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MLB draft 2017: Middle infield options

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MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The draft is fast approaching, and the boards are becoming a bit more clear. Teams in search of up-the-middle talent are getting in their final rounds of scouting on potential shortstops, and here we’ll analyze the top shortstops in this draft along with where they could fit in the Rays draft plans and in the organization.

Beforehand, here’s a general outline of the Rays’ depth chart at 2B:

Rays' Second Baseman Organizational Depth

Name Level
Name Level
Brad Miller MLB
Jake Hager AAA
Riley Unroe AA
Brandon Lowe A+
Miles Mastrobuoni A

And at SS:

Rays' Shortstop Organizational Depth Chart

Name Level
Name Level
Tim Beckham MLB
Willy Adames AAA
Andrew Velasquez AA
Jake Cronenworth A+
Lucius Fox A

As most teams do, the Rays have tried to gather as many shortstops as they can and deploy them all over the field. Matt Duffy is currently on the mend, but he projects to get time at shortstop once he’s healthy. Meanwhile, Tim Beckham’s solidly-average offense and defense has forced Beckham into the picture as well.

Now that’ he’s back from his core injury, Brad Miller is the primary second baseman, but Daniel Robertson’s plus defense and solid offensive approach should help him stay on the major league roster longer than the Rays’ may have anticipated out of spring training.

In the minors, Willy Adames is the crown jewel at shortstop, Brandon Lowe has hit as well as any second-base prospect, excluding Scott Kingrey, and Lucius Fox has had a very solid season in Class-A Bowling Green.

Shortstop and second base aren’t massive needs for the Rays at the moment, but the Rays have targeted high-athleticism players in recent years, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear the Rays connected to and drafting more athletic shortstops with projectable tools.

At the top of the list sits Royce Lewis, a California high schooler. Lewis has drawn attention for his bat.

From his MLB Pipeline profile

Lewis uses his plus athleticism well on both sides of the ball. While he doesn't have the most traditional approach at the plate, he does barrel the ball up consistently.

Lewis is a hit-tool over power type player now, but he should grow into more pop as he matures. There are questions as to whether he’ll be a shortstop professionally, and they could be the deciding factor in whether the Rays draft him fourth overall. If they don’t believe in Lewis’s ability to stick at short, the Rays could look elsewhere on the field to outfielders who may offer better upside, namely Austin Beck. But Lewis is a name to look out for at fourth.

Other potential top-two round shortstops are Logan Warmoth (University of North Carolina), fellow California high-schooler Nick Allen and Florida high-schoolers Chris Seise and Jeter Downs. Being the top college shortstop, Warmoth should have quite a few teams in the middle-to-late-teens interested in him. Nick Allen, who’s drawn comparisons to Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia (on account of his height), could go at the top of the supplemental first round or earlier than that. Allen would be an interesting pick if he falls to 31.

Per his MLB pipeline profile

“Allen endears himself to scouts even more with his outstanding makeup and baseball IQ. His supporters see a Jose Altuve type profile, albeit one with less power, but who can stay at short.”

Seise and Downs are more likely to land as second rounders, although Downs’ well-rounded tool set could push him a little higher.

The top of the draft isn’t usually where teams find premier second basemen. MLB Pipeline’s top 100 draft prospects only features two prospects at the keystone, (Keston Hiura and Kevin Merrell) while Baseball America has one second baseman in the top 150 of it’s top 200 (Keston Hiura). Hiura reportedly has elbow issues and his defensive home is a question because of it, but his natural hitting ability and mix of contact and solid-average power make him one of the better college bats behind Pavin Smith and Jake Burger. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a team taking him in the twenties, but he could be an interesting choice if he does make it all the way to 31. In that range it could be worth betting on his bat and worrying about his defense later.

Conclusion

The Rays have an interesting decision to make at the top of the draft. They appear to have an organizational draft preference for athletic middle infielders, but the most highly-touted shortstop prospect in the draft, Royce Lewis, is not a sure thing to stick at short.

Will the Rays care? Or will they be happy to take a player at the top of the defensive spectrum and let him find his position in the system? Or if the Rays pass on Lewis, will they look to Logan Warmoth and Keston Hiura as possible college additions after the first round?