By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
I love the MLB draft. It’s unlike just about every other major league sport’s draft in that the results of the draft won’t be known for 3-5 years, or more.
A good example of this is Mickey Moniak who was drafted 1-1 (1st round, 1st overall pick in the round) in 2016. He is just now starting to reach his potential in the Major Leagues, 7 years after he was drafted out of high school by the Phillies.
Because of the long timeline for a draft to be deemed either a success or failure, every team’s general manager and scouts will always say that they will take the Best Player Available (BPA). The only problem with this response is that the word “best” is a highly subjective word. Is a player who can reach the majors and posts slightly lower numbers “better” or “worse” than a player who may take 6 years to reach the Majors and posts slightly higher numbers? Or, what if drafting one player prevents you from drafting other players who can also make the Major Leagues in later rounds? Should the Angels only focus on the individual player or drafting the best players who make the whole organization better?
With so much emphasis on the word “best”, and 30 Major League teams all trying to find the next Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw, trying to predict who a team will pick is nearly impossible, especially the deeper one goes into the draft. Additionally, with the pool system for money to sign players there are many interesting strategies for teams to employ to get the most talent using the limited funds that they are allowed to use in the draft.
Two notes: First, our own Taylor Blake Ward wrote a great article on the potential 1st round picks that the Angels may be able to draft. Please read it here, as I will refer to some of the players when talking about how to find the BPA. Second, any draft that develops just 1 player who has at least a 5-year career as a regular is considered a success. Anything beyond that is gravy, so, that creates a further set of strategies for teams to employ to find the BPA.
One of the biggest challenges for a team to find the BPA is where in the draft they select. The Pirates, who have the 1st overall pick have the most money to spend in the draft. While the Angels pick 11th in the 1st round, they lost their 2nd round pick when they signed Tyler Anderson in the offseason and the money associated with the pick.
Invariably, prior to a draft, a general consensus will form around who the top picks are. Most of them are fairly sure bets to make the Major Leagues, even if it takes years for them to get there like Moniak. As Taylor Blake Ward notes, there is a general consensus on 5 players this year who are expected to be drafted before the Angels get to pick, so, the Angels will have to dig deeper to find their BPA.
Players taken out of high school will take longer to develop than those taken out of college and are far more likely to never make the Major Leagues, so the player’s timeline can affect whether a team will see him as the BPA or not. Teams do want to layer their talent so that they will have waves of talent in development to provide fresh talent to the Major League team and create more financial and trade opportunities for them. So, a team that’s top heavy (with lots of talent in the upper Minor Leagues) may be more focused on high school players than a team that’s bottom heavy (with most of its talent in the lower Minor Leagues).
Where a team is relative to its competition can also affect who it sees as the BPA. For example, a team just starting to rebuild is more likely (but not necessarily guaranteed) to draft a younger high school player than a college player. Teams that are in a win-now mode are generally more likely to take a “sure” college player (high floor/low risk player) over a high school player with a greater potential but is less likely of making the Major Leagues (high risk/high reward type).
While every GM and scout will say that they will draft the BPA, meaning the “best” player regardless of position, that’s not exactly true. Prospects are tradable, and pitchers and players who play more defensively challenging positions are more likely to be drafted before those who play less challenging positions. That’s because in terms of future impact in the Major Leagues or for trades, those elite positions carry more value than players at other positions.
Looking at this year’s draft, Nolan Schanuel posted some of the best offensive numbers in all of college baseball. However, scouts have generally ranked him lower than many other players expected to be taken in the 1st round because he is defensively limited to 1st base or a corner outfield at best. Far more shortstops, pitchers, catchers, and centerfielders are likely to be taken ahead of him because they are considered more “valuable” for their defensive skills.
Risk and risk tolerance also affects who is the BPA. As noted earlier, some players are high risk/high reward and others are high floor/low risk types. Some teams are more risk averse and others are not. Teams that are more risk averse are far less likely to take a high school player than a college player. While there is some evidence that drafting an elite high school player is more likely to result in finding the next Mike Trout (who was drafted out of high school), it’s far more likely that a high school player, even one who is generally considered to be one of the elite players in the draft, will never make an impact in the Major Leagues.
Money can affect who is the BPA. While draftees can’t have “agents” they can have an “advisor”. Players may not want to play for a certain team for a variety of reasons. A high school player may really want to go to college. A player may not want to play in a certain location or may believe that other teams may develop their talents better.
Since every team is essentially capped by the slotting system in the draft, how much money a player will want to sign becomes a big factor as money spent on one player reduces the money available for every other player that the team drafts. High school players have plenty of leverage because they can always go to college and go through the draft again if their financial demands aren’t met.
