There is more attention being paid to the Major League Draft with each passing year, and that means MLB general managers are feeling more pressure than ever leading up to Thursday's big event, which you can watch on MLB Network and MLB.com starting with the pregame show at 6 p.m ET. Of the 30 general managers, none is feeling the pressure more acutely than Matt Klentak, who is in his first year at the helm with the Phillies and controls the No. 1 overall pick.
Every team has a little different methodology and philosophy -- particularly as it applies to the top overall pick -- but when I was with the Mets and we picked first in 1994, there was no question we were taking the best college pitcher available. That year it was Paul Wilson from Florida State, and most thought he would be a top-of-the-rotation starter. Unfortunately, injuries derailed his career along the way, and he finished with a 4.86 ERA across parts of seven seasons.
Despite Wilson's struggles, there were no regrets in the Mets' front office in the subsequent years because he was a clear choice at "1-1" (industry jargon that refers to the first pick of the first round). But after speaking to multiple scouting directors and evaluators recently, there is not a consensus No. 1 pick in this year's Draft class. So now the Phillies are faced with a dilemma: Do they take the best player on their Draft board and do what it takes to sign him? Or do they find a player who will cut a deal with them, and sign for a signing bonus that is less than the MLB recommendation for that Draft slot?
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That strategy has its virtues, and it's one the Astros used to great effect in 2012, when they signed Carlos Correa for a below-slot deal with the top overall pick and used the savings to sign Lance McCullers Jr. later on. But taking the "signable" guy has its risks, too. When I was GM of the Mets in '04, we took Philip Humber at No. 3 overall because we knew he'd sign for a lower bonus than Jered Weaver, a player we had higher on our board. Weaver ended up signing with the Angels for $4 million, which is $1 million more than we gave Humber, and that decision, obviously, cost us in the long run.
Klentak and his scouting staff have a good handle on the different options, but from my point of view, Philadelphia should go the "signability" route and take a position player from the following group: Nick Senzel, 3B, Tennessee; Kyle Lewis, OF, Mercer; Corey Ray, OF, Louisville; or Mickey Moniak, OF, La Costa Canyon (Calif.) HS.
Why a position player over prep left-hander Jason Groome (MLBPipeline.com's No. 1 Draft prospect) or Florida lefty A.J. Puk, who has been linked to Philly in numerous mock drafts? First, the Phils are loaded with young pitching because of their recent trades. In the past 15 months alone, they have acquired right-handers Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff, who are currently helping the Major League team, as well as starters Jake Thompson, Mark Appel, Zach Eflin and Tom Eshelman. (Not to mention Aaron Nola, whom they took with the seventh overall pick in 2014.)
Secondly, in the case of Groome, who is from southern New Jersey, the additional pressure that comes with being a local kid and a No. 1 overall selection brings an added weight to bear. As for Puk, his inconsistent season for the Gators would make me hesitant to use the pick on him. And if the Phillies can get a position player to sign for below slot, there are plenty of prep and college pitchers who will still be available for the Phils' next pick (No. 42), when the position-player pool has been dramatically thinned. Remember: This Draft doesn't have a clear No. 1 pick, but there is plenty of depth.
With all that said, if I were in Klentak's position, I'd be honing in on Ray and Moniak at 1-1, both of whom I think would sign for less than the $9,015,000 allotted for the No. 1 pick. Here's my breakdown on each player (grades are all future tools on the 2-8 scouting scale) along with my ultimate recommendation.
Hit -- 6: Can hit to all fields and has a good idea of the strike zone.
Power -- 6: Has power to both gaps, led Team USA in OPS last summer.
Field -- 6: Athletic enough to play any outfield position.
Arm -- 6: Throws have enough carry to play right field, but he also profiles well in center and left.
Speed -- 6: Has stolen-base speed, led Team USA with 11 swipes last summer.
Summary: Ray is an incredibly talented player on both offense and defense who also has the makeup to handle the added attention of being the No. 1 selection.
Hit -- 6: Consistent contact vs. top competition, including the Tournament of Stars last year.
Power -- 5: Projectable home run power, consistent doubles power.
Field -- 7: Gold Glove-caliber center fielder in the future with plus speed.
Throw -- 5: Solid-average arm for the position.
Speed -- 7: Live athletic frame, he can really run.
Summary: Moniak is a two-way player who has the approach to be an above-average hitter and a plus defender in the Majors. He has excellent baseball IQ and plays hard. Moniak shows the maturity to handle the additional pressure of being the No. 1 selection.
I'm hearing that Moniak could be Philly's choice, and I see no issue with that. However, if it were up to me, I think I'd take Ray. He has incredible makeup, and given that he's a college product who has performed against a higher level of competition, he's a slightly safer bet while also possessing comparable upside.