By Chris Crawford
The 2013 MLB Draft is Thursday evening, and there are several intriguing subplots that will make it a must-watch event for baseball fans.
I might be overselling it.
The class in itself is not one of the stronger ones we've seen over the past decade, thanks in large part to most of the upper-echelon high school players forgoing college for the professional ranks. There's some quality at the top with hard throwers like Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray and Kohl Stewart, and a glut of third baseman that all deserve to go in the first round, but there's very little depth anywhere else, particularly at shortstop and in the outfield.
There are several storylines that will shape the draft for this and the next several years, but here's a few that stand out for 2013:
The CBA Effect: The new Collective Bargaining Agreement brought about major changes to the draft, and appeared to change several teams' draft strategy. Instead of suggested slot values, teams are now allocated funds to spend over the first ten rounds, and exceeding said funds results in the loss of draft picks. We saw a plethora of teams have their classes changed by the new rules, particularly those without early picks. How teams take advantage -- or struggle -- with the allocated funds for the second time is one of the bigger stories of this year's draft.
What will Houston do? For the second year in a row, Houston will have the first pick, and once again it appears that there are several options on the table. Last year the Astros selected Carlos Correa with the first pick and signed him for $2 million dollars under slot, which allowed them to have one of the better quality-and-quantity drafts of the year. Houston has been attached at different times to Appel, Gray, Kris Bryant, Colin Moran and more, and we won't likely know who the pick will be until Bud Selig reveals it Thursday evening.
Where will the southpaws go? While there may not be a single left-handed college starter taken in the first round (more on that later), there's a ton of depth in that regard in the high school ranks, without much of a general consensus of where they belong. Trey Ball (New Castle High School, Ind.) is considered by most to be the best, but Ian Clarkin (Madison High School, Calif.), Matt Krook (St. Ignatius High School, Calif.), Jacob Brentz (Parkway South High School, Mo.) and several others could all go in the first round.
Multiple Picks: The Pirates, Cardinals, Rays, Rangers and Yankees all have multiple picks in the first round, and all will have a dilemma of how to attack those picks within the new rules. Generally teams with two or more picks in the first round tend to take a "safety" pick at some point, but players those teams have supposedly been looking at -- particularly the Yankees -- have been anything but safety picks. Taking above-slot players with those picks could force them to go cheap in the later rounds, and could have a major effect on the rest of the draft.
In addition to these storylines, there are several players with intriguing backstories who deserve attention. Here are ten of the more interesting cases, in alphabetical order.
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Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford: Appel turned down $3.8 million dollars last year after the Pirates took him with the eighth pick, choosing to return to Stanford to get his degree and improve his draft stock.
It was a massive risk, but it appears to have been the right decision. Appel has performed very well for the Cardinal, posting a 2.56 ERA while striking out 130 batters in 123 innings this season. His fastball command has improved considerably (sitting in the 94-96 mph range), and he has the best changeup of any pitcher in this year's class. The general consensus is that Appel is one of the top two players available come June, and most of the scouts I've talked to believe that he is deserved of the top pick of the 2013 draft.
What really stands out about Appel, though, is just how close he is to being able to compete for a spot in a major-league rotation. Because his command has improved so much -- and thanks to well above-average secondary offerings -- many scouts that I've talked to believe that he could be an average starter for a club right now. I would expect whatever club lands his services to hold off until 2014, but the fact that he could compete for a spot in the rotation next year makes Appel's story very intriguing.
Kris Bryant, 3B-OF, San Diego: In a draft class short on power, Bryant has it in spades, hitting 31 homeruns and slugging .820 for the Toreros. The Golden Spikes finalist isn't just a power hitter, however, as he led all of college baseball in walks with 66 and posted a .493 on-base percentage as well. There's very little doubt that Bryant represents the best offensive upside of any collegiate player in this year's class.
Where exactly he will play on the diamond, however, is a bit more controversial. Bryant has played both third and right for San Diego this year, and opinions whether he can man the hot corner long-term are mixed. Bryant has the arm strength and hands to stay on the infield, but may not have the range and instincts to be there for long. The bat will be there no matter what position he ends up at, but if he can stay at third, we may be looking at a special player.
Clint Frazier, OF, Loganville High School (Ga.): Frazier has had a sensational senior season for Loganville, hitting 17 homeruns and putting up a mind-boggling line of .485/.561/1.114 for the year. He has the best bat speed of any prep player I've ever seen, and one scouting director told me that Frazier had just one rival: Gary Sheffield.
