Draft buzz: Rutschman not going No. 1?

June 3rd, 2019

Leading up to when Commissioner Rob Manfred announces the Baltimore Orioles' No. 1 overall pick shortly after 7 ET tonight, 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 whose stock is rising or falling. They will bring that information to everyone here in MLB Pipeline's Draft Buzz.

Rutschman not going No. 1?

The night before the Draft is often a time for chatter about changes at the very top of the first round. And this year is no different.

All spring, Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman has been atop all talent rankings. And there was a general consensus that he should, and would, be the No. 1 pick. The Orioles, led by GM Mike Elias, are staying mum. Early on there was talk that they were looking at a large number of players, but it seemed likely Baltimore would go with the best player on the board, in Rutschman.

Now, about 24 hours before the first pick is announced, there is some buzz that the Orioles will not be taking the switch-hitting backstop. High-level scouts from two different teams picking later in the first round were insistent that Baltimore is not planning on taking Rutschman.

Could it be posturing? Absolutely. But there is some noise that things are up in the air in the Orioles' Draft room. Even if Rutschman isn't completely out of the mix, it sounds like the Orioles are seriously discussing numerous options. Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn is considered one of the top two alternatives, followed by a relatively new name in terms of serious conversation: Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday. And some feel Texas prep shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. is still a possibility.

None of these players would be considered a serious money-saver, so the impetus for not taking Rutschman would not be to manipulate their bonus pool in the hopes of aggressively pursuing tough-to-sign talent in the second round.

It's too soon to make a definitive move in first-round projections, but this will be something we will continue to monitor closely as we work on our final mock drafts. -- Jonathan Mayo, June 2

Baty as a possible deal in top 10?

As the spring has progressed, the very top of the Draft had seemingly become solidified, at least in terms of the names being discussed, if not the order. Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn, Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday, Georgia high school shortstop CJ Abrams and Florida prep outfielder Riley Greene have been at the center of nearly all of the conversations regarding the top six picks. But there’s a new name being bandied about.

Brett Baty, the Lake Travis High School (Texas) third baseman who is No. 17 on our Draft Top 200, is one of the best prep hitters in the class. He’s also, as has been well-documented, old for his class at 19 1/2, making it tougher to place where he might go in the first round, as some teams have models that don’t like older players.

But there’s been some buzz for a while about Baty’s name in the top 10, mostly surfacing in talk of a deal with the Texas Rangers at No. 8 overall. It seems that the Rangers aren’t the only team up near the top kicking the tires on such a deal, with the White Sox, picking at No. 3, also discussing that possibility.

Up until this point, most of the talk with the White Sox centered around the up-the-middle prep athlete in Abrams vs. the college bat in Vaughn (assuming Rutschman and Witt go 1-2 in some order). Chicago hasn’t taken a high school player since 2012, leading many to conclude Vaughn would be the pick. But the White Sox are still considering other options that include Bleday on the college bat side and a potential deal with Baty. That seems more like a backup plan if things don’t go well in terms of signability with other players, but stranger things have happened. -- Jonathan Mayo, June 1

Cavaco's stock on the rise

Heading into the final weekend before the Draft begins tonight, no player is flying up the first round as fast as Eastlake High (Chula Vista, Calif.) third baseman Keoni Cavaco.

Cavaco didn't generate a lot of preseason hype because he didn't partake of much of the high school showcase circuit last summer, though he started to create some local buzz in the fall. He began blowing up this spring to the point where a month ago, he was a legitimate candidate to go in the first round. Now he's a lock to go in the first 34 selections.

Cavaco capped his high school career by leading Eastlake to the California Interscholastic Federation open division title on May 26, sparking the decisive rally in the championship game with a bunt single and closing it out with a scoreless inning on the mound. By that point, he already had established that he had one of the best power/speed combinations in the 2019 prep class and showed the potential for plus tools across the board. He since has wowed teams with a series of private workouts, boosting his stock even higher.

The Twins, who pick at No. 13, are hot on Cavaco's trail. He has been mentioned as high as No. 10 to the Giants, is in the mix for the Angels at No. 15 and it doesn't appear that he could get past the Mariners at No. 20. -- Jim Callis, May 30

Jones may have locked up first-round spot

Amid a lot of recent buzz that UNC Wilmington shortstop Greg Jones could play himself into the first round, he may be solidifying a spot in the first 34 picks with his performance at the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

A crowd of scouts traveled to Harrisonburg, Va. to check out Jones, who is ranked No. 48 on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft Prospects list, against Elon right-hander George Kirby (No. 18) in a second-round game on Thursday. Jones got the better of Kirby with two hits in four at-bats, including a bases-loaded triple that chased the projected mid-first-rounder in the sixth inning.

"Jones looked very good," a veteran scouting official with a National League club said. "He's not going to get out of the first round."

Jones had two hits and an extra-base knock in each of the Seahawks' first three CAA tournament games, all victories. He has one of the best packages of tools among college players in this Draft, starting with top-of-the-scale speed, solid arm strength and some sneaky power from both sides of the plate. He's hitting .344/.493/.560 with 26 extra-base hits, 51 walks and 39 steals through 59 games.

