Inbox: Top 5 picks in a redo of 2016 Draft?

December 29th, 2017

It's been another fantastic year on the prospect front, hasn't it? As we prepare to turn the calendar to 2018, we have just enough time to squeeze in one more Inbox. I have to salute all of you for sending in tremendous questions all year long. I think I can speak for Jim Callis by saying that we never saw the well run dry.
I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, but I'll tell you what. You guys keep sending in great questions and we promise to keep answering them as thoughtfully as we can. Happy New Year to all!

This is such a Jim Callis type of question to answer, but I couldn't resist. Obviously, it's still too early to really redo a Draft top 5. I tend not to draw too many conclusions after just one full season. But since you asked, I'll give it a shot.
Let me preface this by saying that I'm still a Mickey Moniak believer. I know many are down on the No. 1 overall pick from this class, but I think he's going to start to click beginning in 2018. But let's have some fun with this new top five, basing it on performance and potential, and not really paying too much attention to organizational trends. And no, I wouldn't make A.J. Puk the No. 1 pick.
1. Phillies: Nick Senzel, 3B. The Tennessee product, who went No. 2 overall, was as good as advertised at the plate, hitting his way to Double-A with a .316/.387/.508 line that included 14 homers and 14 steals. He'll be ready to step in as a big league third baseman this coming season.
2. Reds: Bo Bichette, SS/2B. Dante's second son to turn pro didn't go until the second round, somewhat because not everyone thought his swing would work at the next level. Clearly, the Blue Jays did, and so far, Bichette has proven them right. At just 19, he played across two levels of A ball and finished with a .362/.423/.565 line, 14 homers and 22 steals, not to mention the Minor League batting title.
3. Braves: Forrest Whitley, RHP. We might look back years from now and decide the Astros got the steal of the first round at No. 17 overall. It's not often a high school draftee makes it to Double-A in his first full season, especially on the mound. But that's exactly what Whitley did, and despite throwing just 92 1/3 innings, he still finished second in the organization with 143 strikeouts to go along with his 2.83 ERA.
4. Rockies: A.J. Puk, LHP. The University of Florida product missed a ton of bats in his first full season, finishing third in the Minors with 184 K's. The big lefty made it to Double-A and pitched in the Futures Game, keeping hitters to a combined .227 batting average against.
5. Brewers:, OF. I have to tip my cap to the first guy in the class to make it to the big leagues, right? The third-round pick of the Orioles made the Minors look easy, finishing with a .329/.365/.593 line while landing tied for second in home runs with 32 en route to collecting 60 ABs with Baltimore at season's end.
I gave strong consideration to Alec Hansen, the White Sox second-round pick, who led the Minors in strikeouts and reached Double-A, and Jon Duplantier, the D-backs' third-rounder, whose 1.39 ERA was the best in the Minors in 2017.

Funny you should ask about this because I just wrote a story about guys poised to make a leap forward in 2018 who aren't on the Top 100.
Of the group I listed there, the safest bet is T.J. Zeuch of the Blue Jays. After seeing him in the Arizona Fall League, I think (and many others who saw him there agree) that his stuff will play at the big league level, and soon. The only thing that could hold him back is health, and he did get dinged up in 2017. But they weren't arm injuries (we'll have to keep an eye on the back, but seeing him throw in the AFL assuaged my concerns for the time being), so I think he's going to jump on the fast track. Honestly, if the Blue Jays wanted to, they could put him in the bullpen and his sinker-slider combination could get big leaguers out now. But even as a starter, I could see him starting the year in Double-A and pitching his way up to Toronto by the second half of 2018.

We'll wrap this up with some talk about the hottest trade rumor going around still. It's hard to truly know what stage the Pirates-Yankees talks involving Cole is at, but it's clear there have been discussions. So let's take a look at the offer above, leaving whether it's a sound offer until the end.
would be the top get in this deal for me. Technically, he wouldn't be on the prospects list because he accumulated 134 at-bats with the Yankees in 2017. But he was No. 27 on our midseason Top 100 re-rank. While he didn't dominate in the big leagues, he more than held his own early, then got hurt, then struggled a bit upon his return in September. All told, 16 homers and 10 steals and reaching New York (and helping in a playoff race) at age 22 is a solid season. If I were to put him on a re-ranked Top 30, I would probably put him No. 2, behind Mitch Keller and ahead of his old Georgia high school pal Austin Meadows. Chance Adams would be next and in a lot of ways, he's been an underrated pitching prospect, albeit one in the middle of our current top 100. Gut feel puts him at No. 4, right behind Meadows. Finally, there's Andujar, who I quite like and would love to see get a shot to play third base every day in the big leagues starting on Opening Day in 2018. I would probably put him at No. 6 on this fictional new Pirates list, with 2017 draftee Shane Baz coming in at No. 5.
Now, is this enough for Cole? The 27-year-old right-hander didn't quite have the "ace" season many thought he'd have in 2017, but he did top 200 innings for the second time in three years. So whether you think the above offer is enough depends on whether you think there's more to unlock here. I think there is, and that he can repeat his 2015 season. He also made just $3.75 million in 2017 and even with a bump up via arbitration, has a very team-friendly contract with two more years left of control. I'd like to think the Pirates could get a little more in return as a result, but it's also possible I'm misreading the current market. I think they could head into the season with Cole atop their rotation, then if they aren't competitive during the 2018 season, they could still get similar value by trading him to a playoff contending team in need that knows they'd have Cole for all of 2019 as well.