January 30, 2023

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New mock draft projects record number of hitters at the top

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It’s a big week for college prospects, as most of them are involved in conference tournaments that allow evaluators to do a lot of one-stop shopping. How they perform this week will move the needle for several players, which should make for plenty of upheaval when Jonathan Mayo does our next first-round projection next week.

For this one — my second of the spring — I’m going to operate with the same assumption for the Orioles at No. 1 as I did in my first mock draft two weeks ago: they’ll focus more on talent rather than trying to get a huge haircut off the $8,842,200 slot value. I’m going to switch it up, however, and switch Baltimore from Georgia high school outfielder Druw Jones (the Draft’s top talent) to Oklahoma prep shortstop Jackson Holliday (MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 prospect). The Orioles may prefer an infielder and Holliday should allow them to save more money than Jones would.

The biggest news since my last projection was Alabama left-hander Connor Prielipp’s bullpen workout Monday before the Southeastern Conference tournament. Prielipp looked like a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick before he had Tommy John surgery in May 2021, and this was his first time throwing in front of scouts since then. He topped out at 93 mph and flashed a plus slider, and the consensus was that he more took care of business as opposed to wowing evaluators.

I’ve included Prielipp, who will throw again at the Draft Combine in mid-June, in the mock draft below. I’m going to wait until former Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker (now with the Tri-City ValleyCats in the independent Frontier League) and East Carolina left-hander Carson Whisenhunt (headed for the Cape Cod League after a season-long suspension) take the mound before trying to figure out where they fit.

My educated guesses below include 12 consecutive hitters from the top, something that never has occurred since the Draft began in 1965. Detailed scouting reports for all players can be found within our freshly expanded and updated Draft Top 200 (rankings in parentheses).

1. Orioles: Jackson Holliday, SS, Stillwater (Okla.) HS (No. 3)
The Orioles are focusing on five players, which includes some combination of the first seven prospects on the Top 200: in order, Jones, Florida high school outfielder Elijah Green, Holliday, Georgia prep middle infielder Termarr Johnson, Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee, Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada and Louisiana State third baseman/outfielder Jacob Berry. If Baltimore does prioritize a deep discount, it could save more money with Johnson and Berry than the others.

2. D-backs: Druw Jones, OF, Wesleyan HS, Peachtree Corners, Ga. (No. 1)
It doesn’t seem possible for Jones to get past the D-backs. Green and Johnson appear to be the most obvious backup plans, with Parada and Lee the primary college considerations.

3. Rangers: Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech (No. 6)
The Rangers love both Holliday and Parada and should wind up with one of them. If that doesn’t happen, the good news is that Jones somehow will have fallen into their lap.

4. Pirates: Brooks Lee, SS, Cal Poly (No. 5)
The Pirates have selected advanced college bats (Nick Gonzales, Henry Davis) with top-seven selections in the previous two Drafts and Lee would give them a third. Johnson and Green would be prep possibilities. Pittsburgh is kicking the tires on Chipola (Fla.) JC third baseman Cam Collier and has closely watched local high school shortstop Cole Young, but those aren’t entirely plausible options this early in the Draft.

5. Nationals: Elijah Green, OF, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. (No. 2)
The Nationals’ primary target appears to be Parada, who has a good chance to get to No. 5 as long as Holliday doesn’t go 1-1. Getting Green, who has the best physical tools in the entire Draft, isn’t a bad Plan B.

6. Marlins: Termarr Johnson, 2B, Mays HS, Atlanta (No. 4)
In this scenario, the Marlins’ choice probably comes down to Green, Johnson and Berry. Johnson could boost his stock if he performs well in a planned stint in the Sunbelt League, a summer college circuit in Georgia. Like they did in 2020 at No. 3 with Max Meyer, Miami could surprise with a pitcher, perhaps Michigan high school right-hander Brock Porter.

