With the Major League Baseball first year player draft taking place later today as part of the All Star Game weekend activities in Denver, I had the opportunity to represent Twinkie Town in the SB Nation writers mock draft of the first round (including competitive balance round A).
The Twins hold two selections — #26 and #36 — within the first round. I had the task of choosing which amateur talents would be the best fits for a farm system that has graduated some top talent this season. Thanks to the inclusion of potential cornerstone bats (and top 35 overall prospects) Alex Kirilloff (60 Future Value) and Trevor Larnach (55 FV) the Twins system was much more highly regarded before the season (then ranked 4th at FanGraphs) than it is now at mid-season. Those two prospects have now graduated from prospectdom and have done nothing but look the part of successful middle of the order MLB hitters during their brief time in the show. As a result of their graduations the Twins system has fallen back in the rankings and is currently ranked 19th out of the 30 teams, according to FanGraphs.
Because the Twins are picking late in the first round again, thanks to the division title last season, it’s very difficult to accurately project which players they will be selecting at 26 and 36. So, consider this exercise less of a prediction of what will happen later today and more of a plausible scenario of possible outcomes.
I wanted to try to play this straight and stick close to the drafting strategy that the Twins have followed under Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, which Do-Hyoung Park summarized nicely earlier this week for the team’s website. Park spoke with Twins Scouting Director Sean Johnson, who offered some clear comments about how the team thinks about the draft as a talent acquisition tool and the features of this year’s player class.
The Twins drafting pattern the past several years has been offensively focused, with the team most frequently drafting college hitters (Brent Rooker, Larnach, Ryan Jeffers, Matt Wallner, Aaron Sabato) with proven track records of power and production in the early rounds (especially when selecting late in the first round). Johnson confirmed that approach has been intentional with the following snippets from Park’s piece:
“That’s not to say we won’t take pitching in this first round, but if you miss on the bats early, you just can’t get those guys later down the road,” Johnson said. “That’s kind of the way we’ve looked at it for a long time.”
“The way we look at it is, it’s about opportunity cost,” Johnson said. “You can take pitching in the first round, but you’re missing out on those bats — the Kirilloffs, the Larnachs, the Cuddyers, I’ll go way back. I mean, those guys aren’t available in the second round. They’re just not.”
“You can probably draft a guy in the 20th round who throws 95 miles an hour,” Johnson said. “We’ve probably got guys turned in — not even turned in that throw 95. Velocity is rampant around America at the college level, at the high-school level. A lot of hard throwers, but we’re still trying to stay disciplined in picking out guys we think can start.”
With that said, Johnson also made clear the Twins have assessed this year’s draft class as pitching rich (relative to bats), especially within the college ranks. Will that assessment change the approach the team takes over the next few days? Or will it lead them to value the quality offensive players even more highly?
Unsurprisingly, given the draft approach of the past few years, you, the readers of Twinkie Town, pointed out in our offseason prospect vote that the Twins Top 30 Prospects list is position player heavy (only 11 pitchers in Top 30).
Within that group, I also surmise that the position player prospects are corner defensive position heavy. Most of the bats selected recently have been corner outfielders (Larnach, Wallner) or first baseman (Rooker, Sabato). The Twins system overall is lighter on the mound and up the middle (C, SS, 2B, CF) than is desirable in my view.
With all of that in mind, my approach heading into this mock draft was going to be to stick to the overall Twins approach, but see how the board fell with hopes of being able to snag an up the middle player or a college starting pitcher prospect at pick 26.
With all of that as preamble, let’s get to the mock draft results. For those interested, the full listing of pick by pick results is in a table at the bottom of this post. Here, I’ll share who I selected at #26 and #36 for the Twins, their public scouting reports from FanGraphs and MLB.com, and walk through my thinking at the time of the decisions.
