The two biggest stories of this MLB draft class are: (1) Whoa! That’s the son of [notable big leaguer]; and (2) the upside of the four prep position players at the top. These two issues overlap as the projected top two picks below are the sons of Andruw Jones and Matt Holliday. Also in the first-round projection are the sons of Carl Crawford, eight-year big league utilityman Lou Collier and 10-year NFL tight end Eric Green.
On the other hand, the college pitching crop is the worst it’s been in awhile, with no candidates to receive the full slot in the top 15 to 20 picks. Given the insatiable hunger teams have to create big-league-ready pitching depth, plenty of college pitchers will go in the first round, so that’s where the rules of the draft come into play. Teams have a suggested slot amount at each pick, which is where negotiations start, and those slots add up to the total pool amount the team has to spend in the draft. In the same way that the more analytically inclined clubs in the NFL trade down when given the chance, many MLB clubs take the option to go under slot and bank money for later picks.
So, if your goal with your first pick is get a quick-moving college pitcher and that will probably come with savings, then the competition for top high school players who slide into Round 2 becomes more intense. Add to that dynamic that the riskiest draft demographic, high school pitchers, is exceptionally deep this year and there are at least eight pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery who are top-two-round quality. Together this means that no matter how teams prefer to spend their savings from first-round picks, there will be more options than normal and more money floating around after the first round, likely lasting into the third and fourth rounds.
On the whole, this is seen as a bit of a down draft class because the college hitting crop doesn’t have All-Star upside and there might not be a pitcher taken in the top 10 picks after top prep Dylan Lesko underwent Tommy John surgery last month. These conditions seem perfect for total mayhem in the first round, particularly after the top 10 picks, with potentially multiple picks coming in seven figures below slot and a number of huge deals in Rounds 2, 3 and beyond. Handicapping rival clubs jockeying for over-slot positioning in later rounds is now the focus for many clubs.
Since I know people will ask, or just CTRL+F for their names, I didn’t accidentally leave Tennessee reliever Ben Joyce or former Vanderbilt righty Kumar Rocker off this projection. I think Rocker could land in the 40-60 range, or maybe over slot in the third round, but his independent league performance (which should begin soon) will have some bearing on that. I think Joyce will go in the 80 picks but is unlikely to sneak into the 41 picks I include in this projection. Most scouts think he belongs in the third round on talent, so he’d probably come in below slot when/if he goes in the second round.
Druw Jones, CF, Wesleyan HS (Ga.), Vanderbilt commit
Rumors persist that the O’s could instead opt for a heavy cut from slot here with a college bat; LSU’s Jacob Berry is the most-rumored option. Since Berry has a chance to last until the eighth pick if he doesn’t go first, you could ballpark that his bonus could be as much as $3 million below slot. Orioles GM Mike Elias has done this in the past to varying degrees when he was making the top pick with Heston Kjerstad (2020), Colton Cowser (2021) and (when he was with Houston) Carlos Correa (in 2012). He also has taken the consensus top player for close to slot, as in 2019 when he selected Adley Rutschman.
Jones is the consensus best player in the draft, and I think it’s clear though it isn’t unanimous in the industry. Last summer, the top tier of players was very flat and every team stacked its board differently, leading to bonus demands dictating the order more than consensus talent rankings, and that could happen again this year.
Jones would figure to command at or near full slot at the top pick. The O’s have the biggest pool in the draft at just under $17 million, roughly $8.8 million for this pick. A source tells me that the O’s have narrowed this pick down to five choices. I believe Jones, Berry and Jackson Holliday are the primary options, but I don’t think Holliday will be much cheaper to sign than Jones, so the O’s would have to view Holliday as better than Jones to justify drafting him. I’m not sure which of Brooks Lee, Termarr Johnson, Elijah Green and possibly another player make up the last two players under consideration.
Here is where the metagame of the draft comes into play. A number of teams are eyeing slot-or-below college players with their first picks to save money to then spend on an over-slot high schooler or injured college pitcher at a later pick. Almost any team could have the money to float a $3 million player down the board, not just teams with the highest pools. Baltimore will have the most money but won’t uniquely be able to dictate terms, the Orioles can just do it over and over again. Their pool advantage would give them unique power if there’s a $4-5 million type player around for their second pick whom only they could afford, but that’s rare and I don’t see a candidate in this draft.
Baltimore will be among the teams with money looking to spend it in the competitive Rounds 2-3 before the best over-slot targets are gone. It’s more common than you think for teams to just spend their leftover money on the best available player(s) in later rounds, but not actually feel like they’re totally worth it.
