Revisiting the 2017 MLB Draft

Image: MLB.com

Waiting for the clock to turn, Twins general manager Thad Levine sat at his desk. The date: Monday, June 12, 2017. That day was the day that could make or break his career, the epitome of everything he had done in the year and a half prior. That day, at exactly 7:00 pm, Levine made a move that would possibly define his career, and shocked the entirety of the baseball world as a result.

Moving into the 2017 MLB Draft, there was no clear number one prospect, but rather a mix of solid talent that was likely going to be taken in the top five. This menagerie of talent included five players: three starting pitchers, one hitter, and one Ohtani-esque starting pitcher/first baseman. 

As fans, like Levine, watched the clock tick towards 7:00 pm, it was almost common knowledge whom the Minnesota Twins were going to take. All the mock drafts, all the predictions, all the rumors, it all led to one man: twenty-one year old Louisville LHP/1B Brendan McKay. Before the hype of Shohei Ohtani, McKay was dominating the college game with both his arm and his bat. 

As a pitcher, he was viewed as a polished arm with #2 starter potential, but McKay’s true upside was at the plate. He hit eighteen home runs with a 1.116 OPS in 276 plate appearances in his last season at Louisville, showing clear glimpses of huge power potential. Many had McKay at the top of their big boards, and it was for good reason. He seemed to be destined for true superstardom, being a kind of player scouts had truly never seen before.

The other five players that led discussions were right handed flamethrower Hunter Greene, young lefty stud Mackenzie Gore, athletic shortstop and elite baserunning threat Royce Lewis, and proven Vanderbilt righty Kyle Wright.

Stepping up to the microphone on the draft stage on that very day, Rob Manfred carefully put both of his hands on the podium, steadying himself as he prepared to announce the first pick. Twins fans at home leaned into their televisions, watching intently as the team made the first overall pick, their first since Joe Mauer in 2001. As if mirroring them, Manfred leaned into the microphone and began speaking the anticipated words.

With the first selection of the 2017 MLB Draft, the Minnesota Twins select Royce Lewis.

Levine and the Twins had fooled everyone, and created one of the most interesting first overall picks of all time. However, the day that event occurred is now almost five years in the past. The question is, how did this pick, the rest of the top five, and some of the remaining picks in the first round of this draft change the scope of the MLB today?

1. Minnesota Twins: SS/CF Royce Lewis (JSerra Catholic HS)

At the time:

While Lewis was a shocking pick, that doesn’t mean he was a bad one. A highly athletic fielder and stunning baserunner with solid hitting tools, Lewis was immediately ranked as the #24 overall prospect by Baseball America. The major knock on Lewis was his lack of power, but the strength of other parts of his game more than made up for it. Overall, fans were disappointed by the Twins decision to take the top position player rather than a top arm, but it was viewed as a solid pick by analysts and by no means was a reach.

Where are they now?

As of the end of the 2019 season, this pick would have been viewed as a very good one. Lewis was coming off of a year in which he hit .236 with a .661 OPS across A+ and AA, but his relative youth and twenty two stolen bases showed promise for the young shortstop. However, things are beginning to look concerning. Lewis is returning from a major injury that cost him the entire 2021 season, and his time to shine seems to be running out. He is likely to play out the entire year in AAA, and will have to establish a spot on the Twins 2023 Major League roster. Now ranked as the #82 overall prospect, Lewis still has a shot to prove his worth, but that window seems to be closing.

Grade: B-

2. Cincinnati Reds: RHP Hunter Greene (Notre Dame HS)

At the time:

After the first overall pick, everything seemed to fall into place. Hunter Greene, who many had linked to the Reds before the draft, ended up in their grasp with the second overall pick, and boy was this a sexy one. The hard throwing right hander was considered by many to be the top talent in the draft, and seemed to be the consensus top pitcher. Pairing a devastating fastball with the typical arsenal of an average slider, changeup, and curveball, Greene was considered a home run pick by the Reds. This was viewed as one of the few A+ picks of the first round. 

Where are they now?

Well, things are going quite well, aren’t they? Sitting at the beginning of the 2022 season, Greene looked sharp in his first major league outing, picking up a win in five innings while striking out seven. Then, in his second outing, he threw the most pitches over 100 MPH by any pitcher in a major league game. Ranked as the #35 overall prospect by Baseball America to start 2022, Greene put up sky high strikeout numbers in AA and AAA in 2021, getting 11.8 batters by the K per nine innings. If he continues to put things together, the Reds are looking at a perennial Cy Young candidate, and hopefully a cornerstone for a championship contending team in Cincy. 

