Nationals Tap Harper, Then Fun Begins

After top three picks, all hell breaks loose as teams go for personal favorites





The 2010 draft started as expected, with Bryce Harper going first overall to the Nationals. The next two picks were also pretty well mapped out.

After that, it was every team for itself.

"Coming into the draft, we thought the talent was fairly flat after the first few picks," Red Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye said. "We thought there was a chance we could get some good players through the sandwich rounds. We were more confident when some picks broke our way when a few players we didn't have all that high went off in the middle of the round and later in the first round."

The Red Sox had three picks on the first day of the draft, getting Ball State infielder Kolbrin Vitek and Middle Tennessee outfielder Bryce Brentz with their first two picks, and then grabbing Louisiana State righthander Anthony Ranaudo with their third pick, 39th overall.

Ranaudo came into the spring as one of the top prospects for this year's draft, but nagging injuries, up-and-down performance and a perceived high price tag drove him down draft boards. The Red Sox found themselves, like many other teams, going for personal preference, thanks to a lack of consensus on many players. They also got players in places they didn't expect.

The Nationals had only one pick on the first day and did exactly what people expected by taking Harper, who was the prohibitive favorite to go No. 1 overall from the time he went to junior college at Southern Nevada.

 "I'm just trying to enjoy it with my family. It's what I've wanted since I was 7 years old," Harper said in an interview with MLB Network shortly after he was selected.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said the team decided by the beginning of May to take Harper at No. 1, after watching him one weekend at Southern Nevada. He talked over the decision with scouting director Kris Kline and assistant GM Roy Clark, and it was unanimous.

"On the plane home from Vegas, we kind of cemented that he was the guy we were going to take," Rizzo said.

The only surprise was that the Nationals immediately declared him an outfielder, not a catcher. Harper caught throughout his amateur career, and many regarded his ability to stay behind the plate as part of his value. Most scouts thought he would move to the outfield eventually, if only to expedite the progress of his bat, but Washington wasted no time making the declaration.

"We've made the early decision that we're going to take the rigors and the pressure of learning the difficult position of catcher away from him, and (we will) really let him concentrate on the offensive part of the game and let his athleticism take over as an outfielder," Rizzo said. "He's got above-average speed and a plus-plus throwing arm. We just think it will accelerate his development in the minor leagues and also extend his career as a major leaguer."

Go With Your Gut

The next two picks also went as expected, with Texas high school righthander Jameson Taillon going to the Pirates at No. 2 and Miami high school shortstop Manny Machado to the Orioles at No. 3. After that, surprising picks abounded.

The Angels had five picks in the first and supplemental first rounds and bucked consensus with a few of them. First, they drafted Georgia prep Kaleb Cowart 18th overall as a third baseman. Cowart is a powerful switch-hitter with a strong arm. But that arm also showed up on the mound, where he sat 91-93 mph with a hard slider and a split-finger fastball, and the consensus was that he was a better prospect as a pitcher.

"Kaleb's a hitter for us and there's no thought of him pitching," Angels scouting director Eddie Bane said. "He's a hitter for us and we liked him as a third baseman and that's where he's going to play."

Cowart's selection was also a bit of a surprise because he has reportedly thrown out a $3 million price tag—more than twice what MLB recommends for the No. 18 pick—which is even heftier to a team with so many other top picks to sign.

The Angels used their other two first-round picks on Georgia high school players as well, by selecting righthander Cam Bedrosian 29th and outfielder Chevez Clarke 30th. Both have big league bloodlines. Bedrosian is the son of Steve Bedrosian, the 1987 Cy Young Award winner, and Clarke is a distant cousin on Scott and Jerry Hairston.

The two know each other from playing on the showcase circuit together, and Clarke and Cowart played in the East Cobb program together in suburban Atlanta.

"We got a good relationship when we first went down to East Coast (Professional Showcase)," Clarke said. "Cam's a great pitcher and I'm a pretty good ballplayer myself, but I'm really looking forward to playing behind Cameron and making him the best pitcher in the Angels organization."

The Angels bucked consensus even more with their supplemental first rounders. With the 37th pick, they chose Arizona prep shortstop Taylor Lindsey, who played on an Angels scout team. Most scouts in Arizona saw him as more of a fifth- to seventh-round talent. Their final supplemental pick was used on Mississippi high school outfielder Ryan Bolden, who ranked as the No. 141 player on Baseball America's Top 200 heading into the draft.

"Scouts will say, 'This is our Christmas,' and, for us this was a big Christmas because we had five guys," Bane said. "Our first three picks were from Georgia and it just fell that way, and we're happy to have these guys. Other teams don't have that luxury because maybe they have one pick today. It's really fun to have five. It's no fun to lose John Lackey and Chone Figgins, but this is a little bit of a payback."

Northwest Hitters Stay Together

The Rays used two of their top three picks on the two best hitters in the Northwest, both high school hitters from Washington. They selected outfielder Josh Sale at No. 17 and then outfielder Drew Vettleson as the 42nd overall pick in the supplemental first round.

"It feels great," Sale said. "To say the least, it's been an emotional day. I'm as happy as can be right now."

Sale said he had a small family get-together to watch the event. He talked about hearing his name called as a first-rounder.

"I heard my first name and stood up, then I heard the mispronunciation of my last name and I gave a little fist pump, ran out the door and ran up the block, down the block and back up the block again. I was ecstatic, to say the least."

If they both sign, the Northwest's best two players could be hitting back-to-back.

"It was actually amazing," Sale said. "As soon as I heard his name called, I pointed at the screen and bolted out the front door to run up and down the street again!"

The biggest surprise in the first round was Division-II Southern Arkansas righthander Hayden Simpson going off the board at No. 16 to the Cubs. Simpson was Baseball America's No. 191 prospect, a 6-foot, 170-pound righthander whose velocity sits in the 92-94 mph range. He only lost two games over three seasons at Southern Arkansas, but many scouts view him as a middle reliever because of his size.

The biggest drop went to Arkansas third baseman Zack Cox. Cox was expected to be a top 10 pick, but lasted until 25th overall when the Cardinals finally stopped his free fall. A high price tag may have led to the drop, as Cox is reportedly seeking around $6 million.