Here are a few fantasy-themed thoughts regarding the most heralded prospects from the 2012 Major League Baseball draft.
Just so we're clear here, I would prefer to see none of these kids in the majors until Memorial Day weekend of 2014. (What's the hurry?)
And yet, we all know how some MLB franchises operate these days, needlessly accelerating a supposed 'finished' college product's rise up the ranks...or thinking the next great high school phenom can be an instant hit (or worse, gate attraction) in the majors.
Mark Appel, Pitcher (Stanford)—Pittsburgh Pirates
Skinny: OK, so Appel (a Houston native) spent his last three years at a college powerhouse program, working against premium hitters from the Pac-12. So right away, this is not a David Clyde situation (circa 1973 —here's the backstory). And yet, it's not hard to imagine new Astros owner Jim Crane insisting that Houston take Appel at No. 1 overall, before advocating a possible call-up sometime after Sept. 1.
Obviously, when you spend $680 million on a franchise, you're entitled to impose your beliefs onto Astros management. But if Crane and Co. are serious about Houston's long-term rebuilding, the club will give Appel every chance to succeed (and fail) in the minors—for at least 15 months. To be drafted No. 1 in your hometown is pressure enough; there's no point in adding to the anxiety with an early promotion.
That said, if Appel (10-1, 2.27 ERA, 127/26 K-BB ratio this season) should get a few Super Two-protected starts in the majors come September, he certainly has the talent to pitch five or six innings per outing and collect two or three wins. But that aside, it wouldn't be wise to project any greatness from a strikeout or WHIP level.
(UPDATE: Appel maintained his pre-draft standing among the elite eight prospects...but slipped down to the Pirates at No. 8. Should Appel fulfill his potential as perhaps this draft's best pitcher—signability concerns may have prompted the drop—Pittsburgh might be looking at a 1-2-3 arrangement of Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Appel sometime around 2014 or '15. This could easily be the National League Central's best starting trio by then.)
Mike Zunino, Catcher (Florida)—Seattle Mariners
Skinny: Philosophically speaking, I have a problem with MLB franchises that select catchers at the top of the draft...unless they have every intention of moving the player to first base, third base or the outfield during his stay in the minors. Yes, I'm aware of how Buster Posey (2008 first-rounder) and Joe Mauer (No. 1 pick in 2001) are progressing as long-term catchers; but it's still the hardest position to project professional greatness, starting pitchers included.
The above paragraph isn't a knock on Zunino, per se; but it's certainly not an endorsement of investing so much money into a position that calls for an asset to stand-and-crouch roughly 700 times per week (while baking in the sun). That can wreak havoc on the knees.
Mini-rant aside, Zunino's place in the Mariners organization might motivate club officials to move Jesus Montero out of the catcher spot and into a full-time DH or outfield role. From a fantasy perspective, instead of stashing Zunino in the next few weeks, you're better off taking a flier on Blue Jays super-prospect Travis d'Arnaud. He could be the next real deal among fantasy backstops.
(UPDATE: As predicted by Baseball America, the Mariners drafted Zunino at No. 3 overall, with the likely intent of making him the franchise cornerstone at catcher for the next 12-to-15 years. As for what that move holds for Jesus Montero, we'll just have to see in a few years. Regardless of position, Montero will be an elite hitter in the majors, sooner than later.)
Kevin Gausman, Pitcher (LSU)—Baltimore Orioles
Skinny: If the sophomore-eligible Gausman had these stats in the minors right now (11-1, 2.72 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 128/27 K-BB ratio), he'd be drawing comparisons to Dylan Bundy (Orioles prospect) or Trevor Bauer (Diamondbacks). Instead, we're pre-conditioned to believe that college hitters from the SEC are inferior to paid players from the Southern League or an A-ball affiliate from Anytown, USA. And that's fine, even if it underestimates the possible value Gausman might have after the draft.
If the Orioles, Mariners or Marlins draft Gausman, I don't see him breaking into the bigs under any scenario. But if the Royals, Padres or Pirates landed Gausman, it wouldn't be a stretch to consider him for a September call-up. That said, the line for pitchers vaulting into the majors with Pittsburgh starts with Gerrit Cole, last year's No. 1 overall pick.
(UPDATE: Gausman became the first pitcher off the board when the Orioles came calling at No. 4 overall. One of the MLB Network analysts likened Gasuman, body-wise, to former Marlins/Padres/Dodgers/Yankees pitcher Kevin Brown, an uncanny comparison after watching the mountains of film on the LSU product. Needless to say, the right-hander will need two or three years of unimpeded development time in the minors.)
Kyle Zimmer, Pitcher (University of San Francisco)—Kansas City Royals
Skinny: Just like Gausman from above, Zimmer has certainly won a lot of prospective hearts with a 2.85 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and microscopic strikeout-to-walk ratio (104/17) for the season. But how does that college greatness extend to the short-term pros, especially if the Orioles are the actual suitors?
