MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Epic picks: Draft delivers awe, intrigue

Epic picks: Draft delivers awe, intrigue

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Because of the lack of separation among its stalwarts in the first round, this was an MLB Draft widely considered to be difficult to project or predict.

As it turns out, the most accurate projection came from the No. 1 overall pick himself.

Years ago, long before the Phillies took him with the first selection of Thursday's Draft at the MLB Network studios, Mickey Moniak, a sweet-swinging center fielder from La Costa Canyon (Calif.) High School, was certain enough about his abilities that he made a bet with his buddy and teammate, Ethan Abrams. If Moniak went in the top 10, Abrams would have to get Moniak's signature tattooed on his rear end.

"That is true," said Moniak, a charismatic Cali kid who was clearly comfortable on camera. "That is very true. … I'm holding him to that, too."

So for Abrams, what happened here Thursday was a pain in the you-know-what.

For everybody else, the first day of the Draft was a fascinating reveal of how each club interpreted the wide-open canvas of candidates for selection. The Draft featured diversity in both picks and programs. Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities and Breakthrough Series alum Corey Ray was among the 18 selections (out of 77) who are African-American or Latino, and the 34 first-round selections were split evenly between college players (with Louisville supplying three of the 17 and Florida supplying two) and high schoolers.

By virtue of the prevalence of prep arms -- a traditionally and notoriously unpredictable lot -- this first round rates as high risk and potentially high reward. Seven of the 17 prep kids taken were pitchers. Last year, there were no high school pitchers taken in the first 12 picks and only one in the top 20. This year, high school arms made up five of the top 12. And to give you a sense of why high school pitchers are considered so risky, consider this: The last time that five of the top 12 picks were high school pitchers was 2000, and none of that prep quintet (Mike Stodolka, Matt Harrington, Matt Wheatland, Mark Phillips and Joe Torres) reached the Majors.

Mickey Moniak on being top pick

The Draft continues today with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 1 p.m. ET.

If this turns out to be a particularly memorable Draft class, it will be because those unpolished-but-intriguing arms pan out. The Braves hope that's the case with Shenendehowa (N.Y.) High School product Ian Anderson, who was the first prep pitcher taken (No. 3 overall), and one of two players to personally attend the Draft and receive an unforgettable first-class experience.

Ian Anderson on going third

"You just have to get to work and battle your way up through the system," Anderson said. "That's the way you go about it."

Every player drafted by a big league club has dreams of working his way up the system, but the Draft's other attendee, The Westminster Schools (Atlanta) outfielder Will Benson, parlays those plans with an even bigger ambition. It was one he was not shy about voicing after the Indians took him at No. 14 overall.

"My primary goal is to make baseball the No. 1 sport in America," he said. "It's time to make it the here and now sport."

Benson on being drafted

The here and now is what a live broadcast is all about, and Benson and Anderson shared this major moment in their lives with the masses watching on MLB Network. But the magic of social media is pretty immediate, too, and many other prominent picks also had their moment shared.

• Draft night a thrill for many

When the Reds took Tennessee third baseman Nick Senzel at No. 2 overall, his couch emptied and a roar erupted:

When the Mets took Boston College right-hander Justin Dunn at No. 19, you wouldn't have known if he was in a sports-bar booth or at home plate after a walk-off home run:

And No. 17 overall pick Forrest Whitley was making his penultimate start for Alamo Heights High School (San Antonio) when the Astros took him. He left the mound to a standing ovation and tried on his new colors:

The reactions are priceless, and now it's time for the teams and the draftees to talk about price tags. The bonus pools allotted to each club add another layer of strategy to the selections. The Braves, for example, might have played their hand especially well. They took Anderson early, and then landed Joey Wentz (No. 16 on MLBPipeline.com's ranking) and Kyle Muller (No. 24) -- two high school lefties who slid because of signability concerns -- at Nos. 40 and 44. Because of their big pool and the possibility of signing Anderson for less than the $6,510,800 allotted for the No. 3 pick, the Braves -- who had all three among the top 20 on their Draft board -- might very well have gotten the equivalent of three first-round picks.

"This is a big victory for the Braves today," said Atlanta scouting director Brian Bridges.

But in this particular first round, there was no such thing as industry consensus, even in the initial picks. The No. 1 player on MLBPipeline.com's board was Barnegat (N.J.) High School left-hander Jason Groome, and he fell to the Red Sox at No. 12 -- a potential steal of a selection if they can meet his signing demands. The Padres took a gamble on Stanford right-hander Cal Quantrill, son of former Major League pitcher Paul, despite the young Quantrill having made just three starts over the last two collegiate seasons because of Tommy John surgery in 2015.

Red Sox draft LHP Groome No. 12

An outfielder named Mickey assumed the mantle of No. 1 overall pick status, with the Phillies keeping their intentions close to the vest until mere minutes before the event kicked off. But that honor could have just as soon gone to A.J. Puk (A's), the big Florida lefty with the bigger fastball. It could have gone to Ray (Brewers), who was the second consecutive RBI and Breakthrough Series alumnus selected in the top five (joining Dillon Tate) and was the highest of 15 members of the White Sox Amateur City Elite program to be selected in a Draft. It could have gone to Kyle Lewis (Mariners), the masher from Mercer who was Baseball America's Player of the Year. It could have gone to Riley Pint (Rockies), the Kansas kid whose 100-mph heat is not exactly pint-sized.

Brewers draft OF Ray No. 5

Ultimately, each organization had its own individual evaluation of a player's ultimate worth. This was perhaps most evident at No. 23 overall, where the Cardinals took Puerto Rican high schooler Delvin Perez a couple of days after it was reported that Perez had failed a performance-enhancing drug test. Those reports had led many to wonder if the kid projected by some as a top-10 prospect would fall out of the first round altogether.

"Obviously when the results of that test came out and we were made aware of it, it was something we had to think about," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said. "And it definitely changed our calculus.

"Our takeaway on this is that we understand he made a mistake. We understand that he realizes that this cost him a lot. But he also realizes that at 17, his future is still ahead of him. What we tried to decide basically is: 'Are we willing to forgive?' I certainly hope people understand that he was going to be chosen at some point. If we have to take a black eye for being that team, we'll live with that."

Uncertainty was an undertone of the proceedings, as was the possibility for change. The bonus-pool setup is expected to be a talking point in the next collective bargaining agreement, and Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged Thursday that talks are ongoing with the NCAA about coordinating calendars, too.

"You've got the College World Series and this Draft that actually are in conflict, and they ought to work together better," Manfred said. "But I think it's important that we look at the NCAA as the top of the youth pyramid. It's just another part of being more engaged with youth baseball."

As is always the case with the Draft, this was an engaging evening. And it all kicked off with Moniak. He became the shiny new piece of the Phillies' ongoing rebuilding effort, his name on the lips of fans and, potentially, on the rear of his pal.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.