SECAUCUS, N.J. -- The Major League Baseball Draft might lack the cachet of Radio City Music Hall, months of breathless anticipation and the universal appeal that only Mel Kiper's hair can bring. But it HAS become more of an entertaining show every year.
The draft has been a live televised event since 2007 and a staple at MLB Network Studios in Secaucus beginning in 2009. For those who might have been more wrapped up in the Spurs and Heat than the Super Bowl of baseball scouting, here are some assorted snippets, vignettes and other observations from the 2013 first-year player draft.
The commish's big night
Commissioner Bud Selig, who announces all the first-round picks from the main podium, really seems to get a charge out of the phrase, "The [fill in your favorite team] are on the clock." He tosses in a little hesitation at the end, like Fernando Valenzuela in mid-windup. When it was brought to his attention Thursday night, Selig agreed.
"You're absolutely right: I take particular relish in it," Selig said. "I wish I could do that at owners' meetings."
As a baseball purist who ran a team in Milwaukee, Selig is a firm believer in the draft as a mechanism for leveling the playing field. MLB is trying to turn the draft into an event, but it's virtually impossible for the sport to sell the players to the general public en masse because of their relative lack of exposure and the likelihood that they'll spend several years in the minors before they start breaking through on big league rosters.
But the draft continues to make strides. This year, nine players showed up with their families and packed the simulated dugouts at the MLB Network Studios. Think back to 2009, when the only draftee in attendance was a fresh-faced kid from Millville, N.J., named Mike Trout. Selig wouldn't rule out the possibility that the event might eventually outgrow this venue.
"I love coming here," he said. "But if that happens, it would be a good thing."
A welcome do-over
Within the confines of Studio 42, all sorts of rumors were tossed around about the Houston Astros' first pick -- including the possibility that they would select Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Gray or Tomball, Texas, righty Kohl Stewart.
Just moments before the Astros made their choice, ESPN's Keith Law and John Manuel of Baseball America both Tweeted that Mark Appel was the choice. This isn't particularly surprising: The best reporting at this type of event is done by plugged-in writers who have been following the draft for months and have more freedom to exchange texts and work the phones.
The Astros' choice of Appel clearly vindicates his decision to return to school for his senior year rather than sign with Pittsburgh as the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft. The recommended bonus for that slot was about $3 million last year. Houston's suggested bonus for the top slot this year is $7.7 million -- although it's entirely possible that Appel and his advisor, Scott Boras, will try to push that envelope.
If the Astros' sign Appel, it will be another positive step for a farm system that's loading up. Shortstop Carlos Correa, last year's top pick, is the real deal, and the Astros have depth with the likes of George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and Delino DeShields Jr..
In the meantime, Appel seems a lot more upbeat this year than he was last June. After he slipped to Pittsburgh a year ago, Appel bagged the conference call and issued a statement explaining why. "I'm currently concentrating on winning a national championship and finishing my academic endeavors at Stanford," he said. "I will address the possibility of a professional career in due time."
This year, Appel did an interview with the MLB Network and gushed over the prospect of playing in his home town of Houston. The following item appeared on his Twitter account Thursday night:
— Mark Appel (@MAppel26) June 7, 2013
The Cleveland Indians used the fifth overall pick on Clint Frazier, a Loganville, Ga., High School outfielder with big power, a gregarious personality and confidence in abundance. Frazier has also attracted attention as a baseball rarity -- a 5-foot-11, redheaded slugger.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Baseball people just tend to be a little wary when a phenomenon comes their way that strays from the prototype.
But if Frazier hits, Cleveland will fall in love with him. Or so he has been told.
"I love the fact that people don't expect me to have the amount of power I have, just considering my size," Frazier said. "And I've had a lot of people tell me I'm going to become a fan favorite because of my hair. I love the fact that people are putting me up on this pedestal because I have red hair -- and acting like nobody else has red hair."
Frazier decided to come to New York for the draft because he couldn't abide the thought of sitting at home all day waiting to see how his future might play out. "That would just eat me alive if I didn't have something to entertain me -- an outlet," he said. He spent Thursday with the other attendees visiting Yankee Stadium and Citi Field and riding around Manhattan in a double-decker bus with David Wright's picture on the side.
