Ranking 2018 First Rounders from Live Looks

It’s quite possible that Ralph Liftshitz (@prospectjesus) inception’d this idea into my mind last night when I was sleeping. But it’s a good idea, so screw it, let’s roll with it! The collective pace of fall baseball in Arizona would aptly be described as frenetic. Prospects here, prospects there, prospects everywhere. From the start of instructs to date, I’ve seen 13 of the top 40 MLB Draft picks from 2018 (only counted game action). Having seen two previously, that makes 15 total. I love lists. You love lists. Your Grandma loves lists, so does her dog. Before this turns into the worst haiku of all time, let’s rank the top 10 draftees I have seen in person.

1) Jonathan India 3B/SS Cincinnati Reds: I caught India in instructs at Goodyear and fell in love. The bat speed is elite and the hands are special. He DH’d in my look, and I love the bat enough to give him the top spot on this list. This tweet can do the talking for me:

2) Nolan Gorman 3B St. Louis Cardinals: Considering the success Gorman had at comparable levels to India at three years his junior, it is perhaps an egregious mistake rank him lower. Having seen both live, my feeling is India is the more polished guy, and Gorman will get exposed (at least to some degree) as he faces more advanced pitching. That is not to say I dislike Gorman at all, but I do think we should temper our expectations. A spike in his strikeout rate in 2019 should not come as a surprise. The power is undoubtedly prolific and his ceiling is equally impressive.

3) Cole Winn RHP Texas Rangers: AZ Instructs was my second look at Winn. The first was at NHSI in the spring. He grew on me like a fine wine, that is to say I liked him at first, but now love him. Was it the open-face look at his mechanics? Is my scouting eye a bit more refined now? Have we inadvertently catapulted into an impromptu question game? I will shut up now. If you had a build-a-pitcher checklist, he would check every box.

4) Matthew Liberatore LHP Tampa Bay Rays: Having seen Liberatore three separate times this year, it’s been interesting to see his progression. In March, I caught him during spring training. He showed feel for four pitches: FB, CB, CUT, CHG. About a month later at NHSI, a slider emerged. The shape was poor, and the break was lazy. This fall in instructs the slider looked much better. It’s not just a cliche that “the league will adjust” and players will need to adjust back. Aptitude for adjustment is one of the most important skills baseball players can possess. It gives me more confidence he can reach his ceiling, which is that of a number two starter, a steal where the Rays selected Libby at 16th overall.

5) Jordyn Adams OF Los Angeles Angels: Adams’ dual-sport background was among the most chronicled storylines of the draft. In case you haven’t heard, he was really fucking good at football too and had an offer to play both sports at UNC. Position? You guessed it: WR. Adams is an elite athlete. He possesses 80 speed, and he skyrocketed up draft boards with a good showing at the NHSI. Don’t let the 2018 stat line scare you away. He projects to stick up the middle in CF, and his offensive upside is immense. Detractors will point to his rawness at the plate, but I think he is too good to fall beyond #5 here.

6) Brady Singer RHP Kansas City Royals: Florida’s Friday night starter made an instructs appearance last week in Surprise. He was well hit in the outing, but I still came away liking him. From the windup, it’s most athletic delivery I have seen since Hunter Greene. Singer has excellent (and light) feet and a special blend of momentum and balance. His 90- to 93-mph fastball danced to both sides with life. In this look, it was left up too often and consequently hit hard. His slider sat 80-82 and flashed plus, but with inconsistent shape. Singer also had sporadic feel for the changeup in the 85-87 range. It was not a great outing, but the ingredients are here for a mid-rotation starter with number-two upside if all goes right.

7) Nick Madrigal SS Chicago White Sox: On 10/4 I saw Madrigal at Camelback Ranch and wrote this in my notebook: “Short and quick. Looks like a guy who can stick at short. Soft hands and easy feeds on 6.4.3. DP. Above average arm. Palpable polish defensively. At the plate, aggressive early in counts, with little swing and miss but a linear bat path produced line drive or ground ball contact. Considering his age, questionable power projection.” I like Madrigal but see him as a second-division regular. I think he lacks the upside of the names above him on this list.

8) Triston Casas 1B Boston Red Sox: He is massive, officially listed at 6-foot-4, 238 pounds. The range looked fringey at third fielding some ground balls to his left. At the plate opponents attacked Casas down and away with soft stuff, whether offspeed or breaking balls. Well-located changeups were effective against him, but when pitchers missed their spots Casas punished them with hard contact. The swing reminds me a little of Jay Bruce who continues to raise his hands even as he strides forward. I think Casas will strike out a lot, but the bat speed is pretty good, and he’s strong as hell. The “U shaped” bat path should produce a lot of fly balls and power. Did I copy this verbatim from a previous piece? Pretty much. Do I feel bad about that? Not at all, it’s 2 a.m. local.

9) Nico Hoerner SS Chicago Cubs: Hoerner is a tough guy to rank because my looks, especially with his bat have been very mixed. I can see plus bat speed there, but at times he has looked off-balanced at the plate. He has also expanded the zone on several occasions on breaking pitches down and away. Defensively, he should stick up the middle whether that means short or second. Yesterday was a microcosm for my Nico Hoerner looks as a whole. In his first AB he smoked a double on first-pitch FB from Forrest Whitley. The 95 mph heat was no issue. Later in the game, he struck out swinging in ugly fashion vs Melvin Adon.

10) Jake McCarthy OF Arizona Diamondbacks: McCarthy is a solid all-around player. His skill set lends itself to a high floor and a reasonable chance to play every day in the bigs. He can do a bit of everything and does not have a glaring weakness in his game, so far as I can tell. He was one guy I highlighted in a recent baseball Twitter rampage.

Honorable Mentions (in order): Grayson Rodriguez RHP Baltimore Orioles, Anthony Seigler C New York Yankees, Cadyn Grenier SS Baltimore Orioles, Nick Schnell OF Tampa Bay Rays, Shane McClanahan LHP Tampa Bay Rays.