“That’s Amore!” Building for the Future: NL East Draft Breakdown
When I was growing up in the ’90s it always seemed like the National League was represented by teams from the NL East. The Braves were always a powerhouse, and the Mets and Marlins had their own tastes of greatness. There was a lot of pitching that helped these teams dominate their league foes as well as mass amounts of power. The NL West seems to be the current king of the mountain, but I have a hunch the power will shift back east soon. As of late, the Chicago Cubs have gotten a head start loading up on young bats, but you can never leave NL East teams out of the conversation. Last week, I broke down the NL West. They had teams that had arguably the best draft. This week, I want to shift focus to the opposite side of the country and breakdown the NL East.
The Phillies followed suit in the first round and selected prep shortstop Cornelius Randolph. It’s no secret that the longtime face of the franchise, Jimmy Rollins, is long gone, and now is the time to find his replacement for years to come. It’ll be hard to replace a player that meant so much to the city of Philadelphia. Not only was Rollins a phenomenal player, but he lived for the Phillies through good times and bad. Randolph brings hitting tools that are far superior to his high school peers. He was able to get the job done defensively in high school, but he will more than likely play second base, third base, or left field in professional baseball. It’s not a knock on his defensive abilities, but speaks more towards his arm strength and foot work. Randolph’s athletic ability has never been questioned, which could lead to the possibility of playing third base while he’s in the minors. Maikel Franco, the current incumbent third baseman, is only 22 and has been nothing short of exceptional since his arrival in Philly. It’s safe to say players like Franco will eventually push Randolph to left field.
Standing around 6’1″ and weighing in at a solid 205, Randolph has the size to be a solid hitter. He has the necessary time to add more muscle to his frame, but he looks to bring a combination of above-average hitting ability and some speed. As a senior, Randolph hit .528 with 4 HR and 18 RBI. It’s a small sample size, but he put up solid numbers with 53 at-bats in 17 games. In those 17 games, Randolph only struck out nine times. He was able to help on the base paths, swiping 18 bases without being caught stealing. As with many high school prospects, the sample size is too small to make an exact projection. Many times, organizations are going off potential alone. This being the case with Randolph, he has the size, hitting ability, and tools to succeed while in the minor leagues. I see him as a top of the order hitter that will make his living hitting balls into the gaps.
After Randolph, the Phillies continued the next three rounds stocking their minor league system with bats. Their second selection went to second baseman Scott Kingery out of the University of Arizona. Kingery is a slick fielder who shows great speed and the ability to flash power for his underwhelming size (5’10” 180lbs). While Kingery figures to stay at second base in professional ball, he played centerfield until this past season. Given his athletic ability, Kingery gives the Phillies many options if he ultimately plays in the outfield. The junior ranked 11th in Division I with a .392 average in 237 at-bats. Kingery’s 18 strikeouts in 237 at-bats make him a tough out.
In the first two rounds, the Phillies were able to land two prospects that can potentially solidify the middle infield. Either could end up in the outfield, but their ability to get on base and knowledge of the strike zone gives the Phillies hope for an organization that is in shambles. Cole Hamels is the only player that carries any value in trade deadline deals. I would’ve liked to see the Phillies go after a dominant pitcher with their first pick. Randolph could’ve been there in the second round, and with Brady Aiken, Phil Bickford, and Mike Nikorak available, they should’ve gone with a pitcher. Another option could have been prep outfielder Garrett Whitley. He has a mixture of offensive ability and speed to be the top prospect in any organization. He was one of the few five-tool talents in the draft. However, the Phillies needed to draft players with athletic ability to play multiples positions. They were able to do so with draft picks Cornelius Randolph and Scott Kingery.
The Atlanta Braves were able to stock up on prospects with six draft picks in the first three rounds. When I think of pitching, the Atlanta Braves have always been an organization that comes to mind first. Sticking with that notion, the Braves drafted left-handed pitcher Kolby Allard with the 14th pick in the first round. Allard was easily a top-ten talent in the 2015 draft, and the Braves may have landed not only the best high school arm, but possibly the best pitcher in the draft. Allard’s draft stock slid due to a stress fracture in his lower back at the beginning of his high school season. The injury is minor, and I don’t see it as any concern.
