The MLB First-Year Player Draft kicked off last night and if you didn’t notice, I won’t blame you. The MLB Draft is certainly a smaller spectacle than the NFL Draft and even pales in comparison to the NBA and it’s ping pong balls. The Diamondbacks had the 7th overall pick, the highest pick they’ve held since selecting Dansby Swanson 1-1 in 2015, then subsequently trading him. Before that, they highest selection they’d made was Trevor Bauer at third overall (in the same draft where they selected Archie Bradley 7th) in 2011, whom they also subsequently traded. Barrett Loux was drafted 6th overall in 2010, but the team didn’t sign him over concerns about his arm. As a franchise, you need to go back to the early and mid 2000’s to find much success at the top of the draft for Arizona (Justin Upton, Carlos Quentin and Stephen Drew come to mind).
The team will try to turn that luck around, of course, and attempted to do so by selecting University of Virginia first baseman Pavin Smith 7th overall. I’ll admit, I groaned a little at the thought of drafting a first baseman, preferring more athletic types, and it didn’t take long for the #RIPGoldy tweets to appear, but that’s a problem for another day. To his credit, Smith has a clean, relatively short swing with a small stride and a level stroke. Batting left-handed, he’s not your typical first base masher who’s going to either hit a homer or strike out. Instead, he’s managed to hit more home runs in his junior year at Virginia (in a pitcher’s park) than his strike out total while taking plenty of free passes. His approach should play very, very well in Chase Field where we’ve seen the pull-conscious types struggle and the spray-conscious types succeed. Smith has power projection left as he’s a bit on the thin side for a first baseman at present and could grow into plus power. In the short term, he could net some time at a corner outfield spot but he’ll be a first baseman before too long, should the team decide to try the outfield routine at all.
With their second selection of the night, at 44th overall, the Diamondbacks selected aggressively taking third baseman Drew Ellis from Louisville. While he’s spent some time this season at first base, Ellis projected to stick at third long term with enough defense to hold down the hot corner. A right-handed hitter, he has a fluid swing with some leverage and clears his lower half well, getting good separation at the plate. The intrigue comes from the fact that Ellis was a draft-eligible sophomore from one of the best programs in the country and could be a bit difficult to sign. There’s reason to think that, should he return to college, he could be a top-10 pick a year from now, and so he’ll likely require the team to go over-slot to sign him. Finances are a huge part of the draft and the D-backs will have their work cut out to sign Ellis, though they appear to have a plan in place…
Because with their third pick (68th overall), Arizona drafted University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee catcher Daulton Varsho. Left-hand hitting catchers are always intriguing and Varsho showcases better than average athleticism behind the plate. With plus-speed, he’s logged time in the outfield, as well, and could profile as a utility piece that serves as a backup catcher and a left fielder who won’t kill you in the outfield. He cemented his place on the radar after tearing up the Northwoods League last summer, a collegiate wood bat league, hitting 15 homers and batting .321 where most college kids struggle to adjust to non-aluminum bats. Most lists had Varsho as a prospect who could go in the 100-120 range overall, and by drafting him early, the Diamondbacks likely saved some cash that they can apply to signing Ellis. And in his own right, Varsho is intriguing in a number of ways as he’s got some pop, walked more often than he struck out in his junior year, and triple slashed .362/.490/.643. With some positional flexibility, there are a number of routes to the majors he can take and still work out. That could play well in the National League.
Through three picks, a pattern has emerged, one I’ve heard we should be on the lookout for: controlling the strike zone.
The Diamondbacks have made it a priority to find players who understand the zone. They’re not targeting huge power players with swing-and-miss concerns. Instead, they’ve deliberately targeted players with a keen eye who appear well-poised at this early stage to get on base at a strong clip. There’s some power here and some athleticism despite the listed positions, but overall, strike zone control appears to be an overriding priority. With a host of picks just hours away, we’ll have to see how that trend holds up in Day 2 of the draft.
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