Cutting here with Berry or one of the other college bats would potentially save a few million, but by the time that actually gets spent you’re probably looking at a prep pitcher or two picked in the fourth round or later. Is it a good idea to essentially trade down a half-dozen picks from the No. 1 overall pick to get a couple of $1.5 million high school pitchers? Not for me, and I think the Orioles will see it that way as well.
The reason you want to pick at the top of the draft is to have the chance to pick a potential perennial All-Star, not just to have a little more pool money. If there isn’t one of those players available, then doing a heavy cut makes sense. I do think there are multiple players of that caliber in this draft. Odds are the Orioles think there’s at least one and will simply pay the bonus that the best player demands.
In terms of later picks, the O’s have a clear type: toolsy (mostly college) position players with upside traits, like plus bat speed and playing an up-the-middle position, but not necessarily as polished as other players picked around them. They tried to pay Florida CF Jud Fabian $3 million last year (but couldn’t get him to their pick; the Red Sox took him and he didn’t sign) and might try again this year. Others who fit the type and could be overpay options for their couple picks include Arizona prep CF Gavin Turley, Oregon State CF Jacob Melton, Vanderbilt RF Spencer Jones, Oklahoma SS Peyton Graham and Illinois State CF Ryan Cermak. I could also see a high-upside, tough-to-sign high school pitcher, and Illinois preps LHP Noah Schultz and RHP Owen Murphy seem like the Orioles’ type.
Jackson Holliday, SS, Stillwater HS (Okla.), Oklahoma State commit
If Baltimore passes on Jones and he is here for the D-backs, they are almost certain to take him. Otherwise, I think it’ll be Holliday, but I’m not as sure about their board as some other clubs picking up top.
Elijah Green, CF, IMG Academy HS (Fla.), Miami commit
They were five deep, including GM Chris Young, at the Druw Jones playoff game I attended a few weeks ago, and it sounds like the Rangers really want Druw to drop here — though that seems unlikely. I think they see the group of high school position players as their top options here. Green could come at a discount since there’s a possibility that he falls to the back of the top 10 if he doesn’t go here.
Brooks Lee, 3B, Cal Poly
Most see the Pirates taking a college bat here, with Lee, Parada and Cam Collier as the leading options. Like last year, it makes sense for the Buccos again to play it relatively safe up top with a college bat (they took Henry Davis last year), then start taking upside swings with the subsequent picks (Bubba Chandler, Lonnie White et al) and that’s also what the board is giving them this year.
Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech
It sounds like Lee, Parada and Green are the options here, and I think in that order, but it isn’t clear yet.
Termarr Johnson, 2B, Mays HS (Ga.), Arizona State commit
After having Kahlil Watson fall all the way to their pick at No. 16 overall last summer, it’s starting to look like the Marlins will find the board giving them another proven prep middle infielder with a potent bat from the Southeast. Johnson is second on my board and shouldn’t last this long, but some teams wonder about a shorter, physically maxed-out prep second baseman, whereas I see Rafael Devers parallels.
Cam Collier, 3B, Chipola JC (Fla.)
Collier has been heavily rumored here all spring, with the Twins, Guardians and Pirates believed to be the other teams most on him, while plenty of rival teams grade him out more in the middle of the first round. Campbell SS Zach Neto is another connection here, though unlikely.
Jacob Berry, RF, LSU
Hard to believe Berry could be the second-most-likely option at the first pick then hang around until pick No. 8, but that scenario isn’t farfetched. I think Collier might also go here if the Pirates and Cubs pass. Tennessee RF Jordan Beck’s range also starts right around here.
Gavin Cross, RF, Virginia Tech
I think this is the first spot where pitchers are in play, with the Royals not scared to take a prep arm or cut a severe deal as they did with Frank Mozzicato last year. That said, there are enough good position-player options here that I don’t think they will. This is also where some wacky stuff might start happening in the first round. Justin Crawford’s range starts here and he might be the undercut option if the Royals want to take a similar path to last year.
Jordan Beck, RF, Tennessee
Colorado has been tied to Beck all spring, and the Rockies were bearing down on him at the SEC tournament — though he has a wide range of possible landing spots throughout the round since teams have wildly different evaluations of him. Since consensus starts to break down around here, the predicted mixes of players whom teams are on is also less reliable because they are still changing their minds as bonus asking prices become clearer.
