Appling County High School's Byron Buxton was the No. 1 pick in the MLB Draft on Monday night by the Houston Astros.
Georgia prep star goes No. 2 overall
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins have had their eyes on Byron Buxton for months. No better highlight came from tracking this super-fast high school center fielder than a Georgia state playoff game three weeks ago.
"He scored from second base on a sacrifice fly to right field," Twins scouting director Deron Johnson said.
Buxton just put his head down and never stopped running.
"I had never seen that before," Johnson said. "The right fielder was shocked, and he just kind of panicked and threw the ball into second."
That speed is the main reason why the Twins took Buxton, from Appling County High School in the tiny town of Baxter, with the second pick in the amateur draft on Monday night.
Houston chose Carlos Correa first, a high school shortstop from Puerto Rico. Stanford right-hander Mark Appel was widely predicted to be taken by his hometown Astros, but even when they passed on him the pitching-poor Twins didn't blink. Buxton was their preference all along, said Johnson, who saw the 18-year-old play in person six times and had lunch with him twice.
The top-ranked prep prospect by Baseball America magazine, which also ranked him as the best athlete and best pure hitter among all the available high school players, Buxton helped lead his team to the Georgia Class 2A state championship this spring. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder not only tore up opponents at the plate, on the bases and in the field, he struck out 154 batters in 81 innings this season.
But he's not tempted to keep throwing in the pros.
"Not at all. Pitching is too much strain on my arm," Buxton said on a conference call.
Buxton grew up cheering for brothers B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, star players for the Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks who are a rough blueprint for Buxton as he develops. He was even a star defensive back and wide receiver in football with a scholarship offer from Georgia in that sport, Johnson said.
Giving that up wasn't difficult either, Buxton said.
"Not at all. Just focused on baseball," he said.
Passing on pitching might have frustrated some fans, but unlike the NFL or the NBA these picks are often for five years from now, so focusing on a certain positional need the major league team has is never part of the strategy. Buxton has been compared by the Twins to Aaron Hicks, their first-round pick — 14th overall — in 2008 who is currently playing for Double-A New Britain. But Johnson said he's faster than Hicks.
"He's a five-tool player," Johnson said, adding: "Everybody talks about his athleticism. He's got a really good swing. We think he's going to hit. We think he'll hit anywhere from number one in the order to number three. Tremendous, tremendous upside."
This was the Twins' highest pick since Joe Mauer, the first selection in 2001, but Johnson said he didn't anticipate any problems signing Buxton. Major League Baseball began a new system for paying draft picks this year, and the Twins have more bonus pool money — about $12.3 million — to spend this summer than any other team over the first 10 rounds. The maximum allowed amount for Buxton's signing bonus is $6.2 million.
The Twins had three of Monday's first 42 picks, including compensatory selections for losing outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel as free agents.
At No. 32 in the supplemental round, they took right-hander Jose Berrios, a high schooler from Puerto Rico with a fastball in the 93-95 mph range. At No. 42, they picked Luke Bard, a right-hander out of Georgia Tech who is the younger brother of Boston Red Sox reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard.
SECAUCUS, N.J. — Carlos Correa was all smiles when he heard his name announced, knowing he had made hometown history at the baseball draft.
The Houston Astros selected the 17-year-old slugging shortstop with the No. 1 pick Monday night, making him the first player from Puerto Rico to lead off the draft.
"This means a lot," Correa said from the draft site at MLB Network studios. "We've got a lot of good players there."
Correa, however, is the only one to be drafted first from an island that has produced its share of baseball royalty: Roberto Clemente, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Juan Gonzalez, Bernie Williams. Some of those players signed as free agents — catcher Ramon Castro had been the highest-drafted player out of Puerto Rico, going No. 17 to Houston in 1994.
"I feel so excited to be the No. 1 pick," said Correa, who was congratulated by Delgado on Twitter. "I've worked so hard to be here."
It was the first time Houston had the top pick in the draft since 1992, when the Astros selected Phil Nevin — passing on a young shortstop named Derek Jeter, who went five spots later to the Yankees.
"I have read about that," Correa said, calling Jeter his idol as much for the New York captain's character off the field as on. "I want to be like him. He's awesome."
First-year Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Correa "has a chance to be a star" who could hit 20-30 home runs in the pros, whether it's as a shortstop or "ultimately maybe third base."
Correa said he'd like to stay at shortstop, and he plans to use his signing bonus to help his family financially.