While his bat speed may be the second thing you notice about Frazier, the first thing many notice is a kid who doesn't look anything like a potential top ten pick. He stands 6-foot-1 (on a good day), weighs no more than 190 pounds and has average speed and a below-average throwing arm. Most talent evaluators that I talk to think Frazier has no chance to play center field, and his arm likely means right field is a long shot as well. You don't see a ton of projected left fielders taken in the first ten picks of a draft, but we might see just that on Thursday in Clint Frazier.
Aaron Judge, OF, Fresno State: When you take Appel deep twice in your sophomore year, you're going to get noticed, and that's exactly what Judge did last spring. The Fresno State centerfielder has had solid if not spectacular results over his 2013 campaign, hitting .369/.461/.655 with 12 homers and 12 stolen bases.
What stands out to (and concerns) some scouts, though, is his massive size. Standing at 6-foot-7 and weighing 260 pounds, Judge would be the tallest outfielder to play in the major leagues since Frank "Home Run" Howard retired in 1973. He'll have to move to right field at the next level, and when you're built like a power forward, teams are always going to have concerns about whether or not you're going to be able to stay in the outfield. That being said, Judge's sheer raw power will be intriguing to several teams near the back of the first round.
Sean Manaea, LHP, Indiana State: Manaea burst onto the scene with a spectacular showing in the Cape Cod League last summer, regularly hitting 96 with his fastball and showing a wipeout slider that would give left- and right-handed hitters fits in the box. After his big summer, many believed that the Sycamores southpaw was on his way to becoming the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The results, unfortunately, haven't been nearly as good this spring. Manaea has missed time with a hip injury and tightness in his shoulder, and his velocity and secondary offerings have both been inconsistent at best. Add in the fact that he's represented by the Boras Corp. (who have already said that he won't be signing at a discounted rate), and you get one muddled situation. A team that takes a chance on him in the second round could be getting an ace, albeit a volatile one.
Reese McGuire, C, Kentwood High School (Wash.): Players with 45 hit-tools (on the 20-80 scouting scale) don't generally get top ten buzz, but that's exactly what McGuire has gotten thanks to his defense behind the plate. He regularly has pop times -- the amount of time between when the catcher receives the pitch to when the ball reaches the second baseman -- in the 1.7 range. Some scouts that I've talked to believe he's the best defensive catcher they've seen, and if he can hit enough to justify playing every day he could be an All Star.
Jordan Paroubeck, OF, Serra High School (Calif.): It isn't uncommon to see players receive private lessons, but it's a bit less common when they're being given by one of the best hitters to ever play.
Paraoubeck trained with Barry Bonds, who attended the same high school and is a family friend, during the spring. Paraoubeck's a switch hitter with power projection from both sides of the plate, and is one of the more athletic outfielders in the class. If he ends up half the player his mentor was, a team will be very fortunate to acquire his services.
Hunter Renfroe, OF, Mississippi State: The SEC has been the best baseball conference for quite some time, so when a player dominates it like Hunter Renfroe did, it bears noticing. Renfroe posted an OPS of 1.092 on the year, hitting 15 homers and also stealing nine bases. Scouts rave about his raw power, and he has one of the strongest arms in the draft.
Scouts do have questions about Renfroe, however, mainly because of his lack of pedigree. The Bulldog right fielder barely played his freshman year, and struggled mightily in his sophomore season. He also didn't participate in the Cape Cod League this summer and instead played in the far inferior Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. The tools and numbers are impressive, but why those tools didn't translate for two years is a conundrum that could see him slide on draft day.
Kohl Stewart, RHP, St. Pius X High School (Tex.): Texas has a long history of producing hard-throwing right-handed starters, and Stewart appears to be cut from the same cloth, with a fastball that is consistently clocked in the low-to-mid 90s and maybe the best slider of any pitcher this year, prep or college. Stewart also features a solid curveball and an improving changeup, giving him four above-average pitches and a chance to be an ace at the next level.
However, there is an obstacle standing in the way of reaching said next level, and it goes by the name of college football. Stewart is currently committed to play quarterback at Texas A&M, and the opportunity to replace Johnny Manziel in 2014 could be difficult to pass up. The feeling around baseball is that Stewart will end up signing (he accepted an invitation to attend the draft on Thursday), but the fallback option of College Station could make things very interesting up until the signing deadline.
Garrett Williams, LHP, Calvary Baptist High School (La.): There haven't been a lot of Little League World Series stars who have had successful major league careers recently -- Sean Burroughs, anyone? -- but Williams could break that trend. The left-hander gained notoriety when he struck out the first 17 batters he faced in the LLWS (he was forced to leave because of pitch count rules) pitching for Lubbock, Texas, and now has a 90-93 mph fastball and a very good breaking ball. Williams also recently had surgery caused by thoracic outlet syndrome, which could be a concern to clubs. I'd still expect him to come off the board in the first three rounds and become a solid middle-rotation starter for someone for several years.
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