As the NFL draft kicks off, who are the likely top prospects in this year's MLB draft?
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With the National Football League draft beginning tonight at 8:00 pm, the time is right to take a quick look at five of the top candidates for Major League Baseball’s draft, which takes place from June 9-11. The top five picks belong to, in order, the Phillies, Reds, Braves, Rockies, and Brewers, the five teams that finished with the worst records last season. The players for this list were chosen by surveying the amateur prospect rankings published by Baseball America, MLB.com, ESPN’s Keith Law and PerfectGame.org, the last of which ranks only high school players.
1. Jason Groome, LHP, Barnegat (N.J.) High School
Groome is unanimously considered the top amateur baseball player in the country, topping all four lists mentioned above. According to Perfect Game, the 6’6” lefty has a fastball that comfortably sits in the mid 90s and spikes to the upper 90s with a curveball that Law describes as “a mid-70s hammer with terrific depth and finish."
On April 11, Groome threw a no-hitter against Central Regional, striking out 19 of 21 batters in the seven inning game. That game was then struck from the record when the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association handed Groome a 30-day suspension for violating its transfer rules when moving back to his hometown high school for his senior year after attending a boarding school in Florida for the previous two years. The source of the violation was the fact that Groome’s parents did not move to Florida with him, so Groome did not change addresses in conjunction with his transfer to Barnegat.
The suspension resulted in after-the-fact forfeits by Barnegat for games in which Groome pitched, and the erasure of his statistics, but he still got to pitch, and impress, in those games. Groome will return to action on Saturday, so the suspension should ultimately have little impact on his draft position. Barnegat, meanwhile, is just 50 miles from Philadelphia, and Groome actually worked out with the Phillies last year, drawing praise from the team's then-ace, Cole Hamels. That makes him something of a hometown pick for Philadelphia and thus even more likely to be the draft’s top selection.
2. Riley Pint, RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Overland Park, KS
The 6’4” Pint is a featured player in Jeff Passan’s compelling new book, The Arm. He emerged as a top amateur prospect in the summer 2013, before his 16th birthday, and hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball two years later as a junior in high school. According to Passan, Pint’s father prevented his son from participating in the sort of year-round youth competition that has increasingly been associated with Tommy John surgery early in a pitchers’ professional career.
That could help soothe the concerns of teams who might read Law’s description of Pint as “one of the hardest-throwing prep arms of all time” as a red flag rather than a selling point. Passan also portrays Pint as an excellent student who considers soda a problematic beverage, giving him high marks for character that, in combination with his big frame and impressive stuff (he also throws a changeup and slider), make him a likely top-five pick in June.
3. Blake Rutherford, OF, Chaminade College Preparatory, West Hills, CA
Rutherford ranks as the best amateur position player in the country according to both Law and Perfect Game, and he is second only to University of Tennessee third baseman Nick Senzel among everyday players on Baseball America’s pre-season list. He is an excellent hitter with speed, and while he has played centerfield in high school, Rutherford projects as more of an above-average corner outfielder as a professional.
Rutherford has outstanding hitting ability with above-average power and patience, and with his good speed, he should be an asset in the field as well. If there’s any concern about him it’s that he will turn 19 on May 2, making him old for a high school senior, 15 months older than Groome and six months older than Pint. That suggests that Rutherford's advanced skills may be in part the result of maturity relative to the players he is competing against. Of course, it could also mean that Rutherford will be able to advance quickly after the draft.
4. Corey Ray, OF, University of Louisville
Of course, if a team really wants an outfielder who could advance quickly, they can always go for a college player. That would lead them to Ray, a five-tool, 21-year-old who was selected in the 33rd round of the 2013 draft by the Mariners out of his Chicago high school despite having already signed to attend Louisville. Not all of Ray’s tools are elite. He, too, is more likely to be an above-average defensive corner outfielder than a viable centerfielder, but he has the arm to play right, which Rutherford lacks, and he is a superior runner with power potential. Where the stocky, 5’11” Ray falls short of Rutherford is in his ability to hit lefthanded pitching, concerns which don’t exist for Rutherford despite the fact that both are lefthanded hitters.
5. Delvin Perez, SS, International Baseball Academy, Ceiba, PR
The youngest player on this list by two months over Groome, Perez is extremely compelling. According to Law, he has “the best tools of any position player in the class.” An outstanding defender, per Perfect Game, Perez has the hands, arm, footwork and speed of an elite defensive shortstop and at 6’3” he has significant potential at the plate. The catch is that his bat is more potential than performance at this stage. That’s not necessarily a problem for a 17-year-old with Perez's overall ability, but it’s not yet clear exactly what kind of hitter he will become at full maturity.
As a tall Puerto Rican shortstop who is likely to be a high pick in the draft, Perez will draw comparisons to Houston's Carlos Correa, the top overall pick in 2012 and reigning AL Rookie of the Year, but the comparison doesn’t fit. Correa’s selling points were his bat and his maturity, two things which have yet to develop for Perez. With 21-year-old shortstop prospect Orlando Arcia on the verge of reaching the majors, Perez isn’t a great fit for the Brewers, who draft fifth overall, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll still be on the board by then.