As he walked to the podium and shook hands with Commissioner Bud Selig before a brief hug, Correa pulled out a small Puerto Rican flag and held it up to big cheers from the crowd of major league representatives and fans gathered in the stadium-themed studio.
Correa was one of five players in attendance at the draft, but his introduction was far from the most entertaining. Texas high school outfielder Courtney Hawkins did a backflip — after being prodded by a television reporter when a video was shown of him landing one — a few moments after going No. 13 to the Chicago White Sox.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Hawkins, wearing a White Sox cap and jersey, spoke to general manager Kenny Williams right after he stuck his landing.
"They said, 'Go do it,' so I went and did it," a smiling Hawkins said. "But Mr. Williams said: 'No more.'"
While the NFL has a few dozen players show up for its draft, baseball has slowly made its event a place to be with the televised first round and major league representatives on hand — just a few years after it once was held entirely by conference call. The five players in attendance this year were the most since the draft moved to MLB Network studios in 2009.
Joining Correa and Hawkins were Oklahoma State lefty Andrew Heaney (No. 9, Marlins), Louisiana high school shortstop Gavin Cecchini (No. 12, Mets) and Washington high school catcher Clint Coulter, who went 27th to the Brewers.
Heaney, a draft-eligible sophomore, had tears in his eyes after Miami selected him. Sitting with the other prospects in a makeshift dugout, Heaney headed over to shake Selig's hand and soon was wearing a Marlins cap and jersey.
"That's about all that went through my mind is, don't trip," a beaming Heaney said.
While recent drafts lacked first-pick intrigue, Luhnow said the Astros didn't settle on Correa until about an hour before they went on the clock. Several mock draft lists predicted the Astros would select Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, but instead Houston made a somewhat surprising selection — although Correa was considered one of the top five players available.
Appel slid a few spots lower than projected, going to Pittsburgh at No. 8.
Correa has an incredibly strong arm and terrific instincts on defense, and the Astros hope they've found a big-time bat for the middle of their lineup. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound star from Santa Isabel starred at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and is committed to the University of Miami, but is likely headed to Houston's farm system instead.
"Right now, he stays at shortstop and if he was to happen to grow out of it, it's the power that's the attraction here and it's the middle of the order potential impact bat," Astros scouting director and assistant general manager Bobby Heck said. "So if he has to move, his profile is still very, very strong."
With the second pick, Minnesota took speedy Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton, considered a five-tool player with a bat considered the best among all draft prospects. The Appling County High School star has blazing speed, an outstanding arm and plenty of range in the outfield.
"It's an exciting feeling," Buxton told MLB Network. "I'm just ready to go out and play ball."
University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino, who has drawn comparisons to Jason Varitek for his leadership and ability to handle a pitching staff, was taken No. 3 overall by Seattle.
Baltimore went with LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman with the fourth pick, adding a potential ace to its system. The draft-eligible sophomore has had a terrific season for the Tigers, going 11-1 with a 2.72 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 115 2-3 innings.
Kansas City went with University of San Francisco right-hander Kyle Zimmer, a converted third baseman, with the No. 5 overall pick.
"I was surprised because I was always sort of a hitter growing up. I guess the move paid off," Zimmer, already wearing a Royals cap, told MLB Network.
The Dons' ace went just 5-3, but had a 2.85 ERA with 104 Ks and only 17 walks in 88 1-3 innings. He threw consecutive shutouts during one stretch.
"He was the No. 1 pitcher on our board," said Lonnie Goldberg, the Royals' director of scouting. "I think everyone should know that. He's the guy we wanted."
The draft opened with uncertainty about the talent — many teams considered this crop of players weaker than recent groups — and several significant rule changes in place. Under baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, teams will have a pool of bonus money from which to sign players. The Astros, for example, have about $11.2 million to use on bonuses for their 11 picks through the 10th round. The Twins, who have 13 picks in the top 10 rounds, have about $12.4 million.
Teams face a punitive tax and the possibility of losing draft picks if they go over the prescribed bonus total. If a player doesn't sign, the team loses the amount for that slot. Clubs now have until mid-July to sign draft picks, instead of the previous mid-August deadline.
Florida high school outfielder Albert Almora was selected sixth by the Chicago Cubs.
Max Fried, a high school left-hander from California, was picked seventh by San Diego. Right-hander Lucas Giolito, Fried's teammate at Harvard-Westlake High School, was selected nine picks later by Washington despite not pitching since March because of a sprained elbow ligament.
