Inbox: Playoff predictions, Draft, 2-way players

April 6th, 2017

My 2016 MLB predictions may have been my best ever, as I correctly identified the World Series champion, eight of the 10 playoff teams and five of the six division winners. I'm unlikely to live up to that standard in 2017, but here goes:
AL East: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays, Yankees, Orioles
AL Central: Indians, Tigers, Royals, Twins, White Sox
AL West: Astros, Rangers (Wild Card), Mariners (Wild Card), Angels, Athletics
NL East: Nationals, Mets (Wild Card), Marlins, Braves, Phillies
NL Central: Cubs, Pirates, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers
NL West: Dodgers, Giants (Wild Card), Diamondbacks, Rockies, Padres
World Series: Cubs over Indians
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I'm intrigued by what I've read about Cuban outfielder Luis Robert thus far. Could you do a side-by-side comparison of his tools to , back when Moncada was showcasing his workouts prior to free agency?
-- J.P. S., Springfield, Ill.

Robert is the most exciting Cuban prospect since Moncada, who famously signed for a record $31.5 million bonus (and cost the Red Sox a matching tax penalty as well) in March 2015. Robert is 19, the same age Moncada was when he turned pro, making a comparison even more apt.
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Robert is longer and leaner than Moncada, who was 6-feet and 210 pounds at the same stage in his career. They both had eye-catching bat speed (Robert as a right-hander, Moncada as a switch-hitter) that projects into plus power. Moncada graded as a better hitter than Robert, who had some swing-and-miss issues in international competition, though the latter still shows enough promise to be a .275 hitter.
The biggest difference between the two is speed, as Moncada was a well-above-average runner while Robert is solid and could be merely average once he fills out. Moncada's plus arm was at least a half-grade better than Robert's, and Moncada also offered more defensive value. Moncada has the athleticism and arm to play in the infield, while Robert figures to become a corner outfielder.

Hunter Greene ranked No. 1 on's initial Draft Top 50 Prospects list in December, and he'll rank No. 1 when we expand to a Top 100 at the end of this month. The Notre Dame High (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) right-hander can reach triple digits with his fastball, and he pairs it with a plus curveball.
All of that doesn't mean the Twins are a lock to take Greene No. 1 overall in June, however. No high school righty has gone that high, and it's possible that Minnesota might want someone who could provide more immediate help. Greene's three biggest challengers at this point would be Louisville left-hander/first baseman Brandon McKay, Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall and North Carolina righty J.B. Bukauskas.
As I mentioned in my last MLBPipeline Inbox, McKay is a legitimate top pick both ways, as he might be the best pure hitter in college baseball and at least a No. 3 starter, who could be the first pitcher from this Draft to reach the Majors. Kendall is easily the top college athlete, a potential five-tool center fielder, albeit with some swing-and-miss concerns. Bukauskas has the best stuff among the elite college pitchers, though his lack of size and the effort in his delivery could point him toward the bullpen.
At the top of the Draft, it's important to take the best player available rather than worry about demographics or ETAs. If I were running the Twins, I'd take Greene.

This is a timely question, because this year's Draft is short on quality position players (especially on the college side) and has a number of two-way talents. Greene could be a late first-round pick as a left-side infielder with impressive power potential and arm strength. Teams still are split on whether McKay will be better as a pitcher or hitter. Huntington Beach (Calif.) High has a pair of two-way stars in first baseman/lefty Nick Pratto and righty/catcher Hagen Danner, and Virginia outfielder/lefty Adam Haseley is another who should go in the top two rounds. Ballard High's (Louisville, Ky.) Jordon Adell can reach 97 mph with his fastball, but he's the best all-around athlete in the Draft and will get popped in the first round as an outfielder.
With McKay a notable exception, most two-way players have an obviously brighter future in one role or the other, and teams will draft them accordingly. Greene is one of the best position players in the 2017 Draft, but he'll definitely get picked as a pitcher. Pratto projects to go in the top 10 picks as a hitter, while Danner will be a pitcher and Haseley will be an outfielder.

I don't envision that happening. It's so difficult developing a quality player who's focusing on just hitting or pitching that teams are reluctant to jeopardize that possibility by asking someone to do both. The energy required to pull double duty also lessens the chance that a player will reach his ceiling in either role.
Before McKay, the last player who was a consensus top-10 pick as both a hitter and pitcher was Dave Winfield in 1973. He struck out 15 against Southern California in a classic College World Series contest that turned out to be the last game he ever pitched. The Padres drafted Winfield fourth overall and brought him straight to the big leagues to launch his Hall of Fame career as an outfielder.
The most recent two-way players in the big leagues have been fringe guys like Brooks Kieschnick and . They couldn't hit enough to keep a regular job as a position player, so they used their versatility to extend their careers. Kieschnick held onto a dual role for two years with the 2003-04 Brewers, finding modest success as a pinch-hitter and a one-inning reliever.
It will be quite interesting to see what happens with Japanese right-hander/DH Shohei Ohtani, who is rumored to want to come to the United States next season. He led the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters to the 2016 Japanese championship, winning Pacific League MVP honors and becoming the first player in league history to win postseason All-Star recognition as both a pitcher and a hitter. He went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 140 innings while also batting .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers in 104 games.
Ohtani has expressed interest in continuing to play both ways in the Major Leagues, and he has the leverage to create that opportunity if he wants.