Looking back at top 2015 Draft picks

June 25th, 2020

A general rule of thumb when examining the success of a Draft class is that you have to look back at least five years to start getting a real sense. So while last week we looked at the top Draft pick for each team from three years ago, this time around we’re setting a marker at that five-year mark and the 2015 Draft.

So far, it’s been a mixed bag. A total of 13 of the 30 draftees below have graduated off of prospects lists, but only a few of them have had any real big league success, led by the Astros’ Alex Bregman. He’s one of nine of the 30 who have produced positive WAR to date, with two not doing so for the teams that drafted them (Dansby Swanson and Kolby Allard).

As a quick aside, there are players taken early in this Draft who weren’t their team’s first selection, but have had some success as Major Leaguers. The Braves got Mike Soroka at No. 28 overall, after they drafted Allard, and he was a 2019 All-Star (and they also got Austin Riley No. 41 overall in that Draft). The Astros, of course, also had the No. 5 pick, and got Kyle Tucker as well. The Pirates could end up having a very strong Draft, getting top third-base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes with their second selection in the first round that June.


Blue Jays: Jon Harris, RHP
Though an underwhelming showing for Missouri State in the 2015 College World Series regionals hurt Harris’ Draft stock, the Blue Jays still viewed him as one of the more advanced college arms in the class and took him late in the first round (No. 29 overall). He pitched well in his first full season, posting a 2.71 ERA in 24 starts across two levels, but was unable to build upon that performance at the Double-A level during 2017-18 and missed most of the ’19 season with an unspecified injury.

Orioles: DJ Stewart, OF
The Orioles took Stewart out of Florida State with the 25th overall pick in the Draft with the hopes his on-base skills and raw power would carry him to the big leagues quickly. He was No. 7 on the O’s Top 30 to start the 2016 season, but dropped from there. He did make his big league debut in 2018 and graduated off the list in 2019, though he’s posted only a .241/.323/.422 line in 166 ABs.

Rays: Garrett Whitley, OF
Whitley had some of the best all-around tools among position players in the 2015 class but came with the stigma of being a cold-weather player who beat up inferior high school pitching in rural New York. The Rays knew that he would be a development project when they selected him 13th overall, and that was exactly the case early in Whitley’s career before he started to turn the corner in 2017 at Class A Bowling Green. Though his progress came to a temporary halt in early 2018 when a torn labrum that he suffered while diving for a ball during Spring Training wiped out his entire season, Whitley returned fully healthy in ’19 to post a .751 OPS with 42 extra-base hits and 16 steals for Class A Advanced Charlotte.

Red Sox: Andrew Benintendi, OF
Benintendi went from one homer as an Arkansas freshman in 2014 to an NCAA Division I-leading 20 as a Draft-eligible sophomore in 2015, winning every major college Player of the Year award and rocketing up Draft boards until the Red Sox selected him at No. 7 overall. He reached Boston 13 months after signing, ranked as MLB Pipeline's No. 1-rated prospect entering 2017, placed second in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting that year and played a major role in a World Series championship in 2018.

Yankees: James Kaprielian, RHP (Athletics No. 12)
Kaprielian helped UCLA win the 2013 College World Series as a freshman and emerged as one of the more polished pitchers in the 2015 Draft, which helped him go No. 16 overall. Expected to move quickly, he developed elbow issues three starts into his first full season and missed all of 2017 and 2018 because of Tommy John surgery. Part of the Sonny Gray trade with the Athletics in July 2017, he stayed healthy and worked a career-high 68 innings last season.


Indians: Brady Aiken, LHP (unranked on Indians Top 30)
Aiken is a cautionary tale for those who believe that all pitchers come back better than ever from Tommy John surgery. The California high school product agreed to a $6.5 million bonus with the Astros as the No. 1 overall pick and consensus top prospect in the 2014 Draft, but a post-Draft physical raised questions about his pitching elbow and the two sides couldn't come to a revised agreement. Originally committed to UCLA, Aiken decided instead to pitch in the post-graduate program at IMG Academy, where his elbow gave out 13 pitches into his lone outing. Three months after he had reconstructive surgery, the Indians chose him 17th overall, but his stuff never bounced back. He has yet to advance past low Class A, missed all of 2018 amid strike-throwing issues and pitched just 2/3 of an inning last year before stepping away from baseball.

Royals: Ashe Russell, RHP
The highest-ranked prep hurler (No. 14 overall) in the 2015 class, Russell experienced a concerning dip in velocity the following year and ultimately developed confidence problems that prompted him to take a leave of absence in 2017. After a nearly two-year absence, the right-hander appeared ready to return to action in ’19 before losing the entire season to Tommy John surgery. Overall, the 23-year-old righty has totaled just 38 1/3 innings in the Minors, and none have come at a full-season level.

