In the second piece of our series leading up to the draft, we take a look at the top three talents on the draft board, who are all expected be taken in the first five picks. Our consensus number one prospect available, Hunter Greene, is a RHP/SS with the ability to hit triple digits as a high schooler, and our number two player is two way Louisville star Brendan McKay. After those two, Kyle wright, a RHP out of Vanderbilt, might be the best player available; in fact, he’s currently the favorite to selected number one overall by the Minnesota Twins.
Since teams will often play around with their slot value a bit, it wouldn’t be too big of a surprise if one of the three ultimately drops to four or five, allowing a player like Mackenzie Gore or Royce Lewis to sneak their way into the top three. Regardless, let’s delve a little deeper into our top three’s profiles to see what the Padres could land.
Hunter Greene RHP/SS
If you’re not familiar with draft history, right-handed prep pitchers aren’t taken with the top pick; it just doesn’t happen because of the inherit risk associated with that young of a player and the plethora of right handed pitching available throughout the draft. That’s what makes Greene so intriguing. He seems to possess that transcendent talent that has front offices considering straying from this unwritten rule of the draft.
As a starter, Greene’s fastball regularly sits around 95-101 mph, hovering around the upper half of that early in the game. He may not have the stature (at least yet) or the grade 80 last name that Noah Syndergaard possesses, but people have tossed around the comparison. In addition to his fastball, Greene has a breaking ball that’s drawn mixed reviews. Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline wrote, “That’s the biggest quibble with Greene, that he has yet to demonstrate consistent feel for spin. Some scouts rate his curveball as well below average and think he’ll have to scrap it in favor of a slider, while others grade both offerings as fringy, but with the potential to become plus.” His changeup projects to be average but wasn’t needed much against an overwhelmed high school, so it will be a work in progress.
Besides a wicked fastball, Greene has a real knack for hammering the zone given the confidence he has in his stuff, dominating California high school baseball with a 43:4 K:B ratio this season with an equally impressive number last season.
We also ought to note that Greene is no slouch with the bat or in the field, drawing grades with both that would warrant being drafted in the first round as a shortstop.
Anyways, there’s been significant chatter that the Los Angeles native has tried to deter the Reds from taking him at number two if he falls to them, suggesting he’d rather find himself close to home pitching for the Padres one day. It’s unlikely they oblige if he’s available, but consider it not out of the realm of possibility that the draft’s top talent has his named called with the third pick because Preller isn’t passing on Greene if he is available there.
Brendan McKay LHP/1B
While Greene is sure to be used as a pitcher rather than a shortstop, it’s not quite as clear whether McKay profiles better as a pitcher or a first baseman. Yet, don’t be fooled by the indecision because it’s a testament to how promising he is at both positions. He’s an uber talented left-hander on the mound, and some even consider him to be the best collegiate hitter available after swatting 17 homeruns and batting .356 for the Cardinals this season. Thus, it could be the case that he is initially able to play both in the lower minors until the team can gain a stronger sense of where to develop him.
As a position player, McKay is limited to first base thanks to below average speed, but with a grade 60 Hit tool and a grade 50 Power tool, he could wind up hitting in the .280 to .300 range with 20 plus homer potential. He also has a direct swing and fairly mature approach, so it’s not out of the question that he make his way through the minors quickly. Despite the optimism scouts have, teams typically prefer to see more power out of the prospects who are limited to first base or designated hitter even if he’ll likely post a high OBP(e.g. Eric Hosmer), so it is more likely that the first option is to develop him as a pitcher, especially for the Padres who already have Josh Naylor in the fold.
McKay’s fastball isn’t on the level of Greene’s, regularly hanging in the low to mid 90’s, but at just 21 years of age, there’s a belief that he could add a little more velocity to it. Meanwhile, his curveball easily earns a plus grade and is considered not only his best pitch but also one of the best in entire draft class. Like many other prospects, he still needs to refine his third pitch, a changeup, because he’s been dominant enough on the college level without needing to use it much.
With the strengths of his repertoire in full display this season, McKay was able limit walks at just 3.1 per 9 innings and rack up a sensational 12.16 K/9.
Three years ago, San Diego liked McKay enough to draft him in the 34th round even though he was firmly committed to Louisville, which evidently scared other teams from wasting a pick on him. There’s no chance he falls much in this draft as he was long considered to go number one, but the recent news is that he’s the one who could slip out of the top three picks. Although, the Padres could be more inclined to go for a higher ceiling player, they took two college pitchers in the first round last year, and McKay’s estimated time to join a big league rotation would be well in line with those guys.
Kyle Wright RHP
The last time a major league team selected a starting pitcher out of Vanderbilt with the top pick it was David Price, and that didn’t work out too badly for the Rays. Wright could soon be joining Price with that honor since he’s been rumored to be the Twins top choice for their pick after moving past some early season control issues to bring his numbers to a stellar 2.91 ERA and 104:27 K:BB line.
With four plus pitches and a fifth secondary (a cutter), Wright has aptly been coined the “best combination of floor and ceiling” by Keith Law and others around the baseball industry. His arsenal was on full display against Clemson this past Saturday in the regional game as Michael Lananna of Baseball America describes, “He touched 97 mph early and consistently sat in the low-90s, mixing and matching two-seamer and reaching back for 95-96 mph four-seamers when needed. He commanded his 78-82 mph breaking ball throughout the night, throwing two different variations—a more vertical, curve-like pitch and a more horizontal, slider-like pitch.” His last plus pitch is a changeup that is far beyond McKay or Greene’s but still has room to grow.
Mysteriously, even in mock drafts where Greene and McKay are taken in the top two picks, Wright to San Diego hasn’t received much traction. Perhaps, they genuinely like Mackenize Gore more or are determined to make a play for Greene, but the idea of pairing Wright with Espinoza, Quantrill, Morejon, and one of Lauer, Lamet, etc. is a tantalizing notion.