Let’s get this out of the way: Drafting for need is generally a good way to end up with a poor farm system. None of these players is likely to make an impact for at least a year—likely more—and by the time a prospect is ready to contribute, a team’s needs have likely changed, maybe more than once. Take the best player on your board, and if/when it creates a roster problem, consider it a good problem that allows you to get creative with your roster rather than necessitates it.
With that being said, there is a difference between drafting for need on the big league club, and filling holes in the system. Even the best systems—with one exception, that we’ll get to soon enough—have organizational flaws, and while I would never recommend a team stray away from their board, here and there a club’s lack of depth at a position or lack of a tool matches up with the best player available, and it can make sense to address that need early in the draft.
Here’s a look at the organizational needs of the American League, and some potential realistic fits that make sense with that respective clubs first selection.
Baltimore Orioles (First pick: 25)
System need: Middle infield
Potential fit: Cornelius Randolph, SS, Griffin HS (Ga.)
Baltimore’s best shortstop prospect is probably Manny Machado, but if you don’t count Machado as a prospect (you shouldn’t) or don’t believe he’ll ever play shortstop (you should), the next best middle-infielder is Adrian Marin, a shortstop who projects more as a defense-first utility player than a future starter. With an above-average hit and power tool along with a chance to stick at shortstop, Randolph would be an outstanding value pick at 25, assuming he gets past Pittsburgh and Kansas City—just to name a few.
Boston Red Sox (7)
System need: Outfield
Potential fit: Andrew Benintendi, OF, Arkansas
This is nitpicking, as the Red Sox do have plenty of young outfield talent, and there’s a chance their best prospect—Yoan Moncada—ends up in the outfield as well. That being said, an outfielder like Benintendi with three 55 tools and two 50s, who has put up big numbers in the SEC and hits from the left side, would be a valuable addition to an already strong system. There are concerns about the lack of track record, but many believe Benintendi is not only the best outfield prospect in this year’s class, but the best offensive player overall.
New York Yankees (16)
System need: Pitching
Potential fit: Mike Nikorak, RHP, Stroudsburg HS (Penn.)
The Yankees have done an outstanding job of accumulating talent over the past few drafts, but the system still lacks depth in several areas—most of all starting pitching. The Yankees are interested in several prep arms, but the best of these is Nikorak, a right-hander with a fastball that has been clocked up to 97 mph and an above-average breaking-ball. That’s a nice combination, but consistency has not been his friend over the 2015 season.
Tampa Bay Rays (13)
System need: Outfield
Potential fit: Garrett Whitley, OF, Niskayuna HS (N.Y.)
The once mighty Tampa Bay system isn’t barren, but it’s nowhere near what it once was due to attrition and some woefully unsuccessful draft classes—particularly the 2011 draft class where the Rays had 10 of the first 60 picks and has thus far produced a total of one big-league game—and it’s particularly thin in the outfield. Armed with their highest pick since they took (gulp) Tim Beckham with the top pick in 2008 draft, the Rays are rumored to be in on every talented prep outfielder in the class. The best of these—in my humble, but correct estimation—is Whitley, a 70 runner with a chance for two above-average offensive tools.
Toronto Blue Jays (29)
System need: Infielders
Potential fit: Richie Martin, SS, Florida
Infield was a system need before the Blue Jays dealt their best infield prospect in Franklin Barretto, and it’s (obviously) even in worse shape now. While I think this would be a reach by at least a round, Martin could move quickly through the system because of his defensive chops, and he’s not completely bereft of offensive ability.
Chicago White Sox (8)
System need: Outfield
Potential fit: Daz Cameron, OF, Eagle’s Landing HS (Ga.)
The last time the White Sox took an outfielder in the first round it was Courtney Hawkins, and while I liked that pick at the time and still believe Hawkins could become a regular, the consensus it that the pick didn’t work out so well. Cameron is a different breed though, an outfielder who may not have a plus tool, but could have four 55s when all is said and done.
System need: Pitching
Potential fit: Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt
Justus Sheffield is Cleveland’s best pitching prospect right now, and with all due respect to the left-hander, this isn’t a great thing. Last year Cleveland lucked out when Bradley Zimmer fell into their laps, and while there’s a chance Buehler goes several picks earlier than this thanks to his three above-average to plus pitches and above-average command, inconsistent results and concerns about his size could see him fall into this range. Cleveland should pounce if he does.
