The draft is here! Hooray draft. The 2014 First-Year Player Draft, as it is formally known, is the culmination of years of work in the amateur scouting departments of 30 MLB clubs.
But this is not the NFL draft. It is not the NBA draft, or the NHL draft. With perhaps one or two exceptions, you will not be seeing these players in the major leagues this season. With perhaps three or four exceptions, you will not be seeing these players in the major leagues next season, at least not before September. The majority of these guys -- even the hyped-up, A+ talent, can't miss guys; even the advanced, relatively low-ceiling college guys -- project to start showing up on major league rosters at some point in 2016 or later. So it's absolutely insane to slap down letter grades next to each pick less than 24 hours later, even if what we're evaluating isn't end result but projected potential, and the process that the team is using when it decides who to draft.
Given that the draft is in many respects a strategy game (now that each draft pick has a monetary value attached to it), what I will use is... chess notation. In chess, a scorer has the option of annotating a recorded move (e.g., Nf3, or knight to the f3 space using an A-H, 1-8 grid notation system) with one of six marks: ?? (Blunder), ? (Mistake), ?! (Dubious Move), !? (Interesting Move), ! (Good Move), or !! (Brilliant Move). A move that warrants none of these goes unmarked, as it will here. This is to underscore that what we're grading here is the process -- the strategy -- and not the end result, which is of course the player in two-to-three years' time, and something we cannot talk about with any reasonable degree of certainty in June 2014.
So without further ado, and with compensation picks for departed free agents or unsigned 2013 draftees preceded by an asterisk, here is your 2014 first round (followed by notes from the second and supplemental rounds).
1: Houston Astros select LHP Brady Aiken
Pretty much everyone had Aiken mocked here, and for good reason. He's probably the best pitching prospect hands-down in the draft based on his upside, and he becomes the first high school pitcher to go first overall since 1991. Hopefully he'll have more success than Brien Taylor did.
2: Miami Marlins select RHP Tyler Kolek !
A whole lot of mock drafts got upset early with this one. Despite Kolek being a physical freak -- he has defensive end size and throws over 100 mph, which is why lots of people struggle to come up with even halfway decent comps for him -- the expectation was for him to fall a little bit based on concern that his velocity might have a higher risk of arm injury attached. Additionally, one of the biggest rumors around the industry pre-draft was that team owner Jeffrey Loria was going to mandate the selection of NC State righthander Carlos Rodon, which would have been a fine choice in its own right, but Rodon's stock also slipped a little bit recently. If not for injury worries, this is precisely where you'd expect a dominant prep pitcher like Kolek to go, and all the better if it means the baseball ops people are actually in control down there in Miami.
3: Chicago White Sox select RHP Carlos Rodon !
The White Sox were one of the first teams people suspected would go cheap at the top of the draft in order to save bonus money for later draft picks in the back end of the draft. Many had the Sox taking Michael Conforto here, for instance, and cutting a deal with him below slot value. Instead, the White Sox drafted Rodon, an advanced college pitcher who had a fantastic year in 2013 and a strong finish in 2014. Rodon should progress relatively quickly through the minors, which fits with the White Sox' recent trades for ready or near-ready prospects and the signing of Jose Abreu.
4: Chicago Cubs select C/OF Kyle Schwarber ?
Just about everyone knew that if Rodon was off the board, the Cubs were going to go cheap with the 4th overall pick to save money for later, but most thought that guy would be SS Nick Gordon, C Max Pentecost, or the aforementioned Conforto if he made it past the White Sox. Instead they took Schwarber, who is a legit first-round talent but doesn't have the upside of any of those guys, while also projecting as a future outfielder instead of a catcher. The Cubs probably saved a lot of money here, at least, and they didn't leave one of the big three pitchers on the board, as they were already gone.
5: Minnesota Twins select SS Nick Gordon
The Twins capitalized on the Cubs' strategy here and take Dee Gordon's brother and Tom Gordon's son. Gordon won't immediately become the best Twins prospect (though with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano's injuries, it's closer than it might appear) nor will he be the best shortstop prospect in baseball, but he's a solid pick here given that Aiken/Kolek/Rodon were gone.
6: Seattle Mariners select OF Alex Jackson
This is probably the pick the Cubs would have made if they were going best player available instead of spreading their bonus pool around the rest of the draft. Not a hugely surprising choice here, but given the recent turmoil in the Seattle front office -- and all the recent losing -- I didn't entirely trust them not to draft another Mike Zunino-like player who could be rushed to the majors in a season and a half. The way this pick was announced -- "outfielder Alex Jackson" -- indicates the Mariners have no question about where Jackson's future is defensively, after spending part of his high school time behind the plate.
