“That’s Amore!” Building for the Future: NL West Draft Breakdown
Think about something you’ve wanted more than anything in life. The hairs stick up on the back of your neck, the butterflies start fluttering in your stomach, and a big smile appears upon your face. Nothing beats that feeling, and it’s something we never want to leave. It gives us hope and makes us human. That’s the feeling many baseball players had on draft day. Many players had their dreams come true. Dreams that started at an early age and was their main focus throughout their Little League, high school, and collegiate careers.
Building for the future is a key aspect for all organizations. Not all organizations have the luxury of writing checks like the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers. Clubs, such as the Oakland A’s, have to go other routes to build an organization that can put a competitive team on the field. Yes, money talks, but having brains behind the scenes is just as important. Naturally, organizations swing and miss on many prospects, but every blue moon they hit the nail on the head by drafting the face of their franchise.
I want to start the first piece of a three piece set by breaking down the draft of the National League West. It’s a great division to start with as the Arizona Diamondbacks had the number one overall pick in the draft. On a side note, Vanderbilt saw three players drafted within the first twenty-five picks. It’s safe to say they’ve become a pipeline of MLB talent.
Vanderbilt University was the ultimate winner in the draft. Not only did they have six players go in the first six rounds of the draft, but saw Dansby Swanson go first overall to the Diamondbacks. Arizona could’ve gone with high school shortstop Brendan Rodgers, arguably the best player in the draft, but Swanson deserved to be the number one pick. He is destined to stay at shortstop and gives the Diamondbacks a solid shortstop for years to come. He may not have the strongest arm out of all the middle infielders, but has the tools to be defensively sound at the Major League level.
Swanson has shown the ability to get on base with a great mixture of speed and decent power. He’s going to need to add some muscle if he wants the power to reflect at the Major League Level. He doesn’t possess great size, standing at 6′ and weighing 170lbs. The past two seasons, at Vanderbilt, Swanson hit .333 and .350. 2015 brought a huge jump in the home run category going from three in 2014 to 15 this past season. His OBP of .442 (124th in Div. I) and .661 SLG brought about an OPS of 1.103. It’s safe to say he had an incredible season. One of the stats that really stood out to me was his .375 BABIP.
Projecting Swanson’s arrival in Arizona will be decided on him making adjustments on swing and misses. There’s no question that he can hit, but there could be a learning phase when it comes to strikeouts at the professional level. Realistically, Swanson should arrive with Arizona in 2017. He will make an immediate impact offensively, as well as defensively. He can easily have a great career as a number two hitter, but will probably start off batting somewhere at the end of the lineup. Upon his arrival, Swanson will make an immediate impact on fantasy teams, and should be on dynasty radars immediately. Playing a position that isn’t as deep as others, he’s projected to be a top-10 shortstop.
After Swanson, the Diamondbacks didn’t seem to go after prized possessions. With their second and third picks they took TCU left-handed pitcher Alex Young and righty Taylor Clarke. Both were starters at their respective universities, but don’t possess any mesmerizing pitches. It’s safe to say the Diamondbacks loaded up on pitchers that will more than likely end up relievers. Overall, the Diamondbacks got arguably one of the best players in the draft. After that, it was a total crap shoot.
The Rockies need to move Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, and start rebuilding their organization. These two players can bring back top talent, but it will be up to the owner and general manager to agree on moving Tulowitzki, the face of their franchise. Moving Tulo became easier as the Rockies drafted high school shortstop Brendan Rodgers with the number three draft pick. Reports suggested Rodgers was the best available player in the draft, but I can understand why the Diamondbacks and Astros passed on the high school star. The best player, yes, but he won’t be getting to the Majors before Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman. As with many high school players, there will be growing pains endured while learning to hit pitchers that consistently throw in the mid-to-upper 90s. With that being said, he did show the ability to hit velocity while facing some of the best prep pitchers in the country.
