ESPN MLB Insider and draft expert Kiley McDaniel answered questions on Tuesday ahead of the 2022 MLB Draft. ESPN will nationally televise the first round of the 2022 MLB Draft from Los Angeles on Sunday, July 17, at 7 p.m. ET. Karl Ravech hosts with McDaniel, plus analysts Eduardo Perez, Jessica Mendoza, Kyle Peterson, Chris Burke and Senior MLB Insider Jeff Passan.
McDaniel’s Mock Drafts, draft rankings, draft order and analysis is available on ESPN.com’s dedicated MLB Draft landing page. McDaniel’s third and final Mock Draft will publish on Friday, July 15.
Below is a transcript of today’s call. For more information on ESPN’s MLB Draft coverage, visit ESPN Press Room.
Kiley McDaniel: [This year] we have what I perceive, and I think most people do, three high school guys, Druw Jones, Termarr Johnson, Jackson Holliday. And then beyond that, opinions diverge greatly. I would say even some teams have different takes on Termarr Johnson. So really, there’s two guys that everyone has the same evaluation on and around that six to eight, nine, ten area where we might see some wacky stuff going on.
And I think the top of the Draft, the top two, three guys is as good or better than usual, and then that gap of four through 12 is weaker than usual, and then I think the depth is as good if not a little better than usual. It’s a little quirky, probably average draft class overall, maybe a little top heavy, and the college pitching is the worst it’s been in a long time. Not because of the talent, I think there are plenty top half of the first round types, but pretty much all got hurt, or in case of the Carson Whisenhunt, got suspended and missed a year.
I think the talent is there, and there’ll be a lot of teams looking to do creative stuff after a top tier of six or eight guys, trying to do underslot deals, take injured players, guys who didn’t pitch this year, some stuff like that. I think there will be a lot of overslot deals, more than normal in Rounds 2 and 3, as teams save money at the top to do those sort of things.
Q: Kiley, we’ve talked about the Rays’ player development, we’ve talked about their creativity at the Big League level. What is their draft process philosophy and how has it been working under the current regime?
McDaniel: So in the article I put up today where I did a history of all the 30 teams, the kind of players they look for, I noticed maybe more than I have in the past, when you got to the bottom of the first round with teams that make the playoffs that are kind of good at everything, which is Yankees, Rays, San Francisco, maybe Milwaukee, Boston to a lesser degree, a little bit Toronto, those sorts of teams, I find the teams ahead of that, not those teams, something is not working. Like, they’re picking high because they didn’t make the playoffs or in a rebuild, maybe they just fired a scouting director or player development head or something like that. So their sort of point of view is maybe not as fleshed out or it’s subject to the top six or eight players, are the these guys, so we’ll take one of them.
When you are in the back of the first round, you have to have a very clear point of view, and you probably do, because you’re a successful team that does well.
So all that to say, when you get to the Yankees or the Rays or San Francisco, they tend to have certain kinds of guys they like. The Rays it’s up the middle, athletes, high school pitching, they index for those more than all the other teams. They don’t really love going college unless it’s just a very unique sort of player, like Greg Jones is like an incredibly unique athlete out of college. They typically like to go college later, and I think they, like those other teams I was referring to, have two or three things that they sort of over-index for that they lean into.
Last year, Cooper Kinney and Carson Williams was a good example where the sort of hit-first infielder where they focus on the bat, then you have this athlete-first infielder Carson Williams, and they didn’t mind that it was high school and that it was risky because it’s high school. Tucker Toman this year high school third basemen out of South Carolina kind of fits of Cooper Kinney type, and then we have all kinds of up-the-middle athlete types, Justin Crawford, obviously with the Carl Crawford connection fits that Carson Williams type, and there’s a ton of high school pitchers that I think after about 20, there’s 10 of them that might go in the next 30, 40 picks.
I think because they over-index there, they tend to do better on that, they focus on those kinds of guys. That’s also what the board is giving them at their picks. I would kind of lean into that tendency of theirs, I would imagine, they can lean into it again this year.
Q: Do you think they change it from year to year or do you think they try to — whether the board is built for that — or you think they try to stick with that philosophy or they’re adaptive?
McDaniel: Yeah, I think all teams down there tend to be value-minded, take what the board gives them, but when you get down past 20, there’s not consistent best player that everyone in the room agrees on. So you end up leaning towards the stuff you like because everything is available. I think that’s kind of where they are. They’re always picking after 20. There’s never an obvious best answer. So they’re going to tend to find themselves with sort of an upside type, typically high school player, typically one of those two or three traits I talked about, whether it’s Greg Jones out of college or Nick Bitsko, who they had barely seen pitch before, they all have those characteristics.
Q: A couple quick questions on specific guys. I’m curious how you’ve seen the debate on Elijah Green kind of play out, maybe really since last year. I think at this point in time there were certainly a lot of projections that would have had him going 1 overall, and today when you’re kind of wrapping it up, you’ve got him in that group I’m guessing 4 through 12, it’s a drop-off from the top three.
McDaniel: Yeah, I contributed to that hype, although I was definitely not alone. I think two years ago at this time he was arguably the best toolset we had seen since the like Bryce Harper, Justin Upton, like you might have to reach that far back to find a high school player that at age, like, 16 was that physically talented. And the thing that doesn’t happen when you watch the kids two years in advance is you’re not watching 15 games and really grading that hit tool, which is the most important thing, and also, like, they’re 16. There’s had no reason to do it. They’re not getting drafted for two years. Even they aren’t dialed in at the same level like Bobby Witt Jr., who was two years younger than everybody else. It was like, he just hit a ball 108 and he’s playing shortstop and he had plus run time. We don’t need anything else. Holy cow, this is crazy. So everyone gets excited when that kind of thing happens, but nobody goes in to see him his junior year of high school to see how he’s hitting. You do it at the end.