Tigers: Beau Burrows, RHP
Detroit’s selection of Burrows in the 2015 Draft’s first round (No. 22 overall) can be viewed as a starting point for the club’s turnaround on the farm, as they went on to draft now-Top 100 prospects like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and Alex Faedo in subsequent years. Burrows was a Top 100 prospect (No. 77) himself going into the 2018 season, but a challenging Double-A campaign that year in which he battled control problems caused the right-hander to fall off the list, and he endured similar inconsistencies after returning from an early-season oblique injury at Triple-A Toledo in 2019.

Twins: Tyler Jay, LHP
The closer at the University of Illinois, Jay was the No. 6 overall pick in the Draft because the Twins (and other teams) believed he could start. He reached Double-A in his first full season and was in the Twins’ top five in 2016-17, but missed nearly all of the 2017 season with injuries, was off the Top 30 at the start of 2019 and was traded to the Reds for cash considerations in June of last season.

White Sox: Carson Fulmer, RHP
MLB Pipeline's top-rated pitcher in the 2015 Draft, Fulmer was the first player from that class to reach the big leagues, doing so a year and two weeks after signing as the No. 8 overall choice. The White Sox bounced the former Vanderbilt star between starting and relieving, which didn't help his development, and an inability to throw strikes has undermined him in Chicago, where he has a 6.56 ERA in 44 appearances (15 starts).


Angels: Taylor Ward, C
A bit of a surprise first-round pick out of Fresno State, Ward was taken No. 26 overall by the Angels and was actually their top prospect at the start of the 2016 season. A catcher in college and for the first two-plus seasons of his pro career, he’s moved to third and left field, where he’s seen all his time since reaching the big leagues in 2018. He has just a .181/.256/.333 line in 177 at-bats to date.

Astros: Alex Bregman, SS
With the compensation pick they received for failing to sign 2014 No. 1 overall choice Brady Aiken, the Astros grabbed the best player in the 2015 Draft at No. 2. The Louisiana State star became the first position player from his class to advance to the big leagues, seamlessly switching to third base on the fly after getting called up in July 2016. Bregman helped fuel a World Series championship in 2017 and has been an All-Star and top-five MVP finisher in each of the last two seasons. Houston also had its regular first-rounder at No. 5, making them the first club ever with two choices that early, and used that to take another potential star in Florida high school outfielder Kyle Tucker.

Athletics: Richie Martin, SS
The Florida Gators product was the No. 20 pick in this Draft and had started putting it together by hitting .300 in Double-A in 2018. The A’s didn’t add him to the 40-man roster and the Orioles made him the No. 1 pick in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft. He hit .208/.260/.322 in 283 at-bats during his rookie season.

Mariners: Nick Neidert, RHP, (Marlins No. 10)
The Mariners didn’t have a first-round pick in 2015, so Neidert was their first selection in the second round out of the Georgia high school ranks. He was moving methodically up the M’s ladder when he was sent to the Marlins in December 2017 as part of the Dee Gordon trade. He missed a huge chunk of the 2019 season with a torn meniscus, though he threw well in the Arizona Fall League.

Rangers: Dillon Tate, RHP (Orioles No. 27)
The Rangers soured quickly on Tate after drafting him fourth overall out of UC Santa Barbara, sending him to the Yankees as part of a package for Carlos Beltran 14 months later. His stuff hasn't been as electric as it was in college, and he went to the Orioles in 2018 in a deal for Zach Britton. He made his big league debut last year, logging a 6.43 ERA in 16 games with Baltimore.


Braves: Kolby Allard, LHP
Allard was the top prep lefty in the 2015 Draft class and was the first high school arm selected, taken No. 14 overall by the Braves. Despite rather pedestrian stuff, he had solid results (outside of a lack of missing bats) up the ladder and made his big league debut in 2018. He was pitching in Triple-A in 2019 when the Braves sent him to the Rangers in a deadline deal for Chris Martin and he made nine starts in Texas’ big league rotation

Marlins: Josh Naylor, 1B
The top Canadian prep prospect and one of the best power hitters available, Naylor had late helium that spring but still was somewhat of a surprise choice at No. 12 overall. Part of a seven-player trade with the Padres a year later, he posted a .249/.315/.403 slashline with eight homers in his 94-game big league debut in 2019.

Mets: Desmond Lindsay, OF
Lindsay failed to crack MLB Pipeline’s list of the Top 200 Draft prospects before going to the Mets in the second round. Though he has shown promise at times when healthy in the pro ranks, Lindsay’s time on the field has been few and far between, with injuries (including multiple hamstring injuries) limiting the now-23-year-old outfielder to just 242 games in five seasons.

Nationals: Andrew Stevenson, OF
Without a first-round pick in the 2015 Draft, the Nationals played it relatively safe when they selected Stevenson, an LSU product whom scouts viewed as one of the better runners and defensive outfielders in the class, in the second round. Stevenson’s speed-defense combo and his knack for making contact helped him reach the Majors for the first time in 2017, and he’s since served as a valuable bench outfielder for the 2019 World Series champion Nats, logging 124 games across three big league seasons.

