Last week, I broke down the American League Central 2018 draft. Each team had a solid draft, and I really liked what the Royals drafted in University of Florida pitchers Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar. In case you missed it, my fellow MLFS writers Todd Nevin and Bryan Luhrs broke down American League East and American League West drafts respectively. Both writers did a phenomenal job introducing the fantasy baseball world to the future super stars of Major League Baseball. This week, I will be breaking down the NL Central draft. As with the past few years, the Cubs have been the darling within the Central division, with the Cardinals always at their heels. This season, we’ve seen the Brewers get off to a hot start with a two-game lead entering Sunday. Without further ado, I bring you this week’s draft breakdown in “That’s Amore!” Building for the Future: MLB NL Central Draft Breakdown 2018.
The Reds entered the draft owning the fifth overall pick. They haven’t won the NL Central since 2012, and accumulated 90+ losses for three-straight seasons. The Reds have prized prospects in Nick Senzel, Hunter Greene, and Tyler Stephenson. While Senzel and Greene fall in the top-20 in Major League prospects, they only have three (Senzel, Greene, and outfield Taylor Trammell) in the top-100. When it comes to their minor league pipeline, there’s no question there’s a glowing need in terms of pitching, but there are glaring needs all around the baseball diamond.
With their first pick, the Reds selected University of Florida third baseman Jonathan India. India was one of the best collegiate hitting prospects in this year’s draft and had a stellar 2018 season slashing .350/.497/.717 with 21 home runs and 52 RBI. After two moderate seasons, the Junior put it together and boosted his stock entering this year’s draft. In India, the Cincinnati is getting a player that has made the necessary adjustments to allowing himself great hitting counts as well as drawing walks (60). What makes India a solid pick is his athleticism. He possesses great speed, footwork, and a strong throwing arm that give the Reds the ability to move him around the infield. With the Reds locking up third baseman Eugenio Suarez to a friendly seven-year, $66 million contract, the Reds are only a few seasons away from an infield that will feature Suarez, Nick Senzel, and Jonathan India. Collegiate bats are hard to find, and I really like one the Reds did with their first picks in back-to-back years taking athletic, collegiately polished bats in Senzel and India.
As I mentioned earlier, the Reds, a lot like numerous teams, have a need for pitching. After India, the Reds used 11 of their next 15 draft picks on pitchers. Now, I don’t have a problem with a team going after need, but the Reds absolutely need to develop their pitching. They’ve had numerous pitching prospects that haven’t developed the way they would have liked, and when they have gotten production it’s usually been through international productions (e.g. Cueto, Chapman, Iglesias). With their second and third selections, the Reds drafted Lyon Richardson out of Jensen Beach High School (FL) and Josiah Gray out of Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. Richardson was one of the top prep prospects in this year’s draft, and was scouted as an outfielder prior to this season. At 6’2″ 175lbs, has a dynamite arm getting his fastball up to 96-97 MPH, while hovering in the mid-90s. His secondary pitches are a work in progress, and there will be endless amounts of work to be done to develop his repertoire. Still, the Reds love the athletic ability Richardson brings to the table, and will have all the time in the world to develop into a starting pitcher.
After Richardson, the Reds selected DII star Josiah Gray. A lot like Richardson, Gray is another athlete that started mainly as a position player until this past season. Gray possesses the ability to throw his fastball in the upper-90s, while hovering in the mid-90s. He has an above-average slider, with great life, but needs to work on the ability to consistently throw the pitch for a strike. From time-to-time he brings a changeup, but this pitch is rarely used, and one that he doesn’t need often. I find Gray as an interesting selection as Texas A&M pitcher Mitchell Kilkenny was available. I understand this pick was chosen by athleticism, but it’s hard to argue against the talent Kilkenny faced playing in the SEC. After India, the Reds went hard after pitching, and while I can’t argue on this concept, they absolutely must develop a few after passing up on other players (Kilkenny, Kody Clemens, Konnor Pilkington, etc.) that were available.
