It’s early, and yet the college regular season is done, most high school players have wrapped and after this week’s college tournaments we’ll have just 64 teams still playing. We have seven weeks until this year’s MLB draft, and teams haven’t even begun their meetings. What a great time to project the first round!
This is, as I will remind you every time I post one of these, a projection of how I think the first round might shake out, based on the best information I have from sources in the industry and my own understanding of how certain teams and executives like to draft. It’s not my ranking of players, and it’s not who I would pick if I were each team. I ranked my top 50 a few weeks ago, and I’ll expand that to a Big Board of 100 soon.
Plenty of names you’ve seen high on draft rankings like mine or MLB Pipeline’s aren’t in this mock, but that’s not to say they’ve fallen as prospects – some first-round talents will be drafted later on and receive first-round bonuses, as Texas did last year with Brock Porter in the fourth round. So names like Tommy White, Dillon Head, Roch Cholowsky and Charlee Soto may all end up in the first round; or may just get paid the same amount with someone’s second or third picks. The omission of any particular name isn’t a reflection of their talent, but of the limited number of picks in the first round and the ways in which teams manipulate their draft bonus pools.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates – Dylan Crews, OF, LSU
I’m going to have to hear something fairly concrete to the contrary to put anyone else in this spot. I think you can make a credible argument for some other guys, notably Wyatt Langford, but Crews is the best bet, with a three-year track record of production, a season for the ages at the plate for the Tigers and the potential to reach the majors as fast as anyone in the draft. The old joke – really old, now that I think about it – was that no one ever got fired for buying from IBM. Dylan Crews is IBM, when that still meant something.
2. Washington Nationals – Paul Skenes, RHP, LSU
The Nats did go for the big ceiling last year with high school outfielder in Elijah Green, so I’m not going to just assume Mike Rizzo and company will take a college player here, but I also think Skenes’s ridiculous arm strength and size will be very hard for the Nats to pass up. Should the Pirates do something creative at No. 1, Crews goes here. I can’t imagine a scenario, barring injury, where Crews doesn’t go in the top two.
3. Detroit Tigers – Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Ind.) Community High
This is where it gets fun, as I could see the Tigers going with Clark or Langford or Jenkins, and if I were there I’d probably argue for Langford, who doesn’t have quite the ceiling of the two high schoolers but is 21 and has produced for two straight years in the SEC. The Tigers need a win somewhere, with their last three first-round picks all struggling or hurt this year, although 2019’s Riley Greene might be turning the corner at the plate. Taking Langford would offer the easiest “win” of that type.
4. Texas Rangers – Walker Jenkins, South Brunswick High (Southport, N.C.)
I’ve heard since March that the Rangers love Jenkins, although I also think they love Clark, and I’m not at all sure which player they prefer. I think of the top five teams, they’re the most likely to take a high schooler.
5. Minnesota Twins – Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida
There’s no bad scenario for the Twins in this draft: They pick fifth in a year when there are five legitimate top-of-the-draft prospects. Just take the one who’s left and call it a day. Maybe something really weird happens – the Rangers go nuts and take Noble Meyer or something – and you get a choice. It’s all upside. There may never have been a better year to pick fifth … and yet there are rumors they’re looking at Jacob Gonzalez and Jacob Wilson, and would really prefer not to take a high school player.
6. Oakland A’s – Kyle Teel, C, Virginia
I know the A’s like Teel, and his teammate Jake Gelof as well, and a mock that just goes chalk, more or less, puts Teel here. Teel isn’t quite in the top tier of this draft, but he’s better than everyone else, he’s produced and he plays a premium position. I’m sure the A’s, who got the short end of the draft lottery stick, are hoping someone above them reaches, pushing one of the top five down.
7. Cincinnati Reds – Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest
As much as the Reds are starting to build a contending rotation of homegrown players, you can never have too much pitching, and Lowder has clearly established himself as the second-best college starter in the draft. I’ve heard them with Lowder, Teel and Chase Dollander.
8. Kansas City Royals – Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon
This link has been going around for weeks, and would fit their college position player approach from last year’s first two rounds, although I’ve also heard about the Royals heavily scouting the last wave of high school position players — like Mitchell, Colin Houck, Colt Emerson and Sammy Stafura. I would guess that’s for their second pick, maybe as an overpay, but in 2021 the Royals reached for Frank Mozzicato and cut a below-slot deal with him to go over slot on some later picks.
