It's time to make some dreams a reality.
Starting Monday, the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft will begin the professional baseball careers of numerous amateur players from the high school and college ranks from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The first two rounds, along with Competitive Balance Rounds A and B, will be held Monday beginning at 7 p.m. ET, with rounds 3-10 following Tuesday afternoon and 11-40 on Wednesday.
The baseball community will come to know those who are picked and signed as prospects working their separate ways through the Minor Leagues with the ultimate goal of reaching the Majors with their new clubs. But first, they have to find out where they're going. The following are some of the storylines the Toolshed will have an eye on in the 2018 Draft.
Is Mize the lock for No. 1?
There's no doubt that Auburn right-hander Casey Mize is the consensus top talent in the Class of 2018. He's the No. 1 Draft prospect, according to MLB.com, and the only one in the top 200 to receive an overall potential grade of 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. By comparison, fourteen got 55s in that category.
Mize is the type of rare talent that combines elite performance with special stuff. He's struck out 140 and walked 10 over 102 2/3 innings in his junior year at Auburn. His ratio of 14.0 K/BB is second-best among all qualified Division I hurlers, and his 140 strikeouts rank third. That's no accident. The 21-year-old righty has earned plus grades for both his low-to-mid-90s fastball and his slider, but it's his plus-plus splitter that draws the most raves. Add in his average changeup and he's got a killer four-pitch mix that he can control as well as anyone in the Draft. There aren't many pitchers in the Minor Leagues like him right now, never mind in this Draft class.
With Detroit holding the first overall pick, the Alabama native would slot quite well into the rebuilding Tigers system. The organization has, in fact, taken a right-handed pitcher with its first pick in four of its last five Drafts, and five of the top six Tigers prospects are right-handed starters. While that may lead some to believe they should try to fill other holes in their farm system, there's always the mantra that a club can never have too much pitching. A world in which Mize, Franklin Perez, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser all somehow hit their ceilings is a best-case scenario for Detroit, a problem to dream on with many satisfying solutions. What's much more likely is that at least some become relievers or get moved in trades before there's any real rotation congestion in the Majors. Besides, none in that current group of Detroit prospects has the ace-level ceiling of Mize, and it's not worth it to miss out on a No. 1-type pitcher just to explore depth elsewhere.
That said, it's not officially a nailed-on certainty that the Auburn star will head to the Motor City. The Tigers have reportedly done their homework on any number of top talents, including collegiate options Joey Bart, Brady Singer and Nick Madrigal as well as Wisconsin high schooler Jarred Kelenic. If they feel Mize might ask for too big a bonus, they could look elsewhere and try to make the most of their sizable signing pool. Cost was a factor in the Twins' decision to take Royce Lewis over Hunter Greene at No. 1 last year, as they signed the shortstop to a bonus that was $505,000 less than the one the Reds gave Greene. There are no indications yet that money will stand between Detroit and Mize, but it's always a possibility until the first name is officially read off the card in Secaucus, New Jersey. If the Tigers go another route, there's no doubt that the Giants, Phillies, White Sox and Reds -- who round out the top five -- will be ready to pounce on Mize when they have their chance.
How will bonus pools come into play?
The Tigers may be drafting first, thus giving them $8,096,300 that comes with the No. 1 overall pick and a $12,414,800 pool overall, but they do not have the biggest or even second-biggest bonus pool this year. Those designations belong to the Royals ($12,781,900) and Rays ($12,415,600), respectively.
Both organizations are beneficiaries of the compensation rounds. By losing Alex Cobb to free agency and not signing 2017 pick Drew Rasmussen, the Rays added the 31st and 32nd overall picks. The Royals grabbed the 33rd and 34th overall picks because of the departures of Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, and also got the 40th overall selection by way of the Competitive Balance Round A, while the Rays got the 71st overall pick found in Competitive Balance Round B.
In all, both clubs will be making five different picks on the first day of the Draft alone.
What does having the biggest pools mean for their decision-making processes? Though Tampa Bay first picks at No. 16 and Kansas City at No. 18, the organizations could get aggressive with those selections on players who slide because of signability worries.
Jordyn Adams might be a perfect example of that. The North Carolina prep outfielder is tooled up with plus-plus speed that works on the basepaths and in center field. However, he's also committed to play both baseball and football at the University of North Carolina, where his dad is a coach, and it might take a sizable bonus offer to make him go pro in baseball. Kansas City or Tampa Bay could conceivably take Adams in the middle of the first round, or even with one of their compensation picks, and not worry about blowing their whole pool on one player. Fellow prep stars Brice Turang and Triston Casas are in similar situations.
Full bonus pool information can be found here.
Who has the best chance to improve?
Again, the Major League Baseball Draft isn't exactly a chance to fill holes in any given organization -- not in the same way an NBA team might draft a point guard or an NFL team might take a wide receiver -- but there are certainly specific farm systems that could use whatever infusion of talent that they'll get Monday through Wednesday. Looking back at MiLB.com's Farm System Rankings from the offseason, the Royals (ranked No. 29 overall) and the Giants (No. 27) have the best chances to fill their needy prospect coffers.
Kansas City's opportunity is mostly tied to its bonus pool, as discussed above. The Royals are without a Top 100 Prospect but have already seen what the Draft can do for their system. Three of their top five prospects (Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, Michael Gigliotti) came from the 2017 Draft alone. Their five Day 1 picks should at least improve the depth of their organization, even if they're unable to gain an eventual Top 100 talent with their first selection.
On the flipside, the Giants could acquire their newest shining star on Monday when they make their pick at No. 2 overall. San Francisco struck a bit of gold when it took Heliot Ramos at No. 19 overall last June and saw him break out big time in the Minors. Ramos is now MLB.com's No. 55 overall prospect, the Giants' only representative on the list. Assuming the Tigers take Mize at No. 1, San Francisco will have the best of the rest to choose from, and it's likely that pick will battle -- or even supersede -- Ramos for the top spot in the prospect rankings later this summer. Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart has been most heavily linked to the club as a potential long-term replacement for Buster Posey, but other collegians like Brady Singer, Alec Bohm, Nick Madrigal or Travis Swaggerty would still provide a big boon to the depleted system. It's also possible they go a cheaper route in the first round, with California prep right-hander Cole Winn's name coming up in reports. If that were to happen, their strategy would be geared toward spending more in the second or third rounds.
No matter what, the Giants will be heavily invested in whom they pick at No. 2 at a time when they can ill afford to make a Draft misstep.