Welcome, all, to an article that took me forever to title. It seems like every league does their amateur draft a little differently. From draft dates, titles, lengths, and eligible players, amateur drafts in a dynasty baseball league are as variant as any in the industry.
Personally, in the pseudo-dynasty league in which I play, we have our amateur draft in early August. There are 14 teams and two rounds in this slow draft. We keep 25 of 40 players on our roster from season to season, but the amateur draft is a way to stockpile young talent without hitting your 40-man roster.
With this article, I want to help those who are also drafting soon by addressing some of my most and least favorite collegiate draftees. I watched college baseball throughout the 2018 season as my alma mater had a stellar year. Yes, my Arkansas Razorbacks may have suffered the largest gaffe in College World Series history, but I'm still excited about the potential of this draft. To prove that point, I traded a couple of useful MLB players for a few more picks at the tail end of the draft.
Before we step in, I wanted to discuss my strategy in my draft. I got into this league before the 2017 season and used last season to go into a full-fledged rebuild. In this league though, rebuilds don't have to last long with the 25-man keeper format and my team has been above 0.500 all season. Therefore, I have a couple of things I want to accomplish when selecting players:
- Draft advanced players that have a chance to move up quickly in a system.
- Check out the history with wood bats for each player.
- Pinpoint flexible fielders that can play multiple positions.
These seem obvious, but they actually help me to not overrate a player that hasn't shown me one or two of these three assets previously. Players with high ceilings are nice, but I have a better chance of trading a high-floor player on the brink of an MLB call-up than a high-ceiling guy who may take years to work through flaws.
Now, none of us can predict the future, but the final intangible is the dangerous 'eye test'. A first impression can go a long way and I've seen enough college baseball this year to hopefully discern the real and fake. Since these guys haven't played much minor league baseball yet, you can't just go blindly with statistics in college.
Alright, way too much rambling! Let's check out my risers and fallers.
Dynasty Baseball First-Year Player Drafts
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Jonathan India, 3B, Cincinnati Reds
India is one of my favorite overall players in this amateur draft. Looking at my checklist in the intro, there isn't an item that this guy doesn't hit. He's obviously an advanced hitter given his three years at Florida. With a career slash line of 0.308/0.406/0.537 in 668 at-bats, India's collegiate career is unmatched by any other draftee not named Nick Madrigal.
Additionally, his Cape Cod league (wood bat) numbers in 2016 and 2017 were very good. He slashed 0.290/0.400/400 in the two seasons combined. The stats were fine, but the power numbers left much to be desired from scouts. To adjust, there was a swing change that was very evident in 2018. His SLG jump (~0.435 in 2016-2017 to 0.717 in 2018) will truthfully tell the story. His leg kick is more purposeful in his timing between the two seasons. The bat path is like night and day, abandoning the flat swing without abandoning his contact percentage.
India just meets all of the intangibles for me. He faced the best pitching in the country (SEC). He's a proven winner, claiming a national title in 2017 and leading the 2018 Gators to a No. 1 overall seed. He can play all around the diamond with extended experience at 3B and SS. The floor here is perfect relative to guys ranked around him like Jared Kelenic or Nolan Gorman. He really reminds me of Nick Senzel in the same organization and I think that's a good place to start when projecting India long-term.
Thus, I have moved him to third overall in my personal amateur draft rankings ahead of Casey Mize (just behind Alec Bohm).
Travis Swaggerty, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
With an 80-grade name, Swaggerty backs it up with his play. Despite already having young outfielders like Gregory Polanco and Austin Meadows from the left side, Pittsburgh went with the 'best player available' route as we call it in fantasy drafts. As a natural hitter with easily projectable power and speed, Swaggerty can prove to be the next piece of the puzzle on a young team in the near future.
Swaggerty was an absolute monster at South Alabama. An undrafted prep player, Swaggerty didn't receive any Power 5 offers despite playing high school baseball in south Louisiana. To the benefit of South Alabama, a determined Swaggerty unleashed fury on opposing teams, slashing 0.295/0.450/0.540 in 53 games this past season. South Alabama head coach Mark Calvi realized the greatness of Swaggerty from Day 1, slotting him in the leadoff spot as a freshman on a 'gut feeling' in 2016. This is a coach who has recruited great players like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Whit Merrifield to South Carolina too, so he knows a distinct talent when he sees one. Swaggerty never looked back and the rest is history.
