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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

MLB Draft Could Be Best in Decades, ESPN Analyst Says

  • “This may be the best draft in a couple decades,” says ESPN’s MLB Insider Kiley McDaniel.
  • ESPN’s broadcast hopes to capitalize on its most-watched College World Series, which featured the top-three projected picks.
Paul Skenes could be a top five selection in Sunday's MLB Draft.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball could soon be getting an influx of talent through what could be the best MLB Draft in 20 years, according to ESPN’s prospect guru Kiley McDaniel. 

“This may be the best draft in a couple decades, and there could be like multiple faces of franchises and perennial All-Stars, guys that get Hall of Fame votes, like those kinds of dudes,” McDaniel said on a media call before ESPN broadcasts the first round of the draft on July 9. “The top 5 is a very clear top 5. It is the best top 5 in a dozen years. I would say 2005 is the last year that seems like a real candidate to go head-to-head.”

ESPN’s top-three ranked draft prospects (LSU pitcher Paul Skenes, LSU outfielder Dylan Crews, and Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford) all played in June’s College World Series Finals, which included the most-watched CWS game on record for ESPN. 

“This is a particularly special group, especially because the top three are all dudes that played in the finals at Omaha and in the SEC and have been famous for over a year,” said McDaniel. “So in terms of fan interest and whatnot, having it be a spectacularly good draft with guys you’ve heard of and have seen on TV, that’s like a pretty rare occurrence.”

Another notable projected first-round pick is Arjun Nimmala, a Florida high school shortstop whose parents are from India and whose success could help grow MLB’s popularity in a largely untapped market where cricket is the dominant sport. Baseball United, a startup pro league backed by Hall of Famers Barry Larkin and Mariano Rivera, plans to host games throughout India, the Middle East, and South Asia, starting with a November showcase in Dubai. 

“I think [Nimmala will] go somewhere in the 8 to 15 range, probably the most likely spot for him, [with] the sort of upside of he could become a face-of-the-sport star that defines a franchise that opens up India to Major League Baseball,” McDaniel said.“He could be so many things, and he could also not make the Big Leagues. He could be almost anything, which is really exciting to watch.”

Before joining ESPN, McDaniel worked in scouting roles for multiple MLB teams, including the Braves, Yankees, Pirates, and Orioles. ESPN plans to stream the second round of the MLB Draft on ESPN+, the first time the draft will be shown on the streaming service. MLB Network will also air the draft for the 15th-straight year.

“So many consumers of the College World Series through the course of each round did it though ESPN+, they did not necessarily all come to linear — and then you get to the College World Series [Finals] in Omaha, and they’re there,” ESPN baseball broadcaster Karl Ravech said. “The College World Series attracted more people than anything we’ve done. It was stunning.”

Another MLB Draft viewership factor that ESPN expects to work in its favor is that several top prospects could fast-track the minors and make their MLB debuts this year.

“The NBA and the NFL [drafts], those guys went from draft to field very quickly. Major League baseball was a little bit slower in that, [but] now the bonuses are so big that the same guy you saw on the field in Omaha could easily be on the field in September,” Ravech said Thursday. “There’s no question that if Paul Skenes is on a team that’s trying to compete, he’s on the field the same way [former Royals pitcher] Brandon Finnegan was [in 2014].” 

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