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Keith Law On The Twins And The 2017 Draft

In the fourth and final installment of a conversation with Keith Law, we discussed what goes into the thinking when a team has the #1 overall pick in the draft. What factors would he use if he was the scouting director for the team with the top selection? I think his response speaks very well to the fact that it is not an easy decision this year. Law’s comments about the options remind us that there are choices at number one, that it’s not a slam dunk choice.

One more reminder, tonight at 6:30, Keith Law will appear with fellow baseball authors Peter Schilling, Jr., and Michael Fallon for a book reading, discussion and signing. Head to Moon Palace Books in southeast Minneapolis to be a part of this event. Get your copy of Smart Baseball signed by Keith Law.

We all know the catch phrase that teams like to use when talking about early draft picks. “Best Player Available” is the popular, and correct, thing to do. Who will be the best player in the minds of your scouting department? That is the player you want.

However, there are many factors that a scouting department will consider in determining who they will select and invest millions of dollars.
Image courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics (photo of Kyle Wright)
I asked Keith Law for his general thoughts on what a team should consider when making the #1 overall pick.

“My personal philosophy… The history of the #1 pick, you are more likely to get a generational talent or an all-world sort of player than any other spot. It’s a rare opportunity. Of course, you never want to pick there again.”

The top player on Law’s board is the top player on most people’s board right now, though even now that is subject to change.

“If you look at Hunter Greene, the 17-year-old high school right-handed pitcher/shortstop from Southern California, he’s first on my rankings, and I believe he’s first on MLB.com’s too. I think he has a chance to be an absolute superstar. I would take him recognizing the risk, but you want to roll the dice on a chance to get a franchise-defining sort of player. However, that is simply my philosophy, and it isn’t my money so it’s pretty easy for me to say that.”

Money is a factor. While the draft slots have changed a bit this year, teams at the top - those with the most slotted money available to use - can still be creative. The best example in recent years was the Astros selecting Carlos Correa first overall in 2012 and signing him for well under slot value. They then used the extra slot money to select Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz later. Could the Twins consider that strategy? Should they?

“And money is always a factor. If Hunter Greene wants $8 million and Kyle Wright of Vanderbilt says he’ll sign for $5 million, you might be able to do great things with that $3 million in savings.” Law continued, “Taking Wright, even if you don’t believe he’s the best player, may be the better choice because of the value. They have one extra pick and another at the top of the second round, you can overpay guys later and get more talent in total.”

With the Twins farm system lacking the high-end talent (as we discussed in Part 3), adding three high-quality prospects in the draft certainly sounds appealing. We don’t know what Greene or Wright or McKay or others would ask. Those discussions will start occurring in the coming weeks. But the strategy is sound.”

With the #1 overall pick, you simply cannot take a guy who busts completely. Ceiling is great, but floor likely comes into play as well.

Law explains, “There is another philosophy that says if you pick first, you don't want to zero out on that. Hunter Greene is a high school right-hander. No high school right-hander has ever gone first overall. It’s risky. Maybe you take Wright, who’s at Vanderbilt, who’s the best college pitcher in the class for me. He’s been pitching out of his mind the last month. He’s got size. He’s got stuff. He’s got command. I mean, Vanderbilt is as good of pedigree as you can get for a pitcher. So maybe you say, we know that guy’s a big league starter. He’s at least a three, probably a two, and he might be a one. That’s good. You would take that. Especially the Twins. They’ve struggled to develop good young starting pitcher. You would take that.”

In summary, Law agrees that Greene presents the highest ceiling. However, he comes with a lot of risk. Wright has a high ceiling, though not as high as Greene, but his floor is most likely significantly higher too.

“Would you take that if I told you that in passing on Hunter Greene, there’s a 30% chance you’re passing on Bob Gibson. Maybe Hall of Famer is a bit much, but a multiple-time All-Star, a Cy Young contender in Greene. He might be that.”

Law recently had the opportunity to see Greene and talk with him for an upcoming story. He came away incredibly impressed.

“He might get to the big leagues by 20. He’s 17, and I got to interview him a couple of weeks ago. This is an impressive person. It’s an impressive body. You don’t see kids like that. I see kids all the time for the job. I don’t see many kids build like that, athletic like that, loose like that, still projectable and already throwing in the upper-90s.”

With the Twins having so many young players in their pre-arbitration and pre-free agency years, maybe there is a goal to get someone who can help more quickly.

“At the same time, do you want to wait 3-5 years for a high school pitcher, or do you want to take the college pitcher who could be in your rotation in 12 months?”

These are all factors and considerations that Twins first-year Scouting Director Sean Johnson has likely thrown around in his head, and thrown off of all of the area scouts, and thrown off of Derek Falvey, Thad Levine and others.

