A reader recently asked for an early take on the 2015 MLB first round draft picks. That seems like a reasonable topic. We'll start with the hitters, and we will include what we originally wrote about them back in June, in italics.
Grades listed here are a starting point if I write the 2016 book.
1) Arizona Diamondbacks: Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt: Junior, hits right, batted .348/.443/.656 this year with 15 homers, 15 steals, 42/43 BB/K in 247 at-bats. Most complete player in college baseball, impressive defensive shortstop along with a multi-threat bat. The Diamondbacks made the obvious and, in my view, the correct pick. He won't need long in the minors and could be an All-Star. RESULTS: Dealt with some injury issues but played well for Hillsboro in the Northwest League, hitting .289/.394/.482, showing pop, plate discipline, and solid defense up the middle. A very good debut that met expectations. Minimum Grade B+.
2) Houston Astros: Alex Bregman, SS, LSU: Junior, hits right, batted .313/.408/.539 with nine homers, 36 steals, 36/21 BB/K in 243 at-bats, only one who comes close to Swanson in terms of overall package. Mixed opinions about glove at shortstop but I am among the optimists. It will be interesting to see how the Astros manage this with Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve already up the middle but you can't have too many infielders who can hit. RESULTS: Hit .294/.366/.415 in 66 games split between Low-A Quad Cities and High-A Lancaster, stole 13 bases, showed good strike zone judgment and was especially hot in August. As-expected with the bat, made 16 errors and will need to polish up the glove but reports on range were good. Minimum Grade B+.
3) Colorado Rockies: Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary HS, Florida: Hits right, Florida State commit, widely regarded as the best player in the draft, expected to hit for power and average, can stay at shortstop. Rumors that the Rockies would go with lefty Tyler Jay over Rodgers didn't pan out, likely the wisest long-term decision for Colorado. RESULT: Hit .273/.340/.420 with Grand Junction in Pioneer League, not horrible but not great by Pioneer League standards. Needs to reduce errors but has range, tools to stay at shortstop. Scouting reports ahead of the numbers at this point, understandable for a 19-year-old. Minimum Grade B, though with higher ceiling.
5) Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker, OF, Plant HS, Tampa, Florida: Hits left, University of Florida commit, Preston Tucker’s brother. If Daz Cameron isn’t the top prep outfielder it is probably Tucker, projects to hit for both power and average despite some unusual-looking swing mechanics. More athletic than his brother, lean at 6-4, 175. Nice companion pick with Bregman and neat to see him joining the same organization as his sibling. RESULTS: Hit .246/.294/.353 in 63 games split almost evenly between Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League, stole 18 bases in 22 attempts, played well on defense. Not as much power as advertised yet, but showed more usable speed than expected and made contact without much trouble. I think more power will come. Grade B.
7) Boston Red Sox: Andrew Benintendi, OF, University of Arkansas: Draft-eligible sophomore, hits left, incredible breakout season, .385/.493/.725 with 19 homers, 23 steals, 46/31 BB/K in 218 at-bats, he can handle center field, too. Expected to be the first college outfielder drafted and he was. Broad base of skills stands out and fits Red Sox development model very well. A secondary average player. RESULTS: Exceptional debut, hit combined .313/.416/.556 between New York-Penn and South Atlantic League, 11 homers, 10 steals in 13 attempts, 35 walks vs. 24 strikeouts. Oh, yeah, defense was excellent too. Tools strong across the board and he was very polished in all phases of the game, outstanding batting eye and no questions about the power at this point. Minimum Grade B+.
9) Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ, OF, University of Cincinnati: Junior, switch-hitter, batted .369/.492/.672 with 14 homers, 49/49 BB/K in 198 at-bats, also has a great track record with wood, expected to hit for average with at least moderate power, top college outfielder in the draft until passed by Benintendi in recent weeks. Can he play second base? It doesn't really matter; they will find a spot for him or make a trade if necessary. Acquiring talent is the goal. RESULTS: Hit combined .259/.356/.466 between Eugene in the Northwest League and South Bend in the Midwest League, 40/67 BB/K, 10 steals. Midwest League observers liked speed/power combination as well as defensive play in left field. Minimum Grade B at this point
10) Philadelphia Phillies: Cornelius Randolph, SS, Griffin HS, Georgia: Hits left, Clemson commit, scouts love the bat, will hit for average and get on base and produce at least solid power. Probably not a shortstop long-term, could wind up at second, third, or the outfield. In Philadelphia he would make a great DP combination with J.P. Crawford but he could also wind up at third. RESULTS: Hit .302/.425/.442 in Gulf Coast League, excellent strike zone judgment thus far, drew 32 walks against 32 strikeouts in 172 at-bats. More power should come in time. Needs work in left field but the bat is the special thing here. Grade B.
11) Cincinnati Reds: Tyler Stephenson, C, Kennesaw Mountain HS, Marietta, Georgia: Right-handed hitter, committed to Georgia Tech. Stephenson was obscure six months ago but was so good this spring that he had a chance to go first-overall if rumors are to be believed. I think this slot at 11th is more appropriate. Scouts like his power and overall hitting skills, and his defensive tools are impressive as well, making him a complete backstop prospect. RESULTS: Hit .268/.352/.361 with 22 walks, 42 strikeouts in 194 at-bats for Billings in Pioneer League, threw out 26% of runners. Not as much power as advertised but way too soon to worry about that, overall he held his own with the bat while showing all the defensive tools. High-ceiling Grade B-.