Also, he's incredibly easy to root for when looking at his whole situation. His girlfriend actually had surgery due to thyroid cancer and he has been taking a break from baseball to support her. I know that has nothing to do with baseball, but it's good to see that he has his priorities straight and has a positive outlook on life. I want to draft amateur players, like his coach at South Alabama said, on gut feelings. There's something about this kid that makes me believe. He should be one of the quicker movers in the minor leagues among his fellow draftees.
Jameson Hannah, OF, Oakland Athletics
This is going to come as a random selection to most, but I am a big believer in Hannah. I got to watch him firsthand in multiple games as his Dallas Baptist Patriots were the No. 3 seed in the Fayetteville regional up here in Arkansas. As I mentioned previously about eye tests, Hannah immediately stood out to me when I saw his first at-bat. He's incredibly gifted as an athlete and plays a mean center field. Shoot, he's already killing it in the early going at short-season Vermont.
Hannah is likely going to be a better player in roto leagues than points formats. His biggest asset is going to be his speed on the basepaths without killing you in the other categories. In the Cape Cod league in 2017, he hit for a 0.296 AVG with eight steals in 43 games. He wasn't asked to steal a ton at DBU, but certainly has the raw/game speed to steal 25 bases with ease in a full season with the right team. The A's have been desperate for some stolen base threats and have a history under GM Billy Beane to have that standout speedster.
Like Swaggerty, I believe in Hannah's plate approach enough to become a leadoff hitter without crazy righty/lefty splits. This gives him an opportunity to be successful at the next level and potentially beat a more raw project the A's have that I will talk about later on this list to the big leagues. If he can channel his inner Rajai Davis or Michael Bourn (man, we are going down memory lane with these comparisons), he becomes a nice fantasy player. Relative to where he is being selected in your amateur draft, you will take that every day of the week.
Steele Walker, OF, Chicago White Sox
Swaggerty isn't the only guy with an 80-grade name in this section. If your name is 'Steele', you better 'Walk' the walk. Bad jokes aside, Walker was the player that stood out to me at Oklahoma rather than another hyped player. (Again, I will talk about him later!) Walker was a steal for the White Sox and I'm excited to relatively 'reach' on him in a first-year player draft.
Like India, Walker is a hitter that has succeeded no matter the league. He was given a shot as a freshman in the tough Big 12 conference and ran with it. He improved each year at Oklahoma with a 0.766 OPS in 2016, a 0.954 OPS in 2017, and a 1.047 OPS in 2018. I wouldn't expect many stolen bases at the next level, but he can certainly be a serviceable runner and outfielder. Additionally, Walker has already had success in wood bat leagues. He didn't get too many at-bats in the Cape Cod league in 2017 (25 at-bats), but the year before he raked at the Northwoods League (1.036 OPS in 53 games - see video above).
For Walker, it's an effortless swing with fantastic pitch recognition. You don't see any check swings or chasing outside the zone. It's a very mature plate approach and understanding of the cat-and-mouse game of the opposing pitcher. You should target Walker in the second or third round of your amateur draft when others are reaching on high schoolers. Walker is one of these MLB second rounders that could work his way up and quickly become a platoon bat for the White Sox.
Then, in three years, you can talk about how you stole the coolest dude in the draft. Wiener dogs and Latino music - the combination that breeds champions.
At the expense of my Razorbacks, Trevor Larnach was breaking all sorts of records in the College World Series finals. With his postseason performance weighing heavy on my mind, I have moved Larnach to the bottom of the first tier of hitters behind India and Swaggerty.
If Victor (Victor) Mesa signs somewhere before your amateur draft, I would have him atop the second tier of hitters. He would be right around someone like Nico Hoerner or Greyson Jenista. No matter the system, he shouldn't have any trouble moving up quickly given his storied Cuban career. Don't let him sneak by in your roto leagues especially given his base-stealing ability.
Among the high school bats, I love the value on Jordyn Adams the most as a potential late second-round amateur draft pick. A multitalented athlete pried away from football, Adams will be focusing solely on baseball now and I believe he's going to sky-rocket up rankings when the rawness materializes. Although he's a project, the Angels have lately been notorious for developing these guys quickly (see Jo Adell).
Joey Bart, C, San Francisco Giants
Alright, here's your 20-grade name right here! Look, call me close-minded, but I'm just not going after catchers in an amateur draft. The variables are just too plenty and catchers don't just move through systems as quickly as other positions do. That said, I'm not worried about the presence of Buster Posey. Posey is at the point in his career where he could go the Joe Mauer route and nobody would bat an eye. I don't buy that, if Bart is ready, the Giants would purposely keep him down because of Posey.
However, looking at the fantasy landscape of catchers in general, nothing is ever clear-cut. Not only do they tend to move slowly through the farm system, but they are fickle on the offensive end. Take this list from Pitcher List's latest catching prospect rankings. They aggressively rank Bart as the 6th best prospect at the position, which is honestly fine. However, check out some of these other names and think about where they were at the start of 2017 or even 2018. Danny Jansen shot up the rankings after putting up pedestrian numbers in Single-A back in 2016. Keibert Ruiz was an unknown 18-year-old in a deep Dodgers system before 2017. Hell, Daulton Varsho probably wasn't even taken in your amateur draft in 2017 and now he's a top 5 catching prospect.
All this to say, despite liking what I saw at Georgia Tech, Bart has moved down significantly in my rankings. I've got him as an early-second-round amateur draft pick after prep arms like Matthew Liberatore and Carter Stewart. Since that's about a whole round later than where he will actually go, I'm out.
Kyler Murray, OF, Oakland Athletics
As with Jordyn Adams, I will start by saying that I'm pumped about all of these players choosing baseball over football. Murray could be a Heisman contender for Pete's sake! I know his size at the quarterback position doesn't generally transfer to the NFL, but he's incredibly gifted. The A's knew that when drafting him 9th overall and shocking the baseball world.
Because of his draft position, he will undoubtedly go in the first round of your amateur draft. Look, I'm generally trusting the Oakland scouting department on long-term projects, but that's what this is - a long-term project. I'm not spending a first-round amateur draft pick on a guy that I don't believe reaches the majors until late 2022. I think I'm being fair with that ETA - he will be abandoning the sport this fall to play football. Say he starts at Low-A in 2019. If he progresses well, we are looking at a Triple-A call-up in late 2021. That's if everything goes perfectly too, which is far from guaranteed given a grace period to get reacclimated to baseball and work off some rawness in his game.
As for his projection, I see him becoming one of those athletic guys that can rack up counting stats but struggle with K/BB ratios. We've seen those types of first-round guys take longer to develop (if they do at all). Wil Myers is the best example of this and what Murray drafters should be hoping happens. Byron Buxton has struggled immensely at hitting consistently in the pros. Murray could be following the same path, so it could be ~2024 (age 27) until he puts it all together. I would rather take prep hitters with similar upsides like Connor Scott or the aforementioned Adams. That's going to prevent me from drafting the two-sport star.
Shane McClanahan, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Alright, we'll start positively. Against one of the best teams in college baseball, McClanahan showed out and struck out 11 Tar Heels in just six innings. It was a great debut for the 2018 season for McClanahan and the South Florida Bulls.
So, in that same game, he walked five batters and even benefitted from a few strikes called. Walks have been his Achilles heel. It's obvious that he's got the stuff - late life on fastballs, dirty changeup, etc. However, walking ~5.0 BB/9 is not acceptable at the collegiate level. With more patient minor league hitters and better umpires, we should see his elevated walk rates continue. He actually does look more comfortable pitching out of the stretch than in the windup, which could be something that the Rays could work on. However, that's just another project to worry about.
Secondly, we can't overlook his injury issues. He's already had Tommy John surgery as an 18-year-old and the statistics don't lie when discussing lingering injuries post-TJS. The guys over at TopVelocity expand on this potential problem for McClanahan while going over his arm slot and hyper-rotation (9:45 to 14:30). In an organization that, coincidence or not, has had its fair share of Tommy John surgeries with pitching prospects recently, it doesn't give me a warm feeling inside.
Well, what is the ceiling here with McClanahan? Sure, it could all click and he could veer down a Blake Snell path. Realistically though, with a walk rate like that among other growing pains to overcome, his ceiling is more like 2018 Caleb Smith (pre-injury). Call it a high K-rate, high BB-rate, 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. If you are waiting four or five years for that, that's no fun. I would much rather draft prep arms like Cole Winn or Ryan Weathers and that's generally not my style.
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