MLB Draft 2012: Winners, Losers and Surprises from the 1st Round
Heading into this year's MLB draft, few knew how the new draft rules, established under the new collective bargaining agreement, were going to affect the event.
Now that the first round is in the books, one thing is clear.
This ain't your daddy's draft.
This year's draft was filled with more surprises, more intrigue and more head-scratching than any in recent memory. From picks 10 to 31, one very easily could have reversed the order and been just as happy with the results.
Except for that Brian Johnson pick. That was just embarrassing.
Obviously, it's hard to declare who's a big winner (or loser) until we know how many of these players are actually going to sign contracts, but in the spirit of passing hasty judgement on some of these players, front offices and general managers, let's take a peek at who came out on top, who is wishing for a mulligan and who was simply overwhelmed by all the events of the evening.
Winner: The Unincorporated Territory of Puerto Rico
Lost in the attention given to Carlos Correa the player was the fact that he became the highest drafted player ever from Puerto Rico, a territory with a great deal of baseball history. The island also scored the first pick of the supplemental round, J.O. Berrios, a right-hander from Bayamon, and the 51st overall pick in Jesmuel Valentin Diaz, son of former big leaguer Jose Valentin.
Once upon a time, players from that part of the world had to come to the States any way that they could, usually by being on the wrong end of shady deals that agents and advisors made "on behalf of the players or their families."
That is no longer the case, and one can make the argument that Correa going No. 1 overall will only strengthen the commonwealth's baseball program and turn Puerto Rico into an island that mass-produces big leaguers.
Now all Correa, Berrios and Diaz have to do is live up to the enormous hype.
Winner: Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow
If you would have told me a week ago that the Astros would have passed on Stanford ace Mark Appel and high-school outfielder Byron Buxton, I would have recommended them for demotion to Triple-A. If you would have also told me that GM Jeff Luhnow would be getting rave reviews for his selection, I would have recommended both for deportation.
Instead, Luhnow seemingly pulled of a miracle. He eschewed both of the draft's top players and came out smelling like roses. Credit that to his draft savvy and the instant appeal of the team's top pick, Carlos Correa.
He further bolstered the organization with his second pick, Lance McCullers, a player who could develop into a frontline starter or be used as a devastating reliever.
Luhnow built a winner in St. Louis, but he'll have to work twice as hard to resurrect the Astros from the basement. In Correa, he has a picture-perfect building block.
Loser: The Boston Red Sox
The Sox had a chance to close out the first round in style.
Instead, they went out with a fashion disaster on their hands. Brian Johnson? Really? With a ton of players still on the board, including Hunter Virant, Lance McCullers, Adam Brett Walker, Ty Buttrey, Pierce Johnson and Stephen Piscotty, what were they thinking?
Johnson had a subpar year, looking overmatched and under-committed at times, and he has had very little to do with Florida's run to the super regionals. He's simply been the guy on the mound, bathing in all the run support.
In his first draft in charge, GM Ben Cherington appears to have been just as underwhelming as his top pick.
Loser: The St. Louis Cardinals
It seems only fitting that Luhnow's old organization, the Cardinals, finds itself in the loser column. "Loser" is probably a harsh word for the team's performance last night, but they could have done so much better.
The Cards pride themselves on building through solid, experienced college players, and they appeared to be off to a strong start, picking up right-hander Michael Wacha with their first pick of the first round. Nobody expected Wacha to last that long, and in him, the Cards are getting a player with a ceiling as a No. 2 starter.
They bumbled their next pick, however, taking senior outfielder James Ramsey out of Florida State. Yes, Ramsey had a tremendous year, but college stats can often distort a player's actual worth. Ramsey doesn't have any standout tools.
Drafting him instead of another high-ceiling player screams "money pick."
Surprise: Mark Appel's Slide
It would be unfair to include Mark Appel among the "losers," considering it wasn't entirely his fault that he dropped from No. 1 all the way to No. 8.
While few could have predicted his slide, once the Astros passed him over, it became clear that he was in for a long wait. The Pirates ended his misery with the eighth pick, but now have to come up with a reasonable deal that both sides can agree on.
Surprise: Addison Russell's Rise
As recently as March, I had Russell in my top-16 picks, but nobody could have foreseen the Athletics selecting him with the 11th overall pick.
