Come June 5, the likes of Carlos Rodon, Brady Aiken, Alex Jackson and a host of others are expected to hear their names called in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. In the leadup to one of the biggest days on the baseball calendar, MiLB.com looks back at some of the recent Drafts to see what went right, what went wrong and what could have been, continuing with the 2010 Draft.
No. 1 overall pick
Bryce Harper, outfielder, Nationals: The MLB Draft isn't the NBA Draft or the NFL Draft, where high picks are meant to have an immediate impact at the game's highest level. Players get drafted and, in most cases, spend a few years developing in the Minors before hitting the big time.
But even then, you couldn't help but think the Nationals hit the immediate jackpot when they took Harper one year after selecting Stephen Strasburg in the same spot in 2009. Both were considered once-in-a-lifetime talents, but Harper had an even greater legend attached to his name. In 2009, Sports Illustrated put him on its cover, calling him the "Chosen One," and wrote an article that referred to him as "Baseball's LeBron." There were stories of tape-measure homers and 96 mph fastballs. Despite being only 17, he got his GED and played at College of Southern Nevada, where he batted .443 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs en route to winning the Golden Spikes Award -- the first non-Division I player to win collegiate baseball's top prize since Alex Fernandez in 1990.
Like Strasburg, the Nationals finally inked their top pick with only moments to spare before the deadline, getting Harper to sign a five-year, $9.9 million deal. In 2011, the left-handed slugger was living up to his reputation, putting up a .297/.392/.501 line with 17 homers and 26 steals between Class A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg as an 18-year-old. After a 21-game stint at Triple-A Syracuse, he was in the Majors one season later.
Still only 21, Harper has been one of the most exciting players in baseball over the past few seasons. Known for his all-out play, he captured the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2012 after batting .270 with 22 homers and an .817 OPS and was named an All-Star in both 2012 and 2013. Despite being the youngest regular position player in the Majors both seasons, Harper ranked 11th among all outfielders with an 8.3 fWAR combined between 2012 and 2013.
In 2014, the right fielder owns a .289/.352/.422 slash line with a homer and nine RBIs in 22 games before injuring his thumb while sliding headfirst into third base. Surgery on the thumb will keep him out until July.
Harper's first few seasons have laid the groundwork for what should be an impressive big league career, even if he doesn't live up to lofty legendary expectations put on him by SI and others around the baseball landscape. In fact if the Nationals had to do it again, they'd likely take Harper again and never look back. It's not often that back-to-back No. 1 overall picks prove to be booms rather than busts -- Joe Mauer (2001) and Adrian Gonzalez (2000) are the latest examples -- so the Nats are likely thanking their lucky stars for their picks in 2009 and 2010.
For the reasons listed above, there won't be a "If it was done today. . ." category in this edition of the retrospectives. However, that doesn't mean there aren't a few players who are at least worthy of the "best player from the 2010 Class" discussion.
Chris Sale, left-handed pitcher, White Sox: Standing at 6-foot-6, the left-hander had the height, but at only 180 pounds, he was perhaps a little too skinny. Not to mention, his sidearm delivery looked a little out of whack. These were what things about Sale that scared teams with high picks in the 2010 Draft. (Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan lambasted the Royals, who had the No. 4 pick, in this column last month.)
Instead, the White Sox picked up the left-hander out of Florida Gulf Coast, and he's proven to be the franchise's best first-rounder since Frank Thomas in 1989.
Sale made only 11 relief appearances in the Minors in 2010 before moving onto the Majors. (In seven games with Triple-A Charlotte, he faced 26 batters and struck out 15 of them.) He remained a reliever the rest of that season and 2011, posting a 2.58 ERA with 111 strikeouts and 1.10 WHIP in 79 appearances (94 1/3 innings) between the two years. He became a starter in 2012 and has been equally dominant, posting a 3.05 ERA that season and 3.07 the next while averaging north of nine strikeouts per nine innings in a pair of All-Star campaigns. He finished fifth in Cy Young voting last season and is off to an even better start this season with a 1.59 ERA and 52 punchouts in 45 1/3 innings.
There are always durability concerns in this Age of Tommy John -- Sale missed a month this season with a flexor muscle strain in his elbow -- so we'll have to wait perhaps a decade more to judge the class as a whole. But as it stands, Sale has a legitimate claim to be its biggest standout.
