2015 MLB Mock Draft: Swanson leads parade of Vanderbilt players in top 10
The talent level of the 2015 major league draft, which takes place on June 8, has been categorized by many in the scouting community as being markedly below average. While that group is naturally conservative, there is good reason for the general pessimism.
To start with, there is no obvious No. 1 overall pick—no Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper to blow away the field. Instead there are about a dozen different players who could go in the top five picks under different scenarios. Last year's first pick, lefthanded pitcher Brady Aiken, is available once again after failing to come to terms on a contract with the Astros, but he will not be a candidate for the top spot or, in fact, any spot in the first round after tearing his UCL earlier this year.
There are also the new draft rules adopted in 2013 that assign bonus slots and bonus pools to each pick in the top 10 rounds. The potential rewards for saving money with the top picks in the draft and spending that savings in later rounds are huge and will cause some teams, especially in the top half of the first round, to make decisions based on signability as much as talent.
NOTE: This mock draft covers the first round through the compensation picks. David Rawnsley is the former Assistant Scouting Director for the Houston Astros and national writer for Baseball America. For the past 13 years, he has been the National Scouting Director and is the current Vice-President, Player Personnel for Perfect Game.
6'1", 190 LBS
The potential for the Diamondbacks to cut a well-under-slot deal here and save millions from their bonus pool to spend later is also an attractive and realistic variable. Swanson's combination of middle infield defensive tools, strong offensive skills (.350/.438/.654 this season) and overall polish make him a strong possibility to be first off the board.
6'2", 200 LBS
This pick, rewarded for not signing Aiken last year, has its own complications. It is not protected, meaning the Astros could both lose their bonus pool money and not get a pick in the 2016 draft should they not sign this selection. Houston will likely want to sign a below-slot deal to ensure bonus pool money for their later picks, but Tate is simply the best college arm on the board, and the Astros can't afford to pass on taking him.
6'1", 190 LBS
The Rockies would love to select a college pitcher here and were even spotlighting California high school lefty Kolby Allard before his mid-spring back injury. But those options aren't especially realistic at this slot in this draft. Many teams have Rodgers—who has middle-of-the-order offensive potential and long-term shortstop tools on defense—as the top overall prospect in the class, and Colorado is known to have scouted him hard this spring.
6'0", 185 LBS
Scouts will bemoan Bregman's lack of big physical tools or his position uncertainty moving forward in pro ball, but the fact remains that he is the best amateur baseball player in the country. He's been a dominant performer for USA Baseball since he was 16 years old and, with a .330 average, nine home runs and 47 RBIs as a junior this season, has been the key player for the nation's No.1-ranked team. He'll play in the big leagues quickly and for a long time.
There are five high school outfielders who have a chance to go among the first 15–20 picks, an unusually large number, but Cameron, whose father is former All-Star Mike Cameron, has been a fixture on scouts' minds since he was a freshman. Not surprisingly for the son of a 17-year big leaguer and three-time Gold Glove winner, Cameron has off-the-charts instincts both on defense in centerfield and as a base runner. If his bat fulfills its projection, he could be an Andrew McCutchen-type talent. Don't be surprised to see Kyle Tucker get drafted here, either.
6'1", 175 LBS
Jay has been a controversial prospect this spring, as the Illini have chosen to use him in a flexible closer/long relief role instead of what would appear to be his natural starter's spot, thus depriving scouts of a look at his durability and making him more difficult to cross check. Still, there is no questioning his stuff, which includes a 93–96 mile-per-hour fastball, a sharp upper 70s curveball and an outstanding changeup. His command, with six walks in 56 1/3 innings through May 27, is also impeccable.
5'10", 180 LBS
Despite being just a sophomore, Benintendi is eligible for the draft. He was hardly on scout's radars at the start of the spring, but that's changed dramatically, who has hit .391 with 18 home runs through May 27 and shown well-above-average speed and defensive abilities. Boston is strongly believed to be looking for a hitter in this spot, and GM Ben Cherrington has reportedly gone to see Benintendi, a lefthanded hitter who compares favorably with ex-Red Sox star and current Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury.
Fulmer would go higher if not for his delivery and the effort he uses in throwing the ball. Many teams think he is bound for the bullpen, a role he held at Vanderbilt for a time and in which he was dominant. But he has a pristine health record, nasty stuff and no history of command issues. The White Sox have a history of selecting pitchers with mechanics the rest of the industry questions, including perennial AL Cy Young candidate Chris Sale and their top pitching prospect, Tyler Danish.
