It’s now been over a year since the 2011 June draft, which means two things: we now have a large enough sample size to judge the progress of these draftees, and everyone on this list can now be traded. In my first article here at Minor League Central, I’m going to take a peek at the 2011 first round draftees to hopefully get both you and I more acquainted with each of them. One thing was evident as I made this list: MLB standings are very fluid from year to year as you see teams like the Pirates, Diamondbacks, Orioles, and Nationals draft in the top third in 2011 but are positioned to draft in the bottom third of the 2013 draft. I guess drafting first overall in consecutive drafts that feature the best young players since Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez helps a little.
We are starting with the first ten picks. The top ten picks in a draft should be your more surefire prospects and elite lottery tickets. Everyone in the top ten should theoretically be a player who you can imagine appearing in a few All Star Games and providing your team with a solid roster player for several years. These are your high-floor/higher-ceiling type players.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Gerrit Cole (RHP, UCLA) A — Cole gets to forever say he was a number one overall pick, but this was a close race. Any of the top six picks could’ve gotten this honor, but the Pirates went with Cole. Now in AA, Cole has yet to face a minor league challenge he couldn’t meet head on. His fastball touches 100mph with a changeup and slider that both sit at 90mph. I expect the lack of speed differential to catch up to him as he moves up the ranks since good hitters should be able to time him, but so far so good. The big knock on Cole was that he sometimes let his upper body open too soon which causes the release point to be more in line with home plate and the pitcher’s rubber rather than throwing with a sharp angle from off the side of the mound. This not only takes away deception, but it takes away any arm-side action his fastball might generate and make his offspeed pitches flatter. He’s either corrected these issues or it hasn’t mattered yet. The best part is, he’s still only a couple weeks from his 22nd birthday. The Pirates get the benefit of the doubt with an A, but we’ll keep an eye on Cole as he progresses.
2. Seattle Mariners: Danny Hultzen (LHP, Virgina) A- — Hultzen gave Mariners fans a scare around this time last year when he signed in the 11th hour, but it’s been a fun ride since. Hultzen, a college senior draftee, didn’t play any 2011 professional baseball due to signing so late, and went straight to AA in 2012. He’s since been moved to AAA and is seeing his first bit of adversity. He walks more batters than I like to see from a top prospect and his LD% of 21.4% in 41.1 AAA innings is a little high, but the strikeouts are there. My main concern is that for a guy who scouts said threw 95mph with good arm-side sink and above-average command and control to only get 32.1% ground balls, it doesn’t smell right. He’ll need to generate more ground balls while maintaining the strikeouts if he wants to have success in places like the Ballpark in Arlington or Yankee Stadium. I’m still a believer in the stuff, and he’s still only about to turn 23 while pitching in AAA, so the Mariners get the A-.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks: Trevor Bauer (RHP, UCLA) A- — Cole’s UCLA teammate probably got unlucky with this selection. He is a hard-throwing fly ball pitcher whose team plays in the second most offensive ballpark and in the same division as the most offensive ballpark (Coors Field). Bauer said, “I throw completely different in the sense that I don’t try to throw to hitters’ weaknesses, I throw to my strengths. My approach is really hitter independent; it doesn’t matter who is at the plate. I’m going to throw to my strengths. Ninety-five percent of the hard-hit balls are balls in the bottom of the strike zone. When I’m executing, throwing fastballs at the top of the zone, I have never been hit consistently.” That sounds all well and good, and it’s probably true, but from his brief time in the Major Leagues, it seems he thinks his strengths are throwing fastballs out of the strike zone. Major League hitters simply don’t chase pitches outside the zone that frequently, which leads to a walk rate of 11.1% in the minor leagues and 16.9% in the show. The minor league strikeouts are there (21.7% career), and they will continue to be because he has the stuff to get hitters out at any level. But he’s going to have to swallow his pride and learn to pitch down in the zone or he’ll get eaten alive pitching his home games in Arizona.
4. Baltimore Orioles: Dylan Bundy (RHP, Owasso HS, OK) A+ — Dylan Bundy has been the gem of this draft class so far. Still only 19 years old, this Orioles farmhand consistently throws his fastball in the upper 90s with good arm-side sink coupled with a plus curveball and slider. His changeup is still a work in progress, but so far he hasn’t needed it. He throws his curveball slow enough (75-79mph) that he might not need a changeup to offset the fastball, but it certainly would help as he moves up. He’s had a lot of success with a cut fastball lately, but it’ll be interesting to see if Orioles GM Dan Duquette’s new organizational policy forbidding the cut fastball will apply to Bundy as well. His strikeout and walk rates have trended the wrong ways as he’s moved up from Lo-A (40.4%K/2.0%BB) to Hi-A (28.8%/7.8%) to now AA (14.6%/8.3% in two starts), but that’s to be expected. His age gets the Orioles the A+ rating, but we’re going to have to see if he can continue to get the strikeouts while limiting his walks as he moves up. It would not be a surprise to see him pitching in the major leagues before his 20th birthday.
