The 2018 MLB Draft is nearly upon us, and for prospect-gurus in particular, this is an exciting time to see where the next crop of stars will go. I remember for me, personally, the 2013 draft was one that I focused on more than I had before. I am a Yankees fan, and that was the year they drafted Aaron Judge, so you can imagine how much fans began to focus on that instead of the increasingly lackluster team on the field.
Let’s take a look back at the draft as a whole, though, because it tells us quite a few things about draft strategy into the decade.
The biggest story of this draft is actually who was the biggest bust: the first overall pick, Mark Appel. Appel was a right-hander out of Stanford and was considered not only the consensus top pick, but also the “safest” one due to his possibly easy and quick path to the big leagues.
Here is what Keith Law had to say on Draft Day: “Still clearly the best player in this draft, boasting stuff, command, an out-pitch in his slider, a good delivery and athleticism,” and here is what now-current member of the Astros organization Ron Shah said about Appel just a year later:
“Right now, the player just doesn’t look like the player he was drafted to be. I haven’t seen anything to even consider he could be a No. 2 starter, or even more. I’m concerned more with how he pitches than what his fastball is registering on the radar gun.”
He took a dive almost the second he was drafted, and after being packaged in the Ken Giles deal a little over two years ago, he now finds himself retired not even a half-decade from then.
This isn’t to say there weren’t players who were exciting and did live up to the hype. Just one pick later, the Cubs went college position player and selected Kris Bryant out of the University of San Diego. He currently holds the most WAR in the class at 21.8, and depending how you feel about Judge, he is arguably the most talented player in the class as well.
It has been noted how lucky the Cubs actually are; had the Astros selected Bryant then the Cubs most certainly would have taken Appel, and you’re looking at a completely different baseball alternate reality. Regardless of what-ifs, this is the reality we’re in, and the Cubs not only got their first World Series win but also a franchise player.
Baseball America’s JJ Cooper noted in that NBC Sports article that the first round is still one of the worst in modern history, and that’s also correct, because the next best player (Judge) did not have his first full major until last year. Despite the late-ish bloom, Judge is the quickest player to 60 home runs and he is a behemoth of a human being, and brought the Yankees back on to the national spotlight, and just one game shy of a pennant last season. He now hits for average, something completely unexpected on Draft Day, and he is also quite the competent fielder, making diving grabs and stealing home runs more than anyone thought he would.
The rest of the list is actually quite unfinished until we see full careers play out. Jon Gray, picked third overall by the Rockies, is now actually a stalwart of the rotation after a few years where his triple-digit velocity but lack of command put his future into question. Sean Manaea, selected by the Royals in the supplemental round, was traded to the Athletics in the Ben Zobrist trade of 2015 and tossed his first no-hitter against the Red Sox this season.
There were a few sleepers as well. Cody Bellinger was selected 124th overall by the Dodgers and has an .896 OPS in his young career. Zack Godley, selected by the Cubs as the 288th overall pick, was a steal after being sent to the Diamondbacks in the Miguel Montero trade and pitching to a 132 ERA+ since the beginning of last year.
Overall, this was not a class with a slew of juggernauts, and there were a lot of teams that bet the farm on this class and came up empty. The Cubs and Astros got their World Series wins despite the disparate outcomes, and the Yankees got another Ruthian home run giant. Even without the aggregate talent, you can’t say it won’t be memorable.