The MLB draft is an enormous event. MLB teams spend years preparing for a single draft including sending a fleet of associate and area scouts, area scouting supervisors, cross-checkers, directors, and even the highest executives in the organization to watch, meet, and interview players. Here at North Side Bound it’s always draft season, but with the NCAA season officially kicking off, we’re excited to debut our preseason ranking. This isn’t a consensus ranking and players will be ranked differently from other publications. The rankings incorporate live-looks, video scouting, discussions with trusted scouts and evaluators, and data (when appropriate). We’ll be bringing you a re-rank sometime in April and then a final ranking prior to the Draft this July
Future Performance Grade (FPG): Similar, but not equivalent to Fangraph’s Future Value, FPG incorporates video and in-person scouting along with metrics along with risk in profile and injury status/history. There are players with 70-grade ceiling, but with a risk calculator (with demographic history, prior injuries, and hitting profile all playing a part).
How I evaluate hitters: I look at three critical factors.
- First, do they make contact? Making contact is about more than just not striking out. Hitters that consistently put the bat on the ball have a better chance of hitting for a high batting average. We can define this using a hitter’s contact rate (number of swings and misses/total swings). In order to help strikeouts, hitters that don’t swing at pitches outside the strike zone are, likewise, in a position to help prevent strikeouts.
- Do they chase bad pitches? A hitter’s chase rate (number of swings at pitches outside the zone/total swings) quantifies this hitting quality.
- Do they hit for power? Hitting is more than just bat-to-ball skills and not striking out. Power definitely matters and these three have it. We can define power using several metrics, but Max Exit Velocity (Max EV) is a useful tool. It is limited and I’ll acknowledge my limitation in not having complete access to a comprehensive list of metrics such as those provided by Synergy. The ones that I have are those that are sent to me by scouts or have been publicly released. A better way to look at Max EV is to filter out swings outside of a certain launch angle window (such as between 10-20 degrees).
How I evaluate pitchers: This is far, far more nuanced, but it focuses on pitching repertoire (stuff) and command far more than results. I try to gain as much information about the way pitchers throw each pitch and their biomechanics. Topics like a pitch’s “shape”, velocity, movement patterns are more important than sequencing or whether they rack up strikeouts (though that still matters). Like with other metrics, I have to do a tremendous amount of digging. I’m thankful for those with access to this information who will send me a correction. I appreciate the ability to continue to learn.
2023 Preseason Draft Rankings
Players in the Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska area are not included in this ranking
Tier 1: 55-60 Grade
In my opinion the top of this draft is stronger in college talent. We’re currently seeing the impact of NIL rules and a weird 2020 draft due to the COVID-19 pandemic with players like Dylan Crews headlining the college talent for several seasons. But in a turn of events he’s not ranked 1:1 for me.
- Max Clark, OF, Franklin HS (IN): This is a profile of a player that I absolutely love. I believe it plays exceedingly well in major league baseball. Clark offers a plus hit tool combined with speed, defense in CF, and a plus arm. The question becomes how advanced will his power tool be. I believe it settles in as above-average when all is said and done. On upper projections, Clark could evoke Kyle Tucker though that will take steps forward in the power department.
- Dylan Crews, OF, LSU: While he was the headliner to this class, I do have questions about the ability for Crews to make contact the next level. That’s my rationale for why Clark snuck in ahead of Crews, but don’t let that distract you form the fact that Dylan Crews is an elite prospect. The power potential is huge. It’s an all-star projection.
- Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida: Langford could surpass Crews and even Clark on this ranking if he shows off the same hitting profile combined with enough confidence that he’s an average centerfielder at the level. Evaluators I’ve talked with believe it’s possible.
Top ten players:
- Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Ole Miss battled a leg injury in the fall, but he absolutely has the potential to be a top 3 caliber player in this class. Gonzales offers the contact and the ability to hit the ball with authority all from a college middle infield package. That’s hard to find and a healthy season would critical in this class.
- Enrique Bradfield Jr., OF, Vanderbilt is divisive, but having watched him in the Corvallis regional and backed by his video and data, I’m a believer. He’s known for speed, defense, and good swing decisions, but Bradfield Jr. isn’t a slasher. Which organization will be the one to take him will be huge for overall projection. It’s hard to beat a series when you watch a player hit a home run and rob a home run, but Bradfield Jr. is electric.