Fulmer's Vanderbilt teammate also has a knock that concerns much of the industry: his narrow build. But just like Fulmer, Buehler has three pitches, all of which can be plus-pitches at different times, and a long track record of durability and success. The Cubs are in the mode to collect pitchers, and Buehler is a good one for them.
Stephenson didn't participate in the showcase circuit last summer due to travel team obligations and was somewhat of an unknown at the start of the spring. But he has rocketed up lists over the past two months with a series of dominant performances in front of scouts. Along with his righthanded power, Stephenson shows admirable agility behind the plate for a big receiver to go with easy, plus arm strength.
The Reds have one of the most varied draft histories and patterns of any team, but they usually hunt high-ceiling talents. Tucker's power potential ranks as one of the most high-ceiling individual tools in this draft class, and his smooth and leveraged lefthanded swing has been compared to such legends as Ken Griffey Jr. and Darryl Strawberry. There are big league hitting genetics in the family, too, as brother Preston has got off to a solid big league start with the Astros this month.
Allard is one of the biggest wild cards in the draft. His spring season ended in mid-March after only three appearance due to a "stress reaction" in his back. Before then, he was a potential top-five pick already showing three potential plus pitches at times, including perhaps the best curveball in the class. The Marlins are about the least risk-averse team in the draft, and Allard seems like a perfect fit here.
Harris was lightly scouted out of a Missouri high school but has improved steadily over three years at Missouri State and has even moved his stuff and command up another notch this spring, as he was just a borderline first rounder three months ago. He throws in the 92–94 mph range, but his command of his secondary pitches, and especially a plus changeup, has been superlative.
Now that the old-school Braves scouting staff is back in charge, everyone is assuming there will be a steady diet of Georgia high school talent on the team's draft list, given Atlanta's success with taking the likes of Jeff Francoeur, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann. And while infielder Cornelius Randolph could be a tempting choice here, Happ is by far the most advanced college bat left on the board and is a good athlete with lots of defensive versatility. The young Georgia-based talent is deep enough to look at hard over the next few rounds, though.
The last-place Brewers won't be looking ahead to 2016, when they likely will be picking very early in an absurdly pitching-rich draft, but there is no time like the present to get started on the organizational rebuilding. Nikorak is the top high school righthander in the class, with the added attraction of being a fresh Northeast arm that scouts appreciate.
There's a feeling that Funkhouser could be this year's Michael Wacha. Like Funkhouser, Wacha was a potential top-five pick at the start of the spring in 2012, but an uneven performance dropped him to No. 19, where the Cardinals gladly grabbed him. The next year, Wacha was the NLCS MVP and helped St. Louis reach the World Series. Maybe it's the Yankees' turn to make a Cardinals-like decision.
Clark is a highly athletic base-hit machine with plus speed and outstanding plate discipline, a true high-ceiling offensive player who can play all three outfield positions. The only thing the team drafting Clark will have to be careful of is not to tinker with the unusual way he holds and positions his hands on the bat. It's hard to fathom when first seeing it as a scout, but it works for him.
Ponce has a big-league body right now and very nice pitching mechanics that shouldn't need much adjustment at the professional level. His 93–95 mph fastball can touch higher and could develop into an elite-level pitch. Ponce has been handicapped by pitching against lower-level competition and not being dominant at times, along with missing a number of early starts with an oblique issue.
Randolph is a natural hitter with a mature approach from the left side, but he also has the strength and raw bat speed to turn on pitches and drive them hard to the pull side. He should be able to hit well right away in professional ball. He's also an underrated athlete with big arm strength who might be agile enough to play second base in the future.
But Hooper has struggled with keeping his delivery consistent and throwing enough strikes, a frequent problem for young, oversized pitchers. He may have turned the corner in early May, when he pitched a complete-game shutout with no walks in a heavily scouted matchup against another class of 2015 prospect, Joe DeMers of College Park (Calif.) High.
Whitley's athleticism made him a rumored candidate for the No. 1 overall spot, but that seems too high for an upstate New York righthanded hitter with a limited resume. Of course, the Royals love toolsy outfielders with plus speed and centerfield defensive ability and would welcome Whitley falling this far.
Bickford was drafted 10th overall by the Blue Jays in 2013 but didn't sign, then transferred from Cal State-Fullerton to College of Southern Nevada last August to make himself eligible for the draft again. He has a dominant fastball that reaches the upper 90s and that he throws for strikes, but his secondary pitches are still developing. If there is one thing the Tigers like, however, it is dominant fastballs. TCU righty Riley Ferrell could be tempting here as a polished reliever who could be in the majors by August.
