We have already highlighted the top tiers of players available in this year’s MLB Draft: the guys who should go in the top ten, and the guys who should go from 10-20. Now it is time to take a look at the hardest groups to pin down, the Tweeners, who’s draft stock in some cases is as much about money as it is about their skill.
Tier 4A: High School Pitchers
Matthew Allan, RHP, Seminole HS (Florida)
Allen is almost universally considered the best high school pitcher in the draft thanks to an ideal 6’3” 210 lb frame, a fastball that can sit 92-95 mph along with a solid curveball and changeup, and all the makings of above average control. As solid as Allan is, he lacks the sheer high upside potential that prep pitchers often have in past drafts, like Carter Stewart in 2018 or Hunter Greene and Mackenzie Gore in 2017, showing just how weak this crop of pitchers is compared to normal. I’ve heard that Allan’s asking price is around $4 million to keep him away from his Florida commitment, which would likely make him a slot-value deal if the Twins wanted to take him 13th.
Brennan Malone, RHP, IMG Academy (Florida)
A more consistent spring may have put Malone ahead of Allan for individual rankings, but he still has a great frame (6’3” 203 lbs), solid delivery, and a three pitch mix that includes a plus fastball that can sits in the 91-95 range and can hit 97, an above average to plus slider in the low 80s, as well as a curveball and a changeup that are inconsistent but show promise. He is athletic and should be able to improve his control. Malone is committed to North Carolina.
Quinn Priester, RHP, Cary-Grove Community HS (Illinois)
Priester is yet another prep righty who has a solid 6’3” frame and a fastball that sits 90-94 and can hit 97mph. He pairs it with a solid curveball that flashes plus and a changeup that will need work, like most prep pitchers. Priester has a clean delivery that should make it easy for him to stay a starter. Coming from a cold weather climate might scare some teams away but make other teams more interested. He is committed to TCU.
J.J. Goss, RHP, Cypress Ranch HS (Texas)
Yes, Goss is 6’3”, and yes, his fastball can sit 90-94, but he has also been 89-92 at times as well. Goss has a great slider with plus-pitch potential and shows good feel for a changeup as well. He gets notable spin rates on his pitches, which as we know is quite the rage for big league teams. Goss is committed to Texas A&M.
Daniel Espino, RHP, Georgia Premier Academy (Georgia)
Of all the high school arms, Espino probably has the best pure stuff, with a plus plus fastball that can already hit 99mph, and two breaking balls that could be at least above average. While he is listed at 6’2” 200 it is well known that he is shorter and smaller than that, and he has a high-effort delivery that pegs him as a future reliever. Espino is committed to LSU.
Hunter Barco, LHP, The Bolles School (Florida)
A big (6’4” 210 lb) lefty who can already hit 94 mph and has feel for a slider and a changeup, Barco has the sort of projection teams love. He does have a bit of deception in his delivery but is also inconsistent with control and command. Barco is also committed to Florida, like Allan.
Jack Leiter, RHP, Delbarton HS (New Jersey)
Jack is the son of Al, nephew of Mark, and cousin to Mark Leiter Jr., so he has the bloodline going for him. He has a super solid delivery and advanced control for a prep pitcher. His fastball sits 91-92 but can get into the 94-95 range and his curveball also has plus potential. There are only two problems for Leiter. First, he is basically filled out at 6’1” 195 lbs. Second, he is said to be asking for $4 million to sign him away from his Vanderbilt commitment while not having the overall draft stock as Matthew Allan, who is supposedly asking for just as much.
Tier 4B: The Question Mark Position Players
Brett Baty, 3B, Lake Travis HS (Texas)
Baty has a great combination of hit tool and potentially plus power as a left handed hitter. He also has a cannon for an arm, although he will need to put work in to stay at third base and he might not be athletic enough to put his arm to good use in the outfield. The biggest problem for Baty is that as a high school senior he is already 19 years old, and he will turn 20 in November— meaning he is the age of most college freshman this past year.
Maurice Hampton, OF, Memphis University HS (Tennessee)
Hampton is an absolute freak athlete who is committed to play defensive back and baseball at LSU. He has the speed, arm, and defensive acumen to stay in center. His hit tool has some question marks, as does hit ability to tap into his power consistently, but he doesn’t turn 18 until August 1st. He will need enough money to sign away from a promising college football career, which may scare some teams away do to the question marks around his bat.
Michael Busch, 1B/OF, North Carolina
Busch has one of the better hit tool/power combinations in the draft for college hitters and a left handed swing that scouts like. He is posting a .967 OPS this year with a great 35/54 K/BB ratio. The problem is that he is short for a right-handed throwing first baseman (6’0”), lacks the athleticism and arm to play second base, and hasn’t shown an aptitude for good routes when playing left field. There be a team that believes in the bat enough to not care about his defensive limitations int he first round. Someone will yell at me if I don’t mention Busch is from Minnesota.
