MLB's first-year player draft begins with Monday's first round at 7 p.m. ET. The draft's key questions begin with the one player that everyone is talking about.
The question isn't whether or not Harper is the top talent in the 2010 draft class; it's obvious that he is. The 17-year-old hit 29 home runs -- most with wood bats -- while leading College of Southern Nevada to the NJCAA World Series. What people really want to know is how good Harper will be as a pro. The most consistent comparison given for Harper since he first started to emerge on the national scene has been to Josh Hamilton. The similarities include monstrous bat speed and power from the left side, prodigious arm strength and overwhelming physicality at a young age. Harper's catching generally receives average grades from scouts, but it's his bat that's special. His adviser, Scott Boras, already has said that Harper should move to the outfield, so you can put those Stephen Strasburg-Bryce Harper battery fantasies to bed, Nationals fans. Harper will be the first overall pick barring an amazing upset and will try to withstand the hype that started in eighth grade, spiked in 2009 when he was SI's cover boy and continued through his season-ending ejection at the NJCAA World Series.
This is not a particularly deep draft, except among high school pitchers, which tends to be a risky demographic. However, teams that have been bold about prep pitchers have gotten some pretty nice rewards in the last 10 years. Among big league aces, Zack Greinke, Adam Wainwright, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Jon Lester are just some of the frontline arms who were drafted and developed straight out of high school. If Harper weren't in this draft, The Woodlands (Texas) High right-hander Jameson Taillon would be challenging to be the first prep RHP to go No. 1 overall, and Taillon fits into the consensus top four talents -- a group that also includes Miami prep shortstop Manny Machado and Ole Miss left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who threw seven scoreless innings in the Rebels' 10-5 win over the Red Storm in the opening round of the Charlottesville Regional on Friday.
College starting pitchers usually are safe picks for scouting directors, who like to draft players who can move to the big leagues quickly. That's a sure way to impress ownership. However, this year's top college pitching prospects have had mixed results. Pomeranz had a pec muscle pull that hampered his command down the stretch, but he's still considered the top arm available. LSU's Anthony Ranaudo entered the season as the No. 1 college pitcher on the board, then missed a month with a forearm injury and got hammered when he came back. He was close to the "old Ranaudo" at the SEC tournament, where he beat Florida and hit 95 mph with better control and downhill angle. The other wild cards include North Carolina's Matt Harvey, who has come on strong as a junior; Florida Gulf Coast's slender southpaw Chris Sale, who has command but is just 175 pounds at 6-foot-6; and The Citadel's Asher Wojciechowski, a big-bodied righty who maintains his 93-96 mph fastball deep into games.
St. Mary's center Omar Samhan was the mid-major darling of the NCAA basketball tournament, and Sale -- who's just about the opposite of Samhan physically, though he's also tall -- is one candidate for the equivalent role in this year's baseball draft. Several probable first-round picks are at mid-majors, including two of the best college hitters. Texas-Arlington's Michael Choice is a better prospect than any hitter in the Big 12, but all the schools in the league missed on him coming out of a Dallas area high school. Middle Tennessee State's Bryce Brentz was drafted by the Indians out of high school as a pitcher but led the nation in home runs and slugging percentage in 2009. An ankle injury hindered him this spring, but he's still showing plus power and a right-field profile.
Several potential high draft picks have familiar names, none more so than Delino DeShields Jr., son of the ex-Expos infielder most famous for being traded straight-up for Pedro Martinez. DeShields and hard-throwing right-hander Cameron Rock Bedrosian -- his middle name being an homage to his Cy Young Award winning dad's nickname, Steve "Bedrock" Bedrosian -- head up the talent in the nation's most exciting draft state, Georgia. Outfielders Mel Rojas Jr. (son of the ex-Expos reliever) and Cory Vaughn (son of Greg) have big league tools but are expected to be drafted after DeShields and Bedrosian, who are pushing for first-round consideration. North Carolina prep Connor Narron, son of Jerry, is expected to bypass pro ball and play in college for the home-state Tar Heels.
Scouts agree this is the best year for Georgia since at least 2002, when the state produced future big leaguers Micah Owings, Jeff Francoeur, Jeremy Hermida, Matt Capps, Brian McCann and Jonathan Broxton. While that draft put five Georgians in the first two rounds, this draft should surpass that, starting with Georgia Tech ace Deck McGuire and shortstop Derek Dietrich, supplemented by Georgia righty Justin Grimm and a bevy of athletic high school talents. Two names to watch -- Kaleb Cowart, one of the nation's top hitters and pitchers at the high school level and a Florida State recruit, and right-hander DeAndre Smelter, whose pitching coach is ex-big leaguer Kevin Brown.
Football players will be a factor in the baseball draft, starting with LSU quarterback recruit Zach Lee. A 6-foot-4, 195-pound frame and live arm make him one of the nation's best prep pitchers as well, and Baylor quarterback recruit Tyrell Jenkins has had late helium, perhaps rising into first-round consideration thanks to a 95-mph fastball. Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker threw 20 touchdown passes in the fall and drew some poor-man's Drew Brees comparisons. This spring, Parker belted 18 homers and drew 47 walks in his first 54 games for the Tigers and should go in the first 50 picks.
An NCAA investigation into his use of an agent prompted left-hander James Paxton to leave Kentucky for independent ball. Paxton was the Blue Jays' supplemental first-round pick in 2009, and at his best the British Columbia native has shown a fastball that reaches 97 mph and a sharp curveball. However, he had a career 4.93 ERA at Kentucky (including 5.86 in '09) and wasn't registering any 97s in early starts for Grand Prairie (Texas) in the independent American Association. He's hoping to follow a path to the big leagues blazed by the likes of Stephen and J.D. Drew, Max Scherzer and Luke Hochevar.
Scott Boras once told The New Yorker magazine that, "The draft is here," meaning his office. And once again, the Boras Corporation represents many of the draft's top players. The NCAA is cracking down on the "no-agent" rule in baseball, where it used to look the other way. Paxton was sidelined at Kentucky essentially because Toronto executive Paul Beeston told the media that he had talked to Boras, which is standard operating procedure but also against NCAA rules. The clubs know the Boras Corp. clients, but discussions of who represents who will be more sotto voce than normal because of the cooling effect of the suspensions of Paxton and, in 2008, Oklahoma State's Andy Oliver.
No one in this draft has taken the same path or has the same tools as Andrelton Simmons. The quick version: He's a shortstop and pitcher at Western Oklahoma State, whose fastball has reached 98 mph in short relief stints and who also might be the best defensive shortstop available. A native of Curacao who had small offers to sign as an international free agent at age 16, he wound up coming to junior college instead. He's already 20 and was expected to go off the board quickly despite a somewhat long swing and average speed.