The opening night of the 2013 first-year player draft was full of surprises.
While everyone expected Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray and Kris Bryant to be the first three players selected, the order in which they came off the board was certainly a surprise. The Houston Astros got things rolling by drafting Appel first overall, which prompted the Chicago Cubs to bypass the flame-throwing Gray en route to selecting Bryant, the top slugger in the class.
However, the surprises didn’t end there, as the Kansas City Royals decided to save money by drafting Hunter Dozier with the eighth pick, while the Tampa Bay Rays had Arkansas ace Ryne Stanek fall into their lap at No. 29.
But for the nine players in attendance last night at MLB Network Studios in Seacaucus, N.J., the draft was more about a once-in-a-lifetime experience on national television rather than simply a who’s-going-where event.
I was lucky to be on location for the draft on Thursday night and had the opportunity to speak with the players following their respective selections in the first round.
Here is what some of the big league hopefuls had to say.
What was it like to be drafted in the first round tonight? What emotions did you feel?
Dominic Smith (No. 11, New York Mets): I’m excited…shaking. I can’t stop smiling. I can’t wait until I can actually get on the field and play with the New York Mets. It still hasn’t hit me yet really…I’m at a loss for words.
J.P. Crawford (No. 16, Philadelphia Phillies): I’m speechless honestly. It’s a moment that I will never forget. Knowing that I’m on a professional team is…unbelievable.
Tim Anderson (No. 17, Chicago White Sox): Man. I’m so excited right now. I don’t even remember who I talked to on the phone after my name was called. It kind of brought tears to my eyes, but I’m not going to show it. Definitely relieved, too.
Nick Ciuffo (No. 21, Tampa Bay Rays): My heart is still about to jump out of my chest. I have to keep my hands in my pockets because they’re still shaking.
Ian Clarkin (No. 33, New York Yankees): I feel so blessed to be part of such a historic franchise. It’s a true blessing from God. I did have to wait a little bit, but it did make me realize how great this organization is. I’m excited and relieved.
On experiencing the draft at MLB Network Studios with their peers.
Clint Frazier (No. 5, Cleveland Indians): I knew that I’d have a lot on my mind going into the draft, especially once I got here I knew that it’d be time consuming and I’d have time to see some sights and hang out with my family and just enjoy my moment with them rather than sit at home and wait for things to happen.
Smith: I wasn’t really nervous…more excited than nervous. I’ve been playing against some of the other guys here for the last couple of years, so it’s great to see everyone here and enjoy tonight with them.
Aaron Judge (No. 32, New York Yankees): This has been unbelievable. Just being out here with my family and meeting all these great guys in New York is amazing.
Billy McKinney (No. 24, Oakland Athletics): It’s absolutely awesome. It’s a great experience meeting all these other players and getting insight from them. There’s a lot of former big leaguers here who’ve told me about how it is and I’m so thankful I got to talk with everyone. I know a lot of other people would love to be in my shoes, and I’m just thankful that I got to be here and get picked.
Anderson: I didn’t decide until late to come here for tonight. I wasn’t sure about where I was going to go in the draft but got an idea over the last couple days and came out here. Great decision. I’m very excited.
Ciuffo: Tonight has been awesome. Had someone told me that I’d be sitting in New Jersey watching the MLB draft in person, in the studio, I probably would have told you that you need to go see a doctor. About three weeks ago we were on our way to the second state championship game and I got an email saying I’m invited, and I jumped out of my seat in the middle of the interstate and was going nuts.
On whether they knew which organization would draft them.
Smith: Yeah, I was hoping the Mets would take me. I’ve been talking to them and their area scout for years, and my mom is actually from there (New York), so my entire family is really happy.
McKinney: You know, I wasn’t sure. I guess I had an idea they were interested but wasn’t sure if they were going to pick me or not, and I just thank God that they did.
Frazier: It depended on who Houston took, honestly, because if they took someone we weren’t expecting to go there, I might have continued to fall. But I had an idea given the interest the Indians had shown in me and it worked out the right way.
Ciuffo: There was no way I could be sure, but I had a pretty good feeling that they might take me.
Clarkin: It’s funny. They put my name and picture up on the jumbotron at Yankee Stadium today, and I just had a feeling inside me that there was something special to that.
Right before the Yankees made their first of two picks, I told him that I had a feeling we might be teammates and hopefully roommates in the future.
On what aspect of their game will excite fans the most.