Allard brings an above-average fastball with a great curveball. He doesn’t carry great size, measuring 6′ 175lbs, but he reminds me of Sonny Gray from the left-hand side. In four years of varsity baseball in San Clemente, CA, Allard accumulated a 15-3 record with 164 strikeouts to 57 walks. His 1.74 ERA was phenomenal in 144.2 innings of work. For an organization that has groomed many dominant starting pitchers, there’s no reason to believe Allard won’t be the next stud Braves pitcher.
With their second pick, 28th in the first round, the Braves selected right-handed pitcher Mike Soroka out of Bishop Carroll High School in Alberta, Calgary. Soroka brings a three-quarters delivery with an above-average fastball and changeup. Soroka possesses the body frame (6’4″ 195lbs) to shoulder a starter’s work load. His low-90s fastball and sweeping curve allowed him to dominate opposing hitters. Reports suggested he made Russell Martin and Dalton Pompey uncomfortable while scrimmaging the Toronto Blue Jays. Drafting Allard and Soroka allow the Braves to add to their already dynamite pitchers in the lower levels of the minor league organization.
One of their most interesting picks was in the second round when they selected catcher Lucas Herbert, who was Kolby Allard’s high school catcher. Herbert is a power hitting catcher that was ultimately one of the best defensive catchers in the draft. As a senior, Herbert hit .417 with 8 HR and 28 RBI. Only 18, Herbert has about five years of minor league baseball ahead of him before he’s considered for a call-up to the Braves. If he can work on making better contact, there’s no reason to believe Herbert can’t be a top-10 catching prospect.
Overall, the Braves had a great draft. They were able to land many draft picks in the first two rounds and stocked up on pitching. Taking 12 pitchers within their first 14 picks, the Braves are looking to get back to their pitching dominated days of old. If you’re looking for an organization that can produce fantasy-relevant pitchers, the Braves are an organization to monitor moving forward. It wasn’t that long ago when the Braves featured a rotation consisting of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Denny Neagle, and Kevin Millwood.
New York Mets
The Mets screwed the pooch signing Michael Cuddyer. They lost their first round draft pick signing the 36-year-old outfielder. This hindered the team from adding one of the top prospects to their minor league system. With the 53rd pick in the second round, the Mets drafted 2015 Third Team All-American outfielder Desmond Lindsay. Lindsay possesses sprinter-like speed that will allow him to cover a lot of ground in center field. As a junior, Lindsay hit .473 with two home runs and 22 RBI. Adding to his impressive stat line, Lindsay stole 17 bases and scored 28 runs. Lindsay has all the upside to make an impact in the minor leagues. His tools and speed remind me of Ben Revere. The Mets could’ve gone with a more polished collegiate prospect, but instead drafted one of the most athletic players in this year’s draft.
Their second and third picks brought them left-handed pitcher Max Wotell and Miami third baseman David Thompson. Wotell has good size at 6’3″ 180lbs, but doesn’t make good use of his frame. He sits in the high-80s to low-90s with his fastball. He’s another prep athlete that was drafted solely on potential. There were other collegiate arms I would’ve drafted first, but the Mets were working with a strict budget.
For a team that had a below average draft, I like the Thompson pick. Thompson had a great year at Miami, hitting .333 with 19 HR and 87 RBI. His 43 walks to 27 strikeouts is something that speaks highly of his knowledge of the strike zone. Thompson may not be the best athlete by any means, but he has a power stroke that could allow him to become a premier power hitter in the minor leagues. It remains to be seen if he has enough athleticism to stick at third base with first base being the realistic option.
There were not many positives with the Mets’ draft. They put themselves in a bind losing their first round draft pick and suffered the consequences as a result. The organization drafted from a potential standpoint and didn’t answer any needs within the organization. There’s no reason why they didn’t take Mike Matuella out of Duke. He can easily be the steal of the draft going in the third round to the Texas Rangers. The Mets failed to draft a player that could’ve instantly become a top prospect in their minor league system.
Regardless of how one feels about the Marlins ownership, they always seem to develop talent. I give a lot of credit to Dan Jennings. He worked his way up from the bottom of the organization to become general manager. Now he’s in the dugout, and I’m not sure if that was a smart move.
