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Austin Meadows vs Clint Frazier is shaping up to be one of the best head-to-head position player prospect battles in recent draft memory. That was my thesis. I was going to leave it at that and just ramble on about the relevant 2013 prospects that people come to this site to read about, but, as is my wont, I got distracted and lost track of my goal. Although, in this rare case, my distraction actually led me back to an attempt to validate the original thesis. Before we go on, I should point out that there’s a chance that Ryan Boldt, Trey Ball, and Justin Williams could join the conversation as top prep outfielder before long. For the sake of this discussion, however, we’ll restrict our look back to the best head-to-head position player prospect battles over the past few years.
SS Carlos Correa, OF Byron Buxton, and C Mike Zunino were all consensus top prospects at their respective positions this past June, though there were some who had Albert Almora and even David Dahl on the same level as Buxton in the outfield. Close, but not quite at the level I think the Meadows vs Frazier debate will reach this spring.
2011 was so packed with pitching that few wasted the key strokes needed to debate top hitting talent. Like 2012, there was a clear gap between the class’ top infielder (Anthony Rendon) and top outfielder (Bubba Starling) and everybody else. Francisco Lindor vs Javier Baez at shortstop might wind up being a fascinating head-to-head shortstop battle to watch, if recent happy reports on Baez’ ability to stick up the middle are to be believed. I can’t count that, however, due to the consensus belief that Baez was destined for third base at the time of the draft.
2010 featured a bizarre group of position players taken earlier than I had personally expected — Manny Machado, Christian Colon, Delino DeShields, Michael Choice, Yasmani Grandal, Jake Skole, Kellin Deglan, Christian Yelich, Zack Cox, Kyle Parker, Chevy Clarke, and Cito Culver were all drafted at least ten spots earlier than where they placed on my pre-draft big board. The only exceptions to that rule were Bryce Harper (ranked 1/drafted 1), Josh Sale (14/17), Kolbrin Vitek (24/20), and Justin O’Conner (12/31). The two hitters I had after Harper on that pre-draft list were Austin Wilson and Nick Castellanos. Weird year, yet still no interesting head-to-head position battles.
The 2009 first round was Stephen Strasburg and the Stras-ettes. Beyond Strasburg, Dustin Ackley was the clear favorite for best pure bat and Donavan Tate got plenty of love for his raw upside, but the hitting talent that year wasn’t what anybody would call exciting on the whole. There was this Mike Trout character who apparently every team picking after the Angels had second ion their board, but that’s revisionism at its very best.
When people talk best draft’s of all-time, I think 2008 deserves to be at or near the top of the list. By my best guess, I think it is fair to say that 27 of the 30 first rounders that year will play big league baseball. Just making the big leagues might not seem like a successful career on the micro-level, but when you consider the overall success rate of first round players in the macro then you see how special it is to have 90% of a first round class play at the highest levels. 2008 really was a great first round.
Quick diversion starting…now! The previous (pre-diversion warning) statement is made all the more amazing when you consider that 2008 was then known as the year of the first baseman. Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace, David Cooper, Ike Davis, and Allan Dykstra were all college bats projected to play first base at a high level in the pros. Eric Hosmer, the third overall pick and a guy selected before all of the college players, was seen as one of the safest prep hitting prospects in years. It is obviously too early to make any final declarations on the 2008 first base class, but, going by Baseball Reference’s WAR (like everybody I prefer Fangraphs, but it is easier to see stats for draft years all in one place at B-R), the seven first round first basemen have combined for a grand total WAR of 5.2. Davis alone accounts for 4.0 of that total. All that and I still think the 2008 class is impressive. All we need now is for Dykstra, Reese Havens, and Anthony Hewitt to crack the big leagues and we’ll have a perfect 30-for-30. Alright, diversion over.
All of that is a circuitous way of saying that 2008 might have been the most recent example of a hotly contested position battle atop the draft. First base was fairly wide open that year: Hosmer, Alonso, Smoak, and even Wallace each had fans backing one over the other as top 2008 first baseman. Meadows vs Frazier could finally give us a battle at the top of the draft worth watching. Meadows vs Frazier vs Boldt vs Ball vs Williams – now that would be something. Add in Austin Wilson and Aaron Judge to the mix? Now we’re just getting greedy…