12) Miami Marlins: Josh Naylor, 1B, St. Joan of Arc Catholic CC, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada: Lefty hitter, raw power outstanding and more of a polished hitter than you might expect for a cold-weather guy. Texas Tech commit but expected to be signable, certainly in this spot. This is about 20 spots higher than expected but he had loud late buzz, given the difficulty in finding power bats of this caliber. Scarcity raised value of power and I wonder if that will continue in subsequent choices. RESULT: Hit .327/.352/.418 with four walks, 11 strikeouts in 98 at-bats in rookie ball. Small sample but a good start to his career. High-ceiling Grade B-.
13) Tampa Bay Rays: Garrett Whitley, OF, Niskauyna HS, New York: Hits right, Wake Forest commit, attracts observers looking for the next Mike Trout from cold-weather state, power and speed potential stand out and bat more polished than you might expect. Got some first-overall buzz for a while but cooler heads prevailed, slots well here for a patient organization. High-impact possibilities. RESULTS: Hit .174/.293/.312 with three homers, eight steals, 21 walks, 37 strikeouts in 138 at-bats between GCL and NY-P. Defense ahead of bat at this point, overall was very much as expected: power/speed potential is obvious but quite raw. Uncertain grade, B-/C+ with high ceiling?
15) Milwaukee Brewers: Trenton Clark, OF, Richland HS, North Richland Hills, Texas: Hits left, Texas Tech commit, long history of hitting well against top competition, very good running speed, good batting eye, should develop respectable power as well, also a fine defender in center field. Brewers continue their high school, high ceiling approach from last year though he has more polish than many preps. I like the pick. RESULTS: Hit .309/.424/.430 with 25 steals, 35 walks, 44 strikeouts in 207 at-bats between Arizona Rookie League and Pioneer League. Not much power yet but gets on base, runs impressively once there. I think more isolated power will come in time. Grade B.
19) Pittsburgh Pirates: Kevin Newman, SS, Arizona: Junior, hits right, batted .370/.426/.489 with 22 steals, 20/15 BB/K in 227 at-bats. Won two Cape Cod League batting titles so record with wood is good, doesn’t have as much power as Swanson or Bregman but can definitely stay at shortstop. Polished in general and won't need a great deal of minor league time. Some sources regard him as significantly under-rated. RESULTS: Hit .257/.318/.350 with 13 steals, 19 walks, 30 strikeouts in 257 at-bats between NY-P and Low-A. Sounds like his glove will stick at shortstop and an effective runner, but not much pop at this point. C+/B-.
20) Oakland Athletics: Richie Martin, SS, Florida: Junior, hits right, batted .291/.405/.414 with 20 steals, 33/33 BB/K in 237 at-bats. Doesn’t have big power but makes contact, uses speed well, polished defensively and can stay at shortstop. Continues run of college shortstops in a good year for that demographic. Young for the draft class so there could be more upside here. RESULTS: Hit .237/.353/.342 with 25 walks, 47 strikeouts, seven steals in 14 attempts over 190 at-bats in NY-P. Like Newman it looks like he can stay at shortstop but it is unclear how much his bat will develop. C+/B-.
23) St. Louis Cardinals: Nick Plummer, OF, Brother Rice HS, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan: Hits left, University of Kentucky commit, cold-weather bat thrived on showcase circuit, very polished, similar to Clark in that regard although doesn’t have as much speed and defensive projection. The bat looks excellent and even if he winds up in left field he still projects as a regular. RESULTS: Hit .228/.379/.344 with 39 walks, 56 strikeouts in 180 at-bats in GCL. High walk rate is best attribute, glove, power, and baserunning all need work. High-ceiling C+?
25) Baltimore Orioles: D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State University: Junior, hits left, batted .318/.500/.593 with 15 homers, 12 steals, 69/47 BB/K in 214 at-bats. Good power from left side with outstanding strike zone judgment, doesn’t have Andrew Benintendi’s defensive ability but a great track record with bat. Has an unusual crouch but I don't think that is going to be a huge issue. Very nice pick for the Orioles. RESULTS: Hit .218/.288/.345 with 23 walks, 52 strikeouts in 238 at-bats in NY-P. Hit six homers but overall production was disappointing given his track record. Maybe the stance IS an issue; will be interesting so see NY-P scouting reports. Seemed hurt by his home park; did all of his damage on the road. C+.
26) Los Angeles Angels: Taylor Ward, C, Fresno State University: Junior right-handed hitter, batted .304/.413/.486 this year, impressive with the glove and has some power although some worry about the bat at higher levels; won't hit for much of an average but should have some pop. Defense is considered excellent and many viewed him as the top college catcher, but this is about 30 or 40 picks sooner than expected. RESULTS: Hit .348/.457/.438 between Pioneer and Midwest Leagues, no drop in production after promotion, excellent 39/23 BB/K ratio in 201 at-bats. Defense was strong as expected and the bat was a positive surprise. Interestingly, he hit just three homers and had a lower isolated power than anticipated but with a higher batting average and OBP. Early results justify the selection. Minimum Grade B-.