My favorite day of the year is just days away. This spring I have been chasing draft prospects to try and see as many as I could leading up to June 3rd, day one of the 2019 MLB Draft. In this article I will detail some players that I have seen, providing scouting reports, and potential landing spots. Then I’ll run through the top ten picks and go over where teams stand.
RHP Alek Manoah – West Virginia University – 6’6″ 270 lbs
Of all the draft prospects I have seen this season, Manoah is probably the guy that will fall off the board first. Last season, Alek mainly worked out of the bullpen for the Mountaineers, making 8 starts in 23 appearances. That was after starting 10 games out of 19 appearances as a freshman. This brought up the main concern for the big right-hander and that was whether or not he could start as a pro, and in the major leagues. In the the spring of 2019, Manoah has silenced those critics, throwing 102 innings in 15 starts, striking out 135 with an ERA of 1.85. Alek was nice enough to take time to answer some of my questions, and here’s what had to say about why he knows that he’s a starting pitcher: “I’ve answered [those questions] by throwing two complete games, multiple 8 inning games and many more games over 6 innings. I’ve held velocity and if anything got better deeper into games. I’ve showed a great changeup and solid 3 pitch mix which will transfer to the next level. Over 100 innings and showing no sign of slowing down. If that doesn’t tell you I’m a quality starter I don’t know what they are looking for.”
Also helping Manoah’s case for being a starter was the success that he had last summer in the Cape Cod League, pitching for the Chatham Anglers. The summer was when he started rising up draft boards into day one territory. Alek’s thoughts on how he was able to perform the way he did on the Cape: “It was a great experience and helped me build a lot of confidence going into the fall and spring. Changing my mindset to being more of a pitcher instead of thrower helped me attack all quadrants of the zone. That along with a newly developed slider helped me keep hitters off balance.”
Manoah, who works out of the stretch, has overpowered hitters with his fastball, topping out in the high 90’s on most Friday nights. He also mixes in the recently-added slider that he mentioned above, which comes in at 81-84 MPH with downward break. On the night that I saw him pitch in Morgantown, Manoah was able to consistently pound the zone with his fastball with his slider in and around the strike zone. He has also been working on throwing his changeup more regularly in games. At one point later on in his start, he shook to the changeup five times in a row, all five of which resulted in strikes. Alek generates plenty of swings and misses with all three pitches. I came away very impressed with his ability to throw strikes while also showing overpowering stuff.
RHP George Kirby – Elon University – 6’4″ 201 lbs
Kirby is an advanced college pitcher who, like Manoah, made big strides over the summer in the Cape Cod League. He is a strike-thrower, who gets plenty of strikeouts while limiting free passes. When I saw him on a rainy day in early May, Kirby sat 92-94, while once rearing back for 96. His slider is a very effective pitch and it induced a great deal of swings and misses even while in the strike zone. Kirby also has a curveball which I didn’t see much of in this look, in fact I saw just one of them, at 77 mph. I have heard that in some outings he features the curve as his go-to breaking ball. The Elon right-hander has a clean delivery that he repeated consistently.
1B/OF Michael Busch – University of North Carolina – 6’0″ 207 lbs
Busch is a very advanced college hitter with a pretty swing from the left side. He has a good balance of bat skills and raw power. He could also draw some walks. The questions surrounding Busch mostly involve defense, as he doesn’t really have a natural position. He’s split the 2019 season between first base and corner outfield, but to many evaluators, he doesn’t profile well in the outfield and may need to be limited to first. As a L/R first baseman who can hit, Busch can move quickly through a major league system.
2B/SS Will Wilson – North Carolina State University – 6’0″ 184 lbs
Wilson is never one of the biggest guys on the field, but he has sneaky strength in his frame. Scouts are torn on whether or not he can remain a shortstop or if he’ll have to slide over to another infield position in the pros. Wilson will be picked in the first round on Monday, largely due to his great bat speed and possessing plenty of pop in his bat for an up-the-middle guy. His name is mentioned as high as late teens and as low as late 20’s.
RHP Jack Leiter – Delbarton HS Morristown, NJ – 6’1″ 200 lbs
Jack, the son of 19 year MLB pitcher Al Leiter, is one of the most high profile players in this class. He’s been on the radar of people around amateur baseball for a while now. I was able to go see Leiter pitch in mid-April and I saw much of what I’ve heard from others. Leiter could be the most polished arm of the 2019 prep pitchers and he may also have the best curveball. It’s a big sharp hook that he showed impressive feel for. Leiter is athletic and easily repeats his clean delivery. He sat 92-95 touching 96 once with his fastball, holding that velocity well throughout his start. He also has a slider that he didn’t throw very much in this game. However, when I did see it, I could see the potential. I liked what I saw from Jack, but he did get squared up quite a bit in this game, mostly on his fastball. Leiter is a tad smaller than teams would prefer, listed at 6 foot 1.
