There are only a few weeks until the 2023 amateur draft, and I’ve done a top-to-bottom refresh and expansion of my draft prospect rankings, which you can see on The Board. The goal of the draft rankings is to evaluate and rank as many of the players who are talented enough to hop onto the main section of the pro prospect lists as possible, so they can be ported over to the pro side of The Board as soon as they’re drafted. Players for whom that is true tend to start to peter out in rounds four and five of the draft as bonus slot amounts dip below $500,000. Overslot guys are obvious exceptions. By the seventh round, we’re mostly talking about org guys who are drafted to make a team’s bonus pool puzzle fit together, or players who need significant development to truly be considered prospects.
That means ranking about 125 players. I currently have about that many players on the list, hard ranked through 55, while the prospects below that are bucketed by their demographic. The ordinal rankings will trickle down the list over the next few weeks, more names may be added, and I still have some blurbs and tool grades to fill in, but these 125 names are the lion’s share of the list. Next week’s Combine, as well as the private, individual workouts that take place over the next few weeks and the information that emerges from team meetings, will likely have an impact on the final draft day version of the list. The Combine especially will illuminate some players who will help fill out the bottom of the rankings, and of course it’s inevitable that a few players drafted during the first half of Day Two will need to be added as they’re selected.
Scouts and executives tend to think this is a rather strong, if incomplete, draft class. The high schoolers in this year’s crop are especially talented and deep. There will likely be high-upside high schoolers available after the end of the second round, which probably means there will be a handful of them who end up going to school, strengthening the draft class three years from now, too. Major League Baseball doesn’t scale the league-wide bonus pool up and down based on the quality of the class — there’s only so much money to go around — and this year there are probably more good high schoolers than there is money to pay them to skip school. Teams with comp picks after the second round are sitting pretty and will have access to more talent with those picks than usual. The high school position players, especially the infielders, are particularly deep.
For the second consecutive year, there isn’t an especially exciting crop of college pitchers. After the names at the very top of the draft board (LSU’s Paul Skenes, Florida’s Hurston Waldrep, Tennessee’s Chase Dollander), there is a yawning chasm before you get to the next tier of college pitchers. It’s strange that we’ve had a multi-year dip in pitching prospect quality when the technological tools and infrastructure to understand and develop pitching have existed at the college level for a while now. Some schools are even better at developing arms than a handful of big league orgs, and a lot of the big-budget programs have pumped money into the same tech that good pro orgs use to assess their own players, but the results across the sport haven’t been very good lately. For instance, the best pitching prospect coming out of the Pac-12 this year (Washington right-hander Kiefer Lord) had an ERA over 6.00.
Let’s highlight some individual players who I am personally a little higher or lower on than the general industry sentiment. One of the few college arms who has popped up during the spring is Kent State lefty Joe Whitman, a 45 FV prospect on The Board. He threw less than six innings during his first two years at Purdue, then had a great junior year for the Golden Flash. His slider command is among the best in the entire draft, and he’s looked very good on the Cape recently. He has a shot to sneak into the back of the first round.
There are a few other prominent pitchers I’m higher on: I have a top-10 grade on Waldrep, and have fellow Gator Brandon Sproat in the first round. Sproat is nearly 23, but I don’t really care about the age of pitching prospects in the draft. I care about projectability, which often corresponds with age, but not age itself. Sproat is a year older than most of the class, but he isn’t any less projectable than a typical college arm. He has the same 40-man timeline as anyone else and his stuff is way nastier. Are we really going to take Juaron Watts-Brown over that guy? I’m also smitten with New York high school righty Josh Knoth (he’s the best on-mound athlete, and has the best curveball, in the class) and Arizona high school shortstop Roch Cholowsky (plus-plus shortstop defense gives him a high floor).
I’m lower on Colorado high school shortstop Walker Martin. He has a beautiful left-handed swing for an infielder, but while the (nearly) 19-and-a-half-year-old beat up on varsity arms in Colorado during the spring, I’ve never seen him actually hit against elite peers. I’m also not on Florida high school righty Charlee Soto, who shares many traits with the hard-throwing, maxed-out prep arms of yesteryear. Physical projection and fastball shape are important components for young pitchers, and Soto is a “round down” prospect in both respects.