With the 2019 MLB Amateur Draft less than two weeks away, it is time to explore which NL East farm systems need the most help, and what they should be looking for in the first few rounds.
On paper at least, the Braves are the team that has the least amount of need in their talent pipeline as their farm system was universally considered to be a top 3 group in the entire league. The biggest strength in the Braves’ system is without a doubt their stable of starting pitching prospects. They have multiple top 100 prospects that are starting pitching prospects (not to mention other promising arms that aren’t top 100 guys yet) that would very likely have already seen time in the majors for most other organizations. Outfield has also become a strength as they have two highly regarded prospects in Drew Waters and Cristian Pache that could feasibly play any of the three positions in the outfield if need be with Pache being a potential Gold Glover in center.
Just by attrition alone, however, the current weakness in the Braves farm system is in the infield....particularly up the middle. With the promotions of Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and more recently Austin Riley, the Braves have very few infielders with impact bats coming. At catcher, there is a little more depth as William Contreras is a fringe top 100 guy right now and is considered one of the better catching prospects in baseball already. There is also the problem that the Braves cannot be big players in the international free agent market for a couple years due to the penalties they are under. This makes getting position players out of the draft a top priority.
Expect the Braves to hone in on bats with the 9th pick, although no one could really fault the team for adopting a strict “best player available” philosophy with all of their picks including their two first rounders.
Like the Braves, the Phillies are in the hunt for a playoff spot and have graduated a bunch of their position player prospects in recent years. Their system also has a fair bit of starting pitching although the overall talent level and depth has taken a big hit recently between graduations to the majors and the loss of Sixto Sanchez in the Realmuto trade. They have some help coming for the left side of the infield in third baseman Alec Bohm, their top pick in the 2018 draft, as well as in shortstop Luis Garcia. Both players have questions at this point in time, but have real upside even if they are a ways away.
The problem the Phillies currently have is that several of the prospects they graduated from the minor leagues, particularly for their lineup, haven’t lived up to expectations. J.P. Crawford has yet to prove he can hit in the majors and Roman Quinn is even more in that camp. Scott Kingery has seemingly found a role as a utility guy and has hit better this year after a tough 2018 season, although he is still not seeing regular at-bats. So far this spring, the Phillies have been connected to college arms like Jackson Rutledge, George Kirby, and Zack Thompson. It would be hard to fault any of those picks. The Phillies have needs across the board in the minors, so prioritizing college arms that could move quickly during their contention window has real value.
The Mets made a lot of splashy moves this offseason in the attempt to contend for the NL East and so far, that hasn’t gone very well. The team currently sits at a game under .500 with a -16 run differential so far in the 2019 season. The good news here is that the Mets have some promising young pieces in Michael Conforto, Peter Alonso, and Jeff McNeil. They also have some young prospects in shortstops Andres Gimenez and Ronny Mauricio as well as third baseman Mark Vientos that could be the building blocks of their future infield.
The weakness that the Mets could try to shore up in this draft is in their pitching depth. It is hard to project any of their starting pitching prospects right now as impact arms and with the injury concerns that have existed for a while in the Mets’ rotation, they should consider prioritizing pitching especially arms that can move quickly through the minors. It sounds like that is what they are doing as they have been loosely connected to many of the same college arms that the Phillies have.
The Nationals were another team that made some splashy moves during the offseason to try and regain the NL East crown. The team signed Patrick Corbin to a big contract to solidify their rotation on paper and while the team did lose some key pieces including Bryce Harper, most expected them to be in contention. So far, though, they have been among the worst teams in baseball. They currently sit with a 22-32 record and an ugly -31 run differential in 2019.
The Nationals have needs across the board in their farm system mostly due to attrition. They have an exciting young core in the majors with Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Trea Turner and shortstop prospect Carter Kieboom looks like the real deal as well. However, once you get past the top three prospects or so, the talent level drops off in a hurry. Given where the Nationals draft this year (17th overall) and their need for depth basically everywhere, it seems likely that they will stick to a best player available philosophy and see who drops to them.
So the good news here is that it looks like the Marlins have an interesting young player to build around in Brian Anderson and they did well to get Sixto Sanchez, Jorge Alfaro, and more in the trade that sent J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies.
The bad news is that their other trades to bolster their young talent have not gone well. Somehow, the Marlins managed to trade away Christian Yelich and Marcel Ozuna and not get a top 100 level talent back for either of them. Lewis Brinson had some promise earlier in his MiLB career, but his time in the majors has been a borderline disaster (although he has looked better in the minors recently since getting sent back down). The Marlins do have some interesting, if very young, pieces in the minor leagues including Victor Victor Mesa, Monte Harrison, and Sandy Alcantara, but the talent level is lacking overall especially for a team that has already traded away its best assets.
Since the team is picking in the top five and they also have needs across the board, expect the Marlins to take the best player available. It sounds like Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday and prep shortstop C.J. Abrams are in play for the Marlins with toolsy college outfielder Hunter Bishop being an outside possibility as well.