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However, is that the right pick, or just the safe pick?
It’s been fairly widely acknowledged that this year’s draft features some talented players, but no one who completely jumps off the page like Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper. In fact, there is no clear-cut No. 1 selection at all this year, with many experts saying that prep outfielder Byron Buxton, Appel and LSU pitcher Kevin Gausman all have a chance to be the top pick.
Appel, a junior from Stanford, has been outstanding, posting a 10-1 record and 2.29 ERA. Scouts love his smooth delivery and command of all of his pitches, and believe that Appel could move up quickly through the Astros’ organization.
However, as Dave Perkin of SI.com points out, Appel would be “Houston’s safest option.”
Okay, so don’t get me wrong here. Safe can be good. But does safe guarantee a solid future? Is someone safe good enough to build a team around?
The Astros could make another choice here, and the other choice would definitely be bold and risky, but with the potential of having a player in the future that they can in fact build a team around—prep outfielder Byron Buxton.
Buxton, a senior at Appling County High School in Baxley, GA, clearly has that potential that scouts and MLB executives dream about—five-tool skills, speed that’s been compared to Bo Jackson and born with natural baseball instincts.
Buxton’s slash line of .545/.649/.852 in his senior year, with 35 stolen bases in 36 attempts, clearly shows a hitter capable of dominating. At 6’3” and 180 pounds, Buxton is likely to fill out, adding even more power to his frame. The speed is what impresses, being clocked at 3.89 seconds from home to first.
One particular scout who saw Buxton came away in awe.
“He’s better than Andrew McCutchen,” the scout said. “No doubt one of the best I’ve ever scouted — maybe the best I’ve seen in 10 years. The athleticism is off the charts. Everything just comes so easy to him.”
When the Astros are on the clock on Monday evening, it will be their first time picking at the top since they whiffed with their previous first overall selection (Phil Nevin, 1992). New general manager Jeff Luhnow will have a chance to make a statement with his pick on Monday night—why not make it a bold statement?
Safe is never a bad thing—in Appel’s case, he could very well carve out a terrific career in MLB. But he’s not anywhere close to Strasburg, and some would argue he’s not even close to Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, the UCLA teammates who went first and third in last year’s draft.
Choosing prep players does indeed carry an element of risk. One only has to look at players like Brien Taylor, Matt Bush and Tim Beckham to see the risk involved. However, Buxton has the skill set, the natural instincts and the five-tool potential that could very well make him a star, and a player that the Astros could indeed build around.
With their move to the American League West in 2013, the Astros will need to add some offense along with solid pitching, especially when competing against the likes of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels in their own division. Buxton won’t be ready in 2013, but considering his makeup and abilities, he could very well be ready not long after that.
The choice carries risk, no question. But in this case, Byron Buxton is a risk well worth taking for the Astros.
The baseball world was completely captivated this past weekend by the long anticipated debut of someone whom everyone believes is a Hall of Fame player in the making—Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.
Ever since his high school days—and perhaps even before then—Harper has been on the radar due to his five-tool skills on the diamond. The Nationals selected Harper with the first overall selection in the 2010 MLB Draft, exactly one year after selecting similarly-hyped star pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick.
While Strasburg certainly garnered his share of media hype, Harper far surpassed that hype. Las Vegas oddmakers were fast at work setting an over/under for the date of Harper’s MLB debut, and the media firestorm continued as the press followed Harper’s every move after signing with the Nats in August 2010 for five years and $9.9 million.
Harper did little to dissuade opinions of his skills, batting .343 in the Arizona Fall League in 2010, and following up by hitting .297 with 17 HR and 58 RBI between Single-A and Double-A ball in 2011.
Harper continued impressing during spring training this year, however, he was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse to continue his development.
Harper’s stay in Syracuse wasn’t long—with left fielder Michael Morse on the disabled list until mid-season, the Nationals decided to give Harper his chance at the major league level, recalling him on April 27.
Harper’s debut came against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Saturday night, and to say that his opening act was highly anticipated would be a vast understatement, as the media swarmed to capture the biggest debut by a teenager since Ken Griffey Jr. started for the Seattle Mariners as a 19-year-old back in 1989.
Harper’s line on Saturday against the Dodgers wasn’t totally awe-inspiring, but impressive nonetheless. After a groundout and fly-out in his first two at-bats, Harper strode to the plate in the top of the seventh inning and belted a Chad Billingsley offering, sending a sharp line drive over the head of Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp for a double, Harper’s first MLB hit.
In the bottom of the seventh, Harper showed off his defensive skills. After Scott Hairston reached on an error, Dodgers’ catcher A.J. Ellis stroked a single to left field. With Hairston rounding third, Harper came up firing, throwing a bullet to catcher Wilson Ramos in time to nail Hairston at the plate. However, Ramos dropped the ball when making the tag on Hairston, and despite Harper’s perfect throw, the run scored.
Harper would again impress in the ninth inning, however. With Rick Ankiel at third base, Harper hit a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Ankiel and giving the Nationals a 2-1 lead at the time. The Nats would lose in extra innings, courtesy of a Matt Kemp walk-off home run, but the story was all about Harper and his more than impressive MLB debut.
On Sunday, Harper again started, this time in center field. In the bottom of fourth, with Andre Ethier aboard at first, Dodgers third baseman Juan Uribe hit a deep drive to center field. Harper drifted back and made a leaping catch against the wall, robbing Uribe of extra bases.
Harper was 1-for-3 on Sunday, ending his debut weekend with a .333 average, a run batted in and two stellar defensive plays. The Nationals lost both games, getting swept by the Dodgers in the process, but it certainly wasn’t for the efforts of Harper.
Overall, Harper showed a poise that belied his age. Aside from getting fooled by a curveball from Dodgers starter Chris Capuano on Sunday, Harper didn’t look out of place in any way.
The Nationals are clearly a team intent on competing now. With the acquisitions of pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson during the offseason, GM Mike Rizzo built a team to contend now rather than later. Harper’s debut was about adding to the offense, not about a public relations push, and his efforts during his first two games in Los Angeles clearly showed that not only is Harper ready for prime time, he is also ready to help his team win now.