Round 1, Pick 26:
The Minnesota Twins select OF Jud Fabian, University of Florida
Inside the decision:
Picking at #26, a lot of my options depended on how the board would fall in front of this choice. I was hoping for one of the well regarded college starting pitchers (Gavin Williams, Will Bednar, Sam Bachman) to fall here, but (as you can see in the table below) there was a bit of a run on college arms in the late teens. At that point, I turned my focus back up the middle of the field and sought a potentially impact bat that had a good chance to stick defensively at a premium position. You can see in the reports below that Fabian has a good shot to stay in center field and offers plus power at the plate. There are some swing and miss concerns in his profile but that hasn’t made the Twins shy away from power in the past. I think this pick fits their mold of big college power and helps to fill a system need at the same time.
If I hadn’t chosen Fabian, the other serious consideration was Wake Forest right hander Ryan Cusick. He offers some of the best raw stuff in the entire draft class, but is likely to be limited to just two pitches and has some control challenges. Ultimately, there was too much reliever risk in his profile for my taste in the first round. Plus, with the college starter depth in this class, I think there are good shots to get real starting pitcher prospects in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th rounds.
It’s been somewhat trendy for a top prospect or two to skip the draft as a high school senior and early-enroll at their college to reach college eligibility a year sooner, and that’s what Fabian did in 2018. He had a good freshman season for a rookie in the SEC then went to the Cape and raked, which continued during his COVID-shortened sophomore year. Fabian has a rare, unfavorable “backwards” profile — he hits right and throws left, limiting him to 1B/OF — but he has huge tools and is one of the younger college players available in the 2021 draft because of his early matriculation. His hitting hands work in an explosive loop that give him low-ball power but also lead to a lot of strikeouts. Fabian had the second most strikeouts in Division-I with 80 in 270 plate appearances, he was eighth in homers... as a 20-year-old center fielder playing in the SEC. His hands load deep and high, and Fabian’s bat path doesn’t always look like it’s going to work, but he still covers the zone from (nearly) top to bottom and can pull his hands in to get the barrel on inside pitches. It’s rare for players who strike out this much to end up having consequential major league careers, but a team picking late in the first will see his upside as too big an opportunity to pass on.
Fabian was a solid high school prospect in Florida who would have been eligible for the 2019 Draft, but instead graduated from Trinity Catholic high school early and enrolled at the University of Florida in January 2019. After scuffling a bit as a freshman, he performed very well in the Cape Cod League that summer and showed off early power before the shutdown in 2020. He performed well in the Florida Collegiate League last summer with the hopes it would carry over to 2021, but the outfielder came out of the gate struggling at the plate. He heated back up as the Gators got into SEC play, allowing his Draft stock to rebound.
The left-handed-throwing, right-handed-hitting Fabian has solid tools across the board. There’s been some swing-and-miss in his game in the past, but he started having better at-bats more consistently last year and over the summer with bat speed that reminded some of Mookie Betts, his strikeout rate spiked early in 2021. The power was still showing up, but he struggled with adjusting to breaking stuff.
While Fabian isn’t a burner, he does have above-average speed. That, combined with his ability to get good reads off the bat and run good routes, should allow him to stay in center field long-term. Fabian still has the chance to be an up-the-middle impact bat, but a team taking him in the top couple of rounds will have to believe he’ll make enough contact at the next level to get to that power.
Round 1 (Competitive Balance A), Pick 36:
The Minnesota Twins select 3B/OF Aaron Zavala, University of Oregon
Inside the decision:
This pick is all about previous tendencies and preferences. These excerpts from the scouting report below says everything I needed to know that this player was a fit for Minnesota: Zavala is very physical, he has above-average bat control, and a great idea of the strike zone and in which parts of it he’s capable of doing damage. Big conference lefty sticks with hit/power/approach troikas aren’t exactly common, and Zavala is barely going to be 21 on draft day.