Outfielder Austin Meadows, Frazier's good buddy from neighboring Grayson High School, elected to stay home and watch the draft with his family. He went four picks after Frazier to the Pirates at No. 9. But he was with Frazier in spirit.
"We've gone through this process since we were 9 years old," Frazier said. "Having Austin around pushed me as a player and made me work harder every single day. I lived in his shadow until this summer. He brought a lot of exposure to me and got me noticed by the people who were coming to watch him. Without Austin, I wouldn't be in this situation right now."
"Brothers" turned rivals
Those L.A. kids sure can dress. Dominic Smith, a left-handed, power-hitting first baseman from Junipero Serra High School in California, showed up in a red-and-white checked shirt with a red tie and matching red socks. His buddy J.P. Crawford, a shortstop from Lakewood High, near Long Beach, was equally snazzy in a black shirt and purple bow tie.
Smith and Crawford are both products of the MLB Urban Youth Academy and RBI programs, baseball initiatives meant to reverse a decline in minority participation in the game. And in a few years, if things proceed according to plan, they'll be NL East rivals. The Mets chose Smith with the 11th pick, and the Phillies selected Crawford 16th overall.
After the Mets picked Smith, he spoke by phone with GM Sandy Alderson and shook hands with Darryl Strawberry, New York's representative at the draft. Strawberry has never seen Smith play, but he did receive a positive scouting report from Eric Davis, who recently checked out Smith at the L.A. City Championship at Dodger Stadium.
"Eric said he can swing the bat -- and he can play," Strawberry said. "He's only 17, and he's got a lot to learn about the game. Hopefully he can handle the opportunity of playing in New York, because he'll have to deal with a lot there."
Smith is looking forward to the opportunity to compete against Crawford, his good buddy since they were 11 years old.
"He's just a great guy and a great person," Smith said. "We're pretty tight. He's like my baseball brother."
Cardinals go for lefties
Times are good in St. Louis. The Cardinals have the best record in baseball at 39-21. Shelby Miller struck out nine and homered in a 12-8 victory over Arizona on Thursday. And they added to their stockpile of young pitching with a pair of left-handers, drafting Marco Gonzales of Gonzaga and Rob Kaminsky of St. Joseph Regional High School in New Jersey.
Cardinals special assistant Ryan Franklin, who's representing the organization at the draft, described Gonzales as a polished starter who throws four pitches for strikes. Gonzales' fastball generally sits at about 89-91 mph, but he compensates with exceptional command.
"He's pretty close to being ready to pitch in the big leagues," Franklin said. "We're hoping he'll breeze through the lower part of the minor leagues and be knocking on the door pretty soon."
Dignitaries on parade
It's worth coming to the draft just for the dignitaries alone. Among the former players in attendance as team representatives: Eric Davis, Andre Dawson, Luis Gonzalez, Will Clark, Strawberry, Jim Bunning, Fred McGriff, Tony Oliva, Willie Randolph, David Eckstein and Tim Belcher. Frank Thomas, the Chicago White Sox's representative, arrived in Secaucus and flashed back to his own experience as a first-round pick out of Auburn University in 1989 draft. The Baltimore Orioles picked Ben McDonald first overall, and Thomas, a Georgia native, was hoping to go to Atlanta at No. 2. But the Braves chose high school catcher Tyler Houston with the second pick, and Roger Salkeld, Jeff Jackson, Donald Harris and Paul Coleman went off the board before the White Sox chose Thomas seventh overall.
"I was on pins and needles all week waiting to get that call," Thomas said. "When I slipped down to the seventh hole, it motivated me. I was a Georgia kid and I wanted to go to the Braves. Their scouts watched me over and over and over, and it didn't happen."
Thomas expressed admiration for all the high school kids who showed up for the event even though it was possible they might have to wait a while before they would be picked. The White Sox used their first pick on Tim Anderson, an athletically gifted shortstop from East Central Community College in Mississippi who lists Jose Reyes as his favorite major league player.
After welcoming Anderson to the fold, Thomas made it clear there won't be much time for sentiment.
"I told him, 'Enjoy this night and have fun, but get ready to get down to business and do some serious work,'" Thomas said. "Because he's going to go through a lot in the next few months."