There was a little bit of that where you’re focused so much on the raw tools, which are still there. He had 70 on the raw power, 70 on the speed, 70 on the arm. There’s like, five dudes in the Big Leagues that have those tools and as a 16-year-old he had those and still has them.
The hype was warranted because the things we’re focusing on at that age, he is maybe the best I’ve ever seen, because I didn’t really scout Justin Upton and Bryce Harper out of high school. It was just before my time. So I think that’s all warranted. The thing and I’ve hit on this a few times, the sort of winds that he’s flying in the face of right now, one is he was at IMG the last two springs. So they’re basically facing 88 to 91, mid-major college-level stuff in every game.
James Wood last year was not very good at IMG, went in the second round for overslot money and looks like one of the top ten guys in that draft class. Like, he was misevaluated I think because of the setting at IMG, whatever the exact factors are, hard to say, but we all missed on him. Basically, everybody other than the Padres.
So with that in mind, he has been facing 88 to 91, sometimes 91-95, he faced Barriera in the spring, faces Ferris in intrasquads, whatever, it is easier to pick holes in him because he’s had two years of, this is the guy, he’s been anointed as the guy, he’s facing good pitching every game. So if he’s not having a good day, he might strike out three times whereas these other kids are facing 82, they’re not striking out three times.
So that’s one issue is he’s being held to a different standard than everyone other than Cam Collier, who is a year younger than him and went to junior college. That’s the other guy that I think that teams are collecting this bad info, because they’re playing at a certain level of comp and Termarr Johnson only faced 85 all spring. I think he’s great as a player, but he didn’t get challenged at that level. So it’s a little harder to judge when everyone is on a different playing field.
The other thing flying in his face right now is something I noted in the article that went up today, which is teams picking in the top 10, especially regularly picking in the top 10, put yourself in the mindset of the GM and scouting director, what gets me my job next year? Because a lot of them are on one-year deals, maybe two-year deals. Maybe they get demoted or pushed aside if they have a high-profile miss. Take the guy that won’t get me fired, which means probably not a pitcher, and if it’s a hitter I need to be sure he’s going to hit, and give me something, and retain his trade value, and not go into the toilet. So that means hit tool is like, what guys want up top and the guy in the top 10 with the biggest risk on his hit tool is Elijah Green.
So he’s getting hit harder because of the IMG and summers and the attention and the long track record, all the good and bad you want to find, you can find it. Some other guys mysteries pop up late, you don’t have any bad; you haven’t seen him long enough. You haven’t seen him against good enough competition, and he’s exactly the kind of guy that teams are kind of steering away from anyway, and the evaluation two years ago didn’t include that hit tool thing, which is the most important thing, anyway.
So those three things kind of add up and you’re like, is he third best or seventh best? Doesn’t really matter and I think that’s why you’re also hearing him in the mix, but not in the pound-the-table, I-want-this-guy answer for anybody from picks three through nine, even though he might get picked there. Because everyone is like, you can’t walk away from these tools, and he’s a pretty good hitter, but like what are we going to do with this? Do we want to take the safe guy and make sure we’re not going to get fired, but he also could change the face of your franchise? That’s the reason he’s in the conversation up here.
So yeah, it’s a super interesting debate and I think you’re right to zero in on, this guy was supposed to be the best guy in 10 years and now we’re going to pass on him at three? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.
For me, that’s the biggest mystery in the top 10, is that. Beyond the top 10, it’s the whole Kumar Rocker thing, whatever that is. But Elijah Green is super interesting to me. If he played in college, I think the more casual fan would know more about him, would have seen him in Omaha. The fact that he’s a high school player, it’s a little harder for people to latch onto. Also his dad was NFL tight end. At 16, he looked like an NFL tight end physically. I could talk about him forever. It’s very interesting. And the thing I’m most scared about that I’m going to be wrong I ranked him seventh, and he’s either going to be first or like, 30th, and I don’t know which one.
Q: Last thing on that, I’ll just zero in a little bit more, you really gave me a dissertation there, which is great, but do you have — in your mind is there a comp for Elijah?
McDaniel: Not a great one, because it’s kind of so unprecedented, there’s not like an exact — just the physicality at that age and the tools at that age, that’s what I’m saying, I have to go back to Harper and Upton. Maybe some people have mentioned Jo Adell because it is bananas raw tools at that age for a guy that’s like, Jo Adell was hitting balls at 108 as a sophomore in high school, so he had some of that stuff, but there’s no — he’s sort of so unprecedented that there’s not a perfect example, whereas once you get to like pick 15, 20 there’s always a good example because these guys are a little more common.
But there’s not a perfect one, but there’s a lot of guys that have similar traits to him.
Q: In your estimation, have the Rangers really changed their approach to drafting in your mind since really the last couple years?
McDaniel: I think like historically when I first started doing this 10, 15 years ago, it was oh, they’re one of the handful of teams that will take the very risky, very upside, very exciting high school player, and they still do that. But going back to what I had said in the last answer, it seems to be a trend now when you pick up top, take the guy that won’t get you fired, that you know will have something that everybody will want, that if you want to pull the ripcord and trade this guy a year from now, everyone has got about the same evaluation you do. He’s gonna put up decent numbers, everyone’s models will like him, all that stuff. And they’ve been a lot more college at the high picks with Foscue and Leiter and Josh Young, like they’ve gone with sort of the safest of the available college guys, which is totally defensible and they’re picking high enough at the top of the board, that tends to be what’s available. The really high upside, relatively safe high school guys, they go off fast and the safer college guys tend to be that second tier.
Yeah, I think they’ve adjusted a little bit there, but it’s at the same time that everybody else is adjusting. So I don’t know if they have wildly changed their point of view or sort of evolved as everyone else has evolved. But they’ve kept that undergirding of taking the exciting, risky, high-upside, high school guys later, which half the league doesn’t really take those guys for large amounts of money.
