Draft grades! You might think it's impossible to grade the MLB Draft until five, maybe even 10, years out, considering the ups and downs and diagonals all of these prospects are going to have. I'm pretty sure I've nailed these grades, though. Of all the eligible high school seniors and college players in the country, these 26 players were considered among the very best. How can you not be excited at their potential?
These grades aren't premature, then. Close your eyes and use your imagination just a little bit, and let's look into the future of the 2015 MLB Draft.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks - Dansby Swanson, SS
There was some talk the Diamondbacks would get fancy here, drafting someone who wouldn't cost as much money and being more aggressive later in the draft with their extra cash, but they went for the talent. Swanson, a Vanderbilt product, picked up Jose Reyes and Rafael Furcal comparisons. Even if he has the same health concerns, a Reyes/Furcal career would be exceptionally valuable, as both had two of the better careers of any shortstops over the last 20 years. Now picture what could have been if they had both been healthy.
That could be Swanson. Great pick.
2. Houston Astros - Alex Bregman, SS
Bregman isn't a guaranteed shortstop, but he should hit for average and power as a middle infielder. On the telecast, the junior at LSU was compared to Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia, second basemen with compact, direct strokes, excellent gloves, and enough speed to be a factor on the bases.
The Astros just promoted Carlos Correa, who should be their shortstop for a decade. Now imagine what it would be like if he had an Altuve or Pedroia next to him. OK, he has the actual Altuve, but now pretend they had an extra Altuve to put where in the heck they want. It's a beautiful dream. Great pick.
3. Colorado Rockies - Brendan Rodgers, SS
Kudos to the MLB.com broadcast team for avoiding a lazy Troy Tulowitzki comp. No, the high-schooler Rodgers isn't going to be Tulowitzki, but he did pick up a Brandon Crawford comparison. Do you know how valuable that kind of player is?
Think about what that's like for six or seven years, to have an above-average defender at the most important defensive position, and have him hit better than his peers at that position. Now think about that player getting paid rookie salaries and first-year arbitration money, allowing your team to explore the free agent or trade markets with gusto, unencumbered by financial limitations.
Rodgers might help the Rockies do just that one day. Great pick.
4. Texas Rangers - Dillon Tate, RHP
Tate has some injury concerns, and there's still some question about his durability as a starter, which isn't ideal at No. 4, but you can see why everyone's excited about the UC-Santa Barbara prospect. He picked up Dave Stewart comparisons here, but that's more of a discussion of his potential peak. Imagine a Stewart who developed quickly and stayed around for a few more years.
Or, heck, just imagine Stewart's peak. He helped his team win three pennants and a World Series. That's the ceiling for Tate. Just imagine how grateful the Rangers would be if he could reach that ceiling, and there are some people who would be comfortable projecting even more. Great pick.
5. Houston Astros - Kyle Tucker, OF
By now, you're suspicious. Are all of these grades going to be "A"s? Is this an overreaction to last year's draft grades, which were satirical, sure, but had a veneer of a darker truth? People hated those grades, even if the point was that even in the first round of the MLB Draft, most of the players are going to flop, and that's almost inarguable.
Yeah, but what if they don't flop? What if they don't? What if they're around for years, giving their fans, an entire metropolitan area, a reason to watch baseball? Why focus on the likely? Focus on the dream. Check this guy out, look at the comparable players he got from the MLB Network. Wil Myers was mentioned. Shawn Green was brought up, and he's about as good as a hitter you can be without getting serious Hall of Fame consideration. Peter Gammons brought up Ted F'ing Williams as a comp, even if only for one small part of his game.
And, hell, why not? Do you know who was drafted No. 5 once? Dale Murphy, who won two MVP awards. Ryan Braun, who is still chugging in the middle of his team's lineup, 10 years later. Buster Posey, who was directly responsible for three championships before he was 27.
Tucker has that kind of raw, be it high-school-level, talent, the kind that gets a player picked fifth overall. So I ask you again: Why not? Great pick.
