My gut tells me that if Florida LHP A.J. Puk ends up *not* being the Phils' guy, it could transform the top half of the round into a shell of what we all had in the mock drafts of our mind-grapes.
The ideas expressed here are a contrarian, against-the-grain look at the uncertainty of the top 5. As if you needed it, you have my blessing to really give this piece the business, folks.
It's surprising that in a draft with no clear-cut #1, Puk gets so much play as the top projected pick without considering the other scenarios. I was both delighted and a little worried to learn that just one other person shared my internal monologue on the matter:
I don't buy for one second the Phillies have eliminated Jason Groome as a possibility for the first overall pick.— Chuck Johnson (@prospect_pulse) June 4, 2016
Further, it seems safe to assume the Phils are still exchanging bonus figures with their top choices while they try to maximize their second-ranked $13.4M pool. Part of the team's draft puzzle is who they're targeting with the #42 pick and how much it will cost them. Depending on how high they set their sights (Gowdy, Speas, Luzardo?), this could certainly inform their negotiations for pick 1-1.
Jason Groome was connected to his local team with the top pick for quite some time, but has gradually slipped to just top 6 consideration and even lower - ostensibly due to rising collegian prospects and whispers about his maturity.
I wonder if the Phils will reach the conclusion that Groome, turning 18 in August and over three years younger than Puk, is the better upside investment. Given three years of pro tutelage and development in the minors, he might be able to "catch up" to Puk's trajectory and contribute more of his prime years to the big club.
At the very least, I'd contend that the team hasn't made a firm decision because there's still a lot of time to hear a draftee's final contract demands.
***Phillies select LHP Jason Groome, Barnegat HS, NJ***
The Reds mixed up their front office hierarchy in the offseason, but the main players at the top figure to remain prominently involved in the draft. Walt Jocketty got a bump to Baseball Ops Prez, Dick Williams took over as GM, and Chris Buckley remains the Senior Director of Amateur Scouting.
After avoiding LHPs until the 18th round of last year's June draft, the directive for Cincy's rebuild was apparent in their first deadline deal of Johnny Cueto. Southpaws Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Mississippi Cody Reed joined up from KC and provided three highly-regarded arms that could be counted on to help the big club quickly. The Reds could go back to that well if the Phillies provide them the chance.
Senzel has been the consensus opinion at 2 as of late, and it's a sensible enough option for the risk-averse Reds who have little else but struggling Eric Jagielo (.181/.283/.294 in AA) at the hot corner.
But Senzel seemingly only shot up as the Reds' backup plan once Puk was anointed as the default number one choice. Just two short weeks ago, popular opinion paired Cincy with Corey Ray, Kyle Lewis, and Puk. If the Phillies do go against common thought and select a prep player - or any non-Puk entity - it could put us back to the point where the Reds have a tough decision to make.
Traded messages with John Manuel of Baseball America. He’s pretty certain the #Reds will take Puk or Sensel.— John Fay (@johnfayman) June 6, 2016
***Reds select LHP A.J. Puk, Florida***
Forever the backyard scouters, it's hard to imagine Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis eluding Atlanta's grasp if he's available at 3.
But in a scenario where Puk slides down just one spot to #2, it could add an unforeseen option to the Braves' draft board - Nick Senzel.
Perhaps more than any team, the Braves are a candidate to spread money around and take big swings within the first 80 selections. They hold three picks of their own (3, 44, 80) and traded for two more (40, 76) to reinforce and elevate that plan to the next level.
Perhaps more than any other player, Senzel is a match for Atlanta partly because he's considered one of the more signable draftees at the top. With the high-end talent in the class seemingly clumped together in this range, the player that makes a Godfather offer to Copollela and crew might be the one to win their hearts.
Senzel's ceiling isn't as sexy as the flame-throwing preps and tooled-up outfielders in the top 10, but he's a high-floor bat that can be fast-tracked at what's become a position of need in the post-Chipper era. His pitch recognition is superb and his hard-contact approach has been battle-tested in the Cape. It's a package that should translate quite well to pro ball wherever he lands, but he'll need to work on the defensive side a bit to bank his full value and stay at the hot corner.
***Braves select 3B Nick Senzel, Tennessee***
Rockies' GM Jeff Bridich has been running the show since the end of the '14 season, and the two major trades he's made (Tulo and Corey Dickerson) have brought back four highly-regarded arms: Jeff Hoffmann, Miguel Castro, Jake McGee, and German Marquez.
