- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
High school pitcher Brady Aiken was the lucky first overall selection in the MLB 2014 Rule 4 draft Thursday night, and if history is our guide, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll end up in the major leagues someday, but no guarantees of success. Aiken, as well as everybody drafted, is really not at all fantasy relevant today, unlike in football and basketball drafts. He’s just 17; as colleague Christopher Crawford wrote, we probably don’t see Aiken until 2017. But as the draft continues Friday, let’s take a look at how No. 1 picks are faring this season, in actual Player Rater rank (which might surprise many). And yes, there are only nine former top picks in the majors this season.
Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves (2005, 27th on the Rater): His owners never seem to be satisfied with his performance, but the No. 11 outfielder on the Rater -- Mike Trout is ninth, incidentally -- is on pace for 36 home runs, 92 RBIs and 17 steals, which would be his best season. Sure, he strikes out a ton and he’s streaky, just try not to watch when he’s going bad. There’s lots of good.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers (2000, 59th on the Rater): On pace for what would be his fourth career 30-homer, 100-RBI campaign (he’s been close a few other times), Gonzalez owners also aren’t happy. He’s hitting .259 when his career mark is .292. My advice: Buy, because the peripherals look fine, he’s walking and the BABIP is 50 points below career mark. And he’s a top-10 first baseman.
Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals (2009, 75th on the Rater): It’s actually a wise time to buy low here, too. Strasburg’s 5-4 record is misleading (as win-loss records often are). His 3.10 ERA comes with a 2.39 FIP. The K rate is up and the walk rate is down, and I feel like his team is about to go on some kind of 30-10 run like last season’s Dodgers. Oh, Strasburg is not brittle, despite common opinion.
David Price, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (2007, 108th on the Rater): This one’s strange, but again, buy low quickly. Price might be with the Texas Rangers or the Dodgers by August, but 101 strikeouts versus nine walks is just crazy. His FIP is also a run better than his current elevated ERA. A big second half is pending for some team.
Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates (2011, 155th on Rater): The sophomore has been all alone among the team’s starters, which is why another playoff run isn’t likely. Cole isn’t an ace; his walk and hit rates are a bit high, leading to a 1.30 WHIP. Own him and who knows, he could win 15 games, but he’s not showing signs of a future ERA titlist. Not yet.
Joe Mauer, C/1B, Minnesota Twins (2001, 271st on Rater): OK, here’s a guy struggling, and the fans in his hometown of Minneapolis have noticed, but still, he’s the No. 10 catcher (which says much about the position). It doesn’t match Mauer’s ADP, and maybe his fourth batting title isn’t likely, but he’s not hurting a fantasy team. He’s certainly not helping one in power, though.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Los Angeles Angels (1999, 513th on Rater): He’s played only 11 games thanks to a thumb injury, and hasn’t looked so disciplined at the plate the past few days, so the jury remains out. I think he can return to top-20 outfielder status, but don’t expect it. Hamilton did hit 43 homers in 2012 and he’s not swinging at everything anymore, but again, it’s 11 games.
Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals (2010, 587th on Rater): Likewise, a thumb injury has him still on the shelf for another month or more, but people are already calling him a monumental bust. He’s not. He’s 21. Invest. The 30-homer season comes next year, though.
AL report: Trout was the 25th pick in 2009, but the big story recently was a back injury that some feared would cost him a few weeks. He missed three games, and on Thursday, he doubled and tripled. … New York Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury stole two bases Thursday and now is on pace for 49. Again, maybe you expected considerably more power because of the right field porch in his home stadium, but he’s doing what he was supposed to. … Speaking of steals, Houston Astros rook Jon Singleton swiped his first Thursday. This guy is fun! Of course, he tied George Springer for the season, and Springer has played 44 games. It’s a major part of Springer’s value that hasn't come through. … Combo meal for Tampa Bay outfielder Kevin Kiermaier. Who? He’s the right-handed fill-in for Wil Myers, and there is modest upside. … Kansas City Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura outdueled St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha, going six innings after an elbow injury derailed him last week. Ventura did, however, strike out only one hitter. Be careful here. It’s a trap! Wacha is definitely more valuable, for comparison. … You can’t drop Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander. You can trade him. And no, I don’t see this improving soon. … Why do the Toronto Blue Jays keep playing excellent third baseman Brett Lawrie at second base? Because Juan Francisco can kind of play third, and he hit his 10th home run Thursday. So did Lawrie. And Melky Cabrera. Blue Jays are legit.
NL report: Miami Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna homered and knocked in four Thursday, and he’s on pace for 30 home runs and 105 RBIs. He gets lost between Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, but Ozuna, who might hit around .250 due to strikeout rate, isn’t a fluke. … Washington Nationals right-hander Doug Fister was the latest to overpower the popgun Philadelphia Phillies offense (this weekend it’s the Cincinnati Reds), but Fister has has won four consecutive starts, and he’s walked two hitters. All season. … Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco was hitting .377 a mere 10 games ago. After Thursday’s hitless performance, he’s down to .324. This was expected, but Mesoraco can remain a top-10 catcher with his power. Just don’t assume it. … Khris Davis of the Milwaukee Brewers smacked his 10th home run Thursday. Chris Davis of the Orioles has eight. Of course he does. … It’s a combo meal for Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon. Ah, Coors Field! Did you know only three players have already reached double digits in home runs and steals, a season combo meal if you will? It’s Blackmon, Brian Dozier and Carlos Gomez. Michael Brantley is close.
Closer report: Gotta love the one-pitch save for the Jays’ Casey Janssen. It’s how he’s into double-digit saves after only 12 outings. … How good is Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances? He fanned only one of three hitters in a scoreless outing Thursday, and his owners wanted to know why that was all. Keep investing, even sans save potential this season. … On the Mets side, Jenrry Mejia didn’t fare so well entering down 5-4 in the eighth as he quickly made it 7-4 Cubs. I still think another Met is closing by the end of June. … The second outing of Cam Bedrosian's career couldn’t have gone much worse. The Angels right-hander and perhaps future closer walked four of the five hitters he faced, and three scored. He might be back in the minors any minute. … Houston's Chad Qualls last permitted a run on April 19, 17 appearances ago. And he has three saves the past week. He’s out there in half of ESPN’s standard leagues, but really should not be.
Have a great weekend, and best of luck with your teams!