In spirit of the NFL Draft just having wrapped up and the June 4 MLB Draft rapidly approaching, it is never too early to take a look at some potential first-overall picks. Projecting draft picks is an inexact science, and the structure of the MLB Draft makes this practice even harder than the other sports. Teams usually have to wait at least a few years for any player from a particular draft to make an impact with the big league club, while other sports expect instant impact from high draft picks.
Thanks to a 64-98 record in 2017, the Detroit Tigers own the first pick in June’s draft, an honor that can make or break a franchise’s future. With four prospects in MLB.com’s top 100 prospect list, all projected to crack the big league roster by 2020, the Tigers are in a better position than most teams with the first pick. Now, instead of feeling the pressure to resurrect a depleted farm system, general manager Al Avila can take an already talented system to another level.
Brady Singer, RHP, University of Florida
Brady Singer has been the popular pick to go first overall since the 2017 draft closed. His 2018 season has not disappointed. As of publication, Singer owns a 2.63 ERA in 72 innings for Florida and is coming off a dominant seven-inning, eight-strikeout effort in a 3-1 victory over Casey Mize (more on him later) and Auburn. Singer’s 81 strikeouts in 72 innings certainly stand out, aided by a mid-90s sinking fastball and wipeout slider. As evidenced in the video below, Singer’s delivery is quick and deceptive, and the heavy sinking action keeps batters uncomfortable at the plate. Still, scouts are concerned that a higher effort delivery may stick Singer in the bullpen, which would all but eliminate his chances at being the first pick. If he does find his way to the bullpen, Singer could become a dominant, high-leverage reliever.
Ethan Hankins, RHP, Forsyth Central HS (GA)
Many believed that Hunter Greene would become the first high school right-handed pitcher to be drafted first overall last year, but Greene eventually went second to the Cincinnati Reds. Hankins is yet another high school RHP with buzz at the top of the draft. Possessing a mid- to high-90s fastball and a powerful curveball, Hankins impressed scouts all summer. Shoulder soreness forced Hankins to miss a month early this high school season, but his overpowering return has put to rest any concern that the injury would hamper his performance. At 6’6″ and 200 pounds, there is still plenty of projection left here. It is easy to dream about Hankin’s high-ceiling, but 1-1 still seems like a bit of an outside hope.
Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn University
Perhaps the safest bet to be picked by Detroit in June, dominant does not even begin to describe Mize’s season. Mize sports an 8-2 record with a 2.40 ERA in 75 innings of work. Even more impressive than those numbers is Mize’s 104:7 K:BB ratio. A no-hitter against Northeastern is perhaps the premier highlight of Mize’s season. Armed with four pitches, Mize has baffled batters, making some of the best hitters in the country look inferior. The low walk-rate, coupled with Mize’s 6’3″, 220-pound frame, suggests that Mize will remain a starter as he progresses through the upper-level minor leagues. Pitchers with low- to mid-90s sinkers and at least two above-average offspeed pitches usually don’t last very long in the draft. Expect Casey Mize to hear his name early in June.
Nick Madrigal, 2B/SS, Oregon State University
The lone position player on this list, Nick Madrigal may not look the part of a high-profile prospect. But look past the 5’8″, 165-pound frame and you will find one of the best pure hitters in recent draft classes. Returning from an early-season injury, Madrigal has destroyed pitching to the tune of a .455/.500/.636 slash in 55 at-bats (through April 30). Madrigal’s list of accomplishments is far too long to list here, but the most telling stat may be that Madrigal’s lowest batting average is .333, achieved in his freshman season. In addition to a stellar contact tool, Madrigal possess speed (27 stolen bases in 122 career games) and strong defense (.980 career fielding percentage) that teams crave in a middle infield prospect. Jose Altuve comparisons are too easy given the players’s similar statures, but in Madrigal’s case, Altuve is a worthy comparison.
Shane McClanahan, LHP, University of South Florida
Shane McClanahan has been on scouts’s radars for a while now, but most of the general public were unaware of the imposing lefty until Jheremy Brown of Perfect Game tweeted out the following video.
A 95 mph fastball from USF Shane McClanahan in on the hands. That's a BBCOR bat, not wood.
(c/o @UConnBaseball) pic.twitter.com/p5hMzvy3dw
— Jheremy Brown (@JBrownPG) May 13, 2017
While the broken metal bat may be the most recognizable moment in McClanahan’s career, his impressive numbers should not be overlooked. After missing his freshman year due to Tommy John surgery, McClanahan returned in 2017, totaling a 4-2 record with a 3.20 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 76 innings. McClanahan’s innings were limited due to the previous injury, and year two following the surgery has been nothing short of spectacular. Despite some inconsistent stretches, McClanahan owns a 5-5 record, accompanied by a 2.84 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. A fastball that can reach 100 mph and cruises in the low- to mid-90s, along with a plus changeup and average slider, makes McClanahan an intriguing pick. If the slider improves, McClanahan’s ceiling of a frontline starter should be reached.
Sleepers: Jarred Kelenic, OF, Waukesha West High School (WI); Matt Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge High School (AZ)