2011 Draft Retrospective: Finding Fernandez
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 2011 Draft.
No. 1 overall pick
Gerrit Cole, right-handed pitcher, Pirates: The last time the Pirates had the No. 1 overall pick was in 2002 when they took right-hander Bryan Bullington, who appeared in only six games for the Bucs and eventually moved on to the Indians, Blue Jays and Royals before leaving American ball in 2010 with a 5.62 career ERA in 26 games. They needed to make this one count.
That was the thought process going into 2011. Pittsburgh was reportedly considering UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole, Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen and Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon going into June. They, of course, decided on Cole despite his junior-year stats (3.31 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.4 K/9) that didn't exactly scream the dominance often associated with the top pick. The evaluation instead came from his stuff and profile. Checking in at 6-foot-4 with a fastball that sometimes hit triple digits and a nasty slider, Cole was projectable and appeared to be plenty durable.
Like Harper and Strasburg before him, the right-hander didn't come to a contract agreement until the final day of the deadline, when he inked a Minor League contract with an $8.5 million signing bonus.
Cole moved quickly through the Pirates system during his first pro season and made it as far as Triple-A Indianapolis in 2012, going 9-7 with a 2.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 9.4 K/9 in 132 innings that year. He made 12 starts with the Indians in 2013 (5-3, 2.91 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 6.2 K/9) before getting the call to the Majors in June once it appeared he had passed the Super Two deadline. He finished 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 7.7 K/9 in 19 Major League starts and got two starts in the Bucs' Division Series matchup with the Cardinals, where he suffered the loss while being outpitched by Adam Wainwright in the pivotal Game 5.
His numbers (3.80 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 8.0 K/9) have mostly taken a hit across the board this season, but Cole remains one of the few reliable members of the Pittsburgh rotation in the early going. Still only 23, the former Bruin still has plenty of promise, not to mention his health intact, and is making the Pirates look smart for taking him at the top of the 2011 board.
If it was done today. . .
Jose Fernandez, right-handed pitcher, Marlins: That being said, ask anyone in baseball who they'd rather have right now, and the answer should be Fernandez, even given his recent Tommy John surgery.
The story of Jose Fernandez is one that deserves to be told over and over. He tried to escaped Cuba three different times -- including one incident that forced him to jump into the water to save his mother and led to his house arrest -- before finally fleeing successfully in 2008. His family moved to the Tampa region, and eventually, given the skills he showed at Alonso High School where he threw four no-hitters including a perfect game, he started shooting up Draft boards.
The Marlins, who have a strong connection to the Cuban community in Miami, liked what they saw out of the young right-hander and took him 14th overall in 2011.
It's the best move the organization has made in the last decade.
Fernandez impressed in his first full season in 2012, going 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA, 158 strikeouts and only 35 walks in 134 innings between Class A Greensboro and Class A Advanced Jupiter. That's certainly notable -- he won the MiLBY for Best Starter that season -- but no one was exactly expecting a move to the Majors to follow. Except that's exactly what the Marlins, who needed a boost to an otherwise subpar rotation at the time, did by promoting their top prospect before he had ever toed a Double-A rubber.
Then only 19, Fernandez repaid the club for their confidence by capturing the National League Rookie of the Year award after going 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, 187 strikeouts and .182 batting average-against in 172 2/3 innings. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and slider that will break your back just watching it, he was off to an even better start this season with a 2.44 ERA and 34.2 strikeout percentage before suffering an elbow injury that eventally led to Tommy John surgery last month. Fernandez won't pitch until next season when he'll still be only 21 going on 22.
Despite the injury, he's still the best young pitcher in the game, and that was no more evident than when the entire baseball community expressed their sadness following the news of his surgery. The Pirates got a rock in Cole. The Marlins, and maybe all of baseball, found their future in Fernandez.
C.J. Edwards, right-handed pitcher, Rangers/Cubs: The Draft is full of stories -- that'll happen when you have the most selections among the four major sports -- but the 2011 edition has proved to be a particularly good example.
Edwards made a local name for himself in Prosperity, South Carolina, by playing at Mid-Carolina High School and more importantly in a local adult league called the Bush or Sandlot League. Rangers scout Chris Kemp took notice of the scrawny right-hander's high-80s fastball and developing curveball and talked the Rangers into selecting Edwards in the 48th round at 1,464th overall. (Since 2012, Drafts don't go past 40 rounds.) The Rangers, in turn, talked Edwards out of going to junior college, signing him to a $50,000 deal at the deadline.
