As always, the Major League Baseball Draft will have an enormous impact on the immediate future of LSU's program. While the current team is battling through the postseason, the Majors will hold their draft in early June, which will determine the fate of a number of current LSU players as well as a number of signees. So even though the team is in the middle of a race for another SEC Championship, I thought it a good time to take a look at the draft and how LSU might fare.
One thing to keep an eye on this year are the new rules of the MLB Draft that heavily penalize teams who pay over "slot". In the past, teams were encouraged to offer salaries to their draft picks that were indicative of where they were picked. However, some big market teams, or teams that just invest heavily in the draft, would often overpay and would, for example, sign a sixth round pick to a second round salary to ensure they don't go to college (or go back to college). Now, teams face a pretty hefty penalty in the form of taxes and lost draft picks if they pay over slot. This should benefit the college game quite a bit. If a player slides further than expected in the draft, he could actually make it to college now.
Players will also have to sign much sooner than before, when they had to sign by August 15th. Now the deadline is July 13. This will allow college coaches more time to replace players they lost rather than scrambling with just a week or so before fall classes start. With this being the first year these rules are applied, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
I'm no MLB Draft expert, so I decided to enlist the services of someone who is. Chris Crawford, who runs MLB Draft Insider, was nice enough to spend some time answering some of my questions. Chris does a great job over there, and I encourage you to visit the site frequently as the draft approaches.
Just an FYI and for reference when reading Chris's responses, the MLB Draft schedule is as follows:
Day 1 (June 4) - Round 1 and Compensation Round
Day 2 (June 5) - Rounds 2 thru 15
Day 4 (June 6) - Rounds 16 thru 40
1. Raph Rhymes is having a record setting season for LSU. Going into May, he's still batting .500 and doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. How does he project to the next level? Is there any chance he returns to LSU as a senior? On one hand, he's really just a one-tool guy with no position in the field. But on the other hand, it's nearly impossible for him to improve upon the junior season he's having. What's your take?
First, he needs to be commended for the year he's having. Hitting over .500 in the SEC is quite the accomplishment. Unfortunately, the talent just isn't up to part with some of the other outfielders in this draft, and at best, he'll go in the middle of day two. It wouldn't stun me if he became a bench bat in the National League, however.
2. Can you give your opinion on some other draft eligible juniors that may be on the way out after nice junior seasons. Guys like Mason Katz, Nick Goody, and Joey Bourgeois come to mind.
Both Goody and Bourgeois have a chance to stick as a middle-inning guys, but won't get drafted early unless someone overdrafts for a reliever, which is happening less and less every year. Katz has had a nice season and has a good approach at the plate, but tough to project him as much more than a 24th-25th guy on a roster.
3. We all know Kevin Gausman is gone after this season. Has his stock changed at all? Is he still looking at a Top-10 overall selection?
Thanks to a good sophomore season -- and a weak draft class -- Gausman is a lock for the top ten. The control has improved considerably over his freshman campaign and hes holding his velocity as well as any starter in the class. Right now I think it'd be a real surprise if he ended up past Kansas City at No.5, and there's no way he slips past Colorado at ten.
4. How about LSU's seniors? Austin Nola and Tyler Hanover have been in the lineup since they were freshmen when they contributed to a national title. Are both expected to improve upon their draft slots from a year ago? Nola was picked in the 31st round last year while Hanover was picked in the 40th round
Maybe slightly, but you're probably looking at guys that go no earlier than the fifteenth round. Commendable that they came back to try and win a championship, however.
5. Moving on to some of LSU's signees...Most expect to lose Joey Gallo. Is he a sure first rounder?
I wouldn't say surefire at this point. Gallo was one of the more disappointing prospects that I saw at the NHSI in March, and really struggled with the upper-echelon talent. Still, he may have the most raw power of any player in the draft, and he has as much arm strength as any college player. I would say it's very unlikely he ends up at LSU.
