Kids, comebacks, Kumar and all the top moments from Day 1 of Draft

July 18th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- If the 2022 MLB Draft’s first round made you feel old, rest assured you weren’t alone.

Looking solely at some of the last names, one might mistake Sunday’s pick proceedings for a redraft from an earlier -- but not all that distant -- era. Matt Holliday’s son Jackson went No. 1 overall to the Orioles. Andruw Jones’ son Druw went No. 2 to the D-backs. Carl Crawford’s son Justin went No. 17 to the Phillies. Lou Collier’s son Cam went No. 18 to the Reds. Not long ago, these dads were at All-Star Week because, well, they were All-Stars. Now, whether attending the Draft in person at L.A. Live like the Crawfords or watching from afar like the Hollidays and Joneses, these famous fathers are spending this All-Star Week celebrating the next generation.

“I’m still kind of young,” Carl Crawford, 40, said with a smile. “So it’s like, man, we just get to watch it all over again.”

Sixteen years after their dads were on the 2006 National League All-Star roster, Jackson Holliday and Druw Jones became the first MLB sons to go 1-2 overall in the Draft. While there were, as usual, athletic legacies aplenty on Day 1, that fun fact really made it clear that, sometimes in MLB, the sons also rise. Not only was this the first time that sons of former Major Leaguers went with the top two picks, it was also the first time that the first round featured four kids of big leaguers (Holliday, Jones, Crawford and Collier).

But of course, the first night of the first MLB Draft event to be held outdoors did not revolve entirely around MLB kids. Here are eight other storylines from the downtown L.A. event.

1. We Will Rock You

With the Orioles still seriously considering five different players at No. 1 in the final days leading up to the Draft, it was a given that the top of the first round would feature some surprises. But Kumar Rocker going at No. 3 overall to the Rangers was a true shocker.

Rocker had famously been taken by the Mets at No. 10 overall a year ago, only for talks to break down over injury concerns. He had a shoulder scope last fall and then pitched 20 innings over five starts for the Tri-City ValleyCats of the independent Frontier League this year and posted a 1.35 ERA with an 8.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. With Rocker’s fastball hitting 99 mph and his slider moving well, he was destined to get selected in the first round again. But most mocks had him going in the middle of the round, at the highest.

Instead, the Rangers made him the first pitcher taken in this Draft, despite the medical history.

“We’re extremely comfortable with the medical review that our medical team has done,” Rangers general manager Chris Young told reporters. “We're very comfortable with the medical review and that's why we drafted him.”

Texas must've been comfortable with that medical review, because within hours of making the pick, the Rangers and Rocker were in agreement on a contract with a $5.2 million bonus, a source told MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis.

In grabbing Rocker early, the Rangers reunite him with his Vanderbilt teammate Jack Leiter, who went No. 2 overall a year ago. At times early in 2021, there was healthy debate as to whether Leiter or Rocker would go No. 1 overall. Now, Texas has both pitchers and is putting a clear organizational emphasis on power starting pitching.

2. A historic top group

For the first time in the history of the Draft, four of the first six players selected were Black.

They came from high school and from college, three hitters and a pitcher, but starting with Jones at No. 2 there was a historic run. He was followed by Rocker at No. 3 to Texas, Termarr Johnson at No. 4 to Pittsburgh and Elijah Green at No. 5 to the Nationals. 

All four of them participated in MLB Develops programs, including the DREAM Series, a diversity-focused development program offered in part by MLB & USA Baseball. 

"It's a pipeline, for sure," Johnson said. "It's just amazing that we just get to have those guys together, get to support them, get to cheer them on and just love each other. It's special."

3. Bounceback bids

Rocker’s prominent selection was part of an overall trend in which teams did not shy away from players with recent injury issues.

Right-hander Cade Horton, selected out of Oklahoma by the Cubs at No. 7 overall, missed all of 2021 following Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery but was spectacular in the college postseason. Brooks Lee, a shortstop from Cal Poly taken by the Twins at No. 8, missed most of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season following gruesome hamstring and knee injuries, but rebounded to cement himself as one of the top college bats in this Draft class. James Madison outfielder Chase DeLauter, taken by the Guardians at No. 16, missed several weeks this season with a broken right foot. The D-backs used their Competitive Balance Round A pick (No. 34 overall) on Mississippi State right-hander Landon Sims, who converted from closing to starting this season only to blow out his elbow at the beginning of the year.

Several of the top-rated pitchers coming into the year went later than expected. Connor Prielipp (No. 48, Twins), Blade Tidwell (No. 52, Mets) and Peyton Pallette (No. 62, White Sox) were all selected in the second round following injuries that likely knocked them out of the first.

