With the books closed on 2017, the off-season action is sure to heat up. But also, teams will start looking towards the 2018 draft for their next crop of young stars.
While the amateur draft is still several months away, here is an early look at next year’s draft order, and an analysis of the potential rising or falling of those franchises.
1. ARIZONA COWBOYS
The Cowboys had a worst-place finish yet again, their fifth consecutive division last place finish, and their worst win percentage in club history at just .320. But our analysis says things might finally be turning around for the Cowboys.
First off, the club just signed a 4-year contract with SS Tak-keung Yang, an international free agent from Taiwan with huge big bat potential. Scouts call him a “plus-plus” hitter with “explosive power”, and he will make a nice complementary piece in the batting order to DH Nate Mair provided Mair remains healthy.
Curaçaoan phenom pitcher Alex Orellana finally broke into the major level this past season at age 21, and shows such deep promise he is likely to have the #1 slot in the rotation. His 3.33 ERA was one of the best the team has ever seen from a starter, though a late June injury kept him from setting single-season team records. His fastball reaches 101 mph, and with such youth he is rightly expected to grow into the role and improve with time. Closer Jaylen Carlier deserves mention, as well, as OSA ranks him as the 6th best closer in the league.
Look for the Cowboys to use their draft pick to keep improving their flailing pitching, particularly in the starting role.
2. TORONTO NOMADS
The Toronto Nomads are in a chaotic state, after a mid-season implosion that saw them go from 10-7 (.588) in May, to 10-16 (.385) in June, then 8-16 (.333) in July. Though there was a slight recovery by August, the damage was done. They had the worst hitting overall in the Lake League, and went a pitiful 17-33 on the road.
The anemic offense was the culprit all through the season. High-dollar players like 1B Miguel Tafoya ($13.5M) and C Hong-ryul Oh ($10.5M) were positively dreadful. A late-season move to acquire DH R.J. Ray did offer some help, but it was not enough to overcome the combination of lackluster hitting and a difficult year in the Lake League, with the likes of Judson Martel and A.C. Deucey in full form.
Toronto may look to shore up their pitching, but it is their offense that really needs help, and with an early pick they could grab a power outfielder or well-rounded contact infielder to bolster their hitting.
3. CALIFORNIA TIDALS
The Tidals have had ebbs and flows through the years, and they are now in one of their ebbs, as they have now missed the playoffs three seasons running.
They have weak pitching, despite a 2nd in the AEL bullpen ERA. Their starters consistently fail to find the strike zone and a dearth of strikeouts has been the result. The hitters can’t hit, and as injuries piled up the late season was a disaster, after the team went 9-19 in August.
On the plus side, they will spend nearly $5 million in signing bonuses next year, and have some reasonably good prospects in their system, including OSA 3rd ranked 18-year-old RF Raul Vasquez ready to play rookie ball next year.
Look for the Tidals to grab a high-potential starter, a position they are lacking depth in through their minor league system.
4. DALLAS DEPUTIES
The Deps have taken big steps to improve their pitching, signing Fernando Latorre to a 3-year deal, and Marco Helms to a 2-year deal. They will join Kyle Cahill in what will be a formidable rotation, and closer Nate Weil will be tough to score off of in late innings. The pitching staff for the next few seasons will be impressive.
While the current pitchers may not be around in 3-4 years, and the team needs urgently to address offensive problems, they will likely pick for a high value starter nonetheless in the draft. Of the starters, only Latorre is under 30, and Cahill is up for renewal at the end of 2018. If he continues to shine, the Deputies may not be able to afford him.
Dallas is a small-budget, low-attendance team and will have to spend wisely on extensions and free agents, and they only have $4 million budgeted for the draft. But good starters are hard to find and Dallas may look to continue developing them, and working on other ways to improve their offense.
5. Jacksonville Ravens
With no starting pitchers in their team top prospects list, and $4.4 million budgeted for draft bonuses, the Ravens will likely target a good starter in order to continue their reputation as having one of the best pitching staffs in the AEL.
The Ravens have had a string of stellar seasons and are fortunate to have a high pick in the first round, which was received as a result of failing to sign Fraser Valley U closer Dan Mott, who was a 4th pick in last year’s draft, a pick which originally came in a trade.
6. DETROIT MOTORHEADS
The Motorheads have prospect pitchers lined up in stacks and will likely use their 6th pick to focus on solid potential infielders.
7. Battle CReek Attack
Though currently plagued with poor pitching, they are surprisingly well-stocked on the mound in their minor system. The Attack will likely bid on infielding, or offense at any position frankly.
8. Kingston Cannons
The Cannons lost Ron Alder to free agency, and like Battle Creek, are looking very poor right now for pitching, but have a collection of top-ranked hurlers lined up to advanced through their minor league system right now, including OSA 8th ranked Tyler Mixon, currently at AA-level, 21-year old Duane Carrere, who was Everglades U’s top pitcher last year, and who is ranked 20th by the OSA, and Bob Michaud, the OSA’s 40th ranked player, and who has advanced rapidly so far since being drafted n 2016.
