Bubba Starling’s home run off Brad Hand in the ninth inning Sunday was an annoying little speedbump to an eventual Tribe victory, but it was also something more. A reminder, to those who pay attention, of perhaps the greatest MLB draft first round ever.
Now, it’s too soon to say how good any of the most recent handful of drafts were or will be. And when you consider a draft writ large, all 30 or so rounds, the parameters change. But in terms of first rounds, there may never be another like 2011.
Starling was drafted 5th overall by the Royals and made his debut on July 12, becoming the 28th of the first 30 picks from 2011 to make it to the major leagues. Given the number of players who never make it that far, it is rather remarkable that so many first round picks have gotten to the big leagues. The 2011 class has the most top-30 picks to have appeared at this level and, with Danny Hultzen at Triple-A Iowa (Cubs) and Levi Michael at Triple-A Sacramento (Giants), the last two members are just a phone call away from the big leagues.
Starling’s home run against the Indians on Sunday is not the only reason this is noteworthy for Tribe fans, of course. Many fans may not need reminded who the Indians picked in 2011, but for those who did not pick up on it right away, it’s the individual with the greatest bWAR of any player in that draft. If that didn’t make you smile, you’re not enjoying Francisco Lindor enough.
The collection of talent drafted in the first round in 2011 is truly amazing, which should go without saying given how many players have reached the MLB level. But it really does bear repeating because these guys are awesome. In sum, the top 30 from 2011 have compiled 210.8 bWAR as of this writing. A number that is sure to rise, as these players are in their prime. At an average age of roughly 28 this year (via Eno Sarris’s average ages), the opportunity to increase that sum is huge, even more so considering the high school players, like Lindor (who was a young draftee to boot), who are just entering those prime years.
Top 30 picks
|Year||No. top 30 to reach MLB||bWAR|
|Year||No. top 30 to reach MLB||bWAR|
Since 2000, only three first rounds have produced more bWAR than the 2011 group: 2006, 2005, and 2002. (A fun aside: Mike Trout was drafted in 2009 and his 70.5 bWAR represents 34% of that entire class’s total.) Given that the approximate age of the youngest of those groups (2006) is now 33, it seems unlikely their totals will have serious gains in the years to come. The 2011 class will. Guaranteed.
After Lindor (26.8 bWAR), others to already crack 20 bWAR in their career include Anthony Rendon (24.3), George Springer (21.7), and Gerrit Cole (20.1). Many more seem primed to clear that and more, such as Javy Baez (15.2) and Kolton Wong (13.0). Oh, one other player will almost certainly keep adding value to the team he is on, Trevor Bauer, who is currently at 16.3 bWAR.
The combination of Lindor and Bauer (43.1) just edges the Astros’ duo of Springer and Cole (41.8) to give Cleveland the greatest return from the 2011 first round, which is a great testament to the Indians’ skill in recognizing young talent. The 2011 draft currently stands as the high-water mark of Brad Grant’s tenure with the team, in which his leadership as scouting director (now vice president of baseball operations, strategy and administration) netted the fourth-best first round pick in team history (and rising, as Lindor needs just 3.9 more bWAR to surpass Greg Swindell for third).
The draft is a bit of a different beast now, as 2011 was the last year before payment structure changed, with slot values assigned to each pick. And the 2016 draft may be more special overall when the likes of Nolan Jones and Will Benson (and trade acquisition Daniel Johnson) join Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, and Zach Plesac in cracking the big league roster. But 2011 will always be incredible, as it was the year when, among a great talent pool, the Indians drafted a generational player. Let’s enjoy it.