MLB Draft 2014: Highlighting the Biggest Steals of Day 2
While Day 1 of the Major League Baseball draft took place Thursday night and carried through the end of the Competitive Balance Round after Round 2, Day 2 began in the early afternoon Friday and came to a close after Round 10.
Since most of the best amateurs are selected on Day 1, Rounds 3 through 10 are about picking more signable players (i.e., college seniors) so teams can stay within their allotted bonus pools. That doesn't mean, though, that clubs can't find and take college and high school talent with some upside as potential mid-round steals.
Here's a look at a batch of the biggest steals from Day 2—amateurs who went much later in the draft than projected based solely on their talent—listed in draft order from latest to earliest. For the purposes of this piece, only players picked in Round 5 or later could qualify as steals.
Austin Byler, 1B, Nevada
Drafted: Round 9, No. 274 overall by Washington Nationals
A former third baseman, Austin Byler moved across the diamond this year, which means his ability to hit is going to have to carry him going forward. Good thing the 21-year-old junior's lefty bat comes with some of the biggest power in the draft, albeit not without some holes.
Keith Law of ESPN Insider had Byler as his 94th-ranked amateur:
His swing is quiet with a minimal step towards the mound, and when he gets his hands going he generates plus bat speed. At times, though, his load can be late and it leads to an off-balance finish, and there's quite a bit of swing and miss in his game.
Taking a shot on Byler near the very end of Day 2 is a good high-upside gamble that could pay off if he continues to hit as a pro.
Austin Slater, OF, Stanford
Drafted: Round 8, No. 238 overall by San Francisco Giants
After being taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 44th round in 2011, Austin Slater saw his draft stock jump a few dozen rounds thanks to a strong junior season at Stanford.
A 21-year-old with good pop from the right side to go with his 6'2", 205-pound frame, Slater can hit, but his defensive home is in question. While he played outfield for the Cardinal, some project him to move to the dirt, as the scouting report from Baseball America, which ranks Slater No. 139, indicates:
He played third base in summer ball the last two years in the New England and Cape Cod leagues, and could move back to the infield in pro ball, with his solid-average arm strength making third base or perhaps second base options.
That tweener profile might have caused Slater to drop a bit. Let's see how the Giants plan to play him once he signs.
James Norwood, RHP, St. Louis University
Drafted: Round 7, No. 199 overall by Chicago Cubs
At 20, James Norwood is on the young side for a college junior. That makes him a little more appealing for the Cubs, who need to infuse their farm system with some arms.
Whether Norwood will wind up as a starter or a reliever, however, is going to depend on his ability to find a consistent off-speed pitch with some more time on the mound.
The power arm checked in at No. 79 at Baseball America:
Previously considered an arm-strength future reliever, Norwood has shown better pitchability this season, throwing solid fastball strikes and mixing in a curveball, cutter-type slider and changeup. Some scouts like his changeup while others prefer his curveball as his better secondary pitch. Norwood needs innings and experience most to help determine if he can be a future No. 3 or No. 4 starter or if he has to move to a bullpen.
A quick signing to get Norwood into pro ball sooner rather than later would be beneficial to both him and the Cubs.
Dylan Cease, RHP, Milton High School (Georgia)
Drafted: Round 6, No. 169 overall by Chicago Cubs
As mentioned, the Cubs needed pitching and went after it on Day 2. Considering they got him in Round 6, they may have landed a good one in Dylan Cease—emphasis on "may." There are two main concerns with the 18-year-old, and they're related—injury and signability.
At the outset of the spring, Cease was shaping up to be a selection on Day 1 until a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament cut his senior season short. That makes it more likely that the Vanderbilt commit will choose to go to school, unless he gets a big enough bonus to make him decide otherwise. The Cubs at least are in position to tempt him.
Though he was able to avoid Tommy John surgery—opting for Platelet-Rich Therapy instead—the nature of his injury, especially at this stage in his career, is a legitimate concern moving forward, not to mention an enormous risk for any club that’s still considering whether or not to lure him away from his strong Vanderbilt commitment with an above-slot bonus...
The right-hander works from a three-quarters slot with lightning-quick arm speed; has a tendency to rush forward after pause in delivery, which in turn causes him to rip open with his front side with his arm dragging behind; arm action is otherwise clean and allows him to create excellent plane; unfair to speculate as to how his current elbow injury (and treatment for said injury) will affect him moving forward.
Casey Soltis, CF, Granada High School (California)
Drafted: Round 5, No. 137 overall by Miami Marlins
Casey Soltis, who turns 19 on June 8, doesn't have a ton of upside, but his all-around skill set should put him on the path to becoming a useful big leaguer should he choose to go pro rather than head to the University of Oregon.
The lefty swinger can hit—but for what kind of power remains to be seen. This is the kind of profile that looks a lot better if he can stay in center field rather than having to shift to a corner spot.
Here's Law's take on Soltis, whom he placed at No. 97 (subscription required):
He's a very good athlete with an above-average arm, and he should be able to stick in center field.
Soltis has a chance to be a starting center fielder because of his athleticism and improving ability to get on-base, and because of his athleticism he could be a quality fourth outfielder if the bat doesn't continue to develop.
That might not sound like the most exciting steal, but just getting a big leaguer in the fifth round would be a win.
Jacob Nix, RHP, Los Alamitos High School (California)
Drafted; Round 5, No. 136 overall by Houston Astros
An 18-year-old 6'4" righty with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s and might have more in there as he matures, Jacob Nix is the kind of pitcher scouts fall for and teams dream on.
Thing is, Nix's mechanics got out of whack at time this year, which hurt his standing and pushed him from potential first-rounder to outside the top 100 overall. Now it's up to the Astros to convince the UCLA commit to work with pro coaches sooner rather than later with the hope of putting it all together.
Baseball America ranked Nix at No. 104:
Nix tantalizes scouts with his size and easy velocity, but they have expressed disappointment with his performance this spring. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, he is physical, athletic and projectable, so some scouts predict he could touch the high 90s as he matures. He already touches 93-95 mph, though he sits at 90-91. Last summer on the showcase circuit, Nix showed the ability to spot his fastball to all four quadrants, but he has struggled to command the pitch consistently this spring, and hitters sit on it because his secondary stuff is undeveloped.
Getting Nix signed will be a key to his development and future in baseball. If that happens, he—like the others mentioned here—might turn out to be quite a Day 2 steal in the end.
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