2023 MLB Draft Insight

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Dec 12, 2023

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The 2023 MLB Draft kicked off the All-Star break this week, with the twenty-round event taking place at Lumen Field from July 9 to July 11. Across the three days, 614 players heard their names get called with the opportunity to pursue professional baseball. In this article, I take a quick dive into some of the players who came off the board on Day 1 of the Draft.

The 20-80 Scouting Scale

Throughout the pre-draft process, scouts and clubs will often assess prospects' tools on the 20-80 Scouting Scale. Position players are graded for five tools: Hitting, Power, Running, Fielding, and Throwing. When a player is referred to as a "five-tool player", that is a reference to grading high on the 20-80 Scale. Pitchers are graded by each pitch in their repertoire, as well as either overall command (control) or command (control) per pitch.

For each tool, the player receives a grade between 20 and 80:

  • 20-30 is well below average
  • 40 is below average
  • 50 is average
  • 60 is above average
  • 70-80 is well above average

One additional note: When a pitch or tool is referred to as "plus" (i.e. Paul Skenes has plus offspeed offerings), that pitch or tool is considered above average.

1.1 Pittsburgh Pirates - Paul Skenes, RHP, LSU

The term ‘generational’ is heard every so often come draft time, and Paul Skenes fits that billing. Skenes posted a 1.69 ERA with 209 (!!) strikeouts over 122.2 innings of work en route to a national title with LSU. Skenes’ stuff is elite, featuring an 80-grade, upper 90s fastball that has hit triple digits throughout the year and a wipeout slider that generated an absurd whiff rate (63.6%), especially down below the strike zone. He also commands the strike zone well, only allowing 23 free passes (20 BB, 3 HBP) on the year. There were some rumblings that the slot money would influence the decision in Pittsburgh, but the Pirates draft Skenes nonetheless. They could see Skenes fly through the farm, given the dominance he showed at the collegiate level.

Whiff% on Paul Skenes' Fastball, Contour Map, 2023
Whiff% on Paul Skenes' Slider, By Zone, 2023

1.2 Washington Nationals - Dylan Crews, OF, LSU

Crews, the 2023 Golden Spikes Award winner and back-to-back SEC Player of the Year, went #2 to the Nationals, making himself and Paul Skenes the first teammates to go 1-2 in MLB Draft history. Crews posted an absurd .426/.567/.713 line in his junior season at LSU. He also walked 71 times to only 46 strikeouts, reaching base safely in 75 (!!) consecutive games dating back to the 2022 season. Crews has shown the potential to be a five-tool player, with expectations that his glove and his arm will keep him in center for a long time. He flashed power as well, sitting well above D1 average in both hard hit rate (Crews - 71.1%, D1 – 53.9%) and average exit velocity (Crews – 94.9 mph, D1 – 87.0 mph).

Dylan Crews Spray Chart, 2023

1.3 Detroit Tigers - Max Clark, OF, Franklin HS (IN)

Clark was the first prep talent to come off the board, going third overall to the Detroit Tigers. This spring’s Gatorade National Player of the Year, Clark hit .646 with a .808 on-base percentage across 28 games. He walked 52 times and swiped 35 bags, displaying flashes of power with 6 homeruns. Clark also excels at utilizing the entire field for contact. Like Crews, Clark has the potential to grow into a true five-tool player in centerfield with his plus speed and above average defense.

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Max Clark BP at East Cobb, 2023

1.4 Texas Rangers - Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida

Langford came to campus as a catcher, logging four at-bats as a freshman at Florida. Two seasons later, he comes off the board as an outfielder, and as one of the best pure hitters in the class. Langford slashed .373/.498/.784 in his junior season at Florida, displaying his 65-grade power with 21 homeruns and a 72.7% hard-hit rate (average exit velocity – 95.7 mph). He has pop both pull-side and up the middle, peppering the field for contact and for power.

Wyatt Langford Spray Chart, 2023

Langford mashed all the way through his career at Florida, even with limited playing time his freshman year. On the left below are Langford's average exit velocities from Fall of 2020, when he first made it to campus. On the right is the same graphic from this past season, highlighting his advanced ability to drive pitches in all parts of the strike zone.

Wyatt Langford EV, By Zone, Fall 2020
Wyatt Langford EV, By Zone, Spring 2023

He also showed an advanced approach at the plate, walking 56 times to 44 strikeouts. His chase rate of 17.2% (down from his 2022 mark of 25.8%) was 9% lower than D1 average. Despite limited experience, Langford showed above average potential in left field for the Gators, and some believe he has the tools to make the move to centerfield at the next level.

1.6 Oakland Athletics - Jacob Wilson, SS, Grand Canyon University

The first collegiate infielder came off the board at six in Jacob Wilson, shortstop from Grand Canyon University. Wilson possesses elite bat-to-ball ability, striking out just 12 times in 492 plate appearances with a whiff rate of just 6.6%. He rarely missed pitches in the zone (95% contact rate) and is just as good outside the zone (89.7% contact rate, more than 30% greater than D1 average). Wilson also makes use of the whole field, showing an advanced approach at the dish.

Jacob Wilson EV Spray Chart, 2023

While his bat is his best tool, he has an above average arm at short and flashed improved power this season (slugging percentage up to .635 from .585 in 2022).

1.7 Cincinnati Reds - Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest

Lowder was one of the best pitchers in the country en route to his second consecutive ACC Pitcher of the Year Award this past season. He posted 15 wins (1st in D1) with a 1.87 ERA (4th), recording a school-record 143 strikeouts to only 24 walks in 120.1 innings of work. His fastball sits mid-90s with sinker-like shape, but it is his changeup that is recognized as one of the best at the collegiate level. He also has a plus slider, displaying strong command of all three pitches.

1.9 Colorado Rockies - Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee

Dollander will face the challenging task of pitching in the thin air down the road, but the Tennessee right-hander possesses the tools to conquer the hitter-friendly conditions of Colorado. Dollander has plus swing-and-miss stuff, posting 120 strikeouts across 89 innings. His 70-grade fastball sits upper 90s, routinely generating whiffs at the top of the zone, while his 60-grade slider is a plus secondary pitch (87-92 mph, 2600 rpm). He also features two above-average pitches in his curveball and changeup. He struggled with command at times during 2023, doubling his elite walk rate from his spectacular 2022. However, his 12.1 K/9 and premium arsenal gives him frontline rotation potential.

Whiff% on Dollander's Fastball, Contour Map, 2023
Whiff% on Dollander's Slider, By Zone, 2023

Here is a quick look at Dollander's four pitch mix, via BallR:

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1.13 Chicago Cubs - Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland

The Cubs took one of the best all-around collegiate bats on the board at 13th overall in shortstop Matt Shaw out of Maryland. Shaw slashed .341/.445/.697 with 24 homeruns and 69 RBIs in 62 games, totaling more walks (43) than strikeouts (42). He also swiped 18 bags en route to receiving the Brooks Wallace Award, awarded to the nation’s best shortstop. Shaw excels by making consistent, hard contact in all parts of the strike zone, posting a Damage% (balls in play with an exit velocity > 90 mph, and a launch angle > 10 degrees) nearly 10% above D1 average (43.5% to 34%). He also led the Terps in peak exit velocity at 115.4 mph. Shaw utilizes all parts of the field, displaying plus pop up the middle.

Matt Shaw Spray Chart, 2023
Matt Shaw EV, By Zone, 2023

The shortstop showed defensive versatility as well, spending time at shortstop, second base, third, and the outfield, giving the Cubs a variety of options.

1.14 Boston Red Sox - Kyle Teel, C, Virginia

The first collegiate backstop off the board, Kyle Teel projects to be a mainstay behind the plate. His 65-grade arm and plus athleticism makes him one of the best catchers in the country. During 2023, Teel was +245 in Stolen vs Lost Strikes, highlighting his strong receiving skills behind the dish. He excels especially receiving on his arm side.

Kyle Teel Stolen Strikes, Contour Map, 2023

Teel also boasts an advanced approach at the plate, a plus at the catcher position. Teel slashed .407/.475/.547 and is an above average contact bat (whiff rate of just 15%), striking out only 36 times across 65 games.

1.17 Baltimore Orioles - Enrique Bradfield Jr., OF, Vanderbilt

Enrique Bradfield Jr.’s game centers on his speed and athleticism. An 80-grade runner, Bradfield Jr. is a force on the basepaths. He stole 47 bags in 2021, winning SEC Freshman of the Year honors, followed up by 46 and 37 stolen bases in his next two seasons. His quickness makes him an elite, 70-grade defender in centerfield as well. Bradfield Jr. also flashed a solid approach at the plate, utilizing the whole field and excelling at making contact (90.3% Zone Contact % with just a 12% chase rate). He also has some sneaky pop to the pull-side, driving 14 homeruns over his last two seasons at Vanderbilt.

Enrique Bradfield Jr. Spray Chart, 2023

1.18 Milwaukee Brewers - Brock Wilken, 3B, Wake Forest

The second Demon Deacon off the board, Brock Wilken is an elite power bat. He blasted 71 homeruns over his three seasons at Wake Forest, including a school-record 31 this season (second in D1). He improved his contact ability this past spring, lowering his strikeout rate from 2022 and finishing with 69 walks (third in D1). He also possesses a 65-grade arm, his best graded tool, which could keep him at third in the long-term.

1.19 Tampa Bay Rays - Brayden Taylor, 3B, TCU

Brayden Taylor grades 50 or above in all five tools (contact, power, running, throwing, and fielding), providing the Rays with a well-rounded, above average infielder at 19th overall. He showed some pull-side and up-the-middle pop at TCU, setting records for both single-season (23) and career (48) homeruns. In all three seasons, Taylor finished with double digit homeruns, a batting average north of .300, and an OPS above 1.000.

Brayden Taylor EV Spray Chart, 2023

Taylor also flashed some baserunning ability, swiping 14 bases on 14 attempts in 2023. Defensively, his strong arm and solid athleticism make him a viable option at the hot corner for the Rays.

1.24 Atlanta Braves - Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida

Waldrep showed electric stuff as Florida’s Saturday starter, with three plus (or better) pitches. His fastball sat upper 90s, routinely topping out at 99 mph with great run. His secondary pitch mix may be even stronger with a plus slider (sits upper 80s), a solid curveball (52.9% whiff rate), and an elite splitter. His splitter’s spin rate consistently sits in the low 800s, missing bats at an absurd clip (62.3% whiff rate), making it one of the best off-speed pitches on the board. While he did struggle with command on occasion, he still posted 156 strikeouts (third in D1) and nearly 14 K/9 in 101.2 innings of work.

Whiff% on Hurston Waldrep's Splitter, By Zone, 2023

CBA 38 Cincinnati Reds - Ty Floyd, RHP, LSU

Ty Floyd rounded out an up and down spring with a College World Series record 17 strikeouts against Florida, showing a plus fastball and flashing secondary potential. His fastball sits low to mid 90s with quality induced vertical break and high spin rate, both of which produce difficult carry up in the zone. Floyd also commands the fastball well (67% Strike%). Floyd also flashed a low-80s slider with depth and a low-80s changeup that misses barrels with fade (41% Whiff%), although he does not use it too often.

Whiff% on Ty Floyd's Fastball, Contour Map, 2023

2.49 Minnesota Twins - Luke Keaschall, 2B, Arizona State

Luke Keaschall projects as a hit-over-power bat, slashing .353/.443/.725 with just 28 strikeouts in 55 games at Arizona State. However, he elevates the ball well from all parts of the zone and flashed some pop, with 65% of his batted balls exceeding 90mph exit velocity, 11 ticks above the D1 average. He runs and fields well, likely finding himself at second base long-term for the Twins.

Luke Keaschall Elevated Batted Balls, Zone View, 2023

2.51 Chicago White Sox - Grant Taylor, RHP, LSU

Grant Taylor missed the 2023 season with Tommy John surgery, but his plus fastball and strong secondary mix lands him in the second round, nonetheless. His fastball sits mid-90s, missing barrels in the zone at a 25% clip. Taylor also offers a plus cutter (low-90s), a solid curveball (low 80s), and a tight slider (mid-80s) that generates swings and misses. He also cut his walk rate from 6.1 BB/9 freshman year to 0.9 BB/9 in the Cape Cod League, showing a plus ability to command his pitch mix.

2.56 New York Mets - Brandon Sproat, RHP, Florida

Brandon Sproat ends up with the Mets once again, this time a year later and a round earlier. The right-hander from Florida boasts a strong four pitch mix, highlighted by an upper 90s fastball that touched triple digits in several starts. His mid-80s slider misses barrels consistently, and he showed an ability to throw the curveball for strikes. Sproat also has a feel for the changeup, generating a 51% whiff rate (40% in-zone) and able to execute it effectively below the zone. Like Waldrep, Sproat also struggled with command at times. However, he has the tools to iron out his struggles with control.

Whiff% on Brandon Sproat's Changeup, By Zone, 2023

2.60 Los Angeles Dodgers - Jake Gelof, 3B, Virginia

Jake Gelof is a true power bat, flashing raw pull-side power throughout his time at Virginia and an ability to work the middle of the field. He slashed .321/.427/.710 with 23 homeruns and 90 RBIs, averaging an exit velocity of 92.8 mph over his last two seasons. Gelof also worked 48 walks (to 50 strikeouts) this past year, showing an improved approach at the plate.

Jake Gelof Spray Chart, 2023
Jake Gelof EV, By Zone, 2023

CBB 64 Arizona Diamondbacks - Caden Grice, 1B/LHP, Clemson

The John Olerud Award winner, Caden Grice is a two-way star from Clemson. He slashed .307/.411/.618 with 18 homeruns, while posting an 8-1 record with a 3.35 ERA and 101 strikeouts on the bump. He shows immense raw power, but also has high swing-and-miss tendencies. Grice was able to settle his approach a little this year, lowering his strikeout numbers at the plate. On the mound, the lefty has a fastball that sits low 90s with arm-side run. Grice also posted a 38% CSW% with his slider, showing an ability to miss bats with his off-speed.

Caden Grice EV, By Zone, 2023
Whiff% on Caden Grice's Slider, Contour Map, 2023

2C 70 Atlanta Braves - Cade Kuehler, RHP, Campbell

Cade Kuehler boasts some of the best fastball metrics on the board, generating high spin and late carry between a mid-90s four seamer and a solid two seamer. His slider is a plus secondary pitch, sitting mid-80s and generating a 42% whiff rate. Kuehler also employs a solid low-80s curveball, and traditional low-80s changeup, and a mid-80s splitter.

Whiff% on Cade Kuehler's Slider, By Zone, 2023

Further information (BallR, PitchR visuals) about the Draft can be found on Twitter: @BaseballCloudUS

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