The first round of the 2013 MLB draft is in the books and with one notable exception, it was actually a bit … boring. You know, outside of Harold Reynolds insisting Mark Appel would be in the majors by July and proclaiming that Moneyball was about drafting college pitchers.
Part of this was because of the composition of the draft: outside of the big three talents (college pitchers Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray and college third baseman Kris Bryant), the rest of the draft class was a bit weak near the top, or to be more gracious, on a notably lower tier of talent and potential. Many -- most, if recent trends hold -- of these guys will make the majors, but it's far more likely they'll see time as relievers, backup catchers, utilitymen or injury-replacement starters on bad teams than that they'll make the All-Star Game. Then again, that's something that can't be overstated enough: the professional baseball draft is nothing like the pro football, basketball, or hockey drafts. Even inside the first round, and even with teams getting smarter and smarter on whom to take, it'll take years for many of these players to reach the majors, and those that do may profile significantly differently than they did on draft day.
That said, there were two rather positive signs at the top of the draft for a pair of teams who have been roundly criticized recently for how they handle their organizational business: the Minnesota Twins and the Miami Marlins. In the week or two leading up to the draft, the rumors swirling around the Twins camp were that should none of the big three talents fall to them (and there was significant speculation at the time that the Houston Astros were going to try to repeat what they did last year and go for a pre-draft agreement with a lesser prospect at 1-1, in order to overslot a talented player later in the draft) the Twins would choose between high school pitcher Kohl Stewart and polished high school catcher Reese McGuire.
McGuire is a siren's song combination of intangibles, pitch-calling, and outstanding makeup -- the kid's been calling his own games behind the plate since he was 10 -- whose big problem is that even the scouts who love him aren't sure his bat will play well enough to get him into a big league lineup. Assuming he doesn't get badly hurt, he's a fairly safe bet to make the majors and stay there for a long time -- but more likely than not as a backup catcher. That sort of guy has real usefulness, and a lot more of it than teams will get out of 95% of the remainder of the draft, but is he really the sort of guy you take 1-4? Well, he is if you've reached a pre-draft deal with him and his "advisor" and you're looking to overslot some guys down the line.
However, the Twins made the riskier play with the higher upside, drafting Texas A&M quarterback commit Kohl Stewart with the fourth overall pick. This is important because while the Twins haven't necessarily shown an aversion to power arms the past year or two in the draft, when they have drafted them they've been college relievers who they intend to stretch out into starters. While the expected comps to Josh Beckett are, well, expected -- it's basically a rite of passage now for the top right-handed prep pitcher taken in the draft to get put up on a pedestal next to Beckett, especially if he's from Texas -- the Stewart pick could be the beginning of a commitment by the Twins to get back into high-upside prep school pitching as part of their draft program, which would necessarily lead to an increase in the power arms moving through that system. That's a step in the right direction for an organization whose strikeout numbers are terrifyingly low in the age of the K.
The Marlins remain, as always, an enigma. After selling their roster to Canada over the offseason, they've been aggressively promoting the top prospects in their system to the big leagues -- Jose Fernandez, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich before his recent strained abdominal muscle -- starting their service clocks in a wasted season when it would make more sense for a team dedicated to squeezing every last cent out of their entry-contract players to leave them in the minors and regroup for next year. Similarly, there was a chance that since the new revenue sharing rules made Marlins ownership's take a lot less lucrative than in previous years, they would continue cost-cutting in the draft -- if you were going to choose one pick in the top ten for someone completely out of left field (or the second round) to get selected, it'd be right here. Instead they took precisely whom an honest, Best Player Available approach would say they should take: North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran.
Now, Moran fits into the current Miami approach pretty well in that he's a polished, projectable bat that they can hurry to the majors next year if they like what they see from him between now and then; they're just probably going to actually have to pay him like the sixth overall pick in order to get him to sign, since he's a junior and can go right back to North Carolina for his senior year if he's significantly lowballed. If they're willing to pay him, though, everything's gravy here.
There was, of course, a head-scratcher taken in the first round -- just the one, though Phillip Bickford was also a bit of an overdraft at 10 because some organizations love fastball velocity to almost monomaniacal exclusion of everything else -- and his name is Hunter Dozier, a college shortstop out of Stephen F. Austin State University, Texas. Dozier isn't a nobody by any means, but he is a guy who is expected to quickly move off of shortstop to third base and whose bat isn't among the few elite college bats in the draft. Baseball America had him on their draft board at number 38, meaning they expected him to get taken somewhere in the supplemental and competitive balance rounds between the regular first and second rounds of the draft. Instead, the Royals took him eighth. They also pick 34th overall, and so unless they had some inside information saying another team valued him high enough to take him in the first round, he likely would have been available to them then.
It's an interesting move because the guy the Royals were supposedly in love with was the aforementioned Bickford, and even though Bickford's nothing but a live fastball, there was no way he was going to fall all the way down there. I'd love to tell Royals fans that there has to be something Moore knows about this kid that Baseball America, Keith Law, Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo and everybody else in the industry don't, but I think the results his farm system have put on the field so far would make the sentiment sound hollow.
The real reason he drafted Dozier so high was likely the same reason the Twins debated taking Reese McGuire (though in fairness, McGuire was actually seen as first-round talent, and went pretty much where he should have when the Pirates grabbed him at 14th overall): they wanted to sign someone else at that 34th overall pick over-slot. That "someone else" is Sean Manaea, a guy whose signability issues and recent revelation of a hip flexor injury sent his draft stock down the tubes. In the end it all worked out, though if even one other team had the same idea and swiped him first, the Royals would have been stuck holding the bag. This is the problem with the "punt the high pick, go overslot later" strategy: once you get down there, sometimes the talent's already gone.
The only other notable head-scratcher in the first round was a guy who wasn't taken: Ryne Stanek, the righthander out of Arkansas, mysteriously plummeted down draft boards, passing by a number of organizations -- Cardinals, Athletics, Tigers and Giants -- all that should have loved the opportunity to secure his services. Instead, Stanek fell into the supplemental round, taken at 29th overall by the Tampa Bay Rays. Why? Rumors are already swirling of an elbow injury on his throwing arm, but regardless the exact nature of the problem, when so many organizations with good pitching reputations pass on you and the Rays grab you with their second, not first, pick of the draft, something bad's going on, and it's probably related to your health. It's a pity, too; he could have gone top three last year, had he not been too young for the draft by mere days.
On the whole, however, it was a dull, professional night -- if you're tuning into these things expecting the level of bombast that the NFL brings to the table, well, sorry, wrong sport -- and when baseball teams are doing their due diligence and making smart decisions, that's exactly what the first round of the baseball draft should be.