Toolshed: Previewing the 2017 MLB Draft

Twins have options with top pick; what about two-way players?

High-schooler Hunter Greene looks headed to become a top-three pick, whether at pitcher or shortstop. (Sarah Sachs/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | June 9, 2017 12:15 PM ET

Careers will be made next week. Quite literally.

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft begins Monday with the first two rounds as well as Competitive Balance rounds A and B. Rounds 3-10 follow Tuesday; 11-40 are Wednesday.

Over those three days, 1,215 names will be called as official 2017 Draft picks. Some will eventually sign and debut in the Minor Leagues. A few will even attain their dream of becoming a Major Leaguer. It's an arduous journey, of course, but the first step happens next week.

This edition of Toolshed offers some names and storylines to follow in next week's Draft.

Who goes first?

Due to their 59-103 record in 2016, the Twins have the first pick in this year's Draft, while the Reds, Padres, Rays and Braves round out the top five. 

This isn't like the NBA, NFL or even NHL in recent years. There's no consensus No. 1 overall pick in this Draft, a common theme in this sport in recent memory, save for 2009 and 2010 when the world knew the Nationals were taking Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, respectively, with the first pick. That makes for a lot of intrigue heading into Monday. Even if there isn't a consensus No. 1 pick ahead of time, that selection often defines how individual Drafts are remembered. 

California high-school right-hander/shortstop Hunter Greene is regarded by most as the top overall talent in this year's Draft, including the folks at MLB Pipeline. It's important to note, though, that the top overall talent doesn't necessarily equate to the first overall pick. Jay Groome was No. 1 in MLB.com's rankings last year and fell to the Red Sox at No. 12 due to signability and makeup concerns. Indeed, Greene would make history if selected first -- he'd become the first high-school right-handed pitcher taken in that spot. (More on his positional duality below.) The Twins are reportedly bringing him in for an individual workout Friday, so this possibility very much remains on the table.

However, it's Vanderbilt right-hander Kyle Wright who appears in most mock drafts as the player who will hear his name first. The 21-year-old has a plus fastball and three above-average pitches in his curve, slider and changeup. He's posted a 2.98 ERA with 113 strikeouts and 28 walks in 96 2/3 innings for the Commodores and looks set to become the next well-regarded pitcher to come out of that Vandy pipeline.

Don't sleep on Louisville left-hander/first baseman Brendan McKay, who has plus tools at the plate and on the mound. MLB.com's No. 4 prospect Mackenzie Gore, another option as a high-school left-hander out of North Carolina, boasts a plus fastball and curve and above-average grades on his slider and changeup. 

With the Twins holding the largest bonus pool at a little more than $14.1 million, they can afford to aim for the stars at first overall or go safe with a more signable player, hoping to use some of the savings for tougher signs in the later rounds. It may take until commissioner Rob Manfred reads the name off the card for the world to find out who joins the same illustrious club as Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones.

Two-way players?

Pay attention to what position Manfred announces when he reads the selections of Greene and McKay, whenever that is. 

There's little doubt that both Greene and McKay could go as either pitchers or position players. For Greene, it's a little more clear that he'd be best on the mound. His fastball can hit triple digits, and clubs aren't likely to let that type of arm stay at shortstop. That said, MLB Pipeline gave Greene an above-average grade for his power tool at the plate and average 50s for his hitting, running and fielding. Taken together, those would make a solid prospect at a premium position, and it's possible, though unlikely, that teams would be willing to give him a look this summer at short -- thus saving his arm as well -- before determining his long-term future over the offseason. The Red Sox did this with Casey Kelly, who played short in 2008 and 2009 before moving full-time to the organization's preferred spot on the mound.

McKay is a more interesting case when it comes to two-way players. He's got an above-average fastball and plus curve that have helped him post a 2.31 ERA with 131 strikeouts and 33 walks in 97 1/3 innings as a junior with the Cardinals. But he's also got a tremendous hit tool and good pop, evidenced by a .356/.476/.683 line with 17 homers. His natural position is first base, and it'd be easier to hide his pitching arm there, if indeed he plays both ways. The more likely scenario to put his arm and bat to use would be to let him DH between starts, like what wunderkind Shohei Otani has done in Japan. In that way, he might be more valuable to an American League club, who could make use that strategy in the Majors. It's widely expected he won't get past the Rays at No. 4.

Who slides?

There can be a multitude of reasons why players fall in the Draft. It could be signability with players having a set bonus they're looking for and clubs being unwilling to match it. It could be poor performance down the stretch. It could be, like the case of Delvin Perez in 2016, breaking news about the player. (Perez was reported to have failed a drug test and dropped to the Cardinals at No. 23.) 

There are a few candidates this year who could be waiting a little longer to hear their name on Draft day than they might otherwise, given their skills.

Start with Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall. The 21-year-old is ranked at No. 6 in MLB.com's Draft rankings because of his potential as a five-tool player. He stands out for his 70-grade speed and his defensive abilities in terms of range and arm power. However, Kendall has struck out 71 times in 287 plate appearances for a 25.5 percent rate that would likely be exacerbated in the pro ranks. His other numbers are solid (.312/.379/.569, 15 homers, 19 steals), but his struggles to make contact could be enough to keep out of the top 10.

University of North Carolina right-hander J.B. Bukauskas, MLB.com's No. 7 Draft prospect, might also be trending down after a June 2 outing against Davidson. The right-hander gave up six earned runs on six hits and four walks in just 3 2/3 innings during an 8-4 loss in a NCAA tournament regional. Bukauskas was once thought to be a good bet to go in the top 10, but a pick in the teens might be more likely.

College left-hander Seth Romero is also dropping down Draft boards, but more for off-the-field reasons than anything based strictly on performance. Romero was was given a 60 grade for both his fastball and slider by MLB Pipeline, while his changeup graded out as an above-average 55. Combine those with the fact that he throws from the left side, and Romero could have been a high pick Monday. However, he was suspended from the University of Houston earlier this spring for violating drug-related team rules and then dismissed in May after reportedly getting in a fight with a teammate. Some organization will take a chance on Romero's ability, but teams with high picks will shy away from investing in a player with such makeup issues. 

As for signability worries, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo notes in his latest Pipeline Inbox that Texas high-school right-hander Shane Baz might be tough to talk out of his commitment to TCU. The 17-year-old comes in at No. 12 in MLB Pipeline's rankings, thanks to his plus fastball, cutter and slider, and that talent level should equate to a high pick. But if teams picking high in the first round feel solidly that he'll head to college, Baz could tumble.

Pool play

The latest collective bargaining agreement signed in the offseason brings some changes in slot values and bonus pools to the 2017 Draft. For one, the first two picks will have slot values of $7,770,700 and $7,193,200 -- down from $9,015,000 and $7,762,900. That extra money has been spread out across the top 10 rounds with bonus pools overall going up. The Twins have the top pool at $14,156,800 in 2017, followed by the Reds at $13,923,700.

As for the impact come Draft day, teams picking at the very top won't have as much surplus money to spread out across other picks. In other words, players won't ask for less money, but these teams will have less to work with. For instance, the Phillies had close to $3 million in extra pool money after top overall pick Mickey Moniak signed for a $6.1 million bonus. They used that to sign No. 45 pick Kevin Gowdy, No. 78 Cole Stobbe, No. 107 JoJo Romero and No. 137 Cole Irvin to well-above-slot deals. Teams picking so high in 2017 might not get so lucky. View all the bonus pools and pick values for the 2017 Draft here.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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