2013 MLB Draft Picks Closest to Already Breaking into MLB
The 2014 MLB draft is just over a week away, and two members of the 2013 draft class have already made their major league debuts: Cleveland's Kyle Crockett (fourth round) and Detroit's Corey Knebel (first round).
It's kind of a big deal to make it to The Show less than a year after being drafted, though it's far from unheard of.
By the time the 2013 draft rolled around, five members of the 2012 class had reached the major leagues, including St. Louis' Michael Wacha and Baltimore's Kevin Gausman.
While it's unlikely that last year's draft class will see three more players reach The Show over the next eight days, that doesn't mean there aren't a handful of players close to making a difference for the teams that selected them.
Here's a look at five players who could be coming to a ballpark near you sooner rather than later.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics and draft information courtesy of Baseball-Reference and current through games of May 26.
3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs (1st Round, 2nd Pick)
2014 Stats (Double-A): 49 G, .337/.431/.641, 27 XBH (14 HR), 43 RBI, 25/59 BB/K
While expectations for the Chicago Cubs may have been tempered heading into the regular season, the same cannot be said for the second overall pick in the 2013 draft, Kris Bryant.
Expectations come with the territory when you're taken that high in any draft, especially when your signing bonus—roughly $6.71 million—is not only the largest in your draft class but also the largest in franchise history, via the Chicago Sun-Times.
Bryant hasn't disappointed, leading the Southern League in multiple categories: batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS (1.072), home runs, RBI, runs scored (42), hits (61) and total bases (116).
He's put together a pair of impressive streaks along the way, hitting .366 (11-for-30) during a nine-game hitting streak in April and hitting .405 (15-for-37) during a 10-game hitting streak that ended over Memorial Day weekend.
Despite Bryant's torrid start to the season, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer recently told CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney that he's not thinking about how Bryant would fare at Triple-A, much less in the majors:
Certainly, he’s having a great year. Right now, it’s [a promotion to Triple-A] not something we’ve talked about. We’ll give it a little bit of stability with him. I think it’s important to know a ballpark you’re going to every day, who your teammates are.
It’s probably important to have a few ups and downs with the same club before we even have that discussion.
The problem is that Bryant is changing that future conversation between Hoyer and the rest of the team's front office.
When they do finally decide to chat about his future, it won't be a discussion about promoting him to Triple-A. Instead, they'll be talking about what to do with Mike Olt, whom Bryant will replace at the hot corner in Chicago.
RHP Jonathan Gray, Colorado Rockies (1st Round, 3rd Pick)
2014 Stats (Double-A): 9 GS, 5-2, 2.79 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 48.1 IP, 39 H, 1.5 BB/9, 7.8 K/9
You could make the argument that two of Jonathan Gray's rotation-mates with Double-A Tulsa, Eddie Butler and Daniel Winkler, are as deserving of inclusion here.
But Colorado has never had a pitcher with the kind of stuff—or command—Gray has.
Gray has walked eight batters in 48 innings of work this season. Even more impressive than his command is his arsenal of pitches, which includes a mid-90s fastball he can dial up to 100 with ease and a high-80s slider that makes hitters look foolish with its tight, late break.
As is the case with any young starting pitcher, the Rockies want to be cautious and not overwork him, so plugging him into the major league rotation—which could certainly use some reinforcements—may not be in the cards this season.
That doesn't mean Gray is destined to spend the entire season in the minor leagues, however.
Some, including The Denver Post's Mark Kiszla, believe the Rockies should follow the lead of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Rays, two teams that have had success developing front-line starters:
Gray and his 95 mph fastball are projected to be the ace Colorado has been missing since Ubaldo Jimenez fell from favor and was shipped out of town. But there's no need for Gray to carry the rotation as a stopper in 2014.
Would using Gray as a temporary closer as he matures into a top-of-the-rotation pitcher be crazy, out-of-the-box thinking? Not really.
David Price, the 2012 Cy Young Award winner for Tampa Bay, earned a big save in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in 2008. Adam Wainwright, winner of more than 100 games as a starter for St. Louis, was effective out of the bullpen during St. Louis' run to the World Series title in 2006.
Colorado looks like a legitimate contender in the National League, and while the Rockies can outslug anyone, the time is going to come when they need someone to shut down the opposition late in games.
Bringing Gray out of the bullpen would allow him to get experience against major league hitters while minimizing his workload, staying under whatever innings limit the club has set for him in his first full professional season.
Regardless of whether Gray arrives as a starter or a reliever, he's going to arrive sooner rather than later.
He's simply too talented to keep on the farm for long—and the prospect of the Rockies playing meaningful baseball in August and September is too important to the franchise for things to play out any other way.
LHP Marco Gonzales, St. Louis Cardinals (1st Round, 19th Pick)
2014 Stats (High-A): 6 GS, 5-2, 1.43 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 37.2 IP, 34 H, 1.9 BB/9, 7.6 K/9
2014 Stats (Double-A): 2 GS, 1-0, 0.75 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 12.0 IP, 8 H, 2.2 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
It took Marco Gonzales only 14 games—61 innings as a professional—to reach Double-A Springfield.
That's pretty impressive.
St. Louis' first-round pick in the 2013 draft, the southpaw has moved quickly through the minor leagues, laying waste to the opposition with a three-pitch mix that includes a low-90s fastball with late bite, a solid curveball and a changeup that Baseball America called the best in the system.
