Did you sit through the MLB coverage of the draft last night? Two thoughts: 1) compared to the NFL and NBA drafts, the production value of MLB is, well, er, not as good; 2) Harold Reynolds can go away now, thank you.
Speaking of comparing drafts – Twitter exploded after the Cubs’ first pick with complaints about the Cubs not filling a need. Well, this is where we have to remind ourselves that, unlike players drafted into the NFL and NBA, players drafted by major league teams almost never make immediate impacts on the big league club. It’s about acquiring assets – many of whom will be traded and eventually play for other teams (or never make it to the big leagues at all). Smart teams don’t worry about who is already playing a certain position in their minor league system; they take the best player available – especially if it’s an early pick in the first round. As Jason McLeod said, the Cubs were never going to select a player based on need, and that is the right strategy in MLB.
#2 Kris Bryant
For several weeks now, many Cub fans in the blogosphere have debated whether the Cubs should select Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray, or Kris Bryant with the second overall pick, with many (most) assuming that it would be one of the two pitchers. Before the draft, I felt that I would be happy with any of those three, although I guess I was rooting for Appel just a bit (I suppose the Stanford thing swayed me somewhat). With Appel going off the board to the Astros at #1 overall, the Cubs had their choice between Bryant and Gray. The Cubs elected to go with Bryant, the powerful third baseman out of the University of San Diego. Subsequently, ESPN’s Bruce Levine reported that Appel was #1 on the Cubs’ board, with Bryant at #2 (Jason McLeod said that Gray’s positive Adderall test didn’t cause them to pass on him, although we’ll never really know). Even though the Cubs may have preferred Appel if they had their choice, you can’t be disappointed that the Cubs selected the biggest power bat in the draft – at least the Cubs didn’t make the choice based on signability or other external factors.
In 62 games this season with San Diego, Bryant hit .329/.493/.820 (that’s an OPS of 1.313, folks) with 31 HR, 62 RBI, 66 BB, 44 K, 80 R, 7 SB. I’m going to pause here for a moment so you can read that line again. This is my favorite ridiculous Bryant stat: he personally out-homered 228 of the 296 teams in Division I baseball. The BB/K ratio is excellent. Although we can’t read too much into college stats (especially since he wasn’t playing in an elite conference), all the scouts seem to agree that his power is legit. Read this report from Mike Rosenbaum and allow yourself to drool a little:
“Epitome of a power hitter; presents plus-plus raw power to all fields; chance to boast elite power at maturity with improvements; loose hands and wrists; quick trigger and reaction time; outstanding bat speed; power should always be there even if average isn’t; showcases impressive barrel control through the strike zone; excellent hip rotation creates extension through the baseball; favorable point of contact off a firm front side; generates backspin carry to all fields; power will translate with wood.”
Some scouts have commented that he may hit around .260-.270 or lower in the majors, but, as we all know, if he can walk and hit for that kind of power, he’ll be a great player to have.
Jason McLeod said that Bryant has the attributes of a middle-of-the-order hitter in the major leagues that can play at a high level for many years. Although Bryant’s power would play at any corner spot, he’ll be even more valuable if he can stick at third base. He’s 6’5″ 215 lbs. with room to grow, so I’m skeptical that he’ll stick at third once he matures fully. However, the Cubs will play him at third to start, and he’ll be given an opportunity to stick there – let’s hope he does!
After the Cubs selected Bryant, I got the feeling that they would repeat last year’s strategy of drafting a high-profile position player with the first pick (Albert Almora last year) followed by a tidal wave of pitching selections. It looks like the wave got rolling with their second round pick.
#41 Rob Zastrynzny
With the 41st pick (the second in the second round), the Cubs selected Rob Zastrynzny from the University of Missouri. I really thought that the Cubs would go with Hunter Green out of Warren East H.S. in Kentucky with this pick (Holden did a great overview of him), so I was surprised to see Zastrynzny go here (by the way, Zastrynzny is going to make all of us use copy-and-paste a lot). At first, I was a little bummed – Baseball America had him ranked 76th, he was ranked 81st by Perfect Game (at Baseball Prospectus), and he wasn’t ranked in the top 100 by MLB.com. (Were the Cubs hoping to sign him way under slot in order to pay Bryant over slot, or were they trying to save money for later picks?) However, after reading the Baseball Prospectus (Perfect Game) write-up, I feel much better. Here’s a portion:
“…Zastryzny has seen his draft stock steadily rise through the course of the spring and could hear his name heard as early as the second round. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound southpaw was undrafted out of Corpus Christi, Texas high school despite going 17-1, 0.20 with 198 strikeouts his senior year. He stepped into the Missouri rotation early in his freshman year and has built his upper-80s fastball into a pitch that now tops out at 94 mph with excellent sinking and running life at times. Zastryzny’s best secondary pitch is a low-80s changeup that has very good arm speed and matches his fastball in life and in his ability to spot the ball low in the zone. His third pitch is a curveball that is a workable offering in setting up hitters, but it is not currently a swing-and-miss pitch.”
The key there is that he has increased his fastball velocity to 94 – Zastrynzny definitely seems like a prospect on the rise. A tall lefty who has a moving fastball at that velocity sounds intriguing. I’m legitimately excited about this pick now (as excited as an Illinois grad can be about a player from Mizzou), and I’m looking forward to following his progress. After all, none of the players chosen in the second round are sure things, so this is where the front office guys earn those big salaries.
It will be interesting to follow the rest of the Cubs’ draft starting today. I expect a torrent of pitching selections, with a few position players thrown in here and there (I wouldn’t be surprised to see a catcher selected sometime early on). Although we’ll never hear about most of these players again, it’s a fun time of year for those of use that follow prospects. Enjoy!