Although not everyone in baseball is sure that next month's first-year baseball draft is quite as talent-laden as the 2005 draft that included Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Zimmerman, Jay Bruce, Clay Buchholz and several more future stars, this draft is indeed "very strong and extremely deep,'' as one scouting director said.
This year's draft, which begins on June 6, also lacks a household name at the top of the board, like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper -- who went to the Washington Nationals with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 and 2010, respectively -- but it is especially stocked with strong-armed pitchers and multi-talented (and in a few cases, five-tool) outfielders. "There are a helluva lot of good players,'' said one scouting director, who added that the depth is so great that "the No. 8 pick could wind up being the best player.''
For many months the top two picks were presumed to be accomplished Rice University third baseman Anthony Rendon and hard-throwing UCLA right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole. But Rendon has been DHing all season due to shoulder discomfort, and Cole has run into uncharacteristic struggles, throwing a bit of uncertainty into the top of the draft.
"[The draft] is stacked, but some recent injuries and performance issues have muddied the waters,'' one scout said.
Cole, who wouldn't even listen to a Yankees offer three years ago that might have exceeded $5 million after they chose him with a late first-round pick, is still seen as a likely top-two pick thanks to a high-90s fastball and a dynamic breaking ball. However, Rendon's spot at the top may be slightly less certain now. The injury to the potential cornerstone player is not thought to be serious, but scouting directors may not be apt to take even a small chance, considering the amount of money that goes to players at the top of the draft now.
"At these prices, how can you pick someone who you're not sure about?'' one scouting director said in regard to Rendon.
According to one National League scouting director, Florida high school shortstop Franscico Lindor could sneak into the top two picks, which are held by Pittsburgh and Seattle. Lindor, who has developed tremendous power, could be joined in the top five by some combination of University of Virginia left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen, Oklahoma high school pitcher Dylan Bundy and Kansas high school outfielder Bubba Starling, according to one scouting director. Two scouts said that UCLA right-hander Trevor Bauer, who pitches behind Cole in the Bruins' rotation, is "shooting up the board'' and could wind up in the top five, as well.
With just over a month remaining until the three-day draft begins, here's my top 25 list of draft-eligible young stars, followed by 10 more players of intrigue, based on interviews with a half dozen scouting directors and scouts.
1. Gerrit Cole, RHP, UCLA. The consensus is that the strong-armed junior, who has been clocked up to 99 mph, still goes 1 or 2 despite his recent slump that has left him 4-5 with a 3.45 ERA for the season. He was drafted by the Yankees in the first round in 2008 but decided at the last minute he didn't want to sign, declining to even hear New York's offers even though he was previously seen as a Yankee fan. He's been impressive at UCLA, though slightly less so of late. "He's in a bit of a rut trying to live up to his billing,'' one scout said. Still, his stuff suggests top-of-the-rotation starter. Tough to pass up.
2. Francisco Lindor, SS, Florida HS. Power-hitting shortstop could supplant injured third baseman Anthony Rendon to make it into the top two. Multitalented and plays a "premium position,'' and "has a lot of upside,'' one NL scouting director said of the 17-year-old. "He's developed some pretty good pop,'' one scout said. He has an athletic build, a la Alfonso Soriano.
3. Danny Hultzen, LHP, University of Virginia. He's "streaking up the board,'' one scouting director said and has replaced injured TCU's Matt Purke as the top lefthanded college pitcher. Hultzen has very good stuff, though one scouting director questioned whether he could be an ace. He turned down an offer of "first-round money'' with the promise to allow him to attend school from the Diamondbacks three years ago. That gamble will pay off big for him.
4. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Rice. "He's a tremendous defender,'' one scout said. "Big track record,'' said another. The one issue is a shoulder injury that's kept him to DHing all year. While it isn't believed to be serious, one scouting director said it's enough of a concern when you're talking about a player who's going to exceed a $5 million signing bonus to drop him out of the top two, and perhaps even more than that.
5. Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas HS. "Tremendous athlete who's a five-tool player,'' an NL scouting director said. The University of Nebraska quarterback recruit is in line for a big bonus due to his leverage. The hometown Royals, who pick No. 4 and don't skimp on the draft, make sense.
