Dogs Make Room For EDLC

March 12th, 2024 by Kevin

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Coming off three straight last place finishes (two under current leadership), the Diamond Dogs obviously had a lot of holes to fill.  However, shortstop wasn’t one of them.  Trea Turner and Bo Bichette have been among the best shortstops in the game for several years now.  Last year, Oneil Cruz appeared poised to join those ranks before a nasty leg injury ended his season soon after it started in April.  With all three of those players back in the fold for this season and the consensus #1 player available in the draft also being a shortstop, the Diamond Dogs had a difficult decision to make.

A couple days prior to the start of the 2024 DTBL Draft, the Diamond Dogs dealt Bichette to the Kings, opening a spot for them to select Reds dynamic shortstop Elly De La Cruz with the first pick.  Meanwhile, the Kings filled a spot vacated by a position change and their postseason release of longtime shortstop Carlos Correa.  In addition to clearing room for De La Cruz, the Dogs also acquired the Kings first round pick (7th overall) and catcher Sean Murphy.  The Kings added Bichette and the first pick of the fourth round.  For the Kings, giving up that first rounder for Bichette was a fairly easy call as he is a far safer bet than anyone selected in this entire draft.  While giving up the steady Murphy hurt a bit, they do still have Will Smith behind the plate.  On the other side, the Dogs did not keep a catcher, so Murphy immediately moves into their #1 catcher spot.

Of course, De La Cruz was the main reason why this trade happened.  Soon after making his debut for the Reds last year, he became the talk of the league, demonstrating his light tower power and blazing speed on a nearly daily basis.  Initially splitting time between shortstop and third base, he would eventually settle in as the Reds everyday shortstop, a position he figures to occupy for the foreseeable future.  By the All-Star break, he was hitting .325 with an .887 OPS and 16 stolen bases.  He did struggle down the stretch though, in the longest season of his professional life.  His batting average finished at .235.  But he did slug 13 home runs and stole 35 bases.  Even if the hit tool is slow to develop and the strikeout problem continues, his raw power and elite speed gives him a pretty high floor and certainly someone who will help a Diamond Dogs team that finished dead last in steals a year ago.  That almost certainly won’t happen again.  Him joining forces with a healthy Oneil Cruz will make the Dogs fun to watch at the very least.

It would have been difficult to predict how the rest of the first round would play out because De La Cruz really was the only player who felt like a lock to be among the first players off the board.  The Cougars, who finished last in every offensive category except for stolen bases last year, opted to go with the best bat they could find, outfielder Nolan Jones.  Jones had previously seemed to be a bit of a bust as a prospect for Cleveland.  Moving to Colorado was just what the doctor ordered though.  He put up a 20/20 season, exactly 20 home runs and stolen bases, with a .297 average, all while regularly playing in the outfield for the first time in his career.  The Cougars moved on from a couple of their longtime players who remain Rockies, Charlie Blackmon and Kris Bryant, but now have a much younger Rockie in the fold.  Jones should help them become a more dangerous offensive team.

Like the Cougars, the Moonshiners more or less drafted for need with the third pick.  But their need was on the mound.  After winning the league title in ’22 with an excellent staff, that same group cratered to just 18 pitching points a year ago.  In comes the only non-DTBL rookie drafted in the first round this year, lefty Tarik Skubal.  Skubal’s actual DTBL rookie campaign with the Kings in ’22 ended abruptly with elbow surgery, which caused the Kings to release him following the season and kept him entirely off the league roster last year.  He returned with a vengeance last summer, throwing even harder than he did pre-surgery.  In 15 starts, he compiled a 2.80 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, striking out 102 in 80 innings.  Still just 27 years old, he’ll add some youth to an otherwise veteran laden rotation.

The Komodos went with a little bit younger pitcher in the fourth slot.  They selected Guardians righty Tanner Bibee.  Bibee, who just turned 25 a couple days ago, had a very impressive MLB rookie campaign which placed him second in the AL Rookie of the Year vote.  He won 10 games with a sub 3.00 ERA (2.98).  He struck out 141 hitters in 142 innings.  He appears poised to become Cleveland’s next great pitching development success story.  The Komodos have the makings of a very strong rotation if they can ever get and keep everyone healthy.  Shane McClanahan will likely miss the entire season and it is unclear when Walker Buehler will return after missing all of last year.  Bibee doesn’t need to be the staff ace though as Framber Valdez is still around too.

