The MLB draft can seem like a bit of a crapshoot at times. Unlike in other professional leagues, where top players are instantly a major part of their organization’s future, baseball players take a long time to develop after getting drafted. Even the best collegiate prospects spend a year or two in the minor leagues before debuting in the majors, and often struggle to get acclimated afterward.
However, history has shown that picking at the top of the draft is a huge advantage. The Justin Verlanders of the world aren’t always found later on.
Given that the Detroit Tigers don’t select until the No. 18 pick, these prospects will probably be long gone by the time they are on the clock. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t at least pay homage to some of the names we will hear very early on June 12.
LHP/1B Brendan McKay - Louisville
While Hunter Greene might be the top prospect in this year’s draft class, McKay will likely be the No. 1 overall pick. He would be a top 10 pick as either a hitter or pitcher, and is a talented enough prospect that scouts are still mixed on which side of the ball he will stick as a pro. As a pitcher, he has a fastball that sits in the low 90s with great command and a plus changeup. With a compact, repeatable delivery, he would not need much seasoning in the minors. As a hitter, McKay projects to be a plus hitter with average power. He has been praised for his bat speed, but might not be the true slugger most teams expect at first base.
RHP/SS Hunter Greene - Notre Dame HS (CA)
No high school right-handed pitcher has ever been selected first overall in the MLB draft. That could change with Greene, an ultra-talented prospect that has been called the LeBron James of baseball. While Greene is a talented shortstop prospect, he will likely stay on the mound in the pros. His fastball has been clocked as high as 101 miles per hour and he has featured plus potential with both his slider and changeup. That’s a top-of-the-rotation arm if everything comes together, and one the Minnesota Twins may ultimately kick themselves for passing on down the road.
RHP Kyle Wright - Vanderbilt
Heading into this spring, Vanderbilt righthander Kyle Wright seemed like a surefire top-five pick. His stock dropped slightly following a shaky start to his junior season, but he has since righted the ship. In 89 2⁄3 innings for the Commodores, Wright has a 2.91 ERA with 104 strikeouts to 27 walks. He features a fastball that sits 92-95 miles per hour, but has touched as high as 97 mph. He has a bevy of off-speed pitches, including a curveball and slider that are slightly ahead of his changeup. MLB Pipeline even notes that he still has some projection remaining, giving him one of the highest ceilings in the entire draft.
SS/OF Royce Lewis - JSerra Catholic HS (CA)
Lewis isn’t a true five-tool prospect, but he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses in his game either. An athletic player with both power and speed, Lewis could be a potential 20 homer, 20 steal talent at his peak. He has been praised for above-average hit and power tools, as well as true plus speed. He also has a solid approach at the plate, and will draw his fair share of walks. His arm seems to be the weak link here, and could potentially move him to second base down the road.
LHP MacKenzie Gore - Whiteville HS (NC)
Last year, MacKenzie Gore was a potential target for the Tigers in the bottom half of the first round. After a strong spring, there’s almost zero chance he makes it past the top 10. Gore’s velocity jumped into the 90s over the past year, with peaks into the mid-90s. MLB.com gave him plus grades for the fastball and his curveball, with above-average grades for a slider and changeup. Minor League Ball’s John Sickels noted that Gore has above-average command for his age, and could move quicker through the minors than your average prep arm.
RHP J.B. Bukauskas - North Carolina
If he were a little bit taller, he might be a consensus top-three pick in this draft. Instead, the 6-foot Bukauskas will probably drop into the back half of the top 10 because of his size. While he isn’t as big as some of the other pitchers in his draft, he can throw just as hard, with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s with movement. MLB.com labels his slider as a true plus offering, and he also features a changeup that lags behind the other two pitches. He has 106 strikeouts in 82 innings for the Tar Heels this season, one of the highest rates in the country. MLB Pipeline ranked him as their No. 7 prospect in this year’s class.
OF Jeren Kendall - Vanderbilt
The speedy Kendall has drawn comparisons to New York Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, but Minor League Ball’s John Sickels doesn’t see it that way. Because of concerns surrounding Kendall’s bat — some contact issues, specifically — Sickels thinks Johnny Damon might be a better player comp. Either way, Kendall has a much better arm and projects to be a plus outfield defender. He has true double-plus speed by all accounts, and could be a legitimate base stealing threat at the major league level. His swing might be a problem, though, limiting his overall potential as a player.
OF Austin Beck - North Davidson HS (NC)
Another late riser in this year’s draft class, Beck has no gaping holes in his game. He has a good approach at the plate and excellent bat speed, along with foot speed and an athletic build that scouts drool over. Want to fall in love with a prospect? Read this, from Minor League Ball’s John Sickels. Or this, from the team at Perfect Game. He is drawing the now-dreaded Mike Trout comparisons, which speaks to his raw abilities. Even if he doesn’t become a generational talent, he should be a pretty good player with an extremely high ceiling.
1B Pavin Smith - Virginia
Teams didn’t want to sign bat-first players with little defensive upside last offseason. Pavin Smith is hoping they take a different philosophy into the draft. A first baseman only, Smith is one of the best pure hitters in the draft. He has displayed excellent bat control for the Cavaliers, hitting .347 with nine strikeouts in 213 at-bats. He added more doubles (11) and homers (12) than strikeouts, and those power numbers have come in what seems to be a relatively pitcher-friendly home park. The power has shown up a bit more recently, and he should be a decent defender at first base.
LHP D.L. Hall - Valdosa HS (GA)
As one might expect from a potential top-10 pick, Hall has one heck of a fastball. He throws his four-seamer from 90-94 miles per hour with higher peaks, and might even add more velocity as he matures physically. He pairs the heater with a nasty curveball that features a high spin rate. Like most high schoolers, his changeup lags behind. At just 6’0 and 190 pounds, teams are hoping he gets a bit bigger over the next few years to better withstand the rigors of a full season of professional ball. There don’t seem to be many concerns about his ability to stick as a starter, though.
1B Nick Pratto - Huntington Beach HS (CA)
Pratto can throw a 90 mile per hour fastball, but his bat is what has scouts drooling. A smooth lefthander that MLB.com calls “the best pure high school bat in the country,” he has the potential to hit for both average and power. He is a plus defender as well, but isn’t as big as your prototypical first baseman. This slight lack of size may limit his power projection, which would be a big deterrent for a prospect limited to one position down the road.