6. Trevor Bauer, RHP, UCLA. He's "shooting up the draft,'' one scout said of the pitcher who's pitching brilliantly as the No. 2 man, behind Cole, for the Bruins. Bauer is 5-1 with a 1.53 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 53 innings pitched. He has been likened to Tim Lincecum, which only helps him, as a smallish (6'2", 185 pounds) righthander with a unique delivery; previously, that might have caused teams to shy away from him. Now it's all positive. "Has swing-and-miss stuff,'' said one scouting director.
7. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Oklahoma HS. Big-time talent pitches at 96-to-98 mph but has touched 100. "If any scouting director has (guts), they'd take him No. 1,'' one scouting director said. Bundy is said to have a bulldog attitude to go with his big pitches. Righthanded high school pitchers just don't go No. 1, but he has a good chance to be in the top 10, perhaps even the top 5.
8. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, South Carolina HS. Has "big arm and big upside,'' one scouting director said. Had a small off-field knock involving the switching of schools, which is not considered a big issue.
9. Matt Barnes, RHP, Connecticut. A good looking righty "with a lot of upside,'' one scouting director said. Some believe the cold-weather guys such as Barnes can make a leap forward once they have a great chance to play more often in a warmer climate. Looks like a big leaguer.
10. Sonny Gray, RHP, Vanderbilt. Big-time arm has touched 97/98 mph. "He's a little guy with a power arm, a max effort guy with electric stuff,'' one scout said of the 5'11, 180-pound junior. "Real good athlete,'' said another scout. Could wind up as a closer.
11. Jed Bradley, LHP, Georgia Tech. Solid college lefty considered "very durable" but a half-notch below Hultzen.
12. Josh Bell, OF, Texas HS. Multidimensional kid with a "really high ceiling,'' one scout said. One said the best comp could be Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, though Heyward was more advanced than him or just about any high school player. Another five-tool kid.
13. Daniel Norris, LHP, Tennessee HS. A "high-end projectable lefty,'' said one scout. Good stuff but a bit of a commend issue, said another. Still, scouts see him going in the top half of the first round.
14. George Springer, OF, Connecticut. Yet another five-tool outfielder with "tremendous upside ... a scout said. "Big tools... good athlete,'' said another. The Reds' Drew Stubbs is one comp "but (Springer's) better,'' another scout said.
15. Archie Bradley, RHP, Oklahoma HS. Throws in the mid 90s with a dynamic curveball. Entered the year as one of the top five players but "hasn't been great'' this year, said one scout who projected Bradley would go in the middle of the first round. Another two-sport star, he has a football scholarship to Oklahoma. Said by one scout to be an exceptionally nice young man who is perhaps "a bit too nice on the mound.''
16. Blake Swihart, C, New Mexico HS. "Switch-hitting catcher who can hit,'' one scouting director said, pointing out that most top catchers sign out of high school. He has a chance to go to the University of Texas, but a big offer might sway him to sign.
17. Jackie Bradley, OF, University of South Carolina. "Good looking centerfielder who can hit,'' the NL scouting director said. Bradley (.259, six home runs, 26 RBIs) has had a rough year, though, as he suffered a wrist injured and wasn't hitting for a big average even before the injury.
18. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Florida HS. Has among the best stuff in the draft. Pitches at 96-to-98 mph. A Cuban kid who's the best player in the Tampa baseball hotbed.
19. Taylor Jungmann, RHP, University of Texas. Solid pitcher with solid stuff. Having a nice year for the Longhorns, going 10-0 with a 0.90 ERA. One scout said he sees him as a potential No. 3 or 4 starter.
20. Alex Meyer, RHP, University of Kentucky. Big-time, 6'9" talent "could go anywhere from top five all the way down to a sandwich pick.'' Brilliance can give way to inconsistency. Has hit 100 mph.
21. Andrew Susac, C, Oregon State. Good-hitting catcher, but one scouting director said, "He's rated too high simply because of the position he plays.'' Out at the moment with a hamate injury.
22. Mikie Mahtook, OF, LSU. Mahtook is batting .364 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs, "one of the best years in college baseball,'' one scout said. He has "high energy'' and is "an absolute gamer,'' said another. One scout likened him to former outfielder Eric Byrnes while another said he's "George Springer light.''
23. Javier Baez, SS, Florida HS. Very good hitter with "great power,'' one scout said. But some scouts suggested he may have to move to third base.
