The 2019 MLB Draft is this evening at 6 PM CT, and by the looks of it, the White Sox are going to be deciding between Andrew Vaughn and C.J. Abrams in their draft room – assuming Adley Rutschman and Bobby Witt, Jr. are indeed the first two picks of the draft. According to Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs, there is a 75% chance the White Sox draft Abrams, signaling a long-called for shift in draft strategy from the “sure thing” college player to the “high upside” high school stars. But is this the right strategy for this draft?
You can look here at our SoxOn35th draft predictions and player summaries for the top 8 players in MLBPipeline’s rankings, but today, I want to take a little bit of a deeper look at the two players the White Sox are assumedly picking between – as well as break down who I’d probably be taking at #3 if I could play GM for a day.
C.J. Abrams, SS, Blessed Trinity Catholic High School
If you’re looking for the White Sox to take a real risk at #3, you’ve come to the right player. Abrams has elite speed – he ran a 6.29 60-yard dash according to Perfect Game. Additionally, he’s a quality middle infielder with really good arm strength, clocking in at 91 mph across the infield. He’s a contact-first hitter who uses his speed to absolutely fly down the line. Seems great, right?
Here’s where the risk part comes in – Abrams is a skinny 18-year-old who has a lot of filling out to do in order to hit for power at the professional level. Perfect Game also clocks exit velocities off the bat, and Abrams topped out at 93 mph. For reference, after working with stats at the college level, I can tell you that the widely-accepted exit velocity that determines a “hard-hit” baseball is 95 mph. So, currently, Abrams would not register a “hard hit” at the college level. For comparison, Bobby Witt, Jr. is likely to go #2 to the Royals. He is also a high school SS, but his exit velocity topped out at 100 mph off the bat. Basically, Abrams doesn’t pack a lot of punch, and it would take a lot of filling out in order for him to get to that point, especially considering he makes no use of his lower body in his swing.
If you’re looking for comparisons, WhiteSoxDave knows a scout who thinks the best comparison is Dee Gordon – not a player that I’d really like to take at #3. If you’re looking for a White Sox equivalent, look no further than Nick Madrigal. Currently, Abrams profiles as a less polished, quicker Nick Madrigal. Now, I like Nick Madrigal, but when I envision my World Series Champion White Sox, he’s not up there with them. He’s the type of high-upside player I feel the Sox can convince teams like the Royals to trade for when trying to fill a need in a few years. It’s likely that you as a fan feel the same way about Nick Madrigal as you do about C.J. Abrams.
All this being said, in most drafts, I’d be okay with the Sox taking C.J. Abrams. People talk about wanting the Sox to stockpile some young, high school talent, and I agree with this – however, selecting #3 overall in the draft is not the time to do it. Start in the second round, or start next year when your draft pick isn’t so high (currently the White Sox would have the #12 pick next year). Abrams has A LOT of filling out to do (naturally as a teenager), and even if he does fill out, I don’t like his swing all too much. It screams “future contact player” with not a lot of power. I think the White Sox could do a lot better at #3.
Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California Golden Bears
I think Vaughn is the “safe” pick here. After Adley Rutschman – who’s an absolute MONSTER at the plate – Vaughn is the consensus next best bat available at the college level. I absolutely LOVE Vaughn’s swing. It’s loaded with power, and he uses his entire body. He’s drawn comparisons to Paul Goldschmidt as well which seems like a solid comp. He has power to all fields too, yet he’s still incredibly short and compact to the ball. Honestly, it’s not like he’s been a disappointment at the plate compared to Rutschman either:
Andrew Vaughn, Career (Cal)
Adley Rutschman, Career (ORST)
There’s a decent amount of concern around Vaughn. The Cape Cod summer league is a wood bat league, and it’s a good barometer for how hitters are going to perform once those BBCOR bats are put away for good. Vaughn hit well (.308 with 5 homers in 14 games with a 3:10 BB:K ratio) in the Cape Cod league, but when he played for the U.S. National Team – also a wood bat league – he only hit .224 with 1 homer in 13 games. Big 1B/DH players also don’t tend to translate as well to the professional level, especially when their athleticism is a non-factor like with Vaughn. However, with the solid stats Vaughn has put up in three years with the PAC-12, he is a lot lower of a risk than Abrams. He is polished and would assumedly fly through the system – with Jose Abreu’s years at 1B coming to an end in the next few years, Vaughn would be the natural replacement for the veteran slugger.
The biggest concern I’ve seen written about with Vaughn among White Sox fans: he’s a 1B/DH only and the system is packed with those types of players. The reality is this: the White Sox are at a point in the rebuild where they need to continue to stockpile the best talent, no matter what position they play. Much like with Nick Madrigal last year, the White Sox need to continue to draft under the assumption that they are taking the best player available. Not every player the Sox draft needs to be a critical part of the on-field future – in fact, most will be traded for parts of the on-field future we don’t even know about yet.
Bottom Line: Pick #3 – much like #4 last year – is “best player available” and “superstar” territory, not “high risk, high reward” territory. Abrams has a lot of “what if” associated with him, as there is with any high school player.
Unless the baseball gods smile down on the White Sox and gift them with Rutschman, I think they should take Vaughn if only choosing between Vaughn and Abrams. Vaughn has potential to get stalled in the system, but he could just as easily turn into a guy like Pete Alonso.
If I Had My Druthers: Draft J.J. Bleday
The question none of you are asking, but I will pretend you are, is, “Jordan, who would you take at #3?” Let me be clear: I think the White Sox will draft either Vaughn or Abrams. However, if the Sox wanted to take a “high-upside risk” at #3, I don’t think it should be on Abrams. I think it should be on Vanderbilt OF J.J. Bleday – who isn’t even that much of a risk. If I could play “GM For a Day,” I would draft Bleday.
I absolutely LOVE Bleday. Playing for Vanderbilt in a TOUGH SEC division, scouts wanted to see him add some power this year. He did, and the best part, he didn’t add power at the expense of too much contact or on-base ability. D1Baseball has Bledlay ranked as the third best hitter in the draft, behind Rutschman and Vaughn:
Bleday’s tools showed in his transition to wood bats, as he hit .311 with 5 homers in last summer’s wood bat Cape Cod League. It doesn’t hurt to mention that he was also named the top pro prospect by MLB scouts in this league last year. In addition, this season he is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award – the same award Andrew Vaughn won last season. The award is given to the nation’s top amateur player each year – a title Bleday certainly could earn after leading all of Division I in homers this year.
The more research I’ve done on Bleday, the more I like him. The swing is unorthodox, but it works for his profile. My armchair scouting skills tell me his swing has some similarities to Bryce Harper – the high leg kick and the unorthodox movement with his hands were what made me think of this comparison originally. See if you agree with me at all:
Regardless of the comparison, what Bleday’s swing shows here are the quick hands that made him such an incredible hitter this season. He has the ability to put the barrel on the ball anywhere in the zone. He also has shown a refined approach with two strikes, shortening his high leg kick in an effort to make contact. He has the ability to hit line drives anywhere on the field.
MLBPipeline’s Scouting Report on Bleday includes the following:
Vanderbilt has had three outfielders drafted in the top three rounds in the last four years (Jeren Kendall, Bryan Reynolds, Rhett Wiseman), and Bleday is a better bet to produce at the plate than all of them. One of the best pure hitters in the college ranks, he has a quick left-handed swing, controls the strike zone well and hammers line drives to all fields.”
MLBPipeline’s piece on him continues on to talk about his instincts making up for his lack of natural speed – he profiles as a corner OF. From MLB Pipeline: “His instincts help make up for his lack of quickness on the bases and in the outfield.” Add this to his line-drive focused approach at the plate, and Bleday has the making of a high IQ player – something a team can never have enough of.
Bleday has some under-slot potential in terms of a signing bonus, so if you’re someone who wants the White Sox to try and go after a stud high school player in the second round and overpay to convince him to sign, Bleday could be a good bet. I think he will be the first OF taken in this draft, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was taken at #5 by the Tigers. He could even go as early as #4 with the Marlins. It’s no secret the Marlins love him, and Derek Jeter was even in attendance for Bleday’s 5-5 performance in the SEC Tournament against Auburn. (For fun, I’ve attached the highlights from that game here. Bleday hits at 1:22, 4:25, 6:50, 9:40, and 13:10. These highlights really show his ability to hit the ball anywhere on the diamond with authority).
The White Sox seem to be loaded with young OF prospects. However, the only sure thing the White Sox have in the OF for the future appears to be Luis Robert in CF. Luis Basabe and Blake Rutherford are both scuffling a bit, and Micker Adolfo cannot stay healthy consistently. In addition, Eloy Jimenez has looked just a little better than lost in LF, meaning a move to 1B in the future might not be the worst idea. Loaded talent at a given position also promotes healthy competition amongst players who are fighting to get to the next level. In other words, it seems like the White Sox have accumulated a lot of quantity, rather than quality, in the OF. After Rutherford, Basabe, Adolfo, Gonzalez, and Booker, there isn’t much there. I don’t think this overabundance of outfielders is as much of a problem as Sox fans think it is. Personally, it is the part of the field I feel most unsure about moving into the future. Bleday has the potential to help that a lot with a natural profile for a corner OF spot with the instincts to move through the system quickly. If you want the Sox to draft by “position of need,” OF is a far greater need than a 1B/DH type.
And with these bat flip skills, Bleday would fit right in on the South Side:
— HOME RUN VIDEOS (@SECsportsnews) February 28, 2019
If it comes down to it, I think the White Sox will draft Vaughn or Abrams. So, my “official” prediction is Vaughn. However, my hope is that Hostetler and co. have taken a loooooong look at Bleday, because I think he has a chance to be a stud corner OF in the future – think Christian Yelich with less speed. Only time will tell for any of these players, but I hope a player that appears to have the ceiling Bleday does finds his way to the majors somewhere.
Finally, this all analysis becomes moot if Adley Rutschman falls to the Sox. Hopefully the baseball gods answer our prayers.
Today’s the day, so let the madness and debate begin. Sit back, relax, and strap it down.
Who do you think the Sox should take today? Let me know on Twitter @jlazowski14