7: Philadelphia Phillies select RHP Aaron Nola !
Good pick for Philadelphia at this spot for a guy who saw his stock shoot up over this year as he dominated the SEC. Nola makes a lot of sense specifically for Philadelphia, too -- they can't blow their MLB roster up entirely and probably wouldn't even if they could, so a guy who already looks like he can be fast-tracked to the majors could help them a lot.
8: Colorado Rockies select LHP Kyle Freeland
Freeland shot up a lot of draft boards late in the process, including Colorado's, as we see here. Aiken, Kolek and Rodon going 1-2-3 probably moved guys like Nola and Freeland a spot or two higher than they would have gone, but this is still about right for him. Besides, given their unique environmental situation at Coors Field, it's almost always going to make sense for the Rockies to reach very slightly on a pitcher who won't be there next time they're on the clock -- especially when that pitcher is a Colorado native who went to high school in Denver.
9: Toronto Blue Jays select RHP Jeff Hoffman
Hoffman, who would have been in the same tier as the top three picks of the draft, will not play for the Jays this year; his season for Eastern Carolina was ended by an elbow injury which required Tommy John surgery, explaining why he's still on the board for the Jays here. He goes 9th and not 11th for the Jays because he saves them more money there when he signs below slot, making him a smart pick for a team that'll pick two times in the top half of the first round, especially with only one draft pick between them.
10: New York Mets select OF Michael Conforto
The Mets are another team that's going cheap in the draft, as much due to financial issues among ownership as trying to spread the bonus pool around. On pure talent, Conforto's still a bit of a reach here, but he should move quickly through the Mets' system and could be an option for the team as early as next year if his bat continues to play up against professional competition. There have been occasional rumblings about trying Conforto at third base, but if he shows the defensive chops to play third he'll probably end up in right for the Mets instead, since third base is somewhat occupied for the Mets at the moment. Probably more likely he ends up at first, however; outside of his arm, scouts don't love his defense.
*11: Toronto Blue Jays select C Max Pentecost
Toronto gets the last highly-touted catcher on the draft board. Pentecost recently tore up the Cape Cod League in his first extended exposure to scouts while using wooden bats, and is an advanced college catcher with above-average tools across the board who should also move through the minors on the quick side -- that's good, because this Toronto team is built to win over the next couple of years.
12: Milwaukee Brewers select LHP Kodi Medeiros
Medeiros is a prep pitcher from Hawaii who got lost a bit in the shuffle of great young arms at the top of the draft, but is a decent pick here for the Brewers at No. 12. There are questions about whether or not he'll stick as a starting pitcher, but if he does eventually have to move to the bullpen, his fastball/slider combo is good enough that he should be a good late-inning relief option -- the slider is a particularly nasty pitch, and the fastball ranges from 90-94 with good movement as a high schooler. Probably the biggest determining factor outside injury for his future role will be how his changeup develops.
13: San Diego Padres select SS Trea Turner
The top of this draft is kind of light on elite middle infield prospects, and Gordon went off the board to the Twins with pick No. 5. Turner makes sense for the Padres here if you think of them as something of a reverse Rockies -- a team that should be slightly reaching for position players that won't be around the next time through due to the park they play in. Turner is another polished college guy who should move quickly through his system, which is why some had him going to either Seattle or the Mets. He'll also be one of the better defensive shortstops in the league the minute he gets called up; the biggest question about him will be how the bat plays in the pros.
14: San Francisco Giants select RHP Tyler Beede !
If there is one organization that can be trusted beyond almost any reproach to develop a pitcher, it's Brian Sabean's San Francisco Giants. Beede is a guy who saw his stock tumble in the draft due to struggles with command late in the season for Vanderbilt, so 14 might be seen as a bit high for him to go given there was talk of him slipping into the 20s. But he wasn't going to be there for the Giants' next pick and there's probably no better fit for them remaining there in the first round.
15: Los Angeles Angels select LHP Sean Newcomb
Newcomb's a pretty understandable pick here for the Angels. He's a lefty with good velocity who they'll hope moves quickly through the minors, and the Angels are a team eying the next couple years as high water marks for their current roster. Newcomb had a big workload this year for Hartford, but most colleges aren't known for babying their good starters, and Newcomb was one of the better ones still on the board at 15.
16: Arizona Diamondbacks select RHP Touki Toussaint
Regardless of Tony La Russa's new role in Arizona, make no mistake: this is still a Kevin Towers draft, and whatever else his flaws as a general manager, Towers knows pitching. Toussaint is another prep pitcher with electric upside, and his offspeed/breaking stuff might actually be better than his fastball in the long run. He's very raw, however -- it'll be awhile before he'll make the big leagues, if at all.