24. John Stilson, RHP, Texas A&M. He'll be a quick-moving college player. "One of the best changeups in the draft,''' one scout said. Has enough stuff to be a starter but could also reliever.
25. Brian Goodwin, OF, Miami-Dade JC. Another outfielder with big-time tools. Had scholarship suspended at the University of North Carolina over an academic issue.
1. C.J. Cron, 1B, University of Utah. Big righthanded hitter who can swing the bat. "Nobody's had a better year in college baseball,'' one scout said of Cron, who's batting .448 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs. He moved from catcher after a labrum issue that may require attention.
2. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Wyoming HS. Could be one of the most talented kids in the draft, but many scouts aren't quite sure. That's because few have gotten to see him, as he hails from Wyoming, where high schools don't have baseball teams. Nonetheless, word has gotten out. He is a monster as an athlete who runs a 6.5 60. "Sounds like he could be a Rocco Baldelii type,'' one scout said (though he couldn't quite be sure since he, too, hasn't seen him). For now, he's a Sidd Finch type, since he's just a great story so far.
3. Tyler Anderson, LHP, University of Oregon. Solid lefty. "Really athletic,'' one scout said. "Not huge stuff,'' said another. Still, likely to be a first rounder.
4. Derek Fisher, OF, Pennsylvania HS. Talented high schooler committed to the University of Virginia.
5. Dillon Howard, RHP, Arkansas HS. "Good arm, good makeup,'' one scout said. Could be a mid-first-round pick.
6. Kolten Wong, 2B, University of Hawaii. He's a lefty hitter who's a "nice player.'' Consensus is that this 5'9" player will be a major leaguer though probably not a star.
7. Matt Purke, LHP, TCU. The former potential top 3 pick has a shoulder issue, so there's uncertainty. He probably erred by turning down the Rangers' $4 million offer after they drafted him 14th overall in 2009, but being a sophomore-eligible pitcher, he has leverage again, and may be hard to sign again. Things looked good for him after he went he went 16-0 as a freshman, then started strong this year before a dip in velocity and the shoulder discomfort affected his performance. He's 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA.
8. Henry Owens, LHP, California HS. Big arm on a 6-foot-7 frame. Has high ceiling. But one scout said he'd shy away because he's seen as a beach boy type (from Huntington Beach).
9. Austin Hedges, C, California HS. Great "catch and throw guy,'' one scout said. Very likely headed to UCLA, unless someone overpays substantially, which is unlikely to happen even though he's a catcher.
10. Williams Jerez, OF, New York HS. Another five-tool outfielder. He's very raw and may last awhile ("could go anywhere in rounds two through five,'' one scout said). Some scouts are said not to like him at all, but one predicted in a workout "someone would fall in love'' when they see him run, throw and "pop a few into the stands.'' The Yankees are already in deep like, at the least. Plays at the same high school, Grand Street Campus, that produced their pitching prospect Dellin Betances.
• It's amazing that Dodgers owner Frank McCourt can muster so much defiance when talking about his situation. The way he talks, you'd never know that he and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Jamie used $100 million of Dodgers money to subsidize a lavish lifestyle while running so short on cash that they needed loans from Fox just to meet payroll. He acts as if he can't understand why commissioner Bud Selig has appointed an overseer of the operation. That's Hollywood for you.
• Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes is seeing a circulatory specialist on Monday in St. Louis to confirm that he has thoracic outlet syndrome. There is a mixed history of pitchers who had the same problem. Kenny Rogers and Matt Harrison came back from it, Noah Lowry did not and Jeremy Bonderman is still working on it. Meanwhile, the surprising success of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia meant there was no room for Kevin Millwood, who will officially opt out of his Yankees deal on Monday.
• Raul Ibanez's 0-for-34 slump should be cause for concern for the 38-year-old.
• Darwin Barney is making a difference with the Cubs. He isn't a tools guy, but "he's a winner,'' one scout said.
• Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell received a two-week suspension and an undisclosed fine for mistreatment of fans, which included a gay slur, comments that children did not belong at the ballpark and holding a bat in a threatening manner while talking to fans. That's the same penalty that former Brave pitcher John Rocker got for his idiotic comments in Sports Illustrated 11 years ago. Seems McDowell, who doesn't have the dumb-kid defense that Rocker could use -- McDowell is 50 and a coach -- is fortunate to still have a job.