This Thursday marks the beginning of the MLB amateur draft. You can look forward to in-depth coverage that night here on Last Word on Sports, but for now here’s my top ten available prospects, and which team I expect them to be selected by. Note that this does not serve necessarily as a projected first ten picks, but an assessment of the top talent available.
1. Carlos Rodon – LHP, NC State
There’s been some concern about Carlos Rodon this year, who at one point was considered the clear favorite to go first overall. However, control problems have lowered his stock somewhat, causing him to fall back into the pack of the top three. However, I find him to still have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the group. Rodon actually lowered his ERA this year to a 2.01 mark, and led all of Div. 1 baseball with 184 strikeouts. His 6-7 record is absolutely useless in assessing his talent, yet don’t be surprised to see him go somewhere besides first overall.
Projected Slot – Third Overall, Chicago White Sox
2. Brady Aiken – LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS, CA
Aiken has a drawn a comparison that’s a bit insane for a high school pitcher: Clayton Kershaw. He can throw a 94 MPH fastball with ease; he’s been clocked as high as 97, and also employs plus curveballs and changeups. He’s a projectable top-line pitcher, and the recent buzz has the Astros taking him first overall. I’ll buy into that buzz.
Projected Slot – First Overall, Houston Astros
3. Tyler Kolek – RHP, Shepherd High School, TX
Kolek is a monster of a pitcher, who’s found himself in uncharted territory. Scouts try to attach comparisons to players they scope out, as shown by Aiken’s Kershaw tag. Kolek doesn’t have a comp. Scouts have never seen anything like him. He’s listed as 6’5’, 230 lbs, absolutely massive for a high schooler. His fastball has gotten a perfect 80 grade, and can hit 100 MPH at a moment’s notice. He also has a curveball, changeup and slider. Like Rodon, there’s some concern about control but his raw stuff is too overwhelming to ignore. His wildness will take time to get under control in the minor leagues, but the dividends could be huge.
Projected Slot – Fourth Overall, Chicago Cubs
4. Alex Jackson – C/OF, Rancho Bernardo High School, CA
Jackson’s come out of the same high school program as Cole Hamels, but finds his value at the other end of the ball. He could easily hit for both average and power in the major leagues from the right-handed side of the plate, however with the lack of speed that catchers usually endure. His defensive game behind the plate points to an eventual full-time move towards the outfield, but Jackson could make up for that with his cannon of an arm. Miami seems like a good destination for Jackson, as they have more than enough minor-league pitching and another plus bat could do their system well.
Projected Slot – Second Overall, Miami Marlins
5. Aaron Nola – RHP, LSU
Nola doesn’t throw overwhelmingly hard, unlike many of the top pitchers in this draft. However he doesn’t have a bad pitch in his repertoire, and his 1.47 ERA speaks for itself. My favorite Nola statistic is that he only allowed eight doubles over 116.1 IP, and zero triples. When hitters make contact off Nola, they aren’t driving it very far. Control is Nola’s best quality, and it’s one that’s going to carry him a long way. Minnesota isn’t short on farm talent, including in the pitching department given the presence of players like Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios. However, Nola isn’t to be passed up on.
Projected Slot: Fifth Overall, Minnesota Twins
6. Nicholas Gordon – SS, Olympia High School, FL
Gordon’s been around the game of baseball longer than anyone in this group. You may know his brother Dee, who plays second base for the Dodgers. And you may know his father Tom, who was one of the league’s best relievers for a long time. Baseball runs in his blood, and it shows. Like his brother, Gordon is a middle infielder, which is a valuable commodity in a draft that is lacking in shortstop talent. He doesn’t hit for much power, but could be useful in a leadoff role as he can make consistent contact. His glove isn’t shabby either, and has a powerful arm that even lead to some time on the mound and a fastball in the low 90’s.
Projected Slot – Seventh Overall, Philadelphia Phillies
7. Tyler Beede – RHP, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt has been a factory for good pitching. Perhaps you’ve heard of Sonny Gray or David Price, both Vanderbilt products. Price even regularly corresponds with Beede about pitching and it shows. The Blue Jays tried to draft him in the first round of the 2011 draft, and now Beede is ready to go pro. Problems with repeating his delivery may keep him out of the top ten, but his stuff is electric. His fastball is his best pitch (I’m sensing a common theme here), and also throws a strong curveball and changeup. I’m thinking that the Mariners will gamble on Beede, as they’ve shown themselves more than capable of churning out stellar pitching prospects like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.
Projected Slot – Sixth Overall, Seattle Mariners
8. Kyle Freeland – LHP, Evansville
Besides the strong fastball needed to make it into the top ranks, there seems to be no one ting Freeland does exceptionally well. That’s okay though, as he seems to be good at almost everything. He generates strikeouts, limits baserunners and has plus pitches across the board. The main hitch in Freeland’s projection is that some scouts are wary of his delivery, which could lead to an adjustment period once he hits the minors. Don’t expect that to keep him out of the top of the first round, though
Projected Slot – Ninth Overall, Toronto Blue Jays
9. Trea Turner – SS, NC State
NC State had themselves one hell of a group this year. While it’ll be an absolute shock if Rodon escapes the top three picks, it’s more difficult to place where Turner will go. His main calling card is his speed. Turner is lightning on the basepaths, but unlike Billy Hamilton he can consistently hit and get on base. With some polish, Turner looks like prime leadoff stuff. His glove will also help him keep his head above the water if minor league seasoning is kind to him. Turner is more of a gamble than Jackson or fellow shortstop Gordon, but may just have a higher ceiling.
Projected Slot – Tenth Overall, New York Mets
10. Michael Conforto – OF, Oregon State
There’s one thing you sign Conforto for, and that’s power. He’s not going to hit for spectacular average, but he’s going to deliver the bombs. It’s a risky move to take a player high up and immediately cast away consistent hits, but Conforto avails himself by playing the outfield well and having a strong arm with which to throw out runners. That provides staying power for the major leagues. It’s even more appealing to the Colorado Rockies, who have the eighth overall pick. If you put Conforto’s bat in Coors Field, the NL West could be in trouble.
Projected Slot – Eighth Overall, Colorado Rockies
Now, I could be dead wrong about all of this. The draft is notoriously difficult to accurately forecast. However, these are the players that stand out to me based on scouting reports and video. I tried my best to remain unbiased (I’m a serious Aaron Nola fan), and it was hard to leave some players out of the top ten. Max Pentecost, Grant Holmes, Sean Newcomb, Derek Hill, Bradley Zimmer and Touki Toussaint are all players that could go in these picks as well. We’ll all find out for sure on Thursday night, and I hope you check in here at Last Word on Sports for our up-to-the-minute coverage.
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