With the 2019 MLB Amateur Draft less than two weeks away, it is time to explore which AL East farm systems need the most help, and what they should be looking for in the first few rounds.
All rankings are via MLB Pipeline, unless otherwise stated.
The Orioles entered 2019 as one of the worst teams in baseball, and continue to have that vibe as the draft approaches.
The only Orioles minor leaguers who crack the league-wide top-10 prospects list at their respective positions are Ryan Mountcastle, the top first base prospect in baseball, and DL Hall, the ninth best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball.
Entering the season, ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Orioles’ farm as the worst in baseball (subscription required), while sites like Bleacher Report and Baseball Prospectus also had Baltimore near the bottom of their lists.
Mountcastle is the top prospect in Baltimore’s farm, while Hall is third. In between them is outfielder Yusniel Diaz, a highly-regarded Dodgers prospect who was one of the five players traded to the Orioles in the Manny Machado trade last summer. Of Baltimore’s top 10 prospects, six of them are pitchers. Three are outfielders, while Mountcastle stands alone as the only first baseman. The Orioles have a few left-infielders a bit lower on the list, but you don’t come across a first baseman until the 23rd slot, where infielder Jean Carmona sits. One slot below, at 24, the first catcher on the list appears in Brett Cumberland.
The Orioles have the first selection in the draft for the first time since 1989, so they have the rights to draft whomever they choose. Lucky for them, their lack at the catcher position in their prospect list should be resolved with Adley Rutschman, the top prospect in the draft who has been mocked to go to Baltimore at No. 1 overall.
Overall, the Orioles are in the middle of an epic re-build and need to make sure this draft has a large positive impact on their organization. In addition to a catcher, in the first few rounds of the draft, the Orioles should target pitching and the middle infield.
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox won the 2018 World Series and instantly looked poised to make another run at the title this year. After a slow start, the Red Sox are now above .500 and just a handful of games out of first place in the AL East.
The Red Sox have already promoted top prospect Michael Chavis to the majors, where the young slugger is crushing baseballs out of Fenway Park left and right.
No. 4 prospect Darwinzon Hernandez, No. 17 Travis Lakins, and No. 23 Bobby Poyner, all of whom are pitchers, have each made their big-league debuts, as well.
While the Red Sox farm isn’t one of the best in baseball, it certainly isn’t the worst. Nonetheless, it could definitely use some improvement. The top 30 prospects list consists of 15 pitchers, eight corner infielders, two middle infielders (both shortstops), four outfielders, and a catcher.
The most glaring needs come at second base and catcher, two positions with poor depth and countless question marks at both the major- and minor-league levels.
The Red Sox don’t have a selection until the second round at number 43 overall, but there are still several solid options available then. Their biggest targets in the earlier rounds should be middle infield and maybe a catcher or a pitcher, and then best player available in the later rounds.
New York Yankees
The New York Yankees are right on the Rays’ tail when it comes to the first place spot, an honor which Tampa Bay holds by justs a fraction of a game.
Of New York’s top 15 prospects, No. 2 Jonathan Loaisiga is the only one with big-league experience. No. 19 Thairo Estrada and No. 20 Chance Adams also have time in the majors.
The top 30 breakdown in the Yankees’ farm consists of a whopping 21 pitchers, six outfielders (including top prospect, Estevan Florial), two catchers, and one middle infielder.
That clearly leaves an obvious need at the infield position, where the only Top 30 prospect is Estrada, who has already spent plenty of time at the major league level.
Morgan Academy’s Gunnar Henderson has been mocked to the Yankees a couple times. Henderson is a shortstop who has been getting a lot of attention lately as he has made his way into the first round of many mock drafts thanks to his speed and strength, and his visible familiarity at the shortstop position.
The University of Arizona’s Nick Quintana is also a viable middle infield option for the Yankees, but that would likely be a bit of a reach at No. 30 when the Yankees are on the clock. Quintana should still be available when the Yankees have a competitive balance pick at No. 38 if they opt to go that direction.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays impressed baseball in 2018 and continue to do so in 2019. What makes this season different is that the Rays hold the first place slot in the AL East. What has made them so good is their young talent, which has come from previous successful drafts.
Of course, the Rays will be looking to emulate on their previous successes in hopes of solidifying the future of Tampa Bay baseball.
Of the Rays’ Top 30 prospects, only first baseman Nate Lowe and pitcher Anthony Banda have time in the majors. Lowe has spent nine games in the majors this season while an injury has kept Banda out of the highest level of baseball.
The Rays have 10 infielders, 13 pitchers, six outfielders, and a catcher on their top 30 list, although it is tricky to completely break it down by position considering many of the Rays’ prospects play several positions, including pitcher/designated hitter Brendan McKay (No. 3) and pitcher/outfielder Tanner Dodson (No. 18).
The biggest gap comes at the catcher position, but that void likely won’t be addressed until the third or fourth rounds at the earliest. It seems like an outfielder or fast-throwing starter would be of the most interest to the Rays when they are on the clock at Nos. 22 and 36.
IMG Academy’s right-handed Brennan Malone and North Carolina’s first baseman/outfielder Michael Busch seem like some of the most intriguing picks for the Rays given their first-round position, but Seminole high school pitcher Matthew Allan would also be a good option should he fall a few slots.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays remain in the fourth spot in the AL East and will figure to remain there untiil they can get some help from the youngsters in the minors. The Jays are expected to dump off several players at the trade deadline, including pitchers Marcus Stroman and Ken Giles.
Of the top 30 Jays in the farm, No. 1 Vladimir Guerrero Jr., No. 8 Sean Reid-Foley, No. 10 Anthony Alford, and No. 30 Jonathan Davis have all had big-league time this season.
The breakdown of this class of 30 talented minor-leaguers equates to 12 infielders, four catchers, five outfielders, and nine pitchers.
The Jays are set at the infield for a long time, as well as catching, where the minor league depth players are still blocked by the major league catching. Outfield and pitching figure to be the biggest targets for the Blue Jays entering the draft, where the Canadian club will make the 11th selection.
San Jacinto’s right-hander Jackson Rutledge has been the name most linked to the Blue Jays. When discussing Rutledge, MLB.com’s Jim Callis said, “The best junior college prospect since Bryce Harper went No. 1 overall in 2010, Rutledge has some of the most overpowering stuff in the Draft and tops national juco pitchers in ERA (0.93) and ranks second in strikeouts (123 in 77 2/3 innings).” While at first glance it seems unlikely a pitcher of that description would fall out of the single-digits, a deeper analysis shows that Rutledge very well could be the Jays’ first pick.
Kentucky lefty Zack Thompson, West Virginia righty Alek Manoah, and Arizona State outfielder Hunter Bishop are also realistic options for Toronto.