This year’s draft lacks a clear-cut number one talent, and as such, an obvious first pick. Gerrit Cole, a flame-throwing righty from UCLA, is the favorite to go first overall. But plenty of other players, such as third baseman Anthony Rendon, southpaw starter Danny Hultzen, toolsy outfielder Bubba Starling, or the young Dylan Bundy are all in the mix as well.
This draft may lack a Stephen Strasburg or a Bryce Harper, but there’s no doubt it looks to be one of the deeper drafts in several years. With an incredible mix of polished college arms, exciting prep pitchers, and five-tool offensive threats, the 2011 draft is sure to provide a bevy of major league stars over the next several seasons.
With the draft set to start in 24 hours, here’s one look at which players might hear their names called in the first round.
1. Pittsburgh Pirates — Gerrit Cole, RHP, UCLA
The Pirates have also been linked to Virginia lefty Hultzen, but it will be hard to pass on the upside of Cole, who has outstanding stuff and should move quickly through the minors once he improves his command. Pairing Cole with Jameson Taillon – the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft – could give the Pirates one of the best young one-two rotation punches in baseball as soon as mid-2013.
2. Seattle Mariners – Anthony Rendon, 3B, Rice
Rendon was the early favorite to go first overall, but has been limited mostly to DH duties this season thanks to ankle and shoulder injuries. Far and away the best college position player in the draft, Rendon’s ceiling is as a slower Evan Longoria, capable of playing Gold Glove-caliber defense and batting in the middle of a lineup. He’d be a great addition to a Mariners system short on impact players.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks – Dylan Bundy, RHP, Owasso High School (OK)
The D-backs had been linked to Hultzen for weeks, but more recent rumors have them setting their sites on Bundy. The top prep arm in the draft, Bundy has outstanding command and should advance faster than most high school products. He has as much upside as any pitcher in this class, and could be in a big league rotation by 2014.
4. Baltimore Orioles – Danny Hultzen, LHP, Virginia
The O’s would likely prefer for Bundy to fall to them, but would be quite content with Hultzen, who has a good shot at being the first pitcher from this draft to permanently join a major league rotation. Adding Hultzen to a rotation with fellow southpaws Brian Matusz and Zach Britton would be downright unfair to left-handed batters everywhere.
5. Kansas City Royals – Trevor Bauer, RHP, UCLA
The Royals are setting themselves up to be a legitimately competitive ballclub from 2013-2016, and will want a prospect who can contribute during that time frame. Enter Bauer, who is frequently compared to Tim Lincecum and would be a Top 3 pick in weaker drafts. He may beat his current rotation-mate Cole to the majors, although some teams are concerned about his heavy workloads.
6. Washington Nationals – Bubba Starling, OF, Gardner Edgerton High School (KS)
There aren’t many surefire picks in this draft, but Starling to the Nationals seems to be one of them. Starling is far and away the best high school bat in the class, and has the chance to be a Carlos Beltran-type five-tool center fielder in the future. It’ll take a big bonus to keep him from playing quarterback at Nebraska, but the Nationals have been big spenders in the past two drafts.
7. Arizona Diamondbacks – Francisco Lindor, SS, Montverde Academy (FL)
The best shortstop prospect in this draft class, Lindor doesn’t project to move through the minors quickly but could be a perennial All-Star once he arrives in the majors. He won’t hit for much power, but he’s a switch-hitter who should hit for high averages while providing above-average defense. The D-backs will be tempted to draft a college arm here, but a potential franchise shortstop may be too good to pass up.
8. Cleveland Indians – Sonny Gray, RHP, Vanderbilt
The Indians are rumored to be in love with Bauer, but there’s very little chance he falls this far. Still, the Indians will likely opt for a college arm here, with Gray and Georgia’s Jed Bradley the most likely choices. Some believe Gray’s future is as a reliever, but if he can hold his velocity deeper into outings he has No. 1 starter potential.
9. Chicago Cubs – Archie Bradley, RHP, Broken Arrow High School (OK)
In most draft classes, Bradley would be the top high school pitcher. Thanks to Bundy, he’s not even the best prep arm in his state. Bradley may take a little longer than his interstate rival to reach the majors, but he has a more durable frame and his ceiling is just as high. The Cubs will likely have to provide Bradley with a significant bonus, as he has an offer to play quarterback at Oklahoma.
10. San Diego Padres – Matt Barnes, RHP, UConn
This is an unprotected pick since the Padres failed to sign first-rounder Karsten Whitson last year, so look for them to take a player they know they can sign here. Barnes fits the bill, and while he may be slower to the majors than some of the other top college arms, he still has ace potential. The Padres are also interested in college bats such as George Springer and Corey Spangenberg.
