It’s hard to argue that Major League Baseball’s draft is different than any other organized American professional sports leagues.
There’s probably a bazillion reasons why, but the one that probably stands out the most is simple; it’s more than likely you’re not going to see these guys play on a major league diamond for a few years, at the least.
Thus, sports fans around the nation don’t give the MLB draft the same attention as let’s say, the NFL or NBA draft. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, such as the Chris Sales of the world (he was called up to the majors a mere few months after he was drafted), but even if you’re a Houston Astros fan and are starving to see Brady Aiken, the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft, light up hitters’ eyes with the flamethrower fastball and devastating slider, sorry. You’ll have to wait awhile.
In a world driven by technological advances and a “what can you do for me right now” mentality, it’s easy for sports fans to give the MLB draft the cold shoulder when they know Andrew Wiggins is definitely suiting up Game 1 for whoever the heck drafts him rather than wait two or years for the franchise’s supposed saving grace.
While I certainly enjoy the lure of the NFL, NBA and NHL drafts, I may be in the minority that actually appreciates the MLB draft, for a few reasons. First, in a way, it almost makes losing seasons more bearable for fans by offering a glimmer of hope of what’s to come in the future. So when the Astros are still at the bottom of the AL West in two years, fans can say “well that’s okay, at least Aiken is finally going to come up and lead the pitching staff next year.”
Secondly, success stories happen everywhere in sports of course, but I can only imagine how awesome Mark Buehrle is going to feel when he tells his kids “I didn’t even make my high school baseball team sophomore year, then later got drafted in the 38th round (yes, there are that many, major differences between leagues again), and later went on to win a World Series, pitch two no-hitters (one of those a perfect game) and earn several All-Star and Gold Glove honors.”
With a whopping 40 rounds in the MLB draft, it’s also a lot more likely one of your hometown heroes is going to get a shot at the big leagues. While I’d take a guess that 70 percent of players drafted will never even smell the majors, as hinted at earlier in the column, hope is a beautiful thing.
Speaking of hometown heroes, with Wichita State being so nearby, it’s hard to not notice the accomplishments of these particular Shockers:
Casey Gillaspie, first baseman – selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the first round 20th overall: the brother of White Sox third baseman Connor Gillaspie, it seems every baseball scout in the world says that Casey brings tremendous patience to the plate, thus getting into deep counts and wearing down opposing pitchers. The fact that he walked 58 times (fifth in the nation) last year certainly seems to verify that. Oh yeah, on top of that, he happens to be a tremendous hitter. Last year for the Shockers, Gillaspie hit .389, drove in 50 runs along with scoring 50 runs as well and hit 15 home runs. Those numbers earned the slugging first baseman an All-American selection. If you were to place a bet on which Shocker in the 2014 will be the first to reach the pros, Gillaspie is almost a surefire guy to pick.
A.J. Ladwig, pitcher – selected in the 11th round by the Detroit Tigers with the 340th overall pick: don’t let his 3-6 record last year steer you away, Ladwig was often the recipient of just plain bad luck. Ladwig turned in a flabbergasting 1.54 ERA with Wichita State to go along with 73 strikeouts in 105 innings pitched. He was also a first team All-Valley selection.
Chase Simpson, third baseman – selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 14th round with 431st overall pick. Simpson was a second team member of the All-Valley team, and hit .258, six home runs and drove in 41.
Tyler Baker, catcher – selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 15th round, 450th overall. Another second team All-Valley Member, Baker threw out 22 of 45 base runners attempting a stolen base, and hit .230 along with driving in 18 runners.
Looking at the big picture, I can’t get enough of the MLB draft. But even I sometimes grow impatient waiting to see a heralded prospect rise to the majors when his stardom was promised to us what seems like forever ago. Maybe that’s why the saying “good things come to those who wait” exists? Impatience aside, there’s not an aspect I don’t like digging into this time of year when the draft rolls around, so I won’t waste anymore time lamenting on why the draft is awesome and just dive into the prospects of the 2014 draft.
Kansas City Royals: It was a bit of a strange draft for the Royals, who elected to stock up on young pitching rather than prioritize fixing a lineup that currently ranks near the bottom of the American league in runs. Nineteen of the Royals 42 draft selections were pitchers, including five of Kansas City’s first seven selections. However, with James Shields all but gone after this season, the Royals will need a promising pitcher to accompany Yordano Ventura at the top of the rotation in the future. The Royals hope they have that guy in Brandon Finnegan from TCU, who was their first round selection. Finnegan currently has a 2.12 ERA in 97.2 innings for the Horned Frogs to go along with 129 strikeouts. If Royals fans want to get a preview of the potential ace, they have an opportunity to do just that on Sunday by watching him play in the College World Series.
Pitcher frenzy in the top three picks: This was certainly a draft for teams to stack up on pitching, as the first three selections indicated. Aiken was obviously the No. 1 pick, and many think he has true ace potential, Tyler Kolek was almost a surprising second, as many experts thought the Miami Marlins would select Miami native Carlos Rodon, but instead Miami elected to draft Kolek, who’s fastball is supposedly in the triple digits. As for Rodon – the favorite to go No. 1 overall at the start of the college baseball season – “fell” to No. 3, where the White Sox selected the lefty with the devastating slider despite the fact he is represented by Scott Boras – who has given the Sox fits throughout the years. The Cubs later broke the trend by taking a catcher, but the top three picks figure to be superstars in the making. Rodon was the only pitcher in college selected, so it’s likely he will be the first out of the trio in the majors, while Aiken and Kolek were selected out of high school, so it will probably be at least three years before either sees a major league diamond.
First to the majors: out of the 34 players selected in the first round, my guess is that Rodon will be the first of his class to pitch in the big leagues. The White Sox aren’t overly picky of prospects up when deemed ready to do so, and Rodon is nearly already major league ready. The biggest trick will be to sign him to a deal, as Boras reportedly wants over 6 million for his client, but if the two parties can come to an agreement, the same organization that called up Sale a few months after he was drafted could see a similar situation occur with Rodon.
Boom or bust: I guess it’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that the No. 1 overall pick has the biggest boom or bust potential in the draft, but something tells me that Aiken is either going to be lights out or fall flat on his face. The Astros knew the risks when they drafted the high school pitcher – especially with Tommy John surgery claiming more and more pitchers' arms – but Houston is hoping that taking that risk turns into a reward.