We’ve reached my favorite point of the season. The summer is heating up, players such as Jose Abreu start to kick it into their second gear and the MLB first-year player draft has come and gone. Before I started writing for Major League Fantasy Sports, I knew a little about players getting draft, but writing about it and reading fellow MLFS Bryan Luhrs’ articles took my knowledge to a new level. This season, we have a third writer, Todd Nevin, who will join Bryan Luhrs and myself in breaking down the 2018 draft. This draft is pretty exciting for myself as four of the first 10 draft picks were taken by teams in either the American League Central or National League Central. This gives me four players to immediately hone in on as I will be down both the AL Central and NL Central drafts. As I’ve mentioned in years past, being part of a draft war room would be one of the greatest jobs in professional sports and it usually takes a few years to entirely grade a team’s draft it’s still great to get an idea of what organizations target in drafts and get an early start on prospects to monitor from a fantasy baseball standpoint. Before we hop into the American League Central breakdown, I want to congratulate all the players selected in the draft and I wish them nothing but the best on their endeavor to reaching the Major Leagues. Without further adieu, I bring you this week’s installment of “That’s Amore!” Building for the Future: AL Central Draft Breakdown 2018.
There’s no better way to start a draft breakdown than jumping right into it with the number one overall pick. The Tigers entered 2018 coming off one of their worst years in recent memory finishing the season 64-98. Only the San Francisco Giants had as many losses as the Tigers. The Tigers organization has felt a drain on their minor league pipeline and their window for a World Series berth slammed shut after their 2012 appearance. With long-time ace Justin Verlander dealt to the Houston Astros last September, second baseman Ian Kinsler dealt to the Angels in the offseason and 35 year-old Miguel Cabrera’s remaining eight-year, $244 million remaining contract immovable the Tigers are in desperate need of rebuilding their franchise from the ground up.
With the first overall pick, the Detroit Tigers selected right-handed pitcher Casey Mize out of Auburn University. Arguably the best pitcher in this year’s draft, the 6’2″ 220lb righty compiled a 10-6 record to go along with a 3.30 ERA and 1[56:16] K:BB ratio. He’s been a dominant force this season equipped with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and mid-80s slider. Could he pitch this season? There’s no doubt in my mind that Mize possesses the stuff to pitching right now in the majors, however, there is room for improvement with his fastball in terms of movement. While his devastating four-seam fastball gets on hitters quickly, I would like to see him work on changing his grip, preferably to a two-seam, to get more movement on the pitch. This will only help with the deceptiveness. Still, he has some of the best mechanics in the draft with a clean delivery and the prototypical frame wanted in a starting pitcher. With starting pitchers pitching less and less into ball games, I thought selecting Mize was a dynamite choice for the Tigers. He has three years under of collegiate baseball under his belt and shouldn’t need much time in the minors before we see him pitching with the Tigers. With Auburn competing in the NCAA tournament, his appearance with the rookie ball team could’ve been delayed, but with Auburn knocked out by Florida he could be a week or so away from joining the team. I’d suggest all fantasy owners, especially those in keeper and dynasty leagues, to start adding Mize to their shortlist now.