Colorado is of course in perpetual search of impact pitchers, as the recent trade returns support. But to assess the route they may take in the draft, it could be instructive to look at Bridich's 2015 draft debut where the team used their #3 pick on Florida HS shortstop Brendan Rodgers.
I think history could repeat itself a year later, and team brass will see too much risk in available arms such as Pint and Groome to justify the premium pick. It bears repeating, but the Rox have spent their top pick on a prep pitcher just once in the last 15 years - Tyler Matzek 11th overall in '09.
For the first time in a while, Colorado looks to be on solid ground with a surplus of arms at all levels. Jon Gray and Tyler Chatwood have recently shown glimpses with the big club, Hoffmann and Senzatella have been brilliant in the upper levels, and names like Freeland, Lambert, and Marquez offer great intrigue in the future.
After examining John's organizational top 20 and accounting for the first two months of the season, the Rox appear to need an injection of talent in the outfield. #4 prospect David Dahl and #9 Raimel Tapia are the only commodities that represent possible starters, and each still carries risk. With both of those players also questionable to hold down centerfield in the long term, my hunch is the Rox could prefer Moniak, Lewis, and Ray in that order.
Mickey Moniak fits the Brendan Rodgers mold to a T; he's a tooled-up 'baseball rat' with mile-high marks in personality and ceiling. Moniak may not have the power potential of others in this class, but it's easy to see the team being intrigued with his line-drive approach and speed/instincts combo to cover the spacious ground in their ballpark.
Last June, the drafting of Brendan Rodgers may have helped soften the blow in the trading of franchise icon Troy Tulowitzki. This June, I could see Bridich and his crew employ a similar strategy. If they can secure an impact bat in the draft, they can turn and use CarGo and Jake McGee as the bait to lure in pitchers that better fit their profile for success at Coors and are closer to contributing.
***Rockies select OF Mickey Moniak, La Costa Canyon HS, CA***
To make a true contrarian pick for the Brew Crew, we will have to ignore the fact that Kyle Lewis, Riley Pint, and Corey Ray are still in play in our bizarro mock draft exercise.
Indeed, any or all of these prospects could be off the board by the time we reach #5. Since the point of this endeavor is to connect prospects with teams they're not commonly linked to, we'll have to dig deeper for a match.
David Stearns has been hands-on since taking the reins as Milwaukee's GM last September. He fired five of his seven coaches, replaced half the 40-man roster, and made a flurry of minor trades to shed salary and add depth.
It will be interesting to watch Stearns work in his first draft on the job. Coming off his tenure with Houston in which he was front-and-center as Luhnow's only assistant, I'd expect Milwaukee will try to work the board with the same creativity and value-hoarding traits that were staples of so many Astros drafts.
In my estimation, the Brewers' system has greatly improved in the past year but is heavily reliant on toolsy teenagers who have a long way until reaching their ceiling. As ever, advanced starting pitching remains a critical need here, making it somewhat surprising that the second-ranked college pitcher has received virtually no love at the 5 spot.
Dakota Hudson didn't pick up pitching until his sophomore year of high school, and has only spent one season as a fixture in in Mississippi State's rotation. But his draft stock took off like a rocketship after a dominating summer at the Cape and he carried that over into his junior season, where he's now seen as a notch behind Puk for safest college arm in the class.
Stuff-wise, Hudson certainly measures up to Puk. The MSU ace works 92-95 with a sinking heater that has so much arm-side run that he can lose command of it. Hudson pairs his cheese with a high-80's cutter that is widely known as his best pitch. Further, Hudson and his new pitching coach went to work on fixing his arm slot before the season, basing everything around the motion he uses for the cutter/slider hybrid.
Hudson comes with some risk as he's only shouldered a starter's load for this one season, and he's faltered late in similar fashion to Puk. However, his high points have arguably been more impressive than Puk as witnessed by his dominating May and back-to-back shutouts of Auburn and Arkansas.
As for questions about his workload, Hudson has gone over 100 pitches nine times this year. In my manual appraisal of Florida's 63 boxscores this season, I only counted six such games for Puk.
We've seen Dakota Hudson in play anywhere from #6 (Oakland) to #9 (Detroit), so I don't think it's a stretch to suggest he may slip into the top 5. It's true that Hudson's career as a starter is in its infancy, as are his curveball and change which he's just debuted this year. However, it's also true that unlike lottery tickets Groome or Pint, Hudson's stuff is proven against advanced hitters in a tough conference.
***Brewers select RHP Dakota Hudson, Mississippi State***