Overall the AL Central had a solid but unspectacular draft. Chicago only had one pick in the first three rounds to work with and stocked up on pitching arms as did the Royals and Indians. The Tigers took a high ceiling prep pitcher and then stocked up on college players that will hopefully help them sooner rather than later. The Twins grabbed a few big arms early and then was a little everywhere. Unlike the AL West which was top heavy with strong drafts by Houston and Texas and the rest with a “C” average or worse, the AL Central teams all had decent drafts without anyone taking an “A.” There are certainly some significant picks that are worth looking a little deeper.
Highest Ceiling Pick
#17 Brady Aiken LHP, CLE
Height – 6’4”
Weight – 210 lbs
School – IMG Academy, Post-Graduate Program
Expected Draft Range — #8 – #24
Signing Status — Signed for 2,513,280 ($119,680 Over Slot Value)
ETA – 2019
The #1 Overall pick from 2014 has taken a major fall from the top perch. After an initial agreement with the Astros last July, his medical records caused Houston to back out fail to sign the Left-Handed Prep Star. There is a lot to like about his “stuff” but the Astros ended up being right to be cautious as he tore his UCL in his first start for IMG Academy where he went to prepare for re-entering this draft. Although he never had any injury history in High School, many have jumped off his bandwagon with the Tommy John Surgery. He was one of the most polarizing prospects in this draft as scouts and experts were all over the spectrum regarding his value. Some think he was a steal at #17 others thought that was a reach due to the injury. There is always a risk that a player will not fully recover from this injury, but he is only 18-years-old and he has too much talent to give up on him at this point. His size and frame is conducive to recovery.
If we break down his pitch arsenal, he has three potential plus pitches. He already has a plus fastball with plus control and command. This alone is rare for a pitcher that is only 18. He also flashes plus hard curve and diving change. Bottom line is Cleveland must have read his medical records and felt this was not going to be a career long battle. If they are right, they got a future front line starter. If not, they wasted a mid-1st round pick and not the end of the world. It is worth the shot as they only have one pitching prospect (LHP Justus Sheffield) in their organizations Top 10 prospects. He is likely three to four years away from impacting the fantasy world, but dynasty leagues will be all over this guy and Indians fans should be excited about the potential. He officially signed with the Indians last week so there will be no repeat of last year’s fiasco.
#21 Ashe Russell RHP, KC
Height – 6’4”
Weight – 200 lbs
School – High School (IN)
Expected Draft Range — #12 – #42
Signing Status — Signed for $2,190,200 bonus ($6000 over slot)
ETA – 2019
This selection might be more of a gut feel than anything. Fangraphs had Russell ranked as their #37 draft prospect and had him going #27 in their final mock draft leading up to the actual draft. On the flip side, MLB.com and Baseball America had him ranked #14 and #17. I’m not sure why there was such a wide range on him, but I could have seen him going as high as #12 to the Marlins or drop to the end of the Competitive Balance round. Since Brady Aiken was no longer considered a prep pitcher, you could argue that Russell was the top prep pitcher in the draft. It seems that MLB clubs are skeptical on whether cold-weather States can produce top end players because the can’t play all year around and this might have been why there was such as split on Russell. The way I see it, spending the winter months working out and developing skills could actually be benefit to a prep pitcher’s career as they won’t have as many competitive innings on their arms at such a young age as the Florida and California kids do. Obviously the Royals are buying because they took him and signed him to an “over-slot” bonus to ensure he doesn’t honor his commitment to Texas A&M.
The 18-year-old is another rare prep pitcher with a lively plus fastball that sits in the low-90s and a plus slider that comes in 10-15 MPH slower. These pitches have a lot of life from his ¾ arm angle and made high school batters look silly. His ceiling is probably a #2 starter if he can develop his change-up which he didn’t really need in high school. He will need an above average third pitch to reach his potential and will likely need several years to work through the Royals system. His control is average and workable but mastering command of his two plus pitchers will likely determine how quickly he advances. Dynasty league owners will be stashing him immediately due to his talent, but he likely won’t impact redraft or standard keeper leagues until 2019.
#34 Christian Stewart OF, DET
Weight – 205 lbs
School – University of Tennessee
Expected Draft Range — Day 2
Signing Status — Signed for $1,795,100 bonus (at slot value)
ETA – 2018
Detroit was clearly looking for a polished college bat that could move quickly through their system. There was plenty of talent still on the board and they could have drafted a pitcher here (Kyle Funkhouser???) who would have immediately become their top pitching prospect in the organization. Their top two prospects (Steven Moya and Derek Hill) are already outfielders and it a little puzzling they would have gone OF here unless they believe he is something more than the experts and analysts. I’ve seen him listed anywhere between #66 and #98 in various pre-draft rankings.
Stewart has only one plus tool, his power. That being said, his swing does not have the loft needed to hit the ball out of the park with consistency. His hit tool is fringy and he strikes out a ton. He has improved his walk rate over his last season, but the overall package is not enough to warrant a 1st round pick. His glove, arm and wheels are below average and the Tigers are going to have to hone in on developing his power from gap power to plus power. He profiles as a LF or DH so the power development will be key to his future value and key on how quickly he reaches Detroit. I think it will take him a few years. Fantasy wise, owners should take a wait and see approach. No reason to stash him unless you have unlimited roster space in your minors. I’m not convinced he make a huge impact on your fantasy team at any point of his career.
Quickest Path to the Majors
#6 Tyler Jay LHP, MIN
Height – 6’1”
Weight – 175 lbs
School – University of Illinois
Expected Draft Range — #3 – #9
Signing Status — Signed for $3,889,500 bonus (at slot value)
ETA – 2016
Minnesota did well getting Jay at #6 as he is arguably the top LHP in the draft. This pick as the “Quickest Path to the Majors” is cheating in a way because he projects to be a quality starting pitcher in the Majors, but I can see another “Brandon Finnegan” type approach if Minnesota stays in the playoff chase. Jay has pitched nearly his entire college career out of the bullpen and his “stuff” and command could slide immediately into the Twins bullpen as an impact Left-handed specialists down the stretch. I considered Carson Fulmer (CWS) as my pick for quickest path as the White Sox have had recent history of rushing high draft picks to the South Side to help in the bullpen (Sale, Rodon) and later stretching them out to join the rotation. If the White Sox maintain their current pace and don’t make a run for the playoffs, there is really no reason to rush him and they can develop him as a starter right away and perhaps see him in 2016. Now back to Jay…the Twins do see him as a future starter, but since he is already in the mindset and stamina of a reliever, they could take advantage of that right away. Next year, they could assign him to A ball to develop him as a starter.
The reason why he is projected as a starter is because he has a four-pitch arsenal. He already commands a plus fastball and slider. He has a hard, diving curve-ball that flashes plus and a seldom used change that could be developed into at least an average pitch. Three plus pitches with command gives him a great chance of a ceiling of a #2/#3 starter. Even if Minnesota goes this route, he could progress quickly and reach the Majors in 2016 as a starter. Fantasy owners should have Jay on their radar immediately and be ready to snatch him off the waiver-wire if he sticks as a reliever for this season. He could give you a lift down the stretch in leagues with scoring systems that reward quality middle-relievers.
Best AL Central TEAM Draft
#17 Brady Aiken, LHP; #42 Triston McKenzie, RHP; #59 Juan Hillman, LHP
We all ready discussed Aiken in detail, but Cleveland came in looking to rebuild their pitching in their system with more than just one arm. Mission accomplished. By the end of Day of One of the draft, the Indians had added three Top 50 draft prospects that were considered 10 Top Prep Pitchers in the draft class. Cleveland obviously is willing to be patient with the young talent. All three pitchers will immediately become Top 5 pitching prospects in their organization and Top 10 organizational prospects overall. Since Aiken cost so much bonus money to sign, they are taking a risk that McKenzie might decide to fulfill his commitment to Vanderbilt. Hillman already signed at a discount. If they can get all three under contract, the Indians win the best draft for the AL Central. Let’s look a little deeper at these two lesser known Indians Day One picks.
Height – 6’5”
Weight – 160 lbs
School – High School (FL)
Signing Status – Unsigned
ETA – 2020
McKenzie has a tall, lanky frame that will need to fill out during his first few years in pro ball in order to turn his three above average pitches to plus pitches. His fastball already flashes plus despite only sitting in the low 90s. The fastball has good life and should increase in velocity as he bulks up. His curveball also shows plus potential and should improve as his body develops. He also can throw a change up which should keep hitters off balance. If they save enough money to pry him away from Vandy, he eventually because a #2/#3 type starter after four years or so developing in the Indians system.
Height – 6’5”
Weight – 160 lbs
School – High School (FL)
Signing Status – Signed for $825,000 ($216,900 Under Slot Value)
ETA – 2019
The Indians moved quickly to sign Hillman at an under slot deal that more than covered the bonus they had to give Brady Aiken and leaves just under $100k to get McKenzie signed too. That should be more than enough to sway him to sign.
Hillman is very polished for a prep pitcher, but he is still just 18-years-old and will need seasoning and development in the Indians system. He doesn’t have the ceiling of Aiken or even McKenzie, but he is a much safer risk. His fastball and curve are already above-average pitches and as he gets stronger so will the velocity and bite of those offerings. He has a more athletic build than McKenzie and is 20 lbs. heavier, but but his advanced command for a prep pitcher may help progress quicker than McKenzie through the system if he is more consistent with his delivery. He projects as a #3 starter. An interesting background piece on Hillman is that he was teammates with Nick Gordon , #5 overall draft pick in the 2014 draft, and Nick’s father, Tom “Flash” Gordon is Juan’s legal guardian.
Cleveland has a nice pitching staff currently with guys like Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. They have now set themselves to have a few nice arms to slot in when the current crop move on.
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