Two weeks from today is the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Given the surprise success of last year’s team, this year’s club will be choosing 25th in the first round. While not a spectacular position to be drafting from, there is good reason to hold out some hope. Matt Garza (12. bWAR), Bill Buckner (15.1 bWAR), Matt Cain (29.1 bWAR), and Chuck Knoblauch (44.8 bWAR) were all selected 25th in the first round. Granted, some of those are older picks, but Cain and Garza are recent enough to retain some hope. However, if those two are not enough, there is one other player selected 25th in the draft that has made a bit of noise in his time in the league. Mike Trout, with his 58.2 bWAR (and counting) was also selected 25th.
Selecting 25th makes it all but impossible to create a primer for the probable picks for Arizona. Unlike a NFL draft board, MLB draft prognosticators are doing a great job if they still have more than 70% correct beyond the 20th pick. So, instead of devoting time to a seemingly endless stream of player profiles, this draft entry will simply fill in the basics, getting everyone ready for the big day.
The Diamondbacks will select 25th in the first round. The pick has a slot value of $2,636,400. Given the amount of talent usually available at the 25th selection, Arizona should find they have money left over from their choice to devote to signing a bigger reach in the later rounds. In addition to the 25th pick, Arizona will also select at 36, 63, and 99, giving them four picks in the first three rounds. The team will then pick 25th in all rounds four through forty.
To be eligible for the first-year player draft, the player may not have previously signed an MLB or minor league contract. Also, they must be either a resident of the U.S. (including its territories) or Canada. Non-residents may also be eligible if they were enrolled in a high school or college in the U.S. or Canada within the previous year. In addition to residency requirements, an eligible draftee must also fulfill one of the following requirements:
1. Has graduated from high school
2. High school athletic eligibility has expired
3. Dropped out of high school at least 365 days prior to the draft
4. Attended a junior college the previous school year
5. Is attending a four-year college and has completed at least junior year of athletic eligibility
6. Is attending a four-year college and is age 21 or older (or will turn 21 within 45 days of the draft
7. Is attending a four-year college and the school has no baseball program
8. Was dismissed from a four-year college for academic reasons
9. Withdrew from a four-year college at least 120 days prior to the draft
A club is not permitted to select a player in the Rule 4 Draft two years in a row, unless the player gives his approval in advance.
A high school player eligible for selection may elect (in advance) to have his name removed from draft eligibility in that particular Rule 4 Draft.
Teams may no longer offer draftees a major league deal out of the draft as incentive to sign with the team.
Diamondbacks History in the Draft
The Diamondbacks have never selected 25th in the Rule 4 draft. Coming close they have drafted:
2001 – Jason Bulger, drafted 22nd
2002 – Sergio Santos, drafted 27th
2008 – Daniel Schlereth, drafted 26th
2012 – Stryker Trahan, drafted 26th
While none of those names inspire much confidence, the Diamondbacks have had some successes with late first-round or supplemental round picks.
2003 – Carlos Quentin, drafted 29th
2008 – Wade Miley, drafted 43rd
2009 – Chris Owings, drafted 41st
2011 – Andrew Chafin, drafted 43rd
Of those four players, two have made appearances in the All-Star Game.
Perhaps a bit disturbing, is Arizona’s success rate in the second round of the draft. Since the team began drafting in 1996, only Chris Snyder, Brett Anderson, and Bryan Shaw have managed positive bWAR in their careers, and only Snyder did so with the Diamondbacks. Things look a little bit better when it comes to the third round. Scott Hairston, Micah Owings, Keon Broxton, and Jake Barrett have all enjoyed careers with positive win-values. Hairston’s biggest years were for San Diego and Broxton has found his success in Minnesota, but at least the talent evaluation was correct. Additionally, Arizona’s number one prospect, Jon Duplantier was selected seventh in the third round and 82nd overall. While Duplantier has yet to make his MLB debut, he’s done nothing but impress at each step in his minor league career and looks poised to break through either late this year or the beginning of the 2019 season.