11. Houston Astros – Jed Bradley, LHP, Georgia
The Astros are rumored to have their heart set on Archie Bradley, but unfortunately for them it appears as though the Cubs do as well. The Astros will have to settle for a different Bradley, and while Jed lacks No. 1 starter potential, he should be a viable mid-rotation innings-eater in short order. Taylor Jungmann and Taylor Guerrieri are also possibilities, and there are rumors that Chris Reed may go here as well.
12. Milwaukee Brewers – Taylor Jungmann, RHP, Texas
The Brewers should do cartwheels if Jungmann falls to them, as he’s become somewhat underrated amidst the hype surrounding some higher-ceiling arms. Jungmann has been amazingly consistent during his career at Texas, and is one of the safest picks in the draft. He can help the Brewers restock a system drained by off-season trades for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, and profiles as a durable No. 2 starter.
13. New York Mets – Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Spring Valley High School (SC)
The Mets may prefer college arms such as Jungmann or Jed Bradey, but Guerrieri is one hell of a consolation prize. Guerrieri is likely to need three or four seasons in the minors — as many prep arms do — but he has top-of-the-rotation potential, and the Mets are about to enter a rebuilding phase anyway. His upside is nearly as high as Bundy’s or Archie Bradley’s.
14. Florida Marlins – Mikie Mahtook, OF, LSU
Unless one of the elite arms falls it seems as though the Marlins will focus on offense with this pick, and Mahtook provides a nice combination of upside and probability. He profiles as a leadoff hitter and center fielder in the Shane Victorino mold, and should move through the minors fairly quickly. The Marlins are also linked to Spangenberg and Levi Michael.
15. Milwaukee Brewers – Alex Meyer, RHP, Kentucky
After going the safe route with Jungmann at pick 12, the Brewers can afford to roll the dice with Meyer here. Meyer has shaky command and may end up as a reliever, but if he can develop a third pitch and learn to repeat his delivery, he has ace potential. This is an unprotected pick due to the Brewers’ failure to sign Dylan Covey last year, though, so the team may opt for an easier sign.
16. Los Angeles Dodgers – Tyler Anderson, LHP, Oregon
Most believe that the cash-strapped Dodgers will have to stick to MLB’s slotting system, so a cheap, medium-upside pick like Anderson makes sense. Anderson profiles as a mid-rotation southpaw in the Joe Saunders mold, but he should move through the minors quickly and won’t command a huge bonus. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Dodgers target Javier Baez here instead.
17. Los Angeles Angels — Javier Baez, 3B/SS, Arlington County Day School (FL)
The Angels would love for Lindor to somehow fall here and also have a strong history with high school arms, but Baez provides the type of power bat they currently lack in their system. Baez won’t move quickly, has no chance of staying at shortstop and needs to tone down his on-field antics, but he comes with serious upside as well.
18. Oakland Athletics – George Springer, OF, UConn
Springer has the best combination of tools of any hitter in this class save for Starling, but there are serious mechanical flaws with his swing that may see him fall past the first 15 picks. The A’s are rumored to be high on Springer, and would likely settle for college bats such as Spangenberg or Kolten Wong if the UConn product is off the board.
19. Boston Red Sox – Levi Michael, SS, UNC
The Red Sox aren’t typically linked to Michael, and are rumored to be in on higher-upside guys who will be tough to sign, such as Josh Bell, Blake Swihart or Meyer if he falls this far. But just as they took Kolbrin Vitek with their first selection in 2010 and focused on riskier players later, look for the Red Sox to take a high-probability player at 19 and role the dice at picks 26, 36 and 40.
20. Colorado Rockies – C.J. Cron, 1B, Utah
It’s tough to find a mock draft that doesn’t have Cron going to the Rockies, and it’s not difficult to see why. Although it’s rarely a good idea for MLB teams to draft for need, Cron should progress through the minors quickly, and the Rockies lack an heir-apparent to Todd Helton. The only other name the Rockies are linked to is Wong, but Cron is the more likely option. His 30-homer power would play nicely at Coors Field.
21. Toronto Blue Jays – Cory Spangenberg, 3B/OF, Indian River State
The Blue Jays are most frequently linked to Michael, but he’s off the board in this mock draft. Jay’s GM Alex Anthopoulos has focused on acquiring athletic players during his tenure, and the speedy Spangenberg fits the bill. If Brett Lawrie cements himself as the Blue Jay’s third baseman of the future, Spangenberg may be able to handle center field. Brian Goodwin is another athletic option.
22. St. Louis Cardinals – Daniel Norris, LHP, Science Hill High School (TN)
The Cardinals have a strong tendency to take college players, but most of the top college starters are off the board and there are plenty of intriguing prep arms remaining. Norris heads that list, and is the consensus best left-handed high school pitcher in the draft. Norris is committed to Clemson and may ask for a hefty bonus, but lefties who can hit 96 mph with frequency are rare.