Q: When you’re looking at the top three teams that are picking, is there any way those teams can really screw this up? I know that’s a bit of a loaded question, but from what I’ve read it looks like the three are so good and so much better than four through twelve. Can these three teams miss?
McDaniel: Yeah, it seems like the — I don’t think the Rangers are on Termarr Johnson as much as I am. I think they have Kevin Parada in that mix. I guess you could expand that to include those four guys will almost certainly be the top three picks, and yeah, there’s not a wrong answer there.
I think paying full slot at one for Parada seems like not the best choice but I wouldn’t scream at you. Whereas if someone in the top three picks isn’t saving a crazy amount of money and dips out of that group, then that might get to where I’m like, hey, happy for the kid, think he’s great, I don’t know if I like this decision. Yeah, it’s hard for a kid to get picked and for me to say three negative things after that happens, but sometimes you kind of have to.
So yeah, if they dip out of those first four guys in the first three picks, I think that’s probably a mistake, but that also means they must feel very strongly if they do it. I’d be interested in the logic behind it.
Q: With the Royals having made a draft pick trade yesterday, I wanted to get your reaction on that and what you thought that might do for their strategizing on that first day, minusing the pick but also the draft pool money.
McDaniel: Yeah, if I’m trying to — not with my reporter hat on but with my sort of analyst, guessing-at-people’s-motivations hat on — I don’t know if you would call that a hat — but the Royals have been acting the last few years in the free agent market, trade market, like, we’re going to be good soon. And I think with the Benintendi thing pending, buying low on Drew Waters, close to the Big Leagues, I think the Braves had a prior regime acquire Drew Waters, I can see where they’re thinking whoever we take with that pick is two or three years away and Drew Waters is maybe up tomorrow, maybe up later this year, whatever. He’s a shorter-term answer and potentially a longer-term answer.
Going back to the draft for a little bit, nine is probably the pick where I have heard the most different names floated, which to me it’s like rumors and stuff, like who knows if these matter, but you don’t hear any crazy rumors of like, they’re going to cut $3 million at the fifth overall pick or the sixth overall pick. You start hearing weird stuff at around 7 or 8 and you hear a lot of weird stuff at 9, 10, 11, which to me means all those teams see the draft as a five-or-six-player draft and they’re picking right after picks 5 and 6, so they’re not sure they’re going to get what they want. Which then means, do you want to pay slot amount to whoever is the next best guy but you’re not excited about him? Or do you want cut a bunch of money and do another Mozzicato or something creative like that?
I get the impression that they’re looking at what they think they’re going to get at nine and they’re not sure what they’re going to get. I think teams in that range have legitimately told me, we don’t know who we are going to take, if it’s going to be over or under or whoever is going to get there. So you can’t feel great about your comp pick, and then you’re like, well, we’re hoping with the comp pick to get a guy that’ll make our team better in a year or two and Drew Waters is going to do that more likely than that pick will.
So if I’m trying inhabit Dayton Moore’s brain, I think that’s what they’re thinking is they’re not really sure what the first pick is giving them, so we could turn the second pick into a guy that we know will be a factor for us in the next year, so let’s go ahead and do that, especially since it’s not going to cost any money.
Q: At 9, how do you see things potentially playing out? What sort of decisions or what do you think the Royals will be choosing from at that pick?
McDaniel: I think the top tier guys include Cam Collier, Brooks Lee, maybe Jacob Berry in that group. I think Elijah Green might be the guy that finds his way down there. I think he fits their type. It then becomes an issue of, what’s the asking price once he gets below Elijah Green or he thinks he’s going to go? Is there a big number behind them? Do they want to cut and take a Justin Crawford? Do they want to take the first pitcher off the board, which they seem to be the first spot where that’s getting rumored.
I think they’re considering, hey, let’s take Gavin Cross. If he gets here, we’ll take him. Let’s go over to get Elijah Green, keep from going lower. Let’s take a guy like Justin Crawford a couple picks ahead of where he’s going to go, save a little bit of money and keep playing down the board, or let’s just do something crazy and go way under.
I think all of that’s still on the board. I’m still hearing that kind of stuff. I think agents are still in conversations for that kind of thing. So that’s why, again, going back to what I said before, I think they have no idea right now. I think at the end of the week they’ll have an idea of what they’re going to do there, and so because of that uncertainty, that comp pick is a little less exciting because it’s not part of a distinct plan.
Q: Robert Moore out of Arkansas, what do you see for his draft potential? What’s sort of the read on where he might fall? What teams are thinking of him?
McDaniel: So out of high school it was a guy with a lot of skills but not a ton of tools. Then he gets to Arkansas as a freshman and is fantastic, better than anybody thought he would be, and looked like a late first-round pick, with the question being power. Then this spring, while still younger than everybody else because he early enrolled, the contact then came into question, the power has never really been a factor, and now it’s a like good enough contact, or are you kind of buying low after an up-and-down season and then kind of speed and defense, which is not necessarily the profile you want to get out of college.
So I get the impression starting in like the 40s, 50s, people are kicking the tires. I think 60 to 80 he’s got a landing spot. Obviously it comes down to signability. I don’t think a million dollars changes anyone in the Moore’s family’s life dramatically, so I think that’s someone that teams perceive as like, oh, he can decide to do a bunch of different things; he could go back to school and be 21 next year and have a big season, make a bunch more money and play at Arkansas. Like that’s what some kids would do in that situation. Other kids just want to play pro ball.
So I don’t know where his head is at in terms of what he wants to do, but I think somewhere from like 40 to 75 is probably where he would get taken if he was just sort of like, I’ll sign for wherever I’m taken, and then what actually happens is anyone’s guess at this point. Again, I don’t know where his head is at or what he wants to do, and I think he can reasonably defend doing almost anything in this spot. I think he’s in a pretty decent spot in terms of having options.
Q: I cover Virginia Tech, so I wanted to ask you about a guy you mentioned a few minutes ago, Gavin Cross from Virginia Tech, your thoughts on him.
