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MLB.com Columnist

Matthew Leach

Early in Draft not time for teams to play it safe

Early in Draft not time for teams to play it safe

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Early in Draft not time for teams to play it safe

MLB.com Columnist

Matthew Leach

Polish is for windows. If you're talking about things like "pitchability" at the top of the first round of the First-Year Player Draft, you're doing it wrong.

The top three picks in this year's Draft all were players with big-time tools, and that's the way it should be. Smart teams can find role players and solid regulars after the first few picks. When a team picks in the glamor segment of the Draft, it needs to do better than that.

The Astros, picking first overall for the second year in a row, took Stanford right-hander Mark Appel. Appel throws hard, with swing-and-miss stuff. He's also well rounded, with a pair of offspeed pitches worthy of attention, but Appel didn't get drafted for an ability to spot his changeup. He misses bats, especially with his heater and his slider.

Appel is the dream at the top of the Draft -- he has tools and skills. He's advanced now -- and projects to get better.

"I think in particular he made adjustments to get more angle on his fastball, pitching from a slightly higher slot," Astros scouting director Mike Elias said. "It made his fastball have more downhill plane, allowed him to get some more ground balls and miss some more bats. He had great success with it, and we're very happy to see that. His secondary stuff continued to develop. Plus, his slider was even better this year, and his changeup improved. This is somebody who we're seeing year after year getting better."

Following Houston, the Cubs took Kris Bryant second. Bryant is widely considered to have the best power of any hitter in this Draft. It's not entirely clear what position Bryant plays, but his power translates everywhere.

"Kris had an incredible season at San Diego, hitting for both power and average," said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' vice president of scouting and player development. "He is a big, strong, athletic player, and we feel he has the attributes of someone who could fit into the middle of a lineup at the Major League level. He has the ability to hit for average along with power to all parts of the park."

And then there's No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Gray, a right-hander out of the University of Oklahoma who has been known to hit 100 mph. A reported positive test for adderall clouded Gray's prospects and might have knocked him out of the top spot. But boy does he throw hard, and the Rockies were willing to take the risk for that kind of arm.

This is what these teams should be doing with picks this high. Sometimes they'll bust; that happens. But it also happens with the supposed safe picks. The difference is, many times when a player with one or more big-time tools doesn't work out, a team can try something different with him. Those "finished product" players often have nowhere else to go.

So it's a risk teams must take. It's increasingly uncommon for star players to hit free agency in their primes, meaning there are essentially two ways for most clubs to add true superstar-level talent: trade for it, or draft it.

You don't typically get a superstar player by drafting safely. There are exceptions. But for the most part, prospects without at least one big-time tool don't tend to become front-line, impact players.

And teams without front-line, impact players don't tend to win a lot of games. It's entirely possible that none of the top three players in this year's Draft will emerge as a star or even a regular. But it's at least possible that they all will, and that means the teams are thinking the right way.

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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