- Dollander and Waldrep aren’t truly in the same tier per se, but in this preseason ranking it’s hard for me to justify ranking any pitcher in the tier 60 category just because of injury risk. That easily can change with strong healthy seasons.
- Arjun Nimmala is cultivating fans out of evaluators and scouts all over the place. His whippy bat speed is incredible and I’m incredibly impressed with the profile. We’re talking about a player who could surge all season into being the top prep in the class.
Other contenders for this tier: Jacob Wilson, Brayden Taylor, Paul Skenes
Tier 2: 45+-50 Grade
.Players who fell a couple ticks below the Tier 1 lower half were Colt Emerson, Matt Shaw, Brayden Taylor, Aidan Miller, and Rhett Lowder. Each of them landed there for a specific question I had with them this spring.
- Emerson (power this spring)
- Shaw (defensive home)
- Taylor (Avg and max exit velocity)
- Miller (defensive home)
- Lowder (velocity)
Every single player above has the potential to jump up into the 55 tier, but most won’t as is the nature of baseball. Some of these players have already begun to answer those questions. Lowder had 20 whiffs in his first outing and sat 92-95. Taylor hit a home run at 111 mph. It makes for a fun spring season.
Of the players in the 45+ tier, I had the most feedback on Paul Skenes, Walker Jenkins, and Blake Mitchell.
- Paul Skenes: My list was locked prior to the season. He showed elite stuff with his running fastball and slider. If Skenes is putting up these performances in SEC conference play he could be in the top 3-5 of the overall class.
- Walker Jenkins: I see a corner outfielder who battled injuries. His health and overall profile fit in the teens for me while noting he could power his way higher in the class
- Blake Mitchell: There are some who really love Mitchell and would gladly rank him high. With catchers there’s enough of a knock on longterm projection that most sit a half tier below where some rank.
Other contenders for this tier: Charlee Soto, Yohandy Morales, Ralphy Velazquez, Ryan Lasko, Tommy Troy, Cameron Johnson
Tier 3: 45 Grade
This tier of players usually sits in the 25-55 range in draft signing bonuses (not necessarily draft pick number selections). The line between a definite first round player and those that slip into the second round is blurry. Team models and organizational player development plans are critical here because players in this tier have enough specific areas of focus where the future projection varies based on what organization takes them. On the higher end of percentile outcomes, a player in this tier could produce 55 tier WAR projections (The Dodgers selecting and developing RHP Bobby Miller, for example. Let’s look at the following:
- Teddy McGraw, RHP, Wake Forest: Good four-pitch mix, however could benefit from attacking the upper zone more with lower release. Wake Forest has an advanced pitching development program, but an organization who thrives in pro pitching development could produce stronger outcomes for McGraw than an organization that sees a four-pitch mix as pro-ready and leaves it.
- Charlee Soto, RHP, Reborn Christian Academy (HS): Wicked stuff, but significant concerns about control. Some organizations are better at harnessing control (or better described, managing control). Seattle comes to mind as an organization that might be a good fit for Soto, but they’re not the only ones, certainly.
- Brock Wilken, 3B, Wake Forest: Significant power projection, but whiffs were a considerable concern last year. Baltimore has cleaned up the past two years taking players who had issues making contact and, so far, the returns on those investments have been strong.
Other contenders for this tier: LuJames Grover III, Gavin Grahovec, AJ Ewing, Christian Little
Tier 4: 40+ Grade
Many of these players are preps or players battling injuries. And these are 2-3rd round caliber players. Especially with some of the prep players, the possibility for a 50-55 tier outcome is still there, but there is much higher variance (risk). A few to watch this spring include:
- Gavin Grahovac, OF, Villa Park (HS): If you watch Grahovac on the right day, he looks like a first-rounder. He has a lot of variance, but is an exciting player and a team that sees the upside could jump at the opportunity to bring him into their development system. He’s also the type of player that could go to college (Texas A&M) and make teams look foolish in a few years.
- AJ Ewing, SS, Springboro (HS): Electric bat speed and a fantastic showing at the Super 60 event in February firmly put him on everyone’s radar
How would you rank them?
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