They still love young arms. That was the takeaway from day one of baseball's Rule 4 draft, when a record-tying 20 pitchers were plucked in the first round. Despite the recent Tommy John hysteria, and the injury epidemic ravaging the major leagues, teams still fall for 100 mph fastballs, country strong righthanders from Texas and teenagers who look like they could be the next Clayton Kershaw.
The night of the pitcher began with Bud Selig's announcement that the Astros were using their third straight No. 1 overall selection to draft Brady Aiken, a 17-year-old lefthander and a San Diego surfer who models his game after David Price and reminds scouts of a young Kershaw. "He's the most advanced high school pitcher I have seen in my entire career," gushed Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow after making the pick. Of course there's no such thing as a sure thing. Aiken is the third high school lefty to go No. 1 overall. The last one? Brien Taylor, drafted by the Yankees in 1991. We're all still waiting for him to make his major league debut.
After Aiken, 12 of the next 18 selections were also pitchers, and it became clear that, despite the current climate in the game, organizations weren't shying away from young arms. They weren't even shying away from injured young arms. Jeff Hoffman (to the Blue Jays with the ninth pick) and Erick Fedde (No. 18 to the Nationals) were both first-round choices despite recently going under the knife to repair torn ulnar collateral ligaments. With a greater number of pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery, both Toronto and Washington obviously believed that the upside was worth the risk. You do, after all, still need pitching to win championships.
Here are the winners and losers from the first day of the draft:
Marlins fans: It's time to start dreaming of a rotation anchored by Jose Fernandez and Kolek, the hardest-throwing prep arm in history. After Aiken went at No. 1, Kolek was the surprise pick over N.C. State's Carlos Rodon at No. 2. Miami loves power arms, and Kolek has been maintaining triple digit velocity all season long. At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, he is the rawest of the draft's top three pitchers, but he may have the biggest upside. The last time the Marlins had the second overall pick in the draft? That was 1999, when they took another brash, fireballin' righthander from Texas: Josh Beckett.
The current AL East leaders had a very good day at the draft. With the ninth pick, they got Hoffman, a potential future ace who would have gone within the top four picks if he had stayed healthy. At No. 11, they took Max Pentacost, who was the MVP of the Cape Cod League last summer. Toronto also made a nice pick with second round selection Sean Reid-Foley, a righthander with two plus-pitches who was expected to go earlier. Meanwhile, in Detroit, the big league team beat up Justin Verlander and won its fifth straight game. Yes, it was a good night to be a Blue Jays fan.
Cleveland made the steal of the draft by selecting Brad Zimmer, an outfielder who is certainly one of the best college hitters in the class, at No. 21. Ten picks later it got high school lefty Justus Sheffield, who may be the most talented southpaw other than Aiken. With their competitive balance pick at No. 38, the Indians took Mike Papi, an outfielder who has emerging power, and at No. 61 they added a righthander with a big fastball and above average slider, Grant Hockin. And how can you not love that Hockin is the grandson of Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew?
The Wolfpack lefty began his junior season this year right where he ended his sophomore campaign: as the clear favorite to go No. 1 overall. However, an inconsistent season dropped his stock, and red flags surrounding his workload didn't help. The White Sox, though, were not going to pass up a player with this much talent. Rodon went third to Chicago and could rise through the organization quickly, as the team's current ace, Chris Sale, did after being drafted in the first round four years ago.
The biggest surprise of the night was the Cubs' pick of Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber at No. 4. Make no mistake: Schwarber is a big-time power hitting lefthander and was probably the best college hitter in the draft, but there are questions about where he should play. He's either going to have to move to first base or the outfield, and at 6-feet, 240 pounds, he'll be a project. Of course, Chicago is likely taking a more holistic approach here, as both Schwarber and No. 45 pick Jake Stinnett (Maryland) will probably sign for under-slot deals, allowing the franchise to spend more money later. But the bottom line is that a pitching-starved organization didn't land the impact arm it so badly needs.
Pittsburgh had an excellent draft in 2013, but this year it made one of the more perplexing first-round selections in shortstop Cole Tucker (No. 24). Tucker, a high school player from Arizona, saw his stock begin to rise after the Area Code Games last August, but the 17-year-old was still projected by most to go in the middle of the second round. The Pirates lack depth at shortstop, but this was still a head scratcher, especially with Jacob Gatewood, a high schooler from California who eventually went to the Brewers at No. 41, available at the time.
Most intriguing pick
Touki Toussaint to the Diamondbacks
According to many scouts, Toussaint, the 16th overall choice, has the highest ceiling among the high school pitchers in this class. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and his curve is considered by some scouts to be the best breaking ball of any pitcher in the draft. Toussaint joins Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter in Arizona's system, one that added more high-upside talent with later selections of middle infielder Isan Diaz and lefthander Cody Reed.
First player in the majors will be:
Aaron Nola, Phillies
Nola doesn't possess jaw-dropping stuff, but the righthander from LSU, who went No. 7 overall, is the most polished pitcher in the class. That means he's the closest to making an impact in the big leagues. If the Phillies are somehow, miraculously, in the wild card hunt come September, don't be shocked to see their first-round pick throwing meaningful innings in Philadelphia.