With baseball's first-year player draft just five days away, the Nationals aren't saying who they will take first overall. But that's more about their own rules regarding caution and secrecy than anything else. By now everyone knows who the star of this mostly average draft is: 17-year-old slugging sensation Bryce Harper, a Sports Illustratedcover boy at 16 last June and a college superstar at 17 this June, two years ahead of his time.
Miami prep shortstop Manny Machado and Houston area high school right-hander Jameson Taillon are two more special talents in what's seen as a decent but far from great draft pool, but Harper was the obvious choice for No. 1 even before he went 6-for-6 with four home runs in a playoff game a week ago for the College of Southern Nevada. Overall, Harper hit 27 home runs in a rare wood-bat league and established what appears to be future greatness (though among draftees, there are no guarantees).
For the second year in a row, Washington has the first pick in a draft headlined by a an obvious can't-miss guy. Last year, it was college pitcher Stephen Strasburg whom they took at No. 1 and this year, Harper is the likely choice. The Nats showed a willingness to spend last June, signing Strasburg to a record $15.067-million bonus. While that number was about 50 percent higher than the previous record (Mark Prior, $10.5 million), it was short of the $50-million asking price that was rumored early. Word is, Harper will seek a record bonus through his adviser, Scott Boras, who also represented Strasburg. While Harper is thought likely to break Mark Teixeira's record bonus of $9.5 million for a position player, he's expected by most to receive less than Strasburg. Because he could have more than just one year of college ball left, Harper might have slightly more leverage than Strasburg, who was a 21-year-old junior. But everyone knows Harper's been programmed to be a pro, almost from the cradle, so no one expects him not to sign.
Scouts are wowed by Harper's incredible power and arm, and while some might like to see him remain a catcher, others say it would be a waste to employ his booming bat there and envision him instead at third base or right field, where his superior arm will also be utilized. The Nats already have a franchise third baseman in Ryan Zimmerman so the outfield might make sense for Harper.
That's only conjecture, of course. But what's obvious now is that he will be No. 1.
Here's my mock draft of the entire first round:
1. Washington NationalsBryce Harper, Catcher, College of Southern Nevada
Incredible power can't be ignored. Though, one scout said, "He isn't perfect. I keep thinking of Todd Marinovich," the football player programmed by his father who ultimately flopped. Others don't love his set-up as a catcher. But this is all nitpicky for one of the greatest power prospects of alltime.
2. Pittsburgh PiratesManny Machado, Shortstop, Brito HS (Miami, Fla.)
Has huge power and tools, but according to one scout, "He's not very fast. I'm not sure he'll stay at shortstop.'' He's received comparisons to Alex Rodriguez, another big-time high school prospect from Miami. Of course, no one's A-Rod. Still, Machado is a huge talent who's clearly worked his way into the top three of draft that some say falls off after No. 3.
3. Baltimore OriolesJameson Taillon, RHP, The Woodlands HS (Texas)
"He's the best pitcher in this draft, by far,'' one scout says. Taillon has a 98-mph fastball, superior breaking ball and terrific makeup. The latest in a long line of great young pitchers from Texas (Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Josh Beckett, etc.)
4. Kansas City Royals Chris Sale, LHP, Florida Gulf Coast University
He has great stuff, including a superior changeup, and has been moving up the board all year. The question is the competition. The Royals could also consider third baseman Zack Cox, of the relatively nearby University of Arkansas, especially if their faith is running low in Alex Gordon.
5. Cleveland IndiansDrew Pomeranz, LHP, University of Mississippi
He has an excellent breaking ball but his uneven college performance has dropped him from No. 2 to at least No. 4, and perhaps lower.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks Deck McGuire, RHP, Georgia Tech
A very solid college pitcher, he makes sense for the D-backs and appears to be the consensus pick here. If Pomeranz or Sale fall, they're possibilities, as well, but the Diamondbacks are likely to take a college pitcher no matter who it is.
7. New York MetsMatt Harvey, RHP, University of North Carolina
Harvey's had a very nice bounce-back junior year after a slow start to his college career following a legendary prep history. The Mets and Harvey's agent, Scott Boras, have battled lately over Carlos Beltran and Oliver Perez (see below) but have a decent history that includes Mike Pelfrey, so it'll be interesting to see if they purposely avoid Harvey, whom they like very much. Many see the Mets taking a hitter, anyway, and if they go in that direction, the prime prospects would be Oregon prep slugger Josh Sale, Middle Tennessee St. outfielder Bryce Brentz and Cox, if he's still available.