McDaniel: Yeah, he was in the middle of a very good Team USA lineup last year, and looking at the top of the college hitter board, there’s Parada, Lee, Berry, Cross, Gilbert, Jung. All of those guys are in the same lineup, so that was a very good spot. I lucked out that it was a couple hours from my house. All those guys were in the same lineup hitting together, I think kind of going wire to wire as being the best college hitters at this point last year and still being in it this year.
Of that group, I think Cross is deceptively quick in the outfield, is actually a decent center fielder, will probably start his pro career in center field. I don’t think he ends up there, but he’s good enough to see if he can make it work.
I think he ends up in right field, plus raw power, free left-handed swing, has performed pretty well.
There’s been some nagging smaller injuries. I think that’s sort of the question is, is it six hit, six power? For the non-scouting people, is it 275, 280 and 25 homers? Is it 260, 20 homers? Is it center field or is it right? Exactly where he lands on that spectrum is sort of the question. Do you think it’s an impact guy or a pretty good guy? And then yeah, those small injuries, I think teams are interpreting that differently; is this a guy that’s always going to be a little banged up, or is that just a bad spring, unlucky, whatever it is.
Those are sort of the questions, but as you can hear, comparing him to Elijah Green, the range of possibilities where he might go are pretty tight. It’s like, it’ll go from 8 to 13 in almost all likelihood, and pretty much everyone has got 50 or 55 on like pretty much all these tools and everyone has about the same tolerance for risk when it comes to college hitters.
He’s got a pretty tight idea of what’s going on, and you have other guys like Spencer Jones that’s a 6’7″ hitter that barely played his first two years in college at Vanderbilt. That’s a giant range of what that could be. Yeah, Cross I feel pretty good, laying out those facts because I think everyone has got about the same answer.
Q: You think 8 to 13 for Cross you said?
McDaniel: Yeah. Or 14, I guess we’ll include the second Mets pick. But yeah, I would imagine 8 to 14, that’s like an 85 percent chance he goes in that range.
Q: My other question would be, a couple other Tech prospects, Tanner Schobel and Cade Hunter, if you have any thoughts on them.
McDaniel: Yeah, Schobel, good hitter, good defender. Not necessarily the impact power. Sounds like he’ll probably go second, worst case early third.
Cade Hunter obviously — not obviously — obviously to me! The son of the Mariners scouting director Scott Hunter. Sounds like he’s maybe in play at the late second or probably more third, fourth as like a sort of hit-first catcher. Had a really good season.
And those are — I think you’ve got the right names. I don’t think there’s another Virginia Tech guy I have up that high.
Q: My question will be about the Marlins and what do you think their draft strategy is after a really crazy couple of weeks for them, parting ways with head of scouting Gary Denbo and their situation right now with first-round pick last year Kahlil Watson? What direction do you see the Marlins going with the sixth overall pick?
McDaniel: I don’t get the impression that Denbo not being there will dramatically, sort of late in the process, change what the draft strategy is.
I think DJ Svihlik has done a really good job heading that department and has sort of strong buy-in and whatnot to kind of do things as he sees fit.
I think they’re in a — just before we were talking sort of seven, eight, nine, that teams seem to be a little worried, that maybe that top tier of a half dozen guys doesn’t get there. The Marlins picking at 6 seem to be the last team that is not worried because I think they’re looking at the Druw Jones, Termarr Johnson, Holliday, Parada, Lee, and then maybe throw in one of those like Jacob Berry, maybe Elijah Green.
Maybe they don’t want to get the sixth guy on their board; maybe that’s what they end up with. But I think they can feel pretty confident they’re going to get somebody in that top tier. Obviously they’ve been projected a lot, including by me, to Termarr Johnson because I think he’s got that same weird market that Carlos Correa did in 2012, where it was he’s either going to go first or sixth; therefore he’ll probably offer a good deal at one, and if not then he’ll just go sixth.
So that is a sort of weird quirk that the guy that’s No. 2 on my board, teams two through five don’t seem super interested in him. Maybe they are and they’re just hiding it from me and I don’t know.
But yeah, I would imagine it will be — at 6, somebody that probably shouldn’t get to their pick will get there. I think Termarr is the most likely, but that could be Parada, and it could be Brooks Lee or maybe Jacob Berry then is their sort of backup option. Are they on Cam Collier? I think they’re in a good area where they’re at the back of that top tier where they’re almost certainly going to get a guy they like, whereas, again, those seven, eight, nine, 10 teams are a little worried and probably rightfully so.
Q: With the Rockies at 10, I know you said this morning that it’s hard to know exactly which direction they’re going to go, but do you see their need for pitching being the thing that maybe overrides all that unknown this season?
McDaniel: That’s a good question. The problem for me, I won’t say who they are, but there are some teams that every year I basically — like let’s say every team has four players they’re considering at their pick, there are certain teams where like, I know I know two or three out of the four they’re going to be considering. You had a pretty good idea. You see their guys at games. They seem to be pretty transparent with other people in the industry.
Colorado is not that team. I usually don’t know what they’re going. I usually don’t necessarily completely understand their big picture top-down. Oh, we’re about to compete so we’re doing this, or we’re trying to rebuild so we’re doing this, or we are going to this kind of guy, or we’re going to cut a deal.
They tend to not go way over and way under. It just is a little tricky. They tend to do a little old school. Like we got an idea what we what, we are going to pay the guy the slot that we take because we think he’s the best player, and they just don’t really — I remember the year I thought Kyle Freeland was going to slide because a lot of teams were worried about his medical. They just took him and paid him, and maybe his medical was a problem, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know.
So all that to say, I don’t have as much certainty talking about this team as I do with other teams, which I think is important to disclose when I’m just sort of like, I can make some guesses. But I think there are some interesting opportunities here where Colorado seems to be more confident than other teams at this juncture taking high school position players.
