PHOENIX — It’s a curious time for the Arizona Diamondbacks. While Day One of the MLB Draft marked a new era for the organization, eyebrows were raised.
Paul Goldschmidt has been a cornerstone in the Valley for nearly seven seasons and the face of the Diamondbacks organization during that time. He’s a four-time All-Star, has won two Gold Glove Awards and has finished second in National League MVP voting twice.
Yet with its first overall pick on Monday, Arizona selected left-handed hitting first baseman Pavin Smith from the University of Virginia.
“As of now, I’m a first baseman,” Smith said on a conference call with reporters. “I consider myself a versatile player, though. I can play the outfield if I need to.”
“He’s going to go out as a first baseman,” Director of Scouting Deric Ladnier said.
The front office has been known to trade away high picks in the past, noted by the Dansby Swanson, Touki Toussaint and Trevor Bauer trades. Goldschmidt is signed through 2019 with a club option and although it’s difficult to foresee the franchise parting ways with him, the selection of Smith does raise questions.
In three seasons for the Cavaliers in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Smith had the second-most RBI in school history with 178 and also hit 28 home runs. His 77 RBI this season were a single-season Cavaliers record and ranked fourth nationally.
Although he can play both first base and the outfield, Smith is considered to be much more of a threat with the bat than he is with his glove.
Regarding the feel of a new era in Arizona, this year brings along new front office management. During the offseason, Tony La Russa, Dave Stewart, and De Jon Watson were all removed from their respective positions after a disastrous 2016 campaign.
Following their departures, Arizona hired Mike Hazen, Amiel Sawdaye and Jared Porter, all from the Boston Red Sox, to become its general manager and assistant general managers, respectively. With them, a new wave of optimism and personality were brought on board.
Ladnier was vocal about the new transition for the ball club.
“We have a new group of people in here that brought in some new and fresh ideas that I think are very applicable to the game,” Ladnier said. “To be able to blend that with a new personality and analytics, the transition of that is very evident in our first three selections.”
Since 2008, the Diamondbacks have selected a pitcher with their first overall pick eight out of 12 times. A stark difference was notable following the first round.
Arizona selected established collegiate bats with each of its first three picks in a draft that lacks many and something the organization hasn’t done in some time.
“We wanted to target polished, college bats with our top picks and that’s exactly what we did,” Ladnier said. “We’re very pleased with the players we were able to select.”
After Smith, the Diamondbacks selected third baseman Drew Ellis from the University of Louisville with the 44th overall pick. He’s another guy that won’t be expected to shine on the defensive side but has evident power at the plate and has the ability to hit to all fields.
“We were in on (Drew) since the beginning of the season,” Ladnier said. “We love this kid. He has a very professional stroke.”
Through 62 games this season, Ellis is hitting .367 with 20 home runs, 18 doubles, a .457 on-base percentage and a .729 slugging percentage. The organization and fans will have the opportunity to watch him on a national stage for Louisville in the College World Series, beginning Saturday.
With its final pick of the day, Arizona chose catcher Daulton Varsho from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Varsho is the son of former major-league Gary Varsho, who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1982 and played for four clubs over eight professional seasons.
“He’s someone else who we feel has been an elite, college hitter,” Ladnier said. “He has a very short swing, very compact, and very powerful.”
He led the Horizon League in average (.362), slugging percentage (.643), OBP (.490), triples and walks. It is quite the stat sheet for the Horizon League Player of the Year in 2016.
Sitting at 39-26 entering Tuesday’s game at Detroit, the Diamondbacks are off to one of their best starts in franchise history. Their 26-9 record at home is the best in baseball.
Arizona will select 38 more player before the draft concludes Wednesday. And although the future of the franchise is uncertain, the here and now looks promising. It’s up to new management to keep the promise on the horizon.
For Ladnier, it’s evident that he’s on board with the brand new approach.
“It gives you a bigger and much greater perspective… it creates a funnel of who you really want,” he said. “It’s a new blend. It’s refreshing.”