Jett Williams, SS, Rockwall Heath HS (Texas), Mississippi State commit
I’ve been hearing for over a month that the Mets are looking to get a high school position player on a cut deal here, with Williams and Justin Crawford the two main options. The idea would be to bank some savings to set up an over-slot play, possibly at the 14th pick, but possibly later depending on who they can get to Pick 14.
It makes sense to get an under-slot deal done before the player is picked here because while this pick is protected (i.e. they get a comp pick if the player doesn’t sign), if they don’t sign the player this year, next year’s comp pick isn’t protected and thus comes with significantly less leverage.
Jace Jung, 3B, Texas Tech
Jung and Susac are the last of the consensus college bats and both make some sense given where Detroit is in its rebuild. I get the impression that the Tigers aren’t thrilled with what is likely to be available at the pick: There isn’t a college pitcher worth full slot here — I don’t think they want to take another high school pitcher after taking one with their first pick last year — and the position players expected to be on the board here don’t have a ton of ceiling. Local high school RHP Brock Porter is heavily tied to Detroit as well and GM Al Avila was at the recent workout for Alabama LHP Connor Prielipp as the Tigers continue to canvass options.
Gabriel Hughes, RHP, Gonzaga
It’s gonna shock you, but after 20 rounds of drafting pitching and more pitching last year, I’m hearing the Halos are on lots of discounted college arms here despite the consensus view that a college pitcher isn’t worth taking on pure talent until maybe the 20th pick. GM Perry Minasian seems to have a clear POV on primarily creating pitching depth (as he has been spotted scouting top college arms in recent weeks) and saving money here allows for more options later, though I think the Angels will mix in some college bats at some point this year. Justin Campbell is another connection here and for the next half dozen picks or so.
14. New York Mets
Daniel Susac, C, Arizona
There’s a lot of Dylan Lesko buzz here, and that makes sense as a big upside swing who maybe the Mets might be able to offer an above-slot deal with some savings from the 11th pick. The Mets might also opt to just go best available for roughly slot and roll over those savings to the next pick. GM Billy Eppler was big on Vanderbilt RF Spencer Jones when he was running the Angels front office and Jones was a SoCal high school product in 2019. He eventually drafted him in the 31st round, but Jones didn’t sign and he could be an under-slot target here or an over-slot option in the second round.
Dylan Lesko, RHP, Buford HS (Ga.), Vanderbilt commit
San Diego has long been seen as the most likely landing spot for Lesko. The Padres like him, he’s a big swing on a massive talent that matches GM A.J. Preller’s appetite for bold moves (Cole Wilcox for $3.3 million in the 2020 3rd round, Hudson Head for $3 million in the 2019 3rd round, basically any trade he’s made), and they aren’t scared of drafting prep pitchers high (Ryan Weathers, Justin Lange) or pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery (Mason Thompson, Cal Quantrill).
Brock Porter, RHP, St. Mary’s Prep (Mich.), Clemson commit
Cleveland is often fishing in two pools with its early picks: accomplished power arms and up-the-middle prep hitters. Cole Young makes sense, but I’m hearing the Guardians are mostly focusing on pitchers. Porter and Barriera are the high school pitchers who are most likely to go off the board in this range. Cooper Hjerpe and Justin Campbell both fit the Guardians’ MO at later picks (college arms with advanced pitchability) and they might also be options if Cleveland wants to bank some money for later.
Brandon Barriera, LHP, American Heritage HS (Fla.), Vanderbilt commit
The Phillies have taken big swings on prep righties in the first round of the past two drafts with strong early results (Mick Abel and Andrew Painter) and they’re once again tied to high school pitchers with Barriera and Porter most often mentioned. They could both be gone before the Phillies’ turn, but most teams are hesitant to take prep pitchers in the top 20 picks.
Cole Young, SS, North Allegheny HS (Pa.), Duke commit
The Reds are on Young, who likely goes by about the 20th pick, and also are tied to some players based in Florida as usual, including prep lefty Jackson Ferris.
Justin Campbell, RHP, Oklahoma State
Campbell has been steady all season and has lots of interest all over the first round. He might go a bit higher than expected, akin to Michael McGreevy last year. I’ve also heard some college bats connected here from the glut of hitters that figure to go in the next dozen picks, headlined by Tennessee’s Drew Gilbert.
Cooper Hjerpe, LHP, Oregon State
I’ve heard mostly under-slot college pitchers here including Georgia’s Jonathan Cannon, Campbell’s Thomas Harrington and Iowa’s Adam Mazur, along with rising righty Jacob Miller. Miller and Robby Snelling are the two high school pitchers with a shot to get a slot-or-better bonus in the 20s behind the Lesko/Porter/Barriera group.