They are seen as being very good at this. They have, especially historically, Zac Veen most recently. Doing pretty well in that category. A lot of the same guys are there from like when they drafted Nolan Arenado and other guys that have made the Big Leagues. I think that is their comfort zone.
I don’t think there’s necessarily a guy here on the board. Justin Crawford I think is in the area that sort of fits what they like and is a high school hitter that goes in this area.
I also think they in the same way as Kansas City and maybe LA, Detroit, Mets, all in that range, they may all have the opportunity to take the first pitcher off the board.
So without revealing something that may pop up in my mock later, I think that may be the thing gaining momentum right now for Colorado, as I chase down a rumor I got right before I came on here that they might be eyeing a college pitcher at that pick to take the first one.
Because I think right or wrong it gets pretty animated in a room when it’s like, do we want to take the ninth hitter on our board or the first pitcher, and I could see that in a world where it’s just everything is tossed up in the air, what do we think? It all kind of seems the same.
Taking the first pitcher seems like a nice, shiny thing to kind of hang your hat on if you want to mix metaphors, and I think that will be what I project in my next, final mock. I think that makes some sense from a group that I don’t necessarily have a great idea figuring out what they’re doing.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the Golden Spikes Award winner, Ivan Melendez. Two-part question. First, where do you see him falling round-wise, and maybe some good fits for him as a team? And also, this is a guy drafted in the 16th round last year and kind of came back betting on himself, hoping to be drafted higher, and that doesn’t always work out for guys. Obviously, it worked out really well for him. Just kind of, where you feel like he stands in terms of guys that have done that and have actually been able to raise their stock the way he has?
McDaniel: Yeah, there’s been definitely some conversations I’ve had with agents and teams about guys who, I think they’re college players, 21-year-olds specifically, whose demands this year may not fit what the markets has for them.
And then saying, oh, well, if he doesn’t sign he’s got to go back to school and then he’ll be 22, which is seen as a negative, and then he’s got to perform even better than expected to then go higher, but then there is the discount you take from not having as much leverage to be able to go back to school. How does all this work? And then someone will say, what about Sonny DiChiara at Auburn, transferred from Samford, made a bunch of money as an almost 23-year-old, and Ivan Melendez being the other one.
We also saw that a lot with the COVID shortened draft. Because it was five rounds, a lot of guys that were 21-year-old, later round guys, didn’t get to get picked and get paid, so there were a ton of 22-year-olds in the ’21 draft.
So yeah, I think Melendez, because he is a potentially quick moving, very well performing 22-year-old, the concern is right-handed hitting first baseman, not necessarily the most athletic, most defensive value or youngest, but hits giant homers, has giant exit velos, has really performed.
I don’t think he gets out of the second round, because even if he is seen as a third-round pick, somebody is going to want to save money with a 22-year-old or older player, and do it with a guy they feel very confident about who’s very accomplished.
So I think Ben Joyce as a reliever is another guy like that. I don’t think he gets past that top half of the third round, even if he gets paid less than slot there. I think Melendez will be somewhere in Round 2, because, again, it’s a hitter.
And yeah, to answer your question, the list of 22-year-olds who turned down money and then came back and then doubled or tripled what they turned down is a handful of guys. Sometimes it’s zero; sometimes it’s not very many.
So yeah, he’s accomplished.
And then I would say in terms of fits, like pretty much every team wants a guy like that. I think his best fit will be probably a team that goes slot or over with their first pick, wants to have money later, and so they need to cut with the second pick.
He goes picks 35 to 55, that’s probably an under slot. And then as you get later in Round 2, that might be closer to slot. I think teams financially, what their plan is, is probably a better fit than trying to pinpoint a team that likes right-handed hitters to hit a bunch of home runs because I think that’s kind of everybody.
Q: I wanted to get your opinion of the big picture question. Between the COVID-19 pandemic causing cancellations, the elimination of Minor League jobs, cutting the draft down from 40 rounds, we saw a lot of big, big, unprecedented, industry-wide factors manifest in various ways the last two years. Are any of those things still playing out in a way that you think will affect this year’s draft?
McDaniel: Well, I referenced the shortened five-round draft in 2020, the number of 22-year-olds that — Gavin Williams comes to mind. But there was a number of pitchers through rounds two and three that didn’t get paid and probably should have, or would have in a longer draft.
I think while there maybe aren’t as many players that are coming back for a third bite of the apple out of college, I think the thing you are seeing is because so many — especially teams in the SEC and ACC have so many 22- and 23-year-olds, like a lot of scouts were referencing at the SEC tournament. We’ll be sitting there with a list of like, hey, we’re watching LSU. These are the five prospects. Then some dude walks to the plate that you don’t even know the name because you haven’t seen LSU this year, and he’s hitting like .320 with 18 homers.
I’m like, who is that guy? And you look down and he’s like, 24 years old and you’re like, oh, okay. That’s why that guy is not a prospect, but he’s performing well.
So I think there was so much of that going on. You both have maybe more of those 22-, 23-year-old guys floating around who got more playing time. They got to stay longer. They developed, that later bloomer. They’re still around.
And then conversely, I think you’re seeing some guys that didn’t get to play as much the last couple years that are either going to get drafted with a short track record or at a mid-major or will affect guys’ value going into next year because they didn’t play the first two years because of all the 24-, 25-year-old guys floating around.
I think people maybe overrated how much junior college would be affected by this because I think a lot of kids would rather — if you want to go to Tennessee and play, you don’t get to play as a freshman, do you want to go to junior college and hope to get back to Tennessee, or do you just want to stay and see if you could fight your way in there and maybe an injury or something falls your way.
People thought junior colleges would have a big spike in talent, which I don’t think really happened. So I think that may be more affecting sort of playing time and like, the narrative trajectory of a lot of these players, and I think we’re seeing the tail end of that now.
