As we sit on the cusp of a new MLB season, college seasons across the country are already underway. Prep programs are ramping up as well and scouts are hard at work getting fresh looks at all the draft eligible talent. So much will change over the course of the next few months. Nailed-on first rounders will slide and lesser-known talents will rise. Just last year the 1-1 pick was barely in day one consideration when his season started. Despite the impossibility and unpredictability of the draft, let alone in early March, now is as good a time as any to start the speculation.
After several years at the top of the board, the Diamondbacks find themselves in a bit of a different situation. While ‘22 was by no means a terrific season, the team managed to play their way out of the top 10. With the Twins jumping them in the inaugural draft lottery, Arizona finds themselves picking 12th.
Historically Hazen and Co. have targeted athletic up-the-middle prep position players with hit over power profiles. This type of player is not especially common in the ‘23 ranks, at least in terms of top pick potential. This is a pretty well-rounded class, but collegiate players are widely seen as its strength. The college position player crop looks particularly robust. While I am a pretty hardline proponent of taking the best player available at all times, I wonder if this could be an opportunity for the Dbacks to go the under-slot route. By this point on the board there is a fairly close bunching of players and their evaluations. Does Hazen reach a bit down the board to select someone they view as a similar talent for a lesser bonus and then spread the savings to the 48th and 64th picks? Given the Dbacks position in the draft and the talent pool available this could be the time to do it if ever. Hazen has never (unless you count Matt McLain in ‘18) embraced this strategy, so I’m inclined to believe he still goes the best available route. There is also an argument to be made that Hazen should have a newfound focus on college players. The Diamondbacks are on the verge of a contention window and drafting some college pieces who could contribute sooner has some appeal. Seeing as it is the strength of the class, dipping into the college ranks makes sense. Again, I personally am a BPA kind of guy so I wouldn’t get too hung up about sticking to a particular strategy or demographic. However, these philosophies have their place and have been employed by other teams with a degree of success.
At this point in the young season there appears to be a consensus top three: Dylan Crews (OF, LSU) Chase Dollander (RHP, Tennessee) and Wyatt Langford (OF, Florida). Arizona will realistically have no shot at these guys barring injury or severe underperformance. Beyond them, there are an additional four players that are highly probable to be selected before Arizona’s pick: Max Clark (OF, Franklin Community High School), Jacob Gonzalez (SS, Ole Miss), Walter Jenkins (OF, South Brunswick High School) and Enrique Bradfield (OF, Vanderbilt). Should any of these seven be available at 12, they will likely be the selection. In the probable reality that these players are unavailable, there are an additional five players I have begun to focus on as potential targets given their upside, fit with the system, likelihood of availability and overall talent. Below is some info on each of them, in the order of my personal preference.
1) Paul Skenes (RHP/1B) LSU – The least likely of these guys to be here at 12, Skenes is a dark horse 1-1 candidate. A transfer to LSU from Air Force, Skenes sits mid 90’s but can dial it up to 99 with great carry and pairs it with a 2400+ RPM slider that he alters the shape of between sharp horizontal breaker and more vertical angle. He also throws a split-change and has a smooth repeatable delivery. He comes with grade A intangibles and a beast of a frame at 6’6" 235 lbs. He’d be a high draftee as a position player too. He’s got big time pop but swing and miss issues are concerning. His future is on the mound and the potential is there for a TOR arm. He’s already seen his stock rise significantly this spring and is on the verge of turning the big 3 into the big 4. I almost didn’t include him in this section being that there is little to no chance Arizona gets a crack at him, but it’s my pipe dream.
2) Hurston Waldrep (RHP) Florida – When it comes to upside, Waldrep probably has the second highest of any college arm behind Dollander. High-octane heat scraping 100 with late life and rising action that makes it double plus. His primary secondary is a wipeout slider that has great late break and big swing and miss metrics. He flashes a curveball and a splitter, neither of which are located well but have good shape and break. He’s currently listed at 6’2" 200 lbs, so there could potentially be another mph or two coming with a bit of added muscle. A terrific athlete, Waldrup reminds me a bit of a bigger Drey Jameson with a more violent delivery. Speaking of the delivery, it’s the main drawback. Herky-jerky and high effort with a ton of movement making it difficult to repeat. Due to this there is some real reliever risk in his profile, but some professional coaching could go a long way in simplifying his mechanics and developing his secondaries. Another guy with definite TOR potential who could pitch himself into 5-10 territory.