Of the top-100 prospects in baseball, the Tigers only possess four and all four are pitchers (Franklin Perez [RHP – #33], Matt Manning [RHP – #47], Alex Faedo [RHP – #51], and Beau Burrows [RHP – #69]) easily making it an emphasis for the Detroit organization to look at all positions moving forward. Their next five selections saw them draft all over the diamond selecting high school outfielder Parker Meadows at 44(2nd), Texas second baseman Kody Clemens at 79(3rd), high school outfielder Kingston Liniak at 105(4th), Louisville left-handed pitcher Adam Wolf at 135(5th), and right-handed pitcher Hugh Smith at 165(6th). Kody Clemens was a solid pick in the third round as the Texas junior had a breakout season slashing .346/.433/.706 with 21 home runs and 68 RBI setting himself up as a 2018 Golden Spikes finalist. Overall, I thought the Tigers had a solid draft. They were able to draft the top collegiate arm, one of the better collegiate middle infielders, as well as not only collegiately-polished players, but prep star outfielder Parker Meadows. I wouldn’t necessarily call any one player a reach, but I did notice the Tigers shied away from adding too many high school players only drafting four(Parker Meadows, third baseman Kelvin Smith (735), Cole Henry (1125), and Cory Acton (1155). They went after players with collegiate experience that won’t need as much time to develop in the minor leagues.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox entered 2018 rebuilding while having one of the most populous minor league pipelines in Major League Baseball. Already with three of the top-25 prospects in Eloy Jimenez (3), Michael Kopech (8), and Luis Robert (24), there is a lot to be excited about for the future of the White Sox organization. Still, the White Sox found themselves with a top-five pick in this year’s draft and selected Oregon State shortstop Nick Madrigal with the fourth overall pick. When you see Madrigal standing at 5’7″ 165lbs you immediately think this kid will be a Major League player? The same was said about Jose Altuve, and we all see what he turned out to be. Still, Madrigal put together one of the best offensive seasons in all of Division I baseball slashing .406/.470/.586 with three home runs, 32 RBI and 33 runs scored. He’s arguably one of the best defensive infielders in college baseball and scouts suggest he has the athleticism to play shortstop as well as a Gold Glove second base. With Madrigal, the White Sox set themselves up perfectly for the future with 23 year-old Yoan Moncada developing in the Majors, 2017 11th overall pick Jake Burger rehabbing rehabbing an Achilles injury, outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert and now infielder Nick Madrigal. This alone gives them top prospects at five positions. With Madrigal’s hit tool, I give him a year or two before we see him hitting atop of the White Sox lineup.
After Madrigal, the White Sox didn’t stop on proven college commodities drafting Oklahoma standout outfield Steele Walker, Mississippi State pitcher Konnor Pilkington, and Indiana University pitcher Jonathan Stiever. Already showing the ability to hit with a wooden bat, Steele Walker put together one of the best collegiate seasons slashing .352/.441/.606 with 13 HR and 53 RBI. The centerfielder possesses one the best hit tools in all of college baseball and possesses the ability to play either centerfield or left field in the majors. Again, the White Sox already have Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert and Walker could be the final piece to sure up their future outfield.
At 6’3″ 225lbs, left-handed pitcher Konnor Pilkington possesses the size and strength to make it as a starting pitcher. Concerns arose after his 96 MPH fastball decreased to 93 this season, but he was still effective with his above-average changeup and slider. While he may be destined as a middle-of-the rotation arm, Pilkington will need a few years of minor league ball to better-develop his secondary pitches. Only 20, he has plenty of time to develop and he’s faced some of the best collegiate bats while pitching at Mississippi State. Still, his ceiling his a two-three starter with his floor being a solid innings eater out of the bullpen. Recently, we’ve seen numerous pitchers make a living coming out of the pen and spot-starting with the likes of Houston’s Brad Peacock and Chicago Cubs’ Mike Montgomery.
Overall, I thought the White Sox had a good draft. They were able to land one of the best collegiate hitters, as well as target numerous college arms. If I had to pinpoint what pick as a reach I’d immediately name third-round pick Konnor Pilkington. The decrease in velocity is always a concern and when I read reports naming conditioning as a red flag two thoughts immediately come to mind. One, is there any evidence of injury? Two, does he rely more on his God-given talent than taking it to the next level in the gym?
The Twins are a season removed from a 2017 season that left them with a lot to talk about. The organization left the 2017 draft selecting prep standout Royce Lewis with the number one overall pick. The 19 year-old has been off to a hot start in Single-A slashing .289/.335/.426 with five home runs, 32 RBI and 15 stolen bases. Fast-forward to the end of the 2017 season and the Twins saw themselves in the one-game playoff versus the New York Yankees. The game didn’t go as hoped, but it garnered momentum entering the 2018 season. The 2018 hasn’t started off as the Twins as hoped currently sitting below .500. Still, the Twins are looking to compete and develop a plethora of young talent in their minor league system.
