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 today with the 2012 Draft.
No. 1 overall pick
Carlos Correa, shortstop, Astros: It's rare that there are any surprises at the top of a Draft these days. There are usually clear-cut players at the top of everyone's board. If not, there are either leaks or other signs that an organization is leaning one way or another.
The Astros taking Correa was a surprise.
The belief was that Houston would take their pick between Stanford right-hander Mark Appel and Georgia high-school outfielder Byron Buxton. Instead, the Astros took the shortstop Correa, making him the highest-ever drafted player from Puerto Rico.
The decision had a lot to do with financial considerations. A Draft bonus pool had just been instituted that year and penalized any team that went beyond their allotted amount to sign their picks. The Astros, who were just starting a major rebuilding phase, signed Correa to a $4.8 million bonus -- well below the $7.2 million recommended to the top pick -- with the hopes that they could use the money elsewhere in the Draft. The plan worked when they grabbed Lance McCullers with the 41st pick and signed him for $2.5 million, about double the $1.26 million recommendation. The Florida right-hander was ranked as MLB.com's No. 13 player entering the Draft but fell because it was believed he'd be a tough sign.
Surprise or not, the Astros should have no qualms with the way they were able to grab Correa. As an 18-year-old last season, he batted .320/.405/.467 with nine homers, 33 doubles and 86 RBIs in 117 games for Class A Quad Cities. His slash line is eerily similar (.320/.390/.485) through 49 games this season despite a move up to Class A Advanced Lancaster, although it never hurts to be a hitter in the California League.
The right-handed slugger received a 60 grade for his future hit tool and 70 grade on his future power last offseason from MLB.com, which has him pegged as the No. 7 overall prospect in the game and No. 2 shortstop behind only Javier Baez of the Cubs.
Still only in his teens, Correa was never going to get the Majors as fast as Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole before him. But there's no reason to doubt that he won't have a productive, and potentially even All-Star, career with the Astros. In a Draft system that has produced No. 1 flops like Matt Anderson (1997) and Matt Bush (2004), one has to be happy with that.
Byron Buxton, outfielder, Twins: Like the 2010 Retrospective, we're not going to go with a "If it was done today. . ." section because no one can say definitively that Correa won't be the best player from the 2012 Draft. At the same time, you could very well say that Buxton will take that crown.
The Twins gladly scooped up Buxton when the toolsy outfielder fell to them at No. 2. He was coming off a senior season during which he batted .513 with three homers and 38 steals for Appling County High School in Georgia. He justified the Astros' financial worries when he signed for $6 million, which was below the $6.2 million recommended for the slot but still 25 percent higher than the money Correa took.
Buxton got his feet wet in the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues that year before really taking off in 2013. He batted .341/.431/.559 with eight homers, 10 triples, 15 doubles and 32 steals in 68 games for Class A Cedar Rapids. The Twins had seen enough and moved him up to Class A Advanced Fort Myers in late June. The 19-year-old continued to mash there putting up a .326/.415/.472 in the Florida State League and finished with a .334/.424/.520 slash to go with 12 homers, 19 doubles, 18 triples, 77 RBIs and 55 steals in his first full season.
The accolades started pouring in last offseason. Buxton was named the top prospect in baseball on every published prospect list. In their scouting report, MLB.com gave him a perfect 80 grade for his run tool and well-above average grades for hit (70), field (75) and arm (70). Power came in at "only" 60, which is still above average by scouting purposes.
Buxton's 2014 has been tough on prospectphiles as he's missed most of the season with an injured wrist. He played in only five games with Fort Myers in early May before reaggravating the injury first suffered in Spring Training. The center fielder hasn't played since May 8.
Although he hasn't been on the field as much as anyone would like, Buxton's overall profile remains the strongest in the game. It makes you think that if money wasn't an issue, the Astros would think long and hard about taking Buxton over Correa, if given a second chance, even if they won't admit it publicly.
One that got away
Mark Appel, right-handed pitcher, Pirates (now Astros): Appel is the first player in this series to get his own discussion despite not actually signing, but this whole piece would have a big hole if it ignored Appel's place in the 2012 Draft.
As mentioned above, Appel was arguably the best player going into the 2012 Draft. After three seasons at Stanford, he was certainly the most polished. In 2012, he went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and 130 strikeouts in 123 innings for the Cardinal. His fastball, slider and changeup all received top grades from scouts.
There were three issues. First, he was only a junior and could return to school if he didn't get the bonus he wanted. Second, that bonus potential would grow slimmer and slimmer the further he fell. Third, his agent -- or rather, advisor -- was Scott Boras.
The Astros, Twins, Mariners, Orioles, Royals, Cubs and Padres each chose not to risk their high picks on a player that may not sign before the Pirates, who had success in signing Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole the previous two years, decided to roll the dice. They offered a $3.8 million bonus at the mid-July deadline, aka every last dollar they had in their pool, but Appel and Boras were seeking $6 million -- virtually all of the $6.56 million allotted to the Bucs for their top 11 picks.
In the end, the Pirates weren't willing to give up on their entire top portion of the Draft, which included current No. 12 prospect Barrett Barnes at 41st overall, to sign one player. And Appel didn't want to take less money when he knew he could return to school and potentially become the first overall pick in 2013. (Of course, he was. but more on that tomorrow.) So, Appel went back to Stanford, the Pirates received the No. 9 pick in 2013 as compensation and the rest of us are forced to wait and see how the moves of both look in the end.
To be decided
Courtney Hawkins, outfielder, White Sox: Raw but incredible power. That was the story around Hawkins entering the Draft. He had put up a .437/.580/.874 line with 11 home runs and 17 steals in 36 games at Carroll High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, entering Draft Day. MLB.com had pegged him as the No. 12 player in the Draft. That proved to be nearly dead on, as the White Sox picked him up at No. 13. He memorably celebrated the selection by doing a backflip on camera, although he claimed he was egged on by MLB Network reporter Sam Ryan to do so. A little more than a week later, he signed and received a $2.475 million signing bonus, the exact recommended value for the 13th pick in the Draft.
He made his pro debut with Rookie-level Bristol and played 38 games there before moving up to Class A Kannapolis and eventually ending the season with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in time for the Dash's playoff push. The 18-year-old batted .284 with eight homers, three triples, 15 doubles and an .804 OPS in 59 games across those three levels.
That was apparently enough for the White Sox to believe he could handle the Class A Advanced level in his first full season, a designation usually left for more developed college players. Indeed, Correa, Buxton, Albert Almora, David Dahl, Addison Russell and Gavin Cecchini began their 2013 campaigns in Class A ball or below after entering the pros out of high school.
That's where the struggles began. He struck out in 37.6 percent of his at-bats in the Carolina League, where he was nearly four years younger than the average player, and batted just .178 over the course of 103 games with the Dash. In fact, his average never reached higher than .229, no thanks to a .236 BABIP. A shoulder injury that kept him out pretty much all of May didn't help things either. When he did make contact, it was loud contact. Of his 68 hits, 19 went over the fence.
The Sox predictably sent him back to Winston-Salem this season, and the results have much more in line with Hawkins' profile. The 20-year-old center fielder owned a .247/.338/.479 line with 10 homers, one triple and 12 doubles through 53 games as of Tuesday. Though still relatively high, his strikeout rate is down to 26.9 percent, while his walk rate is up from 6.8 a season ago to 11.4.
There's no doubt that 2013 was a lost year for Hawkins, who was taken three spots ahead of Nationals top prospect Lucas Giolito and Cardinals star right-hander Michael Wacha. But considering how young he still is, there remains time for him to develop his raw power and use that to climb the ladder to Chicago's South Side.