The Pirates window for a World Series berth slammed shut after the 2015 after two-straight years losing the Wild Card game. Since, the Pirates have moved Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen. For a while, the Pirates were looking like one of the few organizations to hit on pitching prospects. The likes of Cole, Glasnow, Taillon, and Kingham were supposed to be as dominant as any rotation. Injuries, and lack of production, have slowed the latter three, and while 2017 was a rough season, 2018 has looked equally as bad. However, Austin Meadows is looking like the real deal, and the Pirates are looking to have the outfielder of their future.
With the Pirates starting to plan for the future of their organization, they were quick to use their tenth overall pick on University of South Alabama outfielder Travis Swaggerty. The center fielder’s plus-speed made him one of the more desirable collegiate outfielder in this year’s draft. Projected as a leadoff centerfielder, Swaggerty possesses sneaky power slashing .296/.455/.526 with 13 home runs, 38 RBI, and 57 runs scored. For a leadoff hitter, there is more swing and miss than many would like, but there is also the potential for 20 home runs per season. There’s no question it’s hard to find a dynamic leadoff hitter, and Swaggerty fits the mold perfectly as a leadoff man and centerfielder.
After Swaggerty, the Pittsburgh went with two high school arms in Gunnar Hoglund and Braxton Ashcraft followed by Vanderbilt shortstop Connor Kaiser. There’s no question Pittsburgh loves going after pitchers with size, and Hoglund and Ashcraft fit Pittsburgh’s ideal mold standing at 6’5″ and 6’4″ respectively. Gunnar Hoglund brings great athleticism to the mound. An established hitter as well, Hoglund excelled on the basketball court as well as the mound. He brings a fastball that hovers around 90-95 MPH with a breaking ball that needs work, but shows a lot of spin. Immediately, I can tell you that the main focus will be getting him to stay on top of the curve, while ripping down with the great spin he already generates on the pitch. The third pitch in his repertoire is a changeup that will also need developing throughout his time in the minors. Braxton Ashcraft is another high potential high school arm that has a quick delivery with a fastball that reaches the low-90s. There will be room for mechanical adjustments as Ashcraft is a prep arm with raw stuff that needs a lot of development. His slider and changeup are two pitches that will need development in the minors. The key for the Pirates will be offering Ashcraft enough of a signing bonus to lure him away from playing for Baylor in the fall.
My favorite pick of the Pirates was third round pick (86th overall) Connor Kaiser out of Vanderbilt University. The fourth year Junior is the prototypical shortstop with great footwork, solid range, and a strong arm. The Vanderbilt Commodore slashed .293/.389/.446 with six home runs, 46 RBI, and 12 stolen bases. I watched a few of Vanderbilt’s games prior to the College World Series, and the one thing that I immediately noticed was Kaiser’s footwork. It was extremely impressive, and his range was ideal to both his left and right. The Pirates will be in need of a shortstop in the near future and I have a feeling Kaiser will be one of the best defensive fielders in the game. I can see him posting similar offensive stats to Jordy Mercer, but with more defense.
The Brewers entered the 2018 draft in great position in terms of their Major League club. The Brewers are currently leading the NL Central, and have talent at the Major League level as well as within their minor league pipeline. The Brewers currently have Keston Hiura (32) and Corbin Burnes (60) as their only prospects in Major League Baseball’s top-100, but third baseman Lucas Erceg and outfielders Corey Ray and Tristen Lutz are climbing the ladder. After finishing 2017 six games out of the division, the Brewers made great acquisitions via free agency, and trade, in Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. As of now, their bullpen has been one of the staples to their success, but it remains to be seen if their starting pitching will be enough to compete for the entire season. Look for Milwaukee to be in the running for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline.
