MLB Mock Draft: Rodon is No. 1 in field heavy on college pitchers
The strength of this year's Major League Baseball draft is college pitching. But the challenge -- and the dilemma -- for every team will be deciding whether to take that safe route or go with a riskier pick on a less proven and younger high school position player. This year there are at least a half-dozen such prospects dripping with tools like terrific speed, strong arms and flashy defensive skills but, to this point, questionable hitting ability. With the draft taking place from June 5-7, teams have just two weeks to make up their minds.
NOTES: Teams choose in reverse order of wins from last season. First-round and compensation round picks can not be traded.
There are 27 first-round picks because four teams (the Braves, Orioles, Rangers and Yankees) forfeited their first-round selections after signing free agents who received qualifying offers from their previous teams and another (the Blue Jays) gained a pick after failing to sign its first-round choice from last year.
All stats through May 14.
Size: 6-foot-3, 235 lbs
School: North Carolina State
For the third straight year, the Astros hold the first overall pick in the draft. General manager Jeff Luhnow and scouting director Mike Elias are dedicated to sabermetrics but not imprisoned by them. Houston made a non-sabermetric, projection pick on high school shortstop Carlos Correa at the top of the 2012 draft; Correa is now universally considered one of the top prospects in the minors. Last year's 1-1 choice, Stanford righthander Mark Appel, was a safe pick as an accomplished college pitcher with a resume bolstered by both statistics and radar gun readings.
With no blatantly obvious talent at the top of this year's draft, odds are the Astros will play it safe and go with Rodon, who was a favorite to go No. 1 overall when the college season began. He has improved drastically since a shaky beginning to this, his junior season. Luhnow and Elias will look past Rodon's won-lost record (6-7 through May 21) and instead concentrate on his 2.01 ERA and 117 strikeouts in just 98⅔ innings. His velocity has been down at times but Rodon still has terrific close-to-the-majors stuff and a powerful big league frame.
Size: 6-4, 210
School: Cathedral Catholic High, San Diego, Calif.
High school lefties are often high risk, high reward propositions in the early portion of the draft. (good: Clayton Kershaw; not so good: Tyler Matzek.) All clubs holding single digit picks this year have scouted Aiken thoroughly, and he went from being a mid-to-late first rounder at this time last year into a 1-1 candidate. He touches 95 mph with his fastball but sits at 91-94. He'll need to develop more of a downward plane to that pitch, however, so it's not as hittable up in the zone. His curveball is his best pitch: 74-79 mph with late-breaking movement and a diagonal tilt.
Size: 6-5, 230
School: Shepherd (Texas) High
A pro scout surveyed the White Sox starting lineup during a spring training game in March. "Almost everyone is thick and slow" he mused. Jabbing a finger at several of the White Sox players, the scout said: "Thick. Thick. Thick. Thick."
For that reason, the White Sox may be the first team in this draft to break form and gamble on an athletic high schooler, such as Jacob Gatewood, Michael Chavis or Nick Gordon. Odds are, though, that they will resist temptation and select Kolek, who, despite being rather thick himself, has the big-bodied, hard-throwing profile teams love. In fact, he might have the best pure velocity of any high school kid in the draft, with an upper 90's fastball that has been clocked over 100 mph. His mechanics are a concern, though. He has a tendency to wrap his arm severely behind himself, meaning that there's more chance for things to go wrong before he gets back to his release point.
4. Chicago Cubs
Position: Catcher, bats right/throws right
Size: 6-2, 210
School: Rancho Bernardo High, Escondido, Calif.
Cubs GM Theo Epstein has been busily stockpiling talent in his minor league system, aiming to build a powerful contender by decade's end. Jackson could play a crucial role in those long term plans. He possesses a howitzer arm and displays superior righthanded power, a scarce commodity in this draft.
Size: 6-4, 215
The Twins have been smartly and gradually rebuilding their system, beginning with outfielder Byron Buxton, who is currently the closest thing in the minors to Mike Trout. Beede, drafted but not signed by Toronto in 2011, is a righty with top-of-the-rotation stuff who could find his way to Target Field within two years. He has a mid-90s fastball but he needs to mix his pitches more, and his curveball, while good, is inconsistent. He profiles as a No. 2 starter.
Size: 6-4, 185
School: Evansville University
Righthander Jeff Hoffman of East Carolina would have been the best player available at this stage, but his 2014 season ended earlier this spring with an elbow injury that will require Tommy John surgery.