But yeah, the biggest effect was the 2021 Draft, a 22-year-old pitcher. I feel like whenever I start off answering a question about that, I would rattle off seven names and then realize there are three more and then look at my list, and I missed three more. It’s like, there’s like a dozen dudes that would’ve gone sixth round for 500k last year and they just didn’t get to and now they’re going to go third round for under slot this year.
Q: One follow-up on that, are there any other industry-wide factors new to this year that we should be mentioning in the same breath? I’m thinking about NIL rights for college players, is that enough of a factor yet that could affect signability in a way that could affect draft decisions?
McDaniel: Certainly a factor in that I think we’re seeing a lot of players, injured pitchers I’m thinking of some in particular, where they will get into the portal and be eyeing going to a bigger to SEC kind of school, where you have wonder if NIL stuff is a factor for that. And then if their number isn’t met out of the draft this year, they’ll go play at that bigger school.
The other issue is, and I’ve been asking around about this, I’m sure you are aware, it’s a big sort of rumor and narrative in the industry that these guys are getting paid tons of money. And then you go ask around and it’s like, you know, they’re actually not getting paid that much money. If you’re a big prospect out of high school and you have a great freshman year and you hit the portal and you think you’re going to get $2 million out of school two years from now, we are talking like tens of thousands of dollars at most. It’s not enough to go to a school you don’t want to go to, to then maybe get worse coaching and get $1.5 million instead of two. You’re losing a bunching of money doing that.
So I think NIL is a factor if somebody is entering the portal and wants to change schools and that can be a tiebreaker amongst five similar schools, but in terms of causing people to do something they didn’t want to do, I think it’s like a total non-factor. I think out of high school, NIL money doesn’t exist — Tommy White might’ve gotten NIL money this offseason because he had a huge year. He’s a famous guy. Had a bunch of home runs, switched schools, but you could see that adding up to, okay, there’s nothing here. Out of high school Tommy White was the same player, no one is paying him NIL money to try to get him to come to a because he’s some high school guy that hit some home runs in high school. Nobody knows his name, no company can sell more chicken wings because he’s holding up a plate. That doesn’t fit.
I think the NIL thing for high schoolers is a total zero unless it is Druw Jones goes to school, sure. It’s more if you go to school and have a great freshman year, then that can become a factor for you because there’s a little bit of marketability and actual value that can be provided. But yeah, for colleges certainly it’s a factor, but I don’t think it’s quite as much of a financial factor people may think that are not really doing the work and just repeating rumors, because there are some crazy rumors out there about this.
Q: Tigers at 12, do they have to go offense?
McDaniel: They don’t have to do anything. As much as I’d like for them to just do whatever I tell them to, they don’t seem to listen.
I think they are leaning college. I think they’d like to take a college pitcher, but as mentioned before this is a really bad college pitcher class. So they by no means are forced to do that because I don’t think that’s necessarily what the board is giving them. I think what the board is giving them is a college hitter, so I think they are most likely to go that direction.
I think given where they are sort of competitively and trying to get over the hump and taking Jackson Jobe last year, I don’t think a high school pitcher makes any sense at all, even though it sounds like they like Brock Porter, and he’s local, and he’s very good, and all those things. I just — it’s hard for me to stomach, all the sort of rumors I’m hearing towards is that they don’t really want to do that. I think, again, because of the competitive situation, just high school players in general, especially ones that will take a little bit longer to get there, don’t seem to fit what they’re doing.
So yeah, I would say maybe one-third chance college pitcher and then two-thirds chance college hitter, and we’ll say, negligible amount high school player, and we’ll see if I’m wrong. That’s kind of how I’m understanding it and the things I’m hearing, and there’s always a couple picks where what I’m hearing is totally wrong, but I think you can logic it out and what I’m hearing is matching the logic. So I’ll kind of lean with that.
Q: The college hitter, a couple names that could be thrown out?
McDaniel: Yeah, Jace Jung out of Texas Tech I think it’s probably a good shot he’ll be there and go right around their pick and is safe and quick moving and things like that. Jacob Berry, I think they’re probably as low as he could get. I’d imagine he’d stop at picks 11 or 12. I think Jordan Beck they’ve shown some interest in on a little bit of riskier, maybe slower-moving side, but chance to be like maybe All-Star level talent totally hits.
Then Gavin Cross would be sort of like a dream that — as I was saying before maybe 8 to 13, 14. So there’s a chance he gets to 12, I’d imagine they’d pick if he does. I would say if it’s a college hitter, probably one of those guys.
Q: You just mentioned Brock Porter, where do you see him possibly landing and what do you like about him?
McDaniel: He’s similar to a lot of the high school pitchers. Has a really wide range. He could be the very first pitcher off the board and go 9, 10, 11. I think there’s also a non-zero chance that he’s got a huge bonus waiting for him in the 30s or 40s and can find his way down there. He also has the age where would be sophomore eligible if he went to school, which gives a little added leverage for such demands, and there’s a lot of high school pitchers in this general range. There’s as many as five or six that might go between 10 and 40. So there’s a lot of teams, if you just have doubt you might not be able to sign him, there’s another one you probably can sign.
So yeah, he’s got a really wide range, I think he’s most likely to go between 10 and 20, but I would not rule out him going a little later for more money, that roughly 15 to 20 overall money if he slides later.
But yeah, big strong kid, throws strikes, really improved this spring, had a below-average curveball I was not nuts about, developed an above-average to plus slider, has always had a plus changeup and been a pretty good athlete, and you could easily imagine him throwing 100 if everything comes together, just given all the components that are there. But also risky because he’s a high school righty that throws hard, and that’s like the riskiest subset in the whole draft.
I and many others are just scared not because of him particularly, but because that’s the kind of guy that we tend to overrate because it looks very nice, but there’s just so many things that can go wrong with those guys. Yeah, a little scary sometimes.
