The Miami Marlins wanted left-handed power, either hard-hitting sluggers at the plate or hard-throwing lefties on the mound, and unsurprisingly the team acquired two lefties with the first two picks of the 2015 MLB Draft. The Fish nabbed Josh Naylor, a hulking lefty first base slugger from Ontario with the 12th pick in the draft, then nabbed Arizona State's Brent Lilek with the 50th pick in the draft. For the Marlins, it was mission accomplished, as president of baseball operations Michael Hill and scouting director Stan Meek were happy with the picks.
"You hate to put a player on a guy, but there is some Prince Fielder in this guy. There really is," Meek said. "He's got that kind of bat speed. He's got that kind of raw power, which is really unique.
"I've talked to several scouts along the way who say, 'Wow, that body. We weren't sure about Fielder.' Again, this guy has got good tools, and we've seen them play against professional competition. [Fielder] would be the comp we'd put on him."
You can see Meek dreaming up big pop numbers on Naylor, who admittedly has a great bat with real power. However, the Prince Fielder comps also come with his body type, and there were always questions about whether Naylor could hold up defensively, even at first base. There is a reason why, while most of the players taken in the first round were ranked at or around where they eventually were taken, Naylor was considered a reach by most experts. MLB.com had Naylor ranked as the 59th-best prospect in the draft. Baseball-America saw him as the 61st-ranked player. ESPN's Keith Law had him at the highest ranking, putting him at 49th thanks to his spectacular run in the Dominican Republic with Team Canada. None of those number are close to 12th, and indeed in SB Nation's Purple Row's consensus draft rankings, which looked at five prospect ranking sources, Naylor was graded as a "third-round talent" with an average ranking of 76. Even if you add on Law's 49th ranking, that still leaves Naylor at 71, which would have made him a fringe second-rounder.
While Law was highest on Naylor, he himself questioned the Marlins' selection in his post-first round grades (ESPN Insider required).
Josh Naylor, Miami (12th overall): Naylor can hit and has power, with comparisons to Prince Fielder ... in body as well as in bat. He's listed at 225 pounds and may be heavier, with a body type that seems likely to get heavier; he's a first baseman who might end up a DH. It's first-round power for sure, and scouting director Stan Meek has always preferred players with size, but between the possible lack of a position and the work Naylor will have to do to stay in shape, there's a lot of risk here.
Naylor has a plus-plus arm but probably lacks the athleticism and running speed to play a corner outfield, and if the Marlins have their way, the corners will be secured for a very long time with Giancarlo Stanton's mammoth contract. Naylor is being selected as a first base prospect, but there are questions as to how the body will hold up playing first or whether he will be shifted even further down the defensive spectrum. The Marlins do not have the option of the DH, so Naylor will have to remain at first base to be of any use for the squad.
This does not even get into his running troubles; no one asks Fielder to do much running, but over the course of his career, he has cost his teams 51 runs on the basepaths. If Naylor's body type is similar, baserunning could be a similar problem and force the bat to be even better to compensate.
We knew going into the draft that the Marlins had a goal to attain a left-handed power bat, and it seems the team simply reached to get the type of player they wanted rather than find the best player available. Consider what players the Marlins had available for them among the college pitchers, infielders, and high school outfielders that I listed before the draft. The following are the players we went over, ranked in order of Keith Law's big board.
Kevin Newman (drafted 19th, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Trenton Clark (15th, Milwaukee Brewers)
Garrett Whitley (13th, Tampa Bay Rays)
James Kaprielian (14th, New York Yankees)
Walker Buehler (24th, Los Angeles Dodgers)
Jon Harris (29th, Toronto Blue Jays)
Those six guys above ranked higher than Naylor in all of the big boards and were drafted after Miami's selection. Buehler and Kaprielian boasted college resumes with more certainty behind them, and Harris was a college pitcher with some upside left. In addition, high school lefty Kolby Allard, who was ranked at least in the teens in all of the big boards (consensus ranking 13) was also available and could have provided Miami's interest in a high-upside prep arm. Meanwhile, Clark and Whitley could have been the Marlins' prep position player choice for high upside player, especially with both guys boasting decent pop and good athleticism and speed, the kind of things that jump out at Miami. In addition, Clark is a left-handed hitter and is from Texas, both things that appeal to the midwestern Meek. Instead, Miami targeted a specific tool and drafted a player it may have been able to grab with its second round pick.
And it is not as though Miami did this to conserve money for a low-signability second round pick who would require more cash. That play is usually made by teams with compensatory or competitive balance selections in the middle parts of the first and second round, which Miami did not have. However, the Fish's second-round selection of Brent Lilek was not exactly a first-round quality pickup either. The article on MLB.com that highlights the lefty made it sound that way:
If not for some command issues early in the season, left-hander Brett Lilek likely would have gone in first round in Monday's Draft. So when the 22-year-old was available with the 50th pick, the Marlins pounced.
Unfortunately, Lilek did have command issues, which of course should be considered when evaluating his talent for the draft. Here is what MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo had to say about him.
When Lilek is on his game, he draws comparisons to big league southpaw Paul Maholm. He'll largely pitch with an average fastball, sometimes touching 93 or 94 mph. His breaking ball also grades out as a Major League offering with a chance to miss some bats with some sharp, downward tilt. His changeup gives him a third average offering to choose from, thrown with some deception. He has struggled with his command at times in his junior season, part of the reason why he was moved off of Fridays.
Drawing a comparison to Paul Maholm is not the most encouraging of things, though Maholm was a Major League average starter for at least three years. Overall, Lilek was ranked 89th by MLB.com, 119th by Baseball-America, and was not on Keith Law's top 100 board. His overall consensus ranking was 101, grading him as a fourth round talent or beyond. So the Marlins were not necessarily picking up a first round player who slipped due to signability concerns, but rather a guy who slipped due to talent concerns.
The Marlins appeared to have acquired what they saw as a need by grabbing Naylor and Lilek. But if the team wanted a fast-moving college pitcher, righty Walker Buehler was available, as was James Kaprielian. If they wanted a power prep guy, there was at least a reasonable chance Naylor would have been available later. The team eschewed the "best player available" mantra that is so prevalent in the MLB draft in favor of "their guys" and came away with one of the more questionable results of the 2015 MLB Draft.