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, concluding today with the 2013 Draft.
Before we get started, a brief second introduction. The 2013 Draft breakdown won't be like the four that have preceded it. It's been only 12 months since these guys were drafted and became professional baseball players. It's far too early to call any of them a bust or even a bargain. We all need more time to evaluate them, and they need more time to prove themselves on the professional stage.
Instead of divying things up into categories, this will be a short breakdown of what we've seen (or haven't seen) on some of the more prominent first-round picks. Consider them all "To be determined."
1. Mark Appel, right-handed pitcher, Astros: Appel's leverage and signability issues that caused him to drop to No. 8 in 2012 weren't there after returning to Stanford for a fourth year, and that freed the Astros to take the right-hander first overall last June. He also got his wish for a more appropriate signing bonus for his skill set, inking a deal that netted him $6.35 million. He later made 10 starts in the New York-Penn and Midwest Leagues last year to get his feet wet in pro ball.
This year has been much more difficult on the former Cardinal hurler. He underwent an appendectomy that postponed his first Spring Training. When he did make it to Class A Advanced Lancaster, he struggled, giving up eight runs on 14 hits in 10 1/3 innings over just four starts. The Astros sent him back to extended spring training in late April, and he didn't return for a month. Even the comeback was difficult -- Appel gave up 10 runs on 10 hits in just 1 1/3 innings last Saturday.
"Having the confidence of knowing that you're the first overall pick in last year's Draft, you should be the top of the top right now, and I mean, it's humbling. This game is very humbling," he said in an interview on Sirius XM's MLB Network Radio earlier this week. "But it's a good thing because it'll give me that drive, that desire, that motivation to continue to working, to continue to be faithful, both to God and to my teammates, my coaches, myself, the things that I need to do."
2. Kris Bryant, third baseman, Cubs: Bryant, on the other hand, is at the very other end of the success spectrum from Appel. The 2013 Golden Spikes winner has torn the cover off the ball at Double-A Tennessee, putting up a .348/.456/.690 line with 19 homers and 51 RBIs. He leads the Southern League in every one of those stats, and that level of production has spawned #KrisBryantFacts on Twitter.
"That's the best thing in baseball, I think," he told MiLB.com about his home run-hitting prowess. "When you're a little kid growing up, you want to hit home runs. I still get that kid feeling in me every time I run the bases. It's a kids' game and I'm out there having fun. I've been playing well lately, but there are going to be times I struggle. Either way, I'm having fun and playing the game with a smile on my face."
3. Jon Gray, right-handed pitcher, Rockies: Thanks to a killer, 80-grade fastball, the former Oklahoma hurler was seen as a potential No. 1 pick last June but slid to the Rockies at No. 3. (He reportedly tested positive for Adderall without a prescription before the Draft, but it's believed that didn't hurt his stock.)
Colorado moved him to Double-A Tulsa to start the season, and it's been a season of peaks and valleys for the 6-foot-4 right-hander so far. He gave up nine earned runs over his first two starts (6 2/3 innings) but rebounded over his next seven outings, serving up only six earned runs over 41 2/3 innings (1.30 ERA). That led to calls for Gray to join an unstable Rockies rotation sooner rather than later, but his outing May 29 (5 1/3 IP, 8 H, 8 ER) shows he might need some more time to marinate in the Texas League before making the big jump.
9. Austin Meadows, outfielder, Pirates: Meadows drew raves as a five-tool player entering the Draft before the Bucs picked him up with the compensation pick they received for losing Appel. The left-handed outfielder showed each of those tools off last season when he put up a .316/.424/.554 line with seven homers, five triples, 11 doubles and 22 RBIs in 48 games between the Gulf Coast League and Class A Short Season Jamestown.
Unfortunately, he hasn't been afforded to match those numbers in his full-season debut as a hamstring injury has kept him out the first two months-plus of the Minor League season. PiratesProspects.com reported that Meadows just got back on the field last week and is expected to rehab in the GCL later this month before eventually moving up to Class A West Virginia, where he would have started the season if healthy.