23. Washington Nationals – Dillon Howard, RHP, Searcy High School (AR)
The Nationals are believed to covet Meyer here, but he’s long gone in this mock draft. Howard is the best prep arm remaining, and although he’s committed to Arkansas he’d likely forgo school for a considerable bonus. Howard’s value is based mostly on projection at this point, but he has the potential to be a frontline starter a few seasons down the road. Jose Fernandez, Robert Stephenson and Henry Owens are options here as well.
24. Tampa Bay Rays – Kolten Wong, 2B, Hawaii
With 12 picks in the top 89, the Rays will have to mix in both high-upside players and high-probability picks. Wong is certainly the latter, and while he’s not an elite talent, he’s a safe bet to hit and reach the majors in short order. Wong profiles as a prototypical No. 2 hitter in the Mark Loretta mold, and the Rays should be able to sign him for slot and then spend money elsewhere.
25. San Diego Padres – Andrew Susac, C, Oregon State
After taking Barnes with the 10th pick the Padres would love for a cheap college bat such as Spangenberg to land here, but will settle for one of the draft’s best catchers instead. Susac is very solid defensively, but there are plenty of questions about his offense. He’s also recovering from a broken hamate bone he suffered in April. If the Padres’ draft budget is bigger than in years past, Swihart could be the pick here instead.
26. Boston Red Sox – Brandon Nimmo, OF, Cheyenne East High School (WY)
With the high-probability Michael in the bag, the Red Sox can afford to take a bigger gamble with this pick and select the toolsy but untested Nimmo, who’s faced little high-level competition to this point. He’s a long-term project and strongly committed to Arkansas, but is one of the best talents left. Swihart is also a possibility here, as are Bell, Josh Osich and Austin Hedges.
27) Cincinnati Reds – Robert Stephenson, RHP, Alhambra High School (CA)
The Reds would probably love if Anderson fell here, but few remaining prep arms can match the upside of Stephenson, who could go as high as to the Astros at 11 or the Dodgers at 16. Stephenson is a long-term pitching project and is committed to Washington, but would be a boon to a Reds’ system that doesn’t have much talent in the low minors.
28) Atlanta Braves – Jose Fernandez, RHP, Alonso High School (FL)
The Braves are supposedly intent on taking the best available prep arm here, and a good case can be made for Fernandez. He’s a local kid – the Braves always have strong ties to player in the Georgia area – and could be a top-of-the-rotation starter if he watches his conditioning. Owens, Michael Kelly, Joe Ross and Lawrence Academy product Tyler Beede are all possibilities here as well.
29) San Francisco Giants – Henry Owens, LHP, Edison High School (CA)
Zack Wheeler notwithstanding, the Giants don’t have many high-ceiling pitchers in their system. Owens could change that immediately, and while he’ll likely need considerable time in the minors, he has as much upside as any lefty in this draft. The Giants have had luck recently developing southpaws such as Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez, so Owens makes sense here.
30) Minnesota Twins – Chris Reed, LHP, Stanford
The Twins love their college pitchers, and while they could opt for a high-probability arm such as Grayson Garvin, Reed provides much more upside. Reed was used as a reliever in college, but he has a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, and comes with big potential as a starter if stretched out. Stuff-wise he’s similar to Chris Sale, although he lacks the White Sox rookie’s control.
31) Tampa Bay Rays – Brian Goodwin, OF, Miami Dade College
The Rays have had success with athletic outfielders in the past – think Rocco Baldelli, BJ Upton and Desmond Jennings – and will look to continue that trend with Goodwin. Goodwin could go much higher than this, but the potential five-tool center fielder would feel right at home staying in Florida. He should sign for slot, allowing the Rays to spend more later in the draft.
32) Tampa Bay Rays – Blake Swihart, C, Cleveland High School (NM)
Swihart isn’t a lock to stay at catcher and will want a big bonus to keep him away from the University of Texas, but the switch-hitter has one of the best bats in the draft. With two safer players in Wong and Goodwin already drafted, the Rays can gamble on Swihart here, and hope they land the next Wil Myers. Hedges is also a possibility, as is Bell if the Rays are feeling particularly daring.
33) Texas Rangers – Andrew Chafin, LHP, Kent State
Chafin is yet another hard-throwing lefty in this draft, although he comes with some red tape as he required Tommy John surgery and missed the 2010 season. Chafin’s fastball is as good as ever, but his secondary pitchers are inconsistent and he needs to improve his control. He comes with a good amount of upside, though, and shouldn’t command a huge bonus. Osich is also a possibility here, as is Travis Harrison.
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