For the past four years, there has been one common occurrence in the MLB draft: That occurrence is the Highly Anticipated Prep Shortstop (or HAPS, for short). The common characteristics is that the shortstop in question is (obviously) a high schooler, has the potential to make the majors in three years instead of the traditional four or five years, is a top prospect usually by the end of his first year or the middle of his second, and garners a lot of praise from opposing scouts.
The past four years of HAPS are as follows:
2013: JP Crawford, Phillies
While it’s still too early to be determined, Crawford had been highly visible throughout his high school career, and when he was drafted, it was to a team that was looking to replace a legendary shortstop with a newer model. Crawford’s first minor league season saw him completely own the Gulf Coast League and skip entirely over short ball in favor of the more advanced Low A. Crawford also ended the season as the #4 prospect in Philly’s system, behind only Roman Quinn, a fellow prep shortstop drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, as well as 3B Maikel Franco and P Jesse Biddle, who have made the 2014 top 100 list on MLB.com. Even though Crawford effectively was a HAPS by default, as last year’s middle infield class was very weak, Crawford has at least proven that he is still a very solid lock to follow the progression that fellow HAPS have gone through.
2012: Carlos Correa, Astros, and Addison Russell, Athletics.
Thanks to what could have been regarded as one of the best prep shortstop draft classes in baseball history, 2012 had not one, but two HAPS propects. Carlos Correa, who was the first overall pick, drew some attention at the end of his debut year, but in his second year, he justified why he was a first overall pick. After having a monster season for the Quad Cities River Bandits, Correa was rewarded by being voted in to the 2013 Futures game World Roster, as well as being named the Astros’ top prospect by the end of the season. At the start of the 2014 season Correa was named the top prospect in the Astros’ system again, ahead of such players as Mark Appel, Jonathan Singleton, and Lance McCullers, and was also named the #8 prospect in all of baseball.
Russell, who I’ve consistently noted was the catalyst for the death of Moneyball drafting in Oakland, has done nothing but impress in his first two years. Named the best prospect in Oakland’s system immediately after the 2012 season, Russell again went on a tear at Single-A Stockton, and was also selected for the Futures game as a member of Team USA. Russell ended the season in AAA Sacramento, completely jumping over AA, and although he obviously had issues handling the rapid increase in competition level, the prevailing theory is that Russell could be in the majors by the end of the 2014 season.
2011: Francisco Lindor, Indians
The Indians have repeatedly stated that they do not intend to rush Lindor to the major leagues, to which I call bull. Lindor has been nothing short of amazing ever since he stepped on the field. At the end of the 2012 season, his first full season in minor league ball, Lindor had established himself as a #1 shortstop prospect, the #1 Indians prospect, and the #13 prospect in baseball. This included an invite to the Futures game in Kansas City, where he played for the World Team. Lindor followed up his great 2012 with an even better 2013 where he went through two levels of ball, topping out in Double-A, and once again being invited to the Futures Game in New York. He once again ended the season as the top shortstop prospect, the top Indians prospect, but increased his overall prospect ranking to #5. At the beginning of this season, Lindor has already established himself as a top ten prospect yet again, however, he dropped his shortstop ranking to #4, perfectly reasonable given his competition was Xander Bogaerts, Correa, and Javier Baez, who has started to put himself in the HAPS conversation, especially after showing a dominant power swing in Spring Training. The reason why Baez isn’t in it right now is that while he’s advanced at the same rate as Lindor, he hasn’t had Lindor’s wow factor. Still, if Baez can be as consistently impressive as Lindor has been, he could put himself in the HAPS conversation.
2010: Manny Machado, Orioles
The man who started it all, Machado blazed through the minors, made his major league debut a mere two years after being drafted, and made his first All-star team in 2013. While Machado’s best season ended on a sour note after he broke his leg, he has definitely entered his name into the elite infielder category. I know that Machado technically is a third baseman now, but in truth I’m grading him as a shortstop because of his A-Rod like conversion to third. And to continue, Machado was a shortstop when he was drafted, and only played a few games at third base in the minors, in Double-A Bowie, which incidentally was his last minor league stop before he made his debut. Will Machado ever move back to shortstop? Maybe, maybe not, but regardless, Machado is still one of the best young players right now.