The Twins entered the 2018 draft electing Oregon State outfielder Trevor Larnach with the 20th overall pick. In Larnach, the Twins are getting a player that put together his best collegiate season slashing .327/.455/.626 with 17 home runs and 65 RBI. At 6’4″ 210lbs, Larnach has the leverage to launch balls and hasn’t shied away from using the opposite field as a left-handed hitter. While the outfielder possesses a plus-hit approach he has shown patience at the plate drawing 45 walks in 214 at-bats. In terms of power, Larnach is one of the better outfield prospects and one that could easily reach the majors within a season or two. Larnach, with Nick Madrigal, have Oregon State with a berth in the College World Series. Make sure to tune in to Oregon State’s upcoming games to catch a glimpse of both Madrigal and Larnach.
After Larnach, the Twins stuck with power drafting UNC Wilmington catcher Ryan Jeffers in the second round, and looked for outfield speed selecting Utah centerfielder DaShawn Keirsey in the fourth round. While Jeffers isn’t the best defensive catchers in the draft, he does possess some of the best, if not the best, power at the catching position. Jeffers slashed .315/.460/.635 with 16 home runs and 59 RBI. As with most catchers, he’ll need work mightily on his receiving and hand speed from behind the plate. Still, he possesses raw power, and his 6’4″ 225lb frame is ideal for a player with pop. Even if he isn’t destined to catch, he could develop into a force at the first base position. While some may consider Jeffers a reach given the uncertainty he stays at catcher, there’s no doubt this pick was taken solely from an offensive standpoint. It’s rare to find a player his size that has already tapped into his power potential. In Keirsey, the Twins drafted one of the best defensive centerfielders in the daft. Following a wall collision in early 2017, Keirsey speed was rated at 80. Following hip surgery, it sits at 70, but with his hip getting farther removed from surgery his speed is catching up to it’s pre-surgery pace. Assuming Keirsey sticks in centerfield, he would give the Twins a backup plan for Byron Buxton. He has the tools, given his line-drive approach, to eventually become a leadoff hitter. The Twins went after needed power and speed with their first three selections and then drafted heavy on pitching in the middle rounds. The Twins drafted on need and the upcoming years should give us an idea of how they did.
Kansas City Royals
There’s no question the Royals are one of many teams that need to rebuild their organization. Building from within lead them to a World Series championship in 2015 and after seeing the likes of Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer leave via free agency only a shell of the once dominant Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas, brought back on a one-year deal, remain. After finishing the 2017 season 80-82, the Royals new entered 2018 knowing it was going to be a long season, and currently sitting 22-43 the worst has yet to come. Still, they are replenishing their minor league system, and with the likes of other Major League organizations, the next handful seasons will be ones that come with patience.
There’s no question the Royals have always had questions in their starting rotation. Even during their World Series run, they were left filling their rotation with out-of-house arms as well as selling off the farm for starting pitchers. The Royals entered the 2018 draft with one objective: draft pitchers. The Royals did just that selecting pitchers with nine of their first 13 selections. With their first pick, 18th overall, the Royals selected right-handed starting pitcher Brady Singer out of the University of Florida. Arguably one of the top collegiate arms in the draft, Singer has pitched to a record of 11-1 with a 2.27 ERA and [98:19] K:BB ratio. Singer brings a 95-96 MPH fastball with consistency and movement as well as a devastating slider and changeup that seems to get better and better. After he saw former teammates A.J. Puk and Alex Faedo get drafted in the first round, 2018 was Singer’s turn. He possesses the size, 6’5″ 210, and repertoire to be a front-line starter.
Not stopping at Singer, the Royals used the 33rd overall pick to draft Singer’s teammate and fellow right-handed pitcher Jackson Kowar. Like Singer, Kowar has an electric fastball that can reach 98 MPH while consistently sitting in the mid-90s. Kowar’s changeup is an advanced secondary pitch and one that will require little reworking. His breaking ball will require work, but pair him with Singer and Kowar gives the Royals a phenomenal one-two punch for the future at the front of their starting rotation.
