Reviewing the 2012 MLB Draft five years later: Shortstops dominate the draft class
Carlos Correa and Corey Seager are the headliners from the 2012 MLB draft class
The old saying is that it takes five years to evaluate a draft class, though I've always felt that was a little generous. Three years is usually enough time to give teams an idea of what they have. There are always exceptions, but after three years, the prospects should have separated themselves from the suspects.
Since the 2017 amateur draft will begin Monday, this is as good a time as any to go back and review the 2012 draft. That 2012 draft class has already produced two Rookies of the Year and one top-three finisher in Most Valuable Player voting. Plus a bunch of All-Star Game appearances too.
Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is certainly not perfect or the definitive stat to measure performance. It does work very well for an exercise like this though. So, with an assist from Baseball-Reference.com, let's review the 2012 draft class.
Top 10 players to date
The No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft has been the most productive player to date. That's not often the case.
Believe it or not, Carlos Correa was not the consensus top prospect in the 2012 draft class. He was a top prospect, no doubt, but not clearly the best. The Astros selected Correa, got him to agree to a below-slot signing bonus, then redirected the savings to another player who narrowly misses this top-10 list (Lance McCullers Jr.).
It took Correa fewer than three calendar years to reach the big leagues despite being drafted out of high school. He thoroughly dominated the minors and was in the show by 2015 at 20 years old. Correa smacked 22 home runs in 99 games that year and was named AL Rookie of the Year. He's now the best player on the best team in baseball.
Despite his big-league bloodlines -- brother Kyle plays for the Mariners, as you know -- scouts had some concerns about Corey Seager's chances of sticking at shortstop long-term. Those concerns still exist, but Seager is handling the position well now, so much so that he was named NL Rookie of the Year unanimously last season. He also finished third in the NL MVP voting. The Dodgers landed an impact player in the back half of the first round. Nice scouting and player development on their part.
Surprised? I don't blame you if you are. Then again, Alex Wood reached the majors in May 2013, less than one year after the 2012 draft, which is why he leads his draft class with 547 1/3 career big-league innings. Wood spent time both starting and relieving with the Braves, and he has really found a home as Seager's teammate with the Dodgers following a midseason trade in 2015.
The 2012 draft was loaded with shortstops. The Athletics grabbed Addison Russell with the 11th pick, then sent him to the Cubs in a 2014 deadline deal for Jeff Samardzija. Russell has since emerged as an All-Star caliber shortstop who, last October, became the second-youngest player in history to hit a grand slam in the World Series. Only Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle was younger.
The Blue Jays plucked Marcus Stroman out of Duke with their first-round pick in 2012 and have been rewarded with a solid starter who has at times pitched like an ace. Two things about Stroman: One, had he not missed most of the 2015 season with a torn ACL, he would have ranked much higher on this list, perhaps as high as second; and two, if not for the industry's decades-long bias against short right-handers (Stroman is 5-feet-8), Stroman would have been picked much higher.
Few teams in baseball are as good at player development as the Giants. Matt Duffy was an underpowered college shortstop -- he hit .253/.305/.289 with zero home runs in three years at Long Beach State -- who developed some pop in the minors, and went on to hit 12 home runs in 149 games as a third baseman in 2015 en route to being NL Rookie of the Year runner-up. The Giants traded Duffy, somewhat surprisingly, to the Rays last summer.
The Orioles haven't had much luck developing pitchers over the past two decades or so, but that hasn't stopped them from picking arms high in the draft. Kevin Gausman has bounced around a bit in his career -- from the rotation to the bullpen, majors to Triple-A -- but he has now found a home in the rotation and was the O's best starter down the stretch last season.
Oddly enough, the big question surrounding Jake Lamb at the time of the 2012 draft was his power. He was more of an inside-out hitter in college, but the Diamondbacks taught him how to pull the ball, and now Lamb is slugging over .500 for the second straight season. After hitting 29 home runs last year, he's already on pace for well over 30 in 2017. Heck of a player development story for Arizona.
Think the Tigers would like to undo this trade? They did a marvelous job unearthing Devon Travis with a late-round pick, though they traded him to the Blue Jays for outfielder Anthony Gose before he ever played a big-league game. Despite some injury issues, Travis has been a solid everyday second baseman for Toronto. . I guess having Ian Kinsler softens the blow for Detroit.
Barely more than a year after the 2012 draft, Michael Wacha was pitching in the 2013 World Series for the Cardinals. He has had some injury issues the past few seasons, but overall has provided quick impact for St. Louis despite being selected in the back half of the first round. His 545 career big-leagues innings are second only to Wood among 2012 draftees.
Six other 2012 draft picks have racked up at least +2 WAR in MLB:
- Lance McCullers Jr., Astros: +5.7 WAR as the 41st overall pick (supplemental first round)
- Stephen Piscotty, Cardinals: +3.9 WAR as the 36th overall pick (supplemental first round)
- Byron Buxton, Twins: +3.0 WAR as the second overall pick
- Ty Blach, Giants: +2.5 WAR as the 178th overall pick (fifth round)
- Chris Taylor, Mariners: +2.4 WAR as the 161st pick (fifth round, since traded to Dodgers)
- Paco Rodriguez, Dodgers: +2.1 WAR as the 82nd overall pick (second round, since traded to Braves)
Rodriguez, a left-handed reliever out of Miami, was the first 2012 draftee to reach the majors. He made his big-league debut on Sept. 2, 2012. He was part of the trade that sent Wood to Los Angeles.
Best picks after the 10th round
First-round picks get all the attention and understandably so, though the late rounds are often the difference between contenders and pretenders. The ability to find hidden gems and turn those late-round picks into useful big-league players, even if they're middle relievers or bench players, can make a huge difference in a pennant race. Needless to say, Travis and Duffy are the two best players selected after the 10th round in 2012. Here are the other notables.
Keone Kela spent one year in junior college working as a starter, and after the Rangers took him in the 12th round of the 2012 draft, they moved him to the bullpen full-time. His velocity has ticked up quite a bit, and Kela has spent the past three seasons in a middle relief/setup role.
It's not often a 32nd-round pick reaches the big leagues, let alone carves out a role as a trusted setup man. That's exactly what Ryan Dull has done for the Athletics. He set a major-league record last year by stranding the first 36 runners he inherited, and he even received some All-Star consideration.
Matt Strahm took a unique path to the big leagues. He went from high school in Fargo, North Dakota, to junior college in Chanute, Kansas. The Royals grabbed him in the 21st round in 2012, and last year they brought him straight to the big leagues from Double-A, skipping Triple-A entirely.
The Royals selected Andrew Triggs as a fifth-year senior out of Southern California, and he spent a few seasons in their farm system as a reliever. Kansas City sent him to the Orioles in a cash trade in April 2015, then the A's claimed him on waivers from the O's in March 2016. Triggs moved into a starting role with Oakland, and he's among the AL leaders with a 3.36 ERA. Go figure.
No other players selected after the 10th round in the 2012 draft have reached +1 WAR in the big leagues. Twins lefty Taylor Rogers (11th) and Marlins righty Brian Ellington (16th round) have come pretty close at +0.8 WAR and +0.9 WAR.
Jury still out
Even though players are getting to the big leagues and having an impact quicker than ever before, there are still several 2012 draftees who are either still developing in the minors or just now getting their feet wet in the big leagues. These players aren't busts. They're still developing. Here are five 2012 draftees who are on the cusp of making a name for themselves.
Last season Jose Berrios was historically awful in his major-league debut. We're talking an 8.02 ERA in 14 starts and 58 1/3 innings. Yikes. The Twins had Berrios begin this season in Triple-A, but, since being called up last month, he has been much better, pitching to a 2.76 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings in five starts.
The Rangers selected Lewis Brinson in the first round in 2012, then traded him to the Brewers as part of the Jonathan Lucroy deal last summer. Brinson has yet to appear in the majors, though that should happen very soon, especially since he's crushing Triple-A pitching. MLB.com currently ranks Brinson as the 13th-best prospect in baseball.
Only two of the top seven players picked in the 2012 draft have yet to reach the big leagues. One is Royals righty Kyle Zimmer, who was selected fifth overall and has been dealing with a never-ending string of injuries in the minors. The other is Max Fried, who was drafted by the Padres and traded to the Braves in the Justin Upton deal. Fried missed time with Tommy John surgery and is currently ranked as the 93rd-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com. He should make his debut later this year.
Joey Gallo made his big-league debut in 2015, though it wasn't until this season that he finally got a chance to play regularly for the Rangers. Gallo stepped in to replace the injured Adrian Beltre earlier this year, and he has smacked 16 home runs in 55 games. He can swing and miss with the best of them, but Gallo can also hit the ball a mile, and he's just now starting to establish himself in the big leagues.