Entering the draft, the Brewers had the 21st selection in the first round. They selected Brice Turang, shortstop out of Santiago High School (CA). Turang entered the draft as one of the top high school prospects in this year’s class. He doesn’t blow anyone away with a tool that is far superior than the others, but Turang is consistent at the plate and on defense. Still, he projects as a stay at shortstop, and the key will be adding to his frame. Some fear Turang will op to attend LSU in the fall, and that could spell trouble if the Brewers are unable to sign the high school shortstop.
After Turang, the Brewers stuck with prep prospects selecting outfielders Joe Gray and Micah Bello. Gray has drawn comparison to former Major League outfielder Torii Hunter, and brings great power and one of the best outfield arms of all prep outfielders. Gray’s arm has been clocked at 98 MPH from the outfield, and at the plate he’s shown the ability to his for power to all parts of the field. The only knock on Gray was his inability to his consistently off of quality high school pitching. Still, with power at the plate, and fantastic arm, Gray projects to be a dynamite right fielder. Bello projects as a top-of-the-order hitter with great speed out of the box and on defense. A lot like first-round pick Brice Turang, Bello will need to add strength as he develops in the minors.
After Turang, Gray, and Bello the Brewers went heavy on pitching drafting 13 within their next 17 picks. They were able to mix collegiate arms with two high school standouts. One thing I noticed were none fit the ideal mold of tall and lanky from a starting standpoint. There’s no question there is a need for starting pitchers in the National League Central. While the Brewers selected a bevy of arms, I feel the Pirates went after the one that fit the ideal starting mold as a majority of Pittsburgh’s choices were 6’3″ or taller. You may ask why this is important? Taller pitchers handle the work load better. I directly correlate this to their size. When a pitcher 6’3″ or taller strides to home plate, they are that much closer, nearly a foot or more, than a pitcher at 6′ or shorter. This allows them to handle the effort better, than the strain being put on a pitcher that is shorter in stature. This isn’t always the case, but more times than not, taller pitchers have more success especially in a starting role over many innings. All in all, I feel the Brewers were able to nab solid high school prospects that will develop over the years. However, there were numerous collegiate arms that could reach the Major sooner and give them a boost in the upcoming seasons as they compete for the NL Central.
St. Louis Cardinals
Year in, and year out, the St. Louis Cardinals compete for the National League Central division. They are the most successful Major League team in the National League and rightfully so. While only Alex Reyes (18) and Tyler O’Neill (53) land in the top-100 prospect rankings, the Cardinals always find a way to develop talent whether it’s via the draft or through international signings. At times, we may see prospects land with the Major League club a bit later than most prospects, but when they arrive they are more than ready to play. This is one of the things that sets the Cardinals organization apart from nearly every other organization in baseball. However, it’s been a long three seasons for the Cardinals as they haven’t finished first in their division since 2015.
The Cardinals entered the 2018 draft with the 19th pick in the first round. The Cardinals wasted no time replenishing their minor league system selecting high school third baseman Nolan Gorman. Gorman possesses some of the best power potential out of everyone in this year’s draft and took the home run derby crown at last year’s MLB All-Star Game High School Home Run Derby and at Under Armour All-American Game. The left-handed slugger possess a 70 power grade. While he possesses lightning-quick hands, there is a lot of swing and miss potential. With a lot of room for improvement, Gorman will have the necessary time to develop into one of the best power-hitting prospects in baseball. Two questions that arise are strikeouts and whether or not he sticks at the hot corner. Even if he sees a move to the opposite corner of the infield, or corner outfield, Gorman has as much power potential as any player drafted this year.
After Gorman, the Cardinals drafted nearly every position on the diamond. With their second and third picks, the Cardinals selected Wake Forest right-handed pitcher Griffin Roberts and TCU first baseman Luken Baker. Roberts brings arguably the best breaking ball in this year’s draft with his dynamite slider. HIs fastball sits in the mid-90s and reaches 97 MPH and has great sink. The tall righty finished the season 5-4 with a 3.82 ERA and 1[30:38] K:BB in 96.2 innings of work. In Baker, the Cardinals landed a player that has the ability to hit or pitch. He did both at TCU, but did not log any work off the mound in 2018. At 6’4″ 265lbs, Baker is a monster of a human being. He’s shown great leverage, and power, all parts of the field and had a successful Junior season slashing .319/.443/.575 with nine home runs in limited work after tearing an ankle ligament in April. Overall, the Cardinals had an impressive draft going after numerous collegiate players that will look to help the Major League club within the next few years.
