Last June marked the 10-year anniversary of the 2012 MLB Draft, led by the 1-2 punch of Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton at the top. A decade later, these former high school superstars have followed very different paths to the same destination: featuring as twin faces of the Twins franchise, now and going forward.
With this being the case, it’s fascinating to look back at how that draft played out, and to compare the career paths of other players taken in the top 10 who could’ve been in play for the Astros and Twins when they selected first and second overall.
Controversy at the Top
Although Correa and Buxton were viewed as two of the best high school talents to enter the draft in a long time, neither was the trendy top pick in mocks and projections. No, that would be Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, who was viewed as a surefire frontline starter with a quick path to the majors.
Leading up to the draft, Appel reportedly turned down a $6 million offer from the Astros, who possessed the number one pick. Houston turned their attention elsewhere, and so did the Twins – selecting second – and several other teams, as we’ll see.
The Appel dynamic is important to keep in mind as we run back through the top 10, pick by pick. In another scenario where the right-hander simply accepted the offer from his hometown team, rather than betting on himself and returning to Stanford, things could have played out very differently. Alas …
#1 Pick: Carlos Correa, SS – Astros
The Astros decided to go with the 17-year-old prep phenom from Puerto Rico. Correa had reportedly “blown away” Houston’s evaluators during pre-draft workouts, convincing them he was special enough to justify taking in front of the kid getting Bo Jackson comps out of Baxley, GA.
“They watched a 6-foot-3, 190-pound shortstop with staggering skills,” wrote Peter Gammons at the time. “Soft hands. Incredibly lithe feet, which allows him to maintain uncanny balance in his powerful swing and always catch grounders in position to throw.”
It’s unclear whether the Astros actually thought Correa was a better talent than Buxton, because their decision was also motivated by finances: signing the shortstop under-slot at $4.8 million enabled them to harvest their savings and lure prep pitcher Lance McCullers away from a college scholarship with a big bonus at 41st overall. (The Twins used a very similar strategy five years later, with Royce Lewis and Blayne Enlow.)
The rest, as they say, is history. Correa dominated the minors and rose in the top prospect rankings, topping out at #3 on MLB.com’s list in 2015 before he broke through to the majors and won Rookie of the Year.
The two names ahead of him in the top prospect ranks at that time? Number two Kris Bryant, and number one …
#2 Pick: Byron Buxton, OF – Twins
Buxton was widely viewed as the best prospect in the draft, so the Twins were thrilled to land him with the second pick. They paid a premium to sign him away from the University of Georgia, with Buxton’s $6 million bonus easily topping any other player in this draft (no one else even got $5 million) and beating Joe Mauer’s franchise record.
Buxton went on to do what was optimistically expected of him: he quickly became the consensus top prospect in the minors, reached the big leagues three years after being drafted (in fact, he debuted in the same week as Correa), and developed into one of MLB’s preeminent stars – albeit with a bit more of a learning curve and a lot more injury hiccups.
It’s interesting now to wonder what the Twins would’ve done if Houston followed the more straightforward route by drafting Buxton. Would they have taken Correa? That seems likely. In a retrospective on the leadup to the 2012 draft for The Athletic, Aaron Gleeman wrote about how dazzled the Twins were by Correa during a workout at Target Field.
“Minnesota’s brain trust of general manager Terry Ryan, vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff and scouting director Deron Johnson had Correa and Buxton as the top two prospects on their board, going back and forth on who should hold the top spot,” Gleeman shared.
How fortuitous to 10 years later have both locked up long-term.
#3 Pick: Mike Zunino, C – Mariners
The top college hitter in the draft was a big slugging catcher out of the University of Florida. Zunino was the best player on a Gators team that reached three straight College World Series. The Mariners signed him to a $4 million bonus, with the hopes that his advanced bat would rise quickly.
It did – Zunino reached the majors one year after being drafted – but he wasn’t destined for the same kind of star status as Correa and Buxton. The catcher has had a relatively successful big-league career, accruing 850 games played over 10 seasons, but didn’t quite turn into the two-stud Seattle envisioned.
Zunino signed a free agent deal with the Guardians in December so we’ll be seeing plenty of him in 2023.
#4 Pick: Kevin Gausman, RHP – Orioles
With arguably the top three position players off the board, the Orioles set their sights on trying to nab the best pitcher in the draft. While they might have felt it was Appel, Baltimore wasn’t looking to get involved in those hardball negotiations so instead they were left to choose between two standout collegiate arms: Gausman out of LSU or Kyle Zimmer out of the University of San Francisco. They made the right choice, albeit not one that would end up benefiting their franchise a ton.
Gausman quickly emerged as a top prospect, and was in the big leagues a year later at age 22. From there it took the righty a very long time to blossom into the frontline starter he would eventually become. He spent five mostly average years in Baltimore, then jumped around to Atlanta and Cincinnati before ending up in San Francisco where he finally turned the corner.
He parlayed a breakout season in 2021 into a $110 million contract with the Blue Jays, and made good on the first year by leading the AL in FIP and K/BB ratio.
