The 2018 draft had plenty of infield talent at the top of the class, with three infielders (Nick Madrigal, Alec Bohm, and Jonathan India) going in the top five. It should come as a real compliment to this draft class, then, when we say that the 2019 class may have an even better group of upper-echelon infielders. Three shortstops (Bobby Witt Jr., C.J. Abrams, and Bryson Stott) are widely projected to go within the top 10, and another infielder, Andrew Vaughn, may be the best pure hitter in the draft. In a year where there isn’t a whole lot of high-end pitching talent, position players are going to end up being the story of this first round, and the infielders specifically may end up shining brighter than anyone else.
Here are five of the most highly-regarded infielders in this year’s draft class, all of whom you should familiarize yourself with as June 3 approaches:
Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Colleyville Heritage High School, Colleyville, TX
Ranked 2nd by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America
The 18-year-old Witt Jr., a high school shortstop with the potential to develop into a five-tool player, would likely be the top pick in most drafts, but with the emergence of Oregon State switch-hitting catcher Adley Rutschman, he’ll probably be forced to settle for going second or third overall. With Witt’s father — a right-handed pitcher who spent 16 seasons in the big leagues — having been selected No. 3 overall in 1985, the Witts have a chance to be the highest-drafted father-son duo ever. Above all, the intrigue surrounding the 6-foot, 180-pound Witt lies in his fantastic speed and his ability to play spectacular defense at shortstop, as he possesses a great arm and excellent range. Witt is considered to have a rather advanced plate approach for his age as well as impressive power, though there have been some concerns about his ability to hit for contact at the major-league level. At minimum, Witt might end up as an all-or-nothing power hitter who plays excellent defense, but that’s a still a decently high floor — if he ends up as a Brandon Crawford or Nick Ahmed-type player who plays Gold Glove defense without being an elite hitter, that’s still a plus.
Andrew Vaughn, 1B, University of California
Ranked 3rd by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America
Vaughn’s an extremely interesting case, as 6-foot college players who are confined to first base often have trouble getting drafted at all — much less ending up as top-five picks in the draft. The 21-year-old Vaughn’s elite hitting ability, impressive plate approach, and spectacular power, however, appear to be too great for teams to pass up. After a ridiculous sophomore season during which he hit .402/.531/.819 with 23 homers, a 7.0% strikeout rate, and a 17.2% walk rate in 54 games, the right-handed-hitting Vaughn has come back this spring and had a similarly good junior campaign, posting a .385/.539/.728 slash line with 15 homers, a 13.2% K rate, and a 23.3% BB rate through 48 contests.
With the first base position being devalued around baseball over the past few years, it should be interesting to see if there’s any real disparity between where Vaughn’s ranked on draft prospect lists and where he’s selected in the draft. Teams always covet guys who can tear the cover off the ball, especially right-handed hitters who possess both contact and power-hitting tools in today’s game, where the shift terrorizes lefty hitters. The Brewers selected Keston Hiura ninth overall two summers ago despite the fact that he was almost exclusively a DH heading into the draft, so Vaughn should easily be a top-10 pick, even if he falls a bit on draft day.
C.J. Abrams, SS, Blessed Trinity Catholic High School, Roswell, GA
Ranked 4th by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Abrams’ status as a consensus top-five prospect in this draft is curious, consdering that his only elite skills are his speed and athleticism. He’s the type of prospect who most frequently seems to end up burning teams — a high-schooler with physical skills to dream on, but an unpolished plate approach and a lack of great defensive instincts. Abrams flashes a smooth swing, and there’s hope that the lefty hitter will develop into an impactful contact hitter who will get on base enough to take advantage of his game-changing speed on the basepaths, but that’s a tricky proposition considering that he still has a long way to go in terms of developing an effective plate approach, and all the while left-handed hitters with really, really good contact skills are getting eaten up by the shift at the major-league level. Abrams has a somewhat slender build and hasn’t really been an impressive power hitter at the prep level, though he’s relatively tall and could be a candidate to turn into a solid power hitter after he grows into his body.
More than anything, Abrams’ value at the professional level might depend on how good of a defender he ends up being. He’s a shortstop right now and has a chance to play that position at the major-league level, considering his great speed, impressive range, and solid arm strength. However, he’s not exceptionally polished at the position, and it may be more realistic to think he’ll end up in center field than stick at short in the long run. With that said, center field is still an extremely valuable position — perhaps more important than shortstop in today’s game, where the ball is rarely put on the ground — and Abrams should be able to take advantage of his speed to become a great defender at that position if shorstop doesn’t work out for him.
Bryson Stott, SS, UNLV
Ranked 9th by MLB Pipeline, 10th by Baseball America
The 21-year-old Stott is the top college shortstop in this draft class and has a chance to be one of three shortstops selected within the top 10 this year. A 6-foot-3, 195-pound left-handed hitter, Stott has had a dominant season at the plate for the Runnin’ Rebels, hitting .356/.486/.599 with 10 homers, a 13.9% strikeout rate, and a 19.6% walk rate with a career-high 10 homers and 16 steals in 58 games. As stated with other guys here, there’s obvious risk with a lefty hitter who has below-average (though improving) power and profiles best as a contact hitter. But if Stott maintains his hit-for-average skills at the professional level and plays good defense at shortstop, he’d obviously end up being a valuable asset.
Stott’s arm and defensive instincts are considered to be above-average, but his quickness and range are just OK, so some believe that he may not end up being an everyday shortstop at the major-league level. Though stigmas surrounding hitting profiles at individual positions are quickly disappearing as hitters all across the diamond develop power and more players than ever rove between different positions on a day-to-day basis, it’s still true that Stott would be a less valuable asset if he ends up having to play second or third base rather than shortstop.
Brett Baty, 3B, Lake Travis High School, Travis County, TX
Ranked 17th by MLB Pipeline, 15th by Baseball America
The 19-year-old Baty, an overaged high-schooler, is widely regarded as the best prep third baseman in this year’s draft class, and evaluators are split between him and Texas Tech’s Josh Jung being the best third baseman overall in the class. A hulking power threat at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, there’s not really a perfect comparison to Baty in the majors right now if he ends up sticking at the hot corner as a professional — in terms of build, approach, handedness, and position, he might compare best to Travis Shaw or an early-career Chris Davis.
Baty’s best asset as a professional is going to be his power, which is already very much on display at the prep level. Many evaluators view him as a strong all-around hitter, though, and it’s possible that he could end up being a solid contact hitter at the big-league level rather than just a slugger. Like several other players discussed here, Baty’s value as a pro will depend significantly on where he ends up defensively at the professional level. There’s belief in some circles that he’ll eventually end up as a first baseman, and unless he develops the refined plate approach of a Joey Votto or Freddie Freeman, that position change could result in him becoming a dime-a-dozen lefty slugger. Particularly because of the improvements he’s made this spring, though, there’s increasing optimism that he’ll be able to stay at third, which would make him a much more attractive asset moving forward.