Transcript: ESPN MLB Insider Kiley McDaniel Previews the 2021 MLB Draft
ESPN MLB Insider and draft expert Kiley McDaniel answered questions Thursday about the upcoming 2021 MLB Draft. McDaniel will be a signature part of ESPN’s national telecast of the first round of the of the 2021 MLB Draft on Sunday, July 11, from 7 p.m. – 10:30 p.m., showcasing the first MLB Draft held during All-Star Week. McDaniel’s Mock Drafts, Top 100 prospects and MLB Draft storylines are available on ESPN.com.
For more information on ESPN’s All-Star and MLB Draft coverage, visit ESPN Press Room.
Kiley McDaniel: The two quick things I’ll hit at the top, just because I think it will be a recurring theme as we go through this, is, A, the Draft does not have a generational, huge standout, obvious best prospect. I feel like there’s a top six, you could argue as many as eight. I could run through those names if anybody wants to prompt me — that are essentially the same. If I put them in top 100 right now, they’d be all between 30 and 80. And I guarantee you this winter they’ll be in a different order no matter what order I have them in before the Draft.
Any sort of, “how did your top overall prospect go sixth?” That’s why, because they’re all kind of the same, and so prices will matter. Prices have not been given from any — as far as I know, any family to any agent or from any agent to any team. That’s why nothing’s been decided yet. Because they’re so close, the prices matter, and the prices aren’t known.
That’s the big thing at the top of the Draft, is why does nobody know, and it’s because of those reasons.
Q: Couple of Yankee questions. One, I wanted to know if you think there’s any area they need to focus on in the Draft because of the farm system. And could you give a progress report on the last two No. 1 picks. Austin Wells is hitting okay in Tampa, but I hear from scouts he’s really struggling at catcher. And Anthony Volpe, a Jersey kid, is down there and also and having a great year so far.
Kiley McDaniel: The Yankees, the farm system is one of those that is strong across the board, a lot of depth, a lot of solid players. If there’s a criticism, it’s that there’s not a lot of slam dunk, close to the Big Leagues, top 100 types.
I don’t think they come into this Draft thinking we need to address something. Because at the juncture that they’re picking, you can consider needs because there are so many guys that are seen as about the same once you get outside that top tier.
I don’t think they’ll be leaning one way or another. I’ve heard them tied to pretty much every demographic. There’s some specific players I think they might be more interested in than others, but I don’t think there’s like, oh, we need a college pitcher or whatever it is.
In terms of Wells, he makes sense as a catcher now more than 10 years in the past because he has the skill set that would fit in the automatic strike calling, robo ump, whatever you want to call it, future. I think a lot of people think could be happening as soon as next year, and maybe on the longer end more three years from now. So basically by the time he’s in the Big Leagues and needs to be playing, he could be seen as a catcher, whereas right now, in today’s Big League, maybe he isn’t seen as a catcher.
That was the risk when they drafted him, is he can hit, he has a good approach and he has some power. Is he a catcher, first baseman? That will become a little rosier as they sort of shift.
So in that regard I think you can kind of scout him based on his stat line, age versus level, those sorts of basic things, knowing that the position thing will just get better as you go.
Also Yankees had a pretty good track record of turning guys, Josh Breaux being one example of guys that aren’t seen as fantastic catchers, into better catchers. So that’s another thing in his favor.
Anthony Volpe was a — I guess you could say more of like a make contact, field the ball at shortstop, and you like all the makeup and all the things that you would project in terms of him improving going forward.
And then this year the approach, the power so far, the contact, it’s all been better than you thought it would be. I would say he’s probably ahead of the curve at this point, which also he played high school with Jack Leiter, who also is probably ahead of what you thought he would be, or else he probably would have been offered a lot more money out of high school.
I would say arrow up on both of those guys. Stronger on Volpe than Wells. And I would expect the Yankees to embrace all four demographics, not necessarily lean in to a need.
Q: Does Jack Leiter project as a No. 1 starter down the road in your mind?
Kiley McDaniel: I wouldn’t say project because that implies it’s expected, and I would say, given the series I did at ESPN, there’s no more than maybe as many as 12 aces at any given time. Saying a guy will be one of the top 12 pitchers in baseball as an expectation, I think, is too high. But in terms of, say, the last couple of drafts, and this Draft especially, by far the best odds to be an ace, maybe that’s one in three. But one in three is wildly high for perennial All-Star.
I think most of the guys in this Draft are like, hey, there’s like a 20 percent chance he could be a guy that everybody knows his name couple years from now, and that’s why these guys go at the top, whereas the guys at the back of the first rounds, it’s like five percent chance he becomes that guy.
Q: Rob Metzler’s reign, curious what you think how these first five have gone, and can you define their philosophy for me?
Kiley McDaniel: I would say they have a pretty clear philosophy on the — for hitters, I think it’s pretty clear, which is hit over power, middle infielders that are not necessarily projected as slam dunk shortstops, but they have a pretty good track record improving guys up the defensive spectrum, improving performance on that end of things.
We’ve seen this with — I guess you could look at their prospect list. There’s like ten middle infielders at the top of the list. That’s something they lean into for sure.
As you get lower down the board, not as many middle infielders with hit-first profiles, then they’ll open up to other sorts of players.
And they tend otherwise to lean into upside, whether it’s high school pitching with JJ Goss; Shane McClanahan is an upside version of a college pitcher; Nick Schnell, an upside version of a non-middle infielder, when they go non-middle infielder hitter, if they’re going to look for upside. Once you get later in the Draft, upside doesn’t really exist anymore for slot. And then they start filling holes.
I would say, in general, top three rounds, it’s hit first middle infielder and then upside, I think are probably the two things they lean into the most.
And generally sort of reviewing their approach in the Draft and success, I think they’re seen as one of the top five to top 10 groups in terms of domestic amateur scouting. They’ve probably done a little better than the average team would do, and especially with those parts of the demographics they lean into. I think it’s because they found success there.
I think Shane McClanahan is a good example of a guy that was seen as a real risk, and it’s obviously really worked out so far. You can extend that to Taylor Walls and a couple of other guys that have worked out.