Simply, there isn’t an easy #1 overall choice in the 2017. There isn’t a Stephen Strasburg, there there isn’t a Bryce Harper.

Making it even more difficult, Law acknowledges there are likely more than just the two players (Greene and Wright).

“I could go back and forth, and I could make a good case for either side. Those are just two of them. You will hear Brendan McKay’s name though he’s falling off at this point. But he may still be a strong consideration at one. There are other names in this group because there’s not a hitter. There’s not a Bryce Harper where you look and say that’s a sure thing. The bat plays and he’s got power. I can check off a bunch of things that are virtual guarantees. We’re talking about pitchers, and pitchers are scary. I’ve been in draft rooms with Toronto where we took pitchers and we were sure of what we were getting, and we didn’t get that.”

I mentioned to Law that I had just done a radio spot and when asked who I would take with the #1 pick, I surprised the show’s hosts by saying Kyle Wright.

Law made me feel better about my (admittedly hypothetical) selection.

“You’re not wrong. I guess there are wrong answers, but Kyle Wright is not a wrong answer. I don’t know if there’s really one right answer this year.”

McKay’s name has surfaced with the Twin and the top overall pick. Those voices have seemingly quieted of late. And it’s because of the things scouts (and fans) have seen the last couple of weekends.

“When I saw him in February, he was 90-95. We’ve had reports from the last two weekends where he’s been upper-80s and topping out at (91 or 92). That’s a little concerning. He was never overpowering. He’s going to live by command, by mixing his pitches. Now you’re telling me it’s an average fastball? It’s not a high school kid's where you’ve projecting it to get better. It’s a college arm thinking this is probably what it is. That would worry me. He’s still a good pitcher, but at this point, if I were in Falvey’s shoes, I’d say we’re not doing that at one.

So what do you think? There are a lot of ways to think about who the Twins should draft with the first overall pick. All of them make sense. Things to consider include:
  • Ceiling
  • Floor
  • Likelihood of reaching ceiling
  • Financial creativity (can you get two of three high-level talents by signing someone for less at one?)
  • Timelines
I would really like to thank Keith Law for spending some time talking to me the other day about a variety of topics. It was a nice conversation that felt like it could have gone much longer. One more time, you’ve got the opportunity tonight to rub elbows with Keith Law, hear a reading of his new book Smart Baseball, listen to some baseball discussion and get autographs. 6:30 tonight at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis.

If you missed any of the previous article, here they are:

Part 1 - Keith Law On Smart Baseball
Part 2 - Keith Law On Derek Falvey And The 2017 Twins
Part 3 - Keith Law On The Twins Minor Leagues

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78 Comments

He’s 17, and I got to interview him a couple of weeks ago. This is an impressive person. It’s an impressive body. You don’t see kids like that. I see kids all the time for the job. I don’t see many kids build like that, athletic like that, loose like that, still projectable and already throwing in the upper-90s.

 

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    • gunnarthor and 70charger like this

Way too many times he said the word "might" for Hunter Greene. Might Mike Piazza have been nothing but AA filler? Might Brien Taylor or Josh Bullington have been a hall of famer? Or Kohl Stewart?

 

Isn't probability somewhat important?

 

Greene. Judging a HS player only by his stats is, uh, not the smartest. Buxton didn't destroy the ball in HS. Should we have passed on him for a "safe college bat who's unlikely to fail entirely"? It's called projection and makeup, history, etc...Greene has shown and possesses more than enough to go 1-1 in this draft. Break the cycle.

 

Buxton hit over .500 his Sr. year, scored nearly 2 runs per game. There was a lot to love about his HS batting line, even if his competition level was low.

 

And I am by no means judging Greene solely on his stat line, but... combine the non-"wow" factor of it with the description from BA cited above that includes the terms/phrases "flashes," "projections," "doesn't have as many reps with his offspeed," "flashes feel," "projecting," "predict" in the span of 7 sentences describing his repertoire, and...I have a lot of reservations.

 

Seems like there are a lot of things that need improvement and to go right for him, including the fact he doesn't have a good secondary offering at this point.

    • diehardtwinsfan, 70charger and howieramone2 like this

Frankly, I'm glad a 17 year old hasn't thrown a ton of off speed stuff and other pitches that are generally considered worse for your arm. 

 

Pretty much every single HS player is about projection. The way some here are typing, they would never, ever, take a HS player in round 1.

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twinsfanstreif
May 19 2017 09:04 AM
Do you guys put a lot of stock into the apparent "Tommy John Twist" that Wright does? I read a long article about it and it seems to have legs

 

Do you guys put a lot of stock into the apparent "Tommy John Twist" that Wright does? I read a long article about it and it seems to have legs

Generally, no. That's beyond me. I expect that the Twins have scouts and mechanics are a big part of what they are looking at. If they think someone is a future TJ, they'd (hopefully) note that in their reports.

