Surprise picks help early rounds of Draft play out
Ten rounds are in the books. As baseball breaks to prepare for rounds 11-40 of the First-Year Player Draft -- beginning Saturday at 1 p.m. ET -- information is starting to come in about why Day 1 went down the way it did, why some teams made the decisions they did on top, what caused certain players to slide and what the scouting industry has to say how the Draft has progressed thus far.
Most conversations about how the top of the first round unfolded started with some variation of, "We needed to find out what Houston was going to do." Once teams learned Mark Appel was going to go No. 1 overall, a great filter-down effect transpired.
It started with the Chicago Cubs at No. 2. All the buzz was that the Cubs wanted pitching with their first selection and that was true, to a point. Word on the street is that the Cubs would have faced a very difficult decision had the Astros taken anyone else with the first overall selection. They had Mark Appel and Kris Bryant side-by-side on their board. But when the Astros took Appel in the top spot, it made the decision for Chicago. They wanted pitching, but with the arm they wanted off the board, they felt they couldn't pass on what could be a very special bat, one they valued over Jonathan Gray.
That made Colorado's decision even easier at No. 3. The Rockies had been associated with Bryant in the weeks leading up to the Draft, but that may have only been because most felt Appel and Gray would go 1-2. Once they found out Appel was going first, they knew Bryant could very well go second, giving them the Oklahoma right-hander they truly coveted, but didn't know would get there until the last minute.
The next change from what most expected came at No. 5 courtesy of the Cleveland Indians. Much like the Rockies were linked with Bryant, the Indians were associated with Colin Moran. The prevailing thought was that the only thing that would keep Cleveland from taking the North Carolina third baseman was if he went No. 1 overall to Houston. But the Indians kept the top high school outfielders in play all along.
The Indians' Draft room debated Moran, Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier all week. Cleveland is typically considered a college-heavy drafting team, especially up top. Taking a college player in the first round in nine of the past 10 Drafts will do that. But they did take Francisco Lindor in 2011, and they went in that direction again this year when they took a bold step. It was a very close call, right until the last minute, when they decided on Loganville (Ga.) outfielder Frazier.
The decision undoubtedly excited the Miami Marlins. Moran was the top guy on their list all along, except they didn't think they'd get the chance to take him. He was No. 4 on the Marlins' board, behind the top 3. They were fairly confident that Moran would get to five if he didn't go No. 1, and that gave them a chance.
Then they started hearing the Indians were strongly considering a high school outfielder, though that news came fairly late. Much like with Chicago at No. 2, the decision was made for the Marlins by what happened directly above them. The Indians' decision to go with Frazier allowed the Marlins to avoid a spirited Meadows vs. Braden Shipley debate. There were good arguments for both players, but Miami likely would have gone with the high-ceiling outfielder instead of the college right-hander if it came down to the pair.
Shipley slid to No. 15, but not because of anything particularly wrong with the Nevada ace. None of the teams from the Marlins down to the D-backs took a college pitcher. The only other possible home, it seemed, may have been at No. 8, where it once seemed the Royals wanted an arm, but instead took college shortstop Hunter Dozier. The D-backs, for their part, didn't think it was a real possibility until he got past Toronto at No. 10, the last spot a pitcher of any sort went -- Oaks Christian (Calif.) right-hander Phillip Bickford.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, then, may want to send the Indians a thank-you note. When the Tribe took Frazier, it meant the Marlins passed on Meadows. The Georgia outfielder was in play for the Red Sox and Royals, but they had other ideas in mind, allowing Pittsburgh to take the young left-handed bat they had targeted as the guy they wanted at No. 9. They were pleasantly surprised when the other high school bat they considered at that spot, catcher Reese McGuire, was there for them to take at No. 14.
That 1-2 punch for the Pirates is a big reason why many felt they did very well in the early going, especially at the very top. Adding a projectable left-hander in Blake Taylor in the second round, then a toolsy JaCoby Jones to kick of Day 2 certainly helped continue the trend.
Teams with extra picks will always get a little perception bump, but it is also what teams do with the extra picks that makes scouts take notice. The Marlins did a nice job finding the mix of a safe college bat, a high-upside high school arm in Matt Krook -- many felt he was a first-round talent -- then a college starter with good stuff in Trevor Williams and a college closer in Colby Suggs, who could pitch in the big leagues before the season is over. Then the Marlins went back to what they tend to be known for -- high-ceiling high school talent -- on Day 2.
The Rockies, beyond Gray at No. 3, were able to add some arm strength to a system that needs pitching, along with intriguing high school talent, like Ryan McMahon, Dom Nunez and Terry McClure. The Rays got some kudos for jumping on Ryne Stanek, who slid because of some concerns about his medical report, and then getting back to what they've done well in the past, getting high-ceiling high school players.
Other teams noted for strong starts were the Cubs, Tigers, A's, Cardinals, Phillies and Brewers. Milwaukee gets credit because it didn't have a first-round pick, but in taking Devin Williams with their first pick in the second round, they gambled with a high-ceiling projectable high school arm. If it all clicks, he could be as good as many first-rounders who went above him. Some liked the Angels for the same reason. They took projectable left-hander Hunter Green with their first selection, No. 59 overall.
But proving that evaluating a Draft is subjective, some didn't like the Angels' Draft, because Green's medical history troubled some and most of their Day 2 picks came from small or remote college programs. Other Drafts that some questioned include the Royals (some didn't get the Dozier-Sean Manaea plan) and Giants (some surprise picks up top).
That, of course, is what makes the world go round. Undoubtedly, some of the good Drafts won't turn out as well, and some of the questionable ones will be winners. And don't forget, there's still 30 rounds to go.