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Early look at top five prospects for next year's MLB draft

Photo: AP

Nick Burdi has helped pitch Louisville to the College World Series this season while impressing pro scouts.

The dust from last week's draft has barely settled, with the three-day event concluding just 48 hours ago, but fans in Miami and Houston may already be looking ahead to the top of the 2014 draft as those teams continue their rebuilding processes.

To help us look ahead, SI.com caught up with contributor Dave Perkin, its lead draft analyst, and with Perfect Game's Allan Simpson, its director of crosschecker, for their early takes on next year's top-five draft prospects.

1. DP: Jacob Gatewood, SS, Clovis (Calif.) High

Perkin likens Gatewood (6-foot-5, 190 pounds) to a young Troy Tulowitzki and calls him a "once-in-a-decade talent," noting his fastball reaches 92 mph on the mound, his "ballet-like fielding skills" and his prodigious power.

AS: Carlos Rodon, LHP, N.C. State

Last year Rodon (6-foot-3, 234) became the first Division I freshman to be finalist for the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball's best player. This year, he is the ace of a Wolfpack team that has advanced to the College World Series. He is a coveted power lefty whose fastball sits in the mid-90s and can reach the upper 90s. He has two obviously plus pitches "His fastball can be overwhelming and dominant," Simpson said, "and he has a wipeout slider."

2. DP: Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt

Perkin said Beede (6-foot-4, 215), who declined to sign after Toronto drafted him in the first round in 2011, may benefit like Stanford's Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick last week whose stock improved after being drafted previously and turning down first-round money. Beede is "a smooth righty with top of the rotation stuff," Perkin said, noting "a 90-to-94 mph fastball that peaks at 95, a harsh 78-to-80 curve and a fall-off-the-table 82-to-84 changeup."

AS: Nick Burdi, RHP, Louisville

Simpson compares Burdi (6-foot-4, 218) to Oklahoma righthander Jonathan Gray, who could hit 100 on the gun and just went No. 3 overall to the Rockies. "Burdi's done the same," Simpson said. "He's the big arm for next year." The difference, however, is that Burdi is more of a two-pitch reliever than a starter like Gray -- but a very good closer at Louisville, where he had a 0.78 ERA and an absurd 61 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings.

3. DP: Alex Jackson, C, Rancho Bernardo High in Poway, Calif.

Jackson (6-foot-2, 200) is a well-rounded backstop. "Catching prospects," Perkin noted, "normally appear in one of two forms: Throwers who can't hit or hitters who can't throw. Jackson is the rare backstop who does both at the highest level." Perkin also pointed out Jackson's tremendous power and his ability to get the ball to second base in 1.8 seconds, which is above major league average.

AS: Beede

Simpson also thinks highly of Beede, noting that the Vanderbilt righthander has the "most complete stuff" in next year's draft. "He might be the most projectable starter because he has three pitches that work," Simpson said.

4. DP: Rodon

Few starters can manage a 12.9 K/9, but that's what Rodon did this year. "Subtlety and nuance are not part of his approach," Perkin said. "He attacks hitters with a mid-90's fastball and hellacious mid-to high-80's slider. After facing Rodon, hitters appear only too anxious to return to the bench."

AS: Jackson

"His big tool is power, and he's a solid defender," Simpson said. He added that Jackson was also athletic enough to move to the outfield.

5. DP: Nicholas Gordon, SS/RHP, Olympia High in Orlando

Gordon (6-foot-2, 175) "may be the premier two-way talent in the 2014 draft," Perkin said, noting that he throws a low-90s fastball but is also a slick-fielding shortstop with speed and quickness. "Gordon's bat will determine his future in pro ball," Perkin said. "If he hits, Gordon stays at shortstop. If not, he moves to the hill." Choice A would make him like his older brother (Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon), and Choice B would make him like his father (former big league reliever Tom Gordon).

(Simpson, incidentally, pegged Gordon as his No. 7 prospect, saying it's "60-40" that he ends up on the mound.)