To me, that reads like a Trevor Larnach or Aaron Sabato starter kit and calls out skills that we know the Twins value. With Cusick having been taken earlier and the next wave of college starters likely to be value reaches at this stage in the draft, I went back to the tried and true approach. Here, I also considered college bats like second baseman Tyler Black from Wright State and catcher Matheu Nelson from Florida State who would have also satisfied my “up the middle” position preferences. I also considered right hander Jaden Hill from LSU, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has a long injury history. He was considered a potential top 10 choice earlier this spring and presented a very interesting risk/reward decision. Ultimately, I decided neither Nelson or Black offered much positional versatility and Zavala’s scouting report just seemed like a great fit for Minnesota, so I chose him.
Zavala’s profile reads like West Coast Michael Busch. He’s a premium performance lefty stick with some past experience at a more favorable defensive position than he’s playing now. Zavala spent all of 2021 in right field but played third base during the shortened 2020. While definitely well-below average there (several of those games were against Grand Canyon), Zavala was able to make easy plays and it’s worth a try in pro ball to see if he can improve enough to stick. His bat is the carrying attribute, though. Zavala is very physical, he has above-average bat control, and a great idea of the strike zone and in which parts of it he’s capable of doing damage. He walked 50 times and struck out just 31 in 2020 while slashing .392/.525/.628 in the Pac-12. Zavala can turn on mistakes up, and while he doesn’t always cover the outer third, he typically does a good job laying off pitches that are out there, and if they catch enough of the plate he can drive them the other way with power. He also has an advanced two-strike approach. We think that once clubs start to have meetings and the results of draft models become known, Zavala will rise as high as the back of round one. Big conference lefty sticks with hit/power/approach troikas aren’t exactly common, and Zavala is barely going to be 21 on draft day. All it’s going to take is a team thinking that Zavala can actually play third base for him to go that early.
As a high schooler in Oregon, Zavala was named the state’s 6A Player of the Year in 2018, but wasn’t considered much of a pro prospect and headed to the University of Oregon. After an ordinary freshman year, Zavala hit .418, albeit without any power in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He showed that was no fluke as he hit .392/.525/.628 in 2021 to go from a mildly intriguing college performer to one of the better pure college bats in a class that has lacked that category, one who was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and was a Golden Spikes Award finalist.
A left-handed hitter, Zavala has long shown an incredible knack for contact, rarely swinging and missing and walking more than he’s struck out in his Ducks career. He keeps his bat head in the zone for a long time with excellent pitch recognition, spraying the ball to all fields, mostly with gap power, but showing some ability to occasionally pull the ball with more authority this year. He’s gotten a bit faster as he’s matured and is considered an average runner now.
Zavala has played both third and the outfield at Oregon, but focused solely on the latter in 2021 and was much more comfortable there, playing right field regularly, though left might be the best spot for him at the next level given his average-at-best arm. Given the lack of standout performers and the fact that Zavala’s data will tick off boxes in analytic departments, he could come off the board in the top three rounds.
