SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — Hunter Greene was selected by Cincinnati as a pitcher, while Brendan McKay’s bat attracted Tampa Bay.
And in a Major League Baseball draft stocked with two-way talents at the top, the first-place Minnesota Twins went another way Monday night.
Surprise leaders in the AL Central after finishing 59-103 last year, the Twins spent their No. 1 pick on speedy Royce Lewis, a slick-fielding shortstop out of JSerra Catholic High School in California.
“We know he’s going to be a leader the second he steps on the field,” Minnesota chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said.
Greene was next to come off the board — and until he did, many wondered where he would fit as a pro.
The right-hander from California also played an impressive shortstop at Notre Dame High School, but a fastball that can reach 100 mph has the Reds projecting him as a future ace.
Featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated this season and labeled the big star baseball needs, Greene was the first of four prospects in attendance at the draft site to be selected.
“If there was ever a young man who could live up to a Sports Illustrated cover at age 17, I think Hunter’s that young man,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said.
Greene was asked to give a scouting report on himself as a pitcher.
“Man, I’m a monster,” he said, chuckling. “I’m different on the field than I am off the field. I’m just going to go out there and compete and challenge and pound the zone and go after guys like I know I can and like everybody else knows I can.”
And while the Reds drafted him as a pitcher, Greene sounded as though he still might have designs on playing the infield, too. Already there is talk he could be a designated hitter in the low minors when he’s not pitching.
“I don’t even know yet,” Greene said, wearing a Cincinnati cap and jersey. “I still love doing both and I think the ballclub is excited for getting two players for one. So I think they’re pretty pumped up for that, so we’ll see how it works out.”
At No. 3, the San Diego Padres selected North Carolina prep left-hander MacKenzie Gore, marking the first time since 1990 that the top three picks were all high school players.
Then it was McKay, another two-way star from Louisville, going fourth to the Rays as a first baseman.
McKay had teams considering whether they should draft him as a pitcher, hitter — or both. The Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year is batting .343 with 17 homers and 56 RBIs for the College World Series-bound Cardinals. He’s also 10-3 with a 2.34 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 104 innings on the mound.
He sounded happy to have a chance to keep hitting, and the Rays said they plan to give him an opportunity to pitch in the minors as well.
“It’s just awesome, getting to swing it every day, play every day,” McKay said in an interview with MLB Network. “It’s going to be fun to be involved, and being on the field a lot.”
McKay told the Tampa Bay Times that Minnesota made him an offer to be the first overall pick, but he thought he “could get a better offer from another team.”
It was the third time the Twins were up first — the previous year was 2001, when they grabbed hometown high school catcher Joe Mauer with the top choice.
The 18-year-old Lewis played both shortstop and outfield in high school. At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, he hit .377 with four homers and 25 stolen bases this season, establishing himself as a premier prospect with excellent speed and a solid bat.
But the Twins classified him as a shortstop when Manfred made the announcement at MLB Network studios.
“My body just went numb,” Lewis said during an interview with MLB Network. “It was an unbelievable feeling.”
Falvey said Minnesota’s choice came down to the waning minutes, and the decision to pass on Greene was “really tough.”
“We felt Royce separated himself from those other guys just a bit, and we feel like he’s somebody that we’ll build around for the future,” Falvey said.
Other things to know about the MLB draft:
Washington took left-hander Seth Romero at No. 25, even though he was dismissed from the University of Houston’s baseball program last month for repeated violations of school and athletic department policies. His mid-90s (mph) fastball, biting slider and easy delivery kept the Nationals interested. “We expect him to conduct himself with maturity and be a professional and be accountable for his actions,” general manager Mike Rizzo said.
Three players were picked high despite elbow injuries that could slow their progress. UC Irvine second baseman Keston Hiura went ninth to Milwaukee even though he was limited to DH duties this season and is expected to have surgery once he signs. The Yankees grabbed South Carolina right-hander Clarke Schmidt at No. 16 after he had Tommy John surgery this spring. And the Astros tabbed Florida prep prospect Joe Perez as a third baseman with the 53rd pick. Perez, also a pitcher in high school, plans to have Tommy John surgery soon.
Arizona high school third baseman Jacob Gonzalez, the son of former Diamondbacks slugger Luis Gonzalez, went 58th overall to San Francisco. … North Carolina State shortstop Joseph Dunand, nephew of Alex Rodriguez, was selected as a third baseman by the Marlins at No. 51. … New Mexico high school lefty Trevor Rogers got chosen 13th by Miami. He is the cousin of former Marlins outfielder Cody Ross. … Wake Forest first baseman Gavin Sheets, son of former Orioles outfielder Larry Sheets, was picked 49th by the Chicago White Sox. … Wisconsin-Milwaukee catcher Daulton Varsho, son of ex-big league outfielder Gary Varsho, went No. 68 to Arizona.
TEAMMATES AND TRENDS
College programs Vanderbilt, Virginia and North Carolina each had two players chosen in the first round, marking the 15th time in 16 years at least one pair of teammates (college or high school) was selected in the top round. … There were 18 college players picked in the first round, 12 high schoolers. … The opening round included 15 pitchers (nine right-handers), six outfielders, four first basemen, three shortstops, one second baseman and one third baseman. No catchers were chosen in the initial round for the first time since 2002. … It was the third time in the past 30 years that black players were chosen with the first two picks, and the first time since 1992 that three black players went in the top 10, according to MLB.
OFF THE BOARD
Alabama high school outfielder Bubba Thompson was the last of the four players at the draft to be selected, going to Texas with the 26th pick.
The draft continues with rounds 3-10 on Tuesday via conference calls with teams, and concludes Wednesday with rounds 11-40.
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