Go out and play!

As most of you know, if you’ve ever heard me talk about it, or ever read my stuff, I’m a big fan of guys who sign early out of the Draft and get their careers started. I understand from the players’ (and advisors’) perspectives, waiting and using the deadline to their advantage in terms of getting larger pay days. Anyone who watched deadline day unfold can tell that it’s a very successful strategy.

But nothing beats playing. It’s not that those who signed late won’t be very good down the line. And it’s not like those who signed early are guaranteed success or to be better than those who held out. But getting some Minor League time in before the season ends has often helped speed a player’s ascent to the big leagues. Just ask Nationals closer Drew Storen, who signed immediately out of Stanford and now has 113 Major League appearances under his belt, all while just turning 24 a couple of weeks ago.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of those early signees and how they’re professional careers have begun:

Corey Spangenberg, Padres: No first rounder signed faster than Spangengerg. The No. 10 overall selection came to terms on June 10. As a result, he’s piled up 215 pro at-bats already. He dominated in the short-season Northwest League, hitting .384/.545/.535 with 10 steals over 25 games. That earned him a bump up to the full-season Midwest League. After hitting just .154 in 17 July games, the infielder has hit .375 in 16 August contests. He’s also had the opportunity to play second base full-time for the first time, putting him in good position to jump on the fast track in 2012.

Joe Panik, SS, Giants: He may have been a surprise first-round pick for many, but the No. 29 pick signed just a day after Spangenberg and has been raking in the short-season Northwest League. He leads the circuit with his .346 batting average and is third with his .405 OBP.  He’s even slugging .483 while swiping 12 bags.

Kevin Matthews, LHP, Rangers: All these college guys signing early is great, but when a high school arm gets going quickly, you have to love that. This Georgia prep product joined the Rangers on June 16 and has already gotten a taste of two levels, the rookie-level Arizona League and the more advanced Northwest League. Pitching largely in shorter outings, the 18-year-old No. 33 overall selection has nonetheless been impressive over 24 2/3 IP, allowing just 19 hits (.207 BAA) while striking out 26. He hasn’t been over-matched playing against largely college-age competiton in the NWL. If he breaks with a full-season team next year while other high school arms are staying back in Extended Spring Training, this is why.

Jake Hager, SS: One of the Rays’ 437 picks over the first couple of rounds, the Nevada area high schooler joined the organization on June 23. Taken No. 32 overall, Hager has put up modest numbers with Princeton in the rookie-level Appy League (.247/.287/.392), but he’s 39 games and 158 ABs richer than many of his contemporaries.

Kolten Wong, Cardinals: The No. 22 overall pick has had no trouble adjusting to the Midwest League, going right to Quad Cities after signing on June 25. The second baseman hit .432 in 10  August games before landing on the disabled list with a tweaked hammy. Overall, Wong is hitting .327/.386/.500 over 40 games.

C.J. Cron, Angels: The Utah product signed on June 28 and even though he needs shoulder surgery, he’s been able to get some professional ABs under his belt first. Playing for Orem in the Pioneer League, the first baseman has hit .308/.371/.629 with 13 homers in just 143 at-bats.

July 25 was a good day for a couple of college pitchers who bucked the typical trend. No. 3 pick Trevor Bauer (Diamondbacks) and No. 18 Sonny Gray both signed early (I have no problem with college pitchers who threw a ton of innings taking a break before signing). Gray has had two scoreless outings in the Double-A Texas League. He’s not piling up innings, but just the taste — and the fact he’s in Double-A now — shows how quickly he can move. Bauer, of course, is the best example. Guys in the top five, unless they are signability picks, don’t sign early. He’s now made two Double-A starts, totalling 10 innings, where he’s struck out 16, walked only four while allowing just eight hits. Look for him in Arizona’s bullpen come September.

Those are just the first rounders. I’ll be back soon to talk about the supplemental guys on down who have made a strong first impression.

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