Grade: A+

3. San Diego Padres: LHP Mackenzie Gore (Whiteville HS)

At the time:

The puzzle pieces continued to fall into place with the selection of Gore with the third overall pick. Before the draft, Greene and Gore were viewed as the two elite high school pitchers of the class, Greene the right hander and Gore the left hander. Gore, unlike Greene, relied more on command and his arsenal rather than an elite fastball. On the mound, Gore throws a hard fastball, an above average slider, an average curveball, and a changeup that often escapes the plate but could make even the best of hitters swing and miss. The Padres viewed Gore as the best pitcher left on the board, and analysts seemed to agree. Overall, this pick was well received.

Where are they now?

It’s another case of “If you asked me this a year ago.” Coming into 2021, Gore was a premier prospect, ranked #10 in the country by Baseball America and #5 by Baseball Prospectus. However, Gore seemingly fell apart during the 2021 season, looking like a completely different pitcher. He struggled with control and limped his way to finish the season with an ERA of 5.85 in AAA, all the while dealing with a blister and mechanical issues that forced him to only pitch a total of 50.1 innings across multiple levels. 

Coming into 2022, Gore has fallen off of both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus’ Top 100. However, there are still firm believers in the young man, and I am one of them. Gore is only 23, and has looked sharp so far in 2022, earning his first MLB start. He may never be the pitcher many thought he would be, but he is still a good talent and deserves a spot among the Top 100 MLB prospects.

Grade: B+

4. Tampa Bay Rays: SP/1B Brendan McKay (University of Louisville)

At the time:

Wow, were the Rays lucky. The Twins took a shot at the best position player in the draft, and now the Rays get a shot at what could be the top player!? What a steal! The hype building around McKay was real around the draft, with scouts raving about his polished arm and huge bat potential. There were concerns about how his bat would transition to the minors, but with time and effort, the Rays could have one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball, all in the same body as a solid number two pitcher. You hear that, Shohei? Might as well pack your bags, we already have Brendan McKay!

Where are they now?

Wait! Wait! Shohei! Come back, please, please, forgive me! Okay, maybe McKay wasn’t exactly what was advertised. The Rays, naturally, played him at both starting pitcher and first base as he began his career, but he quickly established himself as a better pitcher than hitter. While he did walk in more than 10% of his at bats, he struggled to make solid contact, hitting only .209 with a .679 OPS and quickly finding himself outmatched by pitchers as he rose to higher and higher levels. 

Pitching-wise, things looked brighter for McKay, quickly dominating the minors and emerging to the majors in 2019 as a consensus top 30 prospect. That season, he put up a 5.14 ERA in 11 starts, but wasn’t on the opening day roster to begin 2020. And… well… that’s it. McKay has been injured and is again on the 60 day IL to begin 2022. Now twenty-six, things aren’t looking bright for the player most thought would be the first overall pick. McKay is the equivalent of asking for Shohei Ohtani, only to be told you have Shohei Ohtani at home.

Grade: D+

5. Atlanta Braves: RHP Kyle Wright (Vanderbilt University)

At the time:

As the last of the consensus top five talent, it was no surprise that Wright went to the Braves with this pick. Viewed as perhaps the safest pick in the entire draft, he was very solid in two years at the pipeline that is Vanderbilt, and showed a good deal of potential in his arm to go along with it. With a solid five pitch mix and solid command, his upside was not quite as high as Greene or Gore, but his floor was much higher. Overall, this was seen as a solid pick by the Braves, and one that they would likely not regret in the future.

Where are they now?

Wright has been mostly as advertised. He tore up the minors en route to the Major League club at the young age of twenty-two, and found himself as Baseball America’s #39 overall prospect as a result. However, things have not been quite as smooth sailing since then. During his time in the majors from 2018 to 2021, he has put up a cumulative 6.56 ERA in 70 innings, struggling with control during his time on the roster. Wright looks to put his struggles behind him as the Braves’ number four starter in 2022, and so far things are looking good. In his two starts so far, Wright has an ERA of just 1.64 and has struck out 12.3 batters per nine. I firmly expect Wright to continue his strong performance, and emerge into premier pitcher status in 2022.

Grade: B+

7. Arizona Diamondbacks: 1B Pavin Smith (University of Virginia)

What happened?

Entering the draft in June 2017, Smith was thought of as having the best pure bat in the class. The main dink on him was his below average defense, which would be a liability wherever he was playing in the field. With the seventh pick, the Diamondbacks decided they couldn’t pass up on his bat and drafted Smith, even without the universal designated hitter. So, his value should be sky high now, right? Well, not exactly. 