Gausman was the top pitcher selected in the 2012 draft, and eventually fulfilled his promise, but not until a decade later when he was 30. I think that perspective is important to keep in mind for Twins fans underwhelmed by the fruits of this current front office’s pitching development efforts through seven years. It takes time.
#5 Pick: Kyle Zimmer, RHP – Royals
Of course, sometimes it just doesn’t take at all. Zimmer emerged at USF as a strikeout machine with huge upside, convincing Kansas City to take him fifth overall, but struggled with injuries and control issues in the minors.
His big K-rates kept him continually on the prospect radar, but it never really materialized in the majors for Zimmer. He made 83 appearances for the Royals from 2019 through 2021 – all but three in relief – and posted a 5.19 ERA.
Zimmer is still only 31 so it’s not unthinkable he could resurface, but that seems unlikely at this point. He was released from a minor-league contract by the Reds last summer after struggling in Triple-A, and is currently a free agent.
#6 Pick: Albert Almora, OF – Cubs
Almora is the type you often see drafted in the first round: a toolsy, athletic prep high schooler with big upside to dream on. He debuted at 22 and looked like he might be a real find early on, but Almora’s bat went the wrong way as poor plate discipline tanked his offensive game. (Another familiar story with this player profile.) Since 2019 he has slashed .219/.265/.344 for a 61 OPS+.
He’s still been hanging around as a glove-only outfielder, and played 64 games for the Reds last year in that capacity. He went unclaimed on waivers in September and is currently a free agent.
#7 Pick: Max Fried, LHP – Padres
Picking high school pitchers at the top of the MLB draft is hazardous, as the Twins would learn a year later with Kohl Stewart. Rarely does the decision work out as well as it did with Fried, but when it does, you can see why teams are willing to take the gamble.
Fried, a California high school standout committed to UCLA, was wooed away by San Diego’s $3 million signing bonus. He quickly emerged as a top prospect and was in the majors by 23 despite losing a year to Tommy John surgery.
The Padres traded Fried as a prospect, headlining the package to acquire Justin Upton in 2014. They’d probably like to take that one back. Fried has emerged in his late 20s as a bona fide ace in the Braves rotation, and finished runner-up for Cy Young last year.
#8 Pick: Mark Appel, RHP – Pirates
Finally, Appel’s long fall reached an end, when the Pirates selected him eighth overall. It was quite the fiasco. Apparently Pittsburgh had never even gotten in touch with Appel or his family before the draft, which set negotiations off on a sour note. They never recovered.
Appel reportedly turned down nearly $4 million, opting to return to Stanford as a senior and aim for a top-pick bonus in 2013. (It worked; he went first overall to Houston and signed for $6.35 million the next year.) Among the 60 players taken between the main and supplemental first rounds in 2012, Appel was the only player not to sign.
His agent? Scott Boras, naturally.
Appel’s career ended up being quite the odyssey. He flamed out in the minors and announced he was stepping away from baseball in 2018. Then, after several years off, Appel made a comeback in 2021, and worked his way back into the majors as a reliever for the Phillies last year.
A cool story, but little more. Appel threw 10 innings for Philly, experienced elbow inflammation, and then got DFA’ed after the season. He’s a free agent hunting for another chance in Triple-A.
#9 Pick: Andrew Heaney, LHP – Marlins
Drafted out of Oklahoma State University after a stellar junior season, Heaney became another example of how long it can take for things to come together with a pitching prospect. He established himself as an elite prospect and reached the big leagues at age 23, but Heaney endured a lengthy battle with the MLB learning curve.
From 2014 through 2021, a stretch of eight seasons spent mostly with the Angels, Heaney posted a 4.72 ERA and 4.45 FIP as one of the league’s most homer-prone starters. His big strikeout rates were never backed by truly outstanding results.
Last year, the Dodgers signed him to a cheap one-year deal, exercised careful usage with short outings (a Twins-like course of action, I will note), and extracted new levels of success. Heaney enjoyed a rejuvenated market this offseason, signing a two-year, $25 million deal with an opt out.
#10 Pick: David Dahl, OF – Rockies
Dahl has had a bit of a Buxton-like career, albeit to a different extreme. Drafted out of an Alabama high school, he got off to a fast start in the minors and climbed the prospect charts. But the sweet-swinging lefty had his own injury derailments along the way, including a torn hamstring in 2013 and a spleen laceration suffered on a collision in 2015, along with rib, back, ankle, foot, and shoulder issues.
He’s occasionally shown glimpses of his true potential, namely in 2019 when he batted .302 and made the All-Star team. But that season ended after 100 games, which remains the most he’s played in an MLB season. He didn’t play in the majors last year and is now on a minor-league deal with San Diego. He’s still only 28 but Dahl’s major-league future is on life support.
And there you have it. The 2012 draft included some other gems beyond the top 10, including Lucas Giolito (16th overall), Corey Seager (18th), Jose Berrios (32nd) and newly minted Twin Joey Gallo (39th).
But if the two teams at the top, Houston and Minnesota, could do it all over again, they probably wouldn’t change a thing – as illustrated by Keith Law making the same choices when he redrafted the 2012 MLB Draft at The Athletic.
Now, through a shocking twist of fate, the Twins will be building around both of those top two players for the next six years at least.
This news is republished from another source. You can check the original article here