With MLB’s draft pick signing deadline set for 5:00 today, there are obviously several high holdouts that have yet to ink deals. In total, in the first two rounds, competitive balance picks included, there are 7 picks who remain unsigned. Considering the measures taken to limit bonus pool money, the fact that only three first round picks are unsigned indicates that something clearly is working here. Whats even more surprising is the fact that there are no high school first round picks who haven’t signed. But I digress.
This article will focus on the remaining unsigned first and competitive balance round picks in the draft. There are four of them. Without further delay, here they are.
1. Dansby Swanson, SS, Diamondbacks.
The first overall pick becomes the second straight pick to hold off signing at the deadline. But unlike Brady Aiken last season, whose UCL wiped out any chance of him receiving a top level bonus, Swanson is perfectly healthy, and has no incentive to return to school.
Why he will sign:
As the first overall pick, Swanson is perfectly capable of commanding the $8,616,900 recommended bonus that is the league recommendation. The Diamondbacks have a large enough pool to afford the deal, and considering the fact that all but one of their first 10 picks signed for at-slot deals, and their only other remaining major commitment is 12th rounder Wesley Rodriguez, it seems that the best way to say it is that all that needs to be done is figure out how much money they want to commit to him.
As of now, the top bonus in the draft belongs to #2 pick Alex Bregman, who topped out with $5.9 million. If all goes well in Swanson’s camp, and given the fact that the negotiations between them and the D-Backs camp have been more about evaluating his market, I could see Arizona following their trend and signing him at slot. Should Rodriguez who may elect to recover from Tommy John surgery in college choose not to sign, the D-Backs could afford to sweeten the pot by offering him even more. However, the verdict is this. Swanson will sign, and based on the positive lines of communication, he’ll be rewarded handsomely.
24. Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers
The first of two remaining unsigned Dodgers, Buehler was a solid starter and piece of the 2014 NCAA champions and 2015 NCAA runners up. Buehler at one point was considered the best of the three Vanderbilt products taken in the first round, but slipped all the way to the 24th pick.
Why he will sign.
This one comes down to two major factors: Who do the Dodgers want to commit their remaining pool money to, and how much can they afford to? In addition to Buehler, the Dodgers do have another first round pick and a 6th rounder who have yet to sign, but the chances that they sign all three are incredibly slim. Buehler had a decent season this year, even if he had to take a 2 and a half week break to rest during the season.
The Dodgers ideally would want to sign Buehler because he would further add to the arsenal of future arms set to take over the Dodger rotation in the coming years. Given that Buehler is a college pitcher, there would be a chance for him to come up as early as late 2016 or early 2017.
Buehler would be the Dodgers’ best chance to sign, and if it means that they have to commit what remaining bonus money under the 5% threshold they have to sign him, then they should, and should let go of their remaining picks.
35, Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Dodgers
Kyle Funkhouser at one point in the draft was considered the top righthanded pitching prospect in the draft, but a down junior season dropped his stock, and he tumbled all the way down to the 35th pick.
Why he won’t sign:
The way I look at this, Kyle Funkhouser has leverage that former potential top pick Michael Matuella didn’t have. A bad junior season? Fine, go back to school, see if you can rebound, and hope to enter next year’s top pick conversation. Matuella didn’t have that same leverage because of his Tommy John surgery and back issues, which would have prevented him from pitching at all in his senior year.
Funkhouser knows that he’s worth more that whatever the Dodgers can offer him, and given the fact that they spent their top picks on college pitchers, he likely views himself as the odd man out.
Admittedly, the risks of returning to school for a senior season are big. What if Funkhouser doesn’t improve? What if he’s only able to slightly raise his stock from last season? Since compensation for losing a first round draft pick began, only one player who didn’t sign was a collegian, and that was Stanford’s Mark Appel in 2012. Granted, Appel was able to move from being selected by the Pirates at 8th overall to the Astros at first overall, but his decision to return doesn’t indicate a trend.
The only way I see Funkhouser choose to sign is if the Dodgers elect to not sign Edwin Rios, their sixth rounder. If they do that, they could try and split the remaining threshold bonus pool money they have in the hopes of getting both Buehler and Funkhouser. Knowing full well that the Dodgers don’t want to be the first team to lose a draft pick for exceeding their pool, the chances of that happening are pretty slim. In all likelihood, it will come down choosing between Buehler and Funkhouser, and signs indicate Buehler is their first choice.
40. Nathan Kirby, LHP: Brewers
Nathan Kirby was a preseason favorite to be a top pick in the draft, but an ineffective junior season towards the end dropped his stock and pushed him to the CB round, where the Brewers snatched him.
Why he will sign:
An article on the Daily Progress’ UVA sports blog indicates that Kirby has decided to wait until just before the deadline to sign. For Kirby, going pro would be the best decision. The Cavaliers will be fine without him, especially with the emergence of Connor Jones as a staff ace. Plus, as a UVA product, Kirby has a chance to go through the minor league system quickly. The Brewers could use the remainder of the minor league season to shut down Kirby and wait until next season, when he will be fully healthy and ready to go.
Considering the Brewers have made no effort to sign their gamble picks, Justin Hooper, Donny Everett and John India, they could definitely allocate the money they have left towards a higher bonus for Kirby.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks: Brendan Rodgers, SS Lake Mary HS, Florida
The one constant in an ever changing landscape of potential number one picks, Brendan Rodgers has the ability to be one of the best Highly Anticipated Prep Shortstops in the history of the draft. Blessed with a solid arm and an excellent bat, Rodgers is a player who could run through Arizona’s system in three years rather than the standard five for prep prospects. His leadership at the prep level will also translate well to the pro game. I project him as a potential 2-4 hitter in the Arizona lineup, likely ahead of Paul Goldschmidt.
2. Houston Astros: Dansby Swanson, SS/2B Vanderbilt
It’s hard to imagine that Dansby is only seven months older than Astros super prospect Carlos Correa, but the dates never lie. The former College World Series Most Outstanding Player has the bat to be a solid middle of the order producer. Defensively, Swanson profiles higher as a second baseman, which works out a lot better for him, as he and Correa could form a potentially lethal future double play tandem, assuming Jose Altuve isn’t blocking him.
3. Colorado Rockies: Carson Fulmer, RHP Vanderbilt
Size isn’t everything, at least that’s what Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer would like you to believe. After seeing a similarly sized Marcus Stroman succeed as a starter for the Toronto Blue Jays, Fulmer has done everything possible to justify the possibility of being the first pitcher off the board. Yes, his delivery is awkward, and he does show a lot of effort when pitching, but Fulmer’s sinking action is deadly, and something the Rockies would love to add (based on their previous forays into collegiate pitching) Fulmer also has one of the best fastballs in the class, and should he not work out as a starter, he’d be a more than impressive closer.