The run of pitchers continued with the Choppers going even younger yet, selecting Marlins 20 year old righty Eury Perez at number five.  Perez made his MLB debut last May, just a month after turning 20.  You would think a towering 6’8″ 20 year old pitcher who throws serious gas would be a walk machine.  But Perez actually has quite good command.  He struck out 108 hitters with just 31 walks in his 91 big league innings.  Again, quite impressive for someone that age.  He was a little home run prone, but that is just picking nits at this point.  The Choppers have a rotation full of interesting options now, but it would behoove them if Blake Snell were to sign with a team relatively soon.

The streak of starting pitchers extended to four when the Jackalope selected Orioles righty Grayson Rodriguez with the sixth pick.  The highly touted Rodriguez had a rough introduction to the big leagues which eventually led to him being demoted back to AAA.  But then he returned to Baltimore as a much more confident and effective pitcher.  He had a 7.35 ERA when he was demoted near the end of May and was able to drop that 3 full points to 4.34 by the end of the season.  He had a 2.58 ERA from the All-Star break on.  This is the first time since 2018 that the Jackalope have used a first round pick on a pitcher.

With the seventh pick, the Diamond Dogs used the pick they acquired from the Kings in the Bichette trade to add another slugger to the lineup.  Marlins third baseman Jake Burger seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the very few bright spots on the White Sox before they dealt him to Miami.  While Burger was a former first round pick of the Sox, it seemed unlikely he would ever reach the majors after blowing out his achilles tendon twice.  Finally given a chance to play nearly every day last year, he slugged 34 home runs while driving in 80, and actually improved his bat to ball skills hitting over .300 after arriving in Miami.  Burger is on the old side for a DTBL rookie.  He will turn 28 shortly after Opening Day.

After the momentary pause with the Burger selection, it was back to pitchers with the eighth pick.  The Mavericks selected Dodgers righty, and McHenry, Illinois’ own Bobby Miller.  Safe to say this is the highest pick ever of a McHenry County native in DTBL history.  Miller, with his 99 MPH average fastball, posted very impressive numbers in his first MLB season.  In 124 innings, he struck out 119 with a 3.76 ERA.  He won 11 games pitching for one of baseball’s best teams.  Interestingly, he will essentially be replacing a Dodger legend in the Mavericks rotation.  Clayton Kershaw’s illustrious 15 year career with the Mavericks came to and end this offseason.  Julio Urias is another Dodger gone from the Mavs’ rotation, but I would not call his career quite as illustrious.  Miller will look to continue the Dodger domination for the Mavericks.

Perhaps a bit of a surprise that he fell this far, the Darkhorses nabbed third baseman Royce Lewis with the ninth pick.  A string of injuries is the only thing that prevented Lewis from joining the ranks of the DTBL years ago.  Still just 24 years old though, he should have plenty of great years ahead of him.  Lewis smacked 15 homers with a .309 average in just 217 at bats last season.  And then he added four more home runs in the Postseason.  Initially drafted and developed as a shortstop, Lewis seems to have found a home at the hot corner where he will join Alex Bregman to form an enviable duo at that position for the Darkhorses.

The first round wrapped up with the Demigods selecting utility player Spencer Steer, officially a first baseman for this season in the DTBL.  While the Reds haven’t found a permanent positional home for Steer, his bat pretty much ensures he’ll be in the lineup most days.  He hit .271 with 23 homers, 86 RBI and 15 steals last season.  The defending champion Demigods continue to have one of the most balanced rosters from top to bottom, so they could have gone any number of ways with this pick.  Steer will fit in nicely at first base this year and wherever he might wind up down the road.

On the heels of what was one of the most hyped rookie classes in recent history, and then that ’23 class lived up to the hype in year one, this year’s crop has their work cut out for them.  With five exciting young pitchers in the first round mix this year, perhaps we will see a little more balance though.  Time will tell.

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