Q: With the Royals being seventh, you mentioned the six to eight guys, I would like to hear sort of how you see that group just because of where the Royals are picking and it could be intriguing options by the time their pick comes around.
Kiley McDaniel: In terms of the players or odds to be picked?
Q: Of who are — who is in that top group, in your mind, that six to eight that you said they’re all probably about the same.
Kiley McDaniel: So the big group would be the four elite high school shortstops: Marcelo Mayer, Brady House, Kahlil Watson, Jordan Lawlar. I think those are all pretty much guaranteed to go in the top eight picks.
Then you have obviously the two Vanderbilt pitchers, Leiter and Rocker. And then Henry Davis is the one college position player, catcher out of Louisville. And Jackson Jobe, a right-hander out of high school in Oklahoma, the only high school pitcher in that group.
I would say the four shortstops, Leiter and Henry Davis, those six are the six that everybody agrees on are top tier. I think Kumar Rocker and Jackson Jobe, mostly because they’re right-handed pitchers. Sometimes they’re outside of that group for some people. For most people they’re in that group.
Call it six to eight, depending on who you ask. Picking seventh then means whoever is left from that group, or which two of them are left, you pick who you want, they are most often tied to Kumar Rocker, who I don’t think goes in the top five, maybe even the top six.
And I’m inclined to say if Rocker is on the board at seven, it’s like higher than 75 percent chance they would take him if he’s there. That’s one of the picks I feel most good about because I don’t think he has a lot of spots in the top five, and I don’t think they pass on him.
Secondarily, Brady House is the other guy that’s been tied to them the most, and I think that’s not surprising because the best recent comp in the Draft for Brady House is Bobby Witt Jr., who obviously the Royals took. I think he’s a little bit behind him because he’s not quite as good defensively. He has some swing mechanics things to work out. But otherwise is almost the same player.
For those reasons I think Rocker, the overwhelming favorite to be the pick at seven, and then House is probably second most likely.
Q: Follow-up was going to be about Rocker, how has the evaluation changed on him? You’ve got a lot of national attention with the College World Series. Over the last couple of years with the COVID season, just this past season, what has changed about his evaluation, where I think maybe it was just hype, but seemed like at one point in time he was viewed as a potential top pick, where now obviously it seems like Leiter and other people have surpassed him in that regard?
Kiley McDaniel: For right or wrong, when you’re scouting players, especially up until they’re age 21, the expectation is, hey, this guy is the best 16-year-old I’ve ever seen. The expectation is he will then continue linearly as progress. Obviously that’s not what happens with any average player. But in general, if you take 50 guys that are seen as the best 16-year-olds, you’ll end up with 15 first-round picks, or whatever it is out of that group, because you’re starting with the cream of the crop.
Rocker was throwing in the mid 90s when he was 14, 15 years old. Obviously physically looks a lot like his dad, who was an NFL defensive lineman, defensive line coach. And so you could have guessed at age 17, 18, when he was probably a $2, $3 million pitcher out of high school, this guy might be the kind of guy who reaches his physical peak a little bit earlier.
And so maybe when he looks like the best prospect in his Draft class as a freshman and like a slam dunk 1-1 pick, he may not be the guy that from high school to freshman year of college is just going to keep going up. He may have gotten there a little quicker. And then some guys that are behind him, especially physically, will continue sort of rising, maybe ahead of him, but definitely relative to him if he flattens off a little bit.
I think that’s what you’re seeing, is that he went from a mid-first rounder out of high school to a very likely 1-1 candidate as a freshman to not continuing to improve and all of the guys around him continue improving for somewhat predictable reasons.
And then also just because there’s been some limitations to the swing and miss on the fastball. You’ve had Jack Leiter right next to him in all the same situations, and it’s easy to see that he has swing and miss on the fastball, continues improving. Some of those things.
And then also there’s just the risk with any right-handed pitcher with now velocity. That’s the riskiest subset in the Draft. Highest likelihood to go out for a year on one pitch. That’s where him and Jackson Jobe are seen, generally in that top eight, and will probably go toward the back end of that eight just because there’s risk there.
It would be fair to say that some of this Rocker moving from first overall down to fifth, sixth, seventh, is a little bit just having enough time to pick holes in a guy, whereas Jackson Jobe has only really been watched for, say, 15 starts. There hasn’t been as much time to pick holes in him. There’s a little bit of that going on, too, but there’s also some, I think, empirical fair stuff about the kind of player he is.
Q: Obviously here in Connecticut a lot of talk about Frank Mozzicato, the left-hander. Seen him slip into the first round in some mock drafts. Wondering if you had an assessment of him as a prospect and what you’re hearing or thinking about where he might go?
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah, he has maybe the most meteoric rise of any guy in the last few years. I literally had never heard his name in February. At some point in March, I started getting questions: What are you hearing about this Frank Mozzicato guy? And I started asking around. Sounds like a pretty good second, third rounder, some people get in there, like what they see.
But it’s like 88 to 91, athlete, good breaking ball. Projectable. Maybe somebody overdrafts him at the beginning of day two, like in the 40s or 50s, to make sure they get him, won’t get it in a third-round pick.
Then about a month later, it was this guy’s not getting out of the top 36 picks on day one. Some teams are talking about him in the middle of the first round. Some very respected evaluators are saying this guy is the second-best high school pitcher in the Draft.
Which, I mean, the guy that generally that I have ranked as second-best high school pitcher in the Draft, Andrew Painter, I’ve seen for three years. And Mozzicato, I didn’t know his name until two months ago. Shows you how wild the Draft can be. Especially in COVID times where you’re a little more behind, a little less track record, fewer events, that kind of thing.
Frank Mozzicato’s range basically starts in the middle of the first round, and I would say he will go before 40. 90 percent chance he goes before 40. I’d say his sweet spot is probably that, like, mid 20s to mid 30s, is probably the most likely spot he lands. He’s one of those guys I think every team after about 20 will talk about him, which again is like kind of amazing.
Q: I wanted to ask about the Vandy boys. You already answered the question about Kumar, about why his stock has fallen a little bit. I’ll ask you about Jack. How do you think he specifically projects and to which team?