Already we are hearing grumblings about this with the Pirates and Dylan Crews. While Crews is a college player, rumors are that he does not want to play for the Pirates unless they pay him an amount over what he is slotted to get in the draft. Consequently, the Pirates may move past him and may draft Paul Skenes or Wyatt Langford even though scouts see Crews as the top talent this year simply over money.
While baseball teams generally do not draft for “need” like in basketball and football (such as drafting a forward or a wide receiver), teams do look at their overall system to see how they can best layer talent out over time. For example, a team with a lot of pitching talent and little catching talent may want to draft a catcher to pair with the pitchers and develop them all together as a wave of talent. Or, a team loaded with outfield talent may look for other positions so as to not block players in the Minors.
Again, looking at the Pirates, they drafted Henry Davis, a catcher, last year, and he just reached the Major Leagues. It may make more sense for them to draft Skenes, the top pitcher this year, to pair him with Davis. That would give them an incredible pair for 4 or 5 years. That may make Skenes the BPA in their eyes even if almost every analyst sees Crews as the greater talent with less risk than a pitcher.
Finally, organizations know what they are better at developing in terms of talent than other organizations. Hurston Waldrep has an electric arm, but somehow lost his control this year. He is a good example of a high risk/high reward type player from college (as compared to Rhett Lowder who is still a great pitcher, but still seen as more of a high floor/low risk type pitcher). A team that is more confident in its ability to help Waldrep rediscover his form may view him as the BPA when they pick while other teams may move onto hitters in the draft because they do not see a clear path to fixing his command and control.
Finally, the program where the player developed and success with wooden bats (as opposed to the metal bats used in college) also affects how a team will view him. Looking at the Angels, our GM appears to place a lot of emphasis on success in the Cape Cod League, which uses wooden bats. While the Cape Cod League is just a summer league, with fewer games, the use of wooden bats replicates more of what can be expected from the player in the future, especially when trying to project future success.
With all of these factors, trying to figure out who is the BPA is very difficult. Scouts will study every aspect of a player, from mental fortitude to physical skills and work ethic. As a former teacher, I know how deep scouts can go, as I’ve had several scouts ask me very specifically about former students that they were deeply considering in the draft. They specifically asked about the player’s mental and academic abilities, resilience, mental fortitude, maturity, etc. And, of course, teams will try to get a sense of how much it will take to sign a player (asking about how seriously the student wanted to go to college). With the slotting system essentially creating a cap on how much a team can spend, and with a much shorter draft than in the past, money is a huge factor for teams to consider.
So, at this point, I will fully admit that I do not know what the Angels will do in the 2023 draft. No one really knows, even the Angels to a certain extent, as 10 teams will get to pick ahead of them, and that will affect who is available when they pick. Plus, the Angels they won’t pick again until the 3rd round, which means that they will be watching to see who may fall to them on Monday.
But I do have some thoughts on what they can do to find their BPA.
With the 11th overall pick, I think that the Angels should focus on the college arms and bats. Whether Ohtani resigns with the Angels or not, there is a window for the Angels to challenge for the American League West and/or a Wild Card spot over the next few years. Drafting a high school player with our top pick does not make as much sense given our overall window with Trout and to keep the fanbase happy.
This year’s draft is considered rather deep in talent. There are more than enough really good college players, especially when we pick, that we don’t have to take on more risk with a high school player to get the same level of impact. If we were drafting much lower in the draft, like when we took Trout, it would be different because most of the top college talent would have already been picked by other teams. But with the 11th overall pick, we should focus on more certainty with our top pick. Later in the draft, in subsequent rounds, we can take more risky players. Plus, seeing how Perry Minasian likes to challenge players in our Minor Leagues and isn’t afraid to move them up levels quickly (the Angels had the first player from the 2021 and 2022 drafts reach the Majors), a college player seems more likely.
Pitching is ALWAYS in demand and premium. Just look at this season when we traded some of our pitchers for Escobar and Moustakas. By drafting all pitchers two years ago, we had the prospect capital to make trades (which is something that we haven’t had for a while). And, thanks to our 2021 draft, we’ve had arms to bring up to bolster our bullpen as it floundered. If two players are ranked equally by scouts in terms of their impact in the Majors, and one is a pitcher, I would take the pitcher over the hitter, especially in early rounds, as he will always be more in demand and have more prospect capital for trades.
If Dollander or Lowder are available, I would absolutely hope the Angels pounce on either of them. Either could move through our system quickly and could become fixtures in our rotation. I haven’t seen enough of Waldrep’s video from last year to see what changed this year, but his high walk rate is a concern. If scouts believe that it is an easy fix (which there are mixed beliefs), I would consider him, especially if he would take a below slot deal to free up more money to use later in the draft. If not, I would move onto one of the college bats.
When it comes to bats, there are many intriguing options. Again, though, I do not want to risk our pick on a high school bat such as Arjun Nimmala because I am a bit more risk averse. And I want a player who is more likely to impact our window and get us back to the playoffs in the next few years rather than waiting 4-5 years for one of the high school players to develop, even if the high school players could become a slightly better talent down the road.
Knowing that Matt Shaw was the Cape Cod MVP last summer, I think that makes him a likely target for the Angels. While I don’t see him as a future shortstop in the Major Leagues, he could become a very good double-play partner with Zach Neto at second base. Having a strong defensive middle infield, that could work in tandem, would give the Angels a big boost both offensively and defensively.
Another player who started off slowly and then finished strong was Brayden Taylor. We have had nothing but problems at 3rd base and very little in our system to fill the hole. Taylor could be another fast mover would allow us to move Rendon to 1st base long-term. Seeing how that could improve the parent club a lot more overall, that may make him the BPA over other players in the draft who play other positions.
Strategically, there is an interesting option for the Angels to explore: Nolan Schanuel. As noted before, he isn’t ranked as highly as players who did not hit as well as him because he is most likely a 1st baseman or a corner outfielder. Assuming that Adell finally has figured things out (the homerun robbing catch that he did against the Dodgers was a big improvement compared to his 4-base error years ago) Schanuel would most likely stick at 1st base.
While 1st base has been an unfortunate challenge to fill this year (I truly hope that Walsh bounces and rediscovers his talents), drafting Schanuel is not drafting for need at the position. Instead, we would draft him for his insane plate discipline (71 BBs vs. 14 Ks) and power potential (19 HRs this year) and for the potential to get him at a below slot deal.
Some analysts have knocked Schanuel for not playing in the most elite D1 program. However, Minassian has shown with Neto that he isn’t afraid to take a player from a perceived weaker system if the skills are there, especially elite plate discipline skills. Schanuel has an unorthodox swing, much like Neto, but if works for him, we could sure use an elite Middle of the Order (MOTO) lefthanded bat in our lineup. Schanuel could start in AA this year and could be ready by the middle of next year giving the Angels a quick return on their investment.
What makes Schanuel especially appealing is that because he is perceived as a lower defensive talent, he might be a player who is more likely to take a lower financial deal, coming in under slot, which would allow us to spend more money later in the draft.
Every year, there are always high school players who will want to be drafted in the 1st round to get the large signing bonus to forego college. Not all of them will be taken. Freeing up money to lure a high talent high school player who fell in the draft would create more opportunities for the Angels to layer talent for the future as well as the present. This may make Schanuel the BPA for us, even if other players may have more defensive talent or potentially more offensive upside.
Last year, Minasian employed this exact strategy to spread our limited draft pool money around and get a lot more talent into our organization. Not only did the Angels get Neto, who was not expected to be available when the Angels picked him, they got him at a below slot deal because he came from a lesser program and his unorthodox swing was a concern for other teams.
By freeing up more money with an under slot deal with Neto, the Angels were able to draft Ben Joyce in the 3rd round, Jake Madden in the 4th round, and Caden Dana in the 11th round all for over slot deals (with Dana setting a record signing bonus for the 11th round pick in the draft pool era). All of them are making an impact in our system and likely to produce at the Major League level. So, not only was Neto the BPA when we picked him because he made it to the Majors quickly and provided excellent defense at shortstop, he also allowed us to spread our resources and get far more talent than we could have if we had spent all of our 1st round money on someone else.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Minasian employed a similar strategy. In 2021, we had several under slot deals to free up money to sign Chase Silseth Mason Albright for over slot deals (with Albright setting a record bonus that was then broken by Dana in 2022). It’s pretty clear that Minassian takes a holistic approach to the draft and is willing to employ strategies and financial concerns to determine who is the BPA. So, if Schanuel, Shaw, or Taylor will take below slot deals, that may make one of them the “BPA” even if other players may individually be ranked higher by many analysts.
Using a holistic approach to the draft, the BPA should make the overall organization the best it can be. That’s why the Angels fans shouldn’t get too caught up in where commentators rank players in terms of the draft. Instead, we should see how each player fits into our overall system and makes the organization stronger. A lower ranked player by analysts may still be the BPA for us if we can draft him and several other premium talents who fell due to signability issues in later rounds. Unlike Major League organizations, analysts can look at players in isolation without considering any of the other factors that GMs must consider. While the Angels should pass on a premium talent, especially a pitcher, when comparing almost identical talents, we absolutely should consider other factors when making our 1st pick.
No matter who the Angels pick over the next few days, I will absolutely root for their success. I’m not going to get too caught up in the rankings to say one player is the BPA compared to another. Instead, I’m looking forward to seeing how it all works out overall and hope that whomever we choose will get us back to playoffs ASAP!