The day has finally arrived, as the first two rounds of the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft will be broadcast later today on MLB Network, and live-streamed on MLB.com at 7 p.m. EST.
A day of hope, both for teams looking to improve their field of talent, and for those who will transition to professional baseball with the hope of one day becoming a Major League player.
The Mets will be have the sixth pick in this year’s iteration of the draft, and the consensus of who’d they take with their earliest pick since they drafted Matt Harvey at number seven in 2010 has split heavily as day draws closer.
Earlier mocks by Jonathan Mayo over at MLB.com had the Mets taking Joey Bart (C, Georgia Tech). Baseball America had the Mets taking Ryan Rolison (LHP, Mississippi). Other sources had names like Matthew Liberatore (LHP, Mountain Ridge High School, Arizona) and Shane McClanahan (LHP, South Florida).
Over the last month, it seemed that every mock had Jonathan India (3B, Florida), it seemed like near-certainty that the college product would be heading to the Mets organization. The last handful of mock drafts have been less certain. Jonathan Mayo now has the Mets taking Alec Bohm (3B, Wichita State), and Kiley McDaniels of Fangraphs pointed out that a solid number of mocks have the Mets taking Jarred Kelenic (OF, Waukesha High School, Wisconsin).
Odds are that Bart will not be available by the sixth pick, and Bohm also may not be. Personally, despite Bohm having such an advanced bat, I do not think that he’d be the best player available, and that’s strongly in part due to how he stands defensively. Thoughts in the Mets front office is that they want a true athlete in their pick, which could very much be someone along the lines of India, Kelenic, or Swaggerty.
While speculation has been the forefront of most conversations about the draft, I want to go over who my top picks are for the 2018 draft.
Nick Madrigal (2B/SS, Oregon State)
I want to start with a relative pipe dream. The thought that Madrigal would be gone by the time the Mets choose is not only tenable, but also likely. Some expected his stock to drop a bit when he fractured the radial bone of his left wrist, but he’s simply gone on to show that he may be the most advanced bat in this year’s draft.
Madrigal is hitting .403/.464/.573 in a shortened campaign, and a 12:5 K:BB ratio, showing, not only a very mature approach, but excellent contact abilities. His power is mostly in the gaps, but he’ll run into the occasional homerun. Also having stolen nine bases without being caught once, confirming what everyone already knew about his speed and instincts on the basepath, as his speed tool pushes 70 on the 20-80 scale.
Madrigal is an excellent defender at second, and is top-tier at the position. While having the range and arm to play short, his defense shines at second. Being around after the emergence of guys like Jose Altuve, Josh Harrison, Jimmy Rollins, and Dustin Pedroia has definitely helped Madrigal’s value in this draft, as his 5’ 7” 165 pound frame actually has comparable means.
Matthew Liberatore (LHP, Mountain Ridge High School, Arizona)
Following the model of taking the best player available, it’s my belief that Liberatore may be that guy when it comes the Mets turn to pick.
Liberatore profiled for a while as a three-pitch starter -fastball, curveball, and changeup- with the curveball being his best secondary offering. Just this last season, Liberatore also added a respectable slider to his repertoire. While his fastball may not be blowing people away, it does sit 90-94, he has also touched 96-97 this season.
Taking off from where he left off in his junior campaign, Liberatore currently holds a 0.93 ERA, with a stunning 15.57 K/9 and a 3.74 BB/9.
What separates Liberatore from other prep arms is that he is highly versatile. He has four offerings that he can throw for strikes and keep hitters off balance. His control will only continue to improve with age, and his sort of talent could move quickly throw an organization.
Jonathan India (3B, Florida)
If there’s anyone who boosted their stock this season, it was Jonathan India. India went from being looked at fairly average all around, to being one of the best hitters in this draft. While many may not buy into the sudden breakout, I think it may be legit.
Some profiles have India set at 185 pounds, while others mark him at a flat 200. It does seem that India has put on some good weight, and it’s translating into his swing. What is clear is that there is a difference in his swing. Watching video of him in 2016, India had an awkward toe-tap when he would begin his motion that would often make him drag his foot throughout his swing. Watch video of him in 2018 and he now has a full front leg lift, as well a turn forward on his front foot that looks like a kickboxer uses to generate force.
What that change in his swing has done is made India triple his home run count of 6 from last year in 208 at bats, to 18 this season in 195 at bats. What sometimes happens when hitters find a power stroke, is that they may hit less doubles, but that is not the case here, as India has 2 doubles this year, compared to the 14 he put up a year before. His HR per AB rate went from 58.50 in his freshman year, to 11.06 just two years later.
The real difference maker is also India’s approach at the plate. While his strikeout percentage wasn’t necessarily alarming, sitting at 16.29 in 2016 and 16.73 in 2017, his walk rate was nearly half of that at 8.33 in 2016 and 9.16 in 2017. This year, India has walked one more time that he’s struck out (49:48 K:BB). This change has culminated to an impressive .362/.502/.723 line for the season.
India’s defense is a highlight of its own. While he being drafted at the hot corner, his instincts, first move, and arm make it so he could play around the diamond. If the Mets want to take a true athlete with their pick, then India is a safe bet of that.
Jarred Kelenic (OF, Waukesha High School, Wisconsin)
Speaking of true athletes, here is Jarred Kelenic. Finding stats on high school guys is often a challenge, and it is so with Kelenic, but that should not detract from what we do know. Kelenic’s hit tool is rated as a 60 by multiple sources. It’s no wonder either, since he’s just got such a sweet swing from the left side. Not only is his swing mechanically sound, but he also has very strong hands are that help him generate power to all fields. This aided by a very solid eye at the plate, so he’s not often cheated.
Kelenic is also an above average runner who some looks like he could stick in center field for a while even after he matures with age. At worst, he’s a plus defender at a corner.
That leads us to Kelenic’s arm, which most would say is his second most valuable tool after his hit tool. The arm is not simply strong; it’s also very accurate.
While he does have a scholarship to the University of Louisville, I wouldn’t see it as an impedance to have him sign with the Mets at the sixth pick. If the Mets decide to go high school bat, this is their guy.
Carter Stewart (Eau Gallie High School, Florida):
Stewart is a towering presence on the mound standing at 6’ 6”. Stewart is a three-pitch pitcher, but his changeup is yet to catch up to his powerful fastball, and filthy curveball.
The fastball maxes out at 98 MPH, but normally sits mid-90’s, while being able to dial it back to get 96-97 consistently.
The curve is a joy to watch. It used to be a high-70’s offering, but now reaches the mid-80’s while still having break that is above what his competition is currently ready for.
Some have questions about his mechanics, but he seems to be consistent with his delivery. As far as the dangers of a hard thrower, it will be something that comes with the territory, but he’s about as fluid as any hard thrower at that age comes.
The upside in Stewart is why he’ll likely go early in the first round. It will be hard to pass up on that sort of arm. He’s committed to Mississippi, but like Kelenic, an early selection would make that a non-issue.
Logan Gilbert (RHP, Stetson University)
Gilbert has a fastball, slider, and changeup that are solid offerings, as well as a serviceable curve. What I really like about him though is control. He is currently sporting 12.87 K/9 with a 1.80 BB/9 (143 strikeouts to 20 walks), and a WHIP at a very respectable 0.80. That sort of control is, if not unteachable, at least very difficult to do so.
Owner of 2.52 ERA, but it’s agreed upon that he’d be even more effective if he made more consistent use of his changeup.