Tuma: 2022 MLB Draft Primer

Jun 30th 2022

Brendan Tuma

The 2022 MLB Draft is just a couple of weekends away. Get caught up with the biggest storylines, player of note, etc. below!

As always, reach out on Twitter @toomuchtuma anytime to further the conversation!

What are the top storylines to know?

There are 2 themes that define this draft class.

  1. Bloodlines: Both Druw Jones (son of Andruw Jones) and Jackson Holliday (son of Matt Holliday) are in play to go 1.01 on July 17th. Then we have Cam Collier (son of Lou Collier), who could be a top-10 pick. Finally, Justin Crawford (son of Carl Crawford) has Round 1 buzz. This isn't the same situation as Mike Yastrzemski being a 36th round pick in his first draft-eligible year. All 4 of these prepsters are legitimately high-end. So yeah, prepare to hear some familiar surnames on draft night.

  2. Injured Arms: 1979 was the last year a pitcher wasn't taken inside the top-10, and it could happen again in 2022. This is partly due to the incredible depth of position players, especially at the top of the board. It's also due to seemingly every promising pitching prospect suffering an injury this spring. We'll get to them more in a bit.

Who is the best player?

Druw Jones.

Reminiscent of his dad, the High School outfielder from Georgia is arguably the best defender in his class. Jones also possesses big tools and offensive upside. He's a 70-grade runner with great bat speed and developing power.

One note is that in-game lift remains something to work on, but that isn't rare for long-limbed prep players.

So the Orioles will take him at 1.01?

Well, not exactly.

The MLB Draft is unique compared to other sports in the sense that each team is given a "bonus pool" to sign their selections. Per MLB.com, "Each choice in the first 10 rounds comes with an assigned value, with the total for a club's selections equaling what it can spend in those rounds without incurring a penalty."

The more draft picks an organization has, and the earlier those picks are, the larger the bonus pool for that club. In a perfect world, each player would sign for the slot-assigned amount of money, and that does happen a good amount. However, MLB front offices are obsessed with value these days. The strategy of going "under slot" early on, in order to go "over slot" later in the draft, is quite popular.

The most famous example occurred in the very first draft under these new rules, back in 2012. The Astros selected Carlos Correa at 1.01 when current Orioles GM Mike Elias was Houston's Scouting Director. Correa wasn't considered the best player in the class, but he signed for $2.4 million under slot, which gave the Astros enough savings to take (and sign) Lance McCullers as the No. 41 pick.

Alright, so what are the Orioles going to do?

Nobody knows!

Seriously, Baltimore has kept this decision extremely close to the vest. In fact, there's a high probability that they don't even know what they'll do just yet. It could come down to which amateur player will take the steepest discount in order to free up money for later.

I read basically every mock draft on Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, Prospects Live, The Athletic, and ESPN. I've seen the O's linked to Druw Jones, Termarr Johnson, Jackson Holliday, Brooks Lee, and Jacob Berry. Jones and Holliday would be the two toughest players to sign and therefore wouldn't be considered under slot options.

The Orioles have famously gone under slot in each of the past 2 drafts (Heston Kjerstad in 2020, Colton Cowser in 2021). Of course, they also took the best overall player the last time they had the 1st pick, with Adley Rutschman in 2019. So as of now this remains a mystery.

Enough nerd talk, tell us more about the top players

In no particular order

  • Druw Jones, OF, Georgia HS: See above

  • Jackson Holliday, SS, Oklahoma HS: Baseball America's High School Player of the Year, Holliday totaled 89 hits in 2022, breaking JT Realmuto's national record that had stood for over a decade. This draft class is light on elite shortstops and Holliday is the best bet of the top-tier hitters to stick at the position.

  • Termarr Johnson, 2B, Georgia HS: One of the most unique amateurs in years, Johnson is likely maxed out physically at 5'8" and 194 pounds. He also might be the best pure-hitting prep player...ever? Maybe since Joe Mauer in 2001. Johnson combines elite plate discipline with strong pitch recognition and double-plus bat-to-ball skills. If he had the athletic profile to play shortstop or center field he'd probably be the top pick without hesitation.

