MLB Draft 2014: Ranking the 10 Biggest Steals of the Entire Draft
There were 1,215 players drafted in the 40 rounds of the 2014 Major League Baseball draft. We'll know for sure which players were the big steals among that lot in, oh, about a decade.
But for now, we can narrow things down to the players who look like the biggest steals of the draft.
We can do that by weighing where players probably should have gone based on their apparent talent level, according to the all-knowing, all-seeing experts, against where they actually went in the draft.
Beyond that, we'll narrow things down even further by focusing on guys who are actually signable. So if you're looking for a list of steals featuring Jacob Bukauskas at No. 600, you've come to the wrong place.
With the ground rules now defined, let's take a look at the top 10 steals of the 2014 MLB draft.
10. Austin Byler at No. 274 to Washington Nationals
ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required), on the other hand, ranked Byler even higher as the No. 94 prospect. Despite questions about his athleticism and hit tool, Byler offers a "plus power projection from the left side." Otherwise known as "a thing teams want."
The reason Byler can't be considered a bigger steal, however, is because his signability is a question mark.
In an interview with KOLO-TV, he said he's looking for a bonus of "at least $350,000 to $400,000 dollars." That's well over the No. 274 pick's slot value of $143,500, and could be a reach for a Nats team that only has $5,275,700 to spend on bonuses, according to Baseball America.
But since Byler added that he made this clear to the Nationals before they drafted him, there is a chance something will get done and they'll get to keep their big steal.
9. James Norwood at No. 199 to Chicago Cubs
The Cubs came into the draft with a farm system that is loaded with bats but somewhat light on arms. So not surprisingly, they chose pitchers with 10 of their first 12 picks.
Among those, one of the better value picks was James Norwood, a right-hander out of Saint Louis University. They got him at No. 199 despite him being the No. 119 player on MLB.com's big board.
Baseball America likes the 20-year-old even more than that, ranking him as the draft's No. 79 prospect and praising the progress he made in his junior season (subscription required): "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."
Now, there is the possibility that Norwood won't sign and will head back to Saint Louis for his senior season. That would be understandable, given how much his stock rose as a junior.
But the Cubs do have a pretty big bonus pool to work with at $8,352,200, so an over-slot deal could be in order. Beyond that, Norwood could decide he's better off not risking disaster by going back for his senior season after struggling with an arm injury as a sophomore.
8. Carson Sands at No. 109 to Chicago Cubs
While James Norwood was a good value pick by the Cubs, their best value pick probably happened at No. 109 in the fourth round.
That's when they took Carson Sands, a left-hander out of North Florida Christian High School. He came into the draft ranked as the No. 53 prospect by both MLB.com and Baseball America, with the former noting Sands' recent developments:
Sands' rise has been partly attributable to the strength gains he has made over the past year. That led to a jump in his fastball velocity, and he now throws the pitch in the low 90s, regularly touching 94 mph. He also throws a solid 12-to-6 curveball and has a good feel for his changeup...
He does have a commitment to Florida State, but it surprisingly doesn't sound like it's going to get in the Cubs' way of signing him. Sands told MLB.com's Teddy Cahill that he's "really looking forward" to signing.
If he does, then the Cubs will have gotten a legit second-round talent in the fourth round.
7. Michael Cederoth at No. 79 to Minnesota Twins
The Twins got a modest steal when they chose hard-throwing Louisville right-hander Nick Burdi with the No. 46 pick, but they got an even bigger steal at No. 79 in the third round.
That's when they took Michael Cederoth, a hard-throwing right-hander out of San Diego State. Generally regarded as a top-60 prospect, Baseball America liked him even more at No. 45.
That's what happens when a guy looks like an elite relief pitcher in the making:
He has flourished in a relief role, attacking hitters with an explosive fastball that sits easily at 94-97 mph and touches 98-100. Sometimes the heater is straight, but other times it cuts, whether by design or not. Cederoth tried to throw four pitches as a starter, but streamlining his repertoire has also helped his slider improve out of the bullpen, where it has shown later, harder break at 83-85 mph.
For the longest time, power pitchers weren't really Minnesota's thing. Now the Twins suddenly have a ton of them in their system, and this is the guy who could emerge as the best closer of the bunch.
Cederoth could head back to San Diego State for his senior season. But given how much higher his value is this year than last and that the No. 79 pick comes with a solid $703,900 value, something should get done between him and the Twins.
6. Milton Ramos at No. 84 to New York Mets
The Mets went for offense with their first pick, taking Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto at No. 10.
When they picked next at No. 84 in the third round, however, they went for defense. And boy, did they find just that in Milton Ramos.
A shortstop out of American Heritage High School in Florida, he was ranked as a top-50 prospect by Bleacher Report's Mike Rosenbaum, Baseball America and MLB.com. The general consensus was that he's something special with a glove on his hand.
Rosenbaum wrote, "Ramos is easily the most gifted defensive shortstop in this year's class and could enjoy a solid career at the position even if his bat doesn't amount to much."
Ramos does have a commitment to Florida Atlantic, and he could decide to head there to develop his bat and send his draft value into the stratosphere. But B/R's Adam Wells argued that pro coaching is what Ramos' bat needs more than college coaching, which could actually do more harm than good.
If Ramos signs, then this steal could result in the Mets getting a long-term answer at a position where they desperately need one.
5. Jacob Gatewood at No. 41 to Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers pulled off two notable upside plays after the first round was in the books. The first was with this guy at No. 41 in the competitive balance round.
