The 2011 Draft: Many Names, One Pick
Next Monday, around four o’clock, the Mariners are going to select the player that will likely finish the season as their number one prospect. It’s very cool for us, but also kind of scary. Coming into the season, we were pretty confident that the Pirates would likely take Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon and we’d then have our choice of UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole or TCU LHP Matt Purke or maybe a college hitter. Purke slipped off the radar, Cole has been good at times and mediocre at others, the college hitters haven’t broken away, and Rendon has simply been injured. In the meantime, various other names have clawed their way into the discussion and the whole thing has become nebulous as the “what have you done for me lately?” scouting crowd starts to make their vocal presence known. There’s a phrase my father used to use for situations like these, but it’s unrepeatable in polite company.
In the past few weeks, I’ve heard about seven different names linked in discussions for picks one through three of the first round. At this stage, the hope still seems to be that we get Rendon, but no one knows what the Pirates are going to do. If Rendon is off the board, it could go in any number of directions. What follows is seven capsules on the players we’re likely looking at. The information is largely culled from various internet sources and synthesized/spun in some small way. I’m not playing armchair scout yet because that’s something I reserve for draft day and players that I know to be in the system. College data is taken from collegesplits.com, prep data is pilfered from BA’s Top 200 Prospects list.
3B Anthony Rendon, R/R, 6’0″, 190 lbs
60 G, 202 AB, 57 R, 66 H, 20 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 35 RBI, 12 SB, 5 CS, 32/78 K/BB, .327/.523/.535
Coming into the year, Rendon had more or less the same status as Harper and Strasburg did before him as the clear number one. He’d had a few ankle injuries in the past, but both came under such unusual circumstances (slides, poor field conditions) that it didn’t really seem like an “injury-prone” label was warranted. He had an elite level of plate discipline, the wrists and the bat speed to generate power, and a defensive reputation that puts him in the same class as a lot of the gold glovers of recent memory (think David Wright in his better years as a broad comparison). What’s not to like?
Well, in the second week of the season he strained his shoulder on his throwing arm and it’s been mostly downhill from there. Early projections were that he’d be okay in a few weeks, but as the season has progressed, he’s spent most of his time at designated hitter and got a couple of games in as a second baseman a short time ago (leading some to claim he should stay there). Matters are further muddied by the fact that he’s not releasing his medical reports to anyone, and while he is being pitched around, there’s a general belief that the strain has affected both the swing and the bat speed.
This too is subject to some variation, the NCAA is also using a new set of bats designed to replicate the wood bats used in the pros, resulting in depressed offensive numbers throughout collegiate baseball, but even accounting for this, Rendon’s game has probably slipped a bit. Any team that wanted to pop him as their number one pick would either have to be confident in his medicals or willing to roll the dice, because serious shoulder injuries can be every bit as damaging to hitters as they are to pitchers. This guy got Troy Glaus comps back in the day before he ruined his shoulder, and you can see how that turned out for him.
Certainly, part of the concern that has allowed Rendon to drop on some boards is warranted, but you also have to consider that things tend to go bananas as we get closer and closer to the draft and many evaluators, professional and amateur, begin to formulate their responses based off the most recent thing they’ve seen, something that could be unnecessarily damaging for him. If the shoulder is no issue at all, Rendon is clearly better in all areas than our various intriguing, though flawed third base prospects. If the shoulder is a problem, safer options exist out there.
RHP Gerrit Cole, 6’4″, 200 lbs
6-7, 15 GS, 3.28 ERA in 108.0 IP, 92 H (8 HR), 43 R (39 ER), 108/23 K/BB
Cole was a big deal back in 2008 when he was drafted the first time, but he spurned the advances of his favorite team (yes, THAT team) in order to go to college at UCLA and get himself edumacated and probably a higher slot/bonus. This stuff is good enough to justify going first overall, because he’ll sit in the mid-to-high 90s with his four-seam and he’ll offset it with a power slider and a change-up that’s shown as a plus pitch on occasion. There were initially some concerns about him throwing with too much strain, but those have quieted down over time and as a college pitcher, he seems to have pitched through the more risky age range with no perceived damage. He’s also a bit more mature than he used to be, which is generally a good thing.
While he started the year hot out of the gate and looked like he could be the #1b to Rendon’s #1a, if not take a hold on the #1 slot all to himself (Strasburg comps were thrown around), in the latter portion of the college season he was having a lot of difficulty spotting his pitches to where he wanted to and the overall numbers turned out to be less special than some might have liked. Given his stuff, it really seemed like he should have ended up with more strikeouts than he did. Before, we might have easily said that he’d be the fastest pitcher to get to the big leagues from this draft, and maybe the fastest player overall, but that loss of command is a little concerning and it’s hard to figure out what the root cause of it is.