Kiley McDaniel: So right now it’s looking like his most likely spot is in play as sort of an option but probably like a third or fourth option. Again, unlikely to go one and two, and maybe even three. Again, he’s the kind of guy I think the eyeball scouts and analytics crew will end up with the same answer. He’ll end up with similar evaluations by each team. It comes down do you want a pitcher or do you want a position player because all these guys look very similar.
I would say his most likely spot right now is fourth to the Red Sox. I guess Yankees fans will be pretty mad about that because they almost had him out of high school, and he’s from New Jersey.
And also Boston, being a team at the top of the standings right now, could benefit the most out of any of these teams at the top. You actually will see sometimes with teams they’ll sort of off the record say, “We’re trying to be good three years from now. Jack Leiter maybe being in the Big Leagues next year doesn’t really fit our timetable.”
That’s why those teams lean toward high school players with a higher upside where you wait a little bit longer because this fits like this guy will get there and be the guy we think he’s going to be right when we think we’ll be good, and that all fits perfectly.
I think both the risk of the demographic of a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher and the upside risk timetable, teams that are bad tend to be picking at the top and tend to want upside and tend to not mind if it takes a little bit longer. So that’s what’s happening there.
And with Leiter specifically, best chance to be an ace of anybody in the last couple of years. Obviously the comp to Walker Buehler makes sense just because physically, delivery, stuff, approach. All very similar. He’s ahead of Walker at the same stage obviously because Walker was having Tommy John right after the Draft, went in the middle of the first round. And I don’t think his stuff was quite as dynamic.
What you’re leaning on here his mental approach to the game, the makeup, obviously his dad in the background, that all helps. But it is arm speed, athleticism and competitiveness are the things you’re leaning on, above and beyond the very basic stuff and performance that anybody can see.
Q: Who has the bigger upside in the pros between he and Kumar?
Kiley McDaniel: I think Leiter does because of how things have gone the last few years, I think speaks to how much more in the tank there is.
I think Kumar is now seen as a very good shot to be a second or third starter. I think my best comp for him — it’s not perfect — is German Marquez with Colorado, where it’s solid, not spectacular. If you go sort of like the highest score of any starting pitcher the last three years, I think he’s actually like 14th. It’s really high, borderline ace, but doesn’t quite get there because there’s not quite as much swing and miss, which I think is tied to the fastball.
When you look at the guys that are the aces, it’s typically big velocity, big breaking ball, swing and miss fastball, athlete, has not peaked physically yet. And Jack sort of checks all those boxes.
It’s probably a coin flip that he becomes one of the top 10, 12 pitchers at some point in his career, but, again, the best chance of anybody and probably a higher upside than Kumar has. But I would also say probably a one in three chance that Kumar is actually better. This is by no means a slam dunk Jack is better and Kumar is living off his freshman track record. He’s still pretty close.
Q: Do you think Kumar gets unfairly overlooked? He and Jack both tied for the league in NCAA for strikeouts by a pitcher this year.
Kiley McDaniel: I would say about half fair, half unfair. It goes back to the thing I said before about him being picked apart because there’s more to look at and a longer track record. And the longer part is the way that Kumar has gotten strikeouts in college is largely blowing a fastball by somebody with velocity and then breaking ball off the plate.
That specific kind of getting strikeouts doesn’t work at higher levels as well as Jack’s approach, which is fastball heavy, breaking ball more around the zone, a little wider base of sort of weapons to use.
Q: With the Rockies at No. 8, and kind of on that bubble of players you were talking about, are you still looking at them and possibly going after an outfielder? Or how are you seeing things as we get closer?
Kiley McDaniel: Again, if a top tier of eight and they’re picking eighth, in some ways it makes it easy. But also what if the guy that gets there is the one they want? Then it gets real difficult because you’re at the top of that next tier, and you might just have to pay retail for a guy that you think is kind of the same as the next guys.
There’s an increasing odds that Jordan Lawlar is the one of those four high school shortstops that slides. I don’t think he has a natural landing spot until six or eight. And that then becomes a question. It’s probably still like a five or 10 percent chance. He has a chance to be sophomore eligible at Vanderbilt and real good shot to go in the top five.
I don’t know if he just signs for slot at eight, but I think that’s about where that question becomes a question. Also if Kumar gets past seven and he’s on the board at eight and Colorado passes because he’s not the exactly the kind of pitcher they prefer, that’s then a question: Does Kumar go back to school?
Again, both of those are unlikely. But the fact that the guys in the top 10 that might go back to school are both Vanderbilt guys is sort of wild, even if it’s five, 10 percent chance on either of them.
I would say the guys Colorado is most tied to is Brady House, if he gets there; I think Lawlar, if he gets there; and then it gets pretty wide open, where Benny Montgomery has support there. That may be getting less likely by the day. And some college pitchers, Ty Madden and Gunnar Hoglund, have also been mentioned there.
I think if it’s one of those situations where the eighth of that group of eight gets to them isn’t a guy they like, I think college pitching may be the route they go.
Q: And as a follow-up, with the issues the Rockies have had lately with high school pitchers retiring, Riley Pint and Mike Nikorak, is that going to impact them moving forward from looking at high school pitching early on?
Kiley McDaniel: They would say no. I think the answer is probably yes. We just don’t know how much. It would be hard to have those level of mistakes happen and completely ignore it. It would be — wow, I couldn’t believe somebody would do that. But I think they would tell you that they’re ignoring it, that every pick is unique.
But I’ve had teams tell me: Our last high school righty didn’t work out. I don’t think we’re taking another one this year.
Regularly talk about it in those terms. It would be wild if they weren’t doing that too.
Q: The Mets showed interest in Matt McLain. Do you think that’s a stretch for tenth overall? How do you view their general approach to the Draft this year?
Kiley McDaniel: They’re a tricky one. I’ve been talking to some agents, players that will go in that range. I think Colorado at eight, the Mets at 10 and Washington at 11 are all seen as somewhat similar in their approach, which is leans a little more toward traditional in scouting and having a specific idea of the kind of guy you want, will lean on your scouts, make up evaluations, things like that, as opposed to, oh, the fastball doesn’t have the right rise to it; we’re out.