  • Elijah Green, OF, Florida HS: The son of NFL tight end Eric Green, Elijah is a physical specimen who might have the best tools for a draft-eligible player since Bryce Harper. He's 6'3" and 214 pounds with Monstar-esque strength and enough speed/athlecisim to begin his pro career in center field. One concern is that there's swing-and-miss in the profile, but it isn't as if Green is a free swinger. He also has a strong track record against top-tier competition playing with Miami's IMG Academy.

  • Cam Collier, 3B, Florida Junior College: The youngest hitter in the 2022 draft, Collier doesn't turn 18 until November. He'll therefore grade out very favorably in age-adjusted draft models. Collier is an advanced hitter with a clean swing and strong pitch recognition, but he'll need to keep working on pull-side power as a professional. The decision to reclassify has worked out for Collier, who likely becomes the first JUCO bat taken in the first round since Tim Anderson in 2013.

  • Brooks Lee, SS, Cal Poly: Finally, a college player! In the post-Moneyball era, many front offices prefer drafting college hitters as they're generally seen as the safest demographic (compared to both prep players and pitchers from both levels). Lee is probably this draft's best collegiate player, a switch-hitter who won Big-West Conference co-player of the Year in 2021 and then torched the Cape Cod League in the summer. The strong play continued in '22 and while the upside might not be as high as it is with the Big 4 HS players, Lee has a high floor as a well-rounded player with strong baseball aptitude.

  • Jacob Berry, 3B, LSU: Another switch-hitter, Berry offers far more power than Lee but isn't nearly as complete of a player. There are questions as to whether or not he'll stick at third base (unlikely) and he might wind up as a 1B/DH in the pros. Still, he's known for high makeup and there will always be teams chasing proven bats who can hit, hit for power, and draw walks. Berry does all 3 of those things exceptionally well.

  • Kevin Parada, C, Georgia Tech: Per Baseball America, scouts who know Parada praise his work ethic and desire to remain a catcher in the pros, but there are questions about whether or not he'll stick at the position long-term. The good news is that his bat is as proven as any collegiate hitter in the class. Parada is known for consistently getting to a good launch position despite his unorthodox setup at the plate.

  • Jace Jung, 2B, Texas Tech: The brother of Rangers top prospect Josh Jung, Jace is yet another likely 2022 draftee with bloodlines to professional baseball. Jace differs from Josh in that he bats left handed. He has a gap-to-gap approach with power to all fields and draws plenty of walks but has a unique setup at the plate. Defensively, his best position can be described as "in the batter's box."

That was 9 hitters. Are there really no arms to be excited about?

There are. Again, it just wouldn't be surprising if the first 10 selections are all bats.

Also remember that most of the notable pitchers are either recently hurt or entering the draft in the final stages of a rehab plan. Here are 3 wounded warriors of note:

  • Dylan Lesko, RHP, Georgia HS: Lesko underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2022, but for most of the high school baseball season this was the best arm in the draft. Similar to Jackson Jobe last summer, Lesko is a prep righty who is considered very advanced for his age. His signature offering is a "bugs bunny" changeup that he uses against both righties and lefties. Lesko is seen as having the most upside of any pitcher in this class, injuries be damned.

  • Landon Sims, RHP, Mississippi State: Sims was supposed to be this year's Will Bednar, a closer-turned-starter who would sign for Round 1 money. Unfortunately, he made just 3 starts this spring before his UCL gave out and he had to undergo TJ. Sims is known as a 2-pitch hurler with a truly elite fastball and a hellacious breaking ball. The development of his changeup will be what decides his fate as a starter. It remains to be seen whether the absence of a track record as a starter will hurt his draft day stock.

  • Connor Prielipp, LHP, Alabama: The southpaw from Alabama looked like a top-10 pick before TJ cut his collegiate career short in April 2021. What makes him different from Lesko/Sims is that he's much further along in his recovery, though he has yet to show scouts his dominant pre-injury form. He projects as a risk-reward selection with a high-spinning slider as his top calling card.

Well, are there any healthy pitchers?

Yes! Two, in particular, are names to know.