Smith struggled to impress with his bat in the minors, hitting home runs almost half as often as he did in college. He was promoted to the Major League roster in 2020, but is yet to establish himself as a solid starter, hitting .264 with just 12 home runs in 611 plate appearances, and accumulating exactly 0.0 career WAR. Smith continues to unimpress after being drafted, and it seems unlikely that he will ever be a contributor at the MLB level.

Grade: D+

9. Milwaukee Brewers: 2B/CF Keston Hiura (University of California, Irvine)

At the time:

Prior to the draft, Keston “Kestdaddy” Hiura was easily the most polarizing prospect on the board that wasn’t kicked off his baseball team… *cough *cough Seth Romero. While some viewed him as a top five talent with a wizard bat, others had him as low as the mid to late second round. With the bat, Hiura was somewhat of a sure thing, hitting .442 with a 1.261 OPS in his final year of college. 

However, his overall defense and position in the field was a huge question mark. He was clearly below average at both second base and in the outfield, and an arm injury limited chances for scouts to judge his defensive capabilities. Kiura was unable to field the entire year before the draft due to said injury, but obviously the Brewers were confident in his medical reports, given they took him with the ninth overall pick. This pick was viewed as a giant risk from the Brewers, and likely one that was not worth taking.

Where are they now?

What’s up with this class and struggling at the Major League level? It seems like every single player that went in the top ten has dominated the minors before falling apart upon their promotion. Obviously, this has also been the case for Kiura. Going into the 2019 season, Hiura was ranked as the #17 overall prospect by Baseball America, and hit well upon his promotion to the majors in the same year, hitting .303 with 19 home runs in 348 plate appearances. He was no wizard in the field, but as long as he hit well it didn’t matter. But then, he stopped hitting. Since his rookie year, Hiura has hit just .194 with a .642 OPS in 452 plate appearances. With the addition of the designated hitter to the NL this season, Kiura gains some value, but unless he regains his 2019 form, he is unlikely to establish himself as a valuable Major League starter.

Grade: C

10. Los Angeles Angels: OF Jo Adell (Ballard HS)

At the time:

Adell, a raw, toolsy outfielder from Kentucky, was seen as the best player available for the Angels. Despite their desperate need for starting pitching, they went with Adell over starters like Shane Baz, Trevor Rogers, and Alex Faedo. Adell’s mix of pop, speed, fielding, and contact was too much for the Angels to pass on, and analysts seemed to agree. While it was not viewed as a slam dunk pick, most agreed that it was a solid pick for the Mike Trout led Angels, who were looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Where are they now?

Most of the picks in this draft are clear cut good or bad, and this is definitely one of the good ones. Despite this, I can’t help but feel that the Angels will end up disappointed they didn’t go with one of the two best pitchers left on the board. Adell was a superstar prospect, hitting as high as on Baseball America’s prospect rankings, but like many in this draft, has struggled at the Major League level. 

Adell put together a solid 2021, hitting .246 with a .703 OPS in 140 plate appearances, but the squad has found it hard to fit him in their deep outfield. Now, in 2022, with the release of Justin Upton, Adell finally has his role in left field, but remains an average player on a team starved of good starting pitching. While they would trade him for Shane Baz or Trevor Rogers in a heartbeat, I can’t say it was a bad pick in retrospect.

Grade: B

12. Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Shane Baz (Concordia Lutheran HS)

At the time:

After the top four starters were taken in the draft, there was a serious discussion about which starter would be taken next. That man turned out to be Baz, an electric righty coming out of high school. Sporting elite stuff and four solid pitches, his upside was on the level of the top two off the board in Hunter Greene and Mackenzie Gore, but there were significant concerns about his control and command of the zone. The Pirates were the team to bet on Baz’s ceiling, and it was viewed as a good bet. Analysts raved about his tools and potential, and were highly favorable of this pick after the draft.

Where are they now?

Well, in Tampa Bay. As part of the “worst trade of all time” between the Rays and the Pirates, Baz was added along with Tyler Meadows and Austin Meadows in exchange for longtime Rays starter Chris Archer. On the bright side, at least for the Rays, Baz could very well be the best player to come out of this draft. Now ranked as the #8 prospect in the majors by Baseball America, Baz torched hitters in both AAA and the MLB last season, and looks to do the same in 2022. He is on the 60-day IL after shoulder surgery in the offseason, but when he returns expectations will be sky high for the twenty-three year old. It’s not unlikely that Baz becomes a perennial Cy Young contender in the future. Fans will look back at this pick as one of, if not the best in this draft, even if the team that made it didn’t benefit from it at all.