Keeping it in the family
6. Minnesota Twins - Tyler Jay, LHP
The comps here are Andrew Miller and Billy Wagner, except the Twins are looking at Jay as a starter. Now picture Andrew Miller and that nasty, funky stuff of his going for seven innings, regularly. It didn't work out for Miller, but Jay, out of the University of Illinois, starts with that kind of arm. That's a helluva head start, and it means he's closer to reaching that dream of Andrew Miller-but-a-starter than almost any professional pitcher alive.
If he's closer to being that kind of pitcher than almost any professional pitcher alive ... isn't that something we can celebrate? He's left-handed and has a great arm, the kind that can get him drafted before 1000s of other available amateurs. Yeah, you should be excited. Great pick.
7. Red Sox - Andrew Benintendi, OF
Do you know how many games the Red Sox had to lose to get this pick? A lot. A lot of dispiriting, torpid, ugly games, and they came in a seasons where expectations were absolutely as high as they've ever been in Red Sox history. You might not feel sorry for them because they won the World Series in 2013, but that's underestimating just how long a baseball season is. It's especially underestimating how long a bad baseball season is.
This guy, well, I hadn't heard of him because I don't pay attention to this stuff, but the talking heads compared him to Don Mattingly. Can you imagine? That kind of bat, roaming around Fenway Park for a decade? It's a beautiful dream, and it would justify the 2014 season. "Sure it was awful, but we got Benintendi because of it."
8. White Sox - Carson Fulmer, RHP
Watch the video. He throws hard. Really hard. Just like all of these guys, yes, but one of them will develop above-average command to go along with it. Maybe several of them will do that. And when it happens, they'll dominate. Here's the equation: (raw stuff you see on video) + (development) = All-Star. After he was drafted out of Vandy, there was a Tim Lincecum comparison, and that came after a Sonny Gray comparison.
That's the kind of pitcher who can help his team succeed for a long time. Great pick.
9. Cubs - Ian Happ, 2B/OF
The Cubs went with hitting again, even though they have tremendous young players at almost every position. So what? There will always be a need for more, and this guy out of the University of Cincinnati gets a Ben Zobrist comp, which is a beautiful dream. The genius of Zobrist is that he was just as comfortable at second as he was in right field, and Happ might be that kind of guy, too.
Really, if you're looking at a roster filled with toolsy future stars, wouldn't you want a Swiss Army Knife like Zobrist? The Cubs just might have that here. Even if it's unlikely, the dream is still beautiful. And several of these teams will realize that beautiful, unlikely dream. Some of those dreams will be realized at the perfect time. Great pick.
10. Phillies - Cornelius Randolph, SS
This dude literally got a Tony Gwynn/Mark McLemore combo-comparison from Harold Reynolds:
He's either "Moby Dick" or a really good mystery novel that helps you get through a long flight.
But that's the point of the draft. Fifty-seven players were selected before Tony Gwynn in the 1981 draft, and only 26 of those players played more than 100 games in the majors. The odds were against Gwynn, but he had something, man. He had something in that swing, in those eyes, in the coordination. It wasn't enough to get him into the top of the first round, though.
It was for the high-schooler Randolph. And if he's McLemore? Well, that dude played 19 years and had some really good seasons. He was a part of five postseason teams, and that isn't a coincidence. If Randolph is just McLemore, he'll still help his team win. Great pick.
11. Reds - Tyler Stephenson, C
Let's see, he's a tall catcher who might be a solid hitter, so to which major league catchers does he compare oh, OK, sure, I'm sorry, should have seen that coming.
Still, when the Reds debated whom they wanted, when they had the long discussion before the draft regarding their draft board, and when they had a shorter discussion right as the pick was on the clock, they kept thinking about a catcher who could a) handle the staff and b) hit anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6 in the order. Stephenson might do that. Sure, it's a long shot, but they all are. You know that. So do they. The Reds saw enough in this dream to prefer it to other dreams. It's a good dream. Great pick.