5. Kansas City Royals: Bubba Starling (OF, Gardner Edgerton HS, KS) B — This was a pick the Royals couldn’t afford to miss on. With their core group of prospects so close to the major leagues, I was surprised to see them take Kansas high schooler Bubba Starling with this pick rather than Anthony Rendon from Rice. Starling has had a tough go of it in his young career, and while he’s still very young, his 31.0% strikeout rate in the Appalachian Rookie League causes some concern. Rated as a five tool player going into the draft, Starling is said to have plus range and arm strength from centerfield, he has 10 steals (to one CS) to match his 10 home runs in only 48 games so far, but the most important tool, the hit tool, has yet to show. Sure, he’s hitting .277 but with strikeout rates like his and a line drive rate of 11.8%, I’m still waiting for Starling to show he belongs. He may get fast tracked to Lo-A next year, but I think that could be a mistake. The Royals get a B because he’s still young and very promising, but for now he’s a rookie league Drew Stubbs.
6. Washington Nationals: Anthony Rendon (3B, Rice) B — What an up and down year so far for the Nationals AA third baseman. The Nationals kind of fell into this pick as they were mostly going to get whichever of the top six picks fell to them. Scouts had two questions about Rendon heading into the draft: was his power a metal bat mirage (20HR in 2009, 26 in 2011, 6 in 2012 with the BBCOR switch), and would he be on the field enough for them to find out? Well, in his second professional game, Rendon hurt his ankle and missed nearly four months. He does have four home runs in 31 games, so he’s at least shown some pop, but we really have no way of telling at this point. He’s said to play incredible defense at the hot corner, but with Ryan Zimmerman playing third base in D.C., Rendon will either find himself moved or playing for another organization. The Nationals get a draft rating of B from me because I like Rendon, I just wish he’d stay healthy long enough to get a good look.
7. Arizona Diamondbacks1: Archie Bradley (RHP, Broken Arrow Senior HS, OK) B+ — The Diamondbacks sure stocked up on big, hard-throwing righties in this draft. The 6’4″ 225 lb Bradley just celebrated his 20th birthday, and Arizona is taking it slow with him. In 125 Lo-A innings so far this season, his mid-90s fastball and power curve have led him to a 18.9 K% and 14.9 BB%. Clearly, those will both need to be refined as he climbs the Arizona farm system. But, he’s managing to induce ground balls and not allow too many live drives, so the ceiling remains very high. At the very least, he should be a successful major league late inning reliever.
8. Cleveland Indians: Francisco Lindor (SS, Monteverde Academy, FL) B — One of the youngest players in last year’s draft, Lindor hasn’t taken his promotion to Lo-A well, hitting .263/.359/.367. His OBP is nice, but it’s very walk-heavy (10.9%), and unless he starts hitting the ball solidly more often he’s going to find pitchers will attack the strike zone more as he moves up. He does play very good defense at a premium position, but for someone who is expected to develop power, he’s left the Indians wondering. He does have some speed (28 SB) but his 10 CS show a lack of instincts. I’m giving the Indians a B for this pick mostly because I want to see how if the power ever develops.
9. Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez (SS, Arlington Country Day School, FL) B- — Still only 19 years old, Baez tore up the Midwest League and earned a midseason promotion to Hi-A. He’s struggled there so far, but the power seems real. The problem is, he strikes out a ton (22.1% in 2012) and doesn’t have very good plate discipline (4.2%) even with A ball pitchers not being known as the most accurate. He is still quite young (he’s the second-youngest player in Hi-A), so there’s definitely time, but the lack of discipline and high strikeout numbers are always red flags for me. B- until proven otherwise.
10. San Diego Padres2: Cory Spangenberg (2B, Indian River State College, FL) C+ — This pick confused me. Spangenberg is quick, but is a below average infielder so he’ll probably end up an outfielder. Problem is, he doesn’t have enough power to be a corner outfielder, but doesn’t have the arm to play center field. But, the Padres were in ownership upheaval and Spangenberg signed for less money than each of the next five picks. This one has punt written all over it.
1: Compensation for unsigned 2010 draft pick Barret Loux
2: Compensation for unsigned 2010 draft pick Karsten Whitson