Pittsburgh, which selected UCLA righty Gerrit Cole with the top pick last year, went after pitching again in Appel. The ace of Stanford's staff has a mid-90s (mph) fastball and is 10-1 with a 2.27 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 119 innings for the Cardinal. In his last start before the draft, he avenged his only loss of the season by beating Fresno State in the NCAA tournament, fanning 11 in a dominant four-hitter.
Colorado rounded out the first 10 picks by taking speedy Alabama high school outfielder David Dahl.
Florida high school right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., the son of the former major league reliever, was drafted by Houston with the 10th pick of the compensation round, 41st overall.
The first round and the initial compensation round were completed Monday night, with rounds 2 through 40 conducted over the next two days via conference call.
BRAVES STAY CLOSE TO HOME WITH FIRST-ROUND PICK:
ATLANTA -- Four days before retiring John Smoltz's number, the Braves selected a local pitcher who grew up idolizing Smoltz.
The club took suburban Atlanta's Lucas Sims on Monday with its first-round selection in this year's First-Year Player Draft, 21st overall. The 18-year-old product of Gwinnett County's Brookwood High School possesses a fastball that has touched 94 mph and a hard curveball.
"This is a dream come true," Sims said. "I've been a Braves fan all of my life. To have an opportunity to play for the Atlanta Braves organization ... there is an unbelievable amount of emotion running through me right now. Quite honestly, I am speechless and just really looking forward to it."
With an abundance of young pitchers who have already gained Major League experience, the Braves were thought to have been interested in taking a position player. But the team determined that its best option was to go with Sims' powerful right arm.
"We are happy to be able to draft a Georgia boy, especially one from our backyard, who is a great athlete, with a great arm and great make-up." said Tony DeMacio, the club's director of scouting. "We are looking forward to getting him into the fold as soon as possible. We think we have a top-of-the-rotation type of player."
Recognized as having one of the best arms among available high school products, Sims is working on a changeup. Scouts like his mound presence, his aggressive nature and the athleticism he displayed both on the mound and while playing shortstop.
Sims was named the Georgia Region 8 AAAAA Pitcher of the Year after going 8-1 with a 1.19 ERA and leading Brookwood to the state championship game. He has committed to attend Clemson University, but the lifelong Braves fan said he is looking forward to signing and beginning his professional career as soon as possible. The deadline for Draft picks to sign is 5 p.m. ET on July 13.
"Hopefully, it will be done soon," Sims said.
The selection comes 10 years after the Braves took a couple Gwinnett County high school products, Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann, in the first two rounds of the 2002 Draft.
Francoeur, McCann and Jason Heyward, the 14th overall selection in 2007 Draft, are just a few of the Atlanta-area players the Braves have picked over the past decade. But Sims might be the first to say that he ran the bases high above the left-field wall in what was known as Sky Field, when Turner Field opened in 1997.
Sims estimates he has attended five Braves' games per year dating back to his childhood. His most recent trip to Turner Field occurred on May 27, when he watched a 7-2 loss to the Nationals. As he and his friend sat in Section 217, about 35 rows above the home dugout, they took a second to dream.
"We were just sitting in the stands and he looks over and said, 'How awesome would it be if you got to play here one day?'" Sims said. "We just kind of thought about it. Now, it could be true someday. It's really great."
This marks the fourth time in the past five years that the Braves have taken a pitcher with their first selection, after taking left-handed collegiate pitchers -- Mike Minor and Sean Gilmartin -- first in two of the past three Drafts.
Like Gilmartin grew up patterning his pitching approach after Tom Glavine's, Sims watched and learned from Smoltz's approach.
"I always thought his stuff was so sick and whatnot. Honestly, I'm a bit of a mama's boy and that was her favorite pitcher. Mama liked him, I liked him."
Approximately 90 minutes after being selected by his hometown team, Sims found it difficult to describe exactly what he was feeling when he learned that he would have a chance to follow the same path that Smoltz and his other favorite Braves players have traveled.
"All of the emotions were running through my body," Sims said. "I was happy. I was excited. I hugged my mom, and we both got really emotional. All of the emotions running through me ... I can't even explain it. I'm speechless. It's unbelievable."
Because they did not offer arbitration to any rated free agents lost this past winter, the Braves do not have any compensation picks in this year's Draft. When the Draft resumes on Tuesday, their second-round pick will be the 85th overall selection.