Detroit’s system is among the very worst in baseball, so assuming they don’t take a reliever—and unfortunately, it isn’t a guarantee that they won’t—they are likely to pick up a prospect who ranks in at least the top five of their system. An arm like Funkhouser has a lot of volatility because of his command issues, but when he’s at his best, he’s as good as any starting pitching prospect in the draft, not including Dillon Tate. Because we haven’t seen that version on a consistent basis though, there’s a strong chance he falls into this range.
Kansas City Royals (21)
System need: Offensive upside
Potential fit: Chris Betts, C, Wilson HS (Calif.)
Kansas City has some quality position player prospects, but their best hitting prospect—shortstop Raul Aldaberto Mondesi—is more of a table setter than a basher, and the next bats in the system either have limited upside (Hunter Dozier) or flawed approaches at the plate that could keep them from reaching their offensive ceiling (Jorge Bonifacio). Even after taking Chase Vallot in the compensation round last year, a bat like Betts, who could have two plus tools from the left side, would be a valuable addition. And there’s a great chance the bat will play even if he has to move from the behind the plate.
Minnesota Twins (6)
System need: Left-handed pitching
Potential fit: Kolby Allard, LHP, San Clemente HS (Calif.)
Lewis Thorpe and Stephen Gonsalves both have a chance to become starting pitchers, but neither is a lock to start long-term, and the upside is questionable at best. Even with the back issues and the height—or lack thereof—Allard is the best prep pitching prospect in the 2015 class, possessing three pitches that flash plus with above-average command. Assuming the Twins feel confident in the medical reports, this seems like a perfect match.
Houston Astros (2)
System need: Nothing, really.
Potential fit: Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary HS (Fla.)
You could argue that catching is a need for the Astros, but there’s no catcher that makes sense this high and I don’t want to defeat the purpose of my own exercise—plus catcher is a need for a large majority of teams, anyway. Even if the Astros didn’t have a strong system, I’d call Rodgers a fit because he’s the best player in the class. And as the only right-handed hitter eligible this year who has a chance to have a plus hit and power tool who also plays a premium position, it doesn’t matter that he plays the same position as their best prospect in Carlos Correa.
Los Angeles Angels (26)
System need: Offense. Any kind of offense.
Potential fit: Scott Kingery, 2B, Arizona
Very few teams are as weak in terms of positional prospects as the Angels are, as seen in the fact that only three of the BP top 10 prospects this winter were hitters—and one of those prospects was a Rule 5 pick. The Angels have apparently narrowed in on college hitters with the last pick of the first round, and Kingery makes sense as a middle infielder with a plus hit and run tool who can also provide quality defense at second base.
Oakland Athletics (20)
System need: Starting pitching
Potential fit: James Kaprielian, RHP, UCLA
Like Tampa Bay, this is as bad as this system has been in quite some time, and I can’t recall a time when Oakland was this thin in pitching, with a large portion of their best pitching prospects profiling best either in the bullpen or backend starters. Kaprielian has been among the best college pitchers in baseball the past month and a half, and with four pitches ranging from average to plus with solid command, he should be able to start long-term.
Seattle Mariners (60)
System need: Canadian pitching
System fit: Mike Sorotka, RHP, Bishop Carroll HS (Canada)
Because who doesn’t need Canadian pitching, right? The Mariners have gone north of the border with top 100 picks to take position players the last two years (Gareth Morgan and Tyler O’Neill, respectively) and since Seattle is sans a first-round selection, a pitcher like Sorotka, who has a 92-94 mph fastball, an above-average change, and a projectable frame (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) would make sense even if he wasn’t Canadian. But he is.
There’s an awful lot to like about the Rangers system, but there’s an awful lot of volatility in said system, as well. A prospect like Bregman may not make a ton of sense in terms of position, but he’s the “safest” position player in this year’s class. With a plus hit tool, above-average speed, and baseball acumen that makes scouts drool, he’s not exactly lacking upside either. It’s not the sexiest profile, but this may be the rare occasion where the Rangers should prefer the high-floor/medium-ceiling prospect.
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