4. Texas Rangers: Dillon Tate, RHP California-Santa Barbara
The Rangers were fortuitous enough to have a bad season right around now, especially considering the rise of certain collegiate pitchers to take the place of others. Among those pitchers is UCSB’s Dillon Tate, a young man who has a blazing fastball. While most of his college work has been in relief, Tate’s transition to the starting rotation has been nothing short of amazing, to the point where he’s been considered a top three, even the top pick in the draft. Tate’s versatility as a pitcher will help upgrade a woeful corps that has had to rely on the likes of Logan Verrett, Anthony Ranaudo, and Ross Detwiler for stability, no offense to them. His presence will almost immediately help a rotation in search of protection for their ace, Yu Darvish.
5. Houston Astros: Kyle Tucker, OF Gulf Coast HS, Florida
The younger brother of Astros farmhand Preston Tucker, Kyle has one of the best pure swings in this year’s class. While he does need some work in the defensive department, his above average speed will definitely ensure that he’s at least a 6 hitter in the big leagues. Psychologically, Tucker’s supposed devil-may-care attitude may push some teams away, but on the flip side of the coin, he’s blessed with the confidence and poise that should help him mentally adjust to the rigors of professional ball
6. Minnesota Twins: Ian Happ, 2B/OF Cincinnati
Positional versatility is a valuable asset, and for Cincinnati’s Ian Happ, it may be his biggest ally before the draft. Happ has played first base, second base, shortstop, third base and outfield, and while his current projection is in the corner, his swiss army knife capability, coupled with his solid bat could make him even more valuable than he is now. While the Twins do seem to have their infield determined for the future, figuring out who plays alongside Byron Buxton and Oswaldo Arcia could be solved easily with this selection.
7. Boston Red Sox: Alex Bregman, SS LSU
Four years ago, the Red Sox used their second first round selection on a young New Mexico prep catcher named Blake Swihart. Swihart has since become the Sox’s top positional prospect. This year, they could have the opportunity of a lifetime if Swihart’s friend Alex Bregman is still on the board with the 7th pick. Bregman has an unorthodox approach to defense that many in the scouting industry feel will warrant a position change to second base. Admittedly, I see this as a possibility, with Bregman potentially inheriting Dustin Pedroia’s job when he can’t play the position. Bregman’s bat is also approaching its freshman levels; he has adjusted well to the new flat seam baseballs.
8. Chicago White Sox: Tyler Jay, LHP Illinois
There’s nothing more fun than seeing a team draft a home state product, and while Urbana-Champaign is a hike from Chicago, I’m certain that both Chicago teams have had their eyes on the Illini southpaw. Jay’s ceiling isn’t high, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t belong here, as he does have the makings of at least a dominant, if small reliever, thanks in part to his deceptive fastball.
9. Chicago Cubs: Kyle Funkhouser, RHP Louisville
While missing out on Jonathan Gray was pardonable, given the consolation prize was Kris Bryant, missing out on pitchers like Aaron Nola and Kyle Freeland in favor of Kyle Schwarber was definitely not a popular move with the fans. This year, the Cubs are going to have to use their pick on a pitcher, given the state of their offensive prospects, it seems the most obvious way to go. Kyle Funkhouser may look like the safest pick at the end of the day, but truthfully, he does have the potential to be a top half starter, provided he tinkers with his control. He is a workhorse as well, a trait that many a team would desire.
10. Philadelphia Phillies: Cornelius Randolph, 3B Griffin HS, Georgia
A draft isn’t a draft without teams reaching for players, otherwise, what fun would there be? Cornelius Randolph is a reach, but his potential as a power hitting replacement for Ryan Howard in the distant future may be enticing enough for the Phillies to go after him. Randolph comes from the same high school as former first overall pick Tim Beckham, and judging by his ability, he could conceivably be the school’s second first rounder. Griffin best fits as a third baseman, which could mean that Maikel Franco would have to move across the diamond, not that that would be much of an issue. Griffin could conceivably also play second base or the outfield, meaning that wherever he goes, he would definitely be an upgrade over whomever leaves.
11. Cincinnati Reds: Nathan Kirby, LHP Virginia
Nathan Kirby is one of my favorites, and I do have a list of favorites in this draft, but unfortunately, his performance as of late has dropped him from an unquestionable top five to a potential top 15. While he still has the velocity and the mechanics that would make him a solid starter, there’s concern that Kirby has gotten too predictable, and could possibly drop more unless he has a turnaround in the last two months of the season. Still, he has the ceiling to be a number two pitcher in a staff, and for the Reds, who may be remodeling their rotation in the coming years, Kirby may be one excellent young mainstay.
12. Miami Marlins: Kevin Newman, SS Arizona
Stock often rises as a result of visibility, and there is no better evidence from an offensive perspective than Kevin Newman stealing home against Rice back in February. Newman’s gutsiness, or as I referred to it in a tweet, his balls of steal, definitely set the stage for him to climb up in the rankings. While Newman is probably a slap hitter at best, his defensive ability and his legs are considered valuable assets, and in a year or two, he could replace Dee Gordon as the starting second baseman. Newman’s a solid hitter for average, he won the batting title twice in summer ball, so expect him to play a key role in the top of any lineup.
13. Tampa Bay Rays: Kolby Allard, LHP San Clemente HS, California
Three of the next five picks in this draft are what I would deem high risk-high reward. At one point, they would have been top ten picks, but injuries have dropped their stock to the point where other teams just as easily can pick them up. First up is Allard, who at one point was considered the top prep pitcher in the class. While he still is the first one off the board in this mock, going 13th overall is probably indicative of how unpredictable this year’s prep pitching class is. Allard still has the height, the liveliness, and the workhorse ability as a starter, but back trouble has knocked him out of commission. Of course, he still has some time to raise his stock back to preseason levels, and should he impress, he could definitely jump back into the top ten.
14. Atlanta Braves: Daz Cameron, OF Eagles Landing Christian Academy, Georgia
I probably forgot to mention this with Cornelius Randolph, but I can definitely say it now. Georgia is a hotbed for prep baseball talent. Since 2007, there has been at least one first round pick from a Georgia high school. This year’s top prospect is arguably its most famous. Daz Cameron may be playing a weaker schedule this year, and his junior year may have been a down year, but his potential as a five tool player, despite what he has now shouldn’t be that concerning, especially if the right team moulds him into a Jason Hayward type star.
15. Milwaukee Brewers: Brady Aiken, LHP IMG Academy
Brady Aiken will likely be the biggest risk of the draft, and whether or not teams are willing to take him especially after the findings on his physical turned out to be legitimate, it could potentially spell a lot of trouble for the young man in the future. I could see the Brewers, who have yet to find the next Ben Sheets, potentially taking a look at him, especially given their recent forays into high ceiling prep arms. Even though he’ll likely be on the shelf until next March, and will be limited for the next year, the potential for him to bounce back from this major setback, especially since he’s only 19 years old, would be worth the year of waiting.