Talent-wise Leiter is seen as one of the safer bets of this class of high school arms due to skillset, track record, and makeup, but the biggest concern that teams have is his signability. It sounds like he has a strong commitment to Vanderbilt and it’s going to take the perfect storm to pry him away from Tim Corbin and the Commodores. From what I hear he’s going to ask for a ton of money to get him to go pro, whether that means being picked in the top half of the first round, or it means he’ll need a well over slot-value bonus if picked around 20-35. Of those two possibilities, the latter is more likely than the former. But most probable outcome of all seems to be that Leiter will make it to campus.
RHP Ricky DeVito – Seton Hall University – 6’3″ 195 lbs
DeVito is a physical right-hander with power stuff and some projection. He was around 91-92 early in the start when I saw him then he settled into 93-94 with pretty solid command. I saw a couple good sliders but he didn’t need much other than the fastball that day, so unfortunately I couldn’t get great a good read on the secondaries. DeVito missed time early this season but returned in mid-March and put together some good starts for the Pirates. He’s projected to go in the top 5 rounds.
RHP Tyler Baum – University of North Carolina – 6’2″ 175 lbs
Baum has had an inconsistent 2019 season with the Tar Heels but I was lucky enough to catch him on a good night. He dominated Duke and almost completed a complete game shutout. He goes after hitters with a very good fastball/curveball combo, with the heater topping out at 95. He also mixes in a changeup. Baum could fall off the board between the back end of day 1 and the 4th round.
Preview of Top 10 picks:
1-1 Baltimore Orioles – Oregon State C Adley Rutschman seems to be a lock to be an Oriole. There have been mild rumblings over the course of the spring that Mike Elias and company may try and save pool money by going with another option, but this looks to be highly unlikely at this point.
1-2 Kansas City Royals – Colleyville Heritage HS (TX) SS Bobby Witt Jr. is a guy that the Royals seem to love, as do a lot of other teams. Some analysts have reported that Kansas City would even take Witt over Rutschman.
1-3 Chicago White Sox – The White Sox were linked to Cal 1B Andrew Vaughn most of the spring, but Georgia prep SS CJ Abrams appears to have taken the lead at least partially due to White Sox exec Kenny Williams being a big fan.
1-4 Miami Marlins – Derek Jeter and others in the Marlins front office have hit the scouting trail recently and have seen a bunch of bats. Vanderbilt OF JJ Bleday is definitely one of the names Miami is considering as well as Abrams.
1-5 Detroit Tigers – The Tigers have been on Florida prep OF Riley Greene for a while now but if Vaughn falls to them that could alter things. Detroit has a recent track record of picking college players with their first selection.
1-6 San Diego Padres – San Diego will probably go with whichever of the six names mentioned above falls to them. I would guess that would be Greene or Vaughn.
1-7 Cincinnati Reds – Nick Krall and the Reds have been the first team to be heavily tied to college arms, or arms in general. TCU LHP Nick Lodolo has been the favorite here, according to almost every recent mock draft, until Wednesday when Fangraphs projected Alek Manoah to jump over Lodolo and become the first pitcher selected in the 2019 draft.
1-8 Texas Rangers – This is where things start to become a bit more up in the air. The Rangers could go a number of ways here. They could grab toolsy Arizona State OF Hunter Bishop, or they could go underslot to save money for later on. 6′ 8″ JuCo RHP Jackson Rutledge (San Jacinto TX) could be in play.
1-9 Atlanta Braves – I’ll say Bishop because they clearly like him. Lodolo if he falls would likely be a possibility, along with others.
1-10 San Francisco Giants – The Giants seem to be leaning college. Manoah and Stott have been mentioned here, as well as Bishop if he makes it here. If I had to guess, I’ll lean Stott.
The draft begins with Rounds 1 and 2 along with comp rounds in between, beginning at 7pm on Monday night. You can watch it on MLB Network and MLB.com.
Owen Surett covers the South Atlantic League for Prospects1500. Owen is an enthusiast of baseball at all competition levels from college/MLB Draft, to all levels of the minor leagues and MLB. He is an avid fan of the New York Mets and West Virginia Mountaineers. His springs and summers revolve around going to as many baseball games as possible, seeing prospects, and writing scouting reports. He is from New Jersey and regularly attends minor league games in Lakewood (Phillies A) and Trenton (Yankees AA). You can follow him on Twitter @CountryRoads277.
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