As I did for my 11 Interesting Guys to Watch on Day Two of the MLB Draft piece, I once again interviewed RotoAnalysis.com’s minor league expert and scout-in-training Charles Kurz about the first round of the draft. Unlike the last piece, however, I will also include a lot more of my opinions on the first round, as my knowledge isn’t as extensive as Charles’ knowledge (I once tested him by arbitrarily picking any player ranked as a top 11 player in any minor league system by Kevin Goldstein, and he knew a significant amount about literally every single guy I picked), but I do know a lot about the higher-end talents.
Note: there is a lot of scouting language used in this piece. A 50 grade on a tool would be major league average (like an 89-91 MPH fastball would be 50 grade velocity). ‘Plus’ would mean a 60-grade pitch, as in one standard deviation above average, which is really good (E.G. Justin Upton or Paul Konerko’s power, Tim Hudson’s command). ‘Plus plus’ is a 70-grade tool, which is elite (E.G. Roy Halladay’s command, David Price or Clayton Kershaw’s fastball.) An 80-grade is one of, if not the best in the majors (E.G. Billy Hamilton’s speed, Cliff Lee’s control).
The Top 5:
1) The Astros Selected: Carlos Correa, High School Shortstop, Puerto Rico
After an extensive instant message conversation with Charles Kurz, a lot of grainy YouTube videos, a twitter exchange with The Fix’s own Brett Talley, and a quick re-read of Rany Jazayerli’s study on the importance of age for high school hitters in the draft (part one, part two), I was convinced that Correa was the top talent in this draft, but also convinced that the Astros weren’t going to take him. Charles agreed, as he started “yeah, I think it was probably a great pick. I know a lot of people kind of thought it was unexpected, but I said all along that Correa was at the top of my list.” He continued, “obviously I didn’t predict this, I had [Stanford right handed pitcher Mark] Appel going one because of the many reports… but apparently a money and signability issue came up. In terms of Correa, I think he was probably the best guy available because of position, skill, and upside, so I really do like the pick and the whole draft that Houston put out there under new GM Jeff Luhnow.” Personally, I was already bullish on this new regime in Houston (even though they stole one of my favorite baseball writers, Mike Fast), and I agree with Charles, it appears that GM Jeff Luhnow might be even better than I anticipated. I love this pick, and although I’m not 100% confident in his ability to stick at short, I think he’s got a future plus bat with power projection, and he’s young enough (still 17) that he can be a superstar on your fantasy team for years to come from a premium position.
2) The Twins Selected: Byron Buxton, High School Outfielder, Georgia
Charles nailed it on the head with his first comment on this kid: “There is so much upside with Buxton.” For once, the draft went how I thought it should go in the top 2, and Charles agreed saying “I think this was a great pick here; I thought he was the number two player, and I think the Twins made a great pick rather than going with the classic, you know, college command lefty that they usually get… Buxton’s got all the future tools: plus plus speed, plus plus arm, plus hitting ability, and some scouts even see power in the future. I don’t know about that [power].” When I asked Charles about a possible minor league comp, he said Buxton is like a “more refined Bubba Starling.” That’s definitely a good thing for fantasy owners, and he should likely be taken in the top 2 of this draft for dynasty leagues, with Correa.
3) The Mariners Selected: Mike Zunino, College Catcher, University of Florida
I thought this may have been a little bit of an overdraft, but Charles explained that, “once the money issues came up for Appel, after Correa and Buxton were gone, it was really Zunino and Zunino alone here. I think Seattle was hoping for Correa, but I think they were very happy with Zunino.” From a tools perspective, I don’t love Zunino for fantasy, as his best tool is his catching defense, which should let him stay a catcher all the way up the ladder into the major leagues. Charles thinks, “he could hit 15 to 20 home runs with… a pretty good batting average, so in terms of how rare good catchers are right now, I think that’s probably a good pick for Seattle.” I don’t agree that it was a good pick; from a pure talent perspective, I would have preferred Giolito or Appel (although there were obvious signing issues there), or even Zimmer, Gausman, Fried, and a few others. My issue with Zunino is I just don’t think he has a lot of upside, and yeah, a .270, 15-homer guy with quality catcher defense is good, but is it going to change your franchise? No. That’s about a 2-3 WAR player annually, and Seattle doesn’t need more quality defensive players, they need upside bats; if I was them I would have targeted a high school bat in Albert Almora, or maybe even Courtney Hawkins although that probably would have been too much of a reach.
4) The Orioles Selected: Kevin Gausman, College Right Hand Pitcher, LSU
I started out with the obvious question: how does Gausman compare to the Orioles’ fourth overall pick last season, Dylan Bundy? “I think he’s even less polished than Bundy, which is hard to believe considering Bundy [came out of] high school and [Gausman] is a guy who was an SEC pitcher… I mean, Bundy’s just amazing. It’s not fair to compare the two.” I would agree with that, the two pitchers are nothing alike. How is Gausman’s stuff? Charles says “I like his three pitch mix: [he has a] plus fastball, plus slider, above average changeup. His command’s not bad at all.” I mostly agree with Charles, although when watching him, I don’t think his slider is plus, or likely ever going to be. I think his changeup is a much better pitch and is a great pitch against righties, but I think he’ll be more of a fastball/changeup guy, and then occasionally use the slider as a change-of-pace pitch. Charles is more bullish on Gausman than I am; “the thing is, this guy’s faced the best competition in college baseball. I remember when he got drafted two years ago he was a quality arm then, and he’s kind of become from a ‘thrower’ to a ‘pitcher’ now, so he kind of knows where the stuff is going, and he’s probably a number two at the big league level if all goes right. He’s obviously not an ace, but few are, and [number two starters] are very valuable in the big leagues.” I think he projects more as a number 3, and I’m already skeptical of the Orioles’ ability to cultivate pitching talent (the obvious exception here being Bundy, and I don’t think the Orioles’ organization has been a big part of his success), so I’d drop him down the list a little bit for fantasy, and if I was the O’s, I would have preferred Kyle Zimmer or Max Fried here, just because they probably have more upside.
5) The Royals Selected: Kyle Zimmer, College Right Hand Pitcher, University of San Francisco
Here’s a pick I can 100% get behind: the Royals need pitching, preferably pitchers who can get to the big leagues relatively quickly, and they managed to find one at the fifth pick who also has upside. “I know Dayton Moore saw Zimmer bad, because he had a hamstring injury and was losing like six miles per hour on his fastball, but man, when he was right, Zimmer was up to 98, 99 miles per hour with a plus curveball, plus changeup, and plus command. And, you know, if he was completely healthy all year, in a vacuum, I probably would have taken this kid even over [Mark] Appel.” There’s something Charles and I agree on, I absolutely love Zimmer, which is ironic, because I usually think guys who throw hard are overrated. The difference here is, Zimmer uses his fastball to set up his currently very good curveball, and I believe with time, his changeup could be good enough to limit his platoon splits and make him an elite, number 1 type of pitcher if he hits his upside.
By Moe Koltun, exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com.
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