First round draft recap

Here are immediate reactions to some of the 32 players taken in the first round tonight. Keep in mind that I spend all my time studying the college guys, so I’m not going to pretend I have anything to say about the prepsters.

1. Bryce Harper – Nats. Obviously no surprise here, except that he was announced as an outfielder. We shouldn’t read too much into that–it’s hardly a commitment. He may well end up in a corner, though.

There will be a lot of talk about the makeup issues that have been reported throughout the season. I don’t mean this as a knock on Kevin Goldstein or any of the guys who have talked about it, but we all have to remember just how young he is, just how hyped he has been, and just how far we are from the situation. I’m more interested in how he acts once he’s challenged by the level competition. It’ll be the first time, and it’ll reveal more about his character than anything we’ve seen so far.

4. Christian Colon – Royals. This is too bad—the Royals had a chance to take an impact player and they opted for a low-risk pick instead. Colon seems destined for second base, and there are questions about whether his power will translate to the pros.

He’ll be a major league starter—maybe even soon—but he doesn’t have nearly the upside of Pomeranz and Grandal. Keep in mind as well that the 2011 draft is absolutely loaded. Had the Royals gone with the best available player and failed to sign him, they probably would’ve ended up with a better talent with the fifth pick next year.

5. Drew Pomeranz – Indians. Draft day buzz suggested that Pomeranz could fall a lot farther than this. I’m relieved that he didn’t. He’s the best college pitcher in the draft (by far), and will be worth going a bit overslot.

6. Barret Loux – Dbacks. Consensus seems to be that this was a slot pick; it’s certainly true that Loux will come cheaper than someone like Yasmani Grandal would have. But I’m going to buck the conventional wisdom and point out Loux’s monster stats—he had the best 2010 season of any college pitcher…and it wasn’t even close.

Loux’s secondary stuff has been questioned, so maybe he’s a future closer. If he keeps missing anywhere close to as many bats as he has this year (12 K/9), he’ll have plenty of success in some role or other.

7. Matt Harvey – Mets. Here’s another solid pick. In five years, the Mets may have wished they had popped Zack Cox here, but by then, Harvey will probably be in the rotation. Maybe the back of the rotation, but as pitchers go, this is a low-risk choice with some upside.

10. Michael Choice – A’s. I’ve given up trying to evaluate this guy. There’s no doubt he’s a major talent, but it’s probably a mistake to look too hard at the numbers. His walk rate is silly, but is heavily inflated by IBBs and the nonexistent protection in the lineup behind him.

If his power is as exciting as the scouts say it is, I can’t wait to see what he does in the minors. From an analytical perspective, he’s a case study in the difficulty of evaluating players from mid-majors.

11. Deck McGuire – Blue Jays. A lot of what I said about Harvey applies here, as well. The difference is that McGuire hasn’t had a great year, which makes it a bit of a surprise that he went this high. I would’ve gone with Chris Sale, but not a bad pick.

12. Yasmani Grandal – Reds. Love it, love it, love it. I would’ve popped Grandal at 4 or 5. He’ll be expensive, but he was definitely the best player left on the board here. It creates a little bit of a logjam with Devin Mesoraco’s emergence, but that’s no reason to skip a top-10 talent.

13. Chris Sale – White Sox. Another talent that arguably should’ve gone in the top ten. He’s the owner of a couple of my favorite draft-day stats: Only one walk against a lefty all year, and an identical 31/5 groundball/flyball out ratio against lefties in both 2009 and 2010. You have to make some allowances for his level of competition at FGCU, but after his performance in the Cape last summer, there’s no doubt he’s an elite guy.

16. Hayden Simpson – Cubs. Yep, it happened, and no, it’s not a joke. At least I don’t think so. Simpson comes from Division Two Southern Arkansas, a solid program playing in a tough D-2 division, but still… Gotta give the Cubs credit for taking a risk by picking their guy, but it sounds like he might have been there for them in the second round.

20. Kolbrin Vitek – Red Sox. This is a bit of a safe pick, especially with Anthony Ranaudo and Zack Cox still on the board. Like Choice, Vitek is tough to evaluate on paper, given his relatively weak competition at Ball State. Nobody questions his athleticism, though, making him a quality guy for this point in the draft.

21. Alex Wimmers – Twins. Similar pick to Vitek, competition level and all. I don’t bet against Minnesota’s scouts, and they’re certainly not alone in liking Wimmers, as he had been linked to teams as high as the Reds.

24. Gary Brown – Giants. Yikes. Brown is really fast—a great athlete, but to me, doesn’t have the skills to merit this pick. The main complaint is that his walk rate for the last two seasons has been 4 percent. I wrote a few weeks ago that a player with major-league potential should probably have a 10 percent walk rate or higher. Brown’s is lower than that of any other serious draft prospect, and it isn’t that close.

25. Zack Cox – Cardinals. Best pick since Grandal, and for the same reason. Cox is the most talented college player to come off the board since Sale, and while he’ll cost more than slot, the Cards should be able to get this done. His future position (third or second?) is in question, but his bat isn’t.

26. Kyle Parker – Rockies. Meet Matt LaPorta 2.0. Parker has big, big power, and my biggest concern is that he doesn’t make enough contact. His K rate of 18.5 percent is a red flag, though his power might still play when pro-quality pitching pushes the rate up into the mid-20s. Solid late-first round selection.

The Angels had three picks in the first round, all of which they used on high schoolers. Given their position at 18, 29, and 30, it seems like a great time to go with upside. Might have been worth taking Cox at 17, but given the weakness of the draft, it makes sense to go high-ceiling, high-risk when you can multiply it by three.

Check back later for notes on some supplemental picks, and also keep an eye on the College Splits blog for recaps and stats on the guys taken throughout the draft.

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