16. New York Yankees: Kyler Murray, SS Allen HS, Texas
Kyler Murray is a celebrity draft pick, in the sense that his presence on this board will definitely cause a lot of controversy. Yes, he’s also the consensus top high school quarterback recruit, and yes, he’s committed to Texas A&M, where he’s expected to step into the long vacated shoes of Johnny Manziel, bur given the history of dual sport athletes who have been taken high in the MLB draft, it’s likely that Murray, who reminds me of Everth Cabrera with a higher ceiling, could sign with the Yankees for the right price. Assuming the Didi Gregorius experiment doesn’t work out as planned, it’s safe to assume the Yankees will want to look for their next homegrown shortstop star.
17. Cleveland Indians: Michael Matuella, RHP Duke
Two years ago, it was Ryne Stanek and Sean Manaea. Last year, it was Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde. This year, it’s Brady Aiken and Michael Matuella. Long plagued with health issues related to a back problem, Matuella’s potential to throw a major league fastball has been his longstanding support, and even with Tommy John surgery, I’d be surprised if he falls completely out of the first round. Certainly, he is going to fall out of the top ten, which is where I had him before, but a team looking to strengthen their rotation would definitely be inclined to overlook the health problems in the hopes that they can get him back in working order. And just imagine the quartet of Cory Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Michael Matuella. That would instantly upgrade the team’s rotation from scary to dangerous.
18. San Francisco Giants: DJ Stewart, OF Florida State
Drafting for need is a rare thing in the MLB draft, but in the case of the Giants, the team needs power. DJ Stewart looks like a power hitter, and he has the capability to be one, but like any young power hitter, he needs consistency. Considering the successful developments of guys like Brandon Belt and Crawford into top hitters, making DJ Stewart into a consistent power hitter shouldn’t be a major challenge for the Giants.
19. Pittsburgh Pirates: Justin Hooper, LHP De La Salle HS
Justin Hooper is probably the biggest enigma of the draft. He’s got the height and the tools to be a frontline starter, but the consistency and the signability are the biggest issues. Considering Pittsburgh’s history with overpaying for quality talent, it wouldn’t surprise me if they really make Hooper an offer he can’t refuse. Having Hooper in the same staff as Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon is what elevates the Pirates from contenders to champion picks.
20. Oakland A’s: Walker Buehler, RHP Vanderbilt
The A’s may have a glut of pitching now, but knowing how unpredictable their GM is, it’s possible that that pitching could be gone soon. In this case, it’s time to go with safe pick number 2, Walker Buehler has the stuff to be a solid number two, and despite the fact that he’s not your typical starter build, he’s managed to hold his own for the past three seasons. If Buehler can put away the durability concerns, he could jump back into the top 15.
21. Kansas City Royals: Beau Burrows, RHP Weatherford HS, Texas
Consistency is a wonderful thing to have if you’re a prep pitcher, and if you’re consistently throwing mid 90’s heat, that’s even better. Admittedly, I’ve not been as high on Burrows as I should have been, but seeing the reports on him, I could conceivably see him making an impact on a rotation by 2020. Burrows’ mechanics however are what drop him, as he has a bit of a kink in his torso which has some concerned is a tell. The Royals would still do well to draft and develop him into the young arm they’ve been looking for for years.
22. Detroit Tigers: Mike Nikorak, RHP Stroudsburg HS, Pennsylvania
He has the body, the speed, and the mechanics to be a starter in the majors. What he lacks is a track record, which is why he’s fallen to pick 22 in this mock. Unknown until last year, Nikorak’s saving grace was an excellent junior season which put him on the map. The Tigers could possibly use him as a successful transition from Justin Verlander. Nikorak however could be a tough sign, since he has a strong commitment to Alabama, but the opportunity to play for the Tigers could sway him a bit.
23. St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Betts, C Wilson HS, California
Did you know that Yadier Molina is going to be 33 years old this year? And that he’s been catching for 11 seasons? The Cardinals would have incredible foresight if they start looking for Yadier’s heir now, especially given the weakness of this year’s catching class. However, Chris Betts does stand out, especially considering his hose for an arm and the fact that he’s a left-handed power hitter. Betts also has a more athletic body this year, which bodes well for his chances to stay behind the plate. He’ll likely be ready for the Majors by the time Molina is 37, by then he’ll likely have retired.
24. Los Angeles Dodgers: Trent Clark, OF Richland HS, Texas
Having a guy who consistently hits and hits is a major plus, especially if that player is a prep athlete. Trent Clark has yet to show if he’s more contact or power oriented, and his defense puts him in a corner outfield, but to have him in a Dodgers outfield that consists of Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson is enough to make any Dodger fan excited. Clark could conceivably be the next pre-slump Andre Ethier,
25. Baltimore Orioles: Richie Martin, SS Florida
Richie Martin’s defense is what makes him such an attractive asset, and while he had some initial difficulties as a hitter, it’s started to come around for him. The Orioles would be smart to tab him as their successor for JJ Hardy.
26. Los Angeles Angels: Phil Bickford, RHP College of Southern Nevada
Phil Bickford’s decision to leave Cal State Fullerton may have rubbed some teams the wrong way, but he has shown that he can be a dominant pitcher when possible. If he could show some consistency, then he’d be much higher on the list, but his pure stuff keeps him at least at the tail end of the first round of the draft. The Angels were nine minutes away from him when he was in college, so they must have gotten good enough info on him. I could see Bickford and Sean Newcomb forming a dominant 1-2 punch for the Angels.
27. Colorado Rockies: Nick Plummer, OF Brother Rice HS
Plummer’s speed would definitely complement David Dahl’s power. Having players with similar attributes to Tulo and CarGo will ease the transition.
28. Atlanta Braves: Chris Shaw, 1B, Boston College
The Braves will soon figure out that power hitting is key. Shaw’s season may have been less than stellar, but the potential to replace Gattis’ power could have the Braves taking a long hard look.
29. Toronto Blue Jays: Demi Orimoloye, OF St. Matthew’s HS, Ontario
Orimoloye is a tank. A potential five tool Canadian star, he could find himself playing for his home province team should his stock stay where it is now.
30. New York Yankees: Garrett Whitley, OF Niskayuna HS
Whitley’s defense and speed make him an already decent centerfielder, his bat makes him Niskayuna’s first legitimate MLB prospect. Expect his home state Yankees to be looking hard at him.
31. San Francisco Giants: David Thompson, 1B/3B Miami
I have been high on Thompson since I saw his Cape League tape, and my faith has been rewarded as he’s hit 10 home runs so far this year. The Giants could completely revamp their power hitting with Thompson behind DJ Stewart in the batting order
32. Pittsburgh Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas
Charlie’s boy has the bat and the arm to stay at third base. He’d be a solid successor to Alvarez, who’ll likely be at first when Ke’Bryan comes up.
33. Kansas City Royals: Gio Brusa, OF Pacific
Though he hasn’t broken out the way he was expected to, Brusa has the hitting ability and the power to be a long term DH, potentially taking over for Kendrys Morales when he’s done.
34. Detroit Tigers: Tyler Stephenson, C Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia
A guy who’s considered a prep version of Matt Wieters could definitely find himself playing for a team in need of an answer when Alex Avila finally leaves.