The Cubs have done arguably the best job in terms of developing draft picks into Major League players. They currently field five players in Kris Braynt, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr., and Ian Happ that were all first-round picks of the organization. It’s hard to find another organization that even comes close to having their own first-round picks on the field at the same. The Cubs enter 2018 having made the playoffs for three-straight seasons, and looking primed to add a fourth year to the streak. While there’s no question the Cubs have built a lineup for years to come, there have been many ups and down in terms of inconsistency and strikeouts and lack of consistency from starting pitching. If there is one Achilles heel to this team in 2018 will be directly correlated to their starting pitching.
This is the first year in a very long time that the Cubs do not feature a player in the top-100 prospect rankings. Factor in prospects reaching the Major League clubs, and trades, and the Cubs find themselves looking to replenish their one prosperous minor league system. Owning the 24th pick, in the first round, the Cubs selected Stanford shortstop Nico Hoerner. Initial comparisons to Ian Kinsler, Hoerner brings one of the best approaches to the plate of all collegiate hitters. The fourth-year Junior had a great season slashing .45/.391/.496 with three home runs, 40 RBI, and 15 stolen bases in 19 attempts. While the power numbers don’t jump of the page, there is power that will eventually develop. Hoerner possesses above-average speed, but there are notions that he may eventually make the move to second base where he featured as a freshman at Stanford. Still, Hoerner gives the Cubs a prospects with plus-hit tools that doesn’t strikeout at the rate of their current Big League players. If the Cubs eventually decide to move Baez or Russell for starting pitching, Hoerner could be the piece that allows a potential trade to be made.
After following suit in year’s past by going after a collegiately polished hitter, the Cubs turned their focus to two high school outfield prospects in Brennen Davis and Cole Roederer. The 6’4″ 175lb Davis carries arguably the highest ceiling out of any high school outfielder. He’s already starting to add to his frame, and will need to focus on his hit tool while the power develops over time. A 70 grade in terms of speed, Davis will be groomed as the starting center fielder of the future for the Cubs and one that can cover a tremendous amount of ground. Davis could turn out to be one of the best projects for the Theo regime, and assuming they can lure him away from the University of Miami, he could be on the same track to comparisons of Adam Jones. In Roederer, the Cubs selected another prep center fielder with the potential to be a 20/20 player. He has above-average bat speed and speed on the bases. Still, like Davis, the Cubs will need to make an offer to lure Roederer from UCLA.
After their first three picks were geared towards players with plus-hit potential, which the Theo regime has always made an effort to do, they turned their focus toward pitching and selected University of San Diego pitcher Paul Richan. Richan is an interesting pick as he brings a repertoire of four pitches. He has high strikeout potential (1[01:13] K:BB in 89.2 IP) , but he will need to work on movement as he’s also hittable. Still, Richan gives the Cubs a college arm that shouldn’t take too long to develop. Overall, the Cubs had a solid draft. They stuck to their manuscript of going after high-potential hitters. Still, this organization needs to develop pitching, and it remains to be seen if they can develop a starting pitcher of their own.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday June 24th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #126 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 discss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Major League Fantasy Football Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live June 21st, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #83 of Major League Fantasy Football Radio. Call in number is 323-870-4395 press 1 to speak with the host. We will hit free agents, rookies, and fantasy football as a whole for each team for 2018. This week we will discuss everything AFC North!
Kyle is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com going on his 5 th year. He focuses primarily on baseball, but is a fantasy football fan and analyst as well.