    • howieramone2 likes this
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drivlikejehu
May 19 2017 09:30 AM

 

Frankly, I'm glad a 17 year old hasn't thrown a ton of off speed stuff and other pitches that are generally considered worse for your arm. 

 

Pretty much every single HS player is about projection. The way some here are typing, they would never, ever, take a HS player in round 1.

 

Well, change-ups aren't bad for your arm. But in any case, Greene's currently mediocre off-speed stuff is a huge risk factor. A lot of touted HS arms in the past already had a signature out pitch - Cole Hamels and the change-up, Josh Beckett and the curve, etc. 

 

I have nothing against HS picks, I just don't see 1-1 with Greene. In pro ball he'll sit mid-90s, which is fine but nothing that special these days, and very few prospects develop elite off-speed pitches unless they already had a natural feel for it as an amateur. Plus I think Greene is a particularly bad fit for the Twins, given their pitcher development track record - for sure Greene needs a ton of development, even if you like him as a prospect.

 

I'm not a scout, so I don't say what the Twins should do, but passing on Greene makes complete sense.

    • birdwatcher, Mike Sixel, Kevin and 1 other like this

 

Do you guys put a lot of stock into the apparent "Tommy John Twist" that Wright does? I read a long article about it and it seems to have legs

 

All anecdotal, from what I've read.

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Siehbiscuit
May 19 2017 10:13 AM

I don't know about you, but I start thinking that the Twins should had passed on Buxton, based on his performance so far and drafted someone like Corey Seager or Addisson Russell instead.


What about international kids? There's no stats, it's interviews and scouting and projection.

And I think you are underselling the 'athleticism' dynamic. Defining athleticism is two parts, IMO. The physical traits (run fast, jump high, etc), but then there is also the hand-eye coordination portion. I have coached for 16 years and many kids have one of the two components but if you are missing the other and the fatal flaw is exposed. Combine the aptitude and Greene's pedigree and experience and it is a high potential recipe.

But, he could still bust. Championships level teams should take risks, IMO, especially when Twins will NEVER acquire these types via free agency.

 

Championships level teams should take risks, IMO, especially when Twins will NEVER acquire these types via free agency.

 

This might be correct, but the Twins took a similar risk in Stewart and seems that it did not pan out.I just don't trust that group to draft high school pitchers.

 

 

There is another issue also:A College player would a. be able to help the Twins in 1-2 seasons and b. he would be about the same age as the good young core of the team, and with Sano 4 seasons away from free agency, this core might not have the time together to allow a High School kid to be MLB-ready; especially one with one only pitch who might never get MLB-ready, if he does not get at least a couple other plus pitches.  

 

McKay is almost there.Greene might not be ready before the opportunity passes for these Twins.Got to look at the big picture here.

 

If Greene had 2 pitches and was putting video game numbers it would have been a different story; and I don't care whether he looks like Adrian Peterson or like Bartolo Colon.

 

    • Siehbiscuit likes this
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Siehbiscuit
May 19 2017 11:48 AM
I think it's like KLaw said, it's what he'd do. Everyone has a different personal philosophy and I'm not in the McKay camp. I personally believe he is already too close to his ceiling and the projection isn't comparable. Hell likely be in a rotation this time next year, but he may never be more than a number three. I WANT more than that if I have the #1 pick. I like Wright a lot too. He has more room to grow and has competed in the best conference in the NCAA. I just can't be paralyzed by the past or fear of failing. I need to evaluate each prospect on his own merit, not on Becketts or Bundys or even Kohl Stewart's. First rounders bust all the time and I will do all I can to make the best pick I could. At the end of the day, I'm the guy that has always worked on 100% commission and isn't scared to take the risk and bet on myself. In the case for Greene, I have to bet on my evaluation being solid and rolling the dice. As for where I, since no one is asking, I'm for Wright or Greene. If Wright comes at a discount, then I'd go that route. This is a matter of philosophy (College pitcher vs HS pitcher). Lower bust rate, but lower ceiling vs higher bust rate, but high reward. Philosophical differences.
    • Mike Sixel likes this
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Deduno Abides
May 19 2017 12:01 PM
It's not just the projectable talent, it's what the organization thinks it can do with it. All of these young men are projects. Anytime you are going to draft someone and spend six million dollars (or more) on a young man, you have to ask yourself if you have the technology to make him better, stronger, faster.
    • ashburyjohn, TiberTwins and Sweetwater like this
The Astros model used as an example is great. But that can't always be done.

1) There has to be someone good enough to take at #1 at a discount. You can't just take any schmuk for the sake of paying less.

