The Race to First (Pick)
At the end of the season last year, there was three races that people were watching at the end of the season. The Dodgers and Padres were in a battle for the NL West, and it came down to game 163, with the loser going into the wild card, which was a 6-team battle down to the last series.
Then there was the race to the #1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, which ultimately went to Arizona, despite all of the strong efforts from Houston to lose every game possible. While it seems crazy to battle for the #1 spot, when the #2 pick will be no different really, but the #1 pick has it’s value in MLB Pro. Here’s the top 2 picks over the years:
2012: SP Mark Appel (12.7 WAR), RP Brock Young (0.0 WAR)
2013: RP Juan Romero (3.6 WAR), 2B Enrico DeLeón (9.1 WAR)
2016: SP Ron Tillman (2.4 WAR), LF Ed Harris (0.0 WAR)
Now, I’m sure every team would be willing to take any of these players, and in 2013 & 2014, the #2 pick is still a great pick. And if we look at it, until we get to Tillman, none of them are even the highest-WAR players from their draft class. But having the #1 overall pick has the benefit of being able to select best available and at a position for need. When you start to get to pick 6 and after, a team may have an abundance of shortstop prospects and need a pitcher, but the best available pitcher may be a real stretch to select at that spot in the draft. That doesn’t make teams avoid picking the pitcher, but it does leave that thought in the back of their mind that will always ask what could have been.
While all 30 teams will start the season with hopes of making it to the playoffs, after a month there will be 10 or so teams that will accept that the playoffs are out of reach. At the All-Star break, 5 teams will start to see that the #1 overall pick may be a possibility. By September, there will be 3 teams that have given up on winning, and are rooting for epic collapses when they have a lead. We’re going to highlight the teams that may find themselves here (sorry to any GMs named here):
The Diamondbacks ended up with the #1 overall pick last season, and they may end up there again. It has nothing to do with their talent, as they should be better than last season. It has more to do with the NL West, which the team will face for close to half of their games. The Dodgers and Padres made the playoffs last season, and Colorado was close to .500. While the Giants have the #4 pick in the draft, they may also win the division after their complete overhaul in the offseason.
For Arizona, SP Scott Clark will have a lot to say about their ability to contend, but they may still be a season or two away from contention, despite the young talent around him.
If the Diamondbacks have it rough being in the NL West, no one knows how to describe
how bad it is for Houston in the AL West. They’ve got the 105 win Angels, who could easily win 115 this season, the ever-dangerous Mariners (even after their small firesale). Then the Athletics and Rangers, both of whom were around .500 last season, both got better.
The Astros will have some talent though, with a rotation headlined by James Kaprielian, who had some bright spots last season. Rookie Melvin Garner will also be in the rotation full-time, and Lopahin Sachko is one of the best young closers in the league. On the offensive side, they’ll have Edgardo Arredondo, who received 2 first place votes for the AL Rookie of the Year, despite having played in just 21 games.
The Cubs may be the favorite for the #1 pick in 2019 after lost over 30 WAR. Right now they could be expected to win roughly 55 games, and that could drop even further if they move CF Steve Winter, which the team officials have said is something they are strongly considering. They also could move Yu Darvish midseason, as he’s on just a 1-year contract.
They currently have 8 rule 5 draft picks on their roster, and have made every indication that they plan to keep all 8 on the active roster. They only have 5 players over the age of 30 and just 9 over the age of 25. To put it in comparison, most teams AAA teams have a higher average age.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox should get better, as their roster looks better on paper, and they may be able to add Porter Curran and Jeff Wallace to their rotation for the 2018 season, and Bill Black should be solid once again. If Miguel León plays like he did last season again, then one could certainly expect the White Sox to be better. But either way, they were still a 61-win team who’s major offseason acquisition was Chris Marrero, who has been traded 4 times this offseason.
They may end up being the best team of this group, but will likely still pick in the top 7 of the 2018 draft, which would be their 2nd best season in MLB Pro history. The rebuild is going strong after the trades of Giancarlo Stanton and Prince Fielder, but 2018 is likely not the start of the full turnaround.
Cleveland had their first losing season, and now they may have their first ever last place finish and top five pick. They really didn’t lose too much, but also didn’t add much either. Their offense was anemic last season, and their pitching wasn’t far behind.
The biggest thing for them will be the season series against the White Sox, if they can beat them, it will certainly bolster their chances. Also, a call-up of #1 prospect SP Rod Swift and #86 3B Miguel Andujar could certainly help them win.
The Nationals had the best record last season of any of the teams on this list, but they lost SP Gio Gonzalez and 2B Ben Zobrist, as well as RF Wil Myers, which totals 9.6 WAR. With no big signings to replace that production, they poised to take a dip in wins.
This is despite the fact that they have SS Júlio Figueroa, 3B Mike Moustakas and SP Raynel Velette. Most losing teams don’t have the MVP from 2 seasons ago and a potential Cy Young candidate. Nonetheless, the Nationals could very well end up at the top of the draft board.
One thing that’s great about all sports is you can never predict anything (except that the Browns will pick first). Really any team could end up in the conversation for top pick, even the Angels. All it takes is a couple of 1-run losses, an injury here or there and another team to make a risky deadline trade.