6. How about Jesmuel Valentin Diaz? He could slide right into Austin Nola's vacant spot at shortstop. But I get the impression he is someone looking at the pros first. I've seen a wide range of opinions on where he will get picked. Is there any chance he drops and considers going to school?
I'd be really surprised, but it will depend on where he's drafted. I've heard he could go anywhere from early day two to round ten, so he's one to keep an eye on. He'd be a great coup if he does decide to stick with his commitment.
7. Alex Bregman and Christopher Chinea are two more guys that could be picked high. Where do you see them going?
Bregman was a day-one candidate before his injury, but now I think he ends up at LSU. Chinea I think is a lock to end up at Baton Rouge, though that could change in the next month.
8. A pair of Louisiana prospects, both committed to Ole Miss, are expected to go high. Will either catcher Stryker Trahan and infielder Gavin Cecchini make it out of the first round?
Maybe Trahan, but I doubt it. Cecchini is the second best shortstop prospect in the class in my estimation, and Trahan just has too many skills to not go in the first thirty-one picks, be it as a catcher or left fielder.
Based on Chris's comments and some other observations, here are some of my thoughts:
- Joey Gallo is a Day One pick and won't be coming to LSU, unfortunately.
- I really don't know what to make of Raph Rhymes. On one hand, he's really just a one tool guy. No speed. Doesn't have a real home on defense. Doesn't have much power. On the other hand, it's practically impossible for him to have a better season than he's having right now. Could LSU promise him a spot in the field like they did to Blake Dean a couple of years ago in order to help boost his draft stock? Someone with Rhymes' offensive skill set translates much better to second base than to a corner outfield spot. In theory, that could help his draft stock. I'd say the odds of him staying at LSU are slim, but maybe not as slim as you might think.
- Nick Goody has a chance at landing in the top five rounds. Regardless, his year at LSU will net him a huge gain in the draft, where he was picked in the 22d round last year. I'd be really surprised if he returned.
- I've seen very little buzz about Mason Katz in this draft. Katz is a tremendous college player, but his skills don't excite the pro scouts a ton. The smart money is that he returns to LSU for his senior season.
- Jesmuel Valentin Diaz just strikes me as a guy with every intention to sign pro. If he slides a ton, then maybe LSU has a chance but I doubt. If he goes all the way to Round 10, which Chris suggests is a possibility, then it could get interesting. Otherwise, I'm not holding my breath.
- Alex Bregman's injury may have been a slight break for LSU. He could slide a bit and end up signing with LSU. He's the key signee to watch in my opinion. If he shows to LSU, he's likely your starting third baseman next year.
- Christopher Chinea seems pretty focused on the draft rather than LSU, but I'm not sure his draft position will warrant him skipping college. He's another key guy to watch. He can hit for power and would be a good candidate to DH next year.
- I didn't ask Chris about LSU signee Mitchell Sewald, a right hand pitcher from Rummel high school, but Sewald's draft stock has been rising lately after a terrific senior season. He's someone to watch on Day Two of the Draft, and Paul Maineri will certainly be holding his breath, hoping his name isn't called too early.
- Chris Cotton, Joey Bourgeous, Brent Bonvillain? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm not sure they'll be picked too terribly high, but I do think they will get picked. Bonvillain and Bourgeois may consider returning to compete for one of LSU's weekend starter roles next year.
Here is the entire LSU Signing Class:
Alex Bregman INF - Alburquerque, NM
Joey Gallo INF/P - Henderson, NV
Jesmuel Valentin Diaz SS - Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
Christopher Chinea C - Miami, FL
Chase Rivett OF - East Ascension HS
Hayden Jennings OF - Evangel HS
Andrew Stevenson OF - St. Thomas More HS
Geonte Jackson INF - Missouri City, TX
Sean McMullen OF - Delgado JC
Mitchell Sewald RHP - Rummel HS
Hunter Devall LHP - Centreville Academy
Russell Reynolds RHP - Parkview Baptist HS
Taylor Butler RHP - Barbe HS
Jamie McClure - Panola JC
Hunter Newman RHP - Bloomingdale, GA