9. Colorado Rockies – Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee
I’m not just assuming they’re taking a pitcher, but I know they’ve been sniffing around Dollander, who just had one of his most impressive starts of the year last week to close out the regular season, punching out 13 of 20 batters he faced against South Carolina. Some team might get the steal of the draft if they think they can fix whatever’s been ailing the Vols right-hander, who came into the year in the 1-1 mix and would still be there if he had the command or the slider he showed in 2022. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Rockies go for Enrique Bradfield Jr., or take one of the very athletic high school bats in the second tier, like Bryce Eldridge or Houck.
10. Miami Marlins – Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Mississippi
No one is even sure who’s ultimately making the pick in South Florida, although I think the pressure on GM Kim Ng is increasing and they’re more likely to play it safe in the first round with someone like Gonzalez or Wilson. They’ve been heavy on Maryland infielder Matt Shaw, who lacks the defensive value of those other two guys but offers more bat. If that desire for safety is not true, or just not a factor, I could see them being the team to go all in on prep lefty Thomas White, whom they’ve scouted heavily.
11. Los Angeles Angels – Arjun Nimmala, SS, Strawberry Crest High (Dover, Fla.)
I’ve heard Nimmala, who’ll be a darling of models because he’s 17 until the fall, Houck and Florida Atlantic slugger Nolan Schanuel here. I do not see the common throughline for that trio of players.
12. Arizona Diamondbacks – Colin Houck, SS, Parkview High (Lilburn, Ga.)
Houck here has some legs, as the connection keeps coming up, and I think they’d be in the mix for Nimmala as well, or maybe his fellow Florida prep infielder Aidan Miller.
13. Chicago Cubs – Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland
Shaw is one of the best pure hitters in the draft class with metrics to match, something the Cubs are clearly aware of given their choice of Cade Horton with their first pick last year. I could see them going for Stanford shortstop Tommy Troy or Vandy centerfielder Enrique Bradfield Jr., as well.
14. Boston Red Sox – Tommy Troy, SS, Stanford
I think this is pretty open, with any of the guys I have just ahead of Boston’s pick also possibilities, as well as Shaw. I could see the Red Sox being on Kevin McGonigle given their predilection for high school hitters with potential plus hit tools with their first picks in 2021 (Nick Yorke) and 2022 (Mikey Romero).
15. Chicago White Sox – Noble Meyer, RHP, Jesuit High (Portland, Ore.)
I also think they could be the high team on Florida right-hander Hurston Waldrep, who definitely fits in with some of the college starters they’ve favored over the last 10-plus years. This is just me talking here, but in their situation, with a weak farm system and their best prospect on the shelf, I’d be all over some of the college bats likely to be around here – Troy, Shaw, Bradfield (if he gets here), Colton Ledbetter and so on.
16. San Francisco Giants – Enrique Bradfield Jr., OF, Vanderbilt
I’ve heard the Giants with Bradfield, Shaw and Eldridge, who’s sort of a two-way player in the sense as their first pick last year, Reggie Crawford. That said, I’ve heard the Giants quite a bit on some high school pitching, maybe for their second pick, and they’re one of the teams linked to lefty Thomas White.
17. Baltimore Orioles – Bryce Eldridge, 1B/RHP, James Madison High (Vienna, Va.)
Eldridge is an exit velocity darling but also a great athlete with a plus arm, and the Orioles have gone after those exit velo guys with high picks in recent years. With Jackson Holliday doing what he’s doing in High A, I would have to think the Orioles would be very willing to go back to the high school ranks.
18. Milwaukee Brewers – Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida
The Brewers haven’t used their first pick on a high school player since 2018 (Brice Turang) … and I’m not predicting that to change, at least not now. The one throughline connecting most of their first-rounders is that they’ve targeted higher-ranked guys who’ve slipped – players who were ranked higher, generally, by those of us on the outside of teams than where they were drafted. That could be Waldrep, Florida’s No. 1 starter whose splitter is one of the best pitches in the class, but who’s underperformed his stuff with a near-5 ERA. I think this would be Shaw’s floor, too.
19. Tampa Bay Rays – Kevin McGonigle, SS, Monsignor Bonner High (Drexel Hill, Pa.)
I’ve heard them on some high school arms as well, and I can’t imagine they’d pass on Shaw or Troy if either got this far. I wonder if they’d go after someone like Illinois prep outfielder Dillon Head, who offers premium defense in center and a ton of athleticism, and thus upside on both sides of the ball. That’s just my own speculation, though.
20. Toronto Blue Jays – Mac Horvath, OF, North Carolina
This link popped up a few times, as the Blue Jays are the one team in the first round clearly on the Tar Heels slugger. I’ve heard them more with college bats, but they took a high school pitcher first last year, so I doubt that they’re restricting themselves in any way.