Phillies: Cornelius Randolph, SS
Randolph was considered by many to be the best pure high school hitter in the class, and the Phillies nabbed him at No. 10 overall. He did spend the 2019 season in Double-A and turned just 22 during that year, but has managed just a .255/.343/.376 line while moving to left field as a pro. The Phillies didn’t protect him on the 40-man roster last offseason and he wasn’t selected in the Rule 5 Draft.


Brewers: Trent Grisham, OF
The Brewers were thrilled to find Grisham, who had been revered by scouts as one of the top pure hitters in his class and ranked as the No. 12 prospect in the 2015 class, still on the board with the No. 15 pick. He made a steady, level-per-year climb through Milwaukee’s system despite producing less than stellar numbers at every stop before breaking out in in ’19 after adjusting his setup and approach. Those tweaks enabled Grisham to rake at a .300/.407/.603 clip with 26 homers between the Double- and Triple-A levels, and he continued to produce in the Majors (.738 OPS, 6 HR in 51 games) after the Brewers called him up on Aug. 1. After the season, the Brewers dealt the 23-year-old outfielder and right-hander Zach Davies to the Padres in return for lefty Eric Lauer and second baseman Luis Urias.

Cardinals: Nick Plummer, OF
After he intrigued scouts at Michigan prep with his potential to hit for both power and average from the left side of the plate, Plummer has done neither in the pro ranks, compiling a .199/.345/.315 line with 415 strikeouts in 343 games (none above the Class A Advanced level) spanning four seasons. The Draft was anything but a bust for the Cardinals, as they landed Harrison Bader, Jordan Hicks, Paul DeJong and Ryan Helsley in Rounds 3-5.

Cubs: Ian Happ, OF
Happ went from being lightly regarded in high school to becoming easily the highest pick (No. 9 overall) from Cincinnati after starring for three years with the Bearcats. He slammed 24 homers as a rookie in 2017, struggled as an encore and spent much of last season in the Minors before playing well with the Cubs in August and September. He's a career .246/.340/.476 hitter with 50 homers in 315 big league games.

Pirates: Kevin Newman, SS
Both of the University of Arizona’s middle infielders are now in the big leagues, with Newman going No. 19 overall in 2015 and Scott Kingery going to the Phillies in the second round. Newman established himself as the Pirates’ shortstop in 2019 with a .308/.353/.446 line, 12 homers, 16 steals and a 3.1 WAR.

Reds: Tyler Stephenson, C, (Reds No. 3)
High school catchers can take a while to develop and that’s definitely been the case with Stephenson, with injuries impeding his ride up the Reds’ ladder after they took him 11th overall out of the Georgia prep ranks. A strong 2019 season in Double-A and an outstanding showing in the Arizona Fall League led to a spot on the 40-man roster last offseason.


D-backs: Dansby Swanson, SS
Selected out of Vanderbilt by Arizona with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Swanson spent roughly five months in the D-backs’ system before the club packaged him with Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair to get Shelby Miller from Atlanta in one of the more widely panned deals in recent history. Though Swanson initially struggled offensively at the outset of his big league career, he’s made noticeable strides in the past two seasons, slashing .245/.315/.409 while averaging 16 homers, 26 doubles and 10 steals per year.

Dodgers: Walker Buehler, RHP
After starring on Vanderbilt's 2014 national championship team and later that summer with Team USA and in the Cape Cod League, Buehler was primed to go near the top of the Draft but came down with elbow problems. He pitched through them for much of the year, but slipped to No. 24 amid reports he needed Tommy John surgery, which he had a month after signing. His polish returned and his solid stuff took a leap after he came back from his elbow reconstruction, giving him a power arsenal that helped him reach Los Angeles after just 93 2/3 innings in the Minors. He made his first All-Star team in 2019 and is one of the game's top young pitchers. The Dodgers also had a second first-rounder at No. 35 but failed to sign Louisville right-hander Kyle Funkhouser.

Giants: Phil Bickford, RHP (unranked on Brewers Top 30)
The Blue Jays didn't sign Bickford after taking him 10th overall in 2013 as a California high schooler, and he spent a year at Cal State Fullerton before transferring to the JC of Southern Nevada for 2015, when he went 18th. Dealt to the Brewers in a package for Will Smith in July 2016, he has seen his stuff fluctuate in pro ball and has yet to get past high Class A.

Rockies: Brendan Rodgers, SS, (Rockies No. 1/MLB No. 29)
If it hadn’t been for a shoulder injury, Rodgers would have likely established himself in Colorado and graduated off of prospects lists. He’s hit pretty much everywhere but the big leagues, with a .296/.352/.503 line, still equipped with the premium bat speed that made him the top-ranked talent in our 2015 Draft rankings.

Padres: Austin Smith, RHP
MLB Pipeline ranked Smith, a right-hander from the Florida prep ranks, as the No. 48 prospect in the 2015 Draft class before the Padres used their first overall pick to select him in the second round. He was moved to a relief role full time in 2018 after struggling to stay healthy and throw strikes as a starter early in his career and spent all of ’19 in Class A Fort Wayne’s bullpen, compiling a 3.51 ERA with 62 strikeouts across 66 2/3 innings in his age-22 campaign.