2015 Bowman Draft Held Strong Class of Future Big Leaguers

Fine wines get better with time as tannins mellow. This is because skin tannins start out extremely astringent, making a wine taste coarse and rough at first. Bowman Draft Baseball products follow a less tasty but similar process–the prospects develop in the minor leagues, much like a fine wine aging in a cellar–then are selected when the time is deemed right.

It can seem like the process takes forever–but the results are often well worth the wait.

Take 2015 Bowman Draft for example. It certainly was heavy in tannins initially, regarded by many in the scouting community as a class that was “markedly below average.” That being said, it’s easy to forget that many of the 1st Bowman cards feature a high school prospect who likely received his driving license less less than two years before the boxes hit shelves–so it’s important to give those prospects time to adjust to the professional game.

It’s a mixed bag most of the time with Bowman Draft. Some players on the checklist are extremely overhyped and ride the wave of some promising prospects who may have had hot starts to their careers. Others gain steam years later as a diamond or two in the rough emerges. But the general rule of thumb remains the same—wait at least 3-5 years before making any definitive declarations about the overall product, or you risk a “coarse and rough” experience.

Those are fighting words for flippers, but words of wisdom for long-term investors.

For those who were buying 2015 Bowman Draft when it was released almost seven years ago,  Dansby Swanson, Brendan Rodgers, Dillon Tate, Kyle Tucker and Andrew Benintendi were the big names collectors were chasing.

Swanson was selected first overall by the Diamondbacks out of Vanderbilt, Rodgers went third to the Rockies, while Tate, Tucker and Benintendi all went in the top ten selections. Tucker’s stock also likely received a boost on draft night when Peter Gammons likened his swing to that of Ted Williams’s on live television.

One thing that the 2015 MLB Draft lacked was a clear-cut #1. Swanson was considered the “safe” pick, but there certainly weren’t any can’t miss prospects like Ken Griffey Jr. or Bryce Harper to cement themselves as the consensus first pick. Because of this, the talk surrounding the draft class wasn’t loud.

Another reason 2015 Bowman Draft didn’t have a meteoric rise at first was the consensus among draft experts that it was a below average overall class that wasn’t exceptionally deep in talent. In an article written a little more than a week before the 2015 draft, Sports Illustrated stated it “has been categorized by many in the scouting community as being markedly below average.”

Another reminder that the scouting community isn’t exactly using a crystal ball when making these statements.

Fast forward to present day and it could be argued that the 2015 MLB Draft was one of the deepest and most talent-rich in the last decade—maybe longer. 1985 is widely regarded as the best draft of all time, bringing us Barry Bonds, Will Clark, Barry Larkin, Bobby Witt, Rafael Palmeiro and a handful of other serviceable major leaguers like B.J. Surhoff, Walt Weiss, Pete Incaviglia and Brian McRae in the first round alone.

Randy Johnson (2nd round), John Smoltz (22nd round), and Mark Grace (24th round) were all also selected in the 1985 draft, making it the hallmark of draft classes both in name value and depth.

The 1985 draft class may never be rivaled, but the argument for the quality of the 2015 class is gaining momentum. The top five picks have all become regulars in the major leagues, while Swanson, Bregman, Walker Buehler and Tucker could all be perennial All-Stars. Even Tate, who was considered a bust for quite some time, he’s found a nice home in the Baltimore bullpen this year, posting a 1.72 ERA in more than 30 innings pitched.

But the top picks were far from the most fruitful in 2015. The Cubs landed Ian Happ with the 9th overall pick, Tyler Stephenson went 11th to the Reds, Josh Naylor went 12th overall to the Marlins. The best pitcher of the class thus far went 24th overall (Buehler), Taylor Ward of the Angels went 26th, while Mike Soroka fell to the Braves at 28th.

In the compensatory round, the Pirates found a gem in Ke’Bryan Hayes at #32, while the Orioles may have found their first basemen of the future in Ryan Mountcastle at pick 36.

A high schooler named Austin Riley, who was considered a more polished pitcher by most scouts, surprised many when the Braves took him as a third basemen with the 41st pick. Cleveland took Triston McKenzie with the very next pick, #42 overall.

There was plenty of talent after the first round as well. Brandon Lowe (#87) was drafted by the Rays in the third round, while the Cardinals found Harrison Bader (#100) and Jordan Hicks (#105) in the same round. Unfortunately, none of these third round finds have 1st Year Bowman cards in the ’15 product.

Other late round picks include infielder Paul DeJong, another player selected by the Cardinals in the 4th round (#131) and reliever Ryan Helsley (#161), also taken by the Cardinals in the fifth round. In the sixth round, Steven Duggar (#186) was a nice value pick for the Giants, while David Fletcher has turned into a solid infielder for the Angels considering where he went in the draft.

Even further down draft boards, talent was still to be found. Arguably the steal of the entire draft, Jake Cronenworth, lasted until the 208th pick in the 7th round—unfortunately for the Rays, they traded him away before he ever reached the big leagues.

The other argument would be for Cedric Mullins, who was taken 403rd overall by the Orioles in the 13th round. Another case could be made for Ty France, who lasted all the way until the 34th round, pick #1017, when the Padres took a chance on him. He’s currently hitting .317 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI for the Mariners, leading his team in OPS (.880).

Another super sleeper named Jared Walsh lasted until the 39th round, where the Angels selected him with the 1,185th pick of the draft—a round that no longer exists.