SB Nation Mock Draft Pick by Pick Results
|1||Pirates||Jordan Lawlar||SS||19||6' 1"||170||R||R||Jesuit Prep HS||50|
|2||Rangers||Marcelo Mayer||SS||18.6||6' 3"||180||L||R||Eastlake HS||50|
|3||Tigers||Jack Leiter||SP||21.2||6' 1"||195||R||R||Vanderbilt||50|
|4||Red Sox||Henry Davis||C||21.8||6' 2"||195||R||R||Louisville||50|
|5||Orioles||Kahlil Watson||SS||18.2||5' 11"||168||L||R||Wake Forest HS||50|
|6||Diamondbacks||Kumar Rocker||SP||21.6||6' 5"||250||R||R||Vanderbilt||45+|
|7||Royals||Brady House||3B||18.1||6' 3"||200||R||R||Winder-Barrow HS||45+|
|8||Rockies||Sal Frelick||CF||21.2||5' 10"||195||L||R||Boston College||45+|
|9||Angels||Jackson Jobe||SP||18.9||6' 2"||180||R||R||Heritage Hill HS||45+|
|10||Mets||Ty Madden||SP||21.4||6' 3"||200||R||R||Texas||45|
|11||Nationals||Colton Cowser||CF||21.3||6' 3"||190||L||R||Sam Houston State||45+|
|12||Mariners||Jordan Wicks||SP||21.9||6' 3"||220||L||L||Kansas State||45|
|13||Phillies||Gunnar Hoglund||SP||21.6||6' 5"||210||L||R||Ole Miss||45|
|14||Giants||Benny Montgomery||CF||18.8||6' 3"||185||R||R||Red Land HS||45|
|15||Brewers||Matt McLain||SS||21.9||5' 10"||175||R||R||UCLA||45|
|16||Marlins||Harry Ford||C||18.4||5' 10"||180||R||R||North Cobb HS||45|
|17||Reds||Andrew Painter||SP||18.3||6' 6"||210||R||R||Calvary Christian HS||45|
|18||Cardinals||Sam Bachman||SIRP||21.8||6' 1"||225||R||R||Miami (OH)||45|
|19||Blue Jays||Gavin Williams||SP||22||6' 6"||238||L||R||East Carolina||45|
|20||Yankees||Will Bednar||SP||21.1||6' 2"||230||R||R||Mississippi State||40+|
|21||Cubs||Michael McGreevy||SP||21||6' 4"||100||R||R||UC Santa Barbara||40+|
|22||White Sox||Colson Montgomery||SS||19.4||6' 4"||190||L||R||Southridge HS (IN)||40+|
|23||Indians||Bubba Chandler||SS/SP||18.8||6' 4"||195||S||R||North Oconee HS||40+|
|24||Braves||Tre Sweeney||3B||21.2||6' 4"||200||L||R||Eastern Illinois||40|
|25||Athletics||Will Taylor||SS||18.5||6' 0"||175||R||R||Dutch Fork HS||40+|
|26||Twins||Jud Fabian||CF||20.8||6' 1"||180||R||L||Florida||40+|
|27||Padres||Izaac Pacheco||3B||18.6||6' 4"||200||L||R||Friendswood HS||40|
|28||Rays||Ryan Cusick||SIRP||21.7||6' 6"||215||R||R||Wake Forest||45|
|29||Dodgers||Joe Mack||C||18.5||6' 1"||203||L||R||Williamsville East HS||40+|
|30||Reds||Max Muncy||SS||18.9||6' 1"||180||R||R||Thousand Oaks HS||40+|
|31||Marlins||Anthony Solometo||SP||18.6||6' 5"||218||L||L||Gloucester Catholic HS||40+|
|32||Tigers||Chase Petty||SIRP||18.3||6' 3"||175||R||R||Mainland HS||40+|
|33||Brewers||Adrian Del Castillo||C||21.8||5' 11"||205||L||R||Miami||40+|
|34||Rays||Joshua Baez||RF||18||6' 3"||210||R||R||Dexter Southfield HS||45|
|35||Reds||Matt Mikulski||MIRP||22.2||6' 4"||205||L||L||Fordham||45|
|36||Twins||Aaron Zavala||3B||21||6' 0"||193||L||R||Oregon||40+|
While we were only able to mock the first round of this year’s draft, it was a fun exercise to go through with the other SB Nation sites. If we had continued through round 2, I would have been targeting pitching with the Twins next selection at #61. Here, several of the next tier of college starters may have been available, including Hill (if teams shy away from the elbow injury), Florida starter Tommy Mace, Ole Miss lefty Doug Nikhazy, Virginia lefty Andrew Abbott, and St. Mary’s lefty Ky Bush.
How would you grade my two choices? What do you want to see the Twins do with their draft choices the next three days? Let us know in the comments!
John is a contributor to Twinkie Town with an emphasis on analytics. He is a lifelong Twins fan and former college pitcher. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnFoley_21.