...Matthew Smoral, lefthanded pitcher out of Solon High School in Ohio."
Simply put, I'm sold on Smoral's combination of stuff, mechanics, and physical stature. What he lacks in track record, he makes up in upside. He's commonly projected to go in the back half of the first round, in part because he missed his senior season, but I like him for the Reds at 14. In fact, he's actually my favorite pitcher in the draft class. For me, he has top of the rotation potential and represents a very good option for the Reds.
If I was the Reds, I'd grab (1) Smoral, and if he's off the board, (2) ss/3b Addison Russell, followed by (3) of David Dahl with the 14th overall pick. And, I'd try to land rhp Ty Buttrey with one of their two picks (49th overall and 57th overall) in the supplemental round and rhp Pat Light in the second or third rounds.
Russell is intriguing. When I looked at him, I was looking at him in the context of third base. And, I thought his swing and offensive potential were more than adequate at third base. However, there are many pundits who think he has a legitimate shot to stick at shortstop, which would obviously make his bat all the more valuable. Wherever he ends up on defense, I think he has the type of bat that could make him an impact talent. He'll need to refine his swing (shorten) and his approach (improve to the opposite field), but there's something there.
As for Dahl, he's rated as the best strike zone judgment in the high school class and the 3rd purest hitter in the high school class. Throw in a plus arm and plus speed and that's enough to overcome the few negatives. I can't speak to his desire or drive, so I'll take those with a grain of salt. And, while he doesn't effectively use his lower half, it hasn't slowed him down to this point. And, it's not an uncorrectable flaw, so if the need arises he could rework his swing to incorporate more of his lower half. As it stands, his plus hit tool and good bat speed help offset the largely upper body swing. And, as a table-setter, he can get by with gap-to-gap power. In an organization short in on-base skill, Dahl would be a welcome addition.
Here are some final thoughts on some of the other available options:
- Andrew Heaney -- As I mentioned in his write-up, I have concerns about his durability given his failure to effectively incorporate his lower half into the delivery. I love the combination of performance and polish, but the mechanics don't work for me. If he can avoid injury, he's more of a high floor type prospect, as he lacks top of the rotation upside.
- Richie Shaffer -- After seeing Shaffer's swing, I'm sold on his ability to hit and hit for power. After seeing him at third, I'm sold on the need to move him to first base. His defense lacks fluidity, as his movements and fielding actions are stiff and rigid. I'm not at all convinced he has the footwork or agility to handle the hot corner at the upper levels. We could use an impact bat and it's possible he could handle leftfield, but we have a 1b locked in at the MLB level for a few more years and to be in the mix with the 14th overall pick the bat had better be special if the defensive value is negligible. You always go best available player in the MLB draft, but I don't think Shaffer fits that description at 14th overall.
- Victor Roache -- I don't like the swing, especially the hand action, and don't think it'll play against advanced pitching.
- Stephen Piscotty -- If he could handle third base, then he'd be on my list of players to draft. Like Dahl, he uses a quiet lower half, but Piscotty does a better job of incorporating his hips into his swing. I wonder if Piscotty has a David Freese like future. Somewhat unheralded. Unclear if the power will develop. Defensive position uncertain. But, has a hit tool that is rare and that carries him up the ladder. Still, the risk is too high at 14th overall to find out.
- As for the top of the draft pitchers, I like Mark Appel and rate him higher than Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, and Lucas Giolito. There is no runaway winner at the top of the draft and I wouldn't put Appel in the Trevor Bauer, Shelby Miller, Dylan Bundy class of pitchers, but, of those pitchers who fall in the consensus top-tier among pundits, he's the best bet and could develop into a legitimate #1 starter. Appel just has a bit more risk than the typical top of the draft pitcher. Even so, I'd have to say I like Smoral every bit as much, if not more than Appel.
- I haven't looked deeply into Mike Zunino, but my first impression isn't that positive. I'm not wild about his build or his swing. Still, the general consensus is strong on him, so maybe a more in-depth look at would have uncovered a more impressive Zunino than what I saw in my cursory look.
- Again, I didn't spend much time look at players who were locks to be off the board by the time the Reds drafted at 14, but Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton are impressive talents. I would have no objection if the Astros had decided to select either of them at 1.1 and it wouldn't surprise me if Correa turns out to be the best player in this draft.
Over the last offseason, the Reds did a very good job of utilizing their farm system. However, they utilized it by trading away a large portion of the upper level prospects. As a result, the Reds are thin down on the farm and have needs all across the organization. So, while you always go "best available player" in the MLB draft, it's especially true for the Reds who have to restock every position and level in the system. It starts with the 14th overall pick, but the Reds have 5 picks in the first three rounds. A solid draft would go a long way towards restocking the farm system. And, if the Reds are going to continue to contend in the future, they'll need cost controlled young talent to fill in around the expensive veterans.