Before getting into a discussion about which 2013 draftees had the most impressive professional debuts, let's get one thing straight. Careers have never been made, nor destroyed, after one summer in the Minor Leagues. So use that as context as we look to see which prospects -- one hitter and one pitcher -- from the Class of '13 hit the ground running post-Draft.
My colleague Jim Callis is making the case for Reds outfielder Phillip Ervin, and it is hard not to be impressed with the Samford product's debut. But I don't know how you can look past what Kris Bryant did over his first 148 career at-bats.
There's a lot of pressure on a guy when he's taken No. 2 overall in the Draft. With that can come a tendency to try and do too much too quickly to prove your worth. But Bryant didn't cave to that. Already the No. 36 prospect on MLB.com's Top 100 list, all Bryant did was hit all summer. After a very brief stop in the Rookie-level Arizona League, he moved up to the short-season Northwest League. Bryant's debut with Boise was the stuff of legends: five at-bats, five strikeouts. But after going 1-for-7 in his next two games after that, the University of San Diego star reeled off a 15-game hitting streak that included seven doubles, a triple and four homers.
It was clearly time for a promotion. But rather than just one rung, the Cubs sent Bryant up two, to the Class A Advanced Florida State League. Evidently, the 2013 Golden Spikes Award winner wasn't told the FSL was a pitching-friendly league, because he torched it to the tune of a .333/.387/.719 line over 16 games. Oh, and Bryant hit .350 in the playoffs to help Daytona win the FSL crown.
Bryant finished second among all draftees in both slugging percentage (.655) and OPS (1.055), trailing only Michael Fish, the Angels' 32nd-round pick who was a college senior playing in rookie ball. It's exactly the kind of impact bat the Cubs hoped they were drafting and one who looks like he should move quickly to Chicago. A trip to the Arizona Fall League in October could be a perfect springboard to hasten Bryant's arrival.
Evaluating pitchers post-Draft is a little more tricky. The sample sizes tend to be rather small and many college pitchers invariably don't throw a lot after heavy workloads that spring. Still, some hurlers really got off to a strong start.
Mr. Callis is hyping No. 3 overall pick Jonathan Gray's debut, and for good reason. Not only did Gray pitch well, he made the typically hitting-friendly California League look absolutely silly once he got there.
I always like to look at college relievers, because they often are the ones from a Draft class to reach the big leagues first. None made it up this summer, but some (Michael Lorenzen and Colby Suggs come to mind) did make it to Class A Advanced levels.
As impressive as that is, what Corey Knebel did during his debut was borderline silly. He spent the summer in the full-season Midwest League, though he clearly pitched well enough to earn a promotion had the Tigers decided to go that route. Settling right in as the team's closer, the University of Texas product racked up 15 saves, good enough for sixth in the league. And Knebel didn't get there until June 23.
Knebel's other numbers are perhaps more impressive. His 41 strikeouts in 31 innings translates to an 11.9 K/9 ratio. Knebel yielded just 14 hits for a .133 batting average against and allowed three earned runs for a 0.87 ERA. With only 10 walks allowed, the reliever finished with a 0.774 WHIP as well.
Why didn't Knebel get promoted? Well, the Tigers had a pretty good closer, Jose Valdez, going in Lakeland, and it's clear they wanted to let Knebel finish games, because he has a future as a closer at the highest level. Starting in 2014, don't be surprised if he starts moving towards that very quickly.