Draft opens with selections of high school pitchers
Aiken taken No. 1 overall by Astros; one pick later, Kolek goes to Marlins
SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Youth wasn't just served. It helped itself to seconds.
On Thursday night, two high school pitchers were taken at the top of the First-Year Player Draft for the first time in history, with the Astros and the Marlins both banking on youth and projectability.
Houston, picking at the top of the Draft for the third straight season, selected prep southpaw Brady Aiken with the No. 1 overall pick. Aiken became the first prep pitcher to be taken first overall since 1991, when the Yankees drafted southpaw Brien Taylor with the top pick.
And with Aiken off the board, Miami took another arm to dream on. The Marlins went for Tyler Kolek, a hard-throwing right-hander from Shepherd High School in Texas. Kolek, who stands 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, is the first high school arm to go No. 2 since Jameson Taillon went to the Pirates in 2010.
The player many expected to be selected first overall -- college southpaw Carlos Rodon -- went third overall to the White Sox. Rodon, a left-hander out of North Carolina State, logged a 2.01 ERA this year and was the first player in program history to be First-Team All-ACC in three straight seasons.
The Astros became the first team in league history to pick at the top of the Draft in three straight seasons. Houston surprised the baseball world by picking prep shortstop Carlos Correa with the top pick in 2012, and the Astros selected college right-hander Mark Appel with the top pick last year.
Aiken, the first prep southpaw taken atop the Draft in 23 years, was proud of his achievement.
|1||HOU||LHP Brady Aiken|
|2||MIA||RHP Tyler Kolek|
|3||CWS||LHP Carlos Rodon|
|4||CHC||C Kyle Schwarber|
|5||MIN||SS Nick Gordon|
|6||SEA||OF Alex Jackson|
|7||PHI||RHP Aaron Nola|
|8||COL||LHP Kyle Freeland|
|9||TOR||RHP Jeff Hoffman|
|10||NYM||OF Michael Conforto|
|11||TOR||C Max Pentecost|
|12||MIL||LHP Kodi Medeiros|
|13||SD||SS Trea Turner|
|14||SF||RHP Tyler Beede|
|15||LAA||LHP Sean Newcomb|
|16||ARI||RHP Touki Toussaint|
|17||KC||LHP Brandon Finnegan|
|18||WAS||RHP Erick Fedde|
|19||CIN||RHP Nick Howard|
|20||TB||1B Casey Gillaspie|
|21||CLE||OF Bradley Zimmer|
|22||LAD||RHP Grant Holmes|
|23||DET||OF Derek Hill|
|24||PIT||SS Cole Tucker|
|25||OAK||3B Matt Chapman|
|26||BOS||SS Michael Chavis|
|27||STL||RHP Luke Weaver|
|28||KC||LHP Foster Griffin|
|29||CIN||SS Alex Blandino|
|30||TEX||RHP Luis Ortiz|
|31||CLE||LHP Justus Sheffield|
|32||ATL||OF Braxton Davidson|
|33||BOS||RHP Michael Kopech|
|34||STL||RHP Jack Flaherty|
"I sat down with my advisor, my trainer and my parents, and I really had the goal that I wanted to be the best player in the country," Aiken said of his thought process before the season. "It was a lot of hard work, a lot of early mornings working out. ... It's been fun. It's been a great experience."
Two prep players going at the top of the Draft was not unprecedented, but it is certainly rare. In fact, it has happened just two other times in the past 20 years. Correa and Byron Buxton were the top picks in 2012, and prep stars Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett were the Draft's first two picks in 1999.
The first bat of Thursday's Draft was not taken until the fourth pick, when the Cubs selected catcher Kyle Schwarber out of the University of Indiana. Schwarber, a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award as the best catcher in the country, batted .358 with 14 home runs and 66 runs scored this year.
The Twins selected prep infielder Nick Gordon -- brother of Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon and son of former reliever Tom Gordon -- with the fifth pick. Gordon was ranked No. 5 in the MLB.com Top 200, and he was one of many prospects attending the Draft at the MLB Network studios.
The run on prep talent continued at No. 6, where the Mariners selected power-hitting outfielder Alex Jackson. Jackson, who also caught during his prep career, hit 14 home runs in the first 23 games of his senior season, and the Mariners may elect to play him in the outfield to ease his pro transition.
"That's part of being drafted," Jackson said of switching positions. "I'm truly blessed to have the opportunity I'm able to have. I just want to get out there, play, have a great time and enjoy myself."
The First-Year Player Draft had not seen four prep players taken in the top six picks since 2002, when future stars B.J. Upton and Zack Greinke were part of an impressive first-round haul. But after the top-heavy prep group on Thursday night, big league clubs responded by taking five straight college players.