Zach Neto, SS, Campbell
Neto is in play as high as the seventh pick to the Cubs and figures to go by the Jays at 23. He fits the Mariners’ preference for polished position players with defensive value.
Connor Prielipp, LHP, Alabama
Prielipp had his first post-Tommy John bullpen for clubs last week and sat in the low 90s with a plus slider. He comes with more upside than the typical college pitcher since he was a top-10 talent before surgery and is still building back up.
Tucker Toman, 3B, Hammond HS (S.C.), LSU commit
The Jays seem like a floor for Neto and are also on one of my favorite players in the class in Toman. As with most teams in this range, their mix isn’t set and includes lots of the players I’m projecting to go around their pick.
Dylan Beavers, RF, Cal
Beavers draws a wide range of opinions and could easily find a landing spot in the teens but seems more likely to last into the 20s due to the divisive hand move in his swing.
Sterlin Thompson, RF, Florida
I’m hearing the Yankees are mostly focused on the college hitters who are all over this juncture of the draft, but they’ve also shown a lot of interest in prep righty Jacob Miller.
Drew Gilbert, CF, Tennessee
The White Sox tend to take college bats with their top pick, then get bolder with later selections, and that’s exactly what the board is giving them here. Gilbert is one of the safest picks in the draft and might be the first non-reliever to make the big leagues from this class. He’s in play in the late teens as well.
Chase DeLauter, RF, James Madison
DeLauter has three of the most important characteristics to more model-focused teams (strong exit velos, young for his class and excellent Cape Cod League production) but had some weaker data points for more scouting-focused teams (multiple injuries, weak competition, inconsistent swing mechanics) this spring. The Brewers seem like a floor, and the Guardians at No. 16 make sense as a ceiling for him.
Blade Tidwell, RHP, Tennessee
Tidwell popped up late as a high school player in the COVID-shortened spring of 2020 throwing in the high 90s and might have been paid out of high school with a normally scheduled spring. He was solid last season for the Vols, then missed the first part of this season with shoulder soreness. Tidwell has flashed top-10-level talent this spring but comes with concerns and figures to go around this range, though some teams prefer the steadier type of college pitcher while Tidwell is more boom/bust.
Justin Crawford, CF, Bishop Gorman HS (Nev.), LSU commit
Crawford might not make it this far, in play to the Royals at 9, Phillies at 17, Jays at 23 and a couple of other spots along the way. I think there will be a rush to take college players and some high school prospects will slide for no clear reason (like Tyler Soderstrom did in 2020 or Xavier Edwards in 2018) but it’s obviously hard to guess which ones. The parallels are intriguing here with the Rays drafting his dad, Carl Crawford, in the second round in 1999, still targeting similar types of players and potentially drafting Justin (another electric outfielder with plus-plus speed) with a high pick 23 years later.
Spencer Jones, RF, Vanderbilt
Jones is another tooled-up college hitter with a wide variance in how teams value him, but he fits the Giants better than most clubs. The 6-foot-7 Jones has plus-plus raw power and massive exit velos, but needs to add some loft in-game to actualize that power. Developmentally talented clubs see untapped upside here and All-Star-level traits, while others see a massive strike zone and long arms that will limit his contact upside.
31. Colorado Rockies – Robby Snelling, LHP, McQueen HS (Nev.), LSU commit
32. Cincinnati Reds – Jacob Miller, RHP, Liberty Union HS (Ohio), Louisville commit
Competitive balance round A
33. Baltimore Orioles – Jud Fabian, CF, Florida
34. Arizona Diamondbacks – Max Wagner, 3B, Clemson
35. Kansas City Royals – Owen Murphy, RHP, Riverside Brookfield HS (Ill.), Notre Dame commit
36. Pittsburgh Pirates – Jonathan Cannon, RHP, Georgia
37. Cleveland Guardians – Jackson Ferris, LHP, IMG Academy HS (Fla.), Ole Miss commit
38. Colorado Rockies – Cayden Wallace, 3B, Arkansas
39. San Diego Padres – Brock Jones, CF, Stanford
40. Los Angeles Dodgers – Malcolm Moore, C, McClatchy HS (Calif.), Stanford commit
(The Dodgers’ first pick drops 10 spots, from 30 to 40, due to exceeding the competitive balance tax threshold.)
41. Boston Red Sox – Hunter Barco, LHP, Florida
(Compensation for unsigned 2021 second-round pick Jud Fabian)