Hoffman's misfortune should let Kyle Freeland to move up in the draft. Enjoying a wonderful junior season (10-2, 1.90 ERA), Freeland delivers a low- to mid-90s fastball and adds an effective slider, change and cutter.
Position: SS, BR/TR
Size: 6-5, 190
School: Clovis (Calif.) High
Everyone with a significant position in the Phillies organization has traveled west to see Gatewood this spring, and with good reason. His projectable frame, easy fielding actions, powerful arm and smooth home run power are unmatched by any other prospect in this draft.
Philadelphia's long range plan may be to move Gatewood to third base and pair him with its top pick from 2013, shortstop J.P. Crawford, on the left side of the infield.
Position: OF, BL/TR, OF
Size: 6-5, 205
School: University of San Francisco
Colorado will hope that a premier catching talent is available at this spot but since that is unlikely, Zimmer may be the best option. He's tall and rangy, runs well, has an above average arm and shows a "use the whole field" swing that should eventually develop power.
Size: 6-1, 195
With two of the top 11 picks, Toronto is in the most enviable position in this draft. Sources say the Blue Jays will select a "safe" college pitcher with their first choice at No. 9, then gamble on a tools-laden high school position player with their second pick at No. 11 overall.
Toronto will have plenty of options to satisfy its first preference. Nola may be the best fit. He's not a fireballer, but he has an impressive array of pitches and works consistently down -- a necessity in this age of the low strike zone.
10. New York Mets
Position: SS, BL/TR
Size: 6-2, 180
School: Olympia High, Orlando, Fla.
Gordon is the son of ex-big league reliever Tom and the brother of current Dodgers outfielder Dee. He is also easily the premier high school middle infield prospect in this draft. Gordon has the speed, arm and fielding skills to be a future All-Star. His development at the plate in the minors will dictate whether he will hit at the top or bottom of a big league lineup.
11. Toronto Blue Jays
Position: OF, BR/TR
Size: 5-11, 200
School: Gainesville (Ga.) High
This could well be the most fascinating pick in the draft. Gatewood and Gordon are possibilities for this spot if still available, and other options include high school outfielders Derek Hill (from Sacramento), Marcus Wilson (Los Angeles) and Monte Harrison (Lee's Summit, Mo.). Of all of these candidates, Gettys is the most complete prep prospect on this year's board and the only one who projects to possess five plus tools.
Size: 6-2, 195
School: Coral Springs Christian Academy, Coral Springs, Fla.
The Brewers will have numerous options here to select the pitcher their system needs. Toussaint may be the best choice. He delivers a heavy low- to mid-90's fastball and a wicked, swerving curveball.
13. San Diego Padres
Position: OF, BL/TR
Size: 6-2, 215
School: Oregon State
This is not a draft with a lot of hitters, and Conforto is the premier college hitter available this year. He is powerfully built and boasts a mechanically sound swing that shows bat speed and power. He's also having a terrific junior season, posting a .369/.519/.587 slash line.
Position: Catcher, BL/TR
Size: 6-0, 240
School: Indiana University
No one in the scouting world seems to know quite what to make of Schwarber. He's unathletic, has no clearly defined defensive position and bats out of an extremely uncomfortable looking crouch reminiscent of Jeff Bagwell's. The one item most do agree on is that Schwarber can hit. The Giants may prefer a college pitcher with this choice, but the prospect of the lefthanded hitting Schwarber aiming for McCovey Cove may be too tempting to resist.
Size: 6-0, 185
School: Waiakea High, Hilo, Hiawaii
Medieros' draft position will be dictated by how clubs profile him. If a team sees him as a starter, he will move up in the draft; if it sees him as a bullpen pitcher, he'll move down. With his mid-90's fastball and hellacious slider, Medieros has tantalizing stuff and if he can prove durable enough, he could one day be a staff ace.
Position: 3B, BR/TR
Size: 5-11, 190
School: Sprayberry High, Marietta, Ga.
A woeful start to their 2014 season means the Diamondbacks are looking at a very high pick in next year's draft. That could help trigger a rebuild that would be jumpstarted by having Chavis in their system. He emerged this spring as perhaps the premier high school bat available in the draft. He has a compact, powerful swing and is short to the ball. He also has a high-finish swing in which hands end up above his head; most teams try to teach that after a player has already been drafted.
Position: OF, BR/TR,
Size: 6-2, 195
School: 6'2" 195 lbs., Lee's Summit (Mo.) West High
Only one of Kansas City's selections in the past four drafts has made it to the big leagues, which indicates how patient and deliberate the Royals can be in player development. They prefer multi-tooled, athletic players, and Harrison fits that description. He's powerfully built with fine speed and an outstanding arm, and possesses the quick, strong hands scouts love to see in a young hitter.
Position: SS, BR/TR
Size: 6-1, 175
School: North Carolina State
Washington likes drafting versatile, athletic prospects with a multitude of skills such as Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Turner is still the premier college middle infielder available and flashes terrific speed and excellent defensive ability, but questions about his bat have caused him to drop 10 to 15 spots in this draft.
19. Cincinnati Reds
Size: 6-0, 210
School: Conway (S.C.) High
Cincinnati has drafted a high school righthander in the first round twice in the past three years, and Holmes could be the latest Reds pick to fit that description. After Kolek, he might have the top fastball velocity of any high school righty in this draft. He adds a wicked curveball and profiles as an upper rotation power starting pitcher.
20. Tampa Bay Rays
Size: 5-11, 185
School: Texas Christian University
The Rays are a pitching-centric and sabermetrics-oriented organization and Finnegan -- a stocky lefty with a mid-90's fastball and a nasty low-80's slurve -- is an ideal fit for their mold. He is 8-3 with a 2.16 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 103 strikeouts in 79⅓ innings pitched in this, his junior season.
Size: 6-5, 240
School: Hartford University
The Indians are delighted to have several terrific young players in their system, such as shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielder Clint Frazier. They could use some pitchers, though, and Newcomb is a strong option. He's a physical lefty who is a tad raw, but he features a 92-93 mph fastball which peaks around 95 and also has a slider, curve and change.
Position: OF, BR/TR
Size: 6-2, 180
School: Elk Grove (Calif.) High
The Dodgers would appear to have a glut of outfielders, with top prospect Joc Pederson and big leaguers Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Either and Yasiel Puig. Yet Crawford and Kemp are injury prone, Either is aging and Yasiel Puig is, well, Yasiel Puig. Son of a popular and respected Dodger scout, Derek Hill may be the fastest prospect in this draft and adds high-quality defensive skills. If his bat develops he could be the jewel of this draft.
23. Detroit Tigers
Size: 6-4, 215
It's rare for any club to use a first round pick on a pitcher who profiles exclusively as a closer, yet Detroit's recent struggles at that position may motivate them to draft Burdi, an exceptionally hard throwing righty. The other closer candidate in this draft, San Diego State's Michael Cederoth, has serious command issues.
Size: 6-3, 210
School: Sandalwood High, Jacksonville, Fla.
Pittsburgh picked off two exciting prospects in last year's draft, both position players: outfielder Austin Meadows and catcher Reese McGuire. At this stage of the draft the position player crop may thin out, so the Pirates' primary option may be Reid-Foley -- a righty with a 93 mph fastball and a biting, late breaking slider.
25. Oakland A's
Size: 6-4, 190
Contrary to popular opinion built around its famed Moneyball draft class, Oakland has altered its draft approach and has shown no qualms in recent years about selecting athletic high school position players with its top picks (shortstops Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson in 2012 and outfielder Billy McKinney last year). However, the A's still trend toward college pitching. Fedde, a lanky RHP with four serviceable pitches, has emerged as one of the premier college hurlers in the nation.
26. Boston Red Sox
Position: C, BR/TR
Size: 6-1, 190
School: Kennesaw State
The Red Sox -- or any club -- seeking to select a catcher in this draft understand that after Alex Jackson, the choices are paper thin. Pentecost is an athletic catcher with quality defensive skills and an outstanding line drive bat who has vastly improved this spring.
27. St. Louis Cardinals
Position: OF, BR/TR
Size: 6-3, 185
School: Serra High, Gardena, Calif.
St. Louis would love Derek Hill to be available here, but it still may draft against form and choose an athletic "reach" type high schooler. Wilson is exceptionally fast and has a decent arm, and while his bat will take time to develop, it shows signs of electricity.
Dave Perkin is a professional baseball scout who has worked for the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Baseball America. He is the author of the book "Five Plus Tools." Follow him on Twitter.