The 2008 MLB Draft Class had already paid dividends for some teams. Players like Eric Hosmer, Buster Posey and Craig Kimbrel had already established themselves as All-Stars. Others like Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn are legitimate big league starters.
While all drafts have their share of disappointments, the 2008 draft class was chalk full of them, particularly at the top. We now sit nine years after the draft, which is ample time to adequately evaluate the draft. Yet, the first round looks far different now than it did back in March.
Nearly a decade after reaching professional baseball, some of the bigger names on draft day are finally starting to put it all together.
After pigeon-holing themselves as part-time players, the breakout campaigns have thrusted these players into everyday roles much to the pleasant surprise of their clubs.
When talking about busts-turned-successes from the draft, let’s start at the top: Tim Beckham. Beckham was the first overall pick in 2008, taken by the Tampa Bay Rays. He was the prototypical five-tool talent, but the 18-year-old was slow to adapt to professional ball. He’s still with the Rays and is finally getting a chance to play every day at short.
The now-27-year-old is hitting .280 with 10 home runs and a .765 OPS. He’s still prone to the strikeout, which is common on the Rays, but his power is real.
Speaking of power, the corner bats in this draft were supposed to be elite, but most didn’t quite pan out. Up until this year, that included a pair of slugging American League first basemen.
Hosmer gets all the publicity for this draft at the position and he’s currently leading in the AL All-Star game voting, but Yonder Alonso and Justin Smoak are right on his tail. The two were the No. 7 and No. 11 picks in the draft, respectively.
Alonso was taken by the Reds, traded to San Diego for Mat Latos and has since found his way to Oakland. The now-30-year-old has an OPS of .989 and has already hit 17 home runs. That’s eight more than his previous career high.
Alonso had established himself as a good defensive first baseman with limited power and an average, line-drive bat in the mold of Casey Kotchman. His career slugging percentage of .406 feeds into that. This year, however, he’s slugging .602 in 65 games. In addition to 17 bombs, he’s also hit 13 doubles while getting on base at a .387 clip.
The slugger made a huge adjustment in his swing path over the offseason, giving himself added leverage and greatly improving his launch angle. That’s allowed him to turn some of his line drives into homers.
Up in Toronto, Smoak has been just as good. He’s hitting for a little higher average with fewer walks, more homers and less doubles. He’s batting .306 with 20 homers and 48 RBIs. He’s putting up a .967 OPS and has been the best hitter according to OPS+ on the Jays, a team that includes Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales and Russell Martin.
It looked like the 30-year-old Smoak found a home north of the border the last few years, but in the Adam Lind role—a platoon first-baseman/designated hitter. For Alonso, the power is surprising. For Smoak, the average is the real shocker.
Smoak has hit for power before. He hit 20 homers in 2013 in Seattle and had 32 combined in his previous two years in Toronto. He could’ve easily topped 20 again either of those years had he been given enough at-bats, but his average—particularly against southpaws—just wasn’t good enough.
Smoak is a career .230 hitter with a .313 OBP. Even with above average power, he’s been nothing more than an average offensive player at a position that expects above-average production.
So, what’s the big difference this year? Well, he has a career .684 OPS against southpaws. Entering this weekend’s action, he was hitting .393 against them with a 1.096 OPS. Short answer: he’s no longer a platoon player. He’s also making better contact. While Alonso’s adjustment was launch angle, Smoak’s situation is different. He’s actually shortened his swing while maintaining his power.
Another over-due breakout from the 2008 class can be found in the outfield.
A lot of speculation has surrounded what has been driving the Yankees’ success this season. Even with their recent stumble, they still sit in the heat of the AL East race, far better off than most prognosticators expected. Sure, Aaron Judge, Matt Holliday and Gary Sanchez are important parts of that, but Aaron Hicks is another player that cannot be overlooked.
Taken as the No. 14 overall pick by the Twins in 2008, Hicks has always been a great defender, but the bat never developed in Minnesota. Last year in New York, Hicks hit .217 with a .281 OBP, essentially branding him as a glove-first fourth outfielder.
He started in that role here in 2017, but all he’s done is hit when given the chance. He’s batting .294 with a .404 OBP and .526 slugging percentage. His 10 home runs are one off his career high despite only half as many at-bats. His 37 RBIs are already a career high as are his 15 doubles and 37 walks. The improved power and patience really stand out.
With these players on board, look to the Rays, A’s, Jays or Yankees as potential targets in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests. The Yankees get the headlines, but they’re not the only ones in this group to over-achieve. The Rays are sitting over-.500 and Toronto’s flirting with breaking even despite its tough, injury-plagued start.