For a long, long time, this draft has been The Stephen Strasburg Show (I'd like to think I played a part in that around here). And let's not take anything away from Strasburg. He's major league ready right now, and what he's done in college is nothing short of insane. He's had a lot of hype over the last few months, but you'd be hard pressed to argue that he doesn't deserve it. What can you possibly find fault with in a guy who throws high 90s with control of the fastball, a wicked curve, and a real, honest to goodness changeup? Strasburg is a monster, and we should all be ruing that sweep of Oakland last autumn that took us out of contention for him. But all of the hype for SAS seems to have dampened expectations for the rest of the draft, which is a little unfair. This isn't exactly the weakest crop in the world. Let's dive in:
This group is, of course, led by SDSU right-hander Stephen Strasburg. But beyond His Imperial Majesty lies a reasonable crop of arms, boosted by two high-end talents who remained unsigned from last year's draft. Tanner Scheppers and Aaron Crow, who've both been pitching in the independent leagues, have pretty good cases to go towards the top end of the draft, with Crow almost being a lock. As has been said time and time again, Scheppers may have the second best array of pure stuff in the draft, throwing a mid-high 90s fastball, but weak command and an extremely worrisome shoulder injury have him dropping on draft boards. Of the two, I take Crow much higher, but mileage may vary.
The college ranks are also extremely deep. Up until his last start, where his velocity went away and his arm started hurting, Kyle Gibson looked like a sure bet to go in the first ten picks. Now things are looking a lot dicier, and Mike Leake has probably established himself as Strasburg's runner up. Gibson and Leake seem pretty similar to me, actually: they're both guys without the stuff of some of the other arms available but with excellent control and good heads for pitching. Alex White, out of UNC, has great stuff as well but has suffered a roller coaster year that's seen him lose his slider one day and get hammered, and then look brilliant on his next outing. Some see White as a future reliever. Beyond the top guys lie a host of other names. Be familiar with Rex Brothers, Chad Jenkins, Chad James, Kyle Heckathorn, Mike Minor, and Joe Paxton, among others. We'll almost certainly be able to pick up one of these guys with the #27 should we chose to go down that route. This is a pretty incredibly draft for college starters, if only because there are so many first/second round guys.
High school is also interesting, featuring a number of very good players wanting a lot of money. LHP Tyler Matzek leads the field here, but Jacob Turner and Matt Purke can make legitimate claims to the crown as well. Matzek is a fastball/curve guy who needs to develop a change, but both of those pitches are very advanced for his age and he commands the ball reasonably well. Turner is a good bet to go high in the first due to his absurd fastball velocity combined with an affinity with the breaking ball and changeup. Although he's asking for Porcello money, it'd be a huge shock to see him fall like Porcello did. Leftie Purke, on the other hand, may well fall to the Mariners at #27. It's not often than you see a high school lefthander who can throw low-mid 90s with his fastball as well as command one of the best breaking pitches in the high school ranks, but his alleged $3.5M bonus demands seem to be scaring some teams off. Shelby Miller is also interesting, but he's a little behind Turner in more or less every department. Other names: Zach Wheeler, Garret Gould, Tyler Skaggs.
Only an idiot would draft a relief pitcher.
High schoolers dominate the catching ranks this year, and there's an interesting crop of late first-rounders available. Max Stassi and Will Myers have been mentioned plenty, both of them showing extremely an advanced plate approach for high schoolers, with swings that hint at future power - especially in Stassi's case. The real difference between the two is defence: While Stassi has has arm problems, his receiving is apparently pretty good, while Myers really doesn't have much experience behind the dish. If it's a college catcher you're looking for, Tony Sanchez out of Boston College fits the bill. Unfortunately he's a little bit boring to write about, as he's pretty much the most generic guy possible. Average receiving, average arm, averagy power, maybe below average contact. But put that all together in a college pick and you have a late first-round catcher. You'll note that I've yet to discuss Steve Baron, who's been heavily linked to our #33 pick. The reason I bring him up after the real first round catchers is that he's a third rounder. On the plus side, he's supposedly a wonderful defensive catcher. On the other hand, his bat's been questioned non-stop. He answered a few of those questions with a good performance at the recent showcase in Sebring, but nobody thinks he's a first rounder on talent. If we take him, it'll be to compensate for going over slot at #27.
Generally, you don't get too many high schoolers drafted as first basemen because athleticism trumps everything in high school prospects and athleticism is not generally abundant in first basemen. College is where you'll find the sedentary mashers who'll wake up long enough to deposit a ball in the seats before lumbering around first pretending to play defence, and, well, that's not Rick Poythress, who's the only college 1B of note this year (Dustin Ackley doesn't count). He's not a terrible defender, and although he hits a lot of home runs his power comes to all fields and he's good enough at contact to maintain a reasonable average. This is an extremely light crop, but you don't really want to be drafting first basemen this high anyway, unless they have an extremely special bat.
