August 22, 2012
Raising Draft Stock
There's been a lot of debate over how the new collective bargaining affects the draft, both in terms of how teams approach their picks and in how players get paid, but the one aspect of the new rules that nobody is complaining about is how the new system, with somewhat continued costs and a quicker signing deadline, gets draft picks playing professional baseball much sooner. In previous years, a large number of first-round picks would not even make their pro debut until the following year. This year, many have gotten significant playing time, and here are ten early 2012 picks who have already increased their prospect stock during their pro debut.
Mike Zunino, C, Mariners (No. 3 overall pick)
While it's hard to up the stock when you are the third overall pick in the draft, one of the most attractive things about Zunino was the level of certainty he provided. He didn't look like a future sure-fire star, but he looked like nearly a lock to be an above-average everyday catcher which, in today's market, is an extremely valuable commodity. Zunino was flat out too good for the Northwest League, hitting .373/.474/.736 for Everett, and while it's the smallest of sample sizes, he went 6-for-16 with a pair of home runs in his first five games at Double-A Jackson. Not only is he on pace to spend a majority of the 2013 season in the big leagues, solving Seattle's long-standing catching issues, but his power is translating to the pro level so far at a rate that was unexpected.
David Dahl, OF, Rockies (No. 10 overall pick)
Dahl was drafted as a toolsy outfielder, but those tools have translated into skills surprisingly quickly. The Pioneer League is a great place to put up big numbers, but Dahl's .366/.407/.590 line would look great in any league. With a quick swing from the left side, Dahl combines contact ability with plus speed and gap power, already resulting in 10 triples to go with five home runs and 11 stolen bases in 54 games. He has work to do both on his defense in center field and in tightening up his approach, but in terms of pure hitting ability, he's hit the ground running and could be in line for a big full-season debut next year in the South Atlantic League.
Addison Russell, SS, Athletics (No. 11 overall pick)
Russell was a late bloomer this spring, much of it revolving around his much-improved physical conditioning. His new frame not only helped his tools, it also said something to teams about his makeup, as did the work he put in defensively; not only does he look like a shortstop physically, but now he does in his actions. Expected to spend his debut year in the complex league, Russell forced Oakland's hand by hitting .415/.488/.717 in 26 games, and he impressed enough during two weeks in the college-heavy New York-Penn League to earn a late-year promotion to Low-A Burlington, the level where he'll likely begin the 2013 season. With hitting ability and power, Russell offers rare upside for a middle infielder, but his immediate impact as a pro has been a pleasant surprise.
Courtney Hawkins, OF, White Sox (No. 13 overall pick)
Hawkins slipped a few picks further than expected on draft day, and he already has pro scouts wondering why. With a prototypical right fielder's build and toolset, Hawkins proved enough in a five-week Appalachian League stint to finish the season playing full-season ball as an 18-year-old, where he's hit .314/.385/.543 in his first nine games. At six-foot-three and 220 pounds, Hawkins certainly looks the part, but he has baseball skills as well, with the potential for plus power to go with an outstanding arm and at least average speed that has already led to ten stolen bases. It's not saying a lot in a weak system, but Hawkins is already the top position prospect in the White Sox system.
Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (No. 18 overall pick)
The younger brother of Mariners infielder Kyle Seager, Corey was seen as a tough sign, but the suddenly free-spending Dodgers nabbed him and signed him quickly to an above-slot bonus of $2.35 million. He's a bigger, more physical player than his sibling, but shares his short, simple swing from the left side, and has impressed with his power potential while hitting .309/.375/.503 for Ogden in the Pioneer League. Currently at shortstop, he profiles as a third baseman down the road, albeit a good one. While he might take some time to fully development, his path to Los Angeles is wide open.