Going into this draft, Lucas Giolito was arguably the top pitching prospect on the board, though a troublesome elbow caused him to fall to the Nationals with the 16th overall pick. Sure enough, he had Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter. Giolito remains a very polarizing prospect. Some see a future ace, others see a guy without enough command to dominate consistently. The Nats traded Giolito to the White Sox in the Adam Eaton deal over the winter.
More than a few people are willing to call Buxton, the second overall pick in 2012, a bust right now, though I'm not one of them. He's in the big leagues and he has shown flashes of excellence, plus his elite glovework ensures he'll always be a positive contributor. Several other 2012 draftees aren't so lucky. Here are some of the most notable busts from the 2012 draft class.
The Blue Jays selected D.J. Davis one pick before Seager and two picks before Wacha, so this one really stings. Davis was one of the most tooled up players in the 2012 draft, though he has yet to make it out of Class A ball, and his career OPS is a mere .659. He simply hasn't hit. The athleticism is there, but the baseball skills aren't.
The White Sox selected Courtney Hawkins with the 13th overall pick in 2012, and at the MLB Network studios the night of the draft, he did a back flip to celebrate. Check it out:
Unfortunately, the backflip might turn out to be Hawkins' career highlight. He is currently spending his third consecutive season in Double-A, and his OPS keeps dropping. It's under .500 right now. Hawkins, like Davis, had loads of tools. He hasn't been able to translate them into high-end performance, however.
Pitching prospects are risky, and there is no better example of that than former Yankees farmhand Ty Hensley. Injuries have limited him to only 42 1/3 pro innings since the 2012 draft. Among those injuries are a pair of Tommy John surgeries, a pair of hip surgeries and a hernia surgery. The Rays rolled the dice and selected Hensley in the minor-league phase of this past offseason's Rule 5 Draft, though he's currently rehabbing from his second elbow reconstruction.
James Ramsey was a high-end college performer at Florida State who was expected to be among the quickest moving prospects in the 2012 draft. Instead, he stalled out in Triple-A, and the Cardinals traded him to the Indians in the Justin Masterson deal in 2014. Ramsey bounced from the Indians to the Dodgers to the Mariners last year, and he has been out of baseball since being released by Seattle earlier this year.
The ones who got away
As always, many players who were drafted in 2012 did not sign professional contracts. They opted to go to college -- or return to college, in some cases -- and re-enter the draft in future years. And, inevitably, some of the players who did not sign in 2012 went on to become top prospects in future years. Here are the biggest names who did not sign in 2012.
The 2012 draft was the first draft with bonus pools, which tied specific dollar amounts to each draft slot. The Pirates took Mark Appel out of Stanford with the eighth pick knowing he would be difficult to sign. Ultimately, the two sides did not agree to terms, and Appel went back to school for his senior season. The Astros selected him first overall in 2013.
That said, I doubt the Pirates are upset with that turn of events. Appel is looking like a bust -- he has yet to reach the majors and has a 6.14 ERA in his third try at Triple-A -- and Pittsburgh received the ninth overall pick in 2013 as compensation for failing to sign the eighth pick in 2012. They used that ninth pick in 2013 on outfielder Austin Meadows, who is now one of the game's best prospects. Meadows could very well make his major-league debut before Appel.
Alex Bregman was very much a known commodity when the Red Sox selected him out of a New Mexico high school in 2012. He set his bonus demands high though, so he didn't sign with Boston, and instead went on to star at LSU for three years. Bregman was chosen with the second overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Astros. He's now Houston's starting third baseman and one of the most promising young hitters in baseball.
The Marlins took Kendall Graveman in the 36th round in 2012 with no real intention of signing him. He went back to Mississippi State and came out as an eighth-round pick in 2013. One year later, Graveman was in the big leagues with the Blue Jays. A few months after that, he was traded to the Athletics in the Josh Donaldson deal. Graveman has since developed into a rock-solid starting pitcher.
Going into the 2012 draft, Dansby Swanson was considered a potential pick in the top three rounds out of high school, but a very strong commitment to Vanderbilt caused him to slip to the 38th round. The Rockies took a shot on him there because hey, why not? Maybe he'll change his mind about college. Swanson didn't. He was arguably the best player in the country at Vandy, and three years after being a 38th round pick, he was the first overall selection in the 2015 draft by the Diamondbacks. As you know, they traded him to the Braves for Shelby Miller the following offseason. That could go down as one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, Swanson's disappointing 2017 season notwithstanding.
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