Having those three kinds of teams all picking together, they’re all going to be looking at similar guys, and the names that come up there are typically college players.
I’ve heard McLain there. I think they have Sal Frelick. There’s three college hitters expected to go in that area, which is Sal Frelick out of Boston College, Colton Cowser out of Sam Houston State, and then McLain.
I think they prefer Frelick of that group, I think there’s a decent shot all three of them are there. I think he’s a little bit of a stretch in that I think Frelick is more likely, and Cowser may even be ahead of him too. And I think McLain is more 15, 16 on talent. I think that’s where I have him ranked.
So a little bit, but if they took them there, it wouldn’t be like, oh, this is a reach. It’s just there’s a couple guys better than him. I think they think there’s a couple guys better than him. But if all of a sudden he’s a million dollars cheaper, then it’s not a stretch anymore.
So I wouldn’t say stretch, but I wouldn’t say it’s likely.
I don’t think I’m the only one to say this, but there’s a lot of buzz lately that they’re looking at Colson Montgomery, a high school shortstop out of Indiana, who is very similar to Brett Baty, the first-round pick from a couple of years ago as more support, athletic, shortstop that probably moves to third base, and most importantly 19 on Draft day, which a lot of analytics teams will move a guy down 20 spots because of that. Because the Mets and a couple teams in that range are a little more traditional in their approach, they don’t care about that as much.
So that’s sort of the reasons I think he fits there. They’ve also just literally had a bunch of bodies at his workouts and games and things, on top of I think mindset-wise is like more open to that kind of guy than other teams would be.
Q: If you look at Draft data, excluding last year, over the last couple years it’s kind of been signability has been trending up and the amount of high school players has been trending down. Do you think there’s a connection there? Do you think maybe it’s something that high school recruits or high school prospects are really given their number and their data and there’s a little bit more clear communication there? Why do you think that is? Do you think there’s any change in signability based from going from 40 rounds to five to 20 this year?
Kiley McDaniel: It’s interesting because especially in the last two years, the sort of unique thing that has happened at the top of the Draft is if you look at what normally happens in the summer, teams really lean on the summer sometimes more than the spring. I think rightfully so because there’s usually a high level of competition with bats and all that kind of thing. A lot of times a lot more data.
The high school summer of all the events was like 80 percent of what you normally get. Like some of the West Coast kids understandably less involved than normal, but kids in the Southeast I saw them maybe more than I usually see them.
I had scouting directors after I was watching Jordan Lawlar play a game in Georgia said: I’ve seen Jordan Lawlar more than any player in the SEC over the last year just because they weren’t playing games, and high school kids were.
Everyone up to, say, the colleges have not — they’ve had like three percent of a full summer. Like some guys we’re talking about in the top two rounds played in some league against a level of competition lower than the spring for some amount of time. But it’s like a handful of them, and almost none of them did it move their stock at all.
So I’ve been harping on this a lot. There are a number of mid-major college hitters that didn’t get to go to Team USA or the Cape, and I think a lot of them would be 15 picks higher if they had a month on the Cape, and none of them got it.
Whereas the high school kids — I mean, Mayer didn’t really go to very many events until the end. He’s obviously still at the top. And then Lawlar and a lot of these other guys went to a lot of things.
I think recently, like the last year or two, we’ve seen the high school guys comparatively have more opportunities to raise their stock. More to what you’re talking about, I think the high school players are also more informed now that there’s more analytics. There’s more training toward your Draft year and sort of optimizing pitch mixes.
And like I was just tweeting out videos that have all these very advanced delivery stuff from ProPlayAI. This is stuff where I talked to an agent of a player and told him this is what the video says that I’m going to tweet out tomorrow. And he’s like, “Yeah, one of the smartest teams in baseball told us verbatim the exact same thing.”
Like you have essentially the same conclusion they have with their whole sports science department.
These things are becoming available to these kids for a couple hundred dollars, not a crazy amount of money. And we’ve also seen some kids pulling their names out of the Draft, which I would imagine is in part due to pressure from colleges, where it’s like, hey, your grades aren’t great, we’ll definitely let you in and give you a little more scholarship money if you pull your name out of the Draft.
I think there’s a lot of things basically about education for the high school player. Agents are getting better at this. I think the media is getting better about projecting players. And there’s pandemic-related things that are specific as well.
Q: Would you say that maybe a kid that has — a high school kid that’s had a lot of experience and a lot of upside might have more leverage this year, maybe a kid from Texas who got this Team U.S.A. experience or got a lot of travel ball, a lot of eyes on him for a while?
Kiley McDaniel: I would say Jordan Lawlar is a good example where he’s old enough that he would be Draft eligible in two years. The average kid has to wait three years if you want to go to one of these top tier schools and really have a chance to raise your stock.
Obviously the more time you have, if you go from third round to first round, usually only takes a year or two. So to be able to do it in two years and do it on the highest level with all the good coaching and everything is a big advantage.
There’s a handful of players, like Jackson Baumeister at Florida State, Maddux Bruns at Mississippi State. There’s a couple guys that are old enough that they’ll be sophomore eligible and they have an even bigger edge.
But, yeah, I think what you’re getting at is with the more education, the more information and all that kind of thing, there’s also better coaching at the right colleges. So I think the upside and thus the leverage also gets higher.
Q: You mentioned Jordan Lawlar. You have him as the No. 1 player in your rankings currently. Why is he such a mystery about where he can go? He’s the guy that Vandy has been scouting since eighth grade. Why is he such a mystery?
Kiley McDaniel: Yeah, he’s not a mystery as a player, it’s really just where he goes. If you take those four high school shortstops, which I think there’s the most demand for those guys out of all of the subsets of players, there’s a pretty clear Brady House highest upside, Marcelo Mayer maybe the most projection, Kahlil Watson probably the highest floor and then also good enough upside, and Lawlar is just in the middle on all of those different measures.
He’s not necessarily the best out of those four at anything. For me that doesn’t make him not the top player, but it’s essentially a coin flip, like a six-way coin flip. So he’s also as close as he is to sixth as he is to running away with it.
