threw Thursday, losing 4-2 to Texas A&M. The right-hander did go 7 2/3 innings, striking out seven and walking none, but he did give up four runs on eight hits. Teams picking at the top aren't overtly concerned, and while each start matters, there is a larger body of work that's considered, and evaluations go beyond result. Mize's stuff reportedly was fine on Thursday.
The other top 50 prospects at the SEC tournament are No. 8 Jonathan India (3B) and No. 15 Jackson Kowar (RHP), both from Florida, Ole Miss lefty Ryan Rolison (No. 17), Kentucky right-hander Sean Hjelle (No. 45) and Arkansas righty Blaine Knight (No. 49). Knight (6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) beat Kowar (6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 7 K) on Friday morning. Hjelle threw 7 1/3 innings of scoreless ball, allowing four hits and walking none while striking out nine in what ended up being a loss to Auburn on Tuesday. Rolison also got a no-decision in an eventual loss to Auburn, tossing 6 1/3 frames and allowing two earned runs on three hits, walking three and striking out six. India, the lone hitter in the group, had a homer and two RBIs over Florida's first two games.
-- Jonathan Mayo
Pair of college southpaws see stock slip
Shane McClanahan and Ryan Rolison, 2018's top two college left-handed pitching prospects, have seen their stock slip a bit as the Draft approaches. Both took the mound in conference tournaments on Wednesday with the chance to reverse their fortunes.
South Florida's McClanahan allowed just one run and struck out six in five innings in a 4-2 loss to Wichita State at the American Athletic Conference tourney in Clearwater, Fla. While that was an improvement over his last outing 12 days earlier, when the Shockers battered him for six runs in three innings in a 17-2 rout, he continued to struggle with his control and command. He walked five batters for the fourth time in his last six starts and also gave up five hits, throwing 110 pitches in just five frames.
McClanahan severely lacerated the index finger on his pitching hand while slicing bread the night before his first start against Wichita State and missed the following week's series against Cincinnati. At the AAC tournament, he worked at 94-98 mph with his fastball in the first two innings and at 89-95 in the next three. His changeup is often a plus pitch but graded closer to average, with his hard slider more effective at times.
A redshirt sophomore who missed 2016 following Tommy John surgery, McClanahan is now 5-6 with a 3.41 ERA and a 117/44 K/BB ratio in 71 1/3 innings. He has the best stuff among lefties in this Draft and leads NCAA Division I with 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings, but he may drop into the teens after looking like a lock to go in the top 10 picks earlier this spring.
Mississippi's Rolison also figures to land in the middle of the first round after once appearing to be a top-10 selection. South Carolina shelled him for 11 runs in 3 1/3 innings on May 4 and his control wasn't as sharp as usual in his next two starts. On Wednesday, he shut out Auburn for six innings at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., but the Tigers chased him in the seventh inning and rallied for a 9-3 victory.
Rolison pitched from 89-93 mph with his fastball and relied heavily on his curveball, one of the best in the Draft. He showed a promising changeup in the Cape Cod League last summer, but Rebels coaches haven't called for it much this spring and didn't again on Wednesday.
Draft-eligible as a 21-year-old sophomore, Rolison is 8-4 with a 3.95 ERA and a 98/38 K/BB ratio in 82 innings.
-- Jim Callis
2 potential 1st-rounders boost stock
Heading into this spring, one of the strengths of the 2018 Draft class appeared to be high school pitching, with a number of high-ceiling arms in consideration for the top half of the first round. But that deep pool was hit by a number of injuries that left more questions than certainties in what is already the highest-risk group of Draft prospects.
On Tuesday, a pair of those hurt high school right-handers returned to the mound to try to answer those questions. In Florida, Mason Denaburg, No. 20 on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft prospects list, was actually making his second appearance since being out for an extended period with a biceps issue. But that first outing, on May 16, was brief and interrupted by rain, with scouts more or less giving him a mulligan.
Tuesday was different. Facing powerhouse American Heritage and potential first-rounder Triston Casas, the right-hander went six scoreless innings and struck out nine, including Casas twice. But one scouting executive on hand summed it up succinctly when asked how Denaburg looked: "Healthy," he said.
Denaburg threw his fastball in the 87-94 mph range and was able to throw a full allotment of offspeed stuff. His changeup was particularly solid, though he was a bit more inconsistent with his breaking ball. Denaburg's curve ranged from below average to above average at different times, which is not all that surprising given his time away from the mound.
"He for sure put people more at ease by going six innings," a scout in attendance said.
Meanwhile in New England, fellow right-hander Mike Vasil (No. 21 on the Top 100) made his first appearance since walking off the mound in April holding his elbow. On a strict pitch count of 50, he made the most of it, striking out six in four scoreless frames.
Vasil threw his fastball in the 90-95 mph range and sat around 92 mph. Like Denaburg, his changeup was very effective, flashing plus, while his curveball was more fringe-average.
Before the injuries, both pitchers' names were moving up boards and could have even snuck into top 10 pick conversations. While throwing well on Tuesday certainly will help both their stocks, teams will have to be comfortable with the medical information they are provided to decide to take them early.
-- Jonathan Mayo
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. *Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.*