The 2019 MLB draft is shaping up much differently than previous seasons. In past years, the No. 1 pick has often been in doubt all the way up until draft day, and predicting selections beyond that were little more than a complete shot in the dark. Even last year, when righthander Casey Mize established himself as the consensus top prospect in the class, experts had little idea of how everything would come together after the Detroit Tigers made their selection at No. 1 overall.
This year, it seems like the top four picks are already set in stone. Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman is a no-doubt first overall pick, while prep shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn, and speedster C.J. Abrams are the next three picks (in that order) on nearly every mock draft you will find.
The MLB draft is rarely this cut and dry, though. Even now, there is some doubt that the top four will pan out as expected. Baseball America paired the Miami Marlins with prep outfielder Riley Greene at No. 4 overall in their latest mock draft, and ESPN’s Keith Law noted that the Marlins’ scouting department prefers Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday. The Tigers are also smitten with Greene, but it remains to be seen what they would do if Abrams falls to them at No. 5 overall.
MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo thinks it could be the athletic shortstop, so let’s take a look at what Abrams has to offer.
School: Blessed Trinity Catholic High School (GA)
Draft day age: 18
MLB Pipeline draft prospect rank: 4
Previously drafted: N/A
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: SS C.J. Abrams
Abrams’ standout tool is his excellent speed, which ranks among the very best in the entire draft class. Perfect Game has clocked Abrams as fast as 6.29 seconds in the 60-yard dash, which ranks in the 99th percentile of all draft-eligible prep players. They called him an “outstanding runner” who “runs sub-4.0’s home to first with little obvious effort.” MLB Pipeline hedged against an elite grade in their evaluation, but said Abrams has “game-changing speed” and compared him to Dee Gordon. FanGraphs also gave Abrams’ speed a double-plus grade; he is their No. 4 prospect in this year’s draft class.
Yeah, he’s fast.
There’s a lot more to Abrams’ game, though. MLB Pipeline labeled him as “also one of the better high school hitters available,” and mentioned that he has “considerably more pop” than the aforementioned Dee Gordon. FanGraphs said Abrams “feel to hit,” and draft expert Kiley McDaniel mentioned that Abrams’ hit tool even has a higher future projection than fellow prep shortstop prospect Bobby Witt Jr. (though Witt Jr. is the bigger power threat).
Perfect Game went into a bit more detail on all there is to like about Abrams’ abilities in the box.
Left handed hitter, efficient load and trigger with a smooth and fluid swing, very good barrel control with loose hands, line drive contact middle of the field to pull side, gap power, going to lead some leagues in triples.
He might even be more than a slap hitter. Abrams stands 6’1 and weighs just 178 pounds. Many expect him to add some weight as he gets older, which could lead to a bit more raw power. His excellent bat speed also fits into this equation. MLB Pipeline added that Abrams “has looked a little more physical this spring and has the bat speed and deceptive strength to hit 10-15 homers on an annual basis,” while FanGraphs says that Abrams has “a chance to grow into power” thanks to his lanky frame.
While there are some questions about where exactly Abrams will end up defensively, it’s worth mentioning that he is fast and athletic enough to play somewhere up the middle. Perfect Game thinks he may eventually end up at second base — though they also praised his “Smooth footwork in the middle infield, very quick transfers, lots of athleticism” — while other outlets think a move to center field may be in Abrams’ future. He has an above-average arm that will play at any of those three spots. There are drawbacks to this uncertain future (more on those in a second) but it’s not like he would end up at first base after putting on some weight.
For the Tigers, the biggest flaw in Abrams’ profile isn’t his uncertain defensive home or lack of raw power; it’s that he is still relatively raw as a prospect, more so than many of the other players that will be available at No. 5 overall. Abrams is an exceptional athlete who has shown a natural feel for the game, but is still a raw player that will need plenty of seasoning before he reaches the majors. His power is more projection than production at this point, though, and he seemingly has more bust potential than anyone else in the top five or six spots on most draft boards. He showed well on the summer circuit in 2018 — hence the top five projection this spring — but is a bit of a risk at No. 5.
As for the questions defensively? Abrams certainly has the range to play short, and his arm strength is fine. But his actions at the position and ability to make every throw a shortstop has at his disposal are an open question. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen summed up Abrams’ issues nicely in a site chat back in February.
We have Abrams evaluated at SS right now but he has issues throwing from those weird athletic platforms that shortstops need to be able to throw from to be really good there. So he has elite range, his hands are fine, his windup/max effort arm strength is good, but he still may not be all that great at short because he can’t make these types of throws.
If Abrams can’t quite hack it at short, he should be just fine as a second baseman or center fielder. That puts a bit more pressure on his bat if he is going to be an everyday player, but he should be an above-average defender at either spot.
Draft position: top five, probably
If the top three picks in this year’s draft progress as expected, odds are that the Marlins will still opt for Abrams with their first pick. He is the No. 4 prospect on nearly everyone’s board — FanGraphs, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, you name it — and is a sure up-the-middle player with excellent speed and All-Star potential. We don’t know what the Tigers’ draft board looks like, but they could very well nab him if he drops to them at the fifth pick, whether Riley Greene is available or not. The Tigers were linked with Abrams early in the draft cycle — something Keith Law echoed later this spring — and could circle back around if the speedy shortstop falls on draft day.