8. Houston Astros Michael Choice, OF, UT-Arlington
Choice has great power and is very signable, and the Astros already scored with Hunter Pence, another outfielder from UT-Arlington who they drafted in 2004.
9. San Diego PadresZack Cox, 3B, University of Arkansas
The best college hitter could go even higher, perhaps fourth or fifth. "I'd take him second,'' one scout says (though that won't happen). He can play second base as well.
10. Oakland A's Stetson Allie, RHP, St. Edward HS (Ohio)
Allie has a huge arm, and has taken positive steps lately. California prep pitcher Dylan Covey has been speculated as the A's choice in other mock drafts. The A's have had success with college pitchers (Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder), so perhaps Ohio State RHP Alex Wimmers is a possibility.
11. Toronto Blue Jays Gary Brown, OF, Cal State-Fullerton
This Jacoby Ellsbury type may be the fastest player in the draft. The Jays could use an injection of speed, though there are questions about his hitting.
12. Cincinnati RedsChristian Colon, SS, Cal State-Fullerton "The most major-league ready player in the draft,'' according to one scout.
13. Chicago White SoxBrandon Workman, RHP, University of Texas
Another in a decent crop of college pitchers.
14. Milwaukee Brewers Alex Wimmers, RHP, Ohio State University
You'd think they have to take a pitcher. There are many high school kids to choose from, but the Crew needs someone who can get to the majors quickly. and Wimmers is the most polished, big-league ready pitcher in the draft. Prep hitting phenom Nick Castellanos could also be the pick because the Brewers are aggressive and willing to spend.
15. Texas RangersYasmani Grandal, C, University of Miami (Fla.)Still lots of good choices but the Rangers need catchers and Grandal has answered questions about his hitting with a big year.
16. Chicago CubsJosh Sale, OF, Bishop Blanchet High (Wash.)
Muscular hitter who knows the strike zone. Could go even higher.
17. Tampa Bay Rays A.J. Cole, RHP, Oviedo HS (Fla.)
Big high school arm has fallen maybe a little. The Rays like young arms with upside.
18. Los Angeles Angels Dylan Covey, RHP, Marantha HS (Pasadena, Calif.)
They like prep players with big potential, and he's a local one with a consistent track record.
19. Houston AstrosYordy Cabrera, SS, Lakeland HS (Fla.)
Cabrera has dropped over the past couple years but is still viewed as very talented. Fills a need at shortstop.
20. Boston Red SoxAnthony Ranaudo, RHP, LSU
Very poor college season has dropped him out of the top five, and there's no telling how far he'll fall. Since he's still expected to seek a big bonus, the Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers are prime candidates to draft him.
21. Minnesota TwinsBrett Eibner, OF/RHP, University of Arkansas
Another of the Arkansas talents, this guy could make it as pitcher or hitter. Baseball America says his preference is to hit, but he has a plus fastball at his best and a decent slider, too.
22. Texas RangersKolbrin Vitek, 2B, Ball State
Tremendous hitter is very versatile. Can play the outfield or third base. Also has pitched in college.
23. Florida MarlinsKarsten Whitson, RHP, Chipley High (Fla.)
Big, hard-throwing prep pitcher's stock has dropped a bit.
24. San Francisco GiantsBryce Brentz, OF, Middle Tennessee St.
Giants would be lucky if Brentz lasts to this spot. They need hitters, so Sale, Eibner, Vitek or even Jedd Gyorko would work.
25. St. Louis CardinalsJedd Gyorko, SS, West VirginiaUniverstiy
Gyorko likely will have to play second base or third, but he can hit. "A sleeper,'' one scout says.
26. Colorado Rockies Kaleb Cowart, RHP, Cook HS (Ga.)
He's going to be a tough sign, but the Rockies showed a willingness to take a chance last year.
27. Philadelphia PhilliesAustin Wilson, OF, Harvard-Westlake HS (Calif.)
Mult-italented player may wind up going to Stanford. Word is, he seeks $6 mil to sign, so that could be a hitch. Philly has been known to take athletes and Wilson fits.
28. Los Angeles DodgersJustin O'Connor, C, Cowan HS (Ind.)
Baseball America points out he could be the heir apparent to the regressing Russell Martin. The Arkansas recruit has good signability for big-market team with no money to spend.
29. Los Angeles AngelsSammy Solis, LHP, University of San Diego
The Angels truly are a team that builds around pitchers and here's another semi-local kid who makes sense.