Grade: A+

13. Miami Marlins: LHP Trevor Rogers (Carlsbad HS)

At the time:

The sixth overall pitcher and fourth high school pitcher drafted in the class, Rogers came into the draft as a massive 6’6″ lefty with the ability to throw pure heat. With a fastball that seemed to touch 95 mph with ease and good command of the zone, he was the kind of lefty there just isn’t many of in the majors. Scouts and analysts raved about his upside, but that upside came with significant consistency concerns. From one day to another, Rogers’ fastball dipped from 95 to 89 and then back up to 95. The Marlins bet on being able to sort out these issues, taking him with the 13th overall pick, and it was received with fairly good reviews. It was not seen as great of a pick as Baz, but still a solid pick nonetheless. 

Where are they now?

Trevor Rogers is the exact reason that I tend to bet on the upside of high school pitchers rather than solid college starters, especially in the middle to late end of the first round. Rogers spent very little time in the minors before making his MLB debut in 2020, and has not looked back since. In a departure from most of the other players taken in this draft, Rogers has done very little struggling in his journey to establish himself as a mid-rotation arm in a very strong Marlins staff. 

After striking out 12.5 batters per nine in seven starts during the shortened 2020 season, he quickly emerged onto the scene in 2021, posting an ERA of 2.64 and striking out 10.6 per nine in 133 innings. Also in his rookie year, he made the All-Star Game and finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, only behind Jonathan India. Rogers is quickly proving himself to be a star, and this pick has just as quickly turned out to be a home run for the Marlins.

Grade: A+

17. Seattle Mariners: 1B Evan White (University of Kentucky)

How has the extension worked out?

Viewed as a defensive guru with a solid bat at draft time, White quickly delivered for the Mariners minor league system, hitting .293 with an .838 OPS in AA during the 2019 season, good enough to rank him #54 amongst all MLB prospects. As a result of his success, the Mariners offered him an extension. Nine years, $54.5 million, with three club options that left only $24 million guaranteed. It’s not often that you see a prospect get a deal when they haven’t even seen the Major League level, and this was one of those rare instances. So, how has the deal turned out? 

White won the AL Gold Glove at first base in the shortened 2020 season, showing off his well-known defensive capabilities. However, now twenty-six, he has struggled horrifically with the bat in the majors, hitting just .165 with a .544 OPS since his debut. Being on the 10 day IL to start the 2022 season, things are starting to look bleak for the remainder of his career. Chances are good the Mariners decide to buy out those club options, but his strong defensive presence leaves some room for a bounce back season.

Grade: C-

18. Detroit Tigers: RHP Alex Faedo (University of Florida)

What went wrong?

Injuries, injuries, injuries. They were a problem during his time at the University of Florida, and they eventually derailed his potential. Faedo was a popular pick for number one overall six months before the draft, but an injury caused him to drop to the Tigers at eighteen. It’s always a risk to draft a player with significant injury concerns, and this time it bit the Tigers in the butt. Faedo’s career started strong, with a quick emergence to AA and strong minor league performances, but an injury has since held him out of play. Now, coming back to baseball for the first time in three years, the twenty-six year old Faedo might never even make an MLB roster.

Grade: D

19. San Francisco Giants: OF Heliot Ramos (Leadership Christian Academy)

At the time:

In the days before the draft, Ramos was the player that everybody marked with a second round grade, despite consistently raving about his talent and tools. Sure, he was raw, but if he put it all together, the team that drafted him could have a superstar on their hands. Still, it was a surprise to see Ramos taken this high in the draft, ahead of a player that the media seemed to be much higher on, Jeren Kendall.

However, it was tough to argue against the choice. Ramos was viewed as a massive power bat with plus baserunning and fielding potential with a tendency to make far too many off-balance swings. It was even rumored that Ramos hit a ball that traveled more than 500 ft in front of MLB scouts. Overall, this was viewed as a risky pick by the Giants, but one that could more than pay off in the future. 

Where are they now?

Ramos recently made his MLB debut, and he’s looked very solid on his way to it. While he hasn’t hit as many home runs as many would have expected by his draft day hype, only fourteen in 492 plate appearances in AA and AAA last season, Ramos has shown plus fielding in center paired with a solid contact bat and good baserunning.

Going into 2022, he ranks #94 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects, but his value is much more than that number suggests. Ramos, as a good defender in center field with a good bat, is a commodity that Major League teams struggle to find. This was a very solid pick by the Giants, and one that will influence their team in the long term in a very positive way. 

