Brady Aiken, the first overall pick from the 2014 draft, may not have signed but thirty three other first round picks did. It’s only been a couple months, but some of these youngsters are already showing signs of their overall potential and making their teams’ scouting directors look intelligent. Here are the standouts:
In the nearly two month since the draft, the top performing first round pick has ironically been the most ridiculed one. The Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber has hit .378/.462/.659 with nine home runs in just 135 at bats, recently reaching the High-A Florida State League after starting the year in short-season ball. Chicago was ridiculed by some for taking Schwarber, who was ranked by Baseball America as the 18th best amateur prospect, with the 4th overall pick. ESPN.com’s Keith Law described the pick as a “head scratcher.” Schwarber’s early season slugfest does not necessarily change that; the questions surrounding him were about his ability to stick at catcher or play any position besides first. Few, if anyone, ever questioned his bat.
11th overall pick, Max Pentecost, has shown a modicum of success, at least in the average department. Although the 21 year old catcher has no home runs and just two walks, he is hitting .333 in 16 games between rookie and short-season A ball.
Despite a .283 slugging percentage in the New York Penn League, the Padres promoted shortstop Trea Turner , the 13th overall pick, to the Full-A Midwestern League on July 12th. He’s been on fire in the two weeks since, hitting .455/.510/.591 with five extra base hits and more walks (6) than strikeouts (5).
In a rare bit of good minor league news for the Phillies, seventh overall pick Aaron Nola has pitched well despite an aggressive assignment to Advanced-A Clearwater. In 26.2 innings spread over six games (five starts), the 21 year old right-hander has pitched to a 3.42 ERA with a WHIP of 0.987 and solid peripherals – 1.4 BB/9, 7.5 K/9. This should be of little surprise, though; Baseball America’s Clint Longnecker called Nola, “the quickest mover of any college starting pitcher.” He was drafted because he was already polished enough to breeze through A ball.
The two players for whom immediate success is probably least important have also had solid early showings. Nick Gordon and Alex Jackson, the top two high school hitters in the draft, taken fifth and sixth overall, respectively, have both hit well in the Appalachian Rookie League. In 129 plate appearances Gordon has hit .292 with a .341 on base percentage and seven steals, while Jackson is already showing signs of that plus-plus power potential, with ten extra base hits (two home runs) and a .500 slugging percentage through his first 20 games.
TCU left -hander Brandon Finnegan, one of two Royals first rounders, has started just three games and thrown only seven innings, but he’s been dominant in them: No runs, no walks, one hit, and six strikeouts. He was taken 17th overall.
Foster Griffin, the Royals other first round pick, taken 28th overall, has been sharp in a handful of Appalachian League innings. The prep left-hander has fanned eight and allowed just one run over five starts and 11 2/3 innings.
The Rangers’ first rounder, 18 year old 30th overall pick Luis Ortiz, has been just as sharp in the Arizona League, with nine strikeouts, one walk, no runs, and a WHIP of 0.750 through four games and eight innings.
What does all this mean? Nothing per se, the first two months of a player’s professional career are the very definition of small sample size, but historically, players who rise quickly to major league startdom tend to perform well from the moment they step onto the professional diamond. It’s far from a hard and fast rule – there are plenty of exceptions – but Brett Lawrie, Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Matt Harvey, Manny Machado, Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha all made immediate impacts in the minors. Whether it was in a ten game stint right after they were drafted, or in the following season, they all had strong statistics from the moment they made they made their major league debut. Of course, this doesn’t work the other way around: succeeding in your first few minor league games is not an indicator of future major league success. Its just that successful major leaguers tend to be successful from the start of their professional careers.