January 19, 2012
Bang for the Buck
Interest in the Major League Baseball draft has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade. Thanks to great coverage—including a national television audience—many casual fans can name their team's first-round pick from last June, and maybe even the big bonus babies from the later rounds. Believe it or not, there was a time when the draft was a secret. Baseball feared the college game would use the draft as a free recruiting tool, so lists were once kept shrouded until players signed. With 1,530 players selected in the 2011 draft, there are still plenty of secrets to be uncovered. Here are 10 players who were not taken in the first round, nor the recipients of greatly over-slot bonuses, who have a good chance to become more well-known in 2012.
Carter Capps, RHP, Mariners
The 121st overall pick and a supplemental third-round pick, Capps converted to pitching at Division II powerhouse Mt. Olive in North Carolina, and turned himself into a significant pro prospect. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Capps looks the part of a pitcher, and he backs it up with a low- to mid-90s fastball that he complements with a potentially plus slider. Because he's so new to the craft, Capps still looks like a catcher who is trying to pitch, but he missed bats in his pro debut. He could move quickly if he’s moved to a bullpen role.
Bobby Crocker, OF, Athletics
Crocker's numbers at Cal Poly don't scream “prospect.” His .339 batting average led the Mustangs in 2011, but it's not in the range expected from elite players. What Crocker does have—and what made him a fourth-round pick—is athleticism. He's built like an NFL safety and has above-average raw power that he's yet to tap into, and some speed. His .322/.367/.441 line in the New York-Penn League has some hoping that he's starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
Matt Duran, OF, Yankees
While it's not exactly a baseball hotbed, the Yankees do scout their local area intensely. A quick drive up I-95 allowed the team to find Duran in New Rochelle; they selected him in the fourth round. He had an impressive debut in the Gulf Coast League, batting .301/.365/.506 in 23 games. The pressure will be on his bat throughout his career; he's stocky, slow, and many already label him as a bat-only prospect, albeit one with a potentially impressive bat.
Desmond Henry, OF, Rangers
Speed is always a premium, and Henry, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick, comes straight out of Compton. He can fly, and he also has strength and some power potential down the road. His tools were worthy of the first round, but there are some big questions about his hitting ability, and a .140 batting average in 57 at-bats did little to alleviate those concerns. Henry is not ready for a full-season league, but four months of spring training could lead to big things come June, when the short-season circuits begin play.
William Jerez, OF, Red Sox
Jerez, a Dominican native who came to the United States as a teenager, played his high school baseball at the same New York school as Yankees pitching prospect Dellin Betances. While the Yankees had interest in Jerez, the Red Sox surprised the industry when by selecting him earlier than expected, 81st overall. Jerez is a pure tools bet. He’s a long-limbed, fast-twitch athlete with above-average speed and the potential for power once he fills out. He's a risky player who could take a long time to develop, but if he clicks, look out.
Jorge Lopez, RHP, Brewers
After emptying their system to acquire Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, the Brewers are rebuilding their farm, and the 2011 draft was a step in the right direction. While much of the attention was paid to their two first-round college pitchers, Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley, Lopez has as much potential as either of them. However, he's further away, and much riskier. Lopez’s body screams projection, and he should gain some velocity on his low-90s fastball to complement what is already one of the best curveballs in the system.
Cory Mazzoni, RHP, Mets
Mazzoni, a second-round pick, posted a solid career at North Carolina State. But he has already garnered the attention of some Mets fans by allowing just two runs while striking out 18 over just 13 innings in his pro debut. After a heavy college workload, Mazzoni worked in short stints, but he'll return to starting in 2012, equipped with a fastball and slider that both rate as above average. His early success has some tempted to see if he’d move quickly as a reliever, but that's a backup plan for now.
Anthony Meo, RHP, Diamondbacks
Many thought Meo could slide into the first round last June, so the Diamondbacks were pleasantly surprised to see him still on the board when their second-round pick arrived. Meo is not the most physical of pitchers, but he does have above-average velocity, above-average command, and a good breaking ball. That combination could make him move quickly through the Arizona system, even though his upside is a bit limited as an is-what-he-is type.
Jeff Soptic, RHP, White Sox
While the White Sox have tried do address the worst system in baseball with some off-season trades, their most recent draft brings some hope. Soptic, their third-round pick, reportedly touched 100 mph during a game last spring at a Kansas junior college. Triple-digit fastballs usually mean seven-figure bonuses, but Soptic is far from a finished product: His slider needs work, even for him to become a successful reliever. Still, much like how you can't teach height in the NBA, you can't teach velocity, and Soptic has that building block covered.
Dillon Thomas, OF, Rockies
Scouts had trouble wrapping their head around Thomas this spring. Nothing about him is pretty, including his swing, but he was a huge performer on the highly competitive Houston high school circuit. After being taken in the fourth round of the draft, he hit .328/.361/.414 in 15 Pioneer League games. He doesn't run well, and he's limited defensively, but the hit tool is the one that trumps all, and Thomas has it.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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