Grade: A

21. Baltimore Orioles: LHP DL Hall (Valdosta High School)

At the time:

DL Hall was a very different pitcher than the rest of the starters in the first round. A lefty that won more so with control rather than pure stuff, Hall threw a low to mid 90’s fastball with a wipeout curve that seemed to absolutely fool opposing hitters. The Orioles were surprised to see him available at 21, and quickly scooped him up with their pick. This was seen as a good pick by the Orioles, and one of the best picks in the latter half of the first round.

Where are they now?

The jury is still very much out on Hall, who has done very well in the minor leagues thus far despite limited appearances. He is on the Orioles 40 man roster to begin the 2022 season, and is likely to be called up near the end of the season. What is very tempting about Hall is his ridiculous strikeout numbers in 2021, ending 15.9 by the K per nine innings across 31.2 innings in AA.

With a good performance in AAA this season, Hall could prove himself as one of the most touted prospects in baseball, but a poor year could shadow doubt on whether he could ever start in the MLB. For my money, I’d put a bet on the former. If Hall, whose fastball now gets up to 97, can shake his injury bug, he will immediately be the highlight of the Orioles rotation and a deadly strikeout threat on the mound. 

Grade: B

24. Boston Red Sox: RHP Tanner Houck (University of Missouri)

At the time:

Six months before the draft, Houck was a popular top ten pick. However, a poor SEC Tournament caused him to fall to the Red Sox at 24 and netted them a very good pitcher. Houck, who was noted for his low arm slot utilized to throw a devastating sinker, was a hotly debated prospect for that very reason. Many scouts didn’t think he could last as a long innings starter with his overreliance on the sinker, while others viewed his slider and changeup as good enough to land him a spot in the rotation. The Red Sox bet on his future as a starter, and took him with the 24th pick, a pick that was largely graded out as middling by the media.

Where are they now?

It bewilders me how much Houck fell under the radar last year. During a year in which the Sox made it to the ALCS, Houck pitched a stellar year and garnered almost no attention from media, likely because he only started in thirteen games. However, he deserves that attention. He finished the year with 69 innings and a FIP of just 2.58, all the while striking out 11.9 batters per nine. If you’re looking for an under the radar Cy Young candidate for 2022, look directly at Tanner Houck. I firmly expect him to continue his strong performance in coming years, and to establish himself as the ace in Boston. This pick was absolutely one of the best in the draft.

Grade: A

28. Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (Florida International University)

What’s next?

It was somewhat of a surprise how far Pearson dropped in the draft, and the Blue Jays jumped on the chance to draft a pitcher with as much upside as him. He quickly exceeded expectations in the minors, and debuted with the Major League club as their top pitching prospect and a top 20 prospect in the majors in 2020, but since then his hype train has seemingly stopped running. Pearson spent most of last season in AAA, and was not as sharp as many were hoping. Now almost twenty-six, Pearson debuts the season on the 10 day IL and may not have a spot in the strong Blue Jays starting rotation. It’s possible he becomes somewhat of a trade bait at the deadline without a strong showing upon his return.

Grade: B

If the draft reoccurred today, who would go first overall?

To me, it is a clear debate between three players: Hunter Greene, Shane Baz, and Trevor Rogers. All three of them have sky high potential, Greene with his 102 mph fastball, Baz with his terrific mix of deadly pitches, and Rogers with his heat and control on the left side of the mound. But, in my opinion, one of their upsides is just a touch higher. That’s right, it’s Shane Baz. 

Greene has looked spectacular, wielding one of the scariest fastballs in the MLB, but his overall skillset doesn’t quite match up with Baz’s. Greene has a tendency to give up big hits and a good amount of walks relying mostly on his fastball, but looking at Baz, it’s hard to point out one area of critique. If he continues on his track of dominance that he began in 2022, Baz is on the fast track to becoming one of the best pitchers in the majors and a perennial Cy Young candidate for the Rays. Baz has all the tools in his belt to be truly great.

How would I grade the overall draft?

In a lot of ways, the jury is still out, but there have been some clear successes and some clear failures. The overall hitting talent of the draft, especially in the first round, has been relatively disappointing, but there are players like Nick Pratto, Bubba Thompson, Heliot Ramos, Luis Campusano, and MJ Melendez that could change that story.

On the pitching end, however, there has been a large amount of clear successes in Greene, Baz, Rogers, and Tanner Houck, in addition to players with solid potential in Mackenzie Gore, Kyle Wright, DL Hall, and Nate Pearson. Generally, the lack of hitting talent will drag this draft to a below average grade, but that grade could easily improve with the breakout of some of the players who have yet to prove themselves at the MLB level.
Draft Grade: C+



Categories: Analysis

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