Major League Baseball's draft is a crapshoot, no doubt about it. Unlike the NFL draft where any top draft pick is expected to step in and be a contributor (if not immediately then within a few years), in baseball an organization is fairly lucky if any of the kids they select in the first few rounds end up being an impact player at the major-league level. As for players taken beyond the first round... well that's even more rare.
Looking at the Twins' current roster, we see lots of guys taken with high draft picks contributing. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Delmon Young, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, Anthony Swarzak, Jesse Crain, R.A. Dickey and Scott Baker were all selected in the first three rounds of the draft. Sure, a team will occasionally get lucky and find an eventual big-league contributor a few rounds after the top three (Joe Crede was a fifth-rounder and Joe Nathan a sixth-rounder), and in rare instances a team will find a gem even beyond that (Jason Kubel in the 12th round, Nick Blackburn in the 29th), but for the most part we find the future major-leaguers among those first three rounds. Those are the ones I'll focus on in today's analysis. They took place yesterday, and the Twins had four picks. Here's who they took:
Round 1 (Pick No. 22)
Kyle Gibson - RHP, University of Missouri
Yesterday I predicted that Tanner Scheppers would slide to the Twins due to signability concerns and, in an uncharacteristic move, the Twins would snatch him up. Well, Scheppers did fall to the 22nd pick (in fact, he dropped all the way to 44), but the Twins instead went another -- almost equally uncharacteristic -- route, signing college right-hander Gibson. Like Scheppers, Gibson was considered a Top 10 type talent, but his stock fell for mostly different reasons. Gibson's mid-90s velocity dropped into the 80s late this season, and it was recently revealed that this was due to an arm injury. That's the bad news. The good news is that the injury was to his forearm, not his elbow or shoulder, and the damage was a bone fracture rather than anything involving a muscle or tendon. This breeds optimism that Gibson should be able to recover well from the injury.
Gibson certainly looked the part of a top college starter in the early part of the season. He has three pitches he can throw for strikes in any count and he shows a lot of poise and a competitive streak on the mound. Scouts love his size at 6-foot-6, though some might worry he's a little too thin. Most look at his combination of stuff, command and mound presence and see a sure-fire first-round pick.
Matt Bashore - LHP, Indiana University
The Twins tabbed another college pitcher with the compensation pick they received from Dennys Reyes' departure as a free agent. At 6'3" and 200 lbs, Bashore is a sizable left-handed hurler who reportedly dialed his fastball up to 95 mph during this past season. He was a top college prospect entering this year but lowered his stock a bit by going just 7-5 with a 4.08 ERA for the Hoosiers, although he did come close to setting a school record by notching 108 strikeouts.
While he's shown an ability to hit the mid-90s with his fastball, he'll likely sit in the low 90s on a consistent basis, and his success will likely depend on how he develops his secondary stuff. Not a bad pick, but nothing worth getting too excited about.
Round 2 (Pick No. 70)
Billy Bullock - RHP, University of Florida
The Twins used one of their top picks last year to select a college closer from the state of Florida: University of Miami's Carlos Gutierrez. In that instance, the Twins were clear from the start that their plan was to convert Gutierrez to a starter; they've followed through on that by having him open the season in the Ft. Myers rotation, and he pitched so well that he was recently moved up to Class-AA New Britain.
In spite of their success with this route, the Twins will likely keep Bullock in a relief role. Like Gibson, Bullock stands at 6 feet 6 inches, but he's got a bigger frame at 225 lbs. He really came into his own as closer for the Gators this year and is reportedly capable of hitting 96 mph with his fastball. Bullock has advanced stuff and could be on the fast track, particularly considering the unstable state of the Twins' bullpen.
Round 3 (Pick No. 101)
Ben Tootle - RHP, Jacksonville State University
A fireballer with an upper-90s fastball and a hard slider, Tootle seems like a prime candidate to end up in the bullpen as a late-innings reliever, although the Twins might try him as a starter first. Tootle is in the same camp as Gibson in that his value likely slipped a bit due to an injury; a bad stomach virus held him out of action for a month this year and deflated his overall numbers. Like Gibson's injury, though, Tootle's ailment doesn't seem like a long-term concern and if he can get back to full strength, he has a great arm with impressive potential.
The Twins have always liked to go after college pitchers with their early draft picks, and that was definitely true this year as they brought in collegiate arms with each of their first four picks. Tough to argue with any of those four picks. Gibson is a good low-risk/high-reward guy, Bashore is a hard-throwing lefty with decent upside, Bullock is a hard-throwing righty reliever who could potentially help the big-league club as soon as 2010, and Tootle is a fireballing righty with the ability to dominate. You'd be hard-pressed to argue that the Twins reached on any of their four picks today (in fact, both Gibson and Bullock were generally expected to go higher) and yet all four players should be signable. It was a good first day of the draft that can potentially add some exciting players to the Twins' farm system; today I suspect we'll see them use the middle rounds to bring in some position players.