21. St. Louis Cardinals – Nolan Schanuel, 1B, Florida Atlantic
Schanuel’s stat line is just absurd this year – 67 walks and just 14 whiffs, along with a .460/.623/.888 triple-slash for Florida Atlantic – but he’s dinged for being limited to first base and playing in Conference USA rather than the SEC or ACC. The power is real, with exit velocities to back it up, though, and he’s very likely to go in the first round.
22. Seattle Mariners – Brayden Taylor, 3B, TCU
Taylor started the year as a potential top-10 pick, hit a slump early in the season, then picked it up enough to stay in the first round but nowhere near preseason expectations. Seattle has three picks in the top 30, and the expectation is they’ll go safe with one pick, probably this one, taking a college player who might even go a little under slot (Schanuel would fit, too) so they can go hog wild at picks Nos. 29 and 30.
23. Cleveland Guardians – Colt Emerson, SS, John Glenn High (New Concord, Ohio)
Rumor is they covet Arjun Nimmala, whose age (17 until November) pours gasoline on their model and lights it on fire, although Emerson is also fairly young for the class, only turning 18 the week before the draft. I suppose the Guardians’ model would recommend a 12-year-old if he were somehow draft eligible. Anyway, I’ve heard them mostly on hitters, college or high school, which makes sense given all the injuries they’ve had with high school pitchers they took with first or sandwich-round picks (Ethan Hankins, Brady Aiken, Danny Espino, Lenny Torres). Wake Forest third baseman Brock Wilken would be a good value pick here, and he’s also young for his class.
24. Atlanta – Aidan Miller, 3B, JW Mitchell High (Trinity, Fla.)
Miller missed a good chunk of the spring with a broken hamate and never quite looked like the hitter he was last summer and fall, but that is probably going to be an opportunity for a team drafting later in the first round that’s willing to take a little risk.
25. San Diego Padres – Blake Mitchell, C, Sinton (Texas) High
I’ve heard Mitchell as high as the Royals at No. 8, and I’ve heard him ending up in the 20s. The Padres don’t pick again until No. 96, so I don’t think they’d try for someone like Thomas White if he got here, but there’s a whole mess of athletic high school hitters they might go after, including Dillon Head, Lombard or Jonny Farmelo.
26. New York Yankees – Sammy Stafura, SS, Walter Panas High (Cortlandt, N.Y.)
The Yankees have been heavy on Stafura as his season’s ending, perhaps thinking they’ll find the next Anthony Volpe where they found the last one, within spitting distance of the Bronx. I’ve heard them with Eldridge, White and Lombard, too.
27. Philadelphia Phillies – Brandon Sproat, RHP, Florida
This would be a very Dave Dombrowski pick, which isn’t how they drafted last year. Sproat’s a hard-throwing and well-known college starter who should at least get to Double A quickly and could either end up in a major-league bullpen in a year or be a valuable player to trade this winter.
28. Houston Astros – Colton Ledbetter, OF, Mississippi State
They took a college outfielder last year, Drew Gilbert, who’s off to a great (if park-inflated) start to his pro career this spring. They’re also heavy on Stafura.
29. Seattle Mariners – George Lombard Jr., SS, Gulliver Prep (Miami)
30. Seattle Mariners – Jonny Farmelo, OF, Westfield High (Chantilly, Va.)
I’m listing these two players together since they’re both Seattle picks and you can’t really discuss one without discussing both. We’ve seen teams have three picks in the top 30ish before – the Yankees had three of the top 32 in 2013, taking Aaron Judge with the last of them – but I don’t think it’s happened under this bonus pool system, so the Mariners have to think about how best to allocate their pool allotment. The best guess right now is they take a college player at No. 22, trying to go a little under slot there, and then take a pair of high-ceiling high school players with these picks, possibly going over slot for one or both. Farmelo is definitely that, while Lombard has some interest all over the 20s and the early supplemental round based on his upside and relative youth, since he turns 18 next week. I would bet, right now at least, that all three players would be hitters.
(No. 29 is a prospect promotion incentive pick. No. 30 is a competitive balance round A pick.)
A few other names I’ve heard potentially getting into the first round, beyond those assigned to teams here or mentioned in the intro: Joe Whitman, who has exploded in the last six weeks to go from unused at Purdue in 2022 to the top college lefty in the draft as Kent State’s No. 1 starter; Yohandy Morales, third baseman at Miami; and Ralphy Velazquez, catcher at Huntington Beach High in California. I also think Texas right-hander Tanner Witt, who’s made four brief appearances in his return from Tommy John surgery, will go somewhere in the sandwich round or the very top of the second.
(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos: Matthew Hinton / AP Photos, Team USA, John Korduner / Getty Images)