The draft has come and gone, and it is a time for teams to add to their minor league system, and hope to strike gold on the next superstar(s) for their respective organizations. Last season was a dog fight for the National League Central. The Milwaukee Brewers ended the Chicago Cubs steak of winning the division for two-straight years. The early going of the 2019 season has been a back-and-forth battle between the two ball clubs. One interesting fact is the NL Central Division sees the last-place team only eight games out as of Sunday evening. The only other division with such little room between the first and last place teams is the NL East, which sees the division leaders 15.5 games ahead of the last-place team. This week, I want to breakdown each team’s draft, and discuss how they fared, in “That’s Amore!” Building for the Future: MLB NL Central Draft Breakdown 2019.
The Cincinnati Reds are coming off a 2018 season that saw them finish 67-95, and at the bottom of the National League Central Division. The past few seasons have been rough, and long-time standout Joey Votto turns 36 at season’s end. Through the early part of this season, the Reds find themselves yet again at the bottom of the division, and it’s looking like another long season. However, we are starting to see youth reach the Majors, and top prospect Nick Senzel has put together a solid start in his inaugural season. With that being said, they do have talent blossoming in the minors, but there is a strong need for pitching, as well as other positions, throughout their organization.
After drafting collegiate standout third baseman Jonathan India last season, the Reds went another route in 2019 drafting left-handed pitcher Nick Lodolo with the seventh pick in this year’s draft. The fourth year Junior had his best collegiate season finishing 6-6 with a 2.36 ERA and 1[31:25] K:BB. The tall lefty was arguably one of the best collegiate arms available, and he has a chance to work quickly through the minors. He works with a low-to-mid 90s fastball with great sinking action. While his curveball is a work in progress, he does bring a wipe out slider that allows him to get batters out. He gets good fade on his changeup, and gives right-handed batters issues with the ball moving off the plate. For a team that has a glaring need for starting pitching, the Reds did extremely well landing Lodolo. While he may not have the most lively fastball, his four-pitch repertoire makes him very appealing coupled with the fact he has the tools to be a one or two starter on a Major League roster.
With the Reds having Eugenio Suarez locked up through 2025, Jonathan India being ready for the call within the upcoming seasons, and Nick Senzel looking like their centerfielder of the future, the Reds focused much of their draft on middle infielders, outfielders, and pitching. All three positions are of need, and the Reds put an emphasis on drafting based on need. After Lodolo, the Reds hammered the middle infield position drafting IMG Academy shortstop Rece Hinds (Round 2, Pick 49), Providence School of Jacksonville second baseman Tyler Callihan (Round 3, Pick 85), and Chipola College second baseman Ivan Johnson (Round 4, Pick114). All three players possess plus hit tools, and of the three, I’m really intrigued with second-round pick Rece Hinds. At 6’4″ 215lbs, he reminds me of numerous taller middle infielders. Hinds is coming off a season in which he hit .367. He’s made his power apparent during numerous tournaments, and he will be something to watch as he taps into his raw power through the next few seasons. Even if he outgrows the shortstop position, his raw power, and athleticism, brings a dimension to the game that Cincinnati has lacked for quite some time. Of the Reds entire draft, Hinds possesses the highest ceiling.
Within the Reds 2019 draft class, a name that sticks out for me is right-handed pitcher Jake Stevenson (Round 10, Pick 294) out of the University of Minnesota. While his stats, 6.28 ERA and [45:30] K:BB, aren’t eye-popping, he possesses a high-90s fastball that misses bats. While his breaking ball is subpar, with the necessary guidance I believe he could turn into a dynamite reliever, if not solid starting pitcher. It was a reach taking him in the 10th round, but working with professional pitching coaches will not only help him develop a solid breaking ball, but help learn to control his electric fastball. Overall, I thought the Reds fared well in the 2019 draft. They were able to draft numerous high-upside players (Lodolo, Hinds, and Callihan) as well as other players with promising talent.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a few seasons removed from playing in the NL Wild Card game, but lackluster deals, and injuries have hampered the organization. After moving Gerrit Cole, Austin Medows, and Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates are looking for the next wave of youth to hit their Major League roster. However, the Pirates do have a bright spot in slugging first baseman Josh Bell. After a slow second season, he’s been off to one of the hottest starts of the 2019 season. Still, the Pirates have work to do, and they were fortunate to have two compensatory picks, within the first 72 selections, in this year’s draft. There’s no secret the Pirates have work to do throughout their organization. With four top-100 prospects currently in their minor league pipeline, the Pirates need to continue hitting on selections (and see them develop), and I feel they were able to land a solid amount in this draft.
With holes to fill across the diamond, I feel the Pirates made an emphasis on drafting pitching and outfielders. With their first selection (18th), the Pirates selected prep standout Quinn Priester out of Cary-Grove High School (IL). There’s no questioning his potential with a blistering high-90s fastball, and one of the best curveballs out of all high school pitchers selected in this year’s draft. When I immediately watch Priester, I think of a tall, slender righty similar to the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler. At 18, he will have all the necessary time to work with Pittsburgh’s pitching coaches throughout his minor league stay, and if he develops a solid changeup to accompany his four-seam and two-seam (plus-pitch) fastball, we could be looking at a similar pitcher to the Chris Archer we saw back in Tampa Bay. Given his stature, and fastball velocity/command, he is arguably my top high school pitcher selected in this year’s draft.