Andrelton Simmons, shortstop, Braves: Since being drafted in the second round (70th overall) out of Western Oklahoma State College, Simmons is redefining what it means to be a great defensive shortstop. Or if you prefer, a great shortstop, period.
The Curacao native didn't need long in the Minors -- only 237 games during which he had a .299 average and 54 stolen bases between Rookie-level Danville, Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi -- before getting the call to the Majors in June 2012 to replace the struggling Tyler Pastonicky at short.
Since 2012, he leads all Major League shortstops in UZR/150, and it's not even close. According to FanGraphs, his mark of 23.0 almost doubles second-place Clint Barmes's 11.9 in that span. Among all position players, he trails only fellow Brave Jason Heyward (26.6) and Orioles third baseman Manny Machado (24.9). He's averaging just 5.9 UZR/150 (ninth in the Majors among shortstops) this season, but that appears to be more early-season sample noise than anything signifying a trend.
He's also proving he's not a hole in the lineup, with a .259 average and .703 OPS in his career. His 17 homers last season showed some pretty good pop in his bat for a guy many thought would have to make it on his glove alone.
The Braves rewarded Simmons with a seven-year, $58 million contract extension in the fall. Pretty good for a guy who was passed over 69 times in 2010.
Hayden Simpson, right-handed pitcher, Cubs: You could make the case for Christian Colon (fourth overall, Royals) or Barret Loux (sixth overall, D-backs) here. But at least they've advanced as far as Triple-A. Or you could even make the case for Karsten Whitson (ninth overall, Padres), who didn't sign and saw his stock drop so much that he was selected in the 37th round last year. But it's not right to call a player who chose the college route a bust.
Instead, Simpson is the pick here, and perhaps that's through no fault of his own. The Cubs, in the pre-Theo Epstein era, had reportedly decided to dramatically cut their Draft budget, meaning they were looking for players who could sign on the cheap instead of taking the best player available no matter the cost. That left them with Simpson, who scouts said had a terrific fastball, with the 16th pick. However, there were plenty of concerns about his competition level considering he played Division II ball at Southern Arkansas University, where he went 13-1 with a 1.81 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 99 1/3 innings that spring. That combination meant he could be fairly affordable, and he was just that, getting a $1,050,000 bonus for signing and all the expectations that came with being mid-first-rounder.
Simpson didn't pitch at all in 2010 due to a bad case of mononucleosis, and when he did make his debut in 2011, things didn't exactly go well. He went 1-10 with a 6.27 ERA and served up 10 homers in 79 innings between the Arizona League and Class A Peoria. The Cubs moved him to the bullpen in 2012, but the results (4-7, 6.56 ERA, 11 homers, 51 walks, 82 1/3 innings) were no better at Class A Short Season Boise and Class A Advanced Daytona. Chicago cut him completely in 2013, and he has not pitched in the Minors since.
To be determined
Aaron Sanchez, right-handed pitcher, Blue Jays: Since the Blue Jays took him 34th overall as part of their compensation for losing Marco Scutaro, we've seen nothing but potential out of Sanchez. He's got a killer fastball, one heck of a curveball and a pretty good changeup. He's consistently at the top of Blue Jays prospect lists and checks in as MLB.com's No. 19 overall prospect. The guy is good.
Where this adds extra significance is what happened two years after the Draft. The Blue Jays had quite the prospect trio with Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard (38th overall) and Justin Nicolino (80th) -- each of whom was taken fairly early in the 2010 Draft. After the three spent time together at Class A Lansing in 2012, Toronto traded Syndergaard to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal and Nicolino to the Marlins for Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle and others the following offseason. But they refused to give up Sanchez.
Now the 21-year-old right-hander is in his fourth season within the Jays system. The stuff is just as good, but control issues continue to haunt him. Sanchez is 1-4 with a 4.14 ERA, 43 strikeouts and 37 walks in 12 starts (54 1/3 innings) with Double-A New Hampshire. In his last 10 starts alone, he's issued 33 free passes across just 44 1/3 innings.
Right now, Sanchez remains one of the best prospects in the game, but we won't be able to judge whether the Jays made the right decisions by both drafting him in 2010 and keeping him in 2012 until he can prove himself in the Majors. He'll have to work on his command for that to happen.