The Phillies, selecting seventh overall, got one of the Draft's top college arms in right-handed junior Aaron Nola out of Louisiana State University. Nola, a First-Team All-American as a sophomore, notched an 11-1 record with a 1.47 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .172 average this season.
The Rockies nabbed left-hander Kyle Freeland out of the University of Evansville with the eighth pick, and analysts from MLB Network suggested he could be the first prospect in the Draft class to make the Majors. Freeland logged a 10-2 record with a 1.90 ERA for Evansville as a junior.
The Blue Jays -- picking No. 9 and No. 11 -- went for an interesting pair of college players. Toronto selected right-handed starter Jeff Hoffman out of the University of East Carolina with its earlier first-round selection, and then it came back to get power-hitting catcher Max Pentecost two picks later.
The Mets, who had taken a prep player with their top pick in each of the past three Drafts, settled on a more finished product this year. New York selected Michael Conforto -- the two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year -- with the 10th pick. Conforto logged a .504 on-base percentage as a junior.
Despite the early focus on prep talent, college players began to assert themselves midway through the first round. The pendulum swung for eight college players between picks No. 11 and No. 20, with prep pitchers Kodi Medeiros (No. 12) and Touki Toussaint (No. 16) standing as the exceptions.
The Padres selected offensive shortstop Trea Turner -- a college teammate of Rodon's at N.C. State -- with pick No. 13. And right after Turner went off the board, the Giants and the Angels selected standout college pitchers Tyler Beede (No. 14) and Sean Newcomb (No. 15).
The Nationals took right-hander Erick Fedde out of UNLV at No. 18, a move that had at least one high-profile advocate. Bryce Harper, the top overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, wrote on his Twitter account that he was thrilled to have Fedde with the Nationals.
"Congrats to fellow teammate of mine in high school @ErickFedde on being drafted by the @Nationals!" wrote Harper at his @Bharper3407 Twitter feed. "We got a great one DC!"
Two players with familiar surnames -- Casey Gillaspie and Bradley Zimmer -- went late in the first round. Gillaspie, brother of White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie, was drafted by the Rays with the 20th pick. The younger Gillaspie is a power-hitting first baseman from Wichita State University.
Zimmer, brother of Kyle Zimmer, the fifth overall selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, was taken by Cleveland with the 21st pick on Thursday night. The younger Zimmer, an outfielder at the University of San Francisco, batted .368 with a .461 on-base percentage this season.
Several teams had the luxury of a second pick at the end of Thursday's first round.
Cincinnati took college reliever Nick Howard at No. 19, and then it came back for Stanford infielder Alex Blandino with pick No. 29. The Royals wound up with two arms; Kansas City picked college southpaw Brandon Finnegan at No. 17 and prep right-hander Foster Griffin at No. 28.
The Indians got Zimmer and later selected prep pitcher Justus Sheffield (No. 31). The Red Sox drafted prep stars Michael Chavis (No. 26) and Michael Kopech (No. 33), and the Cardinals, who had taken college pitcher Luke Weaver at No. 27, closed out the first round with prep arm Jack Flaherty.
The first round showed some interesting trends. Twenty of 34 picks were for pitchers, and the arms were split evenly between the college and prep ranks. Eight college hitters were taken, and just six prep hitters were selected.
After outfielder/catcher Jackson, the next prep outfielder selected -- Derek Hill from Elk Grove High School in California -- went No. 23 overall to the Tigers. Five shortstops -- Gordon, Turner, Chavis, Blandino and prep infielder Cole Tucker -- were taken in the top 30 picks Thursday, and four outfielders were taken in that span.
Only one first baseman -- Gillaspie -- was taken in the first round. Oakland draftee Matt Chapman, No. 25 overall, was the only first-rounder selected with the intention of playing third base professionally.
The Astros kicked off the second round with another interesting selection. Houston drafted A.J. Reed, a slugging first baseman, with the 42nd overall pick in the Draft. Reed, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, batted .336 with 23 home runs this year and also went 12-2 with a 2.09 ERA on the mound.
North Carolina State was the only team with two players selected in the first round on Thursday, but the University of Virginia had three players selected in the top 40. Howard went in the first round, and teammates Derek Fisher and Mike Papi went back to back in Competitive Balance Round A.
The Yankees did not make their first pick until the second round. New York selected college southpaw Jacob Lindgren out of Mississippi State University with the 55th overall selection. Lindgren made 26 relief appearances this season and logged a 6-1 record with an ERA of 0.81.
Grant Hockin, the grandson of Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, will get to chase his own big league dream. The Indians selected Hockin, a prep right-hander from California, with the 61st pick. Hockin had been ranked No. 91 on the MLB.com list of the Top 200 prospects.
The Orioles are the only big league team that did not make a selection on Thursday night.
The 2014 First-Year Player Draft runs through Saturday, with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days of the Draft will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.