35. Los Angeles Dodgers: James Kaprielian, RHP UCLA
Kaprielian would likely be an arm our of the bullpen for the Dodgers, but once properly developed, his fastball and curveball would make him a solid closer.
36. Baltimore Orioles: Alonzo Jones, 2B/OF Columbus HS, Georgia
His speed makes him a candidate to play outfield in the future, but what really matters is his ability to be the leadoff hitter that the Orioles can use to add dimension to their future offense.
Picture this: You’re recruited for a month long internship with a top company, and should you succeed at that internship, the company will offer you a job. However, at the end of the internship, you find out you didn’t make the cut. However, another top company happened to notice you, and offers you a full time position there, no questions asked.
Admittedly, while not the best way, this is still a good way to describe what happened to Texas Rangers pitcher Logan Verrett. A former Mets draft pick and projected fringe major leaguer, Verrett was given the opportunity for a fresh start when he was plucked out of their system by the Baltimore Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft. Verrett had a decent spring, but given the lack of space on the Orioles’ roster, especially in the relief corps, the team tried to keep him by sneaking him through the waiver wire. The Rangers, who have been dealing with several injuries this spring, pounced, and flew him out to Arlington where he was given the opportunity to pitch against his old team, the Mets, in an exhibition tuneup.
The Rule 5 Draft is mutually beneficial for teams and players. On the players side, it allows certain prospects who have languished in the minor leagues for years to showcase their stuff for teams who need, and are looking for cheap talent. On the teams’ side, it’s a very cheap way to try out a player who may or may not have major league potential. Should the player succeed, he has the opportunity to stay on the roster, provided it’s for a full year. Should he not, the team offers the player back to his old team for half the money it cost to draft him.
The Rule 5 Draft has been especially beneficial for teams looking for relief help, as it has yielded plenty of decent pitchers; among the more recent examples, Josh Fields, who went from being a failed first round pick in the Red Sox system to being a key member of the Astros bullpen, and TJ McFarland, an Indians minor leaguer who went to the Orioles and became a solid reliever/starter hybrid.
This year’s class, while it’s still a bit early to make determinations, has the best shot of being one of the more valuable Rule 5 classes in the draft’s history. Usually during Spring Training, about half of the picks made are returned to their original teams, but as of today, only one, Astros pitcher Jandel Gustave has been returned, while all those left still have shots at, or have already made the major league roster.
Oscar Hernandez was all but given a shot at being Arizona’s backup catcher as the team opted not to upgrade the position following the Miguel Montero trade. With Tuffy Gosewisch expected to start until top prospect Peter O’Brien was ready, Hernandez seemed primed for the important role of backup catcher. However, Hernandez injured his wrist while batting back in early march, and underwent surgery. He is currently in his third week of recovery; usually this type of surgery takes up to 5 weeks to recover. While his roster status is murky, his competition for the backup spot doesn’t seem to offer much concern as to whether or not he will stay, or be returned to Tampa Bay. Gerald Laird may have experience, but a 36 year old catcher isn’t exactly reassuring for long term security, and Blake Lalli is a more expensive Hernandez. Expect the Diamondbacks to make a decision on him soon.
Mark Canha represents a departure of the fundamental aspect of Moneyball, getting-on-base, however, in terms of cheap talent, he fits the bill. A power hitting first baseman with a frustrating propensity to strike out (Think of a younger and cheaper Mark Reynolds), he has been viewed as a platoon player with former Mets slugger Ike Davis. Canha had a solid spring, leading the team in home runs, and his power has been seen as crucial in coping with the loss of Josh Donaldson. He will be used primarily against left-handed pitchers, but his splits in the minors allow him to be the first man off the bench when facing right handed pitching. Given the faith the A’s have placed in their youth, it’s highly unlikely that Canha returns to Miami, from where he was plucked by Colorado,
While first round picks and top prospects are often given higher visibility than other minor leaguers, it doesn’t always mean that they’re immune to being expendable, and no better example comes to mind than Delino DeShields. The former Astros first round pick took an exceptionally long time to adjust to the minor leagues after being drafted, and jumped on and off of the Top 100 Prospect list. Just when it seemed like he had finally come into his own, however, the Astros had strengthened their system and he found himself expendable. With the Rangers, DeShields has the opportunity to be a fourth outfielder and a late inning speed boost. Given the Rangers’ constant problems with injuries, it wouldn’t be a surprise if DeShields does find some regular playing time during the season.
If you’re a Rule 5 Pick, and you somehow make it on the Orioles roster, chances are you will likely stick. Given the team’s recent success with Darren O’Day and TJ McFarland, Jason Garcia is likely breathing a sigh of relief, and thanking his lucky stars that he was kept while Logan Verrett was claimed. He’s the typical Rule 5 guy, a pitcher who may present some value in the bullpen. If he can make himself noticed, he may not have to worry about being returned to Boston.
J.R. Graham is a former top prospect trying to reinvent himself after dealing with an injury that nearly ended his career. The former top 100 prospect is considered to still have some degree of value as a reliever, and is expected to enter high pressure situations to prove his worth. Graham was one of the few Rule 5 picks to gain exposure from the national media during camp, as his stirrups led to a fascinating human interest story from Fox Sports. Given the Twins’ lack of a viable live arm in the bullpen, odds are Graham will not have to come back to Atlanta.
Taylor Featherston is probably the most underrated pick in this year’s class. A guy who didn’t make much buzz during the spring, he still somehow impressed the Angels brass enough to make the team as a backup infielder. Given the importance of backup shortstops, Featherston is likely going to serve primarily as a defensive sub off the bench. While the Angels have a glut of middle infield depth in Johnny Giavotella, Grant Green and Josh Rutledge, Featherston’s positional versatility should give the Angels more incentive to keep him rather than return him to the Rockies.
Teams that are in rebuild mode often use their Rule 5 pick on positional players. The Marlins successfully gambled their 2005 pick and turned it into Dan Uggla, while the White Sox got value in catcher Adrian Nieto last year. This year, the Phillies are giving Odubel Herrera the opportunity to play the outfield while they play the rebuild game. Herrera has speed and a lively bat, and his glove makes him a valuable centerfielder. In fact, his play in centerfield effectively moved Ben Revere to left field. Herrera’s spring, not to mention his ability has led one sports page to dub him the next Shane Victorino, who was, incidentally, a Rule 5 pick of the Phillies in 2005. Because of the value that Herrera offers, he could conceivably stay in Philadelphia, rather than go back to the clog that is the Rangers’ middle infield depth.
Although not as visible as Verrett, Andrew McKirahan is filling a similar role to his fellow Rule 5er. Bullpen inconsistency and injuries essentially forced the Braves to claim the former Cubs prospect on waivers and use him. This isn’t to make McKirahan’s addition sound like a bad move, rather, it’s good for him, as he has a guaranteed spot, at least until Josh Outman returns from the disabled list. McKirahan has value as a lefthandedhanded long reliever, and his spring has been decent; in fact he threw a perfect inning in his Braves debut. He and Luis Avilan will make up the left-handed portion of the Braves bullpen, which is a good idea to give him some experience as the Braves rebuild.
