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    For MLB’s top draft picks, the minor-league trail is getting shorter
    • July 8, 2023

    In 2011, Ryan Brasier was pitching for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers when their parent club, the Angels, promoted him to Triple-A on July 4. Four days later, the Angels promoted Arkansas’ center fielder directly to the majors. Twelve years later, Mike Trout and Brasier are the only two players from that club still active in the major leagues.

    Brasier was unsurprised by how quickly Trout reached the big leagues, or by how long he’s persisted.

    “The best player on the club by far,” Brasier said of Trout. “Everybody could just tell. The ball coming off his bat, how he ran the bases – whatever it was, you could tell he was a level above everybody else.”

    Trout, the 25th pick in the 2009 draft, needed two years to reach the major leagues, debuting at age 19. Fast-tracking players to the majors was uncommon then and uncommon now. But at least some teams – especially the Angels – seem less afraid to try it.

    Angels shortstop Zach Neto, the 13th overall pick in last year’s amateur draft, has spent most of this season in the majors. He was recently joined by pitchers Ben Joyce, the Angels’ third-round pick, and ninth-round pick Victor Mederos.

    Last year, pitcher Chase Silseth debuted one year after the Angels drafted him. He’s since been joined by 13 other 2021 draft picks in the major leagues, including teammate Sam Bachman.

    The basics of this year’s Major League Baseball amateur draft, which begins Sunday in Seattle, are unchanged from a year ago. But the expectations are accelerating for how quickly a high-end player can reach the majors. You don’t have to be the next Mike Trout to be wearing a big-league uniform two years after your name is called at the draft.

    “The top five is a very clear top five,” ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel said on a conference call with reporters earlier this week. “It is the best top five in a dozen years.”

    Those five: LSU’s Dylan Crews and Paul Skenes; the University of Florida’s Wyatt Langford; Walker Jenkins, a high school outfielder from North Carolina; and Max Clark, another high school outfielder from Indiana. The three college players are among the early favorites to reach the majors first.

    Paul Skenes was one of the top players in the country as a pitcher and catcher for El Toro High in 2019. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Skenes, who arrived at LSU via the Air Force Academy and El Toro High School, has been called by some scouts “the best college pitcher in 20 years.” The right-hander finished the season 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings for the Tigers, who won the College World Series title.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates draft first, the Washington Nationals second. The consensus is that Skenes will not be available by the time the Detroit Tigers pick third. The draft will begin on MLB Network, ESPN and at 4 p.m.

    The Angels draft 11th and won’t pick again until the third round Monday, when coverage will shift exclusively to

    The Dodgers pick 36th. Their first pick was docked 10 spots when they exceeded the competitive balance tax threshold by more than $40 million last year. The Dodgers will also draft 60th, at the end of the second round.

    While the top five players might be more polished than usual, polish is not the determining factor in a major-league promotion it once was. Teams are not merely more willing to promote young players quickly because they are more developed now than when Trout debuted in 2011, or because they are more willing to teach at the major-league level. The consensus is that both things are true.

    “I don’t think development stops when you get to the major-league level,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said recently. “That’s our job, to keep making them better – and their teammates, really, teaching them how to learn.”

    Other local players to watch on Day 1 of the draft:

    Grand Canyon University shortstop Jacob Wilson, from Thousand Oaks
    Mississippi shortstop Jacob Gonzalez, from Glendora
    Huntington Beach High School catcher/first baseman Ralphy Velazquez, who is committed to Arizona State
    Aquinas High School third baseman/shortstop Eric Bitonti, who is committed to Oregon

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    ​ Orange County Register