Two of the biggest gambles were taken by the Padres at No. 15 (prep right-hander Dylan Lesko) and the Giants at No. 30 (UConn two-way player Reggie Crawford). Lesko at one time looked like a lock to be the first pitcher selected in this Draft but had Tommy John in April. Crawford missed all of 2022 after having Tommy John last fall.

4. Ohtani 2.0?

While a number of players taken in the first round have dabbled in both pitching and position player duties, Crawford was the only one officially selected for both roles. He’s a left-handed pitcher with a fastball that had been clocked in triple digits prior to the surgery and a first baseman with big power.

Interestingly, just last week, the 21-year-old Crawford announced that he was transferring from UConn to Tennessee. Now, the Giants will try to sign him away from the Vols and let him try to develop a skillset mastered by a certain member of the Angels who was voted into the All-Star Game as both a DH and a pitcher for the second straight year.

5. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

As is always the case in this Draft, mocks are made to be broken. Rocker and Crawford were two of many first-rounders who dramatically outperformed their ranking on MLB Pipeline’s Top 250 list.

Among them: Gonzaga right-hander Gabriel Hughes – the first fully healthy pitcher to come off the board – was ranked 26th but wound up going in the top 10, at No. 10 overall to the Rockies. Illinois high school right-hander Owen Murphy was ranked 48th but went to the Braves at No. 20. California high school shortstop Mikey Romero was ranked 65th and went 24th to the Red Sox. Vanderbilt outfielder Spencer Jones was ranked 51st and went 25th to the Yankees. Illinois high school left-hander Noah Schultz was ranked 49th and went 26th to the White Sox. Coastal Carolina shortstop Eric Brown Jr. was ranked 63rd and went 27th to the Brewers. And North Carolina high school first baseman Xavier Isaac was ranked 113th and went 29th to the Rays.

That run of picks in the 20s, in particular, was a reminder that as homogenous as some elements of player evaluation and development have become in the analytical age, teams still bring their own tastes and preferences to the Draft equation. And maybe they know something that well-meaning prospect prognosticators do not.

6. Confident kids

Former All-Star catcher Mike Lieberthal represented the Phillies at this Draft and made an observation during a between-picks interview on the in-house monitors that, when he was taken at No. 3 overall by the Phils in 1990, freshly picked prospects tended to be on the shy and nervous side.

“I feel like kids now have way more confidence,” Lieberthal observed.

That was evident early in this Draft when Mays (Ga.) High School shortstop Termarr Johnson, who attended the Draft with about 20 friends and family members, was taken at No. 4 overall by the Pirates and was interviewed by MLB Network’s Lauren Gardner. Asked what the Pirates are getting in him, Johnson didn’t hesitate.

“They’re getting the best player in the Draft,” Johnson said.

Later, American Heritage High School (Fla.) left-hander Brandon Barriera went No. 23 overall to the Blue Jays and, amid tears of joy on MLB Network, threw some shade at those who had passed him by.

“Looking at those 22 teams before me, they’re going to regret this,” Barriera said. “I’m going to become the best pitcher in MLB.”

7. For Uvalde

The Uvalde, Texas, community is still reeling from the Robb Elementary School shooting that killed 19 students and two teachers while wounding 17 others in May. Two members of that community were given a special assignment in this Draft as a show of support.

Softball player Willa Suarez and baseball player Ryan Zamora of the Uvalde Little League took to the podium to announce the Houston Astros’ first-round selection (Tennessee outfielder Drew Gilbert at No. 28) and were given a standing ovation from the assembled crowd.

8. The Hollywood treatment

Last year’s Draft in Denver was the first one to be attached to the All-Star festivities and to feature fans in the crowd. This L.A. event took things to another, louder level.

It was held in the middle of L.A. Live, the massive entertainment complex that houses Arena (home of the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers), the Grammy Museum, hotels, restaurants and other attractions. The nine amateur players and 17 former All-Stars on-hand as team Draft representatives sat on white couches in front of the big stage, with invited fans and families in an additional seating section. In the time between picks, the in-house speaker system blared songs reflective of the team or town on the clock. Surprise picks were met with “oohs” and “aahs,” the Astros were (of course) initially booed by the Dodgers faithful (only to be cheered as part of the Uvalde tribute) and, as was the case last year, the Draft had a lot more life than it did back when it was merely an in-studio show or, prior to that, an industry conference call.

And when the hometown team finally picked at No. 40? A loud “Let’s Go Dodgers” chant rang out through downtown.

When a player in attendance was drafted, he shook hands with Commissioner Rob Manfred at the podium, did a live interview with MLB Network, then was ushered to a red carpet for interviews with reporters.

“I wanted to get that experience,” Johnson said. “I came out last year actually and saw [Pirates pick] Henry Davis and [Twins pick] Chase Petty and those other guys. I wanted to be a part of that. I’m glad that I’m out here.”