Sean Gilmartin follows a similar narrative to Josh Fields: a former first round pick ends up being traded to another team, and then toils in the minors there, only to be picked by another team in the Rule 5 draft. Once a consensus All-American, he found himself thrust into one of the oddest bullpen competitions in spring. Gilmartin was considered the “best man” in a competition where the best ERA was below 6, and though he settled down and lowered his ERA, the Mets went out and acquired two left-handed relievers, likely to put less pressure on him. With the Mets opting to go with an unconventional, and somewhat confusing 8 man bullpen, Gilmartin has the chance to prove that he’s not just a warm body. As a former starter, his value will be in long relief. Even if Alex Torres has some consistency issues, Gilmartin is still on a shorter leash, and he will need to replicate his latter half of spring if he wants to avoid returning to Minnesota.
Daniel Winkler may be one of the biggest enigmas of this year’s class. A right-hander with plenty of talent, he was struck by the Tommy John bug last year, and is expected to miss time while he recovers. Injuries are usually the big complicator for Rule 5 picks, so the amount of days that Winkler gets with the Braves will likely not be enough to exhaust his rule 5 status until 2016. Don’t be surprised if he possibly gets returned to Colorado.
David Rollins is the biggest wild card of the group. While he does have value as a left-handed reliever, he unfortunately shot himself in the foot by testing positive for PEDs, leading to an 80 game suspension, the first time this has happened. The Mariners have not said whether they will return him to the Astros, but don’t hold out hope that he will stay.
We’ve already covered Logan Verrett, so no need to go back there.
The only Rule 5 pick who has prior major league experience, Andy Oliver had an advantage over some of his contemporaries, and as the injuries hit, his chances seemed better and better. However, it seems as if Oliver may not have a spot on the team, despite making Bleacher Report’s All Spring Training Team. Oliver was placed on waivers, and even if he clears, the Phillies would have to offer Oliver back to the Pittsburgh Pirates or make a deal involving him, before they could option him to the minors.
Of course, making the roster and surviving the season are two completely different things, so those who have made the the cut still have the challenge of staying on the major league roster. So long as a player stays on the active roster for 90 days, he will lost his Rule 5 status, and a team can proceed however they wish with their player.
Will we be seeing another Uggla, Victorino, or Johan Santana from this group? Time will tell.
The 2015 MLB Draft Order has officially been set, thanks to the San Diego Padres electing to sign James Shields. With their forfeiture of the 13th overall pick, the start of the college baseball season, and of course, pitchers and catchers reporting for Major League Baseball’s Spring Training, it seems appropriate to do yet another mock draft.
You all know how this works by now, the selections are done based on organizational (as in top 20 prospects) need, the draft will be split up so as to not have this take all day, after the draft is complete, I’ll release the full results, etc. etc. etc.
So without further delay, here are the first seven picks for the 2014 MLB Mock Draft
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
Like the center in basketball, the quarterback in football, and the goalie in hockey, shortstop is often considered one of the most important positions. While one is mainly valued for his defensive abilities, a shortstop that can hit is considered a major boon, and for the Diamondbacks, who have the likes of Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings piloting the position now, it couldn’t be a better time for them to have the number one pick.
Brendan Rodgers of Lake Mary High School is arguably the best prep player in the country. I’ve used the term HAPS, or Highly Anticipated Prep Shortstop to describe players like him, prep shortstops with advanced tools and the ability to go through a minor league system quickly. His bat alone could have him in the majors in three years, and his defense while currently decent enough to allow him to stay at his current position, will only improve with time in the minors.
Rodgers would be the perfect complement to Paul Goldschmidt and Yasmany Tomas, who would be 31 and 27, respectively. Having three potent bats with power potential would certainly allow Arizona to complement what is likely going to be a solid up-and-coming rotation, allowing them to compete in the NL West.
2. Houston Astros
The Astros have managed to build a system that many teams would kill to have, especially with the high floor college talent they’ve acquired in the past draft. While they have a solid foundation of righthanded pitching, thanks in part to Mark Appel and Lance McCullers, their lack of a future impact left-handed pitcher is what holds the team from having a solid system.
Virginia’s Nathan Kirby may not have the upside that 2014 draft pick Brady Aiken had, but he also doesn’t have the history that Aiken has with the Astros. This isn’t to say that Kirby is your prototypical safe pick, rather, he has the potential to be a staff anchor. In his opening start, Kirby only allowed three hits in seven innings of work against East Carolina, which is one of the American Athletic Conference’s toughest teams.
Kirby has a solid three pitch mix, a fastball, slider, and changeup which will only get better due to his commitment to filling out his frame during the summer. He has solid command, and will play the zone in order
The Astros would also benefit from drafting Kirby, as his old college teammate, Derek Fisher, is already in their system, and building upon that preexisting chemistry will do them a world of good in developing confidence in their starter.
3. Colorado Rockies
I mentioned it in my last mock, but I think it bears repeating: By developing their own starters instead of buying them, the Colorado Rockies will have an advantage that no NL club has: pitchers who are used to throwing in the thin air of Denver. And it doesn’t matter if the pitcher is left or right-handed, the idea is that in developing their own arms, they form a pitching staff that allows them to compete in the NL West. Having Jon Gray, Eddie Butler and Kyle Freeland starting the staff is good, but what they need is another bona fide arm.
The past five years have been kind to teams who have had the number three pick in the draft, and 2015 will be no exception. Brady Aiken’s decision to forgo his UCLA commitment has catapulted him to the top of what is already a vaunted arms class, and significantly improves the talent level of a limited left-handed class.
Whether or not he does have an issue with his throwing arm will be negligible, given his upside as a pitcher. His fastball-curveball-changeup combination are incredibly advanced for his age, and his build is similar to that of top right-handed pitching prospect Kyle Funkhouser.
Aiken will complement fellow southpaw Kyle Freeland quite well, and will allow the Rockies to develop variety in their rotation with Gray and Butler as righthanded starters.
4. Texas Rangers
You can make as many jokes as you like about the state of the Rangers rotation, because currently, aside from Yu Darvish, there is little upside. Sure, getting Anthony Ranaudo from Boston may offer some hope, and Chi Chi Gonzalez could turn out to be a better draft choice then I thought, but truth be told, even if the Rangers had a lineup of players that possessed Joey Gallo’s attributes, it still wouldn’t make up for the fact that the rotation will need to be fixed in the future.
Sometimes the stars align, however, and an advanced college arm will fall into your lap. Louisville ace Kyle Funkhouser is that arm. While I had a feeling that he could be one of the best arms in the draft, but was wary of whether or not his ability and potential demand for a big contract could drop him a few picks, his 12 strikeout performance against Alabama State is pretty much him saying to me, “Give me some credit and put me in the top 5 already!”