17: Kansas City Royals select LHP Brandon Finnegan
Finnegan's a lefty on the small side with a whole lot of markups for intangibles and attitude -- so essentially, right in Kansas City GM Dayton Moore's wheelhouse. He's also a college pitcher who has seen his stock soar in the last couple weeks, meaning he could possibly move through the system quickly as well -- and Moore's major league squad can use all the help it can get, though it might prefer a thid baseman right now. However, Finnegan's a TCU pitcher who's recently had some shoulder issues; it might be smarter just to let him rest.
18: Washington Nationals select RHP Erick Fedde
It might not shock you to know that Fedde's draft advisor/agent is Scott Boras, given how the Nationals have been drafting in the first round the past three or four years. Fedde is a consistent, reliable college starter who has been performing at a high level in the amateur game for years now -- he was scouted heavily as a high schooler as well -- and the reason he didn't go higher in the draft was mainly due to questions about whether he'll actually stick as a starter in the majors. The Nationals seem to think he will.
19: Cincinnati Reds select RHP Nick Howard !?
Howard's an interesting two-way player. Though he was Virginia's starting third baseman and pitched only out of the pen, all signs point to the Reds developing him in a starting pitching role, something they're keen on doing with arms like Howard. And though many had Howard going a bit lower in the draft, it's hard to fault Walt Jocketty's recent track record with college pitchers like Tony Cingrani and Mike Leake.
20: Tampa Bay Rays select 1B Casey Gillaspie
The Rays were going to get a pass no matter what they did at 20th overall -- that's just the sort of cache their front office has earned in this industry -- but Gillaspie is still a solid pick here. He's a bit of a reach at 20, but only by 10-15 picks or so, and while being a "first base prospect" is usually something of a backhanded compliment for an amateur player -- it means scouts already have just about given up on him defensively -- the Rays actually could use a long-term solution with the bat at first base.
21: Cleveland Indians select OF Bradley Zimmer
The biggest thing most people will probably hear about Zimmer is his relation to the top pitching prospect in the Kansas City Royals organization, his brother Kyle. In fairness, that's probably the most distinguishing thing about him as a first-round prospect: he's got all-around good tools, but nothing stands out, and if he can't stick in center field, he could end up as a fourth outfielder if his power doesn't progress. Good place for him to go.
22: Los Angeles Dodgers select RHP Grant Holmes
The South Carolina prep star is a bit on the short side, but not the small side -- he's only six feet tall with a broad frame that worries some scouts about how projectable his body is, but he also already throws a fantastic fastball (some have graded it plus-plus) with a power curve and a changeup that's improved over the last year. Another guy whose future could be in relief, but still has significant starter upside... and just look at that hair.
23: Detroit Tigers select OF Derek Hill ?!
If there were any team I would have expected to go with a high-upside college arm they could rush to the majors in a relief or backend starter role next year, it'd be the Detroit Tigers. Instead the Tigers take Hill, a prep position player committed to Oregon. Maybe those picks will come later, or maybe the Tigers have decided to use their farm system as something other than a way to acquire major league talent for the big team as soon as possible; either way, intriguing pick here, though not because Hill doesn't deserve to go this high.
24: Pittsburgh Pirates select SS Cole Tucker ??
This is a money-saving pick by the Pirates, almost egregiously so. Pittsburgh is doing the same thing the Cubs are doing, which is overdrafting guys in the top rounds they've cut deals with under slot so they can use the bonus money they've saved elsewhere in the draft. Tucker, a high-school shortstop out of Arizona, wasn't projected to go until the third round or so; either the Pirates see something in him no one else does -- Tucker's an intangibles-heavy guy whose main concern is his bat -- or that's one whale of a deal.
25: Oakland Athletics select IF Matt Chapman ?!
This is another reach, and part of the reason for it is also to save money -- though Chapman, who has been playing third base for Cal State Fullerton the past three years, is both more polished and simply a better prospect than Tucker at this moment in time. The interesting part of Chapman is his plus-plus arm -- he touched 98 for Team USA last summer, though he hasn't pitched in a game situation in his three college seasons -- which could lead to conversion into a relief role if his bat doesn't play.
26: Boston Red Sox select IF Michael Chavis
Chavis is the kind of kid who Boston fans are going to love in a couple years. He's a strong all-around high school shortstop who hits for average with raw power, an above-average arm that should survive the transition to third as a pro and who does all the uniform-dirtying and gamer-y things that play so well in that city. Solid pick.