I think because he’s in the middle it’s hard to pound the table say, “We’re going to take the guy that’s not first and not fourth, he’s second and third in all of these things.”
Like it’s hard to imagine a process that he comes out first, but if he ends up pricing himself lower, which he doesn’t have to, but if he does, he might end up coming out that way.
That’s why there’s so much uncertainty about where he goes. Because I think it’s hard without a price for him to come up as somebody’s top player, which is basically what’s happening.
Q: I have a Reds-related question. I know they’re picking lower than they have been in recent years at No. 17, but what approach do you think they might you take there? I see you have them maybe picking Bubba Chandler. And, two, how do you think they’ve done in recent years with some of their top picks already contributing?
Kiley McDaniel: I think they’ve done a solid job. Obviously Chris Buckley has been a big name in that room for a while and has a very — I’d say a pretty specific point of view of looking for upside, not really caring what the publications say, which I think he said verbatim to me before.
They don’t mind going off the board. And obviously like Josiah Gray, there’s been some guys that were sort of non-consensus where they took him, and they worked out pretty well.
They’re one of the more interesting teams in terms of the rumors. You get on a phone call with somebody that doesn’t have a tie to Cincinnati or a player tied to them, they almost always will have a theory about what the Reds are going to do because they — I don’t know where they rank in terms of Draft pool, but picking 17, 30, 35 and 53 means they have a bunch of money, more than the teams picking around them, which then gives them the option. Which, of course, everyone thinks they’ll take advantage of it, but it doesn’t always work out that way, to move that money around and go way over and way under and float guys down the board and do all kinds of stuff.
I think the current most common sentiment in the industry is they’ll play it somewhat close to slot, like within a couple hundred thousand dollars at 17. And then at 30 they’ll float a mid-first round talent down there, which I think if that guy can get past 20, 21 or so, he has huge incentives to get to 30 because there’s more money there.
And then at 35, to make up for it, go way under slot with like a third rounder or one of these 22-year-old college pitchers, of which there’s a ton, and then basically make those three even out, and essentially basically trade up from 30 to, like, 18 or 20, and then essentially trade down from 35 to 75. If there’s trading, that’s kind of how the bonuses would work out.
That’s the current belief. The odds that that exact thing happens are incredibly low. But the idea that that’s what they’re entertaining, the kind of thing they can do that other teams that are just picked first, second, third round can’t do, it’s the kind of thing they’re tied to.
When teams have the opportunity to do something like that, scouts and agents always think they’re going to, they don’t always. And it could be they want to do it and then the players don’t line up the right way, then they have to pivot.
Last year Baltimore was looking to go way over slot with their second pick, and the player they wanted wasn’t there, and then they started playing it straight and overpaid later, which is another way it can play out, where you save your money until later.
Q: Another question, Bachman from Miami University, just saw you mentioned a story there’s some injury concern or velocity concern. But what kind of talent do you think he is?
Kiley McDaniel: He’s an interesting guy because I think he appeals a little more to traditional sort of scouting-based teams because you could send a scout to watch him, and they’ll say thing guy is up to 101, he’s a 70-grade slider and aced the meeting, we think this guy is 70 or 80 makeup. And then basically everything else is a bit of a question mark in terms of third pitch, delivery, relief risk. He had some arm soreness this spring. It’s not necessarily a swing and miss fastball by the data currently.
You could line up all these things where it’s like, all right, he might end up just being a seventh inning reliever that throws really hard and has a good breaking ball, whatever you want to imagine.
Where some of these other guys like McGreevy or Painter sort of look like a starting pitcher. It’s easy to imagine them as starting pitcher. But they’ll probably never have a pitch as good as Bachman’s two best pitches.
It comes down to does a more traditional team picking in that 10 to 20 area feel so much conviction about fastball breaking ball makeup that they’ll just take him and figure it out, or do those teams pass, he then gets into the 20s and 30s where then there’s teams that are more willing to pick him apart and be like, “This isn’t our kind of guy, but we like him.” And then he ends up going 25 to 35, I think would probably about his floor.
That’s the big question because once you have a player where he has interest from a couple of teams here and then it falls off, and more interest here, and he could lose a couple of coin flips, get unlucky and slip, or you get lucky and go at the very of that range. There’s a lot of players like that in this Draft.
Q: I have a Red Sox question for you. They’re going fourth overall. I’ve seen in most mock drafts either take Jack Leiter or Henry Davis. I was just wondering on what your thoughts and who you predict they’ll take there?
Kiley McDaniel: I don’t have to lock that in for a mock until like five hours from now. So I’m not going to. But I think basically what’s going on with Boston — this is not for sure, but this is what I understand I think is the most likely way they’re thinking about this — is high school shortstops are probably going to go ahead of us. That’s great. If that’s the best guy, and we think it’s the best guy by a mile, we’ll take them. I don’t think that exists right now.
If it’s a toss-up between a bunch of different players, where sort of positional or need or things like that would come into play, which would only be when it’s sort of a toss-up, which I think it is, college makes more sense.
They’d prefer a position player to pitcher, but if it’s a situation where they would take a pitcher over a hitter where things are somewhat similar, it would be Jack Leiter because there’s a chance he’s in the rotation by this time or maybe the end of next season.
And that’s, again, a unique opportunity that they’re probably not going to have anytime soon, given how things have been going, how they’ll pick probably toward the end of the first round, et cetera, et cetera.
I would say Davis and Leiter make the most sense. I don’t think they’re necessarily off of those high school position players. I think there’s probably one or two that would make sense. I think the ones they like the most are the ones that are going to go ahead of them.
So I still say Leiter and Davis, probably 80 percent chance it’s one of them. But definitely not 100. I’d say Leiter slight edge over Davis, but by no means is that a done deal. Similar to all the questions at the first pick, there’s questions at every pick.
Q: Two shortstops, high school shortstops from San Diego. Obviously, Marcelo and Carson Williams from Torrey Pines High. If I could follow with a couple of San Diego area college guys. What do you think of the two high school shortstops?