12. Marlins - Josh Naylor, 1B
By law, because he's a thicker Canadian hitter, he got a Matt Stairs comparison. So even if Naylor doesn't play an inning in the majors, his gift to you was that he allowed you to think of the 29 games at shortstop that Stairs played in the minors.
Oh, that's good. And now the 91 games at second?
Yeah, that's the stuff. I can't remember who wrote about it -- Bill James, maybe -- but there was an essay once about how Stairs would have been a Hall of Fame contender if he could have stuck at second. It was to highlight what defensive positions really mean in terms of value, but now extend the argument the other way: If Stairs could hit a little more, and if he were in the majors earlier, he would have been a perennial All-Star.
The Marlins think they're getting that in the lefty Naylor. Sure, they picked him that high to save money, but they also believe they can do that and get power in a draft that didn't have a lot of it. Great pick.
13. Rays - Garrett Whitley, OF
Yeah, I thought about stopping at No. 10. Then the MLB.com video dropped a Jay Payton comparison on the high-schooler Whitley, and I had those thoughts again. But this is going to be Peter vs. The Chicken. This is going to be Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes, except one of the rakes is going to be a Hall of Fame rake. It might as well be Whitley, who has good bat speed and pitch recognition, according to the scouts. Every team can use that clay to mold something great.
And, hey, Jay Payton was pretty good for a while. That's all you can ask for in the middle of the first round. Great pick.
14. Braves - Kolby Allard, LHP
He reminds people of Scott Kazmir. The old one or the new one? Doesn't matter. There are only a few dozen people in the world who could be either. Here's one.
Everyone knows the draft is a crapshoot. But do this draft with current major league players and see how it looks five years from now. Heck, see how it looks two years from now. Justin Verlander ... Elvis Andrus ... Carlos Gonzalez ... all of those players looked cornerstones just two years ago. If we can't figure out the major leaguers, how can we expect to figure out the amateurs?
All I know is that smart people for the Braves looked at the options and made a decision, and that if you talked with them for an hour, they could convince you it was the right move. Great pick.
15. Brewers - Trent Clark, OF
The high-school prospect was Compared to A.J. Pollock after the selection, and do you know what cynical jerks like me were saying after the Pollock pick? "Eh, mid-first-rounders rarely work out, so I'm not that scared."
Pollock scares the bejeepers out of me now, though. As a Giants fan, he's one of the players I least like to face. Clark is toolsy enough to be drafted over the thousands below him, just like Pollock, so he has a shot. Great pick.
16. Yankees - James Kaprielian, RHP
The Yankees went with a relatively safe, consistent college pitcher who was compared to Ian Kennedy, whom they drafted years ago. I remember people making fun of that Kennedy pick and complaining it was boring. And look at that, Kennedy is still pitching and providing value for his team.
More than that, he had trade value at one point. His implied value was a part of Curtis Granderson, Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer switching hands. Don't just look at the players they will be. Look at the players other teams still think they could be. The UCLA Bruin Kaprielian could be that kind of prospect. Great pick.
17. Indians - Brady Aiken, LHP
Compared to Cliff Lee and Clayton Kershaw, of course, as one of the better teenaged lefties to be available in the draft in the last decade. He has a sketchy medical record. The Astros found an abnormality in his ligament last year, that it was smaller than expected, so he's a risk.
Give the Indians a season of that Kershaw ceiling, though, at just the right time. You know they've earned it. If there's any pitcher who could provide that stars-aligning season, who is overflowing with potential leaking out of potential, it's Aiken. Great pick.
From No. 1 to No. 17
18. Giants - Phil Bickford, RHP
He was compared to Max Scherzer. The Giants got to hold onto this pick because they didn't sign Max Scherzer, or anyone else of note in the free-agent market. They looked at the risks, they looked at the rewards, and they passed. One of the risks is that they would have to give up Phil Bickford.
And yet, he could be the next Scherzer. Here's a quote from his coach:
"He can put a 96-mph fastball anywhere he wants -- up in the zone, down in the zone, in, away. Anywhere he wants it. Just being able to locate that velocity at any given time is something I think separates Phil from a lot of people."