Two years later, the 6-foot-2 right-hander made his full-season debut with Class A Hickory and proceeded to set the prospect landscape on fire. He posted an 8-2 record with a 1.83 ERA, 122 strikeouts, 34 walks and (most notably) no home runs in 93 1/3 innings with the Crawdads. He, then, became well-known on the national landscape when he was arguably the biggest piece the Cubs received from the Rangers in the July deal that sent Matt Garza to Texas. In 25 months, Edwards had gone from a no-name 48th-rounder to a big-name trade piece.
He joined Class A Advanced Daytona after the trade and continued to put up pretty regular-season numbers (1.96 ERA, 33 strikeouts, seven walks, one homer, 23 innings) before leading the D-Cubs to a Florida State League title.
Pitching for the first time in Double-A, Edwards was 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in four April starts for Tennessee this season before hitting the disabled list due to shoulder inflammation. He hasn't pitched since April 20.
As it stands, Edwards checks in as the Cubs' top pitching prospect and MLB.com's No. 34 prospect overall. Despite the small roadbump caused by his injury, his future remains bright, certainly brighter than any 48th-round pick's future is expected to be.
Bubba Starling, outfielder, Royals: Many thought the Royals had rolled the dice when they took Starling fifth overall in 2011. But not because of his rawness. Instead, the biggest gamble had to deal with his signability.
Starling was a classic three-sport star athlete in high school but was also so much more than that. He played basketball, baseball and football during his time at Gardner-Edgerton High School in Gardner, Kansas, 40 minutes southwest of Kauffman Stadium, but it was in the latter two sports that he really excelled. As a quarterback, he rushed for 2,377 yards and scored 37 touchdowns in the fall of his senior season. The previous summer, he had already committed to play quarterback at Nebraska after also receiving offers from Alabama, Notre Dame, Kansas State and others. On the diamond, he batted .481 and hit one home run every six at-bats in the spring.
Because of those numbers along with his very loud tools, Starling was long seen as the best high school position player going into the Draft. The only concern surrounded any team's ability to pry him away from his commitment to the Huskers. The hometown Royals did just the thing with the fifth overall pick and finally signed him to a $7.5 million bonus on the Aug. 15 deadline.
Kansas City has worked Starling slowly through their system, sending him to Rookie-level Burlington in his first season in 2012. The trouble is the right-handed center fielder hasn't done much hitting since. He batted .241 last season and struck out in 25.7 percent of his plate appearances in 125 games with Class A Lexington a season ago and has struggled even moreso this season with a .194 average and 26.5 strikeout percentage in 52 games with Class A Advanced Wilmington this season.
Though his defense and speed still receive high marks, Starling, once a top-25 prospect in the game, has dropped completely out of the top 100 and sits as the Royals' No. 7 prospect according to MLB.com, which gave him a 40 grade for his hit tool.
There still remains time, of course, for the 21-year-old to work his way up the ladder and maybe scratch out a Major League career. But as it stands, he hasn't remotely lived up to his big signing bonus, and there haven't been many signs that he has the capability to do so.
To be determined
Danny Hultzen, left-handed pitcher, Mariners: As stated above, Hultzen was a candidate for the first overall pick after going 12-3 with a 1.37 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 165 strikeouts in 118 innings as a junior at Virginia. Instead, he "fell" to the Mariners at the second overall pick and signed a five-year Major League deal with $8.5 million in guaranteed money.
The left-hander breezed through the Southern League (1.19 ERA, 79 strikeouts, 75 1/3 innings) in 2012 before hitting a snag at Triple-A Tacoma, where he walked 43 batters in 48 2/3 frames and posted a 5.92 ERA.
Following four solid starts in the PCL the following season, he had shoulder discomfort in late April and didn't pitch again until June 27. More shoulder issues shut him down once more, and after pitching two innings in September with a plan to move onto the Arizona Fall League, it was discovered that Hultzen would require surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. The procedure will keep him out for the entire 2014 season.
As such, Hultzen won't pitch again in a professional game until he's 25, and even then, it might be a while before he's in his best form. All he and we can do is wait to see how the shoulder will heal before determining how well he lived up to his status as No. 2 pick.
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.