Despite all the public mystery this spring surrounding the first overall pick of the draft, Diamondbacks scouting director Deric Ladnier said his mind was made up "a while back" about who to take. He remained convinced after going through the process of meeting with the team's scouts and they came to a unanimous decision about the pick "a couple of days ago."
But they didn't make that decision public until the draft began Monday. A little after 7 p.m., commissioner Rob Manfred stepped to the podium in Studio 42 in MLB Network's studios and announced Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson was the Diamondbacks choice at No. 1.
"This is the player we wanted," Ladnier said. "We wanted him for a while."
Swanson learned he was the first overall pick just five minutes after helping Vanderbilt defeat Illinois, 4-2, in super regionals, sending the Commodores back to the College World Series. Swanson went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double and a stolen base in the victory.
Swanson was the first college shortstop to be selected first overall since 1974 when the Padres selected Bill Almon out of Brown. He was the Diamondbacks first top overall pick since 2005, when they drafted Justin Upton.
Ladnier said he enjoyed watching Swanson play Monday, knowing he would soon use the first overall pick on the Georgia native.
"It was icing on the cake to see him hit a home run, to see him hit a double in the gap and ultimately win the game and advance to the (College) World Series," Ladnier said.
Swanson's selection set the stage for one of the biggest themes of the draft's first day, which spanned 75 picks and went through Compensation Round B. Swanson was the first of three straight shortstops taken at the top of the draft, the first time that had happened in draft history, and one of 10 shortstops taken in the first two rounds.
Following Swanson was Louisiana State shortstop Alex Bregman, who went second overall to the Astros, and Lake Mary (Fla.) High shortstop Brendan Rodgers, who went third overall to the Rockies. Rodgers, the top ranked player on the BA 500, was in attendance at the draft and became the first player to shake Manfred's hand after being selected.
"It’s an unbelievable feeling," Rodgers told MLB Network. "I’m blessed and honored to be here."
Bregman has played against Swanson the last three years in the SEC and could face him next week in the second round of the College World Series. He also played with Swanson last summer on the collegiate national team, where they formed the team's double-play combination.
"He's a great player and I had the pleasure of flipping the ball to him and turning a few double plays with him," Bregman said. "I'm so happy for him and so happy for everyone who had their name called today."
The Rangers selected UC Santa Barbara righthander Dillon Tate fourth before the Astros picked again, this time selecting Florida prep outfielder Kyle Tucker fifth overall. Tucker's older brother Preston was the Astros' seventh-round pick in 2012 and he made his major league debut for the club last month.
Kyle Tucker said the two have never played together because of the seven-year difference in their ages. But he said he's become familiar with the Astros over the last few years and is excited to join his brother in the organization.
"Having my brother in the organization, that'll help me out as well," he said. "I feel a lot more comfortable. I have a little feel for how their organization goes."
The Astros would pick two more times before the night was over and added two more premium talents. They selected Georgia prep outfielder Daz Cameron, Mike's son, with the 37th overall pick and Cal State Fullerton righthander Thomas Eshelman.
Cameron was ranked No. 5 on the BA 500, but slid in the draft after teams were scared off by his price tag. With more than $17 million allotted to them in their bonus pool, the Astros had the most available money and took advantage of that Monday night.
The Braves and the Indians, two other teams with multiple picks on Monday and larger bonus pools, also took advantage of the flexibility afforded them. The Braves picked five times on the draft's first day and snagged California prep lefthander Kolby Allard with their first pick (No. 14 overall). Allard entered the spring regarded as the best high school pitcher in the draft class, but was sidelined by a stress reaction in his back. The Braves also picked Canadian prep righthander Mike Soroka, Mississippi prep two-way star Austin Riley and Texas A&M lefthander A.J. Minter, who has had an injury-marred college career. They also drafted catcher Lucas Herbert, one of the best defenders in the draft and Allard's battery mate at San Clemente (Calif.) High.
The Indians, meanwhile, stuck to their best-player available approach at No. 17 and drafted lefthander Brady Aiken, last year's No. 1 overall pick. Aiken had reportedly worked out an agreement with the Astros for $6.5 million last year, but that fell apart after a difference of opinion of what an MRI of his elbow taken in a post-draft physical showed, and Aiken ultimately turned down a reported $5 million deal. He went to IMG Academy to play for their postgrad team this spring, but threw just 13 pitches in his first start before exiting the game with an injury and undergoing Tommy John surgery 13 days later.
Those complex circumstances made Aiken one of the biggest wild cards of the draft and led to him being available to the Indians in the middle of the first round.
Indians scouting director Brad Grant praised the Indians scouts for their work evaluating Aiken over the last two years. He declined to comment on the specifics of Aiken's medical issues, saying only that the Indians did their due diligence and felt good about selecting him.
Grant said the Indians also liked Aiken's intangibles.
"That's one of the things that really stands out with Brady is his character and work ethic and his commitment to getting better," Grant said. “That’s something that definitely stood out in terms of his character and his willingness to return from here.”
After selecting Aiken, the Indians took two Florida high school pitchers, righthander Triston McKenzie and lefthander Juan Hillman. The trio of pitchers, all of whom rank in the top 51 on the BA 500, gives them an impressive haul if they are able to sign all three.
Aiken and Allard were two members of a group of injured pitches who had first-round talents, but saw their situations clouded by injury. Virginia lefthander Nathan Kirby, currently out with a strained lat, went 40th overall to the Brewers, while Duke righthander Michael Matuella, who underwent Tommy John surgery this spring, remains on the board after the draft's first day.
Day 2 of the draft begins Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET and will encompass rounds 3-10.