Top pick Cole leads 2011 draft picks on fast track to majors
One of the primary problems major league baseball has with attracting attention for its draft is that, unlike their NFL and NBA counterparts, just-drafted baseball players are often years away from donning the uniforms of the teams that selected them, meaning fans aren't looking at players who can provide an immediate boost to their favorite clubs.
Though extremely rare, that isn't always the case. Some players, such as future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, head straight to the majors after being drafted. Others, like the White Sox' Chris Sale, serve brief apprenticeships in the bushes before being called up to the parent club the same season. Sale was drafted last year with the 13th overall pick, signed with Chicago on June 20 and made his major league debut on August 6.
In fact, college pitchers like the Sale, who played at Florida Gulf Coast University, often take a quick path to the majors. David Price debuted with the Tampa Bay Rays in September 2008 after being taken first overall out of Vanderbilt the previous June. Just last summer, former San Diego State star Stephen Strasburg electrified the baseball world in his debut for the Nationals, which came almost a year to the day after Washington took him with the first pick.
In 2011, several of the college hurlers chosen in the opening round are already relatively close to the majors. Below are four pitchers, plus one position player, who have the best chance of reaching the big leagues before the rest of their draft class.
All of the players listed above played in college, where the tougher competition and maturity level required to succeed there gives them a better chance of reaching the majors faster than a high school player. Historically, top high school draftees, pitchers in particular, are rarely rushed to the major leagues because teams are mindful of the David Clyde disaster. The first overall pick by the Rangers in 1973, Clyde, a left handed pitcher, was heralded as the second coming of Sandy Koufax. Rushed to Texas as a box office ploy to make his debut just days after being drafted, Clyde pitched well in his first start but quickly washed out, winning only 18 games in his career that was over by 1979.
Protective of their investment and wary of the Clyde saga, organizations develop prep players slowly. Pitchers are kept on strict pitch counts and hitters need at least 1,000 -- and sometimes as many as 2,000 -- pro at-bats before they can be deemed big league ready.
From the 2011 prep draft class, pitcher Dylan Bundy and shortstop Francisco Lindor will likely reach the majors first. Bundy, a righthander from Oklahoma taken by the Orioles with the fourth overall pick, is physically mature, shows big league stuff and exhibits mechanics that are exceptionally advanced -- far beyond the horror show scouts often see with amateur hurlers.
Lindor, meanwhile, will require a significant number of minor league at bats, but his defensive skills are already near big league quality. If the Indians, who chose the Florida native with the eighth overall pick, need defensive help soon in the middle infield, they could use Lindor's glove while placing him at the bottom of their batting order. With time and with experience, he'll move to the top.