With the 12th overall pick, the Marlins selected high school first baseman Josh Naylor. Naylor was a reach with a lot of proven collegiate talent on the board. I don’t know if Giancarlo Stanton was on their minds when they drafted this power hitting machine. Naylor is a top physical specimen, standing 6’1″ 225lbs. Naylor’s power can’t be matched in the draft, but he doesn’t possess any speed. This sends him to first base, or even makes him a potential trade piece of an AL team that can have him DH.
Pick 50 in the second round saw the Marlins select left-handed pitcher Brett Lilek out of Arizona State. The junior went 4-2 in 17 games (15 starts) with a 3.20 ERA. Command has been his downfall as he had a [66:41] K:BB. He’s projected to be a back-end starter, but could figure out his command as he progresses in the minor leagues. The Marlins second pick was one that could’ve been spent on a more dominant starter, such a Mike Matuella.
Cody Poteet was their fourth round pick who can be their best selection. The UCLA product is a small starter at 6’1″ 183lbs, but showed life on his fastball reaching 95 MPH. In 27 appearances, Poteet went 7-1 with a 2.45 ERA. He had 68 strikeouts to 30 walks, with a 8.35 K/9. Projected as another back-end starter, I like the life Poteet has on his fastball. Regardless of his size, he could throw bullets, but control will be the name of the game.
The Nationals were another team to lose their first round draft pick. It turns out that Max Scherzer was the type of player that you would be willing to lose a draft pick for. Scherzer has been nothing short of spectacular and has proven so in his previous two starts, one being a no-hitter. With arguably the best pitching prospect in Lucas Giolito, the Nationals went another route drafting outfielders with their first three picks.
The Nationals took LSU outfielder Andrew Stevenson with the 58th pick in the second round. The junior had a solid season stealing 26 bases to go along with 1 HR, 21 RBI, and 53 runs scored. He’s a defensive centerfielder that won’t offer much offensively, besides stealing bases. The pick was an interesting one, as there were better options if the Nationals were looking strictly for an outfielder. Their second pick in the second round saw them take a high school outfielder. Blake Perkins has the tools as far as defense and speed go, but his offensive ability isn’t what you’d want this early in the draft. The Nationals have power at the Major League level, so it’s safe to assume they were looking for defensive gems with the ability to cover a lot of ground and steal bases, with their speed.
After drafting three outfielders, the Nationals took a player whose name is pretty well-known around baseball: Mariano Rivera. He’s the son of former Major League closer, and Yankee-great, Mariano Rivera. Rivera III is smaller than his dad at 5’11” and sits in the low-to-mid 90s with a plus slider. One can only hope that his dad passed on his great cut fastball to his son. As a junior at Iona College, Rivera was 5-7 in 14 starts. He had a 2.65 ERA with 113 strikeouts to only 27 walks in 85.0 IP. The name alone may have been why he was drafted, but his stats were impressive in college. He’s projected to be a reliever, and a pretty good one at that.
The Nationals had a lot of options if they were gunning for an outfielder. They drafted two that are primarily known for their wheels, and it’s a wait and see approach as to whether they can hit professional pitching. There were many other options that could have provided more offensive production from the outfield position.
National League East Summary
Hands down, the Atlanta Braves had the best draft out of the National League East teams. They drafted two pitchers with their first two picks who have the ability to be top-of-the-line starters. They reached for a catcher in the second round, but it’s hard to argue with one of the best defensive catchers in the draft. The Phillies filled a need with their first pick, but passed on the likes of Brady Aiken, Mike Nikorak, Phil Bickford, and Garrett Whitley. I believe they could’ve done more with their first few picks, and instead settled for “maybe” rather than “will be” players. The Mets had arguably the worst draft of any NL East team. Losing your first round pick for a 36-year-old isn’t smart, and is a poor decision by GM Sandy Alderson. Drafting a pitcher like Mike Matuella could’ve made the loss less painful, but as many teams did, they passed on the big righty. As with all draft picks, only time will tell, but many organizations failed to draft players that could’ve immediately become top prospects in their respective organizations.
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