SF Giants draft plan: $1 million below-slot Mick Abel, Ed Howard, Tyler Soderstrom, Cole Wilcox
Of course, in the 99.9 percent of scenarios where none of those players fall to the Giants, they still have to make a selection. If you’re unfamiliar with the negotiation and strategy that separates the MLB Draft from their NBA and NFL counterparts, I go into more detail in this piece. The short answer is, teams can invest more or less money in each pick depending on preference.
I do historically lean towards advocating for under-slot selections in the first round and this year my personal board seems to intersect with consensus in a way to make it even more obvious to me. I view Abel, Howard, Soderstrom, and Wilcox as roughly equivalently ranked prospects. While each has their own strengths and weaknesses, I would be happy to select any of them with the 13th overall pick. Luckily, from a strategic standpoint, industry consensus isn’t as high on some of them as I am, which means it makes sense to pick the prospect at the lowest price point.
Abel, Howard, and Soderstrom I have a tier-above Wilcox. However, Wilcox is probably the most likely to accept a deal like this. A signing bonus $1 million below the Giants slot would be worth $3,197,300, which would rank as the 21st highest slot in the draft. Wilcox is currently mocked to the Nationals, who have the 22nd pick in the draft, by both FanGraphs and Baseball America.
Wilcox remains my favorite of the third-tier of college pitchers (Wilcox, Detmers, Garrett Crochet, and Cade Cavalli), but seems to be ranked the lowest of the group. I think it’s a side-effect of expectations more than results. Wilcox was considered one of the best pitchers in the country out of high school and likely could have been a first-round pick if not for signability concerns.
However, Wilcox has struggled with command and been unable to match the dominance of some of his peers. However, he’s also a draft-eligible sophomore. While we only saw four starts out of Wilcox before the season ended, his performance suggested he’d just made a huge stride. In four starts, Wilcox recorded 23 innings pitched, 32 strikeouts, held opponents to a 1.57 ERA, allowed just 18 hits, and most importantly walked just 2 batters. Frankly, I thought Wilcox was destined for a top-ten selection. I remain cautious though, it was only four starts and it’s unfair to act as if it’s equivalent to an entire season of dominance.
Abel, while my favorite of the group, seems to have a floor in the late teens, so it’s hard to believe he would take such an offer. Still, the prep-pitcher from Oregon flashes an incredible combination of stuff and command. Abel has a prototypical projectable 6-foot-6 starting pitcher’s frame and flashes above-average to plus curveball and changeup. His fastball sits from 92-94 mph, but has touched 97 mph as well. He has missed some time with arm soreness and had some pretty substantial velocity dips last year, but that’s the only reason he isn’t a top-five selection.
Soderstrom seems to have the second-best market of the group and would probably also be inclined to look elsewhere. The catcher from Turlock, California has an impressive swing geared for power without sacrificing too much in the way of swing-and-miss. Scouts seem split on whether his future is actually behind the dish though, but with the athleticism to play third base or left field, most are comfortable enough in his bat to believe in him.
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That leaves Howard as the player I’d be most likely to take an offer about $1 million below-slot. When organized baseball stopped a few months ago, Howard seemed to be projected to go somewhere around where the Giants will pick from 10-15 overall. However, FanGraphs most recent mock only connected had him undrafted in the top 29 picks. Baseball America had him falling to the Rays at 24. Ironically, Howard consistently ranks above Soderstrom on most big boards but seems consistently mocked to be selected later, implying teams may have a differing view of the prospects.
Every year some players just fall because of bad luck. The Giants took advantage last year when Hunter Bishop fell out of the top-five pick conversation. The year before Kumar Rocker, a consensus first-round talent, fell out of the first few rounds altogether and has since gone to college. Howard was never in the conversation of those prospects but does seem to have slipped more out of circumstance than a change in team’s projections.
Considered the best shortstop prospect in the draft, Howard would add to a position lacking prospect talent in the Giants system. While Marco Luciano is the best prospect in the farm system, he’s unlikely to stick at shortstop. Players like Ryan Howard and Tyler Fitzgerald seem best suited for utility infield roles. After that, there isn’t much systemwide.
Howard is lauded for incredible defensive acumen and considered a guarantee to stick at shortstop by scouts. Coming from Illinois, Howard is a “cold-weather” prospect, meaning he’s faced less top-tier talent in high school and barely started his high school season when everything stopped this spring. However, last summer, Howard showed what he could do against top-end pitching and most scouts project a 55-grade (above-average) hit tool.
The power remains the biggest question with Howard, but his lanky 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame leaves projection to average and maybe even slightly above-average pop. I’m less concerned with the power because he has an excellent approach, bat speed, and consistently barrels up the ball.
His profile isn’t that dissimilar from Mitchell’s, but given where things stand right now, Howard seems like a substantially cheaper option. If they required the same price, I might lean a bit towards Mitchell, but that seems unlikely to be the case.