Q: Two names that pop up on the board if you have any thoughts on either of them is U of M’s Clark Elliott or Central Michigan’s Andrew Taylor?
McDaniel: Yeah, both have some interest in top five rounds. Elliott I’d guess Rounds 3 to 4, Taylor probably 3 to 5, but yeah, Clark Elliot, hit-first guy, probably a corner fit, so there’s a little bit of a ceiling issue there. If he was a center fielder he would probably go higher.
Taylor a lot of components that the sort of Cleveland-style of drafting team likes, where it’s not overwhelming stuff but it’s athlete and strikes and they have a lot of luck taking guys like that and teaching them to throw harder. So I think he’ll be like a priority draft once you get out of the top 50 picks for teams like that.
The Yankees, the Twins, the Guardians all take guys like that, and have been sort of moving up the board as teams start competing for those types of players.
Q: First question, looking at the Miami Marlins draft board, you see a lot of mocks and a lot of top 100 prospects. A name that continues to pop up is Termarr Johnson, but outside of Johnson, let’s say that Johnson is not available for the sixth pick, he goes in the top five, which seems more like a possibility than it did a couple weeks ago. What type of player do you think the Marlins would be looking at? It looks like it’s hitter but what type of hitter do you think they’d be looking for with the sixth pick?
McDaniel: Yeah, I think it’s more than like their preferences necessarily, what the board is giving them, if Druw Jones, Jackson Holliday, Termarr are all off the board, I think it’s the college hitters. I think it’s Parada, Brooks Lee, and Jacob Berry are probably the guys they would be most interested in.
I think what we’ve seen, I think it was 2020 where the Marlins took all pitchers. They’re obviously not opposed to all different demographics of players. But like at this pick it would be a huge cut to take any pitcher, and the board is giving you a bunch of sort of safe hitters, which I think is generally the teams that play demographics the way the Marlins do tend to prefer that kind of thing. And again, they’re a team that’s kind of rounding the corner on the rebuild and moving in the right direction, the young players are kind of getting to the Big Leagues. I think they’d rather, if they can’t get a dynamic, top-of-the-draft talent to get a quicker moving, safer college guy and then take some swings later in the draft.
I think a combination of their preferences and what’s there, but most what’s there is college bats, so I would expect them to take one of those guys.
Q: Let’s say Termarr is gone and some of the other targets are off the board. Could you see them possibly reaching for a guy, for example, Zach Neto with the sixth pick, a college bat that is from South Florida, he put up great numbers in the Cape and at Campbell, could you see them making a move like that and trying to sign him for under slot value and use that extra money to try to get bigger name players in the second and third rounds?
McDaniel: Certainly possible that they have a board of five guys they like, all five of them go one through five and they’re looking at something they don’t want to look at, and so then the scenario you’re laying out, like cutting, maybe taking a college hitter or whatever else, I think then pitchers become an option. I think going over later, certainly possible. I would say that’s like a five, 10 percent chance, just given — again, if they’re picking 8, I’d be worried about that. Picking 6, I think they’ll get one of the guys they like. Again, five, 10 percent chance I think that they sort of — not panic but sort of do something in that sort of Mozzicato strain of let’s save you a million and a half, two million and spread it around. I would say very unlikely given where they are, but certainly possible. Can’t really rule that out with anybody.
Q: Colby Thomas, Mercer outfielder, where do you project him in this draft class, and do you see him possibly going undrafted because of the — are there any injury concerns with the shoulder?
McDaniel: Yeah, shoulder is a concern. I think the bigger concern is that he is a huge tools guy with a unique swing, we’ll say. His hands get — for a visual aid, his hands get way back here. But incredible athlete. One of the best athletes in the draft, and real tools that show up on the field.
I think with no injury he probably goes back half of the second round. I think with the injury and I would surmise a higher price because of the Florida option to then make a bunch of money next year. I would think he will get drafted and has a chance to go late second to maybe fourth round.
But yeah, in terms of what his number is, what he’ll say yes or no to, that I don’t know, but I just think on talent, if you can look past the shoulder thing or you think it’s something that’s fixable, I think he goes in the top 100 picks for sure. But whether he will or won’t, good question, because I think he’s one of those guys that could go to Florida and make a bunch of money if he can put up similar numbers in the SEC given the huge tools.
Q: The Rays having the 70th and 71st pick with the trade from the Tigers, is there a gaming of the system you can do in that situation?
McDaniel: Yeah, when the Angels had back-to-back picks, they took Mike Trout with the second one, so maybe they’ll do something crazy like that and take a Hall of Famer.
Sure, I mean, that puts them in a spot where I think, going back to what I said before, the tolerance for risk with high school players is higher for them than with other teams, and having multiple picks and a lot of money and ways to spread that around I think gives them an opportunity to do something maybe like what A.J. Preller will do where it’s basically never pay slot at any pick, it’s always over or under. I could see them pinpointing a couple players that they like. Often what will happen here is you’re picking at 70, your next pick is at 100, he’s not getting our next pick, we’ve got to take him here, but he’s under slot, so we’ll move somebody here, the guy we like that nobody else likes we can push down the board so we’ll take him later. I think especially when you’re talking about upside high school guys that’s most likely to happen, and with Tampa, that’s the kind of guys they tend to like, or some guy in college with a crazy, freaky changeup or whatever it is, they tend to be on guys that once you get outside of those top 30, 40 picks aren’t consensus.
So I would expect them to move money around. To what degree, I don’t know, but if you’re trying to project chaos, I would say the Rays are a good bet.
Q: Shane McClanahan, 31st pick in 2018, would you have expected him to be an All-Star and the most dominant pitcher in the Major Leagues at this point this year?
McDaniel: Nope. Got me there. I was on the low end of him in the draft. I moved him aggressively into my top 100 when I found out I was wrong, but even then I would have been like, hey, maybe third serve for a couple years and we’ll see what happens. Yeah, thumbs up to Shane. You got me there.