Funkhouser certainly deserves credit where it’s due, as he was Team USA’s top prospect last summer, but what really makes him attractive to teams is his pitch arsenal, which currently would grade as league average, but has the potential to improve to ace levels.
While Alabama State isn’t exactly a baseball powerhouse, should Funkhouser continue pitching the way he does even if he drops his strikeout totals, there’s no doubt he could be in conversation to be the top pick.
5. Houston Astros
Legacy prospects are as much of a gamble as any other prospects. Some turn out to be as good, if not better than their fathers, while others fail in that regard. There’s no doubt that Delino Deshields could have been a solid prospect, but the Astros organization was running out of patience and understandably, with plenty of talent and few 40 man roster spots open, left him unprotected for the Texas Rangers to take. Of course, Deshields was known mainly for his speed; Houston’s hypothetical pick here has more dimension to his game.
Daz Cameron, of Eagles Landing Christian Academy, is the son of Mike Cameron, who was probably one of the most underrated players of his generation. Cameron the younger, at one point was viewed as a top pick, but a drop off in his junior year has him somewhere between top ten and top fifteen. However, Cameron’s current ability affords him the opportunity of improving his draft stock.
A solid contact hitter now, he has the potential to add power to his swing, and while he has average speed for the basepaths, he does have the ability to cover his position well enough to compensate defensively.
Cameron is a prodigy, however, as he is part of the very exclusive club of players who have played in the All-American Game twice His talent will be hard to ignore, and it wouldn’t surprise me if, should he improve, the Astros end up taking him second overall.
6. Minnesota Twins
Minnesota’s future will be bright for as long as Byron Buxton continues to prove he is a top prospect, and the Twins will have a solid staff to look forward to with the impending arrivals of Alex Meyer, Kohl Stewart and Nick Burdi. However, how do you repopulate the system? Who becomes the next top pitching prospect?
Kolby Allard of San Clemente High School has taken a meteoric rise from where I originally slotted him, 16th, to where he stands now, as a top ten prospect with the potential to be top five. He has similar attributes to Brady Aiken, but the stigma of his height drops his value.
What he lacks in height, Allard compensates for in the ability to pitch in big games; he made it out of the summer as USA Baseball’s top prep pitcher.
Pairing him up with Kohl Stewart will do nothing but good, as two young and lively arms anchoring the Twins rotation will give them a solid future hold in the AL Central.
7. Boston Red Sox
Rarely does a team have a plethora of Major League ready left-handed pitching like the Boston Red Sox. Guys like Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Edwin Escobar and Brian Johnson make up 2/5 of their top ten prospects. However, the point here is that these pitchers are practically Major League ready, and when they graduate, Boston’s system will need to adjust. Given the amount of prep options, it’s entirely possible that the Red Sox opt to go for a long term project in the hopes of replenishing their pitching stores.
Cathedral High School righty Ashe Russell has seen his draft position rise, mainly because he has that much growth potential. Even though Indiana is starting to develop a reputation as a northern prospect pipeline, it’s still in its developing stages, and as a result, Russell has plenty of potential to grow. A two pitch man now with a solid fastball and up-and-coming slider, Russell does have a changeup, but it probably will suit him better once the talent level adjusts.
Russell does have the build to be a pitcher, but he’s still raw, and should he be taken by Boston, he probably will start out as a reliever and be developed into a spot starter or closer. Still, his potential is too great to pass on, and Boston has developed some solid pitchers as of late.
Ubaldo Jimenez became the next player with draft compensation to leave free agent purgatory, signing a multiyear deal with the Baltimore Orioles. Jimenez, who rejected a qualifying offer from his old team, the Cleveland Indians, cost the Orioles not only the money, but also the 17th overall pick in the draft.
Ever since the new free agent draft compensation rules have come into effect last year, it seems as if teams are intentionally lowballing these players so that they can get the draft pick. We saw how bad it was last year with Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse, who waited until the middle of Spring Training to sign with teams. And ultimately, those teams forfeited draft picks.
Bourn went from Atlanta to Cleveland, who used the pick that they obtained in the deal to draft Oklahoma State starter Jason Hursh, Cleveland, however, didn’t lose their first round pick, as they had a top ten draft pick. Incidentally, the Bourn case drew a lot of controversy, as the New York Mets who had the 11th pick, which wasn’t protected, wanted to sign him, but felt that they would be unfairly losing a draft pick because the Pittsburgh Pirates had gotten a top ten pick for allowing Mark Appel to return to Stanford for his senior season, pushing the Mets one spot out of the top ten. Cleveland ended up signing Bourn, but instead of losing a first rounder to the Braves, they lost a second rounder.
Lohse was signed by the Brewers, who forfeited their first round draft choice. The Cardinals used that pick to select Rob Kaminsky, a New Jersey prep pitcher.
Going back to Jimenez and the free agents that remain, the common theme for these remaining free agents is the draft pick. Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales haven’t gotten offers because teams are afraid to lose a pick for them. It’s essentially a simpler form of restricted free agency.
There is no doubt that these players do deserve deals. Santana resurrected his career in Kansas City, Cruz, pre-Biogenesis was viewed as a deadly middle-of-the-order bat. Drew could hit and adequately defend, and helped Boston win a championship, and Morales resurrected his career in Seattle after a couple years of injury trouble in Anaheim.
But herein lies the problem, it’s not just the draft pick, it’s the money and the risky investment too.
Santana is demanding ace money after reestablishing himself in KANSAS CITY. Kansas City is in no way a place to brag about reestablishing yourself, even if the Royals did manage to get out of the cellar thanks in part to a bizarro season by the White Sox and another really bad season by the Twins.
The problem with Cruz is that nobody knows if he’ll be as good after being caught in the Biogenesis probe. Maybe he’ll be another Ryan Braun, maybe he becomes Melky Cabrera. Either way, it’s a big risk for a PED user.
The problem with Drew is that 2013 could have been a fluke year for him. Drew was protected by a lineup that seemed to envelop his deficiencies, couple that with the fact that he’s getting into the “wrong side of 30” territory. While this is okay for maybe an outfielder or a first baseman, a “wrong side of 30” middle infielder is a bit of a problem, especially on the defensive side of things.
And of course, there’s Morales. While he did have a respectable offensive season, there are still concerns about his health and defensive ability. People are more inclined to take a look at him as a designated hitter than as a first baseman. Had Morales not gotten hurt, in all likelihood, he would be one of the first players off the board instead of the last.
But going back to Ubaldo. Was the deal worth it?
Jimenez is certainly long removed from his days of dominance in Denver. In Cleveland, he really was just a mid rotation starter, nothing special, basically the baseball equivalent of a one hit wonder. Baltimore however knew that in order to compete in the AL East again, which once again was strengthened by yet another Yankee spending spree, as well as the continuing growth of the other four teams in the division, they needed to add pitching. Getting Jimenez meant the forfeiture of a draft pick, but they went through with it anyway.
Was it worth it though?
From a money perspective, no. Jimenez was not worth that type of money or amount of years. From the pick perspective, certainly.
