The top of the 2011 draft is certainly a lot more interesting to track than the previous two years. In 2009, Stephen Strasburg entered the year as one of the top college arms in baseball history, and then spent all spring proving why. Last year, it was the legend of Bryce Harper, one that only grew when he put up massive numbers as a 17-year-old in a junior college conference using wood bats. This year, we finally have fluctuation as to who will go first overall, and with less than a month to go, it's a wider race than ever.
Entering the year, Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon was generally—but not universally—seen as the top talent in the draft. However, shoulder problems and some lackluster performances have left him simply in the mix for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who will be the first to the podium on June 6. UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole's early-season showings put him in contention to be selected first, but like Rendon, he has struggled of late, and what was once a two-way battle for the big prize is now a four-way race.
For Rendon, it has been an ugly combination of a shoulder injury and getting pitched around in a lineup in which he is the only dangerous hitter. His .322/.530/.515 line almost says it all; he has drawn 72 walks in just 171 at-bats, but the new bats and balky shoulder have severely limited his power and greatly reduced the number of looks teams have gotten of him defensively; he has been played more as the designated hitter than at the hot corner.
Cole was earning some Strasburg comparisons early in the year, but he has been scuffling with his command for over a month now, and that kind of talk is firmly a thing of the past. Teammate Trevor Bauer's surge is not helping Cole's case as the draft's top talent, either. “He hasn't pitched well, but it's made all the more glaring when he strikes out one Stanford batter on Friday and then, against the exact same lineup, Bauer whiffs 17 the next day,” said one talent evaluator.
University of Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen has been moving up all year and is now firmly in the mix for Pittsburgh. Hultzen has been good every time out for the Cavaliers and sports a 1.42 ERA in 12 starts with 121 strikeouts and just 13 walks over 82
Over the last few weeks, what was thought to be a group of three has grown by one; Oklahoma prep right-hander Dylan Bundy has been nothing short of remarkable this spring and is a longshot to make draft history as the first high school right-hander ever to go first overall.
When it was Rendon or Cole, projecting the Pirates was an easier task, but the sudden flipping of the top talent could make things difficult for a team that is very conscious of how their selection will be viewed within the industry. “I know Pittsburgh is very sensitive to the perception issue of not taking the consensus guy,” said one team executive. But right now, there is no "consensus guy."
Top 20 Draft Prospects
The following list was compiled based on conversations with numerous scouts and team executives. It is based solely on talent, with no accounting for signability. This is not a mock draft, but merely a talent ranking.
1. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Owasso HS (OK)
Pros: For a high school arm, Bundy has a remarkable arsenal in terms of both quality of stuff and depth. He sits at 94-96 mph, has touched 100, and adds three quality secondary pitches with a power curveball, a surprisingly advanced change, and a nasty 88-91 mph cut fastball with sharp movement. He has plus command, a clean delivery, and makes it look effortless.
Cons: At 6-foot-1, Bundy doesn't have the height of a classic power pitcher, but he is wide-shouldered and tremendously strong, leaving his size as a minor issue at best. “He's a better pitcher than Jameson Taillon,” said one scouting director, referring to last year's second overall pick. “He's not as big or as projectable, but what do you have to project?”
2. Gerrit Cole, RHP, UCLA
Pros: Cole has true elite-level stuff. He has mid- to upper-90s heat with two well above-average secondary offerings in his slider and changeup. His 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame is ideal, and his mechanics are much improved from his high school days.
Cons: He occasionally struggles with command. This has been especially of late, as he has a 6.17 ERA in his last five starts while allowing 40 hits in 35 innings. That's far too many base knocks for a pitcher with his arsenal. “Cole has the physical ability, the stuff, and the body is just unbelievable… but for whatever reason, it's never been easy for him,” said one evaluator.
3. Danny Hultzen, LHP, Virginia
Pros: Hultzen has gone from a guy who is high on polish with average stuff to one that brings that same polish but has gained two ticks on his fastball. He now sits at 91-94 mph with a good slider/changeup combination. He has the best command in the draft and is the kind of guy who could rocket through the minors.
Cons: Hultzen doesn't have the raw stuff for an elite-level ceiling, and his low three-quarters delivery turns many evaluators off.
4. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Rice
Pros: He has the potential to be a third-spot hitter in the big leagues, with the ability to hit .300, draw enough walks to compete for on-base titles, and enough power to provide 20-plus home runs annually. Rendon is an above-average third baseman in terms of range, hands, and arm strength.
Cons: At 6-0, 190 pounds, he's not the kind of physical specimen most associate with the top position player in a draft. Rendon has had numerous injury problems throughout the last two years, giving some scouts concern about his ability to hold up over a 162-game season.
5. Trevor Bauer, RHP, UCLA
Pros: Bauer is arguably the best statistical performer in a deep class of college pitching. He has a remarkable 167 strikeouts in just 109 2/3 innings, while giving up 57 hits and 32 walks. He has above-average stuff with a 92-95 mph fastball, two quality breaking pitches, and a good changeup.
Cons: His unique, heavy-torque delivery turns some scouts off, but plenty of teams remember the lessons from the 2006 draft when they shied away from Tim Lincecum because of his mechanics. Workload is a significant concern with Bauer; while we can talk about his unique pregame rituals and conditioning routine, there is no excuse for having him throw 140 pitches on Saturday in a 10-1 blowout.
6. Bubba Starling, OF, Gardner-Edgerton HS (KS)
Pros: No position player in the draft can match his tools. In fact, nobody can come anywhere close. Tall, rangy, strong, and ultra-athletic, Starling has D-I football opportunities as a quarterback and has well above-average power, speed, and arm strength, leaving some to project him as a potential 30-30 player with impact defense in center field.
Cons: Can he hit? That's the question. His swing mechanics are far from sound, and he has a trigger mechanism that can throw off his timing. Scouts have gotten few looks at Starling against top competition, and there is some fear that he's simply this year's version of Donavan Tate and a classic high-risk/high-reward type.
7. Francisco Lindor, SS, Montverde Academy (FL)
Pros: It's rare to find a true shortstop in the draft, but Lindor is just that. He's a silky-smooth defender with range, good hands, a plus arm, and instincts beyond his years. He'll still be just 17 years old when drafted, so there is even more room for projection.
Cons: It's hard to see star-level upside in him, at least offensively. He's a solid hitter from both sides of the plate with the ability to drive balls into the gap, but he'll never have much in the way of power. While he's a good runner, he won't be a big base-stealer.
8. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Spring Valley HS (SC)
Pros: Guerrieri's 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame is the kind that scouts like to dream on, and he has consistently reached 97-98 mph with his fastball while sitting comfortably at 92-96. His power curveball is already a plus pitch that has torched high school hitters.
Cons: While his arm action is clean, his overall delivery is sloppy, too mechanical, and too complex. He hasn't needed a third pitch on the South Carolina high school circuit, so his changeup will need development.
9. Taylor Jungmann, RHP, Texas
Pros: Jungmann has performed under the spotlight all spring with a ridiculous 0.86 ERA in 104
Cons: Star-level upside is questionable based on his stuff, and he rarely throws his below-average changeup. He has not missed as many bats in college as one would expect from a top-flight starter.
10. George Springer, OF, Connecticut
Pros: It's rare to find college players with Springer's kind of tools and athleticism. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he grabs your attention the second he walks off the bus, and his power, speed, and arm strength all earn 60-plus grades on the scouting scale.
Cons: Springer has plenty of holes in his swing, and there are questions about just how much he'll hit. He has reduced his strikeout rate significantly this spring, but he's still prone to chasing and often gets beat inside.
11. Archie Bradley, RHP, Broken Arrow HS (OK)
Pros: Yes, it's a good year for high school arms in Oklahoma. Bradley is bigger than Bundy, and nearly matches him in terms of arm strength, as he sits in the low- to mid-90s while touching 98. His hard, heavy curveball is plus now and loaded with projection.
Cons: Bradley had an inconsistent spring, with his velocity and command wavering from start to start. He will need to develop a changeup. He's seen by some scouts as more of a thrower than a pitcher at this point.
12. Jed Bradley, LHP, Georgia Tech
Pros: Bradley is the rare left-hander with a power frame (6-4, 225) and a plus fastball that sits in the low-90s and can touch 95 with natural sink. He has a good changeup for a college arm, and excellent stamina.
Cons: Bradley's slider is average on a good night, and his command can waiver. He's leaving scouts scratching their heads in a way similar to Cole at times, as he's consistently out-pitched by teammate Mark Pope, a finesse arm who could go as high as the sandwich round.
13. Sonny Gray, RHP, Vanderbilt
Pros: Gray generates plenty of swings and misses with a low-90s fastball, but his true out pitch is a plus-plus curve that some think is the best in the draft. He's a bulldog-style pitcher who attacks hitters, understands his craft, and knows how to set up hitters and get them to chase.
Cons: If Gray was 6-foot-3, he might be a top-five pick; the stuff is certainly there, but he's less than six foot tall, has far from the easiest delivery, and leaves scouts wondering about his ability to throw 200 innings per year. Based on shorter-stint performances in summer leagues, he could end up a late-inning reliever with mid-90s heat and that wonderful breaking ball.
14. Alex Meyer, RHP, Kentucky
Pros: If you see Meyer on the right day, he looks like the best college pitcher in the country, with a mid-90s fastball that reaches 98 and a plus-plus slider that is nearly impossible to hit because of the tilt on the pitch and the angles created by his 6-foot-9 frame.
Cons: If you see Meyer on a bad day, you might not take him in the first two rounds. He's disturbingly inconsistent and has a lot of trouble repeating his complex delivery, leading to wild fluctuations in his control and the quality of his slider. One scout summed him up best by saying, “He's either a number one, a shutdown closer, or doesn't get out of Double-A.”
15., RHP, Connecticut
Pros: This big, athletic right-hander with a plus fastball and even better curveball also has a 88-92 mph sinker, decent changeup, and occasionally throws a slider. He gets high marks for his competitiveness and control.
Cons: Despite a minuscule 1.18 ERA in 13 starts, Barnes hasn't been as good as expected this spring; he often seems to be pitching to contact as opposed to getting strikeouts, and his four-seam fastball tends to get straight when he tries to pitch to the radar gun.
16. Daniel Norris, LHP, Science Hill HS (TN)
Pros: Norris has been moving up boards all spring with impressive showings in front of considerable heat. He tends to sit in the low 90s but has touched 96, and scouts believe that will become a more common occurrence once his skinny 6-foot-2 frame fills out. His curveball has plus potential, and he already has feel for a changeup.
Cons: He has been up and down this spring with the occasional clunker of a night, but he has been at his best in front of good scouting crowds, and those that like him really like him.
17. Mikie Mahtook, OF, LSU
Pros: Mahtook is one of the few college hitters with a breakout season despite the new bats. Good swing mechanics and a patient approach have him hitting .371/.482/.691 in 52 games for the Tigers, and his 13 home runs represent more than 40 percent of his team's total. He has average-to-plus power to all fields, but he's not just a slugger; he's a 50-55 runner who is playing center field and has a good arm.
Cons: Few think he can play an up-the-middle position in the big leagues, so Mahtook's bat will have to develop to profile as a corner outfielder. He's more of a guy with no real weaknesses than one with star-level tools.
18. Josh Bell, OF, Jesuit College Prep (TX)
Pros: Bell is the best pure hitter among high school players, easily projecting to hit for both average and power, and he adds to his value by doing it from both sides of the plate. He makes consistent hard contact even against top-level competition.
Cons: He's very much a switch-hitting version of Rays 2010 first-round pick Josh Sale in that he's a highly accomplished high school hitter, but the bat might be the only tool; other abilities will limit him to left field.
19. Cory Spangenberg, 3B, Indian River JC (FL)
Pros: Spangenberg is the best junior college player in the country and has been flirting with a .500 batting average for much of the spring. He has outstanding bat speed and an intrinsic feel for contact. His well above-average speed makes him dangerous on the basepaths.
Cons: He's not a good defender at any infield position, and scouts expect him to move to center field as a pro. He lacks the strength to project for more than gap power with 10-12 home runs per year.
20. Kolten Wong, 2B, Hawaii
Pros: He just drives opponents nuts with his ability to reach base and then cause trouble with his baserunning ability. He works the count exceptionally well and laces line drives all over the park when he gets his pitch. Think of him as Wally Backman with more gap power and no platoon issues. Excellent performances in the Cape Cod League leave scouts confident his abilities will translate.
Cons: He's just 5-foot-9, so there isn't much to project, and he's merely an adequate defender. Second basemen are always a risk because they either project as big-league starters or they aren't prospects.