Toolshed: Previewing the 2019 Draft

Rutschman leads top-pick candidates; D-backs boast big pool

Catcher Adley Rutschman, a junior at Oregon State, has a 1.345 OPS this season. (David Nishitani/Oregon State Athletics)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | May 31, 2019 10:30 AM

Soon, we will dissect their professional games -- how they handle velocity in the upper-90s, whether they can stick to their positions or move to new spots on the diamond, what they've done to develop a changeup. 

But first, they have to become professionals. 

The 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is coming Monday, June 3, and with it, numerous players from the prep and college ranks from the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada will hear their names called and see their dreams realized. (They still have to sign, of course.) To get you prepared for one of the biggest nights on the baseball calendar, Toolshed breaks down which future top prospects should go early and which farm systems are about to get the biggest boosts at this year's Draft.

Which players could go early?

Adley Rutschman is the consensus top prospect in the Draft, and it's highly likely he's the one to hear his name called first by the Orioles on Monday. The Oregon State switch-hitting catcher is gifted on both sides of the ball. He hit .419/.580/.765 with 17 homers in 55 games with the Beavers this spring, ranking among the top six in the NCAA in all three slash-line categories. He also receives plus grades for his glove and arm behind the plate, and it's that combination that could make him the first catcher to go first overall since the Twins took Joe Mauer in 2001. 

But that's not quite a guarantee yet. Baltimore is undergoing an obvious rebuild, and this is the first Draft under new general manager Mike Elias, who worked in amateur scouting for the Astros as they rebuilt during the Draft. Specifically, he was with Houston when the organization didn't select top Draft prospect Byron Buxton in 2012, instead choosing Carlos Correa for a smaller signing bonus and spreading those savings around to later picks like Lance McCullers Jr. Elias could take that strategy to the O's and work something out with California first baseman Andrew Vaughn or Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday, but the bet among most is that Baltimore won't be able to overlook the opportunity to make Rutschman the shining star of their rebuilt system.

Elsewhere, Texas prep shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. seems to be even more of a sure bet to go No. 2 to the Royals. The 18-year-old has four above-average tools in his power, run, glove and arm with his overall hitting ability the only thing lagging at present, though it's still plenty good. If that becomes even more of a weapon, he'll be one of the most promising shortstops in the Minors in no time.


Bobby Witt Jr. participated in the Under Armour All-American Game at Wrigley Field in 2018.

It gets interesting after those first two picks. Vaughn is already a Golden Spikes winner and might be the Draft's best all-around hitter. He's also a right-handed-hitting first baseman with little potential to move off the position. He'll have to hit to provide value there, and high-picking clubs could look for more athletic types in the early, early picks. Bleday (plus power and arm in the outfield), Florida prep outfielder Riley Greene (impressive hitter from the left side) and Georgia prep shortstop CJ Abrams (plus-plus runner and good hitter at a premium position) could check those boxes.

If this Draft is weak in any area, it's pitching. TCU left-hander Nick Lodolo (No. 8) is the only hurler ranked among MLB.com's top 10 Draft prospects. That's not to say arms like West Virginia righty Alek Manoah, JuCo right-hander Jackson Rutledge and Kentucky southpaw Zack Thompson, among others, couldn't climb into the top 10, but this is a far cry from 2017 when Hunter Greene, MacKenzie Gore, Brendan McKay and Kyle Wright went among the top five selections or 2016 when pitchers made up six of the first nine picks.

How will pools come into play?

What organization will be discussed most in the Draft next week? It should be the D-backs, who clear the field with the biggest signing bonus pool in 2019 at $16,093,700. That's more than $2 million above what the O's have to spend ($13,821,200), despite the No. 1 overall pick having a slot bonus of more than $8.4 million this year. In fact, Arizona's first pick doesn't come until 16th overall. However, the D-backs will make seven picks in the first 75 slots. They picked up the 26th overall selection after missing out on signing Matt McLain last year. They added the 33rd and 34th picks for losing Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock to free agency. They have two picks in the Competitive Balance Round B, including the 77th overall pick that they acquired in the Paul Goldschmidt deal. If any top-10 pick starts to slide, Arizona has the room to grab them at No. 16 and use some of the financial flexibility to ensure they get enough of a bonus that they'll sign.

The Royals and Rays used the biggest bonuses in the 2018 Draft to keep Brady Singer and Matthew Liberatore -- two of the top pitching prospects in the Draft -- from slipping beyond the top 18. Kansas City was able to add even more pitching depth by taking Daniel Lynch (a new Top-100 prospect) and Jackson Kowar in the compensation round, and its system is definitely better for it. That's the opportunity in front of Arizona early next week, and it should be a welcome one with only two Top-100 prospects in the system at present: No. 54 Jazz Chisholm and No. 65 Jon Duplantier.

More on this year's signing pool allotments here.


JJ Bleday has hit 26 home runs in 59 games during his junior season at Vanderbilt.

Which systems need the help?

The Orioles are the obvious candidate here. This is the first full year of the club's rebuild, and it'll need to hit on several picks to build out a farm system that isn't quite up to snuff as far as rebuilds go. Grayson Rodriguez is on his way to making last year's 11th overall pick a steal, but as things stand, Baltimore has no prospects ranked among MLB.com's top 50. That should change if it takes Rutschman first overall, but in all likelihood, anyone it selects will likely trump Ryan Mountcastle at the top spot.

The next organization that can least afford many missteps is Miami. The Marlins, by design, have few Major League assets to cash in as part of their own rebuild, but even more so than the Orioles, their system isn't up to the standard of a rebuilding club. Sixto Sanchez is by far the biggest prospect to dream on right now, while fellow Top-100 prospects Victor Victor Mesa and Monte Harrison bring potential, if not flashy results just yet. The Marlins have the fourth overall pick, where Vaughn, Adams or Bleday could be waiting, and then pick again at No. 35 in the Competitive Balance Round A, where a tough sign could slip. Miami has the fourth biggest signing pool with a little more than $13 million, so signability shouldn't be an issue.

There are other farm systems, however, that could use boosts that are far less likely to find it in the 2019 Draft. The Red Sox and Brewers -- the 30th and 27th overall farm systems in MiLB.com's preseason Farm System Rankings -- have the two lowest bonus pools this year. Milwaukee first picks at No. 28 and then not again until No. 65, having dealt the No. 41 pick to the Rangers in an offseason trade involving Alex Claudio. Boston dropped out of the first round completely -- all the way to No. 43 (second round) -- as punishment for exceeding the luxury tax. That World Series title should soothe things over, though.

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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