AJ Puk, Florida

Year In Review: Top MLB Draft Stories

Analysis

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ALSO SEE: Quirkiest Stories Of 2016


The Rise of Nick Senzel

Nick Senzel was far from a secret as he entered last spring, as he was coming off a spectacular Cape Cod League performance and scouts were already calling him a top half of the first round type prospect. But in many ways we may have underestimated the inherent value of the athletic, high performing college hitter.

Senzel had so much going for him this spring as a prospect, starting with the fact that he spent the entire season absolutely mashing for Tennessee. He hit .352, posted a whopping .456 on-base percentage, slugged eight home runs and swiped 25 bases along the way. All spring long, Senzel performed against the best pitching the SEC had to offer and didn’t shy away from the spotlight when scouts packed the stands for his biggest tests. This is how you become the second pick in the country as a college third baseman. Hitting is still the most enticing quantity in the business and the consensus among scouts was that he was the safest bet in the class to hit at the professional level.

Hudson Slides

Entering the spring and for most of the college baseball season it appeared that Mississippi State ace Dakota Hudson was destined to be a top ten overall pick in the draft. But some late struggles opened the door for some question marks from scouts and Hudson ended up sliding to 34th overall to the St. Louis Cardinals.

This is a story that is more than just the simple case of a player’s draft stock sliding. It underlines the fact that college arms like Hudson that are seen as frequently as he was, between pitching on Fridays in the SEC and spending a whole summer in the Cape Cod League, can be get somewhat over-analyzed due to overexposure. Players like Boston College’s Justin Dunn went many picks higher than Hudson with similar raw stuff, but the unknown factor can play in a pitcher’s raw at times and when it came to Hudson, there was very little scouts did not know.

BC’s Dunn Skyrockets

The Justin Dunn story is an easy segue in this case. In a span of a month in the spring of 2016, the Boston College righty went from a top three round relief arm prospect to the third college pitcher taken in the draft and the 19th overall pick in the first round. It turned out that the 6-foot-2 righty could carry his 92-96 mph fastball into a starting role, and his opportunities to shine against powerhouse programs like Louisville down the stretch of the season pushed him high up draft boards in the final weeks leading up to the big event. Had they not had an unexpected chance at Kyle Lewis, the Seattle Mariners likely would have taken Dunn 11th overall.

There are a lot of things that pundits and scouts are “sure of” entering the spring, but the Dunn story again speaks to how quickly the draft scene can change. When there’s a power arm like Dunn and he’s given an opportunity to start, and do so against premium competition, draft stock can change on a dime. Dunn was the classic reminder of that in 2016.

Oakland Selects 35 College Players

Thanks to Moneyball, the Oakland Athletics have become an organization known for taking college talent in the MLB Draft. Of course, that has not been exclusively the case, particularly in recent years, as the A’s have certainly not shied away from prep talent. In 2016, however, the Athletics went full bore on college players, taking just six high school players compared to a whopping 35 from the collegiate ranks.

In some ways, yes, it’s a statement to organizational philosophy at the moment, but this statistics also speaks to the strength of college baseball at the moment and the confidence professional baseball has in the product that is emerging from it. And although they did take ten players from either the ACC or SEC, this was a class that cast a very wide and diverse net. Oakland drafted players from Wofford, Bucknell, Winthrop, Eastern Kentucky, Westmont College, East Stroudsburg and Pace University. Yes, college baseball is an institution and is quite dominated by the major conference, but there are professional grade players coming from the furthest and seemingly most obscure corners of the sport.

Lodolo Heads to TCU

The way the draft is currently constructed, we simply are not seeing many of those big ticket prospects end up in college baseball anymore. So, when the 41st overall pick in the MLB Draft goes unsigned and ends up on campus, that’s a huge story. The Pirates took Nick Lodolo with the 41st overall pick in the 2016 draft, and rather than land a seven figure bonus, the 6-foot-6 southpaw landed at TCU.

Lodolo’s star power could be a game changer for TCU, as he’s already shown dominant, rotation leading stuff this fall. His 90-94 mph fastball should only improve as he matures, and in three years he may very well become a top ten overall type prospect. These types of high profile draft prospects are always nothing but positive for the college game.

Jason Groome

The Jason Groome saga was the soap opera of day one of the MLB Draft, as pundits wondered just how much his price tag and makeup question marks were going to cause him to slide. Widely considered the highest upside pitching prospect in the class and a candidate for the first overall selection, there were rumors that the prep southpaw could find himself sliding all the way down to the 30s.

Reputed to have a $5 million price tag, there was a lot of uncertainly when it came to Groome. The Boston Red Sox rolled the dice with the 12th overall picking knowing they weren’t going to be able to meet such a price tag, and ultimately that gamble paid off. Boston was able to land the prized lefty for $3.65 million, still well above slot but significantly below his reported asking price. Groome is a risky proposition and will take some time to develop, but Boston seized the opportunity to get potentially the most dynamic player in the draft, and when you can do that with the 12th pick, it’s an intelligent move.

Florida, Louisville Dominate Day One

There are some true perennial powerhouses in college baseball at the moment, but not all of them always churn out elite professional talent. In 2016, Florida and Louisville were not just successful on the field but historically prolific when it came to producing draft talent as well.

One just the first night of the 2016 MLB Draft, the Florida Gators had five players taken in the first 64 picks. After A.J. Puk was taken sixth overall, another Gator hurler, Dane Dunning joined him as a first rounder, going 29th overall. Logan Shore, Buddy Reed, and Pete Alonso followed them in the second round. Solidifying themselves as arguably the top talent producing program of the moment, Florida’s total of five players taken in the first two rounds ranked as the most in the nation.

Closely following Florida, however, was Louisville with four players selected in the first two rounds. Three of those four were first rounders, as Corey Ray went 5th, Zack Burdi went 26th and Will Smith went 32nd. Nick Solak followed that group, as he went 62nd overall to the Yankees.

The biggest story here, however, is not how many players these programs had drafted last year, but how well prepared they are to repeat the feat. Louisville looks poised to have another early first rounder in 2017 with Brendan McKay, and they have a number of top two round candidates like Kade McClure, Riley Thompson, among others. Florida has another elite, top of the first round arm on their hands in Alex Faedo, and others like J.J. Schwarz, Dalton Guthrie and Mike Rivera are outstanding top two round candidates as well. These are not one and done programs in terms of talent, and they are proving that they can consistently produce elite level players year in and year out.

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