Ask BA: Twins Have Top Prospect Tandem

Neither Jonathan Gray (Oklahoma) nor Mark Appel (Stanford) had one of their best outings of the spring over the weekend, but they remain the leading candidates to go to the Astros and Cubs with the first two picks in the draft. I asked four top-level scouting executives, none of whom will get a shot at Gray or Appel, which college righthander they prefer. Here’s what they said:

Mark Appel

Mark Appel (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

American League scouting director: “I would probably take Appel only because of the track record, but I saw Gray so good this spring. He touched 98 [mph] and the slider was very good. He was dominating. In the fourth inning I realized, ‘I don’t need to be here.’ You could get either one and be thrilled.”

AL executive: “I’d take Appel. Appel has a little more secondary stuff. The only factor is you have to look a little deeper into his makeup. Gray is a warrior. I’m not sure on Appel. Stuff-wise, Appel has a changeup now and two breaking balls that he throws for strikes. That’s more versatile than Gray’s power slider.”

National League executive: “I’d take Appel because of his pitchabilty. I think he’s a better pitch-maker than Gray. Their stuff is very similar. Appel does it better than Gray does it. I’d take [Kris] Bryant over both of them. You don’t get too many chances at a special bat.”

NL executive: “I’d take Gray over Appel. The difference right now is that Appel’s delivery is more refined but Gray is a better athlete. Gray kind of has been a late developer and he still has got to get better with his breaking ball. Appel presently has a better breaking ball, but Gray’s has as good or more bite when it’s on. Gray has a bigger arm velocity-wise. In the end, I’m going with the guy I think will have better stuff and better makeup, and that’s Gray.”

How would you rank these teammate tandems in terms of having the most potential five years down the road: Cardinals (Oscar Taveras, Shelby Miller), Diamondbacks (Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler Skaggs), Mariners (Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino), Orioles (Dylan Bundy, Manny Machado) and Twins (Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano)?

Matt Galinski
Tisch Mills, Wis.

In your most recent chat, you asked someone to forward their question about prospect tandems to Ask BA. If you answer that, please consider the Marlins duo of Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich too. How would they fit with the other duos?

John Bricher
Tamarac, Fla.

Miguel Sano

Miguel Sano (Photo by Mike Janes)

On sheer upside, Buxton and Sano immediately jump to the forefront. Buxton is the best five-tool player in the minors, Sano is the top power-hitting prospect in the game and both are having monster seasons. When they hit their primes, the Twins will get a close approximation of what it would be like to have Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in the same lineup.

After that pair, the next tier is Taveras/Miller, Fernandez/Yelich and Bundy/Machado. I’d rank them in that order because Taveras is the best hitter in that group (and the minors as a whole) and the pitchers are comparable. The Orioles duo goes at the back of that line because of questions surrounding the state of Bundy’s elbow.

I prefer Walker/Zunino to Goldschmidt/Skaggs because Walker has a higher ceiling than Skaggs and Zunino has more positional value than Goldschmidt. While Goldschmidt is having a stunning season so far, he’s not this good. I’d be tempted to put a Goldschmidt/Archie Bradley pairing ahead of the Mariners tandem, but I still like the latter more because of Zunino’s all-around ability as a catcher.

I really like what the Astros did last year with saving money on No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa so they could take Lance McCullers Jr. in the sandwich round and Rio Ruiz in the fourth. I know that No. 2 overall choice Byron Buxton has been exceptional for the Twins, but Correa was a reasonable top selection who allowed Houston to acquire extra pieces for its rebuilding process. Do you think the Astros will do the same thing again this year? I like the idea of saving at No. 1, but I also feel it’s foolish to take a player unworthy of the top pick just to reallocate money elsewhere.

Dan Meyer
Sioux Falls, S.D.

When you’re as bad as the Astros, acquiring the best talent possible has to be your top priority. Multiple draft studies have shown that there’s a significant dropoff in value from the No. 1 to No. 2 overall picks, and again from Nos. 1-5 to Nos. 6-10.

Last year’s draft was a perfect storm for Houston. Correa was a legitimate top-of-the-draft talent, ranked second on Baseball America’s board behind only Buxton. If the Astros didn’t take him at No. 1, the perception was that Correa would last until the Cubs at No. 6 or the Padres at No. 7.

Thus it behooved for Correa to take a deal for $4.8 million, roughly halfway between Houston’s assigned pick value ($7.2 million) and San Diego’s ($3 million). Houston then poured that $2.4 million savings into increased bonuses for McCullers ($2.5 million) and Ruiz ($1.85 million). In essence, the Astros traded the Nos. 1, 41 and 129 choices (the actual slots where they drafted Correa, McCullers and Ruiz) for the Nos. 2, 12 and 23 selections (where their bonuses fit among 2012 draftees).

That’s an upgrade, but it only makes sense if Houston doesn’t compromise on talent with the No. 1 pick. The Astros must zero in on the first tier of talent with the first choice, and I believe they will. In my mind, that top tier is limited to Gray, Appel and San Diego third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant.

If Houston believes Gray, Appel and Bryant are roughly equal, then it should play them against each other and see if one of them will accept a larger discount. If the Astros think one player stands above all the rest, he should be their priority even if that means they can’t do as much damage with later selections. The worst mistake they could make would be to select someone outside the top tier of talent just to save more money to use elsewhere.

I have been enjoying Matt Eddy’s Top 100 Draft Flashback articles immensely. Something that jumped out to me was that college third basemen had much better track records than high school third basemen, and they had a higher graduation rate and impact player rate than all other positions. I realize it would be a little silly to apply an overall average to one specific player, but would this knowledge affect in any way your rankings of college third basemen such as Kris Bryant (San Diego), Colin Moran (North Carolina), D.J. Peterson (New Mexico) and Eric Jagielo (Notre Dame)? Risk/reward is the name of the game on draft day, and it would seem like Matt just showed something that could lower these individual players’ risk levels. Am I making too much of this?

Joe Grundle
Milwaukee

I’ve enjoyed Matt’s articles too, and am looking forward to future installments, which will explore high school vs. college picks, provide an overview of pitchers and calculate the actual value of each draft slot. While I’ve found the mountain of information interesting, I’d view it more as reflective of what has happened in the recent past than necessarily predictive of what will happen in the future.

College third basemen have had the highest success rates of any position-player demographic that Matt studied. But had Mark Teixeira not turned down a seven-figure offer from the Red Sox out of high school in 1998, and had Troy Glaus not spurned the Padres as a prep second-round pick, the college and prep third base numbers would look significantly different. Scouts identified Teixeira and Glaus as top talents while they were in high school, and waiting to sign until after they went to college didn’t change their trajectories.

Likewise, three of the four highest WARs in Matt’s study belong to high school shortstops: Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones and Derek Jeter. To me, that’s a reflection of their greatness rather than a mandate to go out and load up on prep shortstops. There’s one (J.P. Crawford) who belongs in the first round this year, and once he’s gone, it’s not worth forcing the issue.

College third basemen are one of the strengths of the 2013 draft, even if Bryant might wind up in the outfield, Peterson might move to first base and Moran and Jagielo will be average hot-corner defenders at best. I’d be happy to select Bryant among the top three picks, Moran in the 5-10 range and Peterson and Jagielo in the teens. But I wouldn’t push them up my draft board based on the recent history of college third basemen. Draft talent, not demographics.

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