Thursday night marked a dream come true for 33 of the best and brightest young baseball players in the world, as Major League Baseball conducted its annual first-year selection spectacular.
Though the MLB draft doesn't quite have the pizzazz of other major sports leagues, namely the NFL and NBA, the league office has done a ton to make the event more inclusive. The entire first round was streamed on the league's official website and broadcast on MLB Network, with some draftees even choosing to be in attendance.
Stanford pitcher Mark Appel was not one of those players, but that didn't much matter. The Houston Astros selected the hometown kid with the No. 1 overall pick, finalizing a journey that had quite a few twists and turns. Appel was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2012 MLB draft, but failed to finalize a contract before the deadline and returned to Stanford.
Appel's decision paid off. As noted by Bryan Fisher of the Pac-12 Network, Appel made out quite nicely by delaying his gratification for an extra 12 months:
The Chicago Cubs followed Appel's selection by taking San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant No. 2, with the Colorado Rockies grabbing Oklahoma ace Jonathan Gray No. 3.
Here's a look at how the full first round played out:
|1||Houston Astros||Mark Appel||RHP||Stanford|
|2||Chicago Cubs||Kris Bryant||3B||San Diego|
|3||Colorado Rockies||Jonathan Gray||RHP||Oklahoma|
|4||Minnesota Twins||Kohl Stewart||RHP||St. Puis X HS (Houston)|
|5||Cleveland Indians||Clint Frazier||OF||Loganville (Ga.) HS|
|6||Miami Marlins||Colin Moran||3B||North Carolina|
|7||Boston Red Sox||Trey Ball||LHP||New Castle (Ind.) HS|
|8||Kansas City Royals||Hunter Dozier||SS||Stephen F. Austin|
|9||Pittsburgh Pirates||Austin Meadows||OF||Grayson (Ga.) HS|
|10||Toronto Blue Jays||Phil Bickford||RHP||Oaks Christian (Calif.) HS|
|11||New York Mets||Dominic Smith||1B||JSerra Catholic (Calif.) HS|
|12||Seattle Mariners||D.J. Peterson||3B||New Mexico|
|13||San Diego Padres||Hunter Renfroe||OF||Mississippi State|
|14||Pittsburgh Pirates||Reese McGuire||C||Kentwood (Wash.) HS|
|15||Arizona Diamondbacks||Braden Shipley||RHP||Nevada|
|16||Philadelphia Phillies||J.P. Crawford||SS||Lakewood (Calif.) HS|
|17||Chicago White Sox||Tim Anderson||SS||East Central CC|
|18||Los Angeles Dodgers||Chris Anderson||RHP||Jacksonville|
|19||St. Louis Cardinals||Marco Gonzales||LHP||Gonzaga|
|20||Detroit Tigers||Jonathon Crawford||RHP||Florida|
|21||Tampa Bay Rays||Nick Ciuffo||C||Lexington (S.C.) HS|
|22||Baltimore Orioles||Hunter Harvey||RHP||Bandys (N.C.) HS|
|23||Texas Rangers||Alex Gonzalez||RHP||Oral Roberts|
|24||Oakland Athletics||Billy McKinney||CF||Plano West Sr. HS (Texas)|
|25||San Francisco Giants||Christian Arroyo||SS||Hernando (Fla.) HS|
|26||New York Yankees||Eric Jagielo||3B||Notre Dame|
|27||Cincinnati Reds||Phillip Ervin||CF||Samford|
|28||St. Louis Cardinals||Rob Kaminsky||LHP||St. Joseph Regional School (N.J.)|
|29||Tampa Bay Rays||Ryne Stanek||RHP||Arkansas|
|30||Texas Rangers||Travis Demeritte||SS||Winder Barrow (Ga.) HS|
|31||Atlanta Braves||Jason Hursh||RHP||Oklahoma State|
|32||New York Yankees||Aaron Judge||OF||Fresno State|
|33||New York Yankees||Ian Clarkin||LHP||James Madison (Calif.) HS|
Top Storylines From Round 1
Jonathan Gray Falls to No. 3
Heading into the draft, there weren't many guarantees. This is largely seen as a good, not great crop of players where the depth is greater than the future Strasburgian talent. Almost no matter how the top of the draft played out, all would have been right with the world—at least after the first two picks.
Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray were viewed as something of near-locks to go No. 1 and No. 2 in some order. By the time draft day rolled around, most pundits had even settled on Gray going to the Astros with the top pick. Sports Illustrated, USA Today and countless other publications had the right-handed fireballer heading to Houston. And nearly all that didn't had him as a stone-cold lock to go No. 2 to the Cubs should their former NL Central foes go with Appel.
Well, Houston went with Appel. But the Cubs obviously did not get the memo. Chicago went with third baseman Kris Bryant of San Diego with the No. 2 pick, a "minor shocker" in the words of ESPN's Keith Law:
That left Gray on the board for the Rockies at No. 3. With Colorado being expected to take a hitter by most heading into this draft, team brass had to be shocked to see a potential ace fall to them at No. 3. The Rockies wasted no time scooping the former Oklahoma star up with their selection.
For most pitchers, that's not exactly the best news in the world. Colorado's thin air has been a constant nightmare for pitcher ERAs throughout franchise history, as routine pop-ups suddenly turn into short-porch homers.
Gray could be the perfect pitcher to buck that trend. A strong, bulky right-hander with a fastball that stays consistently in the high 90s, Gray is a power arm much in the mold of a young Roger Clemens. He went 10-2 for the Sooners this season, posting a 1.59 ERA and striking out 138 batters in 119 innings.
So long as the Rockies are satisfied that Gray testing positive for Adderall was a one-time thing, this pick could really work out long term.
Royals Shock Everyone, Draft Hunter Dozier No. 8
Jonathan Gray fell one pick farther than anyone expected. That's nothing compared to how far the most surprising first-round selection, Hunter Dozier, rose on draft night.
After having a very good career at Stephen F. Austin, Dozier was expected by most to wind up somewhere within the first couple of rounds. If it were toward the end of Round 1 or early in Round 2, everyone would have silently nodded their heads and went back about their business.
The Royals took him eighth overall. They took him ahead of Austin Meadows, a high school outfielder with possibly the most varied set of tools in this draft. They also took him over Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe, the Hunter nearly all draft pundits had going first in their Hunter pool.
Needless to say, the decision was cause for much derision on social media platforms. Grantland contributor and renowned Royals fan Rany Jazayerli perhaps described the overall sentiment best:
Baseball America's John Manuel, while still not thrilled with Kansas City's selection, did note plenty of positives in Dozier's game:
The Stephen F. Austin standout does have quite the hitting resume when looking at the numbers. He hit for a .396/.482/.755 slash line while providing pop (17 HRs, 25 doubles) and above-average speed. There are questions about whether he'll be able to translate to shortstop at the big league level—highly unlikely—but the Royals could seamlessly shift him over to third base.
It certainly wasn't an expected selection and Dozier may wind up being the worst of the first round. But Kansas City followed the strategy of drafting the player it wanted most, rather than waiting around and hoping good things happen. Dozier might not pan out as being worthy of the No. 8 pick, but you have to admire the Royals for being willing to take that risk.
Ryne Stanek Free-Falls to No. 29, Sean Manaea Drops to CB Round
One of the reasons some questioned Appel’s decision to return to Stanford was the volatile nature of the position. Hitters, though certainly with plenty of variance, are relatively projectable. Pitchers are one injury or a dip in velocity away from seeing their stock plummet.
Case in point: At certain points in this process, Stanek and Manaea were expected to be top-10 picks. There were even some who ventured to mention Stanek’s name alongside Gray and Appel, creating a three-headed monster of top-notch righties inside the first five picks.
Well...guys like Stanek and Manaea are why the scouting process is long and arduous. While many had moved on from giving both pitchers top-10 grades, the overarching expectation was that they had a pretty good chance of going in the middle of Round 1.
That also didn’t happen, as Stanek plummeted all the way to the Rays with the 29th pick and Manaea came off the board with the first pick of the competitive balance selections, going to Kansas City.
Stanek’s drop was especially surprising. Though he needs to work on finding his spots more consistently, the Arkansas righty still has quite a set of tools. He throws the ball consistently in the 90s and has offspeed stuff that could be developed down the line. With a year of college eligibility left, he’s a guy who might return to school in hopes of improving his stock 12 months down the line.
Manaea’s drop was almost wholly injury-related. As noted by Ben Badler of Baseball America, the lefty had a myriad of issues, including his shoulder, hip and ankle. It will be interesting to see how the Royals handle his negotiations as a result.
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