Riley Pint and Austin Bergner are vying to become the first high school righthander to ever be taken No. 1 overall in the MLB draft, but both are behind Florida's A.J. Puk in SI.com's way-too-early 2016 MLB draft top five.
The 2015 MLB draft concluded on Wednesday after three days, 40 rounds and 1,215 players being selected, the last of whom was Jacob McDavid, a righthander from Oral Roberts who went to the Angels. However, it isn't too early to highlight some of the anticipated top prospects in the 2016 class. Below you'll find our breakdown of the candidates in four separate categories, and at the bottom, our way-too-early top five for 2016.
High School Pitchers
In the 50 years of the MLB draft, no high school righthander has ever been the No. 1 overall pick. That could change next year. Among the three rising seniors already showing the potential to go 1/1 are a pair of righties: Riley Pint, from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Lenexa, Kan., and Austin Bergner of Windermere (Fla.). The third candidate is lefty Jason Groome, from Barnegat, N.J..
Pint is the highest-profile prospect of the three, although he has rarely left Kansas to throw in national level tournaments and showcases. At 6'5", 190 pounds, he already throws in the 94–97 mph range and has a spike curveball that is a second plus pitch. But the 6'6", 180-pound Groome—who is from New Jersey but attends school at IMG Academy in Florida—may have the higher ceiling. He's been up to 96 mph from a lightning-quick but effortless arm action and has huge projection remaining in his young body.
Other names to watch for include lefthanders Jeff Belge (Henninger HS, Syracuse, N.Y.); Braxton Garrett (Florence HS, Ala.) and Cole Ragans (North Florida Christian HS, Tallahassee); and righties Charles King (Coppell HS, Texas) and Reggie Lawson (Victor Valley HS, Adelento, Calif.).
High School Players
With the exception of the catchers named below, this looks like the weakest demographic for the 2016 class. Some of the elite-level catchers include T.J. Collett (North Vigo HS, Terre Haute, Ind.), Brad Debo (Orange HS, Durham, N.C.), Thomas Dillard (Briarcrest Christian HS, Cordova, Tenn.), Herbert Iser (Killian HS, Miami) and Cooper Johnson (Carmel Catholic HS, Mendelein, Ill.). Johnson is the best defensive catcher of this group and also the only righthanded hitter, while Debo and Iser are the most-well-rounded prospects.
Blake Rutherford (Chaminade Prep, Simi Valley, Calif.) stands out by a significant margin among the outfield prospects and could be a top-15 pick due to his sweet lefthanded swing and all around athleticism. Third baseman Drew Mendoza (Lake Minneola HS, Minneola, Fla.) and shortstops Nicholas Quintana (Arbor View HS, Las Vegas) and Nonie Williams (Turner HS, Kansas City, Kan.) are the top candidates among an equally shallow group of infielders.
College pitching drives a solid draft class, which is one of the reasons why the 2015 draft was rated so poorly overall. Teams want to be able to sign pitchers with a shot at being top-of-the-rotation starters without a four-to-six-year risk window to start their careers. Fortunately, the '16 class has, at least at this point, an ample supply of prospects that will get scouts excited.
Two hard-throwing 6'7" hurlers top the list: Florida southpaw A.J. Puk and Oklahoma righty Alec Hansen. Neither are polished performers yet, but both are capable of sitting in the mid-90s and touching higher with quality breaking pitches. Georgia righty Robert Tyler and Vanderbilt righty Jordan Sheffield have similar stuff but have been impacted by injuries and have a bit further to go.
Two potential top-15 picks will be coming off Tommy John surgery that cost them the 2015 season but have the potential to make an impact with clean recoveries: Oregon lefty Matt Krook and Stanford righty Cal Quantrill. Krook was the Marlins' first-round pick out of a northern California high school in '13 but didn't sign, while Quantrill is the son of former big-league reliever Paul Quantrill.
Other college pitchers to remember include a pair of Florida righthanders in Logan Shore and Dane Dunning, as well as southpaws Blake Crohan (Winthrop), Anthony Kay (Connecticut) and Eric Lauer (Kent State) and righties Mike Shawaryn (Maryland) and Connor Jones (Virginia).
Scouts constantly bemoan the lack of high quality hitters in every draft. This is partially their own fault, as the pro teams successfully identify and sign most of the high-end hitters when they become eligible out of high school. The difference in equipment between the college game and the pro game, which also leads to different swing approaches, is also at fault.
The 2016 class, however, offers a healthy number of talented all-around outfielders. That group is led by Texas A&M rightfielder Nick Banks, a high-level athlete who grades out as average or better in all tool areas by MLB standards and looks to be on the plus side in his raw power, speed and arm strength. Louisville's Corey Ray and Nebraska's Ryan Boldt are both true centerfielders who have shown some pop in their lefthanded bats in addition to plus speed and defensive skills. LSU's Jake Fraley and Miami's Willie Abreu stand out for their bats as corner outfielders.
Clemson's Chris Okey is strongly regarded as the top college catcher in the country and will get first round consideration with a strong spring. Arizona third baseman Bobby Dalbec and Miami catcher/first baseman Zach Collins have the power that every scout and every team is looking for in a middle-of-the-order run producer.
Top Five For 2016
1. A.J. Puk, LHP, Florida
2. Riley Pint, RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas High
3. Austin Bergner, RHP, Windermere Prep
4. Robert Tyler, RHP, Georgia
5. Alec Hanson, RHP, Oklahoma
A lot can and will change, but Puk gets the nod for now. He has come on lately for the Gators in helping them reach the College World Series. In the last month alone, he has started to harness his ability and turn it into results, thanks in part to his fastball that can now reach the upper 90s.