17th overall picks in the MLB Draft haven’t traditionally fared well. To provide an example of how they fared in the past ten years:
2013-2010: Tim Anderson, White Sox, DJ Davis, Blue Jays, CJ Cron, Angels, and Josh Sale, Rays. While Anderson and Davis are a long way from determining if they’re good or not, Cron may or may not need another year in the minors, and Sale has been nothing short of a bust.
2009: AJ Pollock of the Diamondbacks has managed to put himself in the Arizona lineup. A leadoff hitter, Pollock may stand as the best bet to break the bad 17th overall pick
2008: David Cooper, who was projected to be the next big slugging first baseman/DH, was a major disappointment in Toronto. Basically a AAAA player, he recently signed a deal with the Indians.
2007: Blake Beaven is another one of those forgettable rotation pieces. His biggest claim to fame was being included in the Cliff Lee deal which sent the former ace to the Texas Rangers for their 2011 World Series run.
2006: Matt Antonelli was supposed to be one of the big middle infield talents for the Padres, almost what Stephen Drew would have been had he not been injured. However failure to be consistent coupled with lack of opportunity led his only major league experience to be a September call up. Afterwards, he bounced around other teams’ minor league systems, but failed to latch on and retired last summer.
2005: CJ Henry was the first of Derek Jeter’s potential successors, but he just couldn’t hit. He was packaged in a deal for the late Cory Lidle and Bobby Abreu for the Yankees’ 2006 postseason run, but failed further to establish himself in Philadelphia. He quit baseball and played basketball for the University of Kansas with his more famous brother, Xavier, who now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Henry’s back to playing baseball now, albeit it’s independent ball in Evansville, Illinois.
2004: Scott Elbert was drafted by the Dodgers as a pitcher. Injuries derailed his effectiveness and turned him into a two pitch reliever. While he’s not the best reliever on the Dodgers, he is an okay option out of the bullpen.
So in a sense it probably was a somewhat good idea. Losing the pick means that another team, the Royals, will be saddled with the bad pick, while the Orioles will maybe get immediate contribution from Jimenez.
Here’s part 2 of MinorLeagueMadhouse’s Mock Draft.
11. Blue Jays: Kyle Schwarber, C, Indiana
Before the 2013 season started, Toronto had two really good catching prospects and a somewhat decent veteran. Now, they have… Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas, and one prospect whose value has taken a tumble. Kyle Schwarber, who helped Indiana make the College World Series last year, is like Toronto’s former big prize catcher, JP Arencibia, except he’s not just a power guy who strikes out a lot. Schwarber’s game is more balanced on the offensive side. However, for his hitting ability, he’s not a plus defender. If he’s to stay behind the plate, his defense will need some fine tuning, or he’ll become another Piazza.
12. Brewers: Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford
Every once in a while, the state of Connecticut produces a quality collegiate talent. Two years ago, it was George Springer and Matt Barnes, this year, it’s Sean Newcomb. Coming out of the same school that produced Jeff Bagwell will do wonders for his reputation, but as for himself, what endears him to scouts is his fastball and his ability as a strikeout pitcher. Newcomb has other pitches which he can get batters out with, but what he needs is a consistent delivery. Still, in a system that’s starved for southpaws, Newcomb may be Milwaukee’s next big lefty hurler.
13. Padres: Nick Gordon, SS/RHP, Olympia High School, Florida
One of the benefits of drafting a two way player out of high school is that there’s more time for that player to develop, so if in one area they fail, they will develop in another. Gordon, who has a baseball pedigree thanks to his father, former reliever Tom Gordon, and brother, Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon, has his brother’s speed and arm, and his father’s fastball and curveball. Still, scouts see his value as a shortstop more. Although the Padres have tried to stay away from prep hitters as of late thanks to the failures of Donavan Tate and Matt Bush, Gordon’s pedigree and adaptability may be too good to pass up.
14. Giants: Bradley Zimmer, OF, San Francisco
The Giants already have one home state product waiting in the wings to take his spot in the outfield, why not go for another one that’s right in their backyard? Zimmer, the brother of Royals pitcher Kyle Zimmer, can hit and throw, and while he’s not as fast as Gary Brown is, he has the ability to play as a 3 or 5 hitter in the Giants lineup. Although the Giants have locked up Hunter Pence for five years, my gut tells me that they are going to regret it, and will want a younger guy patrolling the vast outfield of AT&T Park.
15. Angels: Luis Ortiz, RHP, Sanger High School, California
The Angels system is arguably the biggest joke in baseball right now. With no one in the top 100 and the top prospect in their system likely making the majors soon, it’s time to restock once again. While there are so many options for the Angels to pick, if they want to strengthen their system, they’ll opt for a high school talent. Luis Ortiz is a NorCal product who has a fastball that he can throw with ease. When he’s not using his fastball, his slider also works as a Major League offering. Ortiz has a body fit for pitching, so development isn’t that much of an issue, but what does need improvement is his control. Still, if the Angels want a bona fide prospect to rebuild their system, Ortiz is that guy.
16. Diamondbacks: Braxton Davidson, OF, TC Roberson High School, North Carolina
Braxton Davidson is probably one of the better all around prep players in this year’s draft. His offensive game is definitely the most polished, and his arm and fielding ability make him an asset for teams that play in bigger parks. While he doesn’t have the speed to play center, his arm makes him a near lock to play one of the corner spots, left field especially comes to mind. Davidson’s power isn’t as big as Paul Goldschmidt’s, but in the Arizona lineup, he definitely looks to be a #3 hitter at best.
17. Orioles: Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State
“But the Orioles already have a catcher locked up for the long term!” Yes, but given the life expectancy of a catcher’s knees, in all likelihood, if they do draft Pentecost and he rises through the system at the normal rate, Matt Wieters will probably be a designated hitter. Moving along from that, Pentecost isn’t as flashy as draft mate Kyle Schwarber, but his game is balanced in areas. He was once a highly touted prospect three years ago, and would have been a Texas Ranger, but an injury and a strong commitment to Kennesaw State kept him from going pro. In a draft class that is ripe with small school talent. Pentecost is a hot commodity. He’ll certainly be worth the pick for a team looking for a future catcher.
18. Royals: Derek Fisher, OF Virginia
The Royals are the model of developing prospects, but the prospects that have been highlighted over the past few years are starting to graduate to the Majors. In developing the next crop of quality prospects. Kansas City should go after a good Alex Gordon-type hitter. Derek Fisher is one of the bigger names from a bigger school. The Cavaliers outfielder may have started show in Charlottesville, but a strong summer league has propelled him to the top of a lot of preseason watch lists. Fisher’s biggest weakness, however, is his fielding ability, and if he can’t improve it, he may end up being what Billy Butler became: a young Designated Hitter.