With the 34th and 40th picks the Royals stuck with pitching, but went after left-handed pitchers selecting Virginia’s Daniel Lynch and Stanford’s Kris Bubic. Like Singer and Kowar, Lynch and Bubic have the ideal size for starting pitchers at 6’6″ and 6’2″ respectively. Both pitchers have lively fastballs, and above-average changeups. Both lefties will need to develop their breaking balls in the minors, but give the Royals pitching that other organizations will envy. The Royals reached for arms throughout the draft, but I’m very intrigued to see how they develop. Baseball is a game that has completely evolved into power-hitting players that strikeout. It’ll be interesting to see if the Royals have started a way to counteract a league that has shifted toward power-hitting.
The Indians have become the darling of the AL Central. Say what you will about the division as a whole, but the Indians have proven time-after-time that they can compete with any team in the American League. The Indians entered 2018 with two straight seasons of 90+ wins and a 2016 World Series appearance. It’s only the first week of June, and the Indians have a solid five-game cushion on the division lead. With the Twins struggling, and the Tigers sitting in second with a sub-.500 record there really isn’t any team in the AL Central that looks primed to push the Indians for the division-lead. That being said, the Indians have made a name for themselves in terms of pitching of the past few season. While their bullpen hasn’t been as strong in recent years, I highly doubt they struggle for the entire season. That being said, the Indians are always looking to bolster their minor league system for players that they can not only develop, but ones that can help as they continue to be perennial playoff contenders.
Entering the 2018 MLB draft, the Indians selected catcher high school catcher Noah Naylor with the 29th overall pick. The last name may sound familiar as he is the younger brother of former first-round draft pick and current Padres minor league prospect, Josh Naylor. A lot like his brother, Naylor possesses a strong hitting ability paired with power. He has one of the better arms of all the catchers in this year’s draft. Only 18, he will have all the necessary time to develop into a catcher, and at the very least he will be destined for first base. The Naylor pick gives the Indians one of the bet high school projects and one that will hit regardless if he stays at the catching position.
After Naylor, the Indians went after pitching drafting high school right-handed pitchers Ethan Hankins and Lenny Torres followed by Southern Mississippi’s Nick Sandlin. At 6’6″ 200lbs Hankins is arguably the best high school pitching prospect in the draft. His fastball can reach 98 MPH and consistently sits at in the mid-90s He as an above-average changeup, but developing a breaking ball will be a main focus during his time in the minor leagues. A lot like Hankins, Torres has a lively fastball, but developing his secondary pitches will be a point of emphasis. Sandlin is an interesting pick for one major reason: he’s a closer. While we see many teams drafting arms in the hops of them becoming starters, Sandlin was drafted as a reliever and that’s where the Indians will develop him. He’s a bit of a throwback in terms of his mechanics as we rarely see submarine pitchers. He isn’t as distinctive as Chad Bradford once was, but he still throws from down low. He brings a mid-90s fastballs, and as he develops his slider and changeup he could become the next best closer for the Indians. I like that the Indians drafted Naylor to be the future at the catcher or first base position, and the prep projects in Hankins and Torres have all the tangibles you want from starting pitching. For a team that has made a name for themselves with their bullpen, it’s a long shot, but should the team continue to have answers with their bullpen, Sandlin could be an option late into the 2018 season. It’s unlikely, but there’s still a slight chance.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday June 17th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #125 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Major League Fantasy Football Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts, and Jeff Nelson live June 14th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #82 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. Call in number is 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the host. This is our kick of show for the 2018 fantasy football season. We will hit free agents, rookies, and fantasy football as a whole for each team for 2018. This week we will discuss everything AFC West!
Jeff is a defensive coach from White Hall who was on the coaching staff while first round pick Saquan Barkely was there and Freedom H.S. football teams. He may be taking the year off from coaching, but will be joining us on our football shows from time to time throughout the year.