The first night of the 2017 MLB Draft provided excitement throughout, especially as teams went against mock draft projections with quite a few of the early picks. Here are five key takeaways from Day 1:
The Twins made a bold move with the first pick. The Twins’ selection of shortstop Royce Lewis was arguably the most out-of-nowhere first overall pick since the Astros selected Carlos Correa, who was ranked fifth by MLB.com and sixth by Baseball America, rather than consensus top options Mark Appel and Byron Buxton back in 2012. The Twins, who were making a top-five selection for the fourth time since 2012 on Monday night, will be hoping that they're rewarded for gambling on a high-school shortstop, just like the Astros were with Correa. There's plenty of room for regret if two-way players Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay, who were widely advertised as the best players available, end up succeeding as professionals.
The two-way star might be coming soon. Whether it’s the overwhelming popularity of pitcher/DH Shohei Otani in Japan, the increasing success of slugging pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, and Adam Wainwright in the major leagues, or the desire of front offices to cram as many pitchers as possible onto the 25-man roster, something has sparked the desire of fans and general managers alike for a two-way superstar in the mold of Babe Ruth.
That’s why the most intriguing storyline to come out of the first night of the draft was the revelation that the Rays will be using McKay as both a hitter and a pitcher in the minor leagues, despite the fact that commissioner Rob Manfred announced him only as a first baseman when the pick was made. The fact that McKay is going to an American League team means that he could take the “easy way out,” so to speak, and DH on the days he isn’t pitching. But regardless of how he does it, the potential for McKay to become baseball’s first two-way star in nearly a century is unbelievably exciting.
To a lesser extent, the same is possible for Greene, who was announced only as a pitcher when the Reds selected him. While Reds GM Dick Williams said that Greene will be tried as a pitcher first, he said the door to the 17-year-old eventually playing in the field isn’t closed. Greene’s greatest value is as a defensive shortstop, and it seems unrealistic that Cincinnati would allow him to make all those difficult throws from the left side of the diamond on days that he’s not starting, but we can still hold out hope that Greene will be as superhuman as he’s appeared to be during the pre-draft process and successfully pull off the challenge.
High school players are trendy. The MLB Draft’s split between high school and college selections during the opening rounds generally fluctuates over the years, and the pendulum seems to be swinging toward the high schoolers again, at least with the draft’s highest picks.
The first three selections of the 2017 draft—Lewis, Greene, and Mackenzie Gore—were prep players, and after college picks McKay and Kyle Wright came off the board with the fourth and fifth selections, high-school outfielder Austin Beck was the fourth high schooler to go within the draft’s first six picks. Overall, the numbers weren’t any more staggering than usual, as 12 of the first 30 selections were high schoolers, along with 24 of the 45 players taken in the competitive balance round and Round 2.
After a five-year stretch where college players had a definite advantage, with 10 of the 15 top-three picks from 2011-15 being collegiate athletes, five of the last six top-three selections have now been high schoolers.
Teams are still attracted to fast-rising pitchers. Brandon Finnegan has been the most notable pitcher to skyrocket from the college ranks to the majors in recent years, pitching for TCU in the College World Series in June and then reaching the major leagues with the Royals by September and pitching in the real World Series by October. He’s the pitcher who’s usually mentioned when analysts talk about college pitchers who can rise quickly to the big leagues, but there have been been many others who have made that huge jump in recent years. Since 2012, Kevin Gausman, Michael Wacha, Marcus Stroman, Marco Gonzales, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Carlos Rodon, Aaron Nola, and Carson Fulmer have all been top 30 picks who have reached the majors within two years of being selected. While Finnegan hasn’t been particularly effective since starring out of the Royals' bullpen during the 2014 postseason—and some of the guys listed above haven’t been great either—teams are obviously still attracted to pitchers who can contribute quickly after being drafted.
The player who was most frequently mentioned as being as fast riser on Monday night was Nationals first-rounder Seth Romero, a left-hander who was kicked out of the University of Houston after multiple off-the-field incidents. Romero will need to avoid making any headlines over the next couple months, but he might be able to help out in Washington’s bullpen down the stretch. the Braves’ Kyle Wright, the Tigers’ Alex Faedo, and the Mets’ David Peterson also look like pitchers who might be able to shoot through the minors quickly.
Catching depth was sparse. This was the first year since 2002 that no players announced as catchers were taken within the draft’s first 30 picks. Five were selected during the second round and Competitive Balance Round B, including Blue Jays second-rounder Hagen Danner, who was thought by most to be more of a pitching prospect, but the total absence of backstops during the first round was interesting. Maybe it was a smart decision for teams to avoid catchers early on, as just six of the 30 catchers who have started a majority of their team’s games this season were first-rounders.