Kiley McDaniel: Mayer, I think the style of his, different than the other three that he’s being compared to, is he’s got the superior physical projection. I think it could be seen as the best bet to hit and also as the prettiest left-handed swing. Also been in all these 15U U.S.A. teams, seen a lot for even a guy that wasn’t seen as much last summer.
I think he is seen as the most likely guy to go first. I would say it’s maybe a 50, 60 percent chance that he’s the first overall pick. Definitely not a done deal. But I think he’s also the guy where the evaluation from team to team is the most consistent. And he’s sort of the most in demand. I think he’s a real shot at one, two and three. Probably doesn’t go outside the top three.
Carson Williams, super interesting, one of a number of more than usual of two-way players. I’ve been told that he’s told teams he wants to be a position player and so pitching would only be a backup plan if things don’t really work out. If he then sort of changes his mind.
But even as just purely a position player, he has a lot of things that appeal to progressive, sort of stats-based teams, because he’s very young for the class. Made a ton of contact over the summer. Projects to stick at shortstop. Seemed to be projectable enough to project some power down the road, even if it’s not necessarily there right now.
And also if things don’t work out, just a release candidate, you can stick him on the mound and he’s in the mid-90s with pretty good delivery and has a lot of the things you want to see to project a decent pitcher.
He’s probably in play as high as the mid-20s. I would imagine he’ll go somewhere in the top 50. I would guess like 30s, 40s, probably most likely for him.
Q: He hates pitching, by the way.
Kiley McDaniel: I’ve been surprised from what the teams have told me about the meetings, because most of the guys that are two-way in this class are, like, I’d rather hit but I’ll pitch if you want me to. That’s what most of them say. And he does not.
Q: Some San Diego-based kids that are probably a little deeper in the Draft, Kevin Abel, pitcher from Oregon State. Grant Holman at Cal. And Troy Melton at San Diego State, anything on them?
Kiley McDaniel: Holman is I think in the second, third round range. Has always been a big, physical guy, throws hard, has made progress with change-up command, things like that.
So I’d expect him to go off somewhere in the top 100. Melton, because he’s so young for the class, still seen as pretty raw, I think either gets second, early third round money which could either be at those picks or later or goes back to school. I’d say it’s about 50/50 that he gets the money he’s looking for.
Q: And Kevin Abel?
Kiley McDaniel: Yes. He’s coming off TJ. He’s 22. Throws like 88 to 91. So that’s the negative part. The good part is pitches really well and has like a 70-grade change-up. I think he’s going to be a candidate for teams as high as the late second to third round if they want to get a money saver to set up going over slot later.
I think on pure talent, because of the age and Tommy John, is probably more a third, fourth round talent. But is one of those guys with such a couple standout skills and a couple of real problems that it’s going to be sort of eye of the beholder.
There could be some teams that just think he’s a second-round talent. But I think sort of the consensus is more third, fourth round for him.
Q: I heard from a lot of people that the Rays sort of want Bednar. I don’t think he’s going to make it to us at 24. If that’s the case, if we don’t get Bednar or Gavin Williams, who is somebody else I’ve heard, I’m not sure why, if they went for another pitcher, would it be a lefty? Or would they go for a shortstop like Sweeney or Williams or one of those guys at 24?
Kiley McDaniel: I agree that I think Bednar is, if not the top of their list, definitely a guy they’re hoping gets there.
I agree that he’s probably not going to get there. I think the Braves are the last — like, they’re his floor. If he gets there, they’re definitely taking him. They may even try to entice him to get down there.
Although it’s tough to move college guys around the board, especially ones that as well-known as he is. Looking at guys that I think more likely to get to that pick, I would say Michael McGreevy out of UC Santa Barbara is of interest to them I went to go see him this spring. They had three high-level scouts there, which is maybe too many for one game. Maybe got rained out somewhere, you never know.
Spencer Schwellenbach out of Nebraska, another one of these two-way guys, who is open to pitching or hitting. I think they prefer him as a pitcher.
And then Ky Bush, a lefty out of Saint Mary’s. Another guy that probably doesn’t get to their second pick. So they may go way under slot with him at the first pick and then hopefully set something up later.
I would say Lonnie White Jr., a high school centerfielder that’s committed to play wide receiver at Penn State, in Pennsylvania, high school in Pennsylvania. He’s a candidate to be one of the guys they overpay at that second pick, if they go under at the first one.
And I would say, you mentioned Trey Sweeney, another one would be Connor Norby, a contact-based college infielder. They seem to like college middle infielders in a lot of the same way that the Rays do.
I don’t think it’s necessarily the same reasons, but obviously with Shewmake and Beau Philip and Langeliers is an up-the-middle guy, I think their model, their approach, the things they value tends to move those guys up.
Q: I like what I see with Sweeney. Is there a chance he goes higher than like second round in this situation? Because he doesn’t look that much different from some of the guys that you’re talking about.
Kiley McDaniel: I think he and I think Norby, who I mentioned, and Wright State second baseman Tyler Black, three guys, if you put them on the Cape for a month, would go 15 picks higher.
I think all of them might be better than Matt McLain. There’s a real shot he doesn’t get to 24. He’s in play at 19 and 20 with Toronto and the Yankees, also 21 with the Cubs.
I would say the odds that he goes in one of those three picks is like maybe 50/50. If he gets past that range, I think Sweeney probably goes late 20s, early 30s. I would say he’s probably likely to go in top 40, for many of the same reasons you’re mentioning.
It’s left-hand hitting, 6’3″, 6’4″, shortstop. Bonkers numbers. Even if it’s only Eastern Illinois. And like the leg kick might be a little too high. Who knows if he’s really faced good competition and what that means. But at some a point a chance to get a 6’4″ everyday shortstop, again similar to Shewmake, why should he really go in that different of a range?
I think if you could throw him on the Cape for a month, he would go there. If you’re really good at scouting, you should know how that month will go without having to see it.
Q: Couple more analytically based questions. You mentioned earlier teams, when they see older players, especially maybe in the high school ranks, they’ll move a guy 20 spots down the board. And sometimes, outside of baseball, I guess you could say there’s a mindset that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases becoming a good measure of anything. First off, is there any kind of a chance that we’re starting to reach a point of diminishing returns with valuing age where that ceases to become as good of a predictor, target that team’s value? And secondly, kind of as spin, Rapsodo, Trackman has been incorporated into models, it starts to have a lot of weight, have teams expressed any worry that there might be some disappearing spin rates as teams — as players go from college to organized ball where certain things are being tracked a bit more, shall we say, or kept an eye out for?