7. Cubs: Cam Collier, 3B, Chipola (Fla.) JC (No. 12)
Collier graduated early from high school to play at a junior college power at age 17, and he’s going to further test himself against older competition in the Cape Cod League. The Cubs also could consider Berry and might be the ceiling for Texas Tech second baseman Jace Jung and South Carolina prep third baseman Tucker Toman, who has helium.

8. Twins: Jacob Berry, 3B/OF, Louisiana State (No. 7)
Like most teams at the top, the Twins are zeroed in on position players. Berry may have the best combination of hitting ability, power and plate discipline in the Draft, though his defensive limitations give some teams pause.

9. Royals: Justin Crawford, OF, Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas (No. 13)
Crawford’s rise up Draft boards continues — his tools are reminiscent of his father’s, four-time All-Star Carl — and he’s starting to move ahead of some of the second-tier college hitters.

10. Rockies: Jace Jung, 2B, Texas Tech (No. 8)
Jung’s track record is as good as any college hitter’s and he’s continuing to produce despite getting pitched around more than ever.

11. Mets: Daniel Susac, C, Arizona (No. 11)
(compensation pick for failure to sign 2021 first-rounder Kumar Rocker)
The Mets might be tempted to break the run on position players, but it makes more strategic sense to grab one of the top remaining college bats here and snag an arm they like three selections later.

12. Tigers: Gavin Cross, OF, Virginia Tech (No. 9)
The Tigers would prefer a hitter, and Cross and any of the names projected ahead of him would be a good fit at 12. That said, Detroit could opt for Prielipp or homestate right-hander Brock Porter, the best high school pitcher in the Draft.

13. Angels: Cooper Hjerpe, LHP, Oregon State (No. 32)
After selecting pitchers with each of their 20 picks a year ago, the Angels are the favorite to be the first team to grab an arm in 2022. Hjerpe’s combination of metrics, polish and performance make him a candidate to reach the big leagues quickly, which fits their needs.

14. Mets: Brock Porter, RHP, Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary’s Prep (No. 10)
If another of the top college hitters got this far, the Mets could double up on them. If that doesn’t happen, they could turn to a prep pitcher such as Porter, right-hander Dylan Lesko from Georgia or fast-rising lefty Robby Snelling from Nevada.

15. Padres: Dylan Lesko, RHP, Buford (Ga.) HS (No. 14)
Though the Padres have spent a lot of time on high school position players such as Crawford, Young and shortstop Jett Williams (Texas), it might be too difficult to pass on Lesko. He looked certain to go in the top 10 as the first pitcher drafted — college or high school — before he injured his elbow and had Tommy John surgery in April.

16. Guardians: Zach Neto, SS, Campbell (No. 25)
The Guardians collect players with outstanding bat-to-ball skills and Neto is going to land in the 16-25 range, which will make him the first first-rounder ever from Campbell.

17. Phillies: Blade Tidwell, RHP, Tennessee (No. 23)
Tidwell missed the first six weeks of the season with shoulder soreness and slowly has worked his way back into No. 1 Tennessee’s rotation. He touched 99 mph and had a wipeout mid-80s slider in a three-inning outing against Mississippi State last Friday, and if he can continue that momentum he’ll go higher than this.

18. Reds: Chase DeLauter, OF, James Madison (No. 19)
It’s tough to get a read on DeLauter, who hit .402/.520/.715 in three shortened college seasons before breaking his left foot sliding into second base on April 9. He offers one of the best combinations of power and patience available, but scouts don’t love his left-handed swing. Some clubs think he could sneak into the top 10 and others think he belongs in the 20s.

19. Athletics: Dylan Beavers, OF, California (No. 21)
Seven weeks before the Draft, there’s not a lot of buzz linking specific players to specific destinations in the bottom half of the first round. One exception is that there’s a lot of chatter that the A’s want Beavers, a quality athlete who produces some of the highest exit velocities in the Draft.

