Tomorrow will be the first rounds of the 2016 MLB First Year Player Draft. Usually, this would bring a bit of excitement, especially given the way that the Diamondbacks’ season has gone so far. However, thanks to the signing of Zack Greinke, the Arizona Diamondbacks have forfeited their first round pick for this year. Combined with the trades of Dansby Swanson and Touki Toussaint, The Diamondbacks are now left with only Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley as first round selections since 2010 to hang any sort of hopes on. For this reason, as much as for the money spent, the team really needs Zack Greinke to come through for the next few seasons, while the team restocks itself with some higher-ceiling talent.
Of course, not all high ceiling talent comes in the first round, that is simply the easiest place to find it. Paul Goldschmidt is the obvious standout from within the organization. Selected in the 8th round of the stellar 2009 draft class, Goldschmidt is now one of the elite position players in all of baseball. This forfeiture of the first round pick need not be a crushing price to pay, it simply means the scouts need to keep a keen eye out and make sure to give Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa the best possible information available so that the team can maximize the picks it still has.
What then might the 2016 draft look like for the Arizona Diamondbacks. With the team making its first selection in the supplemental round all the way down at pick #39, it is impossible to make anything close to an accurate speculation on who they will take, or even who will still be available. If this were 2009, Jason Kipnis, Chris Owings, Garrett Richards, and Nolan Arenado would all still be available. Looking at those players, among others, it is tough to imagine them falling to #39 now, but such is the nature of scouting and team finances, there always seems to be a surprise find deep in the draft.
Such uncertainty about specific names does not, however; mean that we are unable to make some educated guesses as to the approach that will be used in the draft. From recent history, it is very clear that Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart prefer to target college players over longer-term prep prospects. With the team clearly still in a win-now window, this approach seems to make the most sense moving forward as well. The organization needs to fill the upper minors with prospects that have a high probability of making it to the majors inside of 2-4 years instead of 3-5. I would not be at all surprised if the Diamondbacks chose this season to take no prep talents at all during the first ten rounds.
Beyond that, we can look at recent history and see that the front office seems to favour the acquisition of arms over the acquisition of position talent. Acquiring the best arm at this point would probably mean dipping into the prep ranks and taking someone like Austin Berger a right-hander with a 96 mph 4-seamer, a low 90s 2-seamer, and a low 80s curve, all three of which he can throw for strikes. Or, they could go for someone throwing from the left side like the 6’ 5”, 230 lbs. Kyle Muller who has a 94 mph fastball and two secondary pitches he is able to throw for strikes, but needs to work on controlling better.
Since it is likely the Diamondbacks stick with college talent in this slot though, they might take a low-cost senior signing at this point and draft Kyle Funkhouser, last year’s 35th overall pick by the Dodgers who elected to return to Louisville for his senior season. Funkhouser possesses first-round talent, and as a senior, will not be able to command the maximum signing bonus for the slot. This would open up possibilities for the Diamondbacks later in the draft. If the Diamondbacks stick closer to slot, expect the Diamondbacks to select someone like Duke right-hander and sporter of the Wade Miley beard, Bailey Clark.
For what it’s worth, I ‘m in the camp that believes Funkhouser could be a bullpen arm by the end of 2016 and a starter by the end of 2017, if he’s available (and there is a good chance ne will be) I would select him at 39 and then use any savings I could to select Berger towards the end of the 10-round draft bool bracket if he is still available. At least, that’s what I do if I am drafting a pitcher. One only need to take a very cursory glance at the Diamondbacks top prospects though to realize that the position player pipeline is abysmally barren.
Additionally, the organization is woefully thin in the catching department, from the MLB level all the way down to rookie ball. While this year is not a great year for star-power catchers in the draft, it is a strong year for catchers that might just stick, and it can even be argued that the best college bat belongs to one in Zack Collins. Collins will not be available at 39, though he probably does not stick at catcher either. However, the Diamondbacks should have their pick of Chris Okey or Sean Murphy. Sean Murphy is a 70-grade defender with just enough bat that he could be an average hitter. Given that an average hitting catcher is almost a luxury in league these days, that 70-grade glove should make him a quality back-up at worst, and he should be able to move relatively quickly through the system, in case Oscar Hernandez takes more time to develop.
The other option, Chris Okey has the strongest arm and is considered by many to be Murphy’s equal defensively (though Murphy garners praise for his receiving that Okey does not yet). Okey also is gifted with slightly above aerage speed. While he has all the tools to stick behind the plate, the team could, in a pinch, move him to the outfield, where his tools will allow him to fit in just fine, assuming the bat develops. At the college level, Okey’s bat has not been standout, but it continues to improve and his swing and approach are most commonly compared to Yadier Molina.
Either one of those college catchers should be available, would satisfy the team’s desire to take a college talent, and would have the added benefit of adding a slot appropriate catching talent to an organization in need of position bats in general and catching in particular. While Arizona scouts obviously have a great deal more information than we do, the fact remains that there is a paucity of college bats in this year’s draft. If the Diamondbacks are going to select one, this is going to be the best place time for them to do so.
The Take: This year’s draft is heavy on college pitching and prep bats. If the Diamondbacks can use the 39th pick to grab one of the few college bats worth taking, or take advantage of the pitching depth to grab a legitimate first-round pitching talent at such a deep slot, then they could position themselves nicely to make the most of a very tricky draft situation. Regardless of which path they choose, this is a year where the draft is going to be of prime importance to the future of the organization. They can ill-afford another 2011 or 2012. This is the year they need to hit on more than they miss with those first ten picks of theirs.