19. Nationals: Brandon Finnegan, LHP, TCU
Although the Nationals have been building up on pitchers as of late, another one, particularly a lefty, wouldn’t hurt. Brandon Finnegan had a rough year last year, but as Gerrit Cole could probably tell you, a poor record isn’t usually indicative of one’s draft position. Finnegan has a fastball that’s worth a second look, as well as a solid slider. He’s short for a starter, but as a bullpen guy, particularly a closer, Finnegan may be one of the best options out there. What he needs to improve upon is his consciousness of his delivery, which could be used as a tell, which may have caused him to have a bad year. Still, the Nationals would be smart to look at him.
20. Reds: Grant Holmes, RHP, Conway High School, South Carolina
There’s a stigma that seems to go against heavy pitchers, maybe because of health concerns, but for whatever reason, they still manage to carve out solid careers. Case and point, C.C. Sabathia and Bartolo Colon. Grant Holmes is nothing different. A big pitcher (6’2″ and 190 pounds, although those numbers are supposedly more generous than indicated), Holmes gets people out with a zippy fastball. He does have a couple of secondary pitches, including a curveball with an identity crisis (fast like a slider, but moves like a curve), and a developmental change up. Holmes’ baseball pedigree is not as well known as Nick Gordon’s, but it’s there, as his brother was a two time national champion at South Carolina. Holmes could join the two prep prospects that the Reds already have drafted in Robert Stephenson and Nick Travieso, and they’d make a solid portion of a typical big league rotation.
There’s part two. Stay tuned for Part three, coming sometime this week.
Yesterday, MLB owners approved the expansion of Instant Replay in baseball, meaning that more calls would be reviewable, like fair/foul, safe/out, basically it’s a lot more than the initial home run rulings in 2008. Also included in this overhaul is the manager’s right to challenge, like in the case of NFL head coaches. Managers would get two challenges, which could be used from innings 1-7. with any further calls to be handled at the umpire’s discretion.
Now, depending on who you are, you either find this to be a major improvement, like Bruce Bochy and Max Scherzer, or the equivalent of going to the dentist for a root canal, like many sportswriters had predicted.
My guess is if you’re one of those fans who feel that your team is constantly jilted by bad calls, this may just give your team a few extra wins. Maybe also if you’re a technophile, you are intrigued by how the integration of computers will affect such a pastoral game. And to be honest, good for you. You know that the sports world has been changing for years. You saw it in football, then in basketball, then in hockey, and soccer and tennis, and pretty much every sport under the sun, it was about time that baseball adapted to modern times, after all, this is the big four league that has gone the longest without adding an expansion franchise, was the last to add a league-centric network, was the last to adopt interleague play, let alone year long interleague play, and has two teams that play in ballparks that predate World War I. So clearly, this is a victory in your mind.
On the other side are the purists, and to be completely honest, you have to feel for them. I’m talking more about the pre-1970 purists, those who feel that the game has been watered down by the three divisions in each league, the introduction of the Wild card as well as the expanded wild card, the decision to make the All-star game a deciding factor for home field advantage in the World Series. Those who feel that Florida and Arizona were only meant to be Spring Training sites, not homes to major league teams, domed and retractable roof ballparks, and of course, the dreaded designated hitter. They feel that there should be a human element in the game, that umpires have a right to make a mistake once in a while, and that the inclusion of the replay system clearly undermines the umpire’s authority and destroys one of the cultural hallmarks of a pastime, making it more serious than it should be.
If I were to put myself onto any side, I’d probably label myself as a progressive baseball fan with a few purist leanings. By the time I became a fan in 2002, the three division per league concept had been the norm for almost a decade, interleague play was in its fifth year, the wild card had started to gain a certain degree of relevancy, thanks in part to the Florida Marlins 1997 title as well as the Wild World Series of 2002. A year prior, the Diamondbacks had proven that being an expansion team was not an excuse to get high draft picks, and the retractable roof ballpark was a great way for fans to enjoy baseball without the pain of a rain delay. I love the World Baseball Classic, and the idea of globalizing the National Pastime. Every time I see a player who comes from a new country, I’m impressed that he’s managed to make it out of his country’s culture into ours. It’s fascinating.
However, for all of the progressive things that I liked, there were things that I disliked. When the All-Star game format was changed in 2003, I saw it as stupid, even if I had only had seen the dreaded 2002 game which ended in a tie. I found that steroid testing was ridiculous, and instant replay as a way of saying that umpires were too stupid to make the right call. I find that a lot of contracts these days are starting to get out of hand and teams are paying dearly for last year’s statistical output. I find mascots to be cheap and stupid ways to entertain kids who clearly shouldn’t be at games if their attention can’t be held for more than five minutes (this is sad, as our generation seems to gravitate towards that trend more and more each passing day). I dislike teams trying to go back to minimalist looks with generic roundel logos instead of carving their own identities (I’m referring to the Indians, Pirates, Padres, Nationals, you get the point). I hate how people are starting to mix politics with sports, like the Chief Wahoo debate, and I really can’t talk to anyone who forces the newfangled sabrmetric inventions like UZR and WAR on me Just leave me with my old fashioned stats and scouting reports, and I’ll be fine.
But that doesn’t answer the question fully, What about this new form of Instant Replay?
First of all, I did make a legitimate gripe against instant replay in my purist rant. I feel that it demeans the umpire. The umpire is a human being after all, and is bound to make mistakes. Granted, some of those mistakes are bound to get him blacklisted by a certain team’s fans, see Don Denkinger and the Cardinals, Jim Joyce and the Tigers, Jerry Meals and the Pirates, but if you really feel that you need to kill an umpire or do him bodily harm for making a mistake, then you are a sad excuse for a human being. Nobody’s perfect, mind you, and life isn’t fair. If you feel that the only way to get rid of that disappointment is to exact Hammurabi’s Code on that person who screwed you over, then you really have issues. I’ll admit that I’m a technophile. I like jumbotrons in stadiae, sue me. I’m inclined to check my fantasy team once every three innings during a game. I’ll tweet during a game or post a Facebook status. But in regards to the instant replay, I feel that that’s going too far. What about those teams that do benefit from the miscalls? Would the Marlins have won the Series in 1997 if Livan Hernandez didn’t have the strike zone he did? Would the Royals have managed to claw back in 1985 if Denkinger hadn’t made that call? And for the teams that feel that they were screwed by bad calls. Would Armando Galarraga have had a great major league career if Jim Joyce had called Jason Donald out? Would the Orioles have gone on to become a dynasty if Jeffery Maier hadn’t stuck his glove over the Yankee Stadium fence?
There are bad calls, and then there are egregiously bad calls. We saw this in 2012 in football, when the replacement referees screwed the Green Bay Packers and unintentionally made Russell Wilson into a star and the Seahawks into America’s favorite team. Would Russell Wilson won Rookie of the Year and led Seattle to the playoffs if Ed Hochuli’s crew had refereed that game?
The point is, there is a time for progressivism in sport, and there’s a time to criticize referees and umpires for making a mistake, but to undermine their authority by letting a soulless robot do the judging is clearly overstepping a boundary. It’s a big mistake, and it’s going to hurt baseball, not because it will be time consuming but it erodes at the pastoral aspect of the game.