In any case, were the Mariners to draft him, he’d fit nicely in the rotation behind the top two guys and we could talk about how many aces we had again. He was also a high school teammate of current High Desert Maverick Brandon Maurer, so you know that the M’s have at least had an eye on him for some time now. The downside is that pitching, while still needing some replenishment at the lower levels, is probably less valuable to us than hitting at the moment, and I honestly don’t want to have to endure six or so years of team control in which everyone in the tri-state area is trying to figure out how they can get him to come to the Yankees without giving up any of their top five prospects.
RHP Dylan Bundy, 6’1″, 200 lbs
11-0, 0.20 ERA in 71.0 IP, 20 H, 158/5 K/BB
If one is looking at velocity and stuff, Bundy plays with the biggest arms in this draft, or really any other draft. He sits in the mid-90s (and has touched 100), commands a curve, cutter, and change, and has a good grasp of how to pitch and no major mechanical flaws, unlike a lot of high school flamethrowers. A lot of guys who have these kinds of talents can come off poorly in other areas, either taking their abilities for granted or coming off as a bit cocky, but Bundy has no such issues. He knows what kind of position he’s put himself in and the amount of work required to get and stay there, and his commitment can’t really be questioned, just read an interview a Royals minor league blog had with Bundy a few days ago and you’ll get the idea.
As draft day approaches, some of the higher end prospects are known to shy away from certain teams and Bundy is no different, but in his case he’s asked the Pirates and the Royals not to draft him reportedly for fears that they’ll try to change his long toss program (Bauer shares this concern), so the M’s are in the clear. The biggest concern would be the paycheck, as he was reportedly asking for a six-year, $30 million dollar deal, which would be about double what Strasburg got previously.
The new front office loves the self-motivated, high character guys, and Bundy certainly seems like the type of player that they’d fall in love with and hard, but the risks accompanying high school pitchers of all sorts are well known and it’s generally believed that the M’s are targeting hitters, knowing that a near-term contributor could help fix the lineup in a hurry. If they were picking a little later, I’d be all over this, but it’s hard for me to see it happening. He could be the best player in this draft, or he could get injured and never be the same afterward.
SS Francisco Lindor, S/R, 5’11″, 175 lbs
53 AB, 31 R, 28 H, 7 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, .528/.???/1.075
Shortly after the 2010 draft concluded, Lindor started getting linked with the M’s for their first-round pick in 2011. We’re aware by now of certain preferences that McNamara has shown in the first two drafts: he likes switch-hitters and left-handed bats, he likes athleticism coupled with high character (the “baseball rats” and guys who have starred on national teams), and he likes guys who seem as though their whole exceeds the sum of their parts. Lindor is all of these things, and has gone from somewhere in the teens in pre-draft rankings to easily in the top ten.
Back when he was captaining USA Baseball’s U16 team which won the gold against Cuba, he was on the radar mostly for his defensive reputation. High school shortstops move off, it’s just a thing that happens (Jim Thome used to play shortstop, you know), but between the speed, the hands, the instincts, and the arm, there’s no real question as to whether or not he’ll be capable of playing in the six hole in the major leagues. The question has really been what kind of offensive production you can expect out of him. Some of that has been answered in the past year: he won the Aflac All-American Home Run Derby last year, at Petco Park of all places, but realistically, he’s probably as much of a home run hitter after that as Nick Franklin was after his Clinton campaign, which would place him somewhere in the teens overall with a good amount of gap power.
Everyone that’s seen Lindor play has liked him, and there are some that think that Lindor could be a sleeper for number one, with comparisons that include Jimmy Rollins and Omar Vizquel. That he’s the exact type of player that the Mariners have tended to target makes him easier to imagine as the number two pick if he’s still available. Lindor can contribute in all areas of the game and seems to be the type of guy that’s going to make everyone around him better by smart use of his own talents. Though he’s still only seventeen, and doesn’t turn eighteen until November, consensus has developed that he’d either be the first prep player from the draft to reach the big leagues or the second just after Bundy.
RHP Trevor Bauer, 6’2″, 185 lbs
12-2, 15 GS, 1.27 ERA in 127.2 IP, 67 H (6 HR), 21 R (18 ER), 189/34 K/BB
Bauer is a walking science project, which is a huge part of what makes him so cool. He’s a brainy type, graduating from high school a year early, who engineered his own motion through studies of biomechanics and what they’ve done for Tim Lincecum, etc. As a result, he has one of the more unconventional deliveries (by which I mean going against convention) you’ll see and a regimen to match, but he manages to throw harder than it seems like he should be able to.