Jacob Gatewood is a shortstop out of Clovis High School in California, and he came into the draft as a top-25 prospect, according to, well, everyone. B/R's Mike Rosenbaum, for example, had him down at No. 24 and had kind things to say about his power projection:
Jacob Gatewood is the epitome of projectable, with an athletic 6’5” frame that will allow him to add considerable strength as he matures physically. A right-handed hitter, Gatewood’s lightning-quick wrists and explosive bat speed yield effortless plus-plus raw power—especially to the pull side.
Not that Gatewood is perfect, mind you. It's hard to imagine a 6'5" player sticking at shortstop once the muscles come, and there are also questions about his hit tool.
Still, it's good enough that he projects as a right-handed-hitting power monster, something that's in short supply in MLB these days. Knowing that, it's even more surprising that he didn't go in the first round.
The catch? The Brewers had to go over slot to sign him. MLB.com's Jim Callis reported that Gatewood has signed for $1.83 million, about half a million over the No. 41 pick's $1,384,900 value.
4. Monte Harrison at No. 50 to Milwaukee Brewers
After the Brewers went for a first-round talent at No. 41, they went for another first-round talent at No. 50.
That's when they drafted Monte Harrison, an outfielder out of Lee's Summit West High School in Missouri. He checked in as a top-25 prospect according to Keith Law, MLB.com and Baseball America, with the consensus being that he is a classic bucket-of-tools type of prospect.
Baseball America wrote:
Scouts who believe in Harrison see plus bat speed, passion for the game and baseball instincts. They also see 6.6-second speed in the 60 that should help Harrison stay in center field, as well as plus-plus arm that reached 97 mph from the outfield in showcases.
The drawback with Harrison is that he's still plenty raw as a baseball player, and it should certainly be noted that the Brewers went even more over slot to sign him than they did to sign Gatewood. Jim Callis reported his bonus as $1.8 million, about $700,000 over the No. 50 pick's $1,100,300 value.
And yet the upside is still very appealing. If Harrison pans out, he'll be a do-it-all center fielder. There aren't many of those out there.
3. Sean Reid-Foley at No. 49 to Toronto Blue Jays
There's a case to be made that Jeff Hoffman was the best steal that the Toronto Blue Jays got in the draft. He may be recovering from Tommy John surgery, but they still got a top-five talent at No. 9.
With that noted, a less risky and arguably bigger steal happened when they took Sean Reid-Foley at No. 49.
A right-hander out of Sandalwood High School in Florida, Reid-Foley came into the draft as a top-20 prospect by both MLB.com and Baseball America. Mike Rosenbaum didn't like him that much but still liked him enough to put him at No. 21 and characterize him as a potential fast-riser: "At 6’4”, 205 pounds, Sean Reid-Foley is one of the more polished prep arms in the class, as his advanced feel for a four-pitch mix suggests a high floor and chance to move up the ladder quickly compared to his peers."
Toronto scouting director Brian Parker told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet that the club scouted Reid-Foley as a first-round talent and was thus delighted to get him in the second round. And while Reid-Foley does have a commitment to Florida State, Parker also said the Blue Jays "feel good" about getting something done.
If the Blue Jays do sign him, their draft haul is going to rank among the most impressive of the bunch.
2. Bradley Zimmer at No. 21 to Cleveland Indians
Hey, steals can happen at the top of the draft too. The Cleveland Indians can vouch for that, as a steal is what they got at No. 21 in the first round.
Their pick was University of San Francisco star Bradley Zimmer, brother of 2012 No. 5 pick Kyle Zimmer. While Kyle is a pitcher, Bradley is a toolsy outfielder with an especially intriguing bat.
These things earned him a spot as a top-10 prospect on some boards, including at No. 8 on Mike Rosenbaum's:
A left-handed hitter, Zimmer is widely considered one of the better college batters in the class, with a mature feel for hitting and above-average power potential. Furthermore, the 6’5” outfielder also possesses one of the finest collections of tools among amateur prospects with good speed and plus arm strength as well as the defensive prowess to possibly stick in center field.
Maybe Zimmer will decide to go back to San Francisco for his senior season and a shot at a top-10 selection next year. But doing so would mean turning down a potential $2 million bonus.
Expect him to sign, in which case the team will start dreaming of an outfield featuring Zimmer and 2013 No. 5 pick Clint Frazier.
1. Grant Holmes at No. 22 to Los Angeles Dodgers
There's a case to be made for Bradley Zimmer at No. 21 being the biggest steal of the first round, but it's hard to argue against the steal that happened a pick later at No. 22.
That's when the Dodgers took Grant Holmes, a right-hander out of Conway High School in South Carolina. When they picked him, they got the No. 10 prospect on Mike Rosenbaum's board.
Keith Law, however, likes Holmes even more. He put him at No. 6 and let loose with the high praise:
The most polished high school pitcher in the class, Holmes has outstanding command and has hit 98 mph, although I think in pro ball he'll settle in at 92-94 and get hitters out by throwing strikes and changing speeds rather than just overpowering them.
“You have to look at him as more than a high school pitcher,” said Dodgers scouting director Logan White, via the Los Angeles Times. “He’s an advanced high school pitcher.”
This advanced high school pitcher could choose to honor his commitment to Florida to become more advanced. Signing with the Dodgers, though, would mean accepting a roughly $2 million bonus.
Plus, he would join an organization that has plenty more where that came from.