Third is where you'll find more high school sluggers, and Bobby Borchering doesn't disappoint. With the ability to not be a total disaster at third base and a huge amount of raw power combined with the ability to make good contact, he's almost certain to be gone by the time pick #20 passes by. Matt Davidson, another high schooler, is interesting too, offering a similar package to Borchering but his stock has been slipping lately as he's struggled in showcases with both the bat and the glove, leading some to believe he's slow to adjust to more advanced levels of play. Not too many college third basemen to speak of, though.
9 months ago, when LL was recovering from the collective shock of not being in line to draft Stephen Strasburg, three other potential picks were laid out: Grant Green, Alex White, and Dustin Ackley. After a phenomenal showing in the Cape Cod League (a highly-regarded summer tournament for college players, using wood bats) last summer, Green looked poised to go very high in the upcoming draft, drawing comparisons to a freaky hybrid of Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria. Unfortunately for Green, he didn't build on that performance at all, putting up an average-y season with the bat while taking steps backward in the power and defence department. Although he should still be able to stick at shortstop as a professional, Green isn't looking like a future gold glover anymore, and it'd be a surprise if he became nearly the impact bat Longoria is. He's still a good bet to have a nifty little career, but as part of the supporting class rather than as a superstar, something his bonus demands are not reflecting. The other middle infielder of note in the college ranks is Louisiana State's D.J. LaMahieu. Apart from the fascinating name, DJLM offers power potential and the ability to hit for average... but he's already been shifted off shortstop to second base, and scouts worry about holes in his swing being exposed against advanced competition.
There are a few more shortstops at the high school level. Jiovanni Mier is a personal favourite of mine, if only because he may be the best defensive infielder in the whole draft and god knows I'm sick of our middle infield gloves. Unfortunately for Mier, his bat isn't exactly a lock to produce in the majors, and unless you can field like Adam Everett a no-hit shortstop is no longer acceptable at the big league level. Still, some team will take the risk, and he could turn out to be a very useful player. Nick Franklin is another interesting choice, with less glove than Mier but the ability to switch hit and carrying far less questions about whether he'll be able to put bat on ball as a professional. He's still not exactly a lock to produce at the plate, though, and at best you'll get a switch hitter who slashes line drives into the gap with maybe 10 home runs a year while playing average defence. But compared to what we have, that sounds pretty nice.
Along with starting pitching, this is a big strength of the draft. Dustin Ackley is the standout here, assuming he plays CF as a pro (and there's really no reason for him not to). As soon as he recovers from TJ, he should be fine with throws, and he has the athleticism and instincts to play an average/above average CF. There are no questions about his bat: Ackley can hit for contact, work counts against pitchers to get a driveable pitch, and he has the new-found ability to beat the living hell out of said pitch when he gets it. Comparisons I've seen thrown about include Todd Helton and John Olerud, who are both borderline Hall of Famers. As first basemen. If Ackley sticks at CF (or 2B) he may well come close to Strasburg in terms of peak value, which is pretty amazing considering how barren the draft looked after SAS for a while.
Apart from Ackley, there are a few college bats hanging about in the first round. A.J. Pollock, Jared Mitchell, and Brett Jackson are all legitimate centre fielders, with Jackson especially being an excellent defensive player. They are also all projects at the plate. Mitchell needs to translate tools into performance, although this year was a good start for the Louisiana State left-hander, Pollock needs to demonstrate the ability to hit for something other than power, and Brett Jackson strikes out enough for it to be a concern in the first round. Still, there's nothing to sneeze at with these guys, and each of them will be gone by the end of the first supplemental round. Tim Wheeler, out of Sacremento State is a bat-first guy who profiles as a left fielder, but he might be the safest bat in the draft outside of Ackley. It would also be remiss of me to neglect UW's Jake Locker, who some scouts have described as 'Matt Holliday but faster'. He won't sign, but some team will draft him in the late rounds in the hopes of snagging a first round talent with a throwaway pick and leftover bonus money.
High school also boasts a couple of good centrefielders, led by potential superstar Donnovan Tate, considered by most to be the best athlete in the draft. Tate is your prototypical tools guy, possessing a strong arm, blistering speed, power, contact ability, and good hands, but does pretty well on performance too. Naturally, he's being sought after as a football player as well, and a commitment to play both sports at UNC have led some teams to assume he'd take too much to buy out. Still, he's probably not falling out of the first round, and I have my doubts he drops out of the top 10. Everett Williams projects as a borderline CF whose absurd power will allow him to play any position he pleases, assuming his makeup problems go away in professional ball, and Mike Trout rounds up the top high school outfielders with a package that includes line drive ability, speed, and good defence. He's also learning to switch hit, which boosts his stock significantly.
See? Not such a bad crop after all.