This Baseball America Mock Draft went up on June 5th, but I doubt it will be the last one. Keep an eye out on draft day for at least one more to show from this publication.
Once again, the chaos begins right at the top. After a spring full of rumors that the Diamondbacks were set on either a pitcher or a shortstop, BA now projects that they will draft Tyler Stephenson, the best high school catcher in the class, with the first overall pick. In a draft with (arguably) no clear number one guy, Stephenson is an adequate pick if the goal is to stash some cash to spend later in the draft, but I am skeptical of any argument that makes him truly the best overall player in this draft. I tend to think that Arizona will be able to sign any player in the draft at a price that is well under slot, so I’m not sure they need to reach down as far as Stephenson to do that. The general strategy is a fairly typical one, so if it did play out this way I would not be shocked.
That said, passing on the best player in the draft when picking first overall can backfire in spectacular fashion.
Arizona going off the charts leaves the closest thing we have to a consensus best player, Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson, on the board for Houston at number two, and Baseball America expect Swanson to be the pick. That would be the smartest play for Houston, but the Astros love playing the underslot game as much as any front office in baseball. Given that they pick again at five, passing on Swanson here is going to look very tempting to them.
The Rockies are projected to take left handed pitcher Tyler Jay by BA, and if they do the Rangers, at four, might be stunned to find they have their pick of the best infield bats. It looks like Texas will pick one of the shortstops, and which one could be very important for the Cubs. If Swanson falls to Texas, he’s probably a Ranger. If not, though, Texas will take the high schooler Brendan Rodgers (BA’s guess) or Louisana State’s Alex Bregman. The Cubs (at nine) and the Red Sox (at seven) have both been linked to Bregman. If Bregman falls past Texas, he has a good chance to make it to Boston. If, for some reason, Boston passes on Bregman then this collegiate shortstop will almost certainly be the Cubs’ pick at nine.
Who could compel the Red Sox to pass on Bregman? How about Vanderbilt ace Carson Fulmer? Baseball America has Fulmer falling to the White Sox at eight, tantalizingly close to the Cubs, and that would be if the Red Sox passed on him. That is certainly a possible scenario, but Fulmer has some of the best stuff in the draft and looks likely to be a star closer if he is unable to stay in the rotation. And it is far from certain that he will be unable to stay in the rotation. Fulmer, for some people, is still the best pitcher in this draft. That is a tough pass at seven for Boston, and an all but impossible one for the White Sox.
The news is not all bad for the Cubs in this draft, though. Since Arizona reached for an underslot guy at one, there is a player left on the board for the Cubs that we did not expect to be here. Dillon Tate is not a lock to remain a starter, but his raw stuff is among the very best in this draft. After Fulmer and Jay, he is probably the best pitcher in the draft. And yet the Cubs are projected to pass on him for Jon Harris, a right handed starter out of Missouri State.
This is not the first time the Cubs have been linked to Harris, so it is possible that there is some fire to this smoke (though I should note that other comments indicate that the Cubs are operating very secretly this year and are liable to do just about anything). Harris would not be a bad pick here, but passing on Tate would be an interesting move. It is a move that would make the most sense if we believed that the Cubs were specifically shopping for starting pitching in the first round.
But we should not believe that. This front office is too smart to draft based on need early in the first round. The only correct way to draft this high is to take the best player available and that is consistently what the Cubs have done. Their best player may not match up to anyone else’s best player – remember, last year many thought the Cubs were wrong for ranking Kyle Schwarber so high. Point Cubs scouting crew.
So who will the Cubs’ pick? We’ll talk some more about that tomorrow. And tomorrow evening, we find out for real.