3) Aiden Miller (3B) JW Mitchell High School – With a prototypical sluggers frame at 6’2" 210 lbs., Miller has some of the purest raw power and bat speed in the class. He’s excelled against advanced competition and high-end velocity on the showcase circuit and has had success with wood bats. He’s power over hit at the moment but has good strike zone awareness and consistently gets the bat on the ball. Defensively he’s solid at 3B. Rocket arm has been clocked at 90 mph on the mound and he moves well for a big guy. Should be able to stick at the hot corner for the foreseeable future. This kind of profile isn’t one we’ve seen Hazen target in the past, but Miller offers middle of the order slugging potential at a position of organizational weakness who could just simply be the BPA at our spot, so I actually quite like the fit.
4) Rhett Lowder (RHP) Wake Forest – Another college arm, Lowder has some of the best pitchability of the class. Holds low to mid 90’s velocity deep into outings touching 96-97 with natural sinking action that induces grounders rather than swing and miss. He mixes it with a plus change-up and slider. The change-up in particular is plus bordering on double plus. Great command and really understands how to sequence his stuff, often pitching backwards off his secondaries. Comes at batters with a ¾ arm slot that is repeatable and mechanically sound. My concern with Lowder is that he is pretty maxed out. He isn’t adding much if any in the way of velocity or stuff and is more reliant on location and weak contact. He isn’t particularly exciting, but he is a pretty strong bet to be pitching in the middle or back of an MLB rotation and that makes him pretty appealing.
5) Jacob Wilson (SS) Grand Canyon – Son of former all-star Jack Wilson, Jacob has without a doubt some of the best hittabity you’ll see in college baseball. An uber-mature approach, elite eye and willingness to use the entire field makes him a threat every time he comes up. His K:BB ratio was 7:25 in 275 PA last year if you need convincing. He’s fine if unspectacular at SS with average range and a strong arm. Great instincts and baseball IQ as you would expect. The knocks on Wilson are his distinct lack of power, middling exit velos and mediocre speed. Basically, his entire profile is 50ish grade with the exception of his hit tool which is an easy 65, maybe 70. Wilson isn’t particularly dynamic, but hitting skills like his don’t grow on trees.
Some additional candidates to monitor are prep righties Noble Meyer and Charlie Soto, prep lefthander Tommy White, Miami 3B Yohandy Morales and TCU 3B Braden Taylor although at this point, I view them as fallback or under slot options.
To finish up, here is a mock draft for the whole first round. It’s a futile task but I’ve tried to keep as in line as possible with recent team histories, models and drafting preferences. If I look back at this come draft time and have gotten one selection right, I’ll consider it a massive success.
- Pirates – W. Langford (OF) Florida
- Nationals – C. Dollander (RHP) Tennessee
- Tigers – D. Crews (OF) LSU
- Rangers – P. Skenes (RHP) LSU
- Twins – J. Wilson (SS) Grand Canyon
- A’s – E. Bradfield (OF) Vanderbilt
- Reds – M. Clark (OF) Franklin Community HS
- Royals – J. Gonzalez (SS) Ole Miss
- Rockies – W. Jenkins (OF) South Brunswick HS
- Marlins – B. Taylor (3B) TCU
- Angels – R. Lowder (RHP) Wake Forest
- Dbacks – A. Miller (3B) JW Mitchell HS
- Cubs – H. Waldrep (RHP) Florida
- Red Sox – A. Nimmala (SS) Strawberry Crest HS
- White Sox – C. Soto (RHP) Reborn Christian HS
- Giants – M. Shaw (SS) Maryland
- Orioles – T. Honeyman (OF) Boston College
- Brewers – T. Troy (SS) Stanford
- Rays – N. Meyer (RHP) Jesuit HS
- Jays – W. Sanders (RHP) South Carolina
- Cardinals – K. McGonigle (SS) Monsignor Bonner HS
- Mariners – C. Emerson (SS) John Glenn HS
- Guardians – T. White (LHP) Phillips Academy
- Braves – C. Montgomery (RHP) Florida State
- Padres – B. Mitchell (C) Sinton HS
- Yankees – K. Teel (C) Virginia
- Phillies – J. Hurley (OF) Virginia Tech
- Astros – T. Witt (RHP) Texas
- Comp A
- Mariners – T. McGraw (RHP) Wake Forest
- Mariners – Y. Morales (3B) Miami
- Rays – M. Ahuna (SS) Tennessee
- Mets – C. Kuehler (RHP) Campbell
- Brewers – J. Watts-Brown (RHP) Oklahoma State
- Twins – N. Dettmer (RHP) Texas A&M
- Marlins – G. Hitt (LHP) Alabama
- Dodgers – L. Peterson (RHP) Calvary Christian HS
- Tigers – B. Eldridge (RHP/1B) Madison HS
- Reds – R. Cholowsky (SS) Hamilton HS
- A’s – C. Houck (SS) Parkview HS