AS: Touki Toussaint, RHP, Coral Springs (Fla.) Christian Academy

Toussaint (6-foot-2, 190), who won gold with the U16 national team, stands out as a prep arm in what Simpson said is a draft class whose strength is college pitchers. "His fastball is 96-97 and he has the makings of an above-average curve," Simpson said. "He's the best high school arm at this point."

LEMIRE: Behind the scenes with a top-five pick on draft day

Line Drives

• The ESPN.com report that Major League Baseball had convinced Biogenesis' Anthony Bosch to cooperate with its investigation into performance-enhancing drugs is only a first step toward the league getting the suspensions it wants. But one thing the Yankees are presumably keeping a close eye on is how long the investigation and potential appeals process takes.

If the allegations of Alex Rodriguez's use are proven true and he is suspended, his forfeited salary -- $7.5 million for 50 games and $15 million for 100 games -- won't count against New York's payroll number that is used for determining its competitive-balance tax, as pointed out by Ken Davidoff in the New York Post. The Yankees are trying to get under the $189 million threshold for 2014, and any savings they might get from a suspension would help.

• There are seven American League teams with winning records, and four of them reside in the AL East.

• Baltimore's Chris Davis and Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt not only have shown no sign of slowing down but both are speeding up. Davis had a ridiculous 1.171 OPS in April and then a 1.210 mark in May; Goldschmidt had an .822 OPS in April and a 1.133 in May.

• The Tigers' draft resembled the creature of habit who always orders the same entrée at his favorite restaurant. They went for broke on college pitchers in the draft, taking one with each of their first seven selections. Of Detroit's 11 picks in the first 10 rounds, all 11 were college prospects (10 at four-year schools, one at a junior college) and nine were pitchers (including eight righthanders).

• Best name of the draft: Red Sox' eighth-round pick Forrestt Allday or Indians' 13th-round pick Sicnarf Loopstok?

Three Up, Three Down: Lineup construction

Last week the Royals redesigned their lineup largely on the basis of their quantitative analysts' suggestions, a move discussed in detail by Baseball Prospectus.

It's just the latest example of teams being more open-minded about their lineups and not always batting their fastest player first even if he can't reach base and not always batting a guy second who excels at bunting and hit-and-runs.

Sabermetric analysis suggests that a club's best hitter should bat second (or fourth), and we've seen that more teams are indeed batting their best hitter second, such as the Blue Jays with Jose Bautista, the Phillies with Chase Utley and the Twins with Joe Mauer. Here are some other creative (and not) lineup concoctions:

UP

1. Cardinals

St, Louis has been using a particularly optimal, yet somewhat non-traditional, lineup. Manager Mike Matheny bumped Matt Carpenter -- he of the .412 OBP but whose tools suggest a traditional No. 2 hitter -- up to leadoff while batting either Carlos Beltran or Yadier Molina second. Both are inspired choices because neither power-hitting corner outfielders nor catchers fit the traditional mold of a No. 2 hitter.

2. Orioles

Baltimore's top five OBPs are in its top five lineup slots, and manager Buck Showalter deserves extra credit for installing breakout sophomore Manny Machado (.317 average, .840 OPS) in the top third before he had actually broken out.

3. Yankees

There apparently was an April addendum to manager Joe Girardi's infamous binder, as he started batting his best hitter, Robinson Cano, second, which was especially surprising because so many of the regular middle-of-the-order hitters were absent from the lineup at that time. Another benefit is that it separated Cano from fellow lefthanded slugger Travis Hafner for situations when the Yankees would face a late-game lefty specialist.

DOWN

1. Reds

That Zack Cozart (.266 OBP) bats second -- depriving Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, et al., of opportunities to hit with more men on base -- remains baffling. What's worse is that, on days Cozart is given a day off, manager Dusty Baker bats his backup shortstop, Cesar Izturis, in that same spot.

2. Phillies

As a leadoff hitter, Ben Revere is a great defender. The young centerfielder, however, has a .288 OBP this season, yet has led off in 26 games for the Phillies. A recent decision to bat Michael Young (.355 OBP) leadoff is a smart one, though Revere batted second behind Young on Sunday. The better outfielder to hit in the top third of the lineup would be John Mayberry Jr., who not only has a better overall OBP (.324) but sufficiently even splits (.341 vs. lefties; .317 vs. righties).

3. Angels

The Angels get credit for trying to be creative by batting Mike Trout second rather than have him lead off like last year, but the insistence on using Erick Aybar (.284 OBP) in his place meant there were too many outs atop the order. That was the case until Saturday, at least, when manager Mike Scioscia moved Trout back to No. 1 and inserted Josh Hamilton as the No. 2 batter, which could help get him going. If not, another good candidate to replace Aybar is Howie Kendrick (.362 OBP).

Trend to track: First-pitch strike percentage

As hitters' passivity at the plate continues to grow, pitchers are wisely taking advantage and are being more aggressive at the start of an at bat. If there's less chance of a hitter swinging, pitchers have more incentive to throw a pitch in the strike zone.

VERDUCCI: Plate discipline is good but has gone too far

Hitters, therefore, are starting an increasing number of plate appearances behind in the count 0-1. After falling behind 0-1, hitters have a .606 OPS; if they start ahead 1-0 in the count, their OPS is .820.

In the last decade, the rate at which hitters across the majors have taken the first pitch has risen by more than three percent, while the incidence of first-pitch strikes has risen about half that. The only two seasons with a take percentage above 33, for instance, are the only two seasons with a first-pitch strike percentage of 60 or greater. The chart shows a significant correlation. (The p-score is 0.72; the closer the p-score is to 1 or negative-1, the stronger the correlation.)

YearTake %Strike %
201333.5560.28
201233.3160.00
201132.7359.54
201032.8358.98
200931.8958.45
200831.0658.84
200731.0158.99
200630.7359.07
200531.0859.35
200430.2858.64

Source: Stats LLC

Another side of . . . Hector Santiago, SP, White Sox

White Sox lefthander Hector Santiago recently returned to Chicago's rotation -- and defeated the surging A's on Sunday after allowing just one earned run in 6 1/3 innings -- but he might not be in baseball if not for an old-fashioned pitch and an old-fashioned letter.

Just two and a half years ago, the White Sox approached Santiago, who had just finished his second season of High A ball, with the idea of dropping him down into a sidearm pitcher, which in the baseball world is code for "this is your last chance."

Instead, while at winter ball in Puerto Rico after the 2010 season, Santiago started tinkering with a new pitch: a screwball. Playing for Gigantes de Carolina, he gave the bullpen catcher a heads-up that he was going to try something new, and the first one had enough movement that the catcher encouraged him to try it again. By game time that night, Santiago said, his screwball had the desired movement of a righthanded curveball and that he struck out each of the first seven batters when he got ahead of the count.

The pitch was so effective that one member of the Gigantes' staff told Santiago that he was going to write the White Sox to recommend that they let him continue throwing the screwball. Santiago didn't know what came of that letter, but Chicago did let him throw the pitch and he had a breakout 2011 season -- after starting in High A again, he received a promotion to Double A and then to the big leagues for a two-appearance cameo that July.

"I got called up that same year, that first year I started throwing my screwball," he said. "What a big difference one pitch can make. I don't think any of my other pitches got better. My velocity, I think, was the same. I just had a screwball."

When Santiago entered his first big league clubhouse, something awaited him on his locker chair, a memento passed along by then manager Ozzie Guillen: his coach's three-page letter, handwritten in Spanish, about Santiago's screwball.

The Final Out

One of the best additions to the current collective bargaining agreement is the change in the deadline for draft prospects to sign, which was moved up from mid-August to mid-July. Doing so gives the players a chance to sign early enough to actually play baseball this summer. Those who sign have enough of the minor league season remaining to get a meaningful headstart on their pro careers; those who don't sign can still play some summer ball.

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