10. Phillip Bickford, right-handed pitcher, Blue Jays: The 6-foot-4 Californian received great reports on his fastball, which MLB.com noted reached up to 96 mph, even as a player who was still 17 on Draft Day. But he wasn't seen as a top-10 pick -- MLB.com had him pegged as the No. 26 player in the Draft -- because he was viewed as a pitcher that would be difficult to wrangle away from his commitment to Cal State Fullerton. The Jays reached for him at No. 10, where the recommended slot bonus was $2,921,400 but were never able to get him to sign before the mid-July deadline. Bickford went 6-3 with a 2.13 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 20 appearances (76 innings) with Fullerton this season, and the Jays will receive the No. 11 pick in Thursday's first round as compensation.
16. J.P. Crawford, shortstop, Phillies: Since taking Cole Hamels 17th overall in 2002, the Phils hadn't had very much success in the Draft's first round entering 2013 with the lone exception being perhaps Jesse Biddle (2010). They may have put an end to that with Crawford, whom they snagged with their highest pick since Gavin Floyd went fourth overall in 2001.
With 60 grades on both his glove and arm, the shortstop out out of Lakewood, California, has been seen as a fielding-first type of player and that could very well be his eventual path. However, he's shown a good bat in the early going with Class A Lakewood, where he owns a .314/.410/.440 line in 51 games. He's currently ranked as MLB.com's No. 87 overall prospect, one spot ahead of 2013 No. 14 pick Reese McGuire.
22. Hunter Harvey, right-handed pitcher, Orioles: Harvey reportedly never made a college commitment after dominating North Carolina high school batters, and that, along with the genes he acquired from his former All-Star father Bryan Harvey, had him easily projected in the first round. MLB.com ranked him at No. 22 entering the Draft, and that's precisely where he went.
Ever since, he's become a darling of the prospect community, thanks to a mix of stuff (65-grade fastball, 55 curve), projectability (6-foot-3 but only 175 pounds) and impressive stats (1.68 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 64 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings at Class A Delmarva). With Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, the Orioles have an impressive set of three right-handed prospects in their system.
32. Aaron Judge, outfielder, Yankees: The first thing you notice about Judge on both paper and in person is his 6-foot-7, 230-pound frame. They don't make many ballplayers like that nor have they ever. You'd think that would come with some good power, and that's true of Judge. He batted .373 with 11 homers in 52 games with Fresno State as a junior before signing with the Yankees for a $1.8 million bonus.
The Yanks have decided to bring Judge along slowly, putting him at Class A Charleston where he's taking advantage of the lowest full-season level. The 22-year-old outfielder is batting .315/.413/.507 with eight homers and 37 RBIs in 57 games with the RiverDogs and was named a South Atlantic League All-Star this week. A promotion to Class A Advanced Tampa, where his 45-grade tool will be tested in a more pitching-friendly league, should follow.
34. Sean Manaea, left-handed pitcher, Royals: Manaea was ranked a lot higher than his actual pick would have you think -- MLB.com had the Indiana State southpaw at No. 13 overall -- but fell due to a torn hip labrum that required surgery. He fell all the way to No. 34, and the Royals were able to sign him to a $3.55 million bonus after they were able to get Hunter Dozier for only $2.2 million at eighth overall.
Manaea, who has an above-average fastball and slider, was healthy enough to pitch by the spring, and he's in his debut season with Class A Advanced Wilmington, where he's been better than his numbers suggest. The 6-foot-5 left-hander has posted a 5.09 ERA in his first 10 starts but has been hurt by an incredibly high .443 BABIP. His FIP is much lower at 3.08, helped by his 58 strikeouts in only 40 2/3 innings.
39. Corey Knebel, right-handed pitcher, Tigers: Relievers are often the first in their Draft class to make the Majors, and that was the case with Knebel -- the final selection in the 2013 first round.
The hard-throwing right-hander put up an 0.87 ERA with 41 strikeouts, 10 walks and a .133 average-against in 31 innings for Class A West Michigan last season. He made 14 appearances between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo this season, posting a 0.95 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 19 innings, before moving up to the Tigers two weeks ago. He served up three runs on two hits and two walks in just one inning in his MLB debut against the Rangers on May 24 but hasn't given up a run in two appearances (2 2/3 innings) since.