Q: I think they thought of him as a reliever up until last year, as well.
McDaniel: Yeah. Fun story, apparently there was an email sent out right before they took him because he had a bigger number behind the Rays and was trying to get past that pick, and it did not happen. So he could have easily not been playing for the Rays right now.
Q: You’re high on Termarr; you’re on the high side, I think, for a lot of projectors —
McDaniel: I’m happy to be, by the way. Yeah, I’ll go live on Termarr Island if need be.
Q: The one question I have on him is, kind of the inverse of what impacted Elijah is facing the elite talent that Elijah has faced on his high school schedule. Has it been difficult for guys to get a really true feel on Termarr based on what his high school schedule was or have guys gotten enough from the showcases?
McDaniel: Good question, because that definitely did happen. The difference is, I remember being told about Termarr and Cam Collier when they were 14 years old living in Atlanta after — C.J. Abrams pops up, you’re like, all right, that’s the best guy in this area for a while. You ask area scouts who’s the next one, and they go, glad you asked; there’s these two kids that are 14 that, holy cow, these guys can really hit. And people thought Termarr might end up looking like C.J. Abrams physically; that’s how long ago it was that you’re just like, oh, this guy might be 6’2″ and skinny and really fast, and he’s basically the opposite of that now.
So because he has the benefit of being seen for so long, was so good in the summer — like I was ready at East Coast Pro last August where his hand move was like one of the — I put up some video today if you want to look at it. There’s a couple swings where his hands are out of control. He hit the ball, but it’s like, you can’t do that against 95. But he was doing it against 91, and then when he started facing 95, there’s another swing I put up today where he hits a home run foul, where instead of doing ‘this,’ he just does ‘that,’ and then almost hits it out but is just foul, and it’s like, oh, he’s changing the swing from pitch to pitch. That’s how advanced he is at this.
So like I went in there and not necessarily wanting to trash him but being like, oh, he’s going to get exposed against these kids that can throw 94, 95 over the plate, and he demolished that event. He was better than Druw at that event. He’s probably a better hitter than Druw Jones right now, but if we’re trying to project five years from now, in which case I think Druw might pass him, but I think he’s the best high school hitter I’ve seen in a long time. But he’s one of the very few guys where he could face like, laughably bad competition in the spring and it not affect him, and then right after the season ended he went and played in a college summer league and performed well there.
So he had two, three months there where he could have faced really good competition and he didn’t, but yeah, because of all the history, he was able to adjust.
Then Elijah Green is facing all the great competition start to finish and is sort of hot and cold in a way that I don’t think Termarr would be, but again, maybe we’re being unfair holding Elijah up to that standard when he was facing the hardest competition out of all these guys.
Q: If I asked you who was your best bat in this draft, are you going with Termarr?
McDaniel: Yeah, if I’m projecting combination — projecting in the batter’s box who will be the best hitter from this draft, I would go Termarr. I’m looking at my tool grades to make sure I have that. I have him projected as 60 hits, 60 power, and I don’t think anybody else has two — yeah, everybody else is just below that, but my grades also back me up, so I wanted to make sure I was being consistent.
Q: Just on the Rangers in particular, we’ve talked about their risk-reward and all of that, but have you heard anything regarding this team and the lack of a second and third round pick this year making them either less risk averse or more willing to shoot for the moon?
McDaniel: I have not, and we’ve seen teams do both. Because you know you’re going to get a premium talent at three. You don’t then have to — we’ve seen the Astros because of the sign stealing stuff, they take swings with their first pick, because it’s like, our first pick is 87, we’ve got to take a guy so we have something to hang our hat on, not a bunch of fill-in guys. You know you’re getting a guy if you’re Texas, so given their temperament I would imagine they’ll find a couple guys, maybe 500, 600k kind of guys that have some upside that they like that seem kind of like those wild, upside swings.
But I think by no means are they doing to look at the draft and be like, all we got was Jackson Holliday, I guess we’ve got to get some good players now. It’s like, no, you can take boring stuff after that. He’s going to be the guy everybody remembers from this draft anyway, or Parada, or whoever it ends up being.
Q: Drew Waters and Andrew Hoffman, how would you rate them in comparison with the Royals’ current top prospects in the farm system?
McDaniel: That’s a good question. I’m opening alternate spreadsheets so I can make sure I’m being consistent here. I had to turn in a top 5 to go down to the side of the screen in the draft broadcast, and I was changing it as the trade happened, so they had great timing that I didn’t have to turn one in and then correct myself and do it again.
So I turned in a top 5, Drew Waters was not — I almost wanted to say Druw Jones, there’s been a lot of Druw Jones today. I wanted to put him in the top 5, and then I looked and I was like, oh, he’s not in the top 5 there. Scrolling down.
Yeah, I’ve got Pasquantino, Pratto, Lacy, Loftin, Mozzicato, Kudrna, and then it kind of opens up a little bit. I think you can throw Waters in there with Kowar, Marsh, Zerpa, Bowlan, Carter Jensen, some of the guys from last year, Peyton Wilson. I’d say he’s right in that six to 10 area. I said on Twitter I had him as a low 45 or sort of high 40 plus, and that’s right about where those guys are.
So yeah, not in the top 5 but in the top 10, and I think his grade will also change because I would imagine he’ll play in the Big Leagues at some point this year, and if he comes up and is terrible, then he’ll probably move down a little bit as the sort of balloon continues to come off the rose, or he comes up and has a great month or so, probably move up a little bit because guys that perform in the Big Leagues — not everybody ranked in the top 200 is going to perform in the Big Leagues. You want to go with that.
Hoffman I have in that sort of like 15 to 25 range, not super exciting but potential back-end guy that popped up late in his career. CJ Alexander is probably an older guy but certainly looked like a prospect at various points of the last couple years, big power, decent at third base, probably more like a corner utility left-handed bat kind of guy.