First impression: 5 best Drafts of 2015
Early bonus selections help lead Astros, Rockies and Dodgers to the top
How well teams truly fared in the 2015 Draft won't be known until careers play out on the diamond over the next two decades. That makes trying to assess how clubs did immediately after the Draft ended a dicey proposition.
A year ago, our first take on the 2014 Draft pegged the Astros as having the second-best effort in baseball. But after No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken's failed post-Draft physical resulted in Houston not signing him, and fellow high school pitchers Jacob Nix and Mac Marshall also going unsigned, the Astros' haul didn't look nearly so impressive.
That setback did help pump up Houston's 2015 Draft, however. The Astros received the No. 2 overall choice as compensation for not signing Aiken, and they earned the No. 5 selection based on having the fourth-worst record a year ago, giving them the highest pair of picks in Draft history. That went a long way to helping them make the best initial impression in the just-concluded Draft.
The top five Drafts, factoring in expected signability (rounds in parentheses):
The Nos. 2 and 5 picks alone were going to make for a strong Draft. Louisiana State's Alex Bregman, the No. 2 overall pick, draws comparisons to Dustin Pedroia and has a better chance to stay at shortstop, while Plant High (Tampa, Fla.) outfielder Kyle Tucker has better all-around tools than his brother Preston, a big league outfielder with Houston. When multitalented Eagle's Landing Christian Academy (McDonough, Ga.) Daz Cameron's (supplemental first) reported price tag made him available with the Astros' third choice at No. 37, it gave them three of seven best prospects on MLBPipeline.com's Draft Top 200, and their record $17.3 million bonus pool gives them the spending power to sign all of them. It also left room to grab Cal State Fullerton right-hander Thomas Eshelman (second), the best strike-thrower in college baseball history, and Texas Christian right-hander Riley Ferrell (third), a power-armed reliever who should advance quickly.
Owning the Nos. 3 and 27 choices left Colorado perfectly positioned to grab the high school position player and pitcher with the highest ceilings in the entire Draft. Lake Mary (Fla.) High shortstop Brendan Rodgers, the No. 3 overall pick and MLBPipeline's top-rated prospect, has 20-plus homer potential and solid tools across the board. Prep right-handers tend to slide a bit in the first couple of rounds, and Stroudsburg (Pa.) High's Mike Nikorak fell into the Rockies' lap at No. 27 despite his obvious athleticism and the makings of a mid-90s fastball and a plus curveball. The rest of Colorado's best picks all hailed from California: projectable Poway High third baseman Tyler Nevin (supplemental first), polished San Dimas High right-hander Peter Lambert (second) and advanced San Diego right-hander David Hill (fourth).
Los Angeles had a pair of first-round picks that allowed it to capitalize when two of the best college starting pitchers fell much further than expected. Vanderbilt right-hander Walker Buehler, the No. 24 overall pick, throws strikes with four pitches with solid-or-better potential, and he was the best prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer, though he wasn't as sharp this spring as he was as a sophomore. Louisville right-hander Kyle Funkhouser (No. 35 overall), whose physical frame and 92-96 mph fastball made him the top prospect on the U.S. national collegiate team last summer, looked like a top-10 selection before a late-season slump. Plano (Texas) Senior High outfielder Mitch Hansen (second) has solid tools across the board and got picked high enough to sign him away from a Stanford commitment. Virginia right-hander Josh Sborz (second) can reach 98 mph with his fastball, and he has had success as both a starter and reliever at one of college baseball's top programs. The Dodgers' big first day meant they had to go more conservative afterward, though they did land Yavapai (Ariz.) JC third baseman Willie Calhoun (fourth), who led all juco players with 31 homers this spring.
The first three teams on this list all benefited from extra choices, while Tampa Bay excelled without any bonus selections. Niskayuna (N.Y.) High's Garrett Whitley (No. 13 overall) has the highest ceiling among a deep crop of prep outfielders in the Draft, and Wilson High's (Long Beach, Calif.) Chris Betts offers the most offensive upside among the available catchers. The Rays also snagged two more potent bats in Maryland second baseman Brandon Lowe (third) and Virginia outfielder Joe McCarthy (fifth), as well as potential late-inning relievers in Dallas Baptist right-hander Brandon Koch (fourth) and Tulane right-hander Ian Gibaut (11th).
Texas also stood out with just a standard complement of two first-day choices. It used them on UC Santa Barbara right-hander Dillon Tate (No. 4 overall), whose mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider made him the first pitcher taken in the Draft, and speedy West Columbus High (Cerro Gordo, N.C.) outfielder Eric Jenkins. On the beginning of Day 2, the Rangers took three gambles that could pay off huge. They began with Duke right-hander Michael Matuella (third), a candidate to go No. 1 overall before he had Tommy John surgery, then followed with Houston right-hander Jake Lemoine (fourth), a potential first-rounder until he went down with a shoulder impingement, and Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Ferguson (sixth), a possible second-rounder before his control fell apart. South Gwinnett High (Snellville, Ga.) outfielder Chad Smith's (fifth) left-handed power could play well at Globe Life Park one day.