Aside from his natural talent, Gonzales understands how to pitch, as evidenced by his second Double-A start against Midland, a team that led the Texas League in walks and on-base percentage heading into the game.
Gonzales tossed seven innings of two-hit, shutout baseball, walking one and striking out seven. After the game, he explained his approach to MiLB.com's Jake Seiner:
I was really just trying to throw strikes, then mix in the curveball in the third and fourth inning. It was a good mix, throwing first-pitch strikes and attacking the inner half.
Especially in the second and third innings, as I got near the bottom half of the order, I just attacked with fastballs. The second time around, I started flipping more changeups in the first pitch, then coming hard in again, keeping them off-balance with a good mix.
To be sure, a pair of Double-A starts certainly isn't a large enough sample size to deem Gonzales ready for the major leagues. But you can't ignore his performance, which has been outstanding, and you can't help but think about how he could potentially help the Cardinals this season.
While the Cardinals don't have an opening in the major league rotation, Gonzales could figure into the team's bullpen mix. It wouldn't be the first time the Redbirds utilized one of their top pitching prospects in relief, having done so with Adam Wainwright in 2006 and Carlos Martinez the last two years.
That he's a lefty only makes a possible promotion to the big leagues all the more enticing considering the issues Randy Choate has had as the team's primary left-handed reliever.
RHP Michael Lorenzen, Cincinnati Reds (1st Round, 38th Pick)
2014 Stats (Double-A): 10 GS, 2-3, 1.99 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 58.2 IP, 46 H, 2.8 BB/9, 6.1 K/9
It stood to reason that Michael Lorenzen, a full-time outfielder and a part-time closer in college, was going to need significant time to find his way on the mound, especially with Cincinnati looking to develop him as a starter.
But as we've quickly come to learn, the Reds' first-round pick in the 2013 draft is anything but typical.
In his ninth start of the season, against Jacksonville on May 18, Lorenzen threw five scoreless, no-hit innings, walking four and striking out six. Most notable, however, was the fact that he debuted a brand-new pitch, as he explained to MiLB's Tyler Maun:
I just started working on [the curveball] like a week ago. I was watching [Cardinals starter Adam] Wainwright throw and [Dodgers starter Clayton] Kershaw throw, and they have these big, loopy curveballs. I was interested in throwing one, I really wanted to throw one.
I watched some videos on Wainwright, how he gripped it, how he threw it. I got some input from a couple guys on the team, what they do when they throw it. I just started working on it last series, the day before I pitched. I threw it in the bullpen for the first time just three days ago and it was really good, so I threw it today and got a strikeout with it.
Adding a curveball to a repertoire that already features a plus-plus fastball that sits in the high 90s and a plus slurve is going to make Lorenzen a more complete pitcher and speed up his estimated time of arrival in Cincinnati.
"We're pretty comfortable with where they [Lorenzen and top prospect Robert Stephenson] are and the challenges they face at Double-A at this moment," Reds minor league director Jeff Graupe told MLB.com's Mark Sheldon recently. "Their performance will dictate how their year finishes."
Lorenzen's year could finish with him serving in a familiar role, coming out of the bullpen to bolster a Reds relief corps that has been a major disappointment in 2014.
RHP Jason Hursh, Atlanta Braves (1st Round, 31st Pick)
2014 Stats (Double-A): 10 GS, 3-4, 4.18 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 51.2 IP, 58 H, 2.6 BB/9, 5.7 K/9
A quick look at Jason Hursh's numbers don't make you say, "Wow, this kid is on the fast track to the major leagues."
But numbers can be deceiving. Take Hursh's last start out of the equation, one that saw him surrender six earned runs and nine hits in only 4.2 innings of work, and his numbers on the season look significantly better, with a 3.44 ERA and 1.36 WHIP.
The 22-year-old got his first taste of major league camp this spring, going 3-0 with a 3.60 ERA and impressing both Braves coaches and legends, including former manager Bobby Cox.
“He’s got great movement on his fastball which a lot of pitchers are more in love with velocity, four seamers now,” Cox told David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And this kid has got good sink on it and is going to be a typical groundball pitcher with some strikeouts in there also. I like him a lot.”
While he's got an electric fastball that sits in the mid-90s with late life, Hursh isn't your prototypical strikeout pitcher, pitching to contact and keeping the ball on the ground. He's far from a finished product, but the Braves have never shied away from dipping into their system for a young arm when needed.
Whether its as a high-leverage reliever or a spot starter, Hursh could figure into Atlanta's plans well before rosters expand in September.
More Early Standouts from the 2013 Draft Class
While the five members of the 2013 draft class that we looked at are the closest to making an impact in the major leagues, they aren't the only ones opening eyes in 2014.
These players aren't quite as close to the majors as their counterparts, but their performances in 2014 are worthy of note:
- SS J.P. Crawford, Philadelphia (First Round)
- LHP Daniel Gibson, Arizona (Seventh Round)
- RHP Joe Gunkel, Boston (18th Round)
- RHP Hunter Harvey, Baltimore (First Round)
- LHP Hobbs Johnson, Milwaukee (14th Round)
- RHP Jon Keller, Baltimore (22nd Round)
- RHP Ben Lively, Cincinnati (Fourth Round)
- RHP Nick Petree, St. Louis (Ninth Round)
- RHP Jimmy Sherfy, Arizona (10th Round)
- RHP Austin Voth, Washington (Fifth Round)