After nabbing arguably the top prep pitching prospect in the draft, the Pirates went heavy on players destined for outfield spots selecting prep outfielder Sammy Siani (CBA Pick 37), Indiana University’s Matt Gorski (Round 2, Pick 57), University of Houston infielder Jared Triolo (CBB Pick 72), and University of Arizona outfielder Matt Fraizer (Round 3, Pick 95). Of the four, Matt Gorski is the most intriguing, and arguably has the best/quickest shot at reaching the Majors of their 2019 draft class. At 6’4″ 198lbs, Gorski follows suit with Kyle Schwarber as one of the better power-hitting prospects out of Indiana University. The power is already evident, and the fact he has one of the best collegiate arms has him on track of becoming a star. As with numerous power bats, he’ll need to watch his strikeouts in the minors, but given his solid plate discipline he could breeze through the minor leagues. If I had to tab the next star for the Pirates, I’d project Gorski to be that player, and man right field for the foreseeable future.
Before selecting Gorski, the pirates used their CBA pick on Sammy Siani out of William Penn Charter School (PA). I feel they may have been able to wait a round on him, and still get Gorski a round later. Siani has plus hit tools, but he’s going to need extra time to fill into his smaller frame. Destined more for left-field, I don’t know if he has the making of an everyday player. Still, many scouts said his ceiling, assuming he develops, could be that of a poor man’s Andrew Benintendi. In no way is that a comparison to balk at, but that’s assuming Siani develops at the rate Benintendi did in college.
If I had to knock the Brewers for anything, I’d have to say it’s their development of pitching. They’ve done a tremendous job through trades and free agency, most notably acquiring 2018 MVP Christian Yelich prior to the 2018 season, and Lorenzo Cain. Add in acquiring Mike Moustakas, and resigning him this off-season, and it’s easy to see why David Stearns has done better than expected as General Manager. Still, the one Achilles’ heel stopping this team from a deep playoff push is starting pitching. With that in mind, the Brewers made that a point of emphasis in this year’s draft, as well as finding their next everyday catcher, selecting eight pitchers and three catchers with their first 14 draft selections.
Most dominant starting pitchers we see sit around 6’2″+, and the Brewers kept that in mind selecting 6’3″ Ethan Small out of Mississippi State and 6’6″ Antoine Kelly out of Wabash Valley College (IL). Both lefties bring high-90s fastballs, with great movement on the pitches. Of the two, Small is arguably the most pro-ready now, and barring an injury setback, I could see him spending one season in the minors before moving on to the Brewers. He possesses the secondary pitches needed from a front-line starter, and his changeup needs only minor tinkering. While Kelly possesses a big arm, he will be a project as he needs to develop a secondary pitch to crack a starting rotation.
Some may call it a reach, but their 9th round (283rd overall) pick, prep catcher Darrien Miller, is one of the more intriguing picks by the Brewers. The left-handed hitting catcher hit .389 as a senior, and has a strong throwing arm coupled with the fact he spent time pitching as well. What makes Miller an intriguing prospect is his hitting ability combined with his strong throwing arm. At times, we see one tool above the other, but given the necessary work in the minors, Miller could be headed for an everyday catching role at the Major League level.
A lot of talk goes to starting pitchers, but the Brewers may have landed a solid left-handed reliever in Vanderbilt’s Jackson Gillis. He possesses a low-to-mid 90s fastball with a plus-curve. While Ethan Small gets my choice as the quickest starter to reach the Brewers, I could see Gillis moving at a similar pace given his ability to get batters out, and give the Brewers a solid, reliable setup man. While the Brewers draft may not turn heads in terms of player name recognition, the Brewers have a team that is competing now, and their one dire need is pitching. Their draft success will rely on how they develop the pitching they selected.
St. Louis Cardinals
If there’s one thing the Cardinals have a knack for, it’s drafting well. We may not see many of their prospects reach the Majors until their early-to-mid 20s, but when they get their call they are more than ready. Numerous people get excited when their team lands the number one pick, but we have to remember, it’s not necessarily a good thing. That means you had arguably one of the worst, if not the worst, seasons the previous year. One thing I can tell you about teams that draft, and develop, well is they are always competing. The Cardinals are an organization that always put a competitive team on the field. While it’s been a few seasons since they’ve won the division, they’ve produced many of their own talent, and traded well. One glaring hole at the Major League level is pitching. They’ve done a solid job in recent years, but injuries have sidelined a handful of prospects, as well as current Major League arms. Similar to Milwaukee, the Cardinals made an emphasis on pitching during this year’s draft, and collegiate arms that won’t need much time to develop.
