The start of the 2014 MLB draft got me thinking: who will be the first impact player to debut from last year’s draft?
Sure, a couple of relievers have already gotten cups of coffee - Corey Knebel of the Tigers and Kyle Crockett of the Indians – but we’ve yet to see an every day player or a starting pitcher, someone with true difference-making potential, get the ultimate call. But as spring wanes into summer and the super two arbitration window closes, that should change, as one or more of a handful of top draft picks should force their way onto the big league club.
Had you asked talent evaluators before last year’s draft which player they thought would have the shortest path to the big leagues, the consensus answer would have been Houston’s Mark Appel, the first overall pick. Baseball Prospectus’s Nick Faleris wrote that “it would be a surprise” if Appel wasn’t in the Astros’ rotation by the summer of 2014, and he was far from alone in that opinion.
It has become painstakingly clear, though, to both the Astros organization and to the game as a whole that not only is unlikely to debut this summer, he may not make the majors until the end of 2015, if not later. Appel has made only five starts and thrown but 14.1 innings this season, during which time he sports an 11.93 ERA. He was last seen giving up 10 runs in just an inning and a third in a start against the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and he and will mix his next start with thumb tendinitis.
Just based on 2014 performance, Bryant should certainly receive the honor. The best and most polished hitter from last year’s draft has done nothing but completely tear through the minors since his selection. He is currently hitting a gaudy .344 with a .457 on base percentage, .679 slugging percentage and 19 home runs in Double-A Tenessee; each one of those marks is tops in the Southern League in their respective categories. And its not as if anyone is blocking Bryant at the major league level; Mike Olt and his .157 average are currently manning the hot corner for Chicago.
But even that level of offensive prowess does not guarantee Bryant a promotion. Former Washington Nationals GM and current ESPN writer Jim Bowden recently named Bryant as a top prospect who will not be called up in the near future, citing the UC San Diego’s stand outs struggles in the field and his absence on the Cubs’ 40 man roster, as well as the fact that Chicago could stave off one more year of free agency by holding Bryant in the minors until May of next year.
In light of friday’s call up of fellow right handed pitching prospect Eddie Butler, one may think that Gray will be the next Rockies Prospect to crack the major league rotation. Indeed, Gray, who routinely hits triple digits on the gun, was considered the better prospect coming into the year, ranking 12th on BA’s top 100 as opposed to 24th for Butler and before last year’s draft and SI’s Dave Perkin described him as a “close-to-the-majors pitcher” The Rockies decided to test this evalutation by sending the 22 year old straight to Double-A Tulsa to start the year, where he’s pitched well, albeit not spectacularly. Gray is 6-3 with an ERA of 3.97 through 11 starts, although his FIP is a slightly better 3.66 and his control has been outstanding; he currently holds a BB/9 of 2.0. Butler, though, had been far better, with a 2.49 ERA on the season and a 2.17 mark in May.
The statistical comparison may not matter though. Nick Groke of the Denver post is reporting that the Rockies are considering naming Gray as the replacement for the injured starter Jordan Lyles, a move that would put the fireballer in the majors by next wednsday. And if they elect to go with someone else, Gray could also see major league time down the stretch, as a power-arm in the rotation or the back of the bullpen, should Colorado remain in contention.
After Bryant and Gray, the two frontrunners, comes a pair of wild cards, each with an outside chance of making the show by the end of 2014.
Corner infielder D.J. Peterson, the 12th overall pick from 2013, is an unlikely candidate as he has yet to play above High-A, but the Mariners need offense and Seattle has a history of making rash moves. This is the team that called up Mike Zunino, their first round pick from 2012, well before he was ready last year, to poor, if unsurprising, results. With Seattle lacking any payroll space to make a major veteran addition and Peterson sporting a .911 OPS for High Desert, they could turn to their young third baseman before the season runs out.
Because St. Louis hasn’t graduated enough young pitching over the last few seasons, they could turn to another one, a young lefty by the name of Marco Gonzalez. Last year’s 19th overall pick, Gonzalez has pitched as well as any 2013 draftee this season. After six starts and a 1.43 ERA for High-A Palm Beach, he was promoted to Double-A Springfield, where he has struck out well over a batter per inning and owns a 2.86 ERA through four starts. The Cardinals certainly have their share of pitching depth to choose from, but if an injury in the rotation presents itself or they just need a spot starter for a double-header, Gonzalez could get the call. Alternately, St. Louis could give Gonzalez the classic Cardinal treatment: throw him in the bullpen for September and October before letting him contend for a starting spot next season.
So what do you think? Who will be the first star from the 2013 draft?