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April 29, 2010

Future Shock

Projecting The Top 10

by Kevin Goldstein

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Doing a mock draft in late April is a silly exercise, but it makes for a good construct to talk about some of the rumors swirling around the top of the upcoming first round, as well as some general directions, so let's look at the first 10 picks and just take a general temperature.

1. Washington Nationals. There are no rumors here other than Bryce Harper who, if anything, is getting better as the season rolls on. Now at .410/.497/.917 with 21 home runs and 27 walks in 156 at-bats, Harper has done everything expected and more. The only nitpick is throw accuracy, as while his arm strength is plus-plus, he has gunned down only four of 28 runners attempting to steal.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates. Much of the talk right now revolves around the Pirates "pulling another Tony Sanchez," as one team official put it. While they won't reach as far down as they did last year, much of their focus of late has been on Florida high school infielder Manny Machado, as the Pirates have been four to six deep at recent games, including appearances by general manager Neal Huntington. Machado has established himself as the top high school position player in the draft, but nobody sees him as the best non-Harper talent available. However, with the top of the draft exceedingly unbalanced in favor of pitchers, positional scarcity could play a role here.

"In a normal year, he's not a top-five pick," said one team official. "But there's power, maybe a special bat, and about a 50/50 chances of sticking at shortstop."

Meanwhile, another scouting director wasn't nearly as optimistic.

"I just don't think I'd be excited about taking a guy like that with a top-five pick," he said. Other options here would be top college arms like Mississippi lefty Drew Pomeranz, but price tags and the Pirates’ history with highly drafted pitchers make that a bit of a long shot.

3. Baltimore Orioles. By all accounts, the Orioles would love to see James Taillon still on the board for them at third overall. The quintessential Texas high school righty, Taillon has been inconsistent at times this spring, but he's a 6-foot-6 power righty who has been up to 98 mph with a very good curveball. No pitcher in the draft comes close to his ceiling, but he could end up costing Baltimore something in the Tyler Matzek ($3.9 million)-to-Jacob Turner ($4.7 million) range, if not more. He's represented by the Hendricks brothers, and while Scott Boras has the far more negative profile among fans, there are plenty of teams who would rather take a Boras client than deal with the Hendricks brothers, with all other things being equal.

"At least with Boras, you know how things are going to go," said one team official.

4. Kansas City Royals. Rich in young pitching, the Royals also have their eye on Machado, while they are monitoring top college arms like Pomeranz, Florida Gulf Coast lefty Chris Sale, and LSU's Anthony Ranaudo, who has slipped in the eyes of many due to injuries and inconsistency. Like many teams, they'd like to find a position player, but don't know if any are worthy of a pick this high.

5. Cleveland Indians. This is the highest the Indians have picked since 1992, when they selected North Carolina righty Paul Shuey, who had an 11-year career as a good set-up man. The Indians are said to be focusing on upside here, and while the crop of college pitchers is deep, they're more safe than sexy, leaving Cleveland's focus on the high school crop. The best two after Taillon are a pair of highly-projectable right-handers, Dylan Covey in Calfornia and Karsten Whitson in Florida.

6. Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks have one of the worst systems in baseball, and they are looking for something that can help quickly, so this could be any one of the big college arms mentioned above, and this is also the first slot where Georgia Tech right-hander Deck McGuire comes into play. McGuire has excellent statistics, but mixed reviews from scouts. One scouting director praised the 6-foot-6 righty for having four average-to-plus pitches along with a good feel for his craft, while another called him, "just a big version of [failed former White Sox first-round pick] Kyle McCulloch."

7. New York Mets. Multiple sources indicated that the Mets will "go off the board," or "pull a surprise" at No. 7. While one of the remaining college arms might be the more obvious choice, three sources indicated a connection between the Mets and Cal State Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon. While this draft is filled with players generating highly divergent scouting reports, maybe nobody has brought more wide-ranging opinions than Colon. Here a sample from two high-ranking team officials.

The Good: "He's shocked us with his power and he's proven some stuff with wood bats for us already as well. He's not a runner, but he has great footwork, great hands, and a good arm. He's not sexy with upside, but for me, if you are talking about a guy like Manny Machado, you're hope is that in three years he's as good as Colon is now."

The Bad: "Based on what I expected, he's the most overrated and overhyped guy I've seen all spring. He's a 30 [on the 20-80 scouting scale] runner and he's kind of fat. It's a gritty utility guy for me, as I just saw no tools there. How many 30 runners are playing shortstop in the big leagues? At best, he's maybe Ronnie Belliard."

8. Houston Astros. One of the worst systems in baseball, by all accounts the Astros are simply lining up the top college arms and playing the waiting game to see who is still on the board when their pick arrives. They've been deep on some recent outings by Sale.

9. San Diego Padres. While the quick-moving college arms are appealing, the Padres are also looking at the high school models, with particular attention being given to Covey, the Pasadena righty who offers a lot of polish for a teenager and considerable stuff, with a fastball that gets up to the mid-90s, an already plus curve, and some feel for a changeup.

 10. Oakland Athletics. The A's are one of the teams that are harder to predict, as with so many mixed feelings about players coming from the teams ahead of them, they could be in a position where something unexpected falls in their lap. Without that happening, many have connected them to Arkansas infielder Zack Cox, but that might be a lazy guess, as Cox is this year's Moneyball player. With a .436 batting average and 28 walks in 165 at-bats, Cox is an on-base machine, but he lacks the athleticism to play up the middle, and with just six home runs, he doesn't have the power to profile well for a corner. A great sleeper pick here might be fast-rising Michael Choice, the Texas-Arlington outfielder who is exploding up draft charts and currently hitting .401/.565/.754 for the Mavericks. You like walks? Choice has drawn 53 in just 142 at-bats, and he far outstrips Cox on a tools level with a classic right-field profile of plus power, plus arm strength, and solid average to a tick-above speed.  

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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