As the season nears the halfway point and many players continue to get more experience under their belts, Thursday’s MLB Draft brings in a new class of young guys, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, just starting what they hope to be long and storied professional baseball careers. Of course, the stories about these guys will differ dramatically based on where they end up, and where they end up relies a lot on what they bring to the table, along with what a specific team needs. Here, I’ll try to diagnose what the teams in the National League East should be looking for, based on what they’ve displayed thus far in 2016, and try to make some predictions on who they’ll end up taking in the first round. We’ll look at the teams in the order they’re drafting on Thursday.
Philadelphia Phillies (#1 Overall)
As we’ve seen from the offense this year, a few young hitters with some more pop in the bat could, theoretically, be great for the Phillies organization. However, some of the younger guys on this team: namely Tommy Joseph, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera, have shown that the Phillies do have some of the pieces they seem to need on offense already. Joseph is proving to be a more consistent hitter than his comrade at first base, Ryan Howard, has been in recent years, while Maikel Franco is providing good pop at the plate with ten homers on the year so far. Herrera has hit well, with a .319 average, and shows good potential as a leadoff hitter. They aren’t the only young guys who have hit well, but they’re an example of the offense to come in the Phils organization.
With that said, and with the way many other experts see it, the Phillies may very well be looking to grab a pitcher with the first overall pick this year. While there isn’t a clear favorite in the draft this year, like in years past with Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg, Florida’s A.J. Puk is currently the name being thrown around the most as the favorite to go first overall. While it may seem strange for the Phillies to be looking for starting pitching, as the pitching is what kept them competitive in the MLB for so long this year, strong starters are always a hot commodity in today’s MLB. Just look at the Atlanta Braves farm system, considered to be the best in the MLB. The Phillies rotation has also looked a lot more human as of late, especially with Vince Velazquez leaving his latest start after just two pitches with bicep soreness, and Puk could hopefully be another rock in that rotation, similar to what Aaron Nola has been so far. Puk also has the vitals to draw the attention of Big League scouts, at 6’7″ 230 lbs. with a high-90s fastball and a nasty breaking slider, Puk looks to have the stuff for the MLB too.
Atlanta Braves (#3 Overall)
The Braves are having an off year in the MLB, yes, but that doesn’t take away from the enviable talent they have down on the farm. The Braves have a plethora of young pitching talent, along with two of the better young middle-infield duos in the Minor Leagues. This year has made it even more evident that what the team really needs is power, and a lot of it. Freddie Freeman and Mallex Smith are the only guys on the team with at least three home runs on the year. Austin Riley currently seems to be the Braves best bet at a potential slugger in the current system, but he still needs some work on his approach at the plate to avoid becoming the next incarnation of Adam Dunn.
With a lot of current mock drafts listing Nick Senzel, the third-basemen out of Tennessee as the projected number two pick by the Reds, a lot of people see the Braves taking a chance on the southpaw straight out of Barnegat high school in New Jersey, Jason Groome. There is a lot of talk about Groome being arguably the most talented player in the draft, with a killer arsenal of pitches at his disposal. With the unpredictable nature of pitchers coming straight out of high school, a this pick is considered a gamble the Braves would be willing to take, given their willingness
to spend money on more picks and abundance of available pitching prospects if he doesn’t pan out.
If the Braves do end up going for a batter, and Senzel is taken by the Reds at #2, then Mercer Bears outfielder, Kyle Lewis, is another guy the Braves may lean towards. Lewis has some of the best power of all hitters in the draft, hitting 20 homers this year with Mercer, and 39 in his three-year baseball career there. Corey Ray is another tempting batter, as he offers a little less power than Lewis, but a lot of speed to compensate. The Louisville outfielder hit 15 homers this year, but also swiped 44 bags, for career totals of 27 homers and 82 steals.
Miami Marlins (#7 Overall)
Aside from Jose Fernandez, the Marlins are still lacking in the arms department. They’ve shown with Fernandez, however, that their system has the ability to develop some of the best pitching in the MLB. Given that and the team’s ability to hit this year, we should see Miami chase the best available pitching prospect still available by the time their number is called.
Following the thought processes of other mock drafts, the best available pitching prospect by that time will most likely be Matt Manning, out of Sheldon High School in California. Manning is another kid who is a bit of a risk, since he’s coming straight out of high school, but has a lot of upside given the stuff he throws. His breaking ball already looks like it’s ready for The Bigs, whenever it’s on, and you can’t argue with mid-to-high 90s on a fastball either. If, by some travesty, Groome is still on the board when the Marlins come up, he’s also a potential pickup for Miami, but realistically we’ll see Manning headed to Miami (and no, we’re not talking about the NFL).
New York Mets (#19 Overall)
The Mets don’t need pitching, I think that’s abundantly obvious to everybody who follows baseball at this point. Their rotation is still considered one of the best in baseball, so the offense is where they’ll look to improve in the draft.
The Mets have apparently voiced a lot of interest in Wake Forest third-baseman, Will Craig, who will probably be the best bat left on the board by this point. The Mets interest in Craig has become quite apparent to the baseball public, whether intentional or not, so barring something mind boggling happening earlier on in the draft, expect to hear Craig’s name called when the Mets’ time to pick finally rolls around. He hit 16 homers this year, in a very strong Atlantic Coast Conference, to bring his career total to 37.
Washington Nationals (#28 and #29 Overall)
The Nationals don’t get an official first-round pick in this year’s draft, as they expended it to sign Daniel Murphy in the offseason, (which appears to have paid off nicely) but they do receive two compensatory picks for losing Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond to the Tigers and Rangers respectively. With that said, by this point in the draft all of the big names will have been taken, especially with the apparent lack of them in this year’s draft, so the Nationals will just look to fill the gaps where they see them, and acquire the best talent still available to them.
With that in mind, the Nats may look to grab guys like Matt Thaiss, a catcher out of Virginia, and TJ Zeuch, a pitcher from Pittsburgh, according to mock draft sites. I think Thaiss is a guy who is very similar to Wilson Ramos at the plate, a consistent hitter with some potential power to boot and a solid glove behind the plate. He has a career .986 fielding percentage and a .387 caught stealing percentage behind the plate for Virgina. Zeuch, meanwhile has the vitals of an MLB pitcher, at 6’7″ 225 lbs. and a career 205 strikeouts in 213 innings.
Information from ESPN.com and CBSsports.com were used in this report.