Everett had a huge spring, improving his command and durability from what he had shown scouts during the previous year and boosting his fastball into the upper 90s at times. His curveball is a solid pitch, but his best secondary offering is already his changeup. That's always a promising sign for the development of an 18-year-old power pitcher.
This is not a hometown pick, as the UCLA star and Irvine, Calif., native could well go higher to a team valuing a polished college pitcher—a demographic that is in relatively short supply in this draft class. Besides, Kaprielian has been getting stronger and more impressive as the college season has progressed. The Dodgers' system is in need of quality pitching talent, and the organization can certainly afford to draft for need instead of taking the best player available.
Betts is a very polished and mature player and has probably played as much baseball as any top high school player in the class, doing so at the most demanding position physically. He significantly improved his body and conditioning this off-season and was rewarded with a big improvement in his game, especially on offense.
As opposed to their Los Angeles neighbors, the weakened state of the Angels' minor league system puts them in the ultimate "draft the best player available" mode regardless of age or position. Burrows pitches in the 92–95 mph range with a big downer curveball from a delivery and arm slot that some scouts have compared to Mike Mussina's.
There are a couple of teams that have Nevin—the son of longtime big leaguer and 1992 No. 1 overall pick Phil Nevin—in the mix in the top half of the first round, although other organizations are not quite as high on him. Nevin's righthanded bat is his big tool, and he appears to be fully recovered from October 2013 Tommy John surgery that cost him over a year of development.
Russell comes ready loaded with a low-to-mid-90s fastball that will occasionally go higher, plus a big breaking slider that he can throw with power or pull the string on with equal efficiency. His off-beat personality will also bring some life to an organization that has become rather staid in its minor league system.
Newman has a chance to go higher than this, although the existence of so many other college shortstops in the same anticipated draft area makes it truly a matter of which team likes which particular player the most. Newman is regarded a plus hitter—he has won an unprecedented two straight Cape Cod League batting titles—who can stay at shortstop long-term. He would definitely go higher if it weren't for his well-below-average power.
It's always fashionable to speculate that the Yankees will go for the home run in any decision, and Matuella—once a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick—could be the biggest home run in the draft if he gets over his elbow and back injuries. The former required Tommy John surgery, and the latter has been chronic. Of course, he could also become the next Andrew Brackman—New York's first-round pick in 2007, who played just three games in the majors before injuries ended his career—on the team's list of big swings that came up empty.
Yet another son of a longtime big leaguer—his dad, Charlie, spent 14 years in the majors—Ke'Bryan bears the closest resemblance to his father of any of the other numerous father-son combinations that will be picked high in this draft. The righthanded hitter has a very polished and mature swing that is presently more geared for gap-to-gap power but could easily develop more over-the-fence pop than his father, who averaged 15 home runs per season. Ke'Bryan is also a nimble and strong-armed defender at third base, and he gets top-of-the-charts marks from scouts on his baseball IQ and maturity.
Plummer has a very high ceiling offensively, with big lefthanded power and plus running speed in a strong and explosive body. The highly analytical Pirates also probably know that he is one of the most patient hitters in the draft and will likely put up big on-base percentage numbers as a professional due to his ability to draw walks. Plummer's defensive profile, which has him as a leftfielder in the long run, lowers his draft slot a bit.
White's name hasn't been circulated as much as other highly regarded college shortstops like Arizona's Mike Kingery or Louisiana-Lafayette's Blake Trahan, but he is a more physical offensive player with plenty of athleticism that will keep him in the middle of the field. There is talk that a mid-30's slot could actually be a bit low for the former Mets pick (34th round, 2012).
Picking closers this high is not considered a good investment by virtually every team in baseball, but Detroit's combination of an extra pick, its postseason ambitions and its lack of bullpen depth make Ferrell a defensible choice. He's the best closer in college baseball, with a nasty fastball/slider combination, and had only allowed seven hits in 27 innings to go with 42 strikeouts through May 27. Ferrell could likely be ready to contribute in the big leagues by August.
Hillman is regarded as one of the most polished pitchers in this draft, with an extremely effective changeup to go with pinpoint control, though his curveball is just average. His velocity has been on the uptick as the season has progressed, and he topped out at 95 mph at the heavily scouted Florida State High School All-Star games recently.
The Orioles have run into tough injury luck recently with top picks Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, but teams can't shy away from drafting high school pitchers if they're looking to build around young arms. Smith is a high-level athlete in a power pitcher's body with a flawless injury and performance record, plus the mid-90s fastball that is becoming increasingly common in high school baseball.