When the most recent agreement was collectively bargained, it changed the landscape of the First-Year Player Draft dramatically. There were many changes to the Draft system, and a variety of opinions about said changes. One thing that scouting and player-development departments universally praised was the move of the Draft signing deadline from August to July.
More than anything, the calendar change afforded all draftees the opportunity to go out and play. In the past, only those who signed early -- and they were few and far between -- got some professional at-bats or innings under their belts before the end of the season. Now, even a player who waits until the last minute before the signing deadline will have six weeks to get his feet wet.
As a result, members of the 2013 Draft class have already been able to pick up a good amount of valuable professional experience as the Minor League season reaches its final few weeks.
A successful summer debut, of course, goes well beyond the numbers that a new professional puts up. Being able to produce right out of the chute certainly is nice, but that isn't the only thing team executives are looking for when evaluating how their newest acquisitions are doing.
"For us, the first short season is about acclimation to pro ball and the routine," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said, "and [us] getting to know the players well enough to have a head start on placing them at the right spot for next year."
Some of those who have performed well include those who were expected to do well, especially the first-rounders. Luhnow's Astros had the No. 1 overall pick in June and while Mark Appel has been used cautiously, he's advanced a level and handled the spotlight of being No. 1 with aplomb, posting a 2.55 ERA and .221 batting average against over 24 2/3 innings. He's one of many Astros draftees who have started their careers with some success.
"Our drafted players are doing quite well, as evidenced by our win-loss records at Greeneville and Tri-City, as well as Quad Cities," Luhnow said. "We've moved [fifth-rounder Tony] Kemp up to A ball and he's doing well so far. Appel has done well at two levels. [Second-rounder Andrew] Thurman is pitching well in the New York-Penn League. We are being cautious with our college pitchers, especially if they threw career-high innings this year."
Appel isn't the only first-round pitcher to throw well this summer. Cardinals first-rounder Rob Kaminsky, a high school lefty out of New Jersey, hasn't allowed an earned run in 11 innings, striking out 15. Kohl Stewart of the Twins (12 innings, two earned runs, 11 strikeouts) and the Orioles' Hunter Harvey (10 innings, two earned runs, 12 strikeouts) are two other prepsters from the opening round who have impressed as well.
Joining Appel from among the first-round collegians are the Braves' Jason Hursh (22 innings, two earned runs), Dodgers right-hander Chris Anderson (31 innings, 2.03 ERA, 34 strikeouts) and the Rockies' Jonathan Gray (23 1/3 innings, 2.70 ERA, 29 strikeouts).
No first-round hitter has done better than Phillip Ervin of the Reds. The outfielder out of Samford University began in the Pioneer League, has since been moved to the full-season Midwest League, and has absolutely raked in both circuits. His .989 OPS (along with his .331 average, nine homers and 14 steals) leads all first-rounders. Mariners first-rounder D.J. Peterson leads hitters from the first round with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs while Tim Anderson of the White Sox tops the group in steals with 16.
College relievers are watched closely coming out of the Draft because, typically, they are the ones who get to the big leagues the fastest. In 2012, for instance, Paco Rodriguez, was the first draftee to reach the big leagues when the second-rounder was called up that summer by the Dodgers. This year, Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen, the 38th overall pick taken as a two-way player, has reached the Class A Advanced California League and allowed just one unearned run in 14 innings across three levels. Corey Knebel was taken one spot later, by the Tigers, and the former University of Texas closer is already saving games in the Midwest League, racking up 11 of them to go with a 0.86 ERA. Colby Suggs, the Marlins' Competitive Balance Round B pick, has gone from closing games for the University of Arkansas all the way up to the Class A Advanced Florida State League.
"Ervin, Lorenzen and [Ben] Lively are doing really well, just to name a few," Reds scouting director Chris Buckley said. "You're always happy when they do well. Then they go to Instructional League feeling confident."
That confidence boost isn't just for the early-round picks, of course. Not every draftee who has been successful had first-round expectations. There have been plenty of late-round selections who have gotten off to outstanding starts as well. According to MLBfarm.com, Ervin's .989 OPS is sixth among draftees. Michael Fish (32nd round, Angels), Ryan Huck (27th, A's), Jacob Morris (24th, White Sox), Michael Ratterree (10th, Brewers) and Cal Towey (17th, Angels) comprise the top five, though it should be noted that all are former college players performing in short-season leagues.
There are equally impressive late-round pitching performances. Emilio Pagan, the Mariners' 10th-round pick, hasn't allowed a run over 19 1/3 innings, striking out 27 in the Pioneer League. The Astros took J.D. Osborne in the 36th round and the hard-throwing near-sidearmer has averaged 15 strikeouts per nine innings.
A team's Draft can't be truly evaluated until several years later. The objective is to find and develop big leaguers and no rings are handed out for which teams' draftees performed the best in their opening summer. But it's still fun to look to see who has the early lead.
The Giants, Rockies, Angels, Royals and Reds lead all 2013 draftee hitters in combined OPS. The Pirates, Orioles, Giants, Cardinals and Red Sox boast the top five Draft-team ERAs. In a few years we'll see if that was any indication.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter.