It’s only late February. A lot can happen between now and the MLB Draft on June 4th. There’s basically an entire college and high school baseball season yet to be played, and there will be players who raise their draft stock significantly over these next few months as well as players who take precipitous drops. Nevertheless, we have enough of an idea of the players available in this year’s draft to present to you a mock draft that is not entirely a matter of personal bias. This mock MLB Draft is based on several factors: first off, the obvious considerations of player quality and team need, and then also matters such as team draft strategy and team philosophy. As a quick example of that, my favorite team, the Tampa Bay Rays, tends to draft the best available upside up-the-middle players and pitchers early in the draft, and because of their organizational philosophy, they value defense, versatility, and character more than other teams do. An additional detail is how much players will sign for considering this is the first year where teams will incur penalties for paying total bonuses from all their picks over 5% of the suggested slot bonuses from MLB- and because I’m planning on doing something unprecedented this early in the draft process and taking this mock draft three rounds deep. We’ll start today with the first round.
1st Overall: Houston Astros
The Houston Astros are at a crossroads. They are coming off by far the worst season in franchise history, a 106-loss season in 2011 and entering a time of transition as they begin their first full season under the ownership of Jim Crane and are just one season away from moving from the NL Central to AL West. With the number one overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, the Astros need a player that help them, in time, to go from a cellar-dweller to an AL West contender and eventually a powerhouse. Who is that player?
The Astros got unlucky. In 2009, everyone knew Stephen Strasburg would be the first overall pick in the draft, and it was the same story in 2010 with Bryce Harper. In 2011, things were slightly less certain, but after Anthony Rendon got injured, Gerrit Cole was the clear choice for the first overall pick. In 2011, things are much less certain. The name we hear being floated is 6’5″, 190 Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, certainly a talented pitcher, but not the type of sure thing that Strasburg, Harper, and Cole were before him. Appel’s fastball is consistently in the mid-90′s and has touched 99 MPH, and it still features nice movement away from right-handed batters. But the problem is his secondary pitches. Sometimes his slider features sharp late break, and other times its break is more sweeping than biting, making it hittable. Appel’s changeup is something he’s been working on as a college pitcher, but it’s never become something he’s been comfortable using consistently and it has rarely shown the type of sink and fade that you want to see. On all his pitches, Appel has had command lapses and when that’s happened, he’s been hit and hit hard. But all that aside, is he the choice the Astros should make?
Appel has ace upside if he get his command right, get his slider to consistently have sharp movement and refine his changeup, but it’s easy to see him not achieving all three of those consistently and profiling more as a number two starter. If his command never comes he could be more like a 4 or 5. But that’s probably being overly negative. The likely outcome is that Appel is at least a number two starter in the near future. Can anyone else in the draft rival that?
Enter Lucas Giolito. Giolito is a monster 6’6″, 230 right-hander coming out of Harvard-Westlake High School in California. He’s not incredibly projectable, but there’s a lot of things to like with him. His fastball velocity isn’t quite at Appel’s level, but it’s still 92-95 MPH with occasional 97′s when he has reached back for some extra. Giolito’s has greatly improved control of his fastball and gets hitters out with its late down-and-away movement to right-handed hitters. His plus curveball in the low 80′s features sharp downward break and he has done a nice job keeping it down in the zone. Giolito also adds in a low to mid-80′s changeup that is better than Appel’s is right now and could be a third plus pitch for him down the line. And Giolito is three years younger than Appel. That gives him more time to perfect his arsenal, and considering the Astros’ rotation depth, that would not need to rush him through the minors- although as a very polished high school pitcher, he could move fast anyway.
One thing Giolito has against him: no high school right-handed pitcher has even been selected first overall in the MLB Draft. But the Astros want to make a splash, and doing something unheard of like selecting a high-school right-hander first overall could be exactly what they want to do. Giolito has looked better than Appel over the past year, and if the draft was tomorrow, he would be the Astros’ selection.
The Pick: Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake High School, CA
2nd Overall: Minnesota Twins
After nine winning seasons and six playoff berths in the previous ten seasons, the Minnesota Twins stumbled to a 63-99 record in 2011, last place in the entire American League. While losing stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau for extended periods of time was a key factor in the Twins horrific season, a key issue was their pitching staff as they ranked just 13th in the American League in ERA. Of the nine players who made a minimum of 4 starts for the Twins in 2011, just one, Scott Baker, posted an ERA below the 3.94 league average. At 8-6, Baker was the only pitcher on the entire team with a winning record minimum 2 decisions at 8-6. The Twins did not have a single 10-game winner on the season. Although we know that stats can be misleading, the Twins lack quality starting pitching throughout their organization, with Baker being a notable exception. The Twins have selected at least one pitcher in each draft since 2008, but none have panned out yet and none even close to the big leagues after top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2011. Their streak of drafting pitchers will have to continue. But the Twins will ignore past failures and be awfully happy if Mark Appel falls into their laps. For all his faults, Appel has the kind of stuff that the Twins simply have not seen very often at the major league level in recent years. The Twins have lacked a true, consistent ace since the Johan Santana trade, and Appel could change that. The Twins could be the perfect organization for him, considering their emphasis on control. If the Twins could get Appel’s command and control right and hone his slider and changeup, they could get themselves their best pitcher since Santana. They have the starting depth to make sure Appel is completely ready before he breaks into the majors and to set him up to succeed. Even if Appel turns into more of a strong number two stater rather than an ace, the Twins need all the quality pitching help they could get right now and Appel could still be a key part of their future as they look to return to their contending ways in an AL Central that seems to be getting tougher and tougher.
The Pick: Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford University
3rd Overall: Seattle Mariners
After a decade in limbo following a record-breaking 116-win season in 2001, not making the playoffs a single time and not committing decisively to either winning or rebuilding, the Mariners are finally accumulating pieces that will help them contend consistently. Their upper-level minor league pitching trio of Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton are as good as any trio of pitchers in the minor leagues, and they have retooled their system by finding pieces all over the diamond. With the 3rd pick in the draft, the Mariners get an opportunity to add another topflight prospect.
The Mariners have an organizational need at shortstop with Brandon Ryan being a defensive wiz but a questionable hitter and top shortstop prospect Nick Franklin possessing a nice bat and power but conversely to Ryan being uncertain to field well enough to stay at shortstop in addition to injury problems that plagued him in 2011. That combination seems to make Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero a possible fit for Seattle at 3rd overall with his excellent defensive ability and above-average, if not elite, offensive talent. But the Mariners have realized that they’re not in win-now mode currently, and they’re not going to bypass an excellent talent like Byron Buxton to fill a need.
In the 2012 draft class, there is no clear number one, but there are three players that have separated themselves: Giolito, Appel, and 6’2″, 170 centerfielder Byron Buxton. Buxton is a five-tool centerfield prospect coming out of Appling County High School in Georgia. He has the speed and baserunning instincts to steal 50 or more bases in the major leagues and he’s more than just a burner. His swing yields line drive after line drive, making him a potential .300 hitter in the big leagues, and he has started to go from hitting line drives to the gaps to more and more often hitting balls into the stands as his raw power grades as a plus tool for him. He also possesses nice plate discipline for a high school player. Defensively, Buxton’s speed is an asset, and his arm is considerably above average for a centerfielder. Buxton comes with risk, as do most toolsy high school players, but he has excellent ability and he’s exactly the type of high-upside potential superstar that the Mariners need in their rebuilding process.
The Pick: Byron Buxton, CF, Appling County HS
4th Overall: Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles haven’t managed a winning season since 1997, and they appear to have a long way in an AL East division dominated by the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox, with the Blue Jays beginning to come on themselves. The Orioles have been rebuilding for way too long, but it’s something they’re going to have to continue for now. With the 4th overall pick, the Orioles will look for upside and another potential star player to lead them into the future. Especially with Adam Jones possibly on his way out, the Orioles would love to get Buxton at 4. But with Buxton off the board, the Orioles will settle for making a position that has long been a weak point for them, starting pitcher, into a strength, by pairing 2011 top pick Dylan Bundy with another talented pitcher in LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman.
Gausman, a draft-eligible sophomore, lacks the upside of a pitcher like Mark Appel, but he’s more polished and has a chance to be a better pitcher long-term. He has a four-pitch arsenal headlined by a nice low to mid-90′s fastball with excellent run away from right-handed batters and late sink along with a nasty changeup he sells very well with his arm action. Gausman also throws both a curveball and slider, both of which have flashed plus. Along with Bundy, Gausman could lead the Orioles rotation from embarrassment to prominence. While the Orioles would have preferred more of a pure upside-type player with this pick, they’ll more than settle for another potential ace-type starter in Gausman.
The Pick: Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU
5th Overall: Kansas City Royals
Finally the Royals are heading towards contention as their topflight farm system begins to pay dividends at the major league level. While the Royals don’t appear quite ready to battle the Tigers for the AL Central crown, they’ll be hard-pressed not to fill a need a 5th overall with University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino.
Zunino is an excellent catching prospect on both sides of the ball, possessing a nice line drive swing with power and Gold Glove potential defensively. He possesses a rocket for an arm with pinpoint accuracy and he already excels at the intricate details of the catcher position, such as blocking balls in the dirt. He also provides leadership behind the plate and calls a good game. With the bat, Zunino has some holes in his swing that will be exploited to some extent at the big leagues level, likely preventing him from being a .300 hitter, but he has an excellent eye and has 20-25 homer power. If he could put those type of offensive numbers up with his outstanding defense, he’ll be a multiple-time All-Star. Zunino is the perfect player to team with the Royals young pitching staff to help them harness their potential. He’ll help guide them through tough stretches with his leadership and they won’t have to be afraid that he won’t be able to handle any of their pitches- not to mention that he’ll provide them with a consistent bat that will help get them some W’s as well. Zunino may not quite have superstar upside, but the Royals will never regret it if they draft him.
The Pick: Mike Zunino, C, University of Florida
6th Overall: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are still looking to end their nefarious World Series drought, and the latest executive up to the task is Theo Epstein. Epstein has to completely remake and downtrodden franchise, and one of the ways he’ll need to to do that is by turning around a pitching staff that ranked 14th in the NL in ERA and lacks the kind of pitching prospects he’ll need to change that. But another problem the Cubs have is at the catcher position, where Geovany Soto is looking less and less like the team’s catcher of the future. If Zunino was on the board, Epstein would pull the trigger, but the question is what Epstein would do with Zunino gone. Epstein would give a long look at Georgia Southern right-hander Chris Beck, but it would be awfully hard for him to turn down Acadiana, LA High School catcher Stryker Trahan.
Bryce Harper is a once in a generation type prospect. Stryker Trahan is not at that level- but Harper is still his best comp. Trahan is 6’1″, 215 and has the type of athleticism unheard of from a catcher. Trahan has a nice line drive swing and great (if not prolific) raw power, and he could be a threat to hit .310 with 30 homers. He combines that with excellent ability at the catcher position, showing great motions and a quick and accurate release, although his arm is about average. But what makes Trahan really stand out a la Harper is his speed. Trahan has gotten slower as he’s filled out, but he’s still a slightly above-average runner overall- absolutely off the charts by catcher standards, and he could be the rare 20 stolen base threat from the catcher position. Trahan is the rare 5-tool catcher prospect. His speed make it also easy to visualize a more to the outfield to help his bat move more quickly through through the minors. But Trahan’s nice defensive ability as a catcher just makes him shine even more. By drafting Trahan, the Cubs would get an impact player at the catcher position and quite possibly an elite player. Even though the risk with Trahan may make him a slight over-draft at 6th overall, there’s no way the Cubs could turn down his combination of tools, especially at a position of need.
The Pick: Stryker Trahan, C, Acadiana High School, LA
7th Overall: San Diego Padres
After showing flashes of potential in their 89-win 2010 as they fell just short of the eventually World Series champion San Francisco Giants in the NL West, the Padres regressed back to just 71 wins in 2011. But especially after garnering a king’s ransom in a deal for Mat Latos, the Padres have an elite farm system, and with the 7th overall pick the Padres have the opportunity to draft another great prospect. Even though SS isn’t exactly a position of need for the Padres, there’s no way they would pass up Deven Marrero if he fell to the 7th pick in the draft.
Marrero could be the poster-child of the type of team the Padres are trying to build based on speed and defense. Marrero, a 6’1″, 194 shortstop who currently attends Arizona State University, possesses picture-perfect motions and soft hands at the shortstop position, and his great arm and excellent instincts help him make up for the rare times he does make mistakes. Marrero’s speed is just slightly-above average for a shortstop, but his instincts also help him on the bases where he has the ability to be the type of player who could steal 20 bases in 24 tries. In the batter’s box, Marrero has a smooth, line drive that should help him hit for a high average and he also possesses some nice gap power. Marrero’s defense makes him stand out as a prospect, and his other nice abilities are icing on the cake. He’s a perfect fit for the Padres and a player with a chance to be a Gold Glove shortstop for the Padres within a couple of years.
The Pick: Deven Marrero, SS, Arizona State University
8th Overall: Pittsburgh Pirates
If this was really how the 2012 MLB Draft played out, the Pirates would be in a tough position. The Pirates have holes at shortstop, catcher, and third base in an otherwise strong farm system, but their top targets to fill those holes would be off the board in Deven Marrero, Mike Zunino, and Stryker Trahan, with no third base prospect being worth consideration. So despite drafting Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Stetson Allie in their last two drafts, the Pirates could end up drafting another pitcher at 8th overall, although the Pirates might get creative. The pick could be Florida 6’3″, 225 two-way player Brian Johnson. But the problem with Johnson that the Pirates should notice is that while he’ll unique for his ability both as a pitcher and first baseman, he could realistically falter in either role. Even best-case scenario, he’s probably a 3rd starter in the big leagues or a 30-homer first baseman who strikes out too much for his own good and plays just average defense. Considering first base isn’t a need for the Pirates either, it makes more sense for them to go for their fourth option and draft this year’s top prepr shortstop. That player is Gavin Cecchini, and he may be a good enough player to deflect away complaints when like a Pirates’ pick of the past, he signs for slightly below the slot bonus for the 8th overall pick.
Cecchini, 6’2″ and 185 pounds, possesses five-tool potential at the shortstop position. He has a smooth line drive stroke that he uses to hit the ball hard to every part of the field, and he has plus raw power for a shortstop that he’s beginning to harness. He could be a .300 hitter with 15-20 homers annually in the major leagues. His one flaw in the batter’s box is overaggressiveness as steps up to the plate looking for a pitch to drive and too often swings at the first pitch that comes anywhere near meeting that profile. Cecchini has slightly-above average speed for a shortstop with nice instincts on the basepaths and is a 30 stolen base threat as well. Defensively, Cecchini is a polished shortstop with smooth actions, good range, and an above-average arm. He won’t be a Gold Glover, but he’ll still be above-average defensively. Cecchini makes all his tools play up because of his excellent intangibles and great leadership on the field. His one problem right now is plate discipline, something he’ll work hard on as a pro. In an organization that lacks a notable shortstop prospect, Cecchini can provide just that, and if he can develop plate discipline and live up to his power potential, he’s a potential All-Star.
The Pick: Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe High School, Lake Charles, LA
9th Overall: Miami Marlins
In one offseason, the Marlins have completely shifted gears, going from an NL East tail-ender to a legitimate contender after signing Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, and Heath Bell. The Marlins, under the leadership of owner Jeffrey Loria, have been in the delusion that they’re one step away from contending for a while, but finally that is the case. With possibly their last top 10 pick for the foreseeable future, the Marlins will look to draft a player that can help the big league team sooner rather than later, and considering they have a questionable rotation beyond Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle, that player will be a pitcher. In this draft scenario, the Marlins are lucky enough to have a quality college pitcher in Georgia Southern RHP Chris Beck fall to the upper ranges of his expected draft spot.
Beck features nice movement on his fastball in the low to mid-90′s, but what distinguishes Beck is his breaking ball. His breaking pitch is a slurve in the low-80′s with movement down and away from right-handed batters, but unlike most slurves, the movement is sharp and it could end up as a plus pitch for him. His mid-80′s changeup has a nice contrast with his fastball and has nice sinking action. Beck needs some work on his command, but his control is solid and he has the potential for three plus pitches. Once he gets his command on track, Beck could move quickly through the minors and possibly be in Miami by the end of 2013. Beck is a great fit for the Marlins as they enter win-now mode and need quality starting pitching to led them to the victories they expect in coming seasons.
The Pick: Chris Beck, RHP, Georgia Southern University
10th Overall: Colorado Rockies
The Rockies are coming to grips with the fact that franchise icon Todd Helton is firmly in his decline phase and the end is coming for him soon rather than later. As of now, the Rockies don’t have a good fit to replace him and they would like to accomplish that in the first round. The problem is that the best option for the Rockies to pick to replace Helton is out for the year with a broken wrist: Georgia Southern outfielder Victor Roache, who features prolific power. Instead, the Rockies will settle for a high-upside centerfielder to fill another need in their organization, Oak Mountain High School outfielder David Dahl.
Dahl, 6’2″ and 185 pounds, is a five-tool outfield prospect. He has shown excellent bat speed with a quick swing and has shown an ability to hit the ball hard to the gaps, with more power to come. Dahl’s plate discipline is excellent for a high school product. Dahl has the ability to stick in centerfield thanks to nice speed that makes him a significant stolen base threat and gives him nice range in the outfield. He also his arm to move to right field if necessary. Dahl has five-tool ability, although there’s some skepticism over whether he’ll be able to stay in centerfield. Nevertheless, his upside makes him a great talent and gives him a chance to be an excellent major league player in a few years.
The Pick: David Dahl, OF, Oak Mountain High School, Alabama
11th Overall: Oakland Athletics
After trading Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey, the Oakland A’s have completely retooled their system, which now ranks among baseball’s best in the pitching department, but they need additional position prospect to truly make it an upper-echelon system. After ranking 12th in the AL in batting average, OBP, and slugging in 2011, the A’s need some hitters, and they may have found an significantly above-average hitter in Stanford third baseman Stephen Piscotty.
Piscotty, 6’3″ and 195 pounds, won the Cape Code League batting in 2011 with a quick, compact swing that helps him consistently spray line drives gap to gap, and as he fills out he could have above-average power. Piscotty looks like a potential .320 hitter with 15 to 20 home runs down the road. The rest of Piscotty’s game leaves more causes for concern. His speed is average, but he has had problems defensively at third base and could end up moving to a corner outfield spot. He does have a good arm, able to hit the mid-90′s as a reliever in the Cape. Despite his other concern’s Piscotty’s excellent hitting ability makes him a surefire major league starter wherever he ends up, and the A’s desperately need bats. Piscotty is the type of polished college player that Billy Beane likes to draft, and he’s a good fit for the A’s at 11th overall.
The Pick: Stephen Piscotty, 3B, Stanford University
12th Overall: New York Mets
The Mets are in a tough situation in an NL East division that’s getting progressively tougher as the Phillies and Braves have been perennial contenders, and the Marlins and Nationals and coming on strong. They are the clear cellar-dweller in the division for the foreseeable future, and they have to focus on rebuilding no matter how much the tough New York crowd will ridicule them. They need high-upside prospects that will blossom into impact players. A position where they’re especially in trouble is at shortstop following the departure of Jose Reyes, and they’ll look to fill that need at 12th overall in the draft.
Carlos Correa is a big shortstop at 6’4″ and 190 pounds, but he’s deceptively nimble and fast for his size and has the potential to not only stay at shortstop but be good defensively. Correa needs some work at the plate, specifically with pitch recognition, but he has shown nice bat speed and could hit for a solid average with above-average power for a shortstop as he fills out. He could end up as a power-hitting shortstop who hits .280 with 15 stolen bases and solid defense. For a Mets franchise with virtually no options at shortstop beyond Ruben Tejada, a player like Correa would be a revelation.
The Pick: Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
13th Overall: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are in trouble. They’re a middling team at best and their farm system is the worst in baseball. Maybe it’s time for a little bit of a philosophy change. The White Sox minor league starting pitching is absolutely horrendous, and rather than another safe college pick, the White Sox could go for upside in the form of Olympia, FL High School right-hander Walker Weickel.
Weickel is a big, projectable pitcher at 6’6″, 200, and even though he has more velocity to come, his current arsenal is already promising. His fastball ranges from 89 to 92 MPH with his fastball and has his 95 MPH, and he takes advantage of his height to throw the pitch with a nice downward plane and good sink. As he fills out, Weickel’s fastball could be a plus pitch in the mid-90′s. Weickel’s fastball may be better paired with a slider with a nice horizontal movement, but he currently throws a 12 to 6 curveball that has plus potential with big, late break. He complements his two team pitches with a low-80′s changeup that should definitely be at least an average pitch going forward. Weickel would give the White Sox a pitching prospect with the potential to be an ace or at least a number two, something they are severely lacking. The question is whether the White Sox will be willing to acknowledge their past mistakes and completely shift their draft strategy. If they don’t do so, I could see them taking Florida two-way player Brian Johnson, who would probably turn into another 3rd starter prospect in the White Sox weak organization. It makes sense for the White Sox will go with the former option, and their fans have a right to be upset if they don’t.
The Pick: Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia High School, FL
14th Overall: Cincinnati Reds
After trading for Mat Latos, the Reds are going to fight for the NL Central title after the Cardinals and Brewers have both regressed following the departure of their high-profile first basemen. The Reds will look for reinforcements in the draft to help their major league team quickly. But in the first round, look for them to deal with a system dearth of top outfield prospects and go for upside in the form of outfielder Albert Almora from Mater Academy, a high school in Florida.
Almora, a cousin of Orioles super-prospect Manny Machado, is a four-tool a possibly five-tool centerfielder at 6’2″, 170. He is an incredibly polished hitter for a prep product and in sharp contrast to the Reds’ current centerfielder, Drew Stubbs, he is a great pure hitter and could be a .300 hitter in the big leagues. We’ll have to see how his power develops as he fills out. Almora has the type of speed expected from a centerfielder, and he uses his speed to show great range in center, and along with a good arm he projects as a plus defender. Almora has the potential to be an above-average major league outfielder in three or four years and considering the Reds have questionable outfield depth in their organization, it helps that he’s a safer prospect but still one with upside as well in the form of his power projection.
The Pick: Albert Almora, OF, Mater Academy, FL
15th Overall: Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians got off to an incredible start in 2011 and that gave them a sense of urgency that caused them to trade for Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez and sacrifice a significant portion of their farm system in the process. The Indians are stuck in between contending and rebuilding right now. Either way, they need to retool their now depleted organization. The Indians have needs in their starting rotation and the outfield, but after trading Alex White and Drew Pomeranz to the Rockies, pitching is a more vital need to them. A pitcher with the upside a present ability to both bolster the Indians far system and possibly help the Indians major league team soon is Arizona State RHP Jake Barrrett.
Barrett, 6’3″ and 230 pounds, has shown a mid-90′s fastball with sharp movement, and he has greatly improved his slider at ASU, making it a potential plus pitch with its dynamic late break. His third pitch is a splitter that acts as a changeup for him and has some nice sink. Barrett needs work on his command, but he has the arsenal to be a number two starter and possibly an ace. He could move quickly through the minors if he can get his slider to be consistently plus and get his command right. Barrett enticing combination of polish and upside makes him a perfect fit for an Indians team stuck between the present and the future.
The Pick: Jake Barrett, RHP, Arizona State University
16th Overall: Washington Nationals
The Nationals are making their move. The Nationals have translated their outstanding farm system into impact players and trade pieces to acquire Gio Gonzalez. They’ve gone from a seemingly unremitting rebuilding process straight into a sense of urgency as they look to take a step forward in 2012 before becoming a true contender in 2013 in what will likely be Bryce Harper’s first full season in the big leagues. In the 2012 draft, they’ll continue looking for upside, but in the first round they’ll look to fill a hole at shortstop at one of the few positions where they lack an impact player.
Kenny Diekroeger can flat-out hit. A 6’2″, 200 shortstop at Stanford University, Diekroeger excels at slamming line drives from gap to gap, and he adds to his hitting prowess with excellent plate discipline. Diekroger’s power is average overall, above-average for a shortstop, and although he may not be more than a 10 homer threat, he could hit 35 to 40 dobules. Although his speed is below-average at short, Diekroeger has the quick-twitch athleticism to possibly survive at short and he does have a strong arm. Diekroeger offensive tools make him a promising prospect if he can stay at shortstop, but he could turn into a Mark DeRosa-type (DeRosa is also 6’0″, 220) who plays everywhere but nowhere particularly well but is a productive player because of his bat. Diekroeger could move quickly through the minors and be an impact player for the Nationals as soon as mid-2013. Maybe his overall upside makes him a slight over-draft at this spot, Diekroeger is a good fit in Washington as they transition from rebuilding to contending.
The Pick: Kenny Diekroeger, SS, Stanford University
17th Overall: Toronto Blue Jays
In what has traditionally been the toughest division in baseball, the AL East, you need at least one of two things to contend: money and excellent player evaluation. The Yankees and Red Sox encapsulate the big-market teams in baseball, although their farm system are good as well, while the Rays have kept pace with their excellently-run organization. The Toronto Blue Jays could eventually make the AL East a four-team race thanks to one of the best systems in baseball. With the 17th overall pick, the Blue Jays will go for another upside pick to make their system just a bit stronger.
Lance McCullers’ upside is too tantalizing for the Blue Jays to pass up. A 6’2″, 195 senior right-hander at Jesuit High School in Tampa, making the Rays his hometown team, McCullers’ pure stuff is as good as anyone in the draft. He throws in the mid-90′s with his fastball and his touched triple digits, and he adds in a dynamic slider in the mid-80′s. McCullers also add in a good changeup for a prep arm and a loopy curveball just to give hitters another look. Just based on that, it would be absolutely shocking for McCullers to drop to 17th in the draft. But the problems for McCullers are that he has experienced considerable control problems and has the type of delivery that puts additional stress on his arm and could lead to injury. McCullers has the stuff to start, but his deficiencies may make him a better fit in the bullpen. The Jays or whichever teams drafts McCullers will try to develop him as a starter and see if he can harness his sky-high upside. The Blue Jays, like the Rays, are addicted to upside, and it’s hard to find a player in this draft class with more upside than McCullers.
The Pick: Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Tampa Jesuit High School, FL
18th Overall: Los Angeles Dodgers
Under rookie manager Don Mattingly, the Dodgers showed some potential in 2011, finishing over .500 and featuring NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and MVP runner-up Matt Kemp. The Dodgers are in a period of transition from the McCourts to a new ownership group, but they seem to be close to contending. With their first round pick in 2012, they’ll look to fill some organizational holes to build up towards contention.
That player could be Bishop Gorman High School third baseman Joey Gallo. Gallo, a projectable 6’5″, 205 has two plus-plus tools in his raw power and arm strength and could be a 35 to 40 home run threat someday. His problem is that he comes up empty on too many of his swings, which should preclude him from hitting for a good average, and he may not have the athleticism to handle third base as a pro despite his excellent arm. Nevertheless, even if he profiles best at first base, the Dodgers could use a first baseman that can actually hit for power after dealing with James Loney the past several seasons. Gallo’s massive power upside makes him a worthwhile pick for the Dodgers and he could be a power bat in the Dodgers lineup as they return to prominence in the NL West.
The Pick: Joey Gallo, 3B/1B/RHP, Bishop Gorman High School, NV
Everyone in St. Louis was heartbroken the moment their hero, Albert Pujols left the shadow of Stan Musial in St. Louis to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. With the compensation pick they received, the Cardinals will likely defy their usual strategy of safe college picks in the first two rounds of the draft and go for an upside player that could be a superstar, if not a Pujols. That player might be Valencia High School third baseman Trey Williams.
Williams, who comes in at 6’2″, 205, possesses well above-average bat speed, hitting lasers all over the field and more and more out of the park. He needs to work on hitting breaking balls, but if he manage to do that, he could be a plus hitter with 30 homer power. Defensively, Williams has just average speed, but he’s athletic and has enough arm strength to stay at third base. Williams doesn’t really fill any sort of need in the Cardinals system, but there’s no way they draft a safe college prospect with this pick. Williams’ upside is exactly what the Cardinals want with their Pujols pick.
The Pick: Trey Williams, 3B, Valencia High School, CA
20th Overall: San Francisco Giants
After a disappointing 86-win 2011 following their 2010 World Series championship, the Giants remain in the thick of the NL West race. With some of their top prospects approaching the big leagues to provide reinforcements, at least in the first round, the Giants will look to retool the lower levels of their system especially at the pitcher position after graduated their top pitching prospects to the big leagues. They’ll accomplish that by drafting a prep pitcher here at 20th overall.
Max Fried, a teammate of Lucas Giolito at Harvard-Westlake High School, is a projectable left-hander who has been successful as an amateur with finesse but could grow to become more of a power pitcher. Fried has tons of room to add velocity at 6’4″, 170. His fastball currently ranges from the high-80′s to low-90′s with nice movement in towards right-handed batters along with some sink, but his money pitch is his mid-70′s curveball with acute downward break. He needs to work on a changeup, he has nice control and command for a prep pitcher. He also possesses an outstanding pickoff move. Fried has ace upside if he can add velocity and add in a good third pitch but is more likely a number two starter. He’s a project worth taking for the Giants as they look to create their next group of quality starting pitchers to debut in the big leagues in three or four years.
The Pick: Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake High School, CA
21st Overall: Atlanta Braves
The Braves are in an arms race in a revitalized NL East, and they’ll look to add a prospect who could contribute in the major leagues sooner rather than later. The Braves realize that Chipper Jones is on his way out the door, but they haven’t really found his replacement. But that replacement could be left fielder Martin Prado, which would mean that they have a theoretical need in the outfield next season. A player to fill that hole could be Stony Brook outfielder Travis Jankowski.
Jankowski is a great athlete at 6’2″, 190 with a nice line drive swing that he’ll use to hit for a good average. He has mostly gap power but he has the speed to turn some singles into doubles and doubles into triples and also the ability to steal 40-plus bases. He could pair with Michael Bourn to give the Braves two dynamic stolen base threats. His speed also helps him be an excellent defense centerfielder, and he combines his elite range with nice instincts although his arm is average. With little projection, Jankowski could move relatively quickly through the minors, perhaps enough to be major league ready by the end of 2013. Considering he should also sign for slot, Jankowski is a great fit for a Braves organizational in a contention dogfight that needs impact players quickly.
The Pick: Travis Jankowski, OF, Stony Brook University
22nd Overall: Toronto Blue Jays (Compensation for failing to sign Tyler Beede)
After failing to sign first rounder Tyler Beede in 2011, the Blue Jays receive the gift of a second first round pick to make their great farm system even better, although the pick is unprotected this time around. I could see the Blue Jays deviating from their usual strategy and erasing an organizational weakness by drafting Duke reliever Marcus Stroman.
Stroman is a very small right-hander at 5’9″, 185, but that worries you less out of the bullpen and because of his power stuff. His fastball hits the mid-90′s with nice late movement, but it’s his second best pitch behind his slider that is consistently plus and occasionally unhittable. He is also able to control both his pitches effectively. Stroman has done some starting at Duke, both on the mound and at shortstop, but he’s best out of the bullpen where he has closer upside. Stroman should move fast and give the Blue Jays a quality relief option by the end of 2013.
The Pick: Marