I hope you’ve been enjoying my analysis of the more surprising teams in baseball this season. I’ve still got a few more to look at, so we’ll get right back to our regularly scheduled programming next week. The MLB Draft concluded today, so I’m going to go over a few teams who I thought stood out (both negatively and positively). Though most of these prospects won’t have a Major League impact for a year or two at least, if ever, the draft is one of the most exciting events in the baseball calendar. It never ceases to yield surprises, and provides hope for the future for even the most troubled of franchises. So, the winners and losers of MLB’s 2011 Rule 4 Draft:
The Nationals ended up with a great combination of upside, value, and fairly high floors. With their first pick, they were the beneficiary of Anthony Rendon’s slide. The Rice third baseman, universally considered to be the best college hitter in the draft, was assumed by most to be the second pick after Gerrit Cole. When the Mariners decided to tab Virginia starter Danny Hultzen instead, Rendon fell into Washington’s lap at the six slot, and the Nats took advantage. Later in the first round, GM Mike Rizzo and his brain trust added Kentucky starter Alex Meyer to their organization with the 23rd pick. Meyer has had some control problems, but is large and projectable and has a slider that can only be described as filthy to go along with a mid-90s fastball. With the first selection in the sandwich round, the Nats nabbed Brian Goodwin, a community college outfielder with five-tool potential. In the third round, Washington took Matt Purke, a southpaw from TCU who had merited strong consideration for an early selection before being shut down with shoulder bursitis this spring. Purke was selected in the first round by the Rangers in 2009, but decided to go to college, so it’s obvious he’s got talent. If he can put the injury behind him and get back on track, Purke could be the steal of the draft.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox, as they often do, made it known that they’re willing to pay big bucks for the right skills by tabbing several players who fell because of signability issues. With the 18th pick, the Sox took UConn starter Matt Barnes, who might have been a much earlier pick in a draft without so much impressive right-handed pitching. Barnes has a low-90s fastball that he can pump up to 96, a solid curve, and a changeup that will allow him to find success against lefties as well as righties. I’m sure Theo Epstein and Co. were ecstatic to see him fall this far… I was very surprised to see him get past out of the first 15 picks, and many projections had him going top-10. With the 26th pick, Boston took high school catcher Blake Swihart. Swihart’s bat is his calling card, as he’s shown the ability to both hit for power and get on base at a high clip, but his defensive skills may move him out from behind the plate, a la Kansas City’s Wil Myers. Swihart looks to be a tough sign, but Boston hasn’t had a problem with that in the past, the most recent example being Anthony Ranaudo last year. In the sandwich round, they took Henry Owens, a high school lefty out of southern California who had been considered a possible first rounder. Owens is huge, at 6’6”, and projectable, and throws a low-90s fastball, a strong curve, a biting slider, and a fairly effective changeup, all of which he commands well. Later in the compensation round, Boston selected South Carolina centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who has struggled due to injury this season but has impressive power for his small stature and one of the best outfield arms in the draft.
Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay cashed in on its glut of draft picks, going with the best player available in many cases. Though they may not be able to sign all of their early selections due to cash constraints, they’ll get enough to add to an already impressive minor league system. The Rays got great value in their first selection, taking high school righty Taylor Guerrieri. The hurler out of South Carolina has an impressive mid-90s fastball with movement to go along with an upper-80s cutter, as well as a plus curveball. He’s also got the makings of a useful changeup, though he hasn’t needed it at the high school level. Guerrieri fell because of his commitment to South Carolina and some reports of attitude problems, but the talent is there, as some scouts called him the best high school starter in the draft, including Dylan Bundy. Seven picks later, the Tampa’s shrewd front office tabbed LSU centerfielder Mikie Mahtook, a potential above-average hitter with a solid glove to match. Mahtook doesn’t have the speed of a prototypical centerfielder, but with strong instincts and an accurate arm he could stay in center or likely be an above-average defender at a corner. The NCAA’s switch to new bats brought offense down considerably this year, and Mahtook’s ability to maintain his offense at a high level with the new bats contributed to him being a consensus first-rounder. The Rays had 8 picks in the sandwich round, of which I was most impressed by their second-to-last. Vanderbilt lefty Grayson Garvin, a mammoth 6’6” starter with a fastball that sits around 90 to go with a strong change and a big curve, could have huge upside for Tampa. Experts say Garvin still has some projectability and if he improves his conditioning could add a little more oomph to his fastball. Another win for Andrew Friedman and his always-impressive front office.
With the eighth pick, Cleveland took high school shortstop Francisco Lindor. Lindor had been considered a possibility to go as high as two to the Mariners, and he’s got a sweet glove that will certainly stick at short. He’s shown impressive strike zone discipline that only figures to improve as he ages, as well as a strong hit tool when he does swing the bat, suggesting he could be a future leadoff hitter. To top it off, he’s even got some pop, as he won the 2010 Aflac All-American Home Run Derby, and could produce double-digit homers at the big-league level as he ages. The real question for the Indians is their next pick, Dillon Howard. Howard is a prep righty who throws a low 90s fastball with a ton of movement and a curve and changeup that both should be weapons at the Major League level. He’s got strong command and is almost certainly a first-rounder based on talent alone. However, the draft isn’t just about talent. Howard slipped to the second day because of signability issues, which are certainly well-founded, as he’s being advised by Scott Boras. If the Indians can sign Howard for a reasonable price, this has to be considered a strong draft for Cleveland.
The Diamondbacks had two of the first seven picks, and their selections did not disappoint. With the third pick overall, the Snakes selected Trevor Bauer, who statistically was the best starter in the NCAA this year (and is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, along with Danny Hultzen and Taylor Jungmann). Bauer has drawn Tim Lincecum comparisons with his diminutive size and unorthodox delivery. However, the results are there, as is the stuff, and he could follow in his idol’s footsteps in taking the NL West by storm after tearing up the Pac-10. With the seventh pick, the Diamondbacks shocked the world by taking prep righty Archie Bradley out of Oklahoma. Bradley is projectable and has the stuff to be a future ace, and based on his talent it’s a great selection. However, the seventh pick is the D’Backs compensation pick after Barret Loux failed his physical last year, so if they don’t sign Bradley, they won’t be compensated next year. This gets interesting, as Bradley is a two-sport star committed to playing QB and pitching at football-crazy Oklahoma University next year. There’s no question that in Bauer and Bradley the D’Backs picked up two of the most exciting arms in the draft. The real issue is how much that college commitment is worth to Bradley, and how much the Diamondbacks will be forced to pay to buy him out of it. Bradley’s got as much leverage as a draftee can possibly have, and at an unprotected slot that’s a huge risk for the D’Backs to take. However, since they did select him, I have to assume they’re fairly confident they can get Bradley to sign on the dotted line, which would make Kevin Towers’ first draft as Arizona’s GM a rousing success. The Diamondbacks took two more interesting pitchers in the sandwich round, grabbing Kent State lefty Andrew Chafin and his plus fastball and devastating curve, then taking Coastal Carolina righty Anthony Meo, who could have a strong future as a potential closer. However, this draft will hinge on the signature of Bradley.
New York Mets
For the first time in years, the Mets drafted for upside, taking Wyoming prep outfielder Brandon Nimmo with the 13th pick. Nimmo’s high school didn’t have a baseball team, so he’s mostly been seen by scouts at showcases and private workouts, and the Mets obviously liked what they saw. Nimmo’s a lefty who can hit for power and makes solid contact, and has decent speed and a solid arm in the field. He won MVP honors at the Under Armour High School All-America game last summer, so despite coming out of relative obscurity, he was firmly on the radar of scouts throughout baseball. He’s reported to have high bonus demands, something that probably wouldn’t fly with Omar Minaya at the helm, considering that the Mets spent the fifth-least of any team in baseball on draft bonuses over the last three years. However, it’s a new regime, and Sandy Alderson and right-hand man Paul DePodesta appear to be willing to write a big check to get the guy they want. In the sandwich round, the Mets picked up prep righty Michael Fulmer, another solid player and a projectable pitcher with huge upside. Like Nimmo, Fulmer’s an Arkansas commit, and like Nimmo, I expect the Mets to pay what is necessary to convince Fulmer to start his professional career as soon as possible. The Mets balanced their two upside picks on day one by selecting a solid stable of college pitchers on day two, headlined by NC State’s Cory Mazzoni and Baylor’s Logan Verrett. Assuming they can ink Nimmo for a reasonable price, this marks a strong start to the rebuild of the Mets’ mediocre farm system.
As I’m sure you know, the Pirates took Gerrit Cole with the first pick in the draft. Cole’s a high-upside starter with a blazing fastball. He’s certainly got a chance to develop into an ace for Pittsburgh. I won’t say much more about him. What is interesting, however, were Pittsburgh’s first two picks on day two. With the first selection of the second round, the Bucs grabbed Josh Bell, who considered to have one of the best prep bats in the draft. Bell is a switch-hitter with power and contact ability from both sides of the plate and a strong defender at either corner outfield position. However, he fell because of exorbitant bonus demands, as he sent a letter to the Major League Scouting Bureau urging teams not to pick him because he would be honoring his commitment to the University of Texas. In most cases, this isn’t so much an “I’m not going to sign” as it is an “I might sign, but you’re going to need to give me a king’s ransom and possibly a small island in the south Pacific.” If the Pirates are willing to cough up enough to meet Bell and Boras’ demands, likely for top-10 money, Bell could be donning black and yellow despite his Texas commitment. In the third round, Pittsburgh took Indiana’s Alex Dickerson, a lumbering outfielder who will likely be a first baseman long-term. The tool of interest is his bat, as Dickerson’s shown ability to hit for contact as well as big power. In 2010, he won the Big 10 triple crown as a sophomore, so if his bat can translate, he could ride it to the majors. The big question for Pittsburgh is whether they can ink Bell… if they can, this will certainly be a draft to remember, especially if Cole fulfills his impressive potential.
New York Yankees
The Yankees didn’t pick until late in the sandwich round, at 51, and when they did, it wasn’t all that impressive. With his first pick, Brian Cashman tabbed Dante Bichette Jr., who will live up to the “Bronx Bombers” moniker by hitting for a ton of power, but probably will do little else. A third baseman, Bichette Jr.’s glove is unimpressive, and he almost certainly won’t put up the kind of on-base numbers his father did. Though Jr.’s pop is impressive, it wasn’t enough to land him in Baseball America or Keith Law’s top 100 draft prospects. For a team that has the money to bust slot to get game-changing talent, he doesn’t profile to be a difference-maker.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays had five day one picks, but their returns don’t seem to be particularly inspiring. With the 21st pick, Toronto took Tyler Beede, a Massachusetts prep righty with a refined delivery, which he uses to throw a low-90s fastball, a somewhat slurvy breaking pitch, and a decent changeup. His command is good, but the stuff is overshadowed by the other arms in this deep pitching class. He figures to be a tough sign, as he’s committed to Vanderbilt. I’d probably say he’s the least likely of the first rounders to sign, just ahead of Swihart, but the Jays spent a lot of money on the draft last year, so if they’re willing to do so again they could get Beede. I’m just not sure he’s worth it. The Jays got Dwight Smith, son of a former Cub by the same name, in the sandwich round. Smith is an advanced high school hitter who profiles as a corner outfielder, but doesn’t seem to have any particularly special tools. However, the Blue Jays did get a pickup on day two that could make this class look a whole lot better. Daniel Norris, generally considered the best prep lefty in the class, fell to Toronto at 74 because of major signability concerns. Norris commands his low-90s fastball well, and has a sharp curve that could be plus in the future as he learns to command it. He’s impressed scouts with his mound presence and makeup. If the Jays can add him to the organization despite his lofty price tag, he’s likely to be their best player in the class. In addition, the Jays picked up Texas A&M reliever John Stilson, who many considered to be a first round possibility until recently, when he tore his labrum and needed surgery. If he can return from his injury with his skills intact, Stilson could prove valuable as a third round selection.
Los Angeles Dodgers
With the Dodgers under MLB stewardship, the rumor is that they will be unable to break slot to sign their picks. It definitely showed, as they picked mostly players they’re sure they’ll be able to sign. This was exemplified by their first-rounder, Chris Reed, a lefty from Stanford who was the school’s closer this season. Though Reed’s fastball-slider combo is certainly solid, most teams would like to do better than a reliever with the 16th pick in a draft this deep.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants had a baffling day one, first taking Joe Panik, a shortstop from St. John’s who was seen almost universally as a second-day draftee, then picking Kyle Crick, a projectable high school righty from Texas. Panik barely made Keith Law’s top 100, squeaking in at 98, so it was quite a shock to hear his name called 29th. Law ranked Crick 68th, so his selection at 49 wasn’t as big a surprise, but there were almost certainly better arms on the board. However, their day two looked much better, as they took catcher Andrew Susac and first baseman Ricky Oropesa in the first two rounds of the day, and Susac’s batterymate Josh Osich in round six. Susac is a catcher from Oregon State who can flash some power at the plate and has at least a decent chance at making a career as a backstop. He’s also a local product, having grown up just outside Sacramento. Many thought the Giants would take a catcher with their first pick after Buster Posey’s injury, and although their day one picks were somewhat (to say the least) off the reservation, I was happy to see they didn’t make a knee-jerk reaction to their catcher of the future’s unfortunate situation. Oropesa is a corner infielder from USC with a huge bat, and although the lefty doesn’t have many other particularly impressive skills, he’s improved his contact ability enough that he’ll have a chance to ride his raw power to the big leagues. Take note, Yankees… this is late enough to take a flyer on a guy with power and not much else. In the sandwich round, you can do better. Osich is a southpaw starter at Oregon State, though many believe his future could be at the back end of the bullpen. He’s got a mid-90s fastball that could touch 97 if he’s used as a short reliever, and a solid changeup with sinking action. Osich threw a no-hitter against UCLA this season. He looked to be dealing with some sort of injury last time out, as he was pulled from his start against Georgia in the regional championship after only an inning and was throwing without the velocity and command Beaver fans are used to seeing. However, this is likely only a slight bump in Osich’s road, one that could land him in the big leagues fairly quickly if he is switched to a relief role.
Thanks for reading (I know this was a long one, but with over 1500 picks over the last three days, there’s a lot to digest). I wish these future professionals luck as they begin their pro careers, and look forward to following them on their respective roads to the big leagues.