Four of their first five draft selections were used on University of Kentucky lefty Zack Thompson, Georgia right-hander Tony Locey, University of California-Irvine Andre Pallante, and Georgia Tech lefty Connor Thomas. Of the four, Thompson and Pallante have the makings of being in a Major League starting rotation. In Thompson, the Cardinals get a mid-90s fastball accompanied by a plus-slider. Given his developing slider, he could move quickly through the minors, and have a shot at getting a call by the end of next season. While Pallante may not have the frame to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter like Thompson, he reminds me a lot of Sonny Gray when he came out of Vanderbilt. With the ability to throw a slider and curveball, Pallante has multiple secondary pitches to help him stay in a starting rotation even if it’s in the form of a number-five starter.
One of the bigger reaches for me was second-round pick Trejyn Fletcher out of Deering High School (ME). While there’s no questioning his athleticism, it will take a lot of work for him to develop the necessary hitting tools to reach the Majors. He’s a strong kid, and he possesses a powerful swing, but his leg kick, and chase rate, could lead to early struggles and strikeouts. One thing that sets him apart are his speed and strong throwing arm. He has the makings of an everyday centerfielder, and if he develops his hit tool, I could see him destined for a similar career path as Lorenzo Cain. Ranked 87th in this year’s draft class, he may have been available a round or two later, but there’s no questioning his athleticism and potential.
If there’s one thing we’ve come accustomed to with the Theo Epstein regime, it’s drafting collegiate players. They view collegiate baseball in line with a player’s first few seasons in Minor League Baseball, and there’s no denying college baseball possesses some significant talent. Since joining the organization, Epstein has drafted players to give the Cubs depth at all positions. Yes, in years past they’ve depleted some of that depth through trades, but it was a price that had to be paid to bring home a long-awaited World Series. Still, if there’s one glaring need for the Cubs it’s pitching. They’ve gotten solid production from their starting rotation in the form of veterans, but they have yet to develop their own starting pitching, and their bullpen has been atrocious the past few seasons. Following suit with Milwaukee and St. Louis, the Cubs put an emphasis on selecting pitchers. They stayed in line with collegiate arms that give the them an idea of how they could develop.
Having to wait until the 27th pick of the first round, the Cubs wasted no time in selecting Fresno State right-handed starter Ryan Jensen. Out of this entire draft, and previous drafts selecting pitchers, I feel the Cubs may have landed one of the steals of the 2019 draft. I say this because I see organizations putting an emphasis on pitchers with bigger frames. This makes sense as the workload is easier for a taller, bigger pitcher to handle, and you have to think, when a player 6’3″+ strides to home plate compared to a pitcher 6′, or less, they will be that much closer to home plate. Jensen may not fit the ideal “mold”, but at 6′, 180lbs, Jensen is another pitcher that reminds me of Walker Buehler. The fourth-year Junior had arguably one of the better collegiate seasons going 12-1, including one save, with a 2.88 ERA and 1[07:27] K:BB in 100.0 innings pitched. He brings a mid-to-high 90s fastball, and one that keeps its velocity into the later innings. He has an above-average slider that he’s used to draw swings and misses, and a changeup that will need work in the minors.
One of their more intriguing pitchers selected was Michael McAvene out of the Louisville. The high-90s righty combines his hard fastball with a slurve that is one of the better secondary pitches in the draft. What makes McAvene a highlight of the Cubs draft is the fact he’s Louisville’s closer. The Cubs have had an issue with the ninth inning, and McAvene possesses the electric stuff expected from a closer. I wouldn’t be shocked if McAvene reached the Majors quicker than anyone in the draft, and given the Cubs need for bullpen arms, it wouldn’t be a shock if he’s on the roster early into the 2020 season. Who’s to say he couldn’t get a call at the end of this season, and into the playoffs, being the setup man to Craig Kimbrel?
With their second round pick (64th overall) the Cubs landed second baseman Chase Strumpf out of UCLA. Strumpf carries an interesting story as he was the shortstop at JSerra Catholic High School causing Royce Lewis (Minnesota Twins number one overall pick in 2017) to wait until his senior year to play shortstop. He’s a player with plus-hitting tools, and while he may not develop a significant amount of power, he is a high on-base hitter with the ability to drive the ball for extra-base hits. I mentioned pitching as a main focus for the Cubs, but getting production out of the one, two holes in the batting order is another focus point. In back-to-back years, the Cubs have went early on middle infielders with significant hit tools in shortstop Nico Hoerner and Chase Strumpf. The Cubs already have the necessary power at the Major League level, and if Hoerner and Strumpf develop into top-of-the-order hitters, they could answer a huge void for the Major League club.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr., and Co-Host Cole Freel live on Sunday June 16th, 2019 from 8pm-9:30pm EST for episode #166 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. You can listen live on blogtalk, majorleaguefantasysports.com, or download the podcast on I-Tunes or any Android podcast app. We will discuss spot starters for the coming week, plus a weekend update, and look ahead to next week. Join us for the Fathers Day Special.
Our guest this week is Joe Iannone. Joe is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com and his articles publish every Sunday. He focuses on spot starters for the coming week in each article.