Kameron Misner, OF, Missouri
Misner is pretty much the opposite of Michael Busch: Misner has solid to plus speed despite his large frame and a cannon of an arm. He might be able to play some center and can certainly be a solid right fielder defensively. The problem is that despite having great raw power, he hasn’t hit up to expectations. In fact, through his first 30 SEC games this season he has hit just .222/.383/.396. Had he been able to hit against this elite college conference this season, he could have been a top ten pick. Some team will like his tools enough to believe that they can get him to make more consistent contact.
Tier 4C: The College Middle Infield Types
Logan Davidson, SS, Clemson
Davidson is a great athletic shortstop earning potential plusses for his speed and arm, while also having at least average hands at shortstop. If he can’t stick it at SS he should be able to play solid defense at third and second base. People just don’t know how to evalute his bat. In a good ACC conference he has improved his OPS by at least 90 points every year in college, posting a 1.001 OPS through 56 games this year. He should have above average power, having hit at least 12 home runs each year in college. The problem is that he is strikeout prone in college ball despite his success and has been absolutely dreadful with wood bats in Cape Cod during the summers. I’ve heard that some teams might buy his metal bat performance, or believe they can help him make the adjustments needed—so much so that he could sneak into the early teens as a low slot value guy to save money for later picks.
Will Wilson, SS/2B, North Carolina State
Wilson has been incredibly productive in college, posting a 1.153 OPS through 50 games as a junior with 19 doubles and 16 home runs after hitting 15 homers as a sophomore. He is a solid fielder but probably too slow for shortstop, making him second baseman that can both hit and field well for the position, at his best.
Braden Shewmake, SS/3B/2B, Texas A&M
Shewmake has a very interesting profile that is led by a very solid hit tool. Not only can he hit for average, but he is also very tough to strikeout. He is a lanky 6’4” 190 lbs which makes him big for a middle infielder but without the power to be an impact third baseman, or the willingness to take walks that would make him an old school leadoff-type. If he can fill out his frame and add some power he should hit enough and play good enough defense to be a solid infielder somewhere, maybe a super utility type.
Chase Strumpf, 2B, UCLA
Let’s be clear about fitting Strumpf into this tier: with no shot at playing shortstop in the big leagues, Strumpf is by far the lowest ranked of this tier. Still, he is the best prospect on the best team in college baseball and could sneak into the tail end of the first round (including the Competitive Balance Round A) for a team that trusts his bat after a junior year that was solid but a bit of a let down after an epic Sophomore campaign. The fun tidbit for Strumpf is that he played shortstop as a high school senior and was so good he forced a young Royce Lewis to play third base that year.
These tiers are difficult to pin down because it is impossible to make an exhaustive list. I could have added another 2-5 high school pitchers, 4-6 more of those question mark position players, and 1-2 more college middle infielders (and I haven’t even touched on corner infielders).
It will be interesting to see how the high school arms fare in the draft. There is no surefire top-10 pick in this tier, like there usually are. But there is a good bit of depth despite the overall weakness of high end pitching depth in this draft. Money is going to play a huge role. Is Matthew Allan—who is reportedly asking for $4 million dollars, which would put him in the first 14 picks—that much better than J.J. Goss, Hunter Barco, or the slew of other prep pitching prospects with similar profiles (two pitches that could be plus, solid mechanics) that I didn’t name? Those guys will fall, potentially all the way to the third round, and be willing to sign for much less, likely in the $1.5-$2.5 million range.
The question mark players should all go somewhere in the first round, with Maurice Hampton and Kameron Misner being the ones most likely to drop but for different reasons. I think someone will give Hampton enough money to sign away from football, but I have no clue who or when. Misner might fall because of his production or sign with someone who trusts his tools enough if he takes a discount to stay in the first round.
The college middle infielders are likely the best crop of players to make a deal with. Everyone in that list, outside of Davidson, has the kind of bat that projects as a “quick mover” through the minor leagues while projecting as decen defenders. Those types of players often sign earlier for less money then people tend to think for in mock drafts (Kyle Schwarber was drafted 4th overall and almost $1.5 million under slot back in 2014, although he was a C/OF). Even Davidson, who’s floor is a solid defensive backup infielder with a bit of pop, has been connected to teams who might want to go under slot fairly early in the draft.
This fourth tier shows why it is most important to think about players in tiers instead of by individual rankings. Most of those high school pitchers are ranked far higher than Chase Stumpf individually, but more than half of them may get chosen after Stumpf due to the inherent risk of high school pitchers and the financial details on either side.
Next time we will take a look at some sleepers: players usually projected outside the top 30 players, but who will be important pickups at the end of the first round and for teams with multiple picks, like the Twins.