Rodgers possesses a polished swing and the ability to hit for power to all parts of the field. His strong arm and good hands will allow him to stay at shortstop all the way to the Major Leagues. Playing in Coors Field makes him a 25+ home run candidate. He’s another shortstop standing right at 6′, but has mass, already weighing in at 195lbs. Immediately, he has to be on the radar for dynasty owners. No, he won’t be owned for another four to five years, as I project this time frame to be a projection as to when he will arrive in Denver.
The Rockies organization is in need of pitching. Their prospects haven’t made the smooth transition to the big leagues, and they were able to address this need in the draft. Within the first nine rounds, the Rockies selected eight pitchers. Of the eight, seven were right handed. With their second pick (27th overall) in the first round, the Rockies selected right-hander Mike Nikorak who was a projected top-15 pick. Nikorak has been clocked at 97 MPH frequently, and possesses the ability to have a dominant curveball. The main issue moving forward is his mechanics. He needs to consistently get over his front side, which would make his curveball more effective. This will be an easy flaw to fix, and he’ll have all the necessary time to develop in the minors. At 6’5″ 205 lbs, he has the desirable size to be a frontline starter. Within the next few years, Nikorak will become the top pitching prospect within the Rockies organization. Rodgers and Nikorak will not only be the top Rockies prospects, but will easily be in the mix for the top prospects in all of baseball. Out of the 30 Major League teams, the Rockies had the best draft and answered the call to many needs.
San Diego Padres
What can be said about the San Diego Padres? They have a rookie general manager who was able to change the talent level within one off-season. They were able to bring in talent, but at a cost of their first and second round draft picks. Their first pick was lost after signing James Shields, and they gave up their second pick to land coveted closer Craig Kimbrel. Honestly, I don’t think it was a hard choice to surrender these picks for the likes of Shields and Kimbrel. That being said, the Padres made their first pick (51 overall) in the second round and selected big righty Austin Smith. The high schooler is a hard-thrower who has hit 96 MPH several times, and throws consistently in the low-90s. He’s shown the ability to throw a good curveball and will have all the necessary time to master his pitches in the minor leagues.
After Smith, the Padres continued with pitching and grabbed Jacob Nix. Nix, if you recall last season, was rejected by the Astros after being selected in the fifth round. After being draft in 2014, Nix passed his physical, was offered a contract, and then had the deal pulled. It’s easy to see why the Astros aren’t a desirable organization after failing to land 2014 draft picks Brady Aiken and Nix. That being said, Nix has found a more desirable organization in Southern California. He comes at value to the Padres as a pitcher who brings a physical presence with the ability to throw in the mid-90s. As with Smith, Nix is still a teen who will spend a lot of time in the minor leagues before he is ready to get his call to “The Show.” For an organization that is loaded with offensive talent, the Padres did themselves a favor by landing two top pitching prospects. Of their draft picks, Smith and Nix will have the best chance to make names for themselves at the MLB level.
San Francisco Giants
Of all the draft results, the Giants had the most interesting. Their first three picks have all had injury issues. Their first pick (18th overall) was right-handed pitcher Phil Bickford. Two seasons ago, Bickford went number nine overall to the Toronto Blue Jays. He wasn’t signed due to an undisclosed injury and played for Cal State Fullerton for one season. After leaving, Bickford went to the College of Southern Nevada and lead JUCO in strikeouts. Bickford is another tall, big righty that throws in the upper-90s. He has the ability to reach the radar levels of Matt Harvey, but will need to polish his mechanics. A month shy of his 20th birthday, Bickford will have some time to spend in the minor leagues. There’s no reason to believe Bickford can’t make an appearance on the Giants roster within the next three seasons. He has all the necessary tools and size to develop into a dominant pitcher. Again, mechanics will be the main focus while developing into a Major League-ready pitcher.