Kiley McDaniel: I’ll take the second one first. I think everybody is aware that it would make sense if the sticky stuff, spin rates, whatever, has been a huge problem at the Big League level, it would be silly to think it doesn’t exist at the amateur level.
I can say I’ve talked to a couple agents and players who are, like, I don’t use anything; I don’t use sunscreen or rosin at all, I actually might benefit from being able to have little pointers of what is legally available, which is seen as, like, so much less to the Big Leaguers, is now seen as improvement to some college guys.
I’ve talked to small college guys that are, like, I didn’t even know people did that until I got to the Cape, and everyone’s, What do you use? So it’s not as widespread as you think.
I could say I definitely go through some of my high-speed video of guys with high spinners, just look at their fingers, see if I can see anything.
But if I can’t see it, then it’s probably not that big of a deal. Yeah, it’s an issue but I don’t think there’s a specific player, where people are worrying this is an issue. I think it’s one of those things, everyone is aware, just blink it. It’s almost not like calibrating your data. Like everybody is off a little bit; we don’t know exactly how much, but it doesn’t really affect anyone individually.
Going to what you said about the sort of stats and the Schrödinger’s Cat of Age, I find it interesting because I think most teams are looking at it too empirically and saying this guy is 19 on Draft day, looking back, the data says those guys get overdrafted are overvalued. When I think what they should be saying, this guy got overdrafted, overvalued, take a principle away from it.
You have enough data to say, oh, guys that are 19 on Draft day but are 6’5″, 180, those guys tend to be later peaking bodies.
And guys in the northeast, without a lot of reps, they tend to be later peaking also. Guys that are both pitcher or hitter or switch hitters tend to be later peaking, focusing on more things.
So effectively a 19.5 on Draft day guy that’s all those things should be treated like an 18.5-year-old guy. And I don’t think many teams are doing it, because I think it’s slavishly devoted to the age. Or doesn’t pay attention to it because they think the nerds are wrong.
And I don’t think there’s a lot of teams that are in the middle. For instance, Blaze Jordan reclassified with 17 on Draft day. He had the exact same body at 15 as he did at 18.
And I think it’s sort of like the age didn’t matter for him because at 15 he essentially should have been treated like an 18-year-old. And that’s short of follow through.
I think you’re correct to say, if the idea is no one paid attention to age, 19-year-olds were overvalued. Now a lot of teams are paying too much attention to age and I think the 19-year-olds might be getting back to being undervalued again, but they don’t have the results yet because that’s only been happening for three or four years and those guys are, like, in Triple-A right now.
And I think it seems like a really stupid way to do your model if it turns out, once the guy’s reached the Big Leagues, you realize you’re wrong — you’re highly paid enough, have enough incentives to figure that out earlier. I think a lot of teams aren’t doing that.
That’s one of the main things, stuff like that, where you just sort of are slavishly devoted to the model because seems like that’s the way you should do it, is one of the main gripes I have with how teams are run these days.
Prescient for you to ask that question with something I sort of complain about behind the scenes.
Q: It seems like yourself and a lot of different mocks have pegged the Braves as kind of being heavily invested in the college pitcher market. Based partially where they’re picking, seems to be the demographic that’s going to be the most widely representative, in terms of that best player available type. What odds would you put on the Braves picking a college pitcher at 24? And who are some of the — doesn’t have to be a college pitcher, necessarily — of names that have been out of left field for you that the Braves have been linked to there?
Kiley McDaniel: Looking at Bednar, McGreevy, Schwellenbach, I think they prefer as a pitcher, Ky Bush I think that’s like, what, five of the top seven names I’ve heard there. There you go. Five out of seven, or 75 percent, whatever you want to say. I think it’s probably likely they land there.
I think you’re right that isn’t necessarily because they want college pitching more than any other team does.
I think it’s because — I’ve written about this in the mailbox from last week — where once you get past Leiter, Rocker, they’ve separated themselves. And then the next college pitcher, somewhere around 11 and 12 and then probably through about 25. There’s like six guys there.
And they could literally go in any order. Ty Madden could easily go at the back of it or easily go at the front of it because some of these guys have interest at the top, interest at the bottom, not a lot of interest in the middle. Believe me, these conversations I had — one of the players I just mentioned talked to their agent today. He was like it’s going to be tough trying to guess whether you are going to go at the top or bottom. It’s kind of weird how that works out. Yeah, you’re not the other one. There’s so many of those guys.
Then the second tier, Jaden Hill, Schwellenbach and Ky Bush, some guys like that, one of those guys will also get screwed in the 25-50 range. One will just go 50, for whatever reason. And also for whatever reason, I don’t think it’s necessarily true, most teams see college pitchers like the safe demographic: We don’t feel great about anybody, but we’re not going to take a risky high school guy and all the good college position players were taken, and so we’re going to take a college pitcher.
So I think they tend to get moved up a little bit, especially this year when there’s a lot of them with similar quality, I think they get grouped together and everyone just sticks their hand in a bucket and calls one out.
I would say they’re likely to end up picking one. Not necessarily a good reason why. And I would say — I mentioned most of them in those last answer– McGreevy, Bednar, Schwellenbach, Ky Bush, Lonnie White, Norby.
And then the other one I’ve heard tied to them, leader, Jacob Walsh, high school first baseman from Nevada. Second, third round.
And Ryan Gilbert, viewed his videos a couple of times — high school outfielder, big like 6’5″–, as like a potential late overpay, probably after the tenth round, but maybe seventh, eighth round, if you save a lot of money.
Q: Question about a local product that I am skeptical would be in the conversation for the Braves. Bubba Chandler is an interesting case in the Draft, highly regarded on the mound as a shortstop as prep guy who has a really significant college commitment to Clemson to play quarterback there. What are the chances Chandler is even in the possibility of falling at 24; and then at 24, is he even signable given those college commitments and the fact he might go a little bit higher?