He doesn’t have the velocity Lincecum had back in the day, but low-to-mid-90s is pretty standard for him. Since he’s a tinkerer by nature, it’s not surprising to discover that he also throws nearly every other pitch in the book save the knuckler, and they’re all good on their own merits. He may even have a pitch or two that hasn’t been properly categorized yet, as I hear about a slider that’s effective against left-handers. One could imagine him throwing a completely random pitch selection and succeed with it, which would be hilarious and yet frightening for the competition.
His issues are that because so few teams are accustomed to seeing this type of pitcher, no one rightly knows how to evaluate him. He throws a lot, notching five complete games in a row at one point this year, and the super high K totals mean that he’s also throwing a lot of pitches. I’ve heard he was around 130 a few times already this year. Since his mechanics split the crowd, some think he’s trouble waiting to happen and others accept the fact that he probably knows what he’s doing and don’t worry about it. In any case, whatever team does decide to pick him has to accept the fact that they’ll need to back off when it comes to any matters regarding his mechanics or his routine, which means they’ll have to trust him to right himself in the event that things do go awry. I’m more confident that the Mariners would be open to such an idea than they used to be, but they still might opt to go with safer, more conventional options available to them, or simply back away from pitching entirely and stick to the hitters.
CF Bubba Starling, R/R, 6’4″, 180 lbs
27 AB, 18 R, 13 H, 3 2B, 3B, 4 HR, .481/.???/1.111
Every few years, a big time two-sport player comes along and shakes up all the draft discussions. Scouts in the stands start to let their minds wander. They daydream, thinking “what would he be like if he only played baseball?”, unaware that a few months earlier, the football or basketball folks were doing the same thing. Starling is that player this year. He has a scholarship to Nebraska as a quarterback and is by all accounts a fine player (not too bad at basketball either), but the baseball people tend to like him better for baseball and so that’s what we’ll focus on.
Starling would be a fun player to draft if only because the best-case scenario would allow us to thumb our noses at Angels fans and their Mike Trout. His arm is so good that if he lacked offensive tools, he’d probably be in the discussion as a first-round pitcher. Since he does have above-average power and plus speed, we’re talking solid right fielder as the floor and star center fielder as the ceiling, with the occasional Josh Hamilton comp thrown out there just to stir things up.
In recent reports, he’s been on the record as saying “My next step is college,” where the Cornhuskers would allow him to play both baseball and football, but having Boras as an advisor makes the football commitment less solid. As an added variable, a feature a few months ago mentioned that his family has had some financial struggles, and while I don’t know that it’s still the case (I have only seen more talk of the college commitment lately), it could be a factor.
Though Starling would obviously prefer to go to the hometown Royals, the M’s could end up as an appealing destination because he seems to want an education and we’ve been known to fund the prep players we’ve drafted after they’re done with the game. That’s how Ryan Anderson got through cooking school. My own opinion, however warranted, is that I’ve seen too many Jeff Samardzijas and Drew Hensons and countless other players actually drafted by the M’s to really get excited about multi-sport players anymore. Bubba seems like a good kid, and if he’s our guy, I could learn to like it as I’ve learned to like Taijuan Walker being around, but I still get a little gun-shy in these cases.
LHP Danny Hultzen, 6’3″, 200 lbs
10-3, 14 GS, 1.59 ERA in 96.1 IP, 66 H (3 HR), 25 R (17 ER), 136/13 K/BB
Like Lindor, Hultzen was always in the discussion for the first-round, but it’s only been lately that he’s started to get talked up as going somewhere in the top five. Since the Diamondbacks picked him in the tenth-round a few years ago, most are projecting him to land there at #3.
Hultzen is a big fellow, and where he sat in the high-80s as a freshman and sophomore, he’s now low-90s touching in the mid-range. Like a lot of the better southpaws, he also commands a quality change-up that gives him something to work with against right-handed hitters, and the left-handers get their own change of eye level with a slider that’s improving all the time. About the only flaw he has is that his arm slot has been inconsistent throughout his career, more low 3/4ths his first two years in college and higher this year and when he was a prep player.
He’s also unusually committed to what he does, remaining humble, quiet, and rarely talking about anything else than helping the UVa baseball team. He reportedly won’t even entertain questions about where he might be drafted, having enough of a time dealing with questions of how it feels to break the various UVa baseball records or who he’d compare himself to. That he’s been a two-way player for much of his college career, moonlighting at first base and DH, says there’s a school of thought out there that predicts he’ll only get better once he focuses on just one thing.
Pitchers aren’t always regarded as “safe picks” in this day and age, but Hultzen gets that tag probably more than anyone on this list. He’s not likely to be an ace or anything, but projections of him as a #2 seem as reasonable as anything else you’re going to hear. For a lot of people though, spending the second overall pick in this draft on him would be a pretty sizeable disappointment, and given what we’ve been hearing about his abilities and how other teams view him (he’s also been linked with the Pirates the past few weeks), he’s probably the least likely of the field of seven to get selected.