2). There has be a very good player that you can make a deal with before the draft, and inform a bunch of other teams he won't sign with them in the first round.

I don't think it's as easy as some think, or team would do it every year that there isn't a Strasburg or Harper.

3). If the first two stars align, which isn't likely, then.....and this might be the rub....they have to want to come to Minnesota, instead of San Diego, Miami, etc.

I wouldn't do things like this just to be cute. I'd imagine for every Astros story, there's going to be a story of someone passing a generational talent, getting burned, and looking extremely foolish. Getting the best player at #1, paying the kid, and moving on is going to work out much more often, I would think.

 

Buxton hit over .500 his Sr. year, scored nearly 2 runs per game. There was a lot to love about his HS batting line, even if his competition level was low.

 

And I am by no means judging Greene solely on his stat line, but... combine the non-"wow" factor of it with the description from BA cited above that includes the terms/phrases "flashes," "projections," "doesn't have as many reps with his offspeed," "flashes feel," "projecting," "predict" in the span of 7 sentences describing his repertoire, and...I have a lot of reservations.

 

Seems like there are a lot of things that need improvement and to go right for him, including the fact he doesn't have a good secondary offering at this point.

Nothing I've read about Wright suggests he should be clearly ahead of Greene. He also has flaws in his delivery and doesn't have a devastating out pitch. He's also 3-4 years older than Greene. Greene can get Professional coaching at 17 to correct and develop him. His ceiling is much higher, simply put. And, IMO, his floor isn't much lower.

    • Siehbiscuit likes this

Well, change-ups aren't bad for your arm. But in any case, Greene's currently mediocre off-speed stuff is a huge risk factor. A lot of touted HS arms in the past already had a signature out pitch - Cole Hamels and the change-up, Josh Beckett and the curve, etc.

I have nothing against HS picks, I just don't see 1-1 with Greene. In pro ball he'll sit mid-90s, which is fine but nothing that special these days, and very few prospects develop elite off-speed pitches unless they already had a natural feel for it as an amateur. Plus I think Greene is a particularly bad fit for the Twins, given their pitcher development track record - for sure Greene needs a ton of development, even if you like him as a prospect.

I'm not a scout, so I don't say what the Twins should do, but passing on Greene makes complete sense.


Why would he throw 5 mph less in pro ball?
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drivlikejehu
May 19 2017 05:32 PM

 

Why would he throw 5 mph less in pro ball?

 

He doesn't sit 100 now, or really hit it very often, and he'd be throwing a lot more pitches as a pro. 

He doesn't sit 100 now, or really hit it very often, and he'd be throwing a lot more pitches as a pro.


Well he sits 98-99 now, I think. And don't 17 year olds typically add a tick or two to their fastball as they mature?

I'm tired of the penny wise pound foolish approach of baseball that was such a trademark of the Ryan era.  I keep seeing the team drafting safe and the prospects don't seem to pan out any more than the upside picks.

 

I miss having a bonafide ace.  It's unlikely the team will ever spend the money needed to acquire one via free agency, so the draft is the next best thing.

 

I want real upside.  Just draft Greene and be done with it.

    • Sweetwater likes this

I think I would lean towards Wright because for Green to reach his higher ceiling he would have to depend on a Twins development system that lately has not produced a whole lot of quality major league arms. 

Do potential draft picks go through any kind of physicals? Although MRIs would be wonderful, could a Twins doctor at least look at a $5 million arm

Do potential draft picks go through any kind of physicals? Although MRIs would be wonderful, could a Twins doctor at least look at a $5 million arm

Yes they go through physicals.
Of course they go through medicals/physicals/MRIs/etc, but they aren't black and white, especially for a pitcher.
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drivlikejehu
May 20 2017 08:24 PM

 

Well he sits 98-99 now, I think. And don't 17 year olds typically add a tick or two to their fastball as they mature?

 

I don't think he averages 98+. You could share a link if you've read that. But in any case, high schoolers don't necessarily add velocity when they transition to pro ball. Some do, some stay the same, some decrease. As a general rule though, velocity peaks young - so young that just measuring MLB players isn't sufficient.

The most common range I see for Greene is 93-98 and can hit 100+ here and there. That's just from clicking multiple links via google. He throws harder at the beginning of the game, high 90s and then drop down to mid 90s later in the game.

I don't think he averages 98+. You could share a link if you've read that. But in any case, high schoolers don't necessarily add velocity when they transition to pro ball. Some do, some stay the same, some decrease. As a general rule though, velocity peaks young - so young that just measuring MLB players isn't sufficient.


So if some gain velocity, some lose, and some stay the same, then again, why do you think he'll lose velocity?

Wright sits 93-95 now, I think. (Mid-90's) Did he also hit 100+ frequently in HS? Since he now throws where you expect Greene to in a couple years?

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