20. Braves: Gabriel Hughes, RHP, Gonzaga (No. 20)
The Braves get linked mostly to college pitchers, perhaps because they’ve gone that route in the last two first rounds (Jared Shuster, Ryan Cusick). Candidates include Hjerpe (if he gets here), Hughes and right-handers Justin Campbell (Oklahoma State) and Thomas Harrington (Campbell).

21. Mariners: Jacob Melton, OF, Oregon State (No. 54)
He’s the PAC-12 Conference Player of the Year and loaded with tools, yet Melton hasn’t gotten much attention in mock drafts to this point. Teams have taken notice, however, and he’s hitting his way into the first round.

22. Cardinals: Brandon Barriera, LHP, American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla. (No. 15)
Clubs usually draft high school pitchers lower than where the media ranks them, and that’s how I’ve handled all of the prep arms in this projection. The top three high school left-handers (Barriera, Snelling, Jackson Ferris) are lined up in different ways by different teams, making it difficult to determine in what order they’ll go, but I’m sticking with our Draft Top 200 rankings for now.

23. Blue Jays: Tucker Toman, 3B, Hammond HS, Columbia, S.C. (No. 42)
This may be light on Toman, a switch-hitter who’s one of the best high school bats available. DeLauter is another possibility.

24. Red Sox: Brock Jones, OF, Stanford (No. 31)
A former Stanford safety, Jones entered the season as a likely Top 10 pick and then torpedoed his stock by slumping for the first two months. He’s in the process of rebuilding it by homering 11 times in his first 14 games in mid-May and could climb higher.

25. Yankees: Cole Young, SS, North Allegheny HS, Wexford, Pa. (No. 18)
Most teams believe Young, a pure hitter with the quickness and arm to stay at shortstop, will go earlier than this, but I can’t find a spot that makes a lot of demographic sense.

26. White Sox: Robby Snelling, LHP, McQueen HS, Reno, Nev. (No. 16)
This might be more of a floor for Snelling, who like his fellow prep southpaws Barriera and Ferris could slide into the mid-teens somewhere. The White Sox have shown a willingness to invest big money in high school arms in recent Drafts.

27. Brewers: Jett Williams, SS, Rockwall-Heath (Texas) HS (No. 26)
Though Williams stands just 5-foot-8, teams love his hitting ability, speed and energy, and he could go as high as the mid-teens.

28. Astros: Max Wagner, 3B, Clemson (No. 63)
Wagner began the season as a defensive replacement at third base and turned into the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. He has patience and power, hitting 16 homers in his final 22 regular-season games to get to 26, one shy of Khalil Greene’s school record.

29. Rays: Drew Gilbert, OF, Tennessee (No. 28)
The Rays are associated with a number of outfielders: Brock Jones, Tennessee teammates Gilbert and Jordan Beck, Florida’s Sterlin Thompson, California high schooler Henry Bolte and Vanderbilt’s Spencer Jones.

30. Giants: Connor Prielipp, LHP, Alabama (No. 24)
After picking in the upper half of the first round in the past four Drafts, the Giants may look for a high-upside play now that they find themselves at No. 30. Prielipp, Ferris, Bolte or Indiana prep right-hander Andrew Dutkanych could fit that bill.

Supplemental first-round picks

31. Rockies: Jordan Beck, OF, Tennessee (No. 22)
32. Reds: Jackson Ferris, LHP, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. (No. 17)
33. Orioles: Justin Campbell, RHP, Oklahoma State (No. 34)
34. D-backs: Malcolm Moore, C, McClatchy HS, Sacramento, Calif. (No. 53)
35. Royals: Henry Bolte, OF, Palo Alto (Calif.) HS (No. 35)
36. Pirates: Spencer Jones, OF, Vanderbilt (No. 74)
37. Guardians: Thomas Harrington, RHP, Campbell (No. 43)
38. Rockies: Andrew Dutkanych, RHP, Brebeuf Jesuit Prep, Indianapolis (No. 30)
39. Padres: Sterlin Thompson, OF, Florida (No. 27)

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