27: St. Louis Cardinals select RHP Luke Weaver
Weaver (no relation to Jared of the Angels) is another college pitcher whose future will depend on whether he develops a third pitch and transitions his above-average command from Florida State into the pros. For Weaver, that means his slider developing into something more than a fringe afterthought.
*28: Kansas City Royals select LHP Foster Griffin
Griffin is a completely different kind of pitcher from Kansas City's other first-round lefthander, Finnegan. A prep pitcher out of The First Academy in Orlando, Griffin doesn't overwhelm in any one area as a pitching prospect, but has a projectable body and three average to above-average pitches with advanced feel for all of them. His curveball's improvement in his senior season is one of the main reasons he's a solid pick here.
*29: Cincinnati Reds select 3B Alex Blandino
Blandino is another guy who projects to be major league ready in a hurry, which is good if you're a Cincinnati fan who thinks Todd Frazier's future is in left field. Like Pentecost, Blandino lit up the Cape Cod League; unlike Pentecost, he did it as a freshman his first time through. There's still a stigma surrounding Stanford hitters in scout ranks -- the school's coaching staff has been known to enforce an odd inside-out swing that takes advantage of the metal bats to send the ball to the opposite field, but saps a prospect's power potential when he moves to wood and has to unlearn the habit -- and Blandino looks to be the next guy to try to change that perception at the big league level. His success at Cape Cod, where hitters use wooden bats, is a good start.
*30: Texas Rangers select RHP Luis Ortiz
Ortiz wasn't really on anyone's radar this time last year as a first-round talent, but after dropping a bunch of weight going into last season and increasing his fastball velocity and consistency he's worked his way up into that kind of company. Ortiz is mainly a fastball/slider pitcher but can pull out an average changeup and curveball when he needs to, which is the sort of arsenal that projects well into the starting rotation, assuming the rest of his body cooperates.
*31: Cleveland Indians select LHP Justus Sheffield
Sheffield is another one of the best lefty prep pitchers available in this draft, with perhaps even more upside than Griffin, who went a few picks earlier. His fastball is a bit faster -- 90-92 mph, touching 94 -- and he has a pair of advanced pitches in his slider and change. He's slightly on the small side for a pitcher, as most outlets have him between 6-foot-0 or 6-foot-2; Baseball America lists him at 5-foot-10 in their scouting materials, but that could just mean the young man's hit a late growth spurt.
*32: Atlanta Braves select 1B/OF Braxton Davidson
Now there's a name. Davidson is a high school first baseman, which is a concerning demographic, and one that rarely gets drafted in the first round. Generally even left-handed throwers eliminated from every other infield consideration will play somewhere in the outfield if they're not pitching, and Davidson has spent some time in the corners -- though if he somehow makes the bigs as an outfielder, it'll definitely be in left. It will also be on the strength of his, well, strength: He projects as a very good power bat should he hit his upside, and that projection is good enough to warrant taking him at the very tail end of the first round.
*33: Boston Red Sox select RHP Michael Kopech
Like Kolek, Kopech is another righty Texan prep pitcher with superior arm strength, getting his fastball to touch 98 this year, and while there are questions about his delivery and his secondary pitches, you take a 6-foot-3, 190 lb. kid with one of the best pitching bodies in the draft with pick 33 if he's there, especially if it's your second pick of the first round.
*34: St. Louis Cardinals select RHP/3B Jack Flaherty
Flaherty is a puzzle box for the Cardinals at 34. Sure, they have to decide whether or not they want to put him on the mound, where his upside to could translate to a No. 2 starter, or in the field, where his physical upside could make him a regular at third or even short in a perfect world, but before that they have to sign him. Flaherty's committed to North Carolina, and it might take some scrimping later in the draft for the Cardinals to have the bonus money to convince him otherwise, especially since they didn't precisely cheap out on the Weaver pick.
Notes from the second round and competitive balance rounds
Brewers went with young, high upside prep picks in the first day with Medeiros, SS Jacob Gatewood at 41 and OF Monte Harrison at 50 … Mac Marshall (LHP, Parkview HS) was not selected at all on the first day and is the top lefty prep arm still on the board going into the second day … the Cubs selected RHP Jake Stinnett at 45, another move to spread slot bonus money around … surprise picks out after the first round included C Aramis Garcia to the Giants at 52 (ranked 74th by Baseball America) and RHP Daniel Gossett to the A's at 65 (ranked 90th) … Most Unfortunate Name Award goes to RHP Scott Blewett, drafted by the Royals at 56 … Going into the second day, the only team that has yet to draft is the Baltimore Orioles, whose first selection comes at 90th overall.