What the Team Needs
Despite being frugal with their prospects, the Arizona farm system still ranks among the worst in baseball. That means, the team has plenty of holes to fill. At the big league level, the team is positioned to lose all-star center fielder A.J. Pollock, reliable left-handed starter, Patrick Corbin, Jeff Mathis, and utility player Daniel Descalso to free agency. Following next season, the team will be poised to lose Alex Avila, Jarrod Dyson, Chris Owings, Shelby Miller, and Brad Boxberger. The team will also be staring at the departure of its cornerstone player, Paul Goldschmidt.
That’s a painful load of talent leaving. While some of those players are nothing special, some of them are going to be borderline crippling losses. Unfortunately for Arizona, the majority of talent on the farm is not likely to be ready for an additional season. Beyond Jon Duplantier and Taylor Widener, their starting pitching prospects are fringy at best. Beyond Daulton Varsho, who will be lucky to be MLB-ready by 2020, the team’s catching prospects are thin and still works in progress. The Diamondbacks will be looking for Socrates Brito to find a way to stay healthy and to finally make that last transition into being an MLB regular. After Brito, the Diamondbacks have probably another two seasons before Marcus Wilson could be ready to take a starting outfield position. On the infield, it looks like Drew Ellis or Pavin Smith will eventually replace Paul Goldschmidt at first. Both are looking more like mid-season 2020 call-ups right now though, as the transition to pro ball has not been easy on them. Basically, the Diamondbacks need a little bit of everything.
Drafting for need in the MLB draft is always a dicey proposition. Given the wide range of team needs, drafting the best available talent makes the most sense this season.
What to Expect
This is difficult to tell. There have been several mock drafts released lately. Here are what some of the prognosticators think:
MLB Draft: Noah Naylor, Catcher, St. Joan of Arc Catholic SS (Mississauga, Ontario)
Jonathan Mayo (MLB): Noah Naylor, Catcher, St. Joan of Arc Catholic SS (Mississauga, Ontario)
Sporting News: Logan Gilbert, RHP, Stetson
Baseball America: Jake McCarthy, OF, Virginia
Keith Law (ESPN): Matt McLain, INF, Beckham HS (Tustin, CA)
Interestingly, Baseball America and Keith Law both have Noah Naylor going ahead of 25 in the draft, while the people over at Sporting News don’t list him anywhere in the third round. While there is plenty to like about Naylor, it would be a bit surprising if Arizona drafted him. After all, it was only two drafts ago, in 2016, when the Diamondbacks selected another bat-first, Canadian secondary school catcher, Andy Yerzy. Given that Yerzy is still in Missoula (Rookie League), it would seem strange for Arizona to go down that particular path again.
With many organizations, one can review their recent draft history to get an idea of the front office’s draft philosophy and strategy. However, 2017 was Mike Hazen’s first draft. He was also stepping into the unenviable position of drafting for one of the three worst farm systems in baseball. This means, there really isn’t a history to examine. Nor is it easy to make any assumptions about the strategy as arguments can be made on both sides that he was playing it safe with the draft or that he was taking the best available talent.
Here’s what is known about Mike Hazen’s first draft. The Diamondbacks had 11 picks in the first 10 rounds, those which are tied to the slot bonuses. Of those 11 picks, 8 were college students and seven of those came from four-year colleges. Hazen also only took three pitchers. Two of them, Matt Tabor (3rd round) and Harrison Francis (4th round) were prep arms. The other, Brian Shaffer, is a starter for this year’s Kane County Cougars. He has, so far, had a fairly decent season. Those other eight picks were all college bats. The one thing those bats had in common was the ability to get on base. Even those known for striking out were also ones known for their ability to take the base on balls. This is a drastic departure from the bat-first players that have been making their way through the system for the last three seasons.
Is this a standard Mike Hazen strategy for Arizona now? Or, will Arizona take a few chances on drafting some pitchers to fill out the system? It does feel more likely that Hazen might consider a prep talent with the 25th overall pick. After all, the best college talents will be off the board. For that matter, so will many of the very best prep talents. It seems entirely possible though, that the team could take a highly regarded prep talent and woo him by selecting him above his projected bubble. This would be one way in which Mike Hazen and his staff might be able to score a premium talent at such a low draft slot.
Given first, Arizona’s white-hot start to the season and second, the Diamondback’s free fall in May, there has not been much in the way of public discussion about the upcoming draft. With only two weeks to go, and the lack of positive stories currently coming from the team, that is likely to change.