The 2014 draft isn’t until June, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for early speculation. In what is considered yet another meh prep middle infield class, there are only two definitive first round prep shortstop talents, one of which has equal value as a pitcher. The two shortstops in question are Clovis High School’s Jacob Gatewood, and Olympia High School’s Nick Gordon.
Gatewood, like Crawford before him, has had eyes on him since last year. A well rounded guy with an emphasis on power who draws comparisons to Troy Tulowitzki and Starlin Castro, Gatewood, barring a bad senior season has the projectability to be a top ten pick, and could raise his stock to top five, maybe even top three if he continues to play at the level he has. In my initial mock, I had him going to Colorado as a potential replacement for Troy Tulowitzski, whom I feel will leave Colorado before 2020. In the thin air of Colorado, Gatewood would thrive despite the humidor baseballs, and he would have the potential to be a Machado-like talent.
Gordon has a baseball pedigree thanks to his father and brother, Tom and Dee. He has project ability as both a pitcher and a shortstop, but scouts have said that Gordon will stick to shortstop. While not as dominant at Gatewood, Gordon is still a top 20 prospect who could actually outperform his brother. I had Gordon going to San Diego. In theory, if Everth Cabrera can’t get back to his pre-Biogenesis self, it’s a possibility that the Padres will try and look for a replacement in the coming years. Gordon would benefit from the expansive park in San Diego, as he thrives on being a slap hitter with speed, much like Cabrera was.
Between Gatewood and Gordon, my belief is that the former makes the best case for the HAPS of 2014. He certainly has made a name for himself starting last year, and he has a legitimate shot to become one of the best shortstops in the post-Jeter and Rollins shortstop era. His power is not to be ignored, and if he signs early and tears it up in rookie or short ball, he could find himself in the top 100, maybe even top 25 very early in his career.
Normally, exhibition games between Major League teams and college teams is often regarded in the same vein as a private cocktail party reserved for only the extremely interested baseball fans. However, Tuesday’s game between the New york Yankees and the Florida State Seminoles was clearly more than that.
Boasting the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston, who serves as both the team’s closer and an outfielder, the Seminoles made this game something more of a huge attention grab, which is entirely up to the fan’s perspective as positive or negative.
Winston was probably the most scrutinized player on George Steinbrenner Field, even more than Derek Jeter, who is playing his last spring training, and Masahiro Tanaka, who’s playing his first. For Winston, the game was nothing to write home about; he entered the game as a defensive substitute, grounded out, and then struck out. Still, Winston’s mere presence was more than enough; the only thing that could have made the day better for him would have been if he had been allowed to pitch to the players as well.
Still, Winston clearly enjoyed the opportunity to meet his favorite players and said that it was almost as great as winning the National Championship.
Now that the excitement has likely died down and college baseball can go back to its regular pace, the question is if Jameis Winston can add more exposure to college baseball. We already saw how negative attention from college baseball has been covered, with the Ben Wetzler case, but how about a positive story, even if it’s on par with a Tim Tebow-esque gimmick?
Winston is by every definition of the word, an athlete. While there are probably people, diehard Seminole football fans and NFL scouts in particular, who cringe at the thought of Winston becoming a two sport professional athlete, there is no denying that Winston, if he can prove that he can manage both sports and find what he works best at, in this case as the Seminoles closer.
And to be honest, a Heisman winning football star, even a football star alone playing baseball is actually a fun thing to watch. Look at Bo Jackson. Jackson was a star at Auburn in football and baseball. He would have been one of the greatest athletes of all time had he not gotten hurt in football and limited his strikeout numbers in baseball.
If Jeff Samardzjia had chosen to play both football and baseball at the same time, instead of strictly staying as a pitcher, in all likelihood, he would have been an exceptionally popular athlete.