Sounds like Scherzer, all right. Great pick.
19. Pirates - Kevin Newman, SS
The dreaded Adam Kennedy comp, eh? Yeah, except Kennedy is one of those players who was underrated by the sabermetrics of his time. In retrospect, he was excellent, and the defense really was worth it.
The Pirates have a similar player in Jordy Mercer, who is good enough to be the difference between the Pirates making or missing the postseason one of these years. They used to have guys like Ronny Cedeno, so Mercer is a substantial upgrade. The Arizona Wildcat Newman might be like that, even if he doesn't have the Brandon Crawford upside with the bat.
Of course, Brandon Crawford didn't have Brandon Crawford upside with the bat two years ago, either. So I don't know. I guess the point is, the draft is for dreaming. There's no point thinking about reality. They're all All-Stars right now. Great pick.
20. A's - Richie Martin, SS
This is the designated day, every year, to stop the grind of the regular season and think about the poetry of future seasons. You could make a dynamite list of franchise players drafted in the second round, or franchise players who were supposed to be "reaches" in the first round. Sometimes teams out-scout the world; sometimes they get lucky. There's no one in this first round who shouldn't be playing baseball professionally. We're not in the era where teams wouldn't even bother drafting baseball players with their first-rounders.
Martin, a Florida Gator, could work out. Here's a Jimmy Rollins comparison. In retrospect, we'll have a lot to say about this pick and the ones just below it. For now, though, great pick.
21. Royals - Ashe Russell, RHP
And here, in the bottom-half of the first round, the pennant-winning Royals got perhaps the best high-school pitcher in the draft. He gets Clay Buchholz comps, possibly because of the hair. But what a coup! One of the very best arms in the draft at No. 21.
Of course, they all have good arms.
Some of these guys are going to pan out. The 2015 draft will mean something glorious for more than one team, even if it means sadness for others. Ashes to Ashes, bust to bust. That's how it goes. Great pick.
22. Tigers - Beau Burrows, RHP
Gets a Shelby Miller comp from folks who watched a lot of Shelby Miller. Power arm. Could be good if he can spot the fastball and develop the offspeed stuff, just like every danged pitcher on this list. Great pick.
23. Cardinals - Nick Plummer, OF
Like the Cardinals won't develop this guy into an All-Star. I don't care if he's missing both thumbs. He'll hit a double in the 2019 NLCS, and the other 22 teams above the Cardinals will have regrets. Got a Shin-Soo Choo comp, and it's easy to remember just how good Choo was. Great pick.
24. Dodgers - Walker Buehler, RHP
No, I don't care for this pick. Roy Oswalt might be a good comparison, but his eyebrows drift when he loads his back ankle, and his wrist torque is all wrong. There's pretty much no way the Vandy product is going to pan out for the Dodgers, I'm sorry to say. Poor pick.
25. Orioles - D.J. Stewart, OF
Dream, dammit. Use this draft to dream. Use this draft to follow the short-season leagues and wonder what could be. Embrace the unlikeliness of a No. 25 pick succeeding at the same time you embrace the idea that he has a better chance than No. 26 through No. 1200. It's impossible to divine who will be a star and who will be Jason Kubel, but that shouldn't stop you from enjoying the MLB Draft. Great pick.
26. Angels - Taylor Ward, C
It was actually pretty hard to find a major league comp in the Internet for some reason, but I did find one for Max Pentecost, who in turn got a Russell Martin comp last year. So Ward is probably Russell Martin.
Unless he isn't. Unless he's traded for someone even better. Unless he's even better. I'm sorry for last year. Those players weren't all "F"s. They were all "A"s until proven guilty of being manifestations of the draft's cruelty. Until then, they're all shining examples of the draft's beauty. Great pick.
They're all A's. You're an A. Even while gliding over the chasm of reality, we still know that some of us are just going to keep soaring. The future is dark only if believe that's all it holds. There's beauty in there, yes. There's beauty. They're all A's.
Except for that Dodgers pick.
SB Nation video archives: The best first pitch and the absolute worst ones (2013)