It's been four months since the First-Year Player Draft took place. That's more than enough time to figure out, retrospectively, who should have been taken when, right?
A few weeks ago, Jim Callis and I discussed who we thought had the best debuts among the 2013 Draft class. This time around, it's time for us to put on our scouting director and general manager hats. The questions in front of us: Who would you have taken No. 1 overall back in June and who would you take with that top pick now if you could?
Jim deserves some credit for consistency. He said he would have taken Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray No. 1 overall back in June and, based on Gray's first pro summer, he'd stick with him. It's hard to blame him, considering Gray had a 1.93 ERA in 37 1/3 innings, including five exceptional starts in the usually hitter-friendly California League.
I will admit, changing gears based on such a small sample size doesn't make all that much sense, but after seeing all of the first-rounders, I've decided to make a change at the top.
Back in June, I had Stanford standout Mark Appel atop the board. He was No. 1 among MLB.com's Top 100 Draft prospects for a reason. Most scouts I spoke with felt he was the top guy in the class, and as a result, I would have taken him with the top pick. You really can't question the Astros doing so as well.
Some saw the Appel-vs.-Gray debate one of higher ceiling (Gray) vs. lower floor (Appel). In many ways, that isn't fair to Appel, who has an excellent combination of polish and stuff. He really didn't do anything to knock him off the perch as the top guy, either, making 10 starts, all but two in the full-season Midwest League.
No, my rationale for changing my pick now has nothing to do with what Appel didn't accomplish. Rather, it's all about what someone else did do with his summer debut and what he could be in the near future.
Sure, Appel will probably get to the big leagues quickly, perhaps at some point in 2014. But even if he steps in right away as a solid rotation contributor, he only gets the ball every five days. Kris Bryant, on the other hand, will be in the Cubs lineup every day very soon.
The San Diego product, who went just one selection after Appel in the first round, played at three levels. After a very brief stop in the rookie-level Arizona League, he went to the more advanced short-season Northwest League. His opening in that circuit is one he'd rather forget: 0-for-5, five strikeouts. But after 18 games, the third baseman was hitting .354/.416/.692. The Cubs believed he was ready for a challenge.
But they didn't send him to the Midwest League. Much to his surprise, Bryant was double-jumped to the Advanced Class A Florida State League. All he did there was hit .333/.387/.719 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 16 games, then helped Daytona win the FSL title. His overall line of .336/.390/.688 is the main reason why I chose him as the 2013 draftee, among position players, with the most impressive pro debut.
That leap up to Daytona really put Bryant on the fast track and he has the chance to be the true epitome of a run-producing corner infielder. Look around Major League Baseball. How many third basemen really fit that mold these days? Bryant has the chance to hit for average and a whole lot of power. And I think he'll stick at third. Even if he doesn't, he's going to hit more than well enough to play first and he showed at the University of San Diego that he's plenty athletic enough, with a plus arm, to man right field.
Bryant is in the Arizona Fall League. That should be a springboard to the upper levels of the Cubs system, perhaps with a start in Double-A to begin the 2014 season. Once he shows an ability to handle the pitching at that level, there's no reason he can't make a beeline to Wrigley Field.
There's really no one blocking his way, nor should the Cubs put anyone in his path to hold up his arrival. It's not often an organization can draft, sign and quickly develop the type of hitter who could and should hit in the middle of a big league lineup, the kind of hitter you build a lineup around. And that's why, using the clarity of a little hindsight, I'd take Bryant over Appel with that top pick.