Winston is, however, a very raw baseball player. Despite being named a preseason All American, he needs to figure out where he wants to play if he is serious about playing two sports. As a hitter, he’s below average. He has high strikeout numbers, and while he does have some value as a switch hitter, having him in a daily lineup would be more of a liability. As a pitcher, Winston is actually very good. His season has started reasonably well with a save, only one hit allowed, and an 0.00 ERA, but the concern here is that pitchers are high maintenance. Winston would not be able to play both baseball and football if he was a starting pitcher. As a reliever, maybe a closer or a set up man, there wouldn’t be as much stress on his throwing arm.
The other thing that needs to be noted is how Winston plans to balance the training for baseball and football. Does Winston join a summer league? Does he use the summer to do football drills? Winston has the projectability and the hype to play in a big summer league, like the Cape Cod League or the New England Collegiate League.
He even had the hype to be a first round talent out of high school; had he not been so insistent on his Florida State commitment, scouts theorized he would have been a low first round draft choice, and rightfully so, as his fastball reaches the high 90’s.
While most football people wouldn’t want Winston to be a two sport athlete, he has gotten an endorsement from perhaps the most important person he knows right now: Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. Fisher, who was out to throw the first pitch, and probably monitor his quarterback, said “I think he definitely has ability, but it has to be the right situation.” Now, if your coach is that honest and isn’t sugarcoating, you know that he really believes that Winston may have a future as a two sport star.
In a spring training which will see the Super Bowl Champion quarterback suiting up for the Texas Rangers, the first trials of the new home plate collision law, as well as a preview of instant replay, nothing’s out of the realm of possibility. Perhaps Winston does end up showing that he is serious about being a two sport athlete. Perhaps also he improves his stock to the point where next year, he could be a first round pick in both baseball and football in the same year (It is entirely possible if he either leaves in 2015 or stays until 2016).
Still Winston could be the best thing for college baseball in terms of publicity right now. Time will tell if he is serious about being a two sport star and how good he could be.
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.
If there was any doubt that Team USA third baseman David Wright was captain material, it was erased on Saturday night. Wright and the Americans were out in Phoenix playing Pool D winner Italy, who had come off of two surprising upsets, a shutdown of Mexico, and an outright curb stomp of a strong Canada team. Things started out bad for the Americans, when they fell behind by two, and the growing concern was that they were, as usual, overhyped. Fortunately, they tied the game up by the fifth inning, and loaded the bases for Wright. Wright followed with a blast off of Italy pitcher Matt Torra, and the Americans kept the lead for the rest of the game.
With this game, all the Americans have to do is beat the Canadians and they advance with Italy to the round 2 bracket.
But moving on from that…
David Wright is no stranger to heroics in the WBC. Four years ago, Wright dumped a go-ahead single into right field against Puerto Rico in a Round 2 game, which ultimately led to the US team facing Japan in the semifinal, a game they ultimately lost.
Wright, who has also scored two runs so far against Team Canada in the final Pool D game, actually relishes playing in the Classic, and has been viewed as one of the game’s biggest proponents.
But the real point of this post is the issue of Wright possibly becoming a Captain for the Mets.
Sandy Alderson, Terry Collins, and Mets ownership should put some serious thought into having Wright as a captain, the first since John Franco left the team in 2004.
The role of captain is not as prominent as it was ten years ago, when players like Franco, Jason Varitek, Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko, Mike Sweeney, etc. were given the title, and in some cases, a C patch. Today, only Konerko and Jeter remain as true captains of their respective teams.
If Wright’s status as a leader in the WBC were to somehow turn the heads of Mets management. putting the C patch on his jersey would not be out of the question. Wright is everything a typical Captain should be. He’s been there the longest, been with the same team his whole career, (or in the case of Konerko, for ten or more years). and players look up to him, no matter if they are younger or older.
If Wright can show his leadership on the international level with teammates that he’s going up against on any other day, Mets management should definitely make the move without hesitation. Not only will this show that the team is shedding the past, but it also shows that they are ready to fully embrace the change they need in order to get back into legitimacy.