2024 MLB Draft Stock Watch

The three-day, seven-round 2024 National Football League (NFL) Draft took place this weekend, officially commencing draft season across the four major American professional sports leagues. The annual National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) drafts are set for late June, preceding the Major League Baseball (MLB) amateur draft which will once again happen during the league’s mid-July All-Star Break.

2024 MLB Draft Stock Watch

MLB Draft Overview

Of these four drafts, MLB’s is by far the longest (20 rounds, 600+ players chosen), is the only one involving players fresh out of high school, and takes place in the middle of the season. The draft used to include 40 rounds before it got cut in half under the latest collective bargaining agreement. Every team has a scouting department that spends the year canvassing high school and college teams nationwide in search of the brightest up-and-coming draft-eligible talent. In addition, prospect evaluators rank amateur players in the months leading up to the draft. 

Most players selected in the MLB draft have completed three years of college baseball, although every year a sizable number of players get drafted right out of high school. High school draftees tend to carry more risk than those coming out of college; those who do turn professional are sometimes less polished than their fellow draftees from collegiate programs and may take longer to develop through the minor leagues. That is commonplace, but not always the case, as evidenced by Mike Trout, Manny Machado, and Jackson Holliday’s swift minor-league ascents.

2023 Flashback

The consensus among scouts and draft experts is that this year’s draft list features more parity across the board, yet lacks the same top-end firepower as last year’s event. The 2023 draft started with the fearsome five (Paul Skenes, Dylan Crews, Max Clark, Wyatt Langford, and Walker Jenkins) immediately coming off the board. Langford completed his rise up the ladder, opening the 2024 season with the Texas Rangers. Skenes may soon join him as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ace-in-waiting is pitching very well for their Triple-A affiliate. Crews is on the Washington Nationals’ Double-A team, while the high-school draftees Clark and Jenkins are a bit further away from their MLB debuts.

The current college and high school baseball seasons are winding down, with many high school teams already competing in or nearing playoff time and all Division 1 college teams facing nearly another month of regular-season contests before the road to Omaha begins. Throughout the spring, some MLB draft hopefuls see their stocks rise by playing well, while others fall due to injuries or negative performances.

Three Prospects on the Rise

1) Charlie Condon

University of Georgia’s slugger Charlie Condon has gone from a walk-on who redshirted his first collegiate season three years ago to the potential number-one overall pick this year. Last year, Condon was named the National Freshman of the Year after hitting 25 homers, a Southeastern Conference (SEC) freshman record. As a redshirt sophomore, he has been even better, bashing 28 home runs and displaying improved defensive ability in the outfield corners and third base.

 2) Caleb Lomavita

Catchers are critically important to baseball teams, and arguably the two best in this draft class play for San Francisco Bay Area universities. This spring, University of California at Berkeley catcher Caleb Lomavita has had a better season than Stanford’s Malcolm Moore, another candidate in the mix to be the first backstop drafted. In addition to continuing to polish his catching skills, Lomavita is batting .344 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs from the cleanup spot in Cal’s starting lineup. Down the road, Moore is only hitting .250 with 13 home runs and 29 RBIs and there are some concerns regarding if he will be able to stick at catcher at the next level.

3) Bryce Rainer

The 2024 draft is expected to lean more heavily toward the college ranks, at least with the first few picks. However, the two names most frequently mentioned atop this graduating high school class are Mississippi native shortstop/outfielder Konnor Griffin and Los Angeles standout shortstop Bryce Rainer. Scouts have had their eyes on Griffin for a long time. On the other hand, Rainer has zoomed up the rankings these past few weeks and has a chance to follow in the footsteps of similar highly-touted prep shortstops turned top minor-league prospects Jackson Holliday and Marcelo Mayer

Three Holding Steady

Last season, Oregon State second baseman Travis Bazzana, Wake Forest first baseman Nick Kurtz, and Florida two-way player Jac Caglianone emerged as three must-watch stars of college baseball. This season, these three players have continued to put their elite talents on display, holding steady in the rankings and likely to go in the top five picks. The former two have the polish and ability to quickly ascend to starting positions with the team that drafts them. Caglianone’s development may take longer, especially if the organization that selects him allows him to continue pitching and hitting as this left-handed player can throw 100 mph fastballs and blast home runs deep into the night. Given his unique talents, this Ohtani-inspired player may have the highest upside in this draft class.

Three Facing Question Marks 

Moore is not the only one whose stock is down. Entering the 2024 collegiate season, many experts envisioned University of West Virginia infielder JJ Wetherholt as the best draft-eligible prospect. Nevertheless, Wetherholt has been hampered by injury in his final collegiate campaign, accumulating three homers and 15 RBIs in only 16 games. If healthy, Wetherholt can restore some of his draft hype and drastically help his West Virginia team down the stretch of their season. 

University of Iowa pitcher Brody Brecht and North Carolina outfielder Vance Honeycutt are two other top prospects with elite athleticism, but major question marks. Brecht throws fast but walks too many batters, and Honeycutt’s hitting ability is a concern for some MLB talent evaluators.

Getting drafted is the first step in the journey to the Major Leagues. According to a 2019 Baseball America article, an estimated one out of five draftees fail to reach, let alone find success in, the Major Leagues, showing just how hard the journey is for these professional athletes to reach the peak of their sport. The 2024 draft kicks off July 14 with the Cleveland Guardians picking first for the first time, winning the recently implemented draft lottery despite finishing the previous season with a better record than the Colorado Rockies and Oakland Athletics who will pick third and fourth respectively.

Main Image:  Cyndi Chambers / USA TODAY NETWORK

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