The 2015 MLB draft came to an end Wednesday, but not before 1,215 picks were made over 40 rounds.
A majority of this year’s top draft picks won’t be ready for the major leagues for several years, but that’s not to say the class is without exceptions. The accelerated signing deadline in mid-July - moved up from mid-August back in 2012 as part of the new collective bargaining agreement - encourages draft picks to quickly begin their professional careers, and also, in theory, gives teams an extra month to evaluate and develop its newest prospects. That could lead to ahead-of-schedule debuts in the big leagues for some of the truly special prospects from this year’s class.
Here’s a look at the 2015 draftees who could be the first to reach the major leagues.
Dansby Swanson, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks (First round, No. 1 overall)
The Diamondbacks landed a sure-fire big leaguer in Swanson, who was widely viewed as the top prospect in the class given his tools, excellent track record and the overall high probability of him becoming an impact player in the major leagues. The 21-year-old is an advanced hitter with plus speed, and he’s shown considerably more power this spring, batting .350/.442/.661 with 15 home runs, 23 doubles and six triples in 65 games. He’s also scored 74 runs, driven in 62, stolen 16 bases and posted a 47/42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 311 plate appearances. Meanwhile, there’s little doubt that Swanson, a second baseman during his first two seasons at Vanderbilt, will be able to remain at shortstop long term.
As a teammate (and roommate) of right-hander Carson Fulmer, Swanson probably won’t sign with Arizona until Vanderbilt’s season ends. The Diamondbacks haven’t drafted a big-time college hitter in recent years, instead focusing on pitching, so it will be interesting to see where he’s assigned to begin his career. My guess is that he’ll be sent to High-A Visalia in the hitter-friendly California League, though an assignment to Double-A Mobile isn’t out of the question. Either way, Swanson will be an obvious upgrade over any of the team’s current middle infielders upon his arrival, which should be at some point in late 2016.
Tyler Jay, LHP, Minnesota Twins (First round, No. 6 overall)
The Twins’ decision to go with Jay over Fulmer was the first real surprise of the draft, though it did address one of the more obvious deficiencies in their system: left-handed pitching. Jay was named the 2015 Big 10 Pitcher of the Year after saving 14 games with a 1.08 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 0.94 BB/9 and 10.26 K/9 in 66 2/3 innings for the Illini. His ERA actually sat at 0.60 heading into the final game of season, but that was before Jay allowed four runs over 6 1/3 innings in a gutsy start against reigning national champs Vanderbilt just hours before the draft.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound left-hander has some of the best stuff in the class, and it’s a foregone conclusion that the Twins will develop him as a starter. Specifically, Jay features a mid-90s fastball, plus breaking ball and a changeup that also flashes plus, while his repeatable delivery and arm action gives him the ability to command all three pitches. The Twins might decide to limit the 21-year-old’s workload this summer simply because he’s not stretched out to throw more than four or five innings. If that’s the case, Jay might receive consideration for a spot in the big league bullpen (similar to Brandon Finnegan last year) down the stretch, though that scenario presumably would depend on the Twins’ postseason chances. Regardless, Jay should receive an aggressive Opening Day assignment next season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were starting for the Twins by mid-2016.
Carson Fulmer, RHP, Chicago White Sox (First round, No. 8 overall)
For the second straight draft the White Sox landed arguably the best college pitcher in the class. Last year it was Carlos Rodon, this year Carson Fulmer. The 21-year-old right-hander was named 2015 SEC Pitcher of the Year after claiming the conference’s pitching crown title with 13 wins, a 1.82 ERA and 152 strikeouts. On top of that, opposing hitters have batted just .186 against him.
The 21-year-old right-hander has an electric arm that produces a mid-90s heater that reaches 98 mph, and he’s proven to be able to hold his velocity deep into games. Fulmer’s arsenal also features a plus slider and a change-up that could turn into another above-average pitch in the coming years. Meanwhile, enough great things can’t be said about Fulmer’s makeup and competitiveness on the mound.
Given their success with Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon, the White Sox’ decision to draft Fulmer in and of itself suggests the organization views him as another quick-to-the-majors prospect. But whether or not the right-hander receives consideration for a bullpen spot in the big leagues later this season will depend on 1) when Vanderbilt’s season ends, and 2) the South Siders’ playoff chances. Regarding the former, Vandy is back in Omaha this year after winning its first national title in 2014, which means Fulmer could potentially make another 2-3 starts for the Commodores should they reach the finals.
If that were the case, the White Sox would likely have him make a series of short starts between the High- and Triple-A levels before the end of the minor league season. Rodon made his professional debut last summer on July 22, and that is probably a realistic starting date for Fulmer’s career as well. If Fulmer can make at least five or so starts this season in the minors, then there’s a real chance he’ll be ready to make his White Sox debut by late May/early June.
Riley Ferrell, RHP, Houston Astros (Third round, No. 79 overall)
Ferrell, like Berg, was viewed as one of the top college relievers in this year’s class based on his excellent track record at TCU. In his three-year career for the Frogs, the 21-year-old right-hander has accrued 32 saves over 84 appearances, posting a 1.77 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 12.95 K/9 in 107 innings in that span. Ferrell’s 2015 campaign has been his most inconsistent, however, as he’s shown knockout stuff (14.13 K/9, 3.14 H/9) but struggled to pound the zone (5.97 BB/9) as he had in previous years.
Armed with a fastball in the mid- to upper-90s and a plus slider, Ferrell has late-inning reliever written all over him. His delivery has some effort to it and it hurts his command profile, but it’s safe to assume Houston will clean that up at the next level. Ferrell probably won’t sign until late June once TCU’s season ends, but that still should give the Astros enough time to seriously consider adding him to the big league bullpen in September.
Dave Berg, RHP, Chicago Cubs (Sixth round, No. 173 overall)
Berg chose not to sign with the Rangers last year after being selected in the 17th round, opting to return to UCLA for his senior season instead. The Cubs grabbed Berg in the sixth round this year, targeting the right-hander for his signability and tremendous track record of success. Berg holds the UCLA record for most postseason appearances (17) and postseason saves (6), and he became the first reliever to win the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Award in 2013 after setting an NCAA single-season record with 24 saves. The 22-year-old finished his Bruins career with a 22-6 record and 49 saves to go along with a 1.11 ERA, 8.13 K/9 and 1.49 BB/9 in 266 2/3 innings.
A 6-foot, 190-pound right-handed submariner, Berg is a groundball machine who can also get some whiffs thanks to his incredibly deceptive delivery, and there’s every reason to believe his strike-throwing ability will translate at the next level. The final product could be something a lot like Seth Maness, and the Cubs have nothing to lose by rushing Berg through its system.