Ask BA: Would Seth Beer Go No. 1 in 2017?

Seth Beer

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Q:
If Seth Beer was draft eligible this year, would he be the likely first pick?


James Edwards
Milford, Conn.

BA:
A lot will change between now and this June’s draft, much less between now and the 2018 draft, but Beer would be unlikely to be the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, and he’s not likely to be the first pick overall in next year’s draft.

For all the understandable discussion over whether Hunter Greene can become the first high school righthander to be taken 1-1 in a draft, Beer would be bucking very similar odds. Bat-first college corner outfielders (and first basemen) don’t get taken first overall.

Beer’s bat has a chance to be pretty special. He was Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year last season. He hit .369/.535/.700 with 18 home runs for Clemson, and he did so even though as an early enrollee, he should have been finishing his senior year of high school. He’s done little to slow down in the opening weekend of the 2017 season, as he’s hitting .429 with two home runs.

But players of his ilk usually have to wait a little while to hear their name called. There have only been two college outfielders taken 1-1 since the draft began in 1966. Arizona State’s Rick Monday, an athletic center fielder, was taken first in the first draft in 1966 by the A’s. Nearly 30 years later, Nebraska’s Darin Erstad was the Angels’ choice as the first pick in the 1995 draft. Like Monday, Erstad was an athletic outfielder (he also punted at Nebraska and eventually won Gold Gloves as a center fielder, left fielder and first baseman).

Beer is not an athletic center fielder like Erstad or Monday. He’s a bat-first first baseman who has played some corner outfield last year, first base this year and projects at first base as a pro because of his limited speed and range. As good as Beer’s power may be, it’s hard to find examples of players like him who have gone 1-1. No collegiate corner outfielder has been the top pick and neither has any college first baseman.

Expand the search to the top five picks and there a few more comparable players, but the numbers are still few. There have been no collegiate left fielders and only three first baseman taken in the top five picks in the 51-year history of the draft. San Diego State’s Travis Lee went second in 1996, Stanford’s David McCarthy went third in 1991 and Mississippi State’s Will Clark was picked second in 1985.

Technically there has been a fourth who fits the criteria, as Seattle picked Dustin Ackley, a collegiate first baseman, with the second pick in 2009. But Ackley was a plus runner who was projected to immediately move to a tougher defensive position, which he did by sliding to second base.

Only 1.2 percent of the top five picks have been collegiate first baseman. That’s long odds for Beer.

But there is at least one comparable top pick. The most similar player to Beer to be taken 1-1 is Miami third baseman Pat Burrell, the pick of the Phillies in 1998. Like Beer, Burrell was the Baseball America Freshman of the Year. Burrell played third base at Miami, but it was expected that he’d have to move off the position as a pro, which he did. Burrell tried first base in the minors, but eventually moved to left field, the position he played almost exclusively as a big leaguer.

Burrell was drafted for his bat, and he generally lived up to those expectations as a bat-first left fielder. Burrell was a better defender and athlete than Beer projects to be, but there are some similarities. So it’s not impossible that Beer could be taken at the top of the 2018 draft, but in a loaded draft class, he’s facing some long odds.

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