Repeat after me: The line starts behind Dylan Bundy (0.68 ERA, 0.43 WHIP in 10 minor-league starts).
(UPDATE: The pitching-needy Royals grabbed Zimmer at No. 5, presumably with the intent of letting the USF product develop in the minors for the next 15 months. Scouts rave about his highly developed three-pitch repertoire; but that's no reason to rush the kid's progress in the minors. As stated many times in this blog, the Royals are buidling a potential mini-dynasty of absurdly talented prospects or players, 26 or younger. But if there have been any cracks in the development plan, it's with starting pitching.)
Andrew Heaney, Pitcher (Oklahoma State)—Miami Marlins
Skinny: For what it's worth, Heaney (8-2, 1.60 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 140/22 K-BB ratio) would get my vote for being the first elite draftee to hit the major leagues in 2012 or '13. But as I've said (or inferred) many times here, what's the rush? Where is the need to fast-track a player into the majors, if he's not ready to go seven innings every start, from that point forward?
Actually, the junior-eligible Heaney tossed six complete games and three shutouts this season for the Cowboys; so, maybe his MLB team would build off that foundation of innings in the minors. But then again, perhaps all this experience with Oklahoma State may motivate Heaney to delay his signing with a major league team, while using the negotiating chip of heading back to school?
(UPDATE: Given the Marlins' 20-season history, it's hard to compare Heaney to a former club farmhand, who's also left-handed. But I could've sworn that I heard someone reference ex-Angels/Rangers/Tigers great Frank Tanana during the draft broadcast. If Heaney develops into anything close to Tanana in his early years, this draft pick will be an absolute heist at No. 9. Tanana made his MLB debut with the Angels in 1973 at age 19; and for the 1975-76 seasons, he combined for a Tim Lincecum-like 530 strikeouts.)
Carlos Correa, Shortstop (Puerto Rico Baseball Academy)—Houston Astros
Skinny: You wouldn't believe the timing. Just seconds before I had begun to write the Correa stanza, MLB Network launched a whole video montage of Correa's fielding prowess, while strongly hinting that he was an Alex Rodriguez in the making. Just like Orioles farmhand Manny Machado (a Grade-A prospect)...and just like Carlos Triunfel, who hasn't been able to overcome injuries and needless hype in his sixth pro season in the minors. (The kid's only 22, so let's not throw dirt on his long-term prospects just yet.)
The main message is this: If the 6'4" Correa is truly an A-Rod clone, then can I assume that his size will preclude him from playing shortstop in four or five years? Would Correa's body make a similar transition to that of Hanley Ramirez, whose athletic gifts may be more suited for third base—and that was before Jose Reyes came to Miami?
Of course, if Correa is anything close to A-Rod, Han-Ram or even Manny Machado, I sincerely doubt the team that takes him will lament his position for more than five minutes on draft night. It goes without saying, but Correa is not a serious contender for MLB fantasy stats in 2012. (UPDATE: Baseball America expert Jim Callis just compared Correa to Troy Tulowitzki.)
Byron Buxton, Outfielder (Appling County HS, Georgia)—Minnesota Twins
Skinny: Buxton certainly looks the part of a great athlete and hitter with tremendous upside; but let's remember that high school outfielders are the longest of longshots to impact the majors in their draft season. And if Buxton should get selected by the Twins at No. 2, it's a lock that Minnesota would take its sweet time developing the prodigy...just like soon-to-be-star Aaron Hicks (2008 first-rounder), who's making the slow steady rise to Minneapolis.
(UPDATE: As Baseball America predicted, the Twins took Buxton at No. 2. Now, Minnesota fans are free to envision a dream outfield of Buxton, Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia or even Miguel Sano—sometime in 2015. Sano, the Twins' No. 1 prospect could be a candidate for the outfield soon.)
Albert Almora, Outfielder (Mater Academy, Florida)—Chicago Cubs
Skinny: Similar to Buxton, it would be ludicrous to rush a high school outfielder to the big leagues; it would be even more asinine to project fantasy stats for a kid who will likely need two or three years of steady reps to meet his development curve. After all, smart teams draft players for who they can be sometime after their 22nd birthday—not for who they pretend to be at age 18.
(UPDATE: The Cubs got their man at No. 6. Now, Cubs fans just need to sit back and wait to see if Almora develops into anything close to his favorite player, Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.)
Max Fried, Pitcher (Harvard-Westlake HS, California)—San Diego Padres
Skinny: By all accounts, the southpaw Fried has the arm, smarts and repertoire to be a dominant force in the majors...sometime in his early-to-mid 20s. In the meantime, MLB clubs can simply rejoice in fortifying their farm system with a high-end prospect. Bottom line: Fried likely won't chart a career path similar to Nationals closer Drew Storen, a 2009 first-rounder who was supposedly on the fast track to an MLB stint later that season—before other mitigating factors curtailed that plan.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.