The Athletics are known to have strong interest in Jones and sent a contingent to see him on Thursday. Their first-round pick is at No. 29, which once looked liked a realistic ceiling but may now be the floor for the speedy shortstop. -- Jim Callis, May 25

Jeter, Posada making the rounds

If you’ve happened to be at a college baseball game lately, chances are you’ve seen Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada.

The former Yankee stars have been making the rounds, showing up at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., on Wednesday and then at the Arizona State-Stanford game in Tempe., Ariz., the next night. Jeter, of course, is the Marlins’ chief executive officer and Posada was hired as a special advisor to baseball operations for the organization back in January.

The duo aren’t just fans of Division I action. The Marlins have the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s Draft and there’s no question Jeter and Posada are lending a hand in the evaluation efforts. They were joined by president of baseball operations Michael Hill and vice president of player development and scouting Gary Denbo at the SEC tournament. Hill was also on hand at the ASU game.

The targets? Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday has long been associated with the Marlins at No. 4. Some of that is because scouting director DJ Svihlik coached at Vandy last year. Some of it is because Bleday is one of the best college bats in the class, one who leads Division I hitters with 25 homers and is ranked No. 5 in our Draft rankings. Bleday made the visit worthwhile by going 5-for-5 with a double and an RBI against Auburn.

In Arizona, the top player on the field was outfielder Hunter Bishop, No. 7 on the list. He isn’t too far behind Bleday with 22 homers of his own to go along with 11 steals. He doesn’t have as long of a track record as Bleday, but many scouts believe he can stick in center field. His name has not come up much in discussions about the top four or five picks, but clearly the Marlins felt him worthy enough to send the big brass out to check him out. -- Jonathan Mayo, May 23

Two prep shortstops moving up boards

The conventional wisdom at this moment is that the consensus six best position players in the Draft will go in the first six picks, and a run on the top tier of four college and junior college pitchers will ensue immediately afterward. (We'll break all that down in detail when we release another first-round projection tonight).

After that happens, teams aren't sure exactly what to expect in the middle of the first round. But it appears that a pair of high school shortstops are moving up Draft boards and suddenly could factor in the teens.

Gunnar Henderson (Morgan Academy, Selma, Ala.) has drawn a lot of interest from the Phillies, who pick at 14, and also has been mentioned with the Angels (No. 15), D-backs (No. 16, the first of their four first-rounders), Pirates (No. 18) and Cardinals (No. 19). Kyren Paris (Freedom High, Oakley, Calif.) isn't as much of a lock for the first round and doesn't have as many suitors as Henderson, though he has been mentioned as high as the Twins (No. 13) and Angels (No. 15).

One of the top hitters in the 2019 prep class, Henderson has shown more strength and quickness as a senior and has a better chance to stay at shortstop than previously thought. Paris has a line-drive bat with solid to plus speed, arm strength and defensive ability.

Several teams are emphasizing age when they evaluate high schoolers, and Henderson and Paris are attractive to those clubs because they'll be 17 on Draft Day. Henderson won't turn 18 until June 29 and Paris, one of the youngest players in the Draft, won't until Nov. 11. -- Jim Callis, May 16

McConnell stock rising

While it's a relatively down year for Draft prospects in Florida (there were just four from the state in MLB Pipeline’s most recent mock draft compared to nine players from the Sunshine State taken in the top 34 picks a year ago), there’s obviously still talent to consider in the top few rounds. It’s typical for college hitters who perform well to move up boards, and no one in Florida is personifying that more right now than shortstop Brady McConnell.

The University of Florida infielder didn’t make our initial Top 100 list, as he was a player termed by many as a “bubble guy.” But expect to see him there when the Top 200 is unveiled, as all he’s done is continue to hit as the spring has gone on in an otherwise disappointing year for the Gators (a prime example of baseball in the state being down is there’s a chance not a single NCAA Regional will be hosted there, something that does not happen often). McConnell, who was a solid prospect whose uneven senior season of high school and strong commitment to Florida saw him slide on boards two years ago, is hitting .365/.416/.640 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 52 games as a Draft-eligible sophomore after a 6-for-14 weekend (with three home runs) against Tennessee.

The jury is still out over his ability to stay at shortstop, but the good news is many think he’s athletic enough to play center field or could handle second, and that bat looks like it’s going to play. He’s put himself into top-two-round consideration and his name even came up as work was being done on that last first-round mock. -- Jonathan Mayo, May 13

Barco shut down on the mound

Left-hander Hunter Barco is No. 31 on the current Top 100 and is the second-highest ranked prep pitcher from Florida, behind only right-hander Matthew Allan. He’s also the top-ranked high school southpaw on the list. But recent news reported about him being shut down on the mound -- he’s still hitting for his high school team -- has some concerned. A shoulder strain has kept him from pitching, though most didn’t believe it to be a serious injury.

Not everyone loves Barco’s lower arm slot, and he had an uneven summer on the showcase circuit, but he had been performing well this spring with more consistent performances. Most saw the southpaw as a late first-round pick candidate. Whether this news, or his commitment to the University of Florida, greatly impacts that status remains to be seen. -- Jonathan Mayo, May 13