It's an exciting time in MLB Pipeline-land.
Thursday was Minor League Opening Day, which gave us the chance to see the vast majority of the prospects on our Prospect Watch lists in action for the first time this season. Want to know where they are all playing? You're in luck, we just posted that exact information. And you can also check out who we picked for breakout prospects in each organization for this season.
We're also starting to flip that switch for the 2018 Draft. June will be here before you know it. Last week's National High School Invitational at USA Baseball's National Training Complex serves as a turning point of sorts. Getting to see all of that high school talent in one place certainly gets me thinking about the Draft more. As a result, there's a decided slant to this week's Inbox.
Risers and fallers. I always love this kind of question. Helium and… lead balloon (I've been trying for years to get this phrase to catch on, with no luck). I took this answer to video -- check it out above to see my answer.
We should be expanding our Draft rankings to a Top 100 in late April, and that should start our mock draft season. So keep an eye out for them as Jim Callis and I will trade off
throwing darts at names on a board making very educated guesses on who will go where. It's still a bit early to get a real sense of what teams are looking for, but we will keep everyone informed as that starts to heat up.
There are some players starting to separate themselves. As mentioned in the video answer, Casey Mize from Auburn has really stepped forward, and more than one scouting director has told me the right-hander is atop their board currently. One told me Mize, who has been the most consistent performer among the college arms near the top (6-0, 2.11 ERA, .152 BAA, 70 K, 3 BB in 47 IP), was 1-1 by a "wide margin." Detroit probably isn't ready to announce his name just yet, but he has definitely moved ahead of the pack.
No one else has necessarily run away and hid. Matt Liberatore, the high school lefty from Arizona, created a ton of buzz when he came out throwing 96-97 mph in early starts, up a few ticks from last summer. He scuffled in a following start, but while he wasn't throwing as hard at the NHSI and struggled in the early innings, he looked much like the polished southpaw we saw over the summer the rest of the way, striking out 10 of the final 17 batters he faced. He started to command his fastball, this time up to 93 mph, and his curveball, extremely well. With that in mind, he belongs near the top. Oregon State infielder Nick Madrigal has returned from injury and gone 14-for-25 (.560) with a pair of homers and three steals in his first six games, so he belongs in that top group as well.
We haven't gotten together to line up our Top 100 just yet, and things change very rapidly, but in terms of guys who could figure into the top 10, we could be looking at something like:
1. Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn
2. Nick Madrigal, SS/2B, Oregon State
3. Matt Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge HS (Ariz.)
4. Shane McClanahan, LHP, South Florida
5. Carter Stewart, RHP, Eau Galle HS (Fla.)
6. Brady Singer, RHP, Florida
7. Travis Swaggerty, OF, South Alabama
8. Alex Bohm, 3B, Wichita State
9. Ryan Rolison, LHP, Mississippi
10. Ethan Hankins, RHP, Forsyth Central HS (Ga.)
Keep a close eye on Singer. Many saw him as the guy on the top of Draft boards, but he started the spring a little bit slowly. Not awful, just not dominant, while Mize was. But in his last start, the Florida Gators ace allowed just two hits and a run while walking one and striking out 11 against Vanderbilt. If that continues, he'll join Mize at the top of this list. At the back end, Ethan Hankins is a bit of a wild card. He was No. 2 on our Top 50 last December, but he had been dealing with a shoulder issue. He was coming back slowly, but effectively, until reports of his last outing weren't as good, so stay tuned on that one. Other names near the top could include Wisconsin high school outfielder Jarred Kelenic, prep third baseman Noland Gorman and fellow Gator starter Jackson Kowar.
A little bit of a Draft twist to a prospect question. What a perfect segue!
I always want to pick hitters for this "quickest to the big leagues" question, but it might be smarter to go with arms who can move fast. To hedge my bets, I'm going to give you two of each. First, the bats.
The first guy that came to mind was Brewers second base prospect Keston Hiura. He was thought to be perhaps the most advanced college bat in last year's class and certainly didn't disappoint during his pro debut last summer after going No. 9 overall. Hiura hit .371/.422/.611 and made it to the full-season Midwest League. Hitting .419 in big league camp this spring certainly didn't hurt his profile. He's starting the year in the Class A Advanced Carolina League, but I wouldn't expect him to stay there long, especially as he is quickly answering questions about his elbow and defense at second.
The other fast track hitter I'd bring up here is the Twins' Brent Rooker. He went No. 35 overall out of Mississippi State then proceeded to hit .281/.364/.566 with 18 homers in 228 at-bats. A majority of those ABs came in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, which is supposed to be pitching-friendly. He's beginning the year up in Double-A, so he's already a step ahead of Hiura.
In terms of pitching, why don't we start with the Braves' Kyle Wright. He was the No. 5 pick in the Draft, and while the Vanderbilt product didn't pitch a ton last summer, he did get some FSL innings in. He's being pushed to the Double-A Southern League to start the season, which isn't too far away from Atlanta. Fellow first-rounder Alex Faedo of the Tigers also has the stuff to move pretty quickly. He didn't pitch last summer, and he is starting a level down from Wright in the FSL, so it might be a slightly slower path.
Finally, a sleeper pick. It's often a reliever who gets there first, so keep an eye on the Mariners' Wyatt Mills. He has the right combination of stuff and funky arm slot to move very quickly after posting a 1.77 ERA, a .114 BAA and a 12.8 K/9 rate during his summer debut. He's beginning the year in the Class A Advanced California League.
This might be the greatest Inbox question ever submitted. I have no idea how Jim answered this question, but I'm intensely curious.
I'll say this, I think Jim is sneaky strong, so I wouldn't automatically laugh this off. That said, have you seen either one of us in person? Or standing next to each other? Jim might routinely beat me in our head-to-head mock drafts, but I'm pretty confident I'd walk way victorious with this contest.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.