Kiley McDaniel: I think he’s signable in those first 30ish picks or so. I wouldn’t say much lower than that, just because I don’t think he’s going to go lower than that. So I haven’t really asked. I get the impression in that first 30 picks, he’s probably signable.
I would say it’s probably like two-thirds to one-third teams preferring him as a pitcher. I’ve been told he’s open to both. I think there’s a couple teams that would consider doing him both ways, similar to Masyn Winn. It’s like we’ll send him out as a hitter but we’ll let him pitch once a week, try to keep it alive, maybe instructional league, give us a chance to evaluate it both ways.
Brendan McKay was also done that way. And the Rays even admitted later, like, we thought he was a hitter, and then after a year we realized he was a pitcher. Like, sometimes that happens.
I think he will go in that 15 to 20ish range and go ahead of them. There’s a chance he gets to their pick, I think he would be signable there. I know they’ve scouted him and partly just because he’s close. Some of the heavy hitters have been in multiple times to see him. I think they prefer him as only a pitcher.
I think if he’s there, there’s a real shot they take him. But by no means would I say it’s a slam dunk, either that he gets there or that they take him if he gets there. There’s a conversation. They’re talking about it this week. I would say maybe 10 percent chance he ends up actually being the pick but it’s not zero.
Q: What are the Rays looking for typically, what’s their MO?
Kiley McDaniel: They have a couple of things they typically look for which is middle infielders usually in college that are not seen as slam dunk defensive shortstops that are hit over power. I think they both had some success tapping into power for guys that are not conventional power. Vidal Bruján, Taylor Walls, are examples.
I think also Bruján could probably play shortstop in the Big Leagues if they needed him to. Walls was seen to me as an average second baseman. Saw him a lot, actually. Never saw him play shortstop.
Then turns out, he’s actually really good at shortstop, both because he wasn’t seen there a lot and I think they got it better.
So I think that’s almost their favorite demographic. I think that also extends to high school which is part of the reason they’re tied to Cooper Kinney this year who is that kind of guy. Second base, third base, left-handed, bat first, has enough power, enough athleticism.
I think he sort of fits, and they’ve also been in super deep, super often to see him. Based on that as well. But if I knew nothing, I’d probably say they’d probably like Cooper Kinney, too.
And I think a general upside, I know they’re into the sports science stuff, they’re into the makeup stuff. I think they lean a little more traditional in the Draft room, even though they’re more analytical on the Big League side. And when you look at their track record with sort of risky pitchers, whether it’s JJ Goss, Shane McClanahan and Seth Johnson, guys that either are seen as risky because of command or don’t have a long track record.
And then guys like Nick Schnell that are like sort of risky, big, toolsy high school guys, once you get past that college or advanced position player that’s infielder, I think then they just look for upside guys where they basically like all of the secondary characteristics, the makeup, the work ethic, all that sort of thing.
And then take the highest upside you can find of the makeup you like, which I think the teams that tend to do that — I think San Diego does that, I know we did that in Atlanta when I was there– those teams tend to do a little better overindexed for success, when you can just say here’s all the high school guys we like and we’ll put them in order of upside because we think these guys have a plus makeup, better chance to get to that ceiling than the other guys do.
Q: Is it a good year to pick 28 and 34, or not necessarily?
Kiley McDaniel: I mean, it’s a good year to pick in the top eight. And I would say it’s not a great year to pick like 10 to 15. So, yeah, I’d say 28. And multiple picks is actually a pretty decent year to be picking there.
Q: More on the Yankees. Who are you hearing that they like? Who do you think they should take? And is there anybody that’s ranked high that you think could follow them that would be intriguing?
Kiley McDaniel: Who do I think they could take? Brian Cashman on blast. Let’s see. Based on who’s there — right now I have a mock that’s not finalized or published or anything, just moving names around to be in the right area. I’m with Will Bednar. I think if he gets there, they’d probably take him. Not for sure.
But that’s right about where I think he’s supposed to go, is in the 15 to 20 area. And Gunnar Hoglund is another guy out of Ole Miss, the guy just had Tommy John, that should go right about in that area. I think they like him as well.
Frank Mozzicato, kid out of Connecticut, they’ve been in on. And I think he’s in play there as well. Some guys that are up high that may slide that they have interest in are: Harry Ford, high school catcher out of Georgia; Will Taylor, high school outfielder out of South Carolina.
I don’t think either of them get there, but I think they would take them if they do. And later on I heard them tied to Branden Boissiere, first baseman at Arizona, college guy. Probably second or third round.
Wes Kath, high school third baseman out of Arizona, probably second round. And Jackson Baumeister, probably overpay in the second round. Outside shot he actually goes first.
The guy that I think has the most momentum there would be Trey Sweeney, mentioned earlier, left-hand hitter, big short stop out of Eastern Illinois, I noticed he had a lot of private workouts. Sounds like he’s had one with the Yankees and it’s gone well. I think him and Bednar are the two most likely picks there.
And in terms of who I would take, just looking at who I think would be available there, I think Bednar may actually be the highest on my rankings.
So, yeah, I guess I’d say Bednar and Sweeney are most likely. If you made me pick based on who I think would be there, I think I might pick Bednar as well.
Q: Shot in the dark, with two high school guys, late bloomers here in Texas, just wondered if you had a scouting report for them. AJ Smith-Shawver from Colleyville Heritage, a quarterback, kind of a late starter as a pitcher.
And then Ryan Prager, leftie from Hillcrest High School, a lot of strikeouts here. Had a big performance in the Dallas area. Wondering what your scouting on them would be.
Kiley McDaniel: Don’t have a ton on either. Smith-Shawver, I have a little bit of background with, as you said, multisport guy. He’s also a two-way guy. Better on the mound. Has been low 90s. Pretty good breaking ball. I would imagine he’s a school guy.
And Prager’s name has come up a little bit lately also. Probably a school guy, just given that you assume most high school guys committed to good programs if they’re not projected to get top two round money, safe to assume they’ll go to school until you’re told otherwise. So not a ton there. I imagine that’s probably about what you had.