30. Los Angeles AngelsPeter Tago, RHP, Dana Hills HS (Calif.)
Some see this as a reach, but word is the Angels are on the local boy Tago, whether it be this round or later. Very signable.
31. Tampa Bay RaysDelino DeShields Jr., OF, Woodward Academy (Ga.)
Perhaps the best speed in the draft along with LeVon Washington (who they failed to sign last year and is back in), DeShields definitely has the breeding as the son of former big leaguer Delino DeShields. "I'd take him with a top 10 pick,'' says one scout. Though others aren't as convinced about his hitting. The Rays like high school players and speed, so he fits the Rays preferences for young players with upside.
32. New York YankeesNick Castellanos, SS, Archbishop McCarthy HS (Fla.)
Big-time talent probably won't fall this low, despite supposed $6-million asking price. But if he does, it's hard to see the Yankees passing. Plenty of others with big price tags who could fall, including Cowart and first baseman/outfielder Kyle Parker of Clemson.
The Mets rejected a request by Carlos Beltran's agent, Scott Boras, to withdraw the letter sent this winter by Mets COO Jeff Wilpon threatening to void Beltran's contract. So the battle over Beltran's January knee surgery continues.
Beltran had arthroscopic surgery on his right this winter after the recommendation of noted knee surgeon Richard Steadman and verbal OK from Mets doctor David Altchek. However, Wilpon has maintained there was an agreement to get a third opinion before going ahead with surgery that was expected to keep him out into May. Beltran's new target date to return is late June, even after an upbeat recent report, so the frustration over this issue continues. Beltran has a $119-million contract that runs through next season.
While Beltran suggested upon arriving at spring training that he is putting the dispute behind him, that appears to be a rather hopeful assessment. Things continue to be tense. And once Beltran proves his knee is better, it wouldn't be surprising to see him leaving the Mets one way or another.
The Mets have made every attempt to try to convince struggling left-hander Oliver Perez to accept an assignment to the minors but so far Perez is insisting on staying with the Mets and taking up a roster spot. The Mets have gone so far as to tell Perez he doesn't have to go to Triple-A Buffalo and can report instead to Florida, where he could work on his own terms under pitching guru Phil Regan. But so far, the only terms that are acceptable to Perez are the ones that keep him in New York.
The Perez situation is separate from what's happening with Beltran except that both players have the same agent. Mets people say in this case they have spoken to Boras and the agent isn't opposed to a minor-league assignment for Perez (Boras didn't return a text). A Mets official said they won't consider releasing Perez because they don't want to eat the remainder of his $36 million contract.
In any case, Perez, who is 0-3 with a 6.28 ERA, needs to put his ego aside. It is high time for him to go to the minors and work out his problems. Far more consistent Mets pitchers over the years such as Bobby Jones and Steve Trachsel have done so in the past to resurrect their careers, and it worked for them. There is no shame in doing what's right for the team. It also happens to be what's right for the player.
• Brandon Webb has been spending a lot of time in Alabama with Dr. James Andrews, who's been monitoring Webb's slow progress from shoulder surgery he underwent in 2009, and Diamondbacks people are becoming discouraged about his timetable as he has been unable to move to the next step of throwing off a mound. The date of his return remains uncertain. Once he gets on a mound, he will still be at least a month away, but is still unclear when that's happening.
• Dontrelle Willis, acquired via trade from the Detroit Tigers, is worth a flier for the D-backs. Perhaps a switch back to the National League, where he pitched with much success for the Florida Marlins from 2003-07, will help him.
• The Angels' Kendry Morales is expected to miss 10-12 weeks after his freakish ankle area break during the celebration of his walkoff grand slam last Saturday. The celebration wasn't over the top, so there's no blame here.
• Astros star Roy Oswalt never should have been ejected for yelling "I ain't talking to you,'' to umpire Bill Hohn. Some umpires have to remember that the players are the stars, not them.
• The Yankees have determined that they will likely pursue a reliever and a hitter at the deadline. They are concerned about reliever Chan Ho Park, whose velocity isn't what they expected and are unsure whether Alfredo Aceves can avoid back surgery to repair a disc issue.
• Just asking: Is Alan Embree's goal to be DFA'ed or released by every team?
• Congrats to Mark McGwire, who's certainly had an interesting life and is someone I've grown to like; his wife had triplets.
• The Dodgers have played superbly ever since GM Ned Colletti went on the radio and mentioned Matt Kemp's underperformance in the areas of baserunning and defense. Maybe there's a connection.