The crop of talent for the 2019 Draft appears to be one of the most imbalanced in recent memory. Quality position prospects abound all over the diamond, while question marks surround the best pitchers available.
MLB Pipeline’s new Draft Top 50 Prospects list reflects this dichotomy, starting with six straight hitters at the top. A lot will change before the Orioles exercise the No. 1 overall pick on June 3, but only once has a Draft started with as many as five consecutive position players. Justin Upton (D-backs), Alex Gordon (Royals), Jeff Clement (Mariners), Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals) and Ryan Braun (Brewers) were the first five selections in the 2005 Draft, which coincidentally is considered the strongest so far this millennium.
“If you’re in the hunt for pitching up top, this might not be the best year for it, especially with the college arms,” an American League scouting director said. “It’s definitely a position-player Draft from what I’ve seen over the summer. It’s better than what it’s been the last couple of years. It’s almost a little scary how good the hitters are compared to the pitchers.”
The consensus among clubs is that the top tier of 2019 prospects includes as few as one and no more than three position players: Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, Colleyville (Texas) Heritage High shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and California first baseman Andrew Vaughn. They’re also the three most highly decorated prospects in the ’19 class.
Rutschman won Most Outstanding Player honors at the College World Series, where he helped the Beavers capture a national title to cap a breakout sophomore season in which he batted .408/.505/.628 and set school records with 102 hits and 83 RBIs. He’s a switch-hitting catcher who’s just starting to harness what could be plus power, and he’s also a quality receiver with a strong arm.
The son of Bobby Witt, the No. 3 overall pick in 1985 en route to a 16-year pitching career in the big leagues, Witt Jr. won the High School Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game and also Most Valuable Player Award honors at the Under Armour All-America Game, the States Play Series and the 18-and-under Pan American Championships in Panama. He’s a potential five-tool shortstop who comes with some mild hittability concerns, but also plus raw power, speed, arm strength and defense.
“In 1999, we had the two Joshes [Hamilton and Beckett] and then everybody else,” a National League scouting official said. “It could be a similar situation this year with Rutschman and Witt. Bobby Witt’s kid is certainly one of the most exciting kids I’ve seen in a long time. You have to go back a long way to see a shortstop with those tools.”
Some teams would group Vaughn, the reigning Golden Spikes Award winner, with Rutschman and Witt. He’s the best offensive player available, a .402/.531/.819 hitter as a sophomore who draws raves for his ability to barrel balls, hit for power and control the strike zone.
There’s plenty of depth beyond that trio. On the college side, there’s another catcher ticketed for the top of the draft in Baylor’s Shea Langeliers, a five-tool sleeper in Missouri outfielder Kameron Misner and potential impact bats such as Texas Tech third baseman Josh Jung, Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday and North Carolina first baseman Michael Busch. Scouts usually bemoan the lack of college shortstops, but this year, there are five who could factor into the first round (even if they might not all stay at the position): UNLV’s Bryson Stott, Texas A&M’s Braden Shewmake, Auburn’s Will Holland, N.C. State’s Will Wilson and Clemson’s Logan Davidson.
Along with Witt, shortstop C.J. Abrams (Blessed Trinity Catholic High, Roswell, Ga.) and outfielders Jerrion Ealy (Jackson Prep, Flowood, Miss.) and Maurice Hampton (University High, Memphis, Tenn.) headline an impressive group of premium high school athletes. Ealy and Hampton are also four-star football recruits, with the former a running back committed to Mississippi and the latter a cornerback earmarked for Louisiana State. Outfielder Corbin Carroll (Lakeside School, Seattle) is one of the best pure hitters in the Draft, third baseman Rece Hinds (IMG Academy) may have the most raw power available and third basemen Brett Baty (Lake Travis High, Austin, Texas) and Tyler Callihan (Providence School, Jacksonville, Fla.) combine the ability to hit for average and power.
“You’ll see position players, and especially the college bats, move up into the top half of the first round,” an NL scouting director said. “You could see 18-20 bats in the first round, because it’s just not a great class of pitching.”
MLB Pipeline’s top-rated pitcher is right-hander Carter Stewart, who went No. 8 overall to the Braves in the 2018 Draft but didn’t sign after a disagreement over the severity of a wrist injury that hampered him at the end of his senior season at Eau Gallie High (Melbourne, Fla.). Stewart, who had the best curveball in the ’18 class as well as a fastball that reached 98 mph, is expected to enroll at Eastern Florida State Junior College for the spring semester.
There’s also uncertainty with the top arms at four-year colleges, all of whom are left-handers: Duke’s Graeme Stinson, Kentucky’s Zack Thompson and Texas Christian’s Nick Lodolo. Stinson has to prove he can succeed and hold up as a starter after relieving for most of his college career, and Thompson missed two months last spring with an elbow injury that didn’t require surgery. Lodolo was the highest unsigned pick in the 2016 Draft (No. 41 overall, Pirates) but has been more respectable than dominant with the Horned Frogs.
Clubs consider high school pitching to the be the riskiest Draft demographic, and prep righties often seem to last longer than they should. Brennan Malone (IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.), Daniel Espino (Georgia Premier Academy, Statesboro, Ga.) and Matthew Allan (Seminole, Fla., High) are the premier power arms among prepsters. Former All-Star Al Leiter’s son, Jack (Delbarton School, Morristown, N.J.), is the most polished high school hurler, while two-way star Spencer Jones (La Costa Canyon High, Carlsbad, Calif.) is the best left-hander.
“This is a good Draft. I like it,” a second NL scouting official said. “There’s not a lot of pitching at the top, but there are a lot of bats to go get.”
All players, as always, are given grades on the 20-to-80 scouting scale for all tools or pitches. These are future grades, a reflection of what the scouting industry thinks each of these amateur players can become in the future. Here are the top grades for each tool and pitch.
Hit: 60 — Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State; Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California; Riley Greene, Hagerty (Fla.) HS; Corbin Carroll, Lakeside (Wash.) HS
Power: 60 — Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California; Rece Hinds, 3B, IMG Academy (Fla.)
Run: 75 — CJ Abrams, SS, Blessed Trinity Catholic (Ga.) HS; Jerrion Ealy, OF, Jackson Prep (Miss.)
Arm: 70 — Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor
Field: 60 — Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State; Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Colleyville Heritage (Texas) HS; Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor; Mike Toglia,, 1B/OF, UCLA; Nasim Nunez, SS, Collins Hill (Ga.) HS
Fastball: 70 — Brennan Malone, RHP, IMG Academy (Fla.); Daniel Espino, RHP, Georgia Premier Academy; Ryne Nelson, RHP, Oregon
Curveball: 65 — Carter Stewart, RHP, Eastern Florida State JC
Slider: 65 — Graeme Stinson, LHP, Duke
Changeup: 65 — Nick Lodolo, LHP, TCU
Control: 55 — Jack Leiter, RHP, Delbarton (N.J.) HS