After Bickford, the Giants selected first baseman Christopher Shaw with the 31st overall pick. Shaw is a typical left-handed power hitter. This past season, for Boston College, Shaw hit .319 with 11 HR and 43 RBI. He had 26 strikeouts in 144 at-bats, and this could possibly translate to a strikeout every four at-bats. There is no questioning his power, but what remains to be seen is the number of strikeouts that will occur while facing pitchers that are more polished in the minor leagues. With an organization that hasn’t received much production from the first base position in recent years, it’s easy to see why the Giants took a shot at one of the best available first baseman.
In the second round (61st overall), the Giants chose left-handed pitcher Andy Suarez out of the “U.” As a freshman, Suarez underwent labrum surgery, but rebounded nicely in 2013. Suarez is your typical left-handed finesse pitcher. He’s doesn’t strikeout many batters, but has a repertoire of four pitches and the ability to change speeds (96 MPH max) with control. Already 22, Suarez could be one of the players to reach the Majors the fastest out of all the 2015 draft players. He’s an interesting player to monitor over the next two seasons, as solid left-handed pitchers are hard to come by.
Los Angels Dodgers
Loading up on position players from the international pool, the Dodgers made it a point to focus on pitching during the draft. Seven of their first nine picks were pitchers. Their first pick (24th overall) was Walker Buehler out of Vanderbilt. Buehler doesn’t possess the typical starter frame standing at 6’2″ 160 lbs. Nevertheless, Buehler could secure the backend of the Dodgers’ rotation in years to come, bringing a plus curveball while hovering in the low-90s with his fastball. Because of his frame, the ability to shoulder the starter work load could be an issue. Arm injuries can occur as well, as wearing down during the latter parts of a baseball season occurs. Getting ahead of hitters early in the count will be the key to his salvation. This will allow him to control at-bats and pitch deeper into games. Thus, lessening his workload, and wear and tear on his body. Buehler reminds me of a more talented version of Cubs pitching prospect C.J. Edwards. I see his future as a top reliever.
After Buehler, the Dodgers took right-handed pitcher Kyle Funkhouser with the 35th overall pick. Taller and bigger than Buehler, Funkhouser possesses the body to eat up innings. He was projected to go top-5, but had a poor season. Before this season, Funkhouser featured velocity and command. Due to falling in the draft, Funkhouser and Buehler are value picks to the Dodgers. They both could have gone in the earlier, but the Dodgers landed players that could develop into gems while spending time in the minors.
With their third pick (second round, 61st overall), the Dodgers reached for Stanford commit Mitch Hansen. Only 19, Hansen is a solid route runner to fly balls. Possessing great strength, Hansen has the ability to develop into a hitter that makes high contact while posting above-average power. With Hansen, the Dodgers were able to land yet another talented outfielder to develop in their minor league system.
National League West Summary
Of the five NL West teams, the Rockies were able to land the best prospects. It will be four to five years before any crack a Major League roster, but the potential is there for these players to develop into solid Major Leaguers. Of all the players, Brendan Rodgers (COL) should be the best of the group. Dansby Swanson (ARI) and Andy Suarez (SF) are the most likely to reach the Majors first. It’s easy to say the NL West now possess two of the top shortstop prospects in all of baseball. They should start catching your attention within the next two seasons, and will be on your “watch list” within that time span.
The fact that baseball is unique makes the Major League draft different from any other sports’. Unlike the NFL and NBA, most players will spend two to five seasons in a team’s minor league system. In the NFL and NBA, teams draft talent in which a lot can make an impact the following season. Even in soccer, teams will make transfers for players that fit their desired formation and can make an immediate impact. Baseball brings more grooming and mechanical flaws to workout than in any other sport. Very rarely do players jump straight from the draft to a Major League roster. I put these players in a different pool compared to international players that jump directly onto a MLB roster. It’s always good to keep an eye on top draft picks, but it’s even better to watch the players who are developing ahead of their peers within an organization. This can only aid to the future success of your redraft, keeper, and dynasty leagues.
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