The Colorado Rockies have the ninth pick in the MLB Draft next month. They should get a top-flight prospect, but who?
First, let’s cross off the list the players who likely won’t be available: Arizona State University first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who has the most power of any hitter in the draft and is expected to be selected first by the Detroit Tigers; Vanderbilt infielder/outfielder Austin Martin, who can hit, has good leadership skills but an uncertain defensive position; New Mexico State infielder Nick Gonzalez, who may be the best pure hitter in the draft; Texas A&M left-handed pitcher Asa Lacy and University of Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock, who are the consensus top two pitchers in the draft; and outfielder Zac Veen of Florida, the best high-school hitter available. If any of these six fall to the Rockies at pick 9, they should take him.
Most likely, though, the Rockies will pick from these hitters and pitchers:
UCLA outfielder Garrett Mitchell, University of Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, N.C. State catcher Patrick Bailey, high school outfielders Austin Hendrick of Pennsylvania and Robert Hassell of Tennessee and prep shortstop Ed Howard of Illinois are all good choices.
University of Minnesota pitcher Max Meyer and Cade Cavalli of the University of Oklahoma, both righties, Louisville pitcher Reid Detmers and Garrett Crochet of the University of Tennessee, both lefties, or one of three right-handed high schoolers, Mick Abel of Oregon, Jared Kelley of Texas and Nick Bitsko of Pennsylvania, are viable choices at this spot.
The Rockies might be inclined to Cavalli because they had reasonably good success with Oklahoma right-hander Jon Gray, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft. But Meyer and Detmers are more highly regarded; Meyer, especially, had a dominating, if virus-shortened, season this spring and has risen up draft boards. He probably won’t last till the ninth pick. Detmers has a longer track record of success and is a lefty, but whether he has ace potential is questionable. Abel is an impressive 6-feet, 5-inches with a 95 mph fastball and good command of his other pitches, but the Rockies are still suffering their most recent first-round high school pitcher draftees, Riley Pint and Mike Nikorak, who have struggled with injuries and performance during stunted minor league careers.
The betting here is the Rockies will take Detmers or Cavalli but the opinion here is they should take one of the hitters.
Kjerstad has power and would play well in Coors Field and soon. Mitchell has the best array of tools in the group — he’s potentially a five-tool star — though there are concerns about his power potential and hit tool. He also has diabetes and there is concern about whether he can successfully manage his disease in the high-altitude playing conditions of mile high Denver.
If the Rockies are going to ignore the consensus, as they tend to do, then why not strengthen depth up the middle? Why not Ed Howard or Patrick Bailey?
Howard would be a great pick here. He’s the best shortstop in the draft, which is relatively light on shortstops this year. He has good hands and athleticism and is expected to remain at the position. He has great baseball experience (he was the shortstop on the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago that went to the 2014 Little League finals in Williamsport, PA). He’s 6-2 and weighs 185 now but is expected to bulk up and show more power. His defense is his best tool, with a good arm and foot speed; his hit tool the most suspect, but he has good bat speed. Had his senior season at Mt. Carmel High School in Illinois taken place, Howard could easily have climbed into a sure top 10 pick or higher. As it is, the Rockies would bypass more certain prospects to bet on Howard’s upside. They should do it.
If one of the teams drafting ahead of the Rockies bets on Howard, then choosing Patrick Bailey is the next best thing. The N.C. State catcher could make an impact in the majors in a couple of years and solidify the Rockies at catcher for the next decade. The best catcher in the draft, Bailey has excellent defensive skills, especially his ability to catch and throw, and unlocked power potential. The switch-hitter hit 13 homers as Freshman of the Year in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2018. It remains to be seen how well he will hit professional pitching but he draws walks and limits strikeouts. One way to improve pitching, by the way, is to improve defense behind the plate. Bailey might have more impact on Rockies pitching than if they choose a moundsman with this pick.
That said, don’t be surprised if the choice is Cavalli, who has good stuff — a fastball up to 98 mph, good curveball and slider and potential changeup — and control. He has been climbing up some draft boards despite concerns about his health (back issues), command of his pitches and the lack of opportunity to see him pitch more this spring.
And if Detmers falls to the 9th pick, he may be the choice given he has a high floor. He has good velocity (up to 94 mph), a solid curveball and changeup. He has the most polish of any of the pitching prospects and had success at Louisville. He profiles as a number-three starter, which is somewhat less than a team would ordinarily want from a top-10 pick, but he could be on the Coors Field mound sooner rather than later and could be expected to succeed in the big leagues.
What will the Rockies do? We’ll see June 10.