Billy Beane and Co. passed over several more highly regarded players at that position, including Gavin Cecchini and Deven Marrero. While Russell has more power than Cecchini and better hitting ability than Marrero, he's far from a sure thing. Heck, scouts weren't even sold on his ability to stick at shortstop until this spring.
As far as we know, there weren't many teams sold on Russell as high as the A's were picking.
Winner: Albert Almora, Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs
The Albert Almora-to-Chicago pick had become such a popular, predictable one in the week leading up to the draft that the Cubs' draft plans weren't even interesting to talk about.
The Top Five picks didn't shake out like anyone expected, but Theo Epstein and Co. still ended up with the player they coveted most. Almora is a stud with a ceiling as high as anyone, possibly even Byron Buxton. In addition, he's an incredible person, as the tear-inducing story MLB Network did on him prior to the draft showed.
The Cubs see him as the centerpiece of a rebuilding club, the perfect player to build a franchise around.
Winner: The Texas Rangers
The Rangers spent the better part of the 2000s building the top farm system in baseball. They're reaping the rewards of their efforts, as evidenced by back-to-back American League pennants and, this year, the best record in the AL.
They've recently turned their eye to the international market, but Monday night reinforced that they haven't forgotten how to put together a winning draft class. The team's first pick, Lewis Brinson, is big on power, and while he has some holes in his swing, his talent is off the charts. He has speed and impressive defensive range to complement his power stroke, and he could be a big-time player in a few years.
They grabbed another power player in the supplemental first round, taking first baseman Joey Gallo, who had the most raw power of any high schooler.
For a team that is already the most powerful in baseball (no offense Baltimore), it's disgusting to think about adding these two guys to the lineup.
Loser: The Detroit Tigers
You may think it's silly to give a "loser" grade to a team that didn't have a single pick on Monday, and that's exactly the point!
For the third consecutive season, the Tigers didn't have a pick in the true first round (they had two supplemental picks in 2010). Combine that with a few trades that have thinned out their farm system, and the Tigers don't have too much in the reserves.
Their top players, while still impressive, are aging and injury-prone, and right now they lack the talent to adequately replace them.
Having one first-round pick in the last four drafts doesn't help.
Loser: The Cleveland Indians
Many, including myself, thought the Indians would use their relatively high pick to go after a player who could be their long-term center fielder, replacing the ever-injured Grady Sizemore in the hearts and minds of Cleveland fans.
Mock drafts had them tabbing David Dahl, Courtney Hawkins and even Travis Jankowski.
Nobody had them going after tweener Tyler Naquin. Granted, there is no denying Naquin's natural ability, especially his bat, but there are several things that make one question the pick upon further review. Few believe that the Texas A&M outfielder has a legitimate chance to remain in center field. And it's obvious that he's never going to offer much power.
So, would you spend a first-round pick (and a relatively high one at that) on a corner outfielder with little-to-no power?
Surprise: Nick Travieso to the Cincinnati Reds
Like most others, I had Nick Travieso ticketed for the back of the first round, and while you can't fault a team for going after the players it likes (a fault of a draft that restricts trades), there's just too much about Travieso that makes me think he would have been a better fit as a second-rounder.
For starters, he reminds me too much of Nick Hagadone, another highly touted pitcher who ended up in the bullpen. Like Hagadone, Travieso has two good offerings and not much else.
He's a power pitcher in the traditional sense, and one could argue that his velocity is better than anyone else (he touched 99 mph this season) in this class, but getting punched with the 14th overall pick is just too darn high.
Surprise: Jesmuel Valentin Diaz to the Los Angeles Dodgers
File this one under surprise just because it deserves being mentioned.
The Dodgers selected Diaz, the son of former big leaguer Jose Valentin, with the 51st overall pick in the draft. Why exactly is this noteworthy, you may ask?
Well, it isn't, unless you're a sucker for useless information.
The elder Valentin played for four big-league teams during his 16-year career, including one miserable campaign spent with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That season, 2005, was by far the worst of Valentin's career. He hit a career-low .170 and broke a string of 11 consecutive seasons with 10 or more home runs. In fact, the year before he came to L.A., Valentin set a career-high with 30 long balls.
Here's hoping his son's tenure with the Dodgers goes much better.