Crawford: I think my defense is the aspect of my game that will surprise people the most. I’ve worked hard at it and pride myself on it.
McKinney: I love to play the game as hard as I can all the time.
Frazier: I love the fact that people don’t expect me to have the power I do, and I’ve had a lot of people tell me I’m going to be a fan favorite because of my hair—you don’t see a lot of red heads out there—and I love that people out there are putting me on this pedestal because of it…acting like no one else out there has red hair.
Also my personality, I’m very confident. I think confidence is what drives my game. I’m very outgoing and welcoming to others, and not one to shy away from a conversation, so hopefully people like that.
Anderson: The way I hit. I’m a gap-to-gap guy with some surprising power. I’m aggressive: I like to go get the ball. I compare myself to Jose Reyes because I think we kind of have the same tools package. We both have a lot of speed, and I think that’s my best tool.
Ciuffo: My leadership. I feel like I can bring guys together and am really good at interacting with different kinds of people and kind of being that vocal leader in the dugout, clubhouse and on the field.
Clarkin: Control and command my pitches. That’s the biggest thing for me and will be for my future—commanding all three pitches.
On receiving advice from current and former players.
Smith: He (Darryl Strawberry) told me to take it all in and enjoy it. He grew up in L.A. too and I’m excited that he’ll be a part of my development and be there along the way.
Anderson: He (Frank Thomas) told me, “Welcome to a great organization, but it’s time to get to work." It made me really excited. I’ve never been to Chicago, so I’m really excited to get there.
Crawford, from cousin Carl Crawford: Just enjoy the day, because something good is probably going to happen.
Clarkin: I’ve gotten a lot of advice that this is just the beginning; it’s not the say-all, end-all. In a couple of months, I probably won’t remember this night at all. David Eckstein just told me to keep my head down and keep working hard and I’ll get there.
On touring New York City and Yankee Stadium.
Smith: This place is amazing. New York is a beautiful city and great place to be.
Frazier: We got a double-decker bus that had David Wright’s face on the side of it, and we got to ride around and see Times Square. We toured Yankee Stadium, and I got my picture taken at Jackie Robinson’s monument. So that was awesome.
Judge: We were just talking about how short it (Yankee Stadium) was, so hopefully I'll get to play there and hit some out.
Ciuffo: This has been an amazing experience for the tour earlier today, to the tour of Yankee Stadium, the Fan Cave…everything has been awesome.
Clarkin: Sports in New York is everywhere…on billboards, buildings…everywhere. Everyone takes pride in the Yankees.
You know, I was kind of upset when they tore down the old stadium and put up the new one, but after being there today, it’s just incredible. There’s nothing better than that. The clubhouse was probably my favorite part, and going to center field and seeing all the plaques and feeling that history was probably the most exciting thing in the world.
Clint Frazier on good friend and fellow first-rounder Austin Meadows.
Frazier: We’ve been playing together and doing this since we were nine years old, so I obviously wish the best for him and plan on calling him when I’m done here.
I think having Austin around as a player has pushed me and made me work harder every single day because I kind of lived in his spotlight up until the summer. He had so many people coming to see him that it got me a lot of exposure, and I don’t think I’d be in this spot without him.
J.P. Crawford and Dominic Smith on the impact of the Urban Youth Academy on their respective careers.
Smith: Since I was 11 I went there every summer, and they took us places and got us exposure, and I probably wouldn’t be here today without that. It’s a place that’s helped kids become better people.
Crawford: I don’t think I’d be here without them. I’d been going there since I was young and they helped me work on my fundamentals and got me exposed. So, I thank them very much.
Clint Frazier on his favorite team and players (or lack thereof).
Frazier: Not many people know, but I didn’t watch a lot of baseball growing up. I watched a lot of clips here and there, but never really sat down and watched baseball that much because I can’t sit there and enjoy the game if I’m not in it.
Nick Ciuffo on what it means (as a catcher) to be selected by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Ciuffo: I can’t think of a better organization to be going into right now. I talked to Taylor Guerrieri probably about a week ago and he told me there isn’t a better organization to be a part of.
They develop young talent and get them to the big leagues, so I’m excited to go in there and learn from their hitting guys and roving catching guys, and seeing if I can get up there.
Ian Clarkin on being a Red Sox fan.
Clarkin: You know, this isn’t a good way to start, but I was a Boston fan, so when I bring that Yankees hat around I’m going to get a lot headaches from my friends.
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