Ask BA: The 2013 Draft’s “True First-Rounders”

Assuming Oklahoma righthander Jonathan Gray goes as early as expected in June, this year will mark just the sixth time that a college has produced top-five picks in both the MLB and NFL drafts. Sooners tackle Lane Johnson went fourth overall to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday.

The draft double hadn’t happened since 2007, when both Clemson (Daniel Moskos, Gaines Adams) and Georgia Tech (Matt Wieters, Calvin Johnson) accomplished the feat.

Last year, Stanford looked like it might claim both No. 1 overall picks. But after the Indianapolis Colts made quarterback Andrew Luck the top NFL selection, Stanford righthander Mark Appel surprisingly slid all the way to the Pirates at No. 8. Appel returned to the Cardinal for his senior year, and now he and Gray are the favorites to go No. 1 overall to the Astros.

Colleges With Top-Five MLB & NFL Draft Picks In Same Year
Year College MLB Pick NFL Pick
1972 Oregon Dave Roberts (1st) Ahmad Rashad (4th)
1976 Arizona State Floyd Bannister (1st) Mike Haynes (5th)
1988 Auburn Gregg Olson (4th) Aundray Bruce (1st)
2007 Clemson Daniel Moskos (4th) Gaines Adams (4th)
Georgia Tech Matt Wieters (5th) Calvin Johnson (2nd)

With the NFL draft taking place last week, there was a lot of talk about “true first-rounders.” How many players in the MLB draft this year would you say are “true first-rounders”—guys who would be first-round picks in any year?

Grayson Coles

The 2013 draft crop is mediocre, worthy of a 40 or 45 on the 20-80 scouting scale, just as last year’s was. But even in a down draft, there’s still plenty of talent available. By the end of any first round, promising players still are going to be there for the taking.

This question is similar to the discussion of “true No. 1 starters.” By the standards of the Koufax/Marichal/Gibson era, there are only a handful of No. 1 starters in the major leagues today. But you also could look at it from the perspective that there are 30 teams, and the 30 best starters should set the criteria of a modern No. 1 starter, even if it falls short of the classic definition.

Though the 2013 draft isn’t the strongest—which, should be noted, seems to be the common refrain most years—I see plenty of players who would be first-rounders in any year. As discussed above, Appel and Gray have set themselves apart from the rest of the group. They fall in the middle range of typical No. 1 overall selections.

After Appel and Gray, I have no problem coming up with 22 more easy first-round talents. Nine of them are high school position players (Clint Frazier, Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, J.P. Crawford, Jonathan Denney, Dominic Smith, Billy McKinney, Ryan Boldt, Nick Ciuffo), and the group also includes five college bats (Kris Bryant, Colin Moran, D.J. Peterson, Hunter Renfroe, Phillip Ervin), four college pitchers (Sean Manaea, Ryne Stanek, Braden Shipley, Chris Anderson) and four prep arms (Kohl Stewart, Trey Ball, Ian Clarkin, Hunter Harvey).

That takes me three-quarters of the way through the first round, and at the bottom of the round, teams have widely differing opinions on players. It's not hard to fall in love with the tools of college outfielders Austin Wilson, Aaron Judge and Michael Lorenzen. I have some reservations about their hitting ability, but they certainly are “true first-rounders” for at least a few major league clubs.

Ditto for a deep pool of lefthanders among both the collegians (Marco Gonzales, Tom Windle, Kevin Ziomek) and high schoolers (Rob Kaminsky, Matt Krook). Quality southpaw starters are difficult to find, so all of them could be legitimate first-round picks.

I’ll draw my line at 24 no-doubt first-rounders. But if I wanted to be slightly more liberal, I easily could find enough to cover all 33 actual first-round selections.

At what point will the owners realize that by preventing aggressive rebuilding via the draft and international signings, the new collective bargaining has massively shifted leverage to major league players at the owners’ expense? Only when the cable television bubble bursts?

Igor Greenwald
Pittsfield, Mass.

Perhaps when the current CBA expires in December 2016. By that time, we may see that both the most successful and least successful franchises will be unhappy that they’re restricted in what they can spend on amateur talent, especially with money pouring in from television deals.

It’s no secret that I’m a proponent of a free market, but I will acknowledge that the CBA gives lesser teams an advantage by giving them a huge share of the money that can be spent on draft and international signings. For instance, this year the Astros have an $11.7 million draft pool and a $4.9 million international pool, compared to just $2.7 million (draft) and $1.8 million (international) for the Nationals.

However, the old unlimited system allowed the have-nots to better compete with the haves. In 2011, the Nationals spent $17.6 million on draft bonuses and guaranteed contracts; the Pirates handed out a record $17 million in bonuses alone; and the Royals ($14 million), Cubs ($12 million) and Diamondbacks ($11.9 million) all exceeded Houston’s current pool.

The draft is the biggest bargain in talent acquisition, as well as the most proven way to rebuild a club, and the new CBA curbs how aggressive the neediest teams can be. The Pirates and Royals can’t compete with the Dodgers and Yankees for blue-chip major league free agents, but they can (and did under the old system) outspend them by a large margin on the amateur market.

The winningest and wealthiest clubs won’t like the draft and international changes either. They’re allowed to spend much less on amateur talent than they could before, which is going to thin out their farm systems. In turn, that will increase their demand on an ever-thinning major league free agent market, which is going to drive prices for non-star big league talent higher and higher.

Commissioner Bud Selig pushed for caps on draft and international spending, but there may be enough teams on both ends of the success spectrum dissatisfied with the CBA to lead to major changes for 2017. For now, the feeling seems to be that clubs just have to make the best they can of the current system.

How would you rank the top 10 high school pitchers from the 2010-13 drafts?

Jeff Sullivan
Belchertown, Mass.

I’m basing the rankings below on how the pitchers were regarded at the time of their draft. For instance, Jose Fernandez would rank No. 1 based on current status, but he ranked 20th overall on our 2011 Top 200 Draft Prospects list.

1. Dylan Bundy (Orioles, No. 4 overall pick, 2011)
So polished that scouts considered him equivalent to a college pitcher.
2. Jameson Taillon (Pirates, No. 2, 2010)
Pittsburgh took the next Josh Beckett between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
3. Archie Bradley (Diamondbacks, No. 7, 2011)
Had even more electric stuff than his Oklahoma high school rival, Bundy.
4. Max Fried (Padres, No. 7, 2012)
First lefty on this list is a slightly less powerful version of Clayton Kershaw.
5. Lucas Giolito (Nationals, No. 16, 2012)
Might have been first prep righty to go No. 1 overall if he hadn’t hurt his elbow.
6. Kohl Stewart (St. Pius X HS, Houston, 2013)
Has best high school arm this year, extra leverage as Texas A&M quarterback recruit.
7. Lance McCullers Jr. (Astros, No. 41, 2012)
Only signability dropped him to the sandwich round, where he landed $2.5 million.
8. Taylor Guerrieri (Rays, No. 24, 2011)
His stuff compared to Bradley’s in 2011, but maturity issues caused a slight slide.
9. Karsten Whitson (Padres, No. 9, 2010)
Failed to sign after contentious negotiations, then struggled and got hurt at Florida.
10. Trey Ball (New Castle, Ind., HS, 2013)
There’s no longer a split camp on two-way’s star future—he’s definitely a pitcher.

" April 22 Ask BA