Let’s not get too hasty here, there’s still 38 rounds of the draft to go between Friday and Saturday. However, a big part of victory at the draft is having a good first day.
With 77 total prospects off the board, some front offices have already cemented their contributions toward the future of their franchise. It’s tricky to peg ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ of the draft this early. Many of these prospects won't make a major league roster for years. Many may never make a major league debut. Some that actually do make a debut, could likely be in a different uniform by then.
We're taking a relatively measured approach to this in that we're favoring teams that seem to have taken players that fell in the draft in part to extraneous details. That is to say, scouting reports may be particularly favorable with regards to some prospects, especially for where they went in the draft. Here’s a look at five teams who may have done a better job than others at building prosperity:
5. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals likely made the most controversial pick of the draft, taking top-rated shortstop Delvin Perez at 23rd overall. As recently as a week ago, Perez was expected to go in the top 10 picks by a couple mocks. However, a suspension involving PEDs severely hampered that possibility heading into draft day. John Mozeliak has continued to capitalize on market inefficiencies for strengthening the current Cardinals’ dynasty. Signing Jhonny Peralta following the 2013 season seems to be a comparable move, and that has worked out very well.
With their three other picks, the Cardinals took Dylan Carlson at 33rd, Dakota Hudson at 34th, and Connor Jones at 70th. While Carlson represents a substantial reach according to many scouts, Hudson was the fourth-ranked right-handed pitcher according to Baseball America prior to the draft. He ended up being the 12th right-handed pitcher to go off of the board.
4. Seattle Mariners
Before the draft, Kyle Lewis was expected to go as high as second-overall. While position players did end up going first and second, the outfielder from Mercer didn’t see his name go off the board until 11th-overall to the Mariners. That's a substantial drop. In fact, the difference between the slot money at second overall and 11th overall is nearly $4.5 million.
With their other pick on the first day, the Mariners selected Joe Rizzo with their 50th overall pick. Rizzo shows raw power from an infield spot and could end up representing good value as well.
3. Cleveland Indians
The Indians started off their draft with what could possibly be perceived as a reach in Will Benson at 14th overall. Baseball America had Benson ranked 28th among all prospects and as the seventh-best outfield prospect. Here’s the issue with marking this as a reach though: three outfielders had gone quickly off the board in the top 11 picks. It seemed as though the teams preferred the outfield prospects of the 2016 draft class more than the scouts did, and it makes sense to correct out assumptions retrospectively.
The pick that seems to really shine though is that of Nolan Jones with the Indians’ 55th overall pick. Jones wasn’t expected to go in the first round by any means, but BA did have him ranked as the second-best shortstop on the board behind Delvin Perez. With Perez’s stock plummeting, a case could have been made for Jones to go much earlier than this. Jones may convert to third base at the next level, though his bat can certainly turn heads.
The Indians only had two of the top 77 picks of the draft, and certainly didn’t waste either.
2. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox were the benefactor of arguably the most storied drop come draft day. For what felt like months leading up to the draft, the consensus best player in the draft seemed to be high school right-hander Jason Groome. Not only did he not go first overall, but not even in the top 10, falling to the Red Sox at 12th overall.
Groome could end up being the best pitcher from this year's draft class. The problem with that is, we may have to wait a while to find out, as high school pitchers take substantial time to develop.
The Red Sox had the 51st pick, at which they selected shortstop C.J. Chatham. He didn’t place on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list prior to the draft. That being said, scouts believe he is a good contact hitter and smooth defender.
1. Oakland Athletics
The only competitor to “most storied drop come draft day” is the Athletics’ newest prospect: A.J. Puk. Mere weeks leading up to the draft, Puk went first overall in ESPN’s and MLB.com's mock drafts. Instead though, the Athletics got him at sixth-overall.
While that’s not as big a drop as Groome went through, it still represents roughly $5 million of slot money. Furthermore, as a college pitcher, Puk seems more projectable and safer, though scouts did believe he was among the riskier of the college arms. We likely won’t have to wait as long with Puk as we will with Groome to really see how this turned out for the Athletics.
The Athletics didn't stop there though. They continued to roll on right-handed college pitchers, even drafting Puk’s Florida teammate Logan Shore at 47th overall. Shore seems like a safe bet to at least make the majors and has a high floor. While that may not be as appealing as high-ceiling guys, making the majors is in itself a lofty goal for many of these prospects—even second-rounders.
Meanwhile, at 37th overall, the Athletics selected Daulton Jefferies. While he is smaller in stature than some of the other pitchers and has suffered some injuries, Jefferies has a compact delivery that seems to be repeatable and features a plus-fastball and a changeup that seems to project well.