9. CHICAGO Pit Bulls
The Pit Bulls have solid prospects right through their system, but especially at AAA-level, with OSA’s 6th ranked 3B Jon Guillot looking like a future elite level player. As a result of good harvest years, they have cut their draft budget to a bare-bones $3.3 million, but may still look at picking up a young arm for the future in the first round.
10. Norfolk Sharks
The Sharks are on the ascendant, on the cusp of a major break-through, and only need to solve their pitching gaps this year to really press home their clear offensive advantage in the AEL East. They will use their small draft budget wisely, picking up depth outfielders for the future, or the oft-sought after starters.
Norfolk’s 10th pick in the 1st round comes after failing to sign last year’s 9th pick, Daniel Dunsmore, from Nuacalpan High School, they also have the 13th pick.
11. Denver Danger
Like Norfolk, their pitching staff is currently anchored on the back of just one good starter. Unlike Norfolk, they can expect to see great things from OSA 54th ranked Jason Jankovic as early as next season, after he made incredible strides to advance through the minors so rapidly since being drafted 36th overall by Hamilton in 2013, prior to being traded to Denver.
Denver has a slew of infielders working their way up as the system as well, and so they may focus on solidifying their outfield for the future.
12. Nevada Speeders
The Nevada Speeders will find themselves in the playoffs almost certainly in 2018, and if their roster stays healthy, could go quite deep into the postseason. In addition to a huge offseason international free agent signing, they are stacked with talented young players, like catcher Ron Osborn (2017 Platinum Glove winner), hard-throwing starter Shi-min Chaim, and others. They can add to this mix nine OSA top-100 prospects, many at AA-level or above. They may use their first round draft pick to select a high-potential pitcher, the one area their lower prospect pool seems lacking in.
13. Norfolk Sharks
Having two picks in the first round next season will be a huge boon to this already stacked roster. The Sharks will use this to their advantage in their quest to finally leapfrog over Jacksonville’s aging pitching staff.
14. New York Dragons
The Dragons barely missed out on the playoffs in 2017, and will be thirsty for blood next year. But with a tiny draft budget of just $1.28 million, and a lack of power hitting in their minor system, they will have to stretch their dollar and scouting efforts to plug that gap in this draft, given their lower half pick.
15. Rimouski Fighting Moose
The Moose have come away from 2017 with a great showing, entering the postseason for the third time in 4 seasons. Their war chest is full. They have virtually no pitching prospects worth mention, however, and will be well advised to focus on good arms for round one.
16. Boston Brawlers
The Brawlers are biding their time waiting for their three OSA top-100 prospect pitchers to mature and break into the top level. And they won’t be ready too soon, given their offense is capable of greatness right now, and their pitching is their one weak area.
But in 2-3 seasons they will need power hitters, with catcher Guido Groeneveld nearing retirement age. By then, Bruce Aberto and Angel Payan will be seasoned power swingers, and they’ll need that third depth man again to keep up their home run count.
17. Jacksonville Ravens
Jacksonville has the dominant pitching staff in the Bull League, but in 3 years they will be desperate for arms from their prospect pool, with their top pitcher a 137th-ranked reliever. Their second first round pick will likely still zone in on a pitcher, but they will be mindful of the need to stay realistic with offense.
18. Calgary Inferno
The 2017 Bull Cup champs and top run producing team in the Bull League has little to worry about right now, aside from a fairly forgettable middle infield. They have few needs, even in the short term, but will certainly want to take whatever they can get in the draft to find a place to fit that player in for the long term.
19. Ohio Oxen
The Lake League’s king of the offense hill suffer from pitching problems now (despite having two great starters in Deucey and Clause), and in their prospect pool, so it’s expected that this will be where their draft efforts will be focused.
20. ANCHORAGE ACES
Other than OSA top-ranked Chris Zerkle, the Aces have no pitchers in their prospect stream right now, but also don’t need to worry heavily about pitching for the near term after signing Jose Soto last May, and dealing to get Harry Ferguson and Cyril Lefevre during the year. Instead they may focus on acquiring decent hitting prospects in the draft to continue to improve their offense in the next few seasons.
21. Seattle Salts
Despite having the best record in 2017, the Salts were a playoff wash, dropping to the Ravens in the first round. A lack of speed and run scoring was the culprit, and with the curse of having the best record and therefore the last pick in the round, they will struggle to take the scraps in each round of the draft, as they look for anything to help them moving forward.
The good news for the Salts is that they have 7 OSA top-100 prospects in their system. The bad news is only one is a pitcher, and he is already on the big league roster.
No Pick in the first: Montreal Metros
The Metros do not have a selection until pick #22 of Round 2, due to various transactions since the last draft. But with a well stocked prospect system, an elite-level current pitching rotation and MVP and All-Star riddled lineup, they have little to worry about in the short or long term. They will pick what they can when they can and make those picks work.