Writer and draft expert Jim Callis of mlb.com argues that after 1985, the best drafts were 1981, 1989, 1986 and 2002.

Callis also points out that 2011 was another strong draft, featuring Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor, George Springer, Gerrit Cole, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Marcus Semien, Sonny Gray, C.J. Cron, Kyle Hendricks and the late Jose Fernandez. Mookie Betts was the steal of the draft, taken by the Red Sox in the fifth round.

2009 is another contender, featuring Mike Trout (1st round), Stephen Strasburg (1st round), Nolan Arenado (2nd round), Paul Goldschmidt (8th round), Kyle Seager (3rd round) and J.D. Martinez (20th round). While you can chase the iconic Mike Trout RC auto in 2009 Bowman Draft, none of the other top players from the class were included in the set.

The 2015 draft class hasn’t produced a Barry Bonds or Mike Trout type of talent yet, but the sheer volume of quality major leaguers makes it notable. Based on the first 3-5 years their careers, the 2015 class is very comparable to the 1985 class if you strictly look at the numbers.

Top Current MLB Players From the 2015 MLB Draft:

Austin Riley
Kyle Tucker
Alex Bregman
Walker Buehler
Dansby Swanson
Ryan Mountcastle
Tyler Stephenson
Ke’Bryan Hayes
Ian Happ
Taylor Ward
Jake Cronenworth
Cedric Mullins*
Ty France*
Jared Walsh*
Andrew Benintendi
Brandon Lowe*
Brendan Rodgers
Triston McKenzie
Josh Naylor
Ryan Helsley
Harrison Bader*
Jordan Hicks*
Paul DeJong*
Lamonte Wade*
Nick Plummer

* = Not part of the 2015 Bowman Draft checklist

1985 Draft Class (Hitters) – First 5 MLB Seasons

Barry Bonds – First (5) Seasons (1986-1990) – .263 BA, 117 HR, 337 RBI, .834 OPS (2,601 at-bats)
Barry Larkin – First (5) Seasons (1986-1990) — .293 BA, 38 HR, 221 RBI, .750 OPS (2,125 at-bats)
Will Clark – First (5) Seasons (1986-1990) — .301 BA, 117 HR, 447 RBI, .878 OPS (3,038 at-bats)
Rafael Palmeiro – First (5) Seasons (1986-1990) — .284 BA, 47 HR, 248 RBI, .788 OPS (2,031 at-bats)
Mark Grace – First (5) Seasons (1988-1992) — .300 BA, 46 HR, 355 RBI, .790 OPS (2,807 at-bats)

2015 Draft Class (Hitters) – MLB Career

Austin Riley – First (4) Seasons (2019-2022) – .269 BA, 77 HR, 222 RBI, .835 OPS (1,303 at-bats)
Ryan Mountcastle – First (3) Seasons (2020-2022) – .270 BA, 50 HR, 147 RBI, .808 OPS (871 at-bats)
Kyle Tucker – First (5) Seasons (2018-2022) — .271 BA, 55 HR, 188 RBI, .852 OPS (1050 at-bats)
Alex Bregman – First (7) Seasons (2016-2022) — .275 BA, 123 HR, 425 RBI, .869 OPS (2,621 at-bats)
Brandon Lowe – First (5) Seasons (2018-2022) — .251 BA, 81 HR, 224 RBI, .845 OPS (1,271 at-bats)

1985 Draft Class (Top Pitchers) – First (5) Seasons

Randy Johnson – First (5) Seasons (1988-1992) – 49-48 W-L, 818 IP, 3.95 ERA, 818 K

2015 Draft Class (Top Pitcher) – First (5) Seasons

Walker Buehler – First (5) Seasons (2018-2022) – 45-16 W-L, 629 IP, 2.95 ERA, 678 K

The 2015 Bowman Draft product and draft class continues to blossom as many of the top players enter their prime. It also features some surprising early career stats. Bregman has hit more home runs than Bonds did through their first 2,600 at-bats, while Riley has posted a better OPS than Bonds in his first four seasons. Save those for trivia night.

Meanwhile on the mound, Buehler has an ERA that is a full run lower than Johnson’s, while having a better K/9 ratio than the Hall of Famer and a far superior win percentage.

Another interesting fact from 2015 is that seven of the eight players from the draft class who have appeared in an All-Star game were drafted out of college (Bregman, Buehler, Lowe, DeJong, Cronenworth, Mullins and Walsh). With Swanson, Happ, France and Ward all making a case for the All-Star game this season, that list could grow quickly.

2015 Bowman Draft came in three configurations:  Hobby (one autograph), Jumbo (three) and Super Jumbo (five). While prices have increased, they really haven’t exploded to this point.

Among those who had autographed cards inside Bowman Draft are Buehler, Riley, Rodgers, Swanson, Tucker, Hayes, Mountcastle, Benintendi, Ward, Happ, Stephenson as well as 2012 draft pick Matt Olson and 2013 pick Hunter Renfroe, both well established big leaguers. 

Did you wait for the tannins to mellow? This is another Bowman product that keeps giving, even seven years since it’s release.

About Lyell Marks

A former college baseball beat writer, Lyell has written for a variety of print and online publications. He was one of the first wave of contributing writers for Bleacher Report. In his free time, Lyell loves talking baseball, playing golf, and adding to his Buster Posey collection. He can be reached at [email protected].

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