  • Kumar Rocker, RHP, Tri-City (Frontier): Possibly the most famous name from the past two drafts, Rocker re-enters the process in 2022. He was taken 10th overall by the Mets last summer, who voiced concerns over his medicals. 12 months later and the public still doesn't know what scared the club away from signing him. The former Vanderbilt legend has the best track record of any pitcher in this class. He was an elite prep prospect before becoming one of the most dominant arms in college baseball history. Rocker then took his talents to the Frontier League and made his debut in early-June. The health is a concern, supposedly, but the upside remains immense.

  • Cade Horton, RHP, Oklahoma: A draft-eligible redshirt freshman, Horton is now 17 months removed from Tommy John surgery. He began the 2022 college season as a reliever, tried learning a cutter, and it led to the development of his slider that helped him dominate in the 2022 College World Series. Horton was a known commodity back in the 2020 draft before going to school, but based on where his value was at entering '22, this is a true out-of-nowhere story. Horton was last ranked as Baseball America's No. 317 draft prospect. In their latest update he checked in at No. 32.

Which teams have interesting storylines?

Here are each club's bonus pools for the 2022 draft:

Orioles: $16,924,000 D-backs: $15,112,100 Mets: $13,955,700 Pirates: $13,733,900 Rockies: $13,660,700 Royals: $11,668,300 Nationals: $11,007,900 Reds: $10,794,100 Marlins: $10,486,000 Cubs: $10,092,700 Padres: $10,088,900 Twins: $10,036,000 Guardians: $9,980,900 Rangers: $9,640,700 Blue Jays: $8,367,700 Athletics: $8,315,800 Red Sox: $8,078,300 Tigers: $8,024,900 Braves: $8,022,200 Rays: $7,795,100 Mariners: $7,254,400 Brewers: $7,070,900 Angels: $7,024,300 Cardinals: $6,842,300 Astros: $6,837,000 Yankees: $6,425,100 Phillies: $6,307,000 White Sox: $6,289,100 Giants: $5,793,200 Dodgers: $4,221,400

So yeah, the Orioles have the most money to spend. This is something to remember when they're picking at 1.01. Yes, Baltimore will be able to save money if they go under slot and take Brooks Lee, for example, but do they need to? The answer is no. They can take the best player, Jones or Holliday or whoever they think that is, and still be in position to outspend the competition.

If the O's pass on Druw Jones the industry consensus is that there's no way the D'Backs let him slip by. If Arizona winds up with him it could create a future outfield of Jones, Corbin Carroll, and Alek Thomas. Fun!

Then there's the Mets, who have picks 11 and 14 in Round 1. The No. 11 pick comes from not signing Rocker last season. The way the rules work, they basically have to sign whoever they take with that selection this year (or risk losing it) so there's pressure to cut a deal beforehand. Having the two selections also creates a ton of interesting possibilities for New York, who could come away with a high-upside prepster (Justin Crawford?) and one of the injured arms (Dylan Lesko?).

If Lesko slips to No. 15 there's a strong possibility that the Padres wind up taking him. They've shown in recent drafts they aren't afraid to take rehabbing pitchers (Cal Quantrill) or just sell out for upside in general.

Any specific TooMuchTuma takes?

Always. Here are a few:

  1. Druw Jones is the best player and should go 1.01 to Baltimore.

  2. Cam Collier's age and production are very interesting to me. He's currently getting more experience in the Cape Cod League.

  3. This is going to be a fantastic MLB draft for fantasy baseball dynasty leagues. In First Year Player Drafts (FYPDs) there will be a plethora of high-upside position players to choose from.

  4. I think we're going to see a big run on the injured pitchers late in Round 1 and into Round 2. I foresee most clubs operating under the premise of "let's get a healthy position player first and then roll the dice on a discounted arm."

Anything else to know?

Just some housekeeping notes:

  1. The draft takes place from Sunday, July 17th through Tuesday, July 19th

  2. The draft is 20 rounds long

  3. Teams cannot trade picks...except for competitive balance picks

  4. Competitive balance picks are given to teams who lose star free agents as well as the 10 lowest revenue clubs plus the 10 organizations in the smallest markets. There are a ton of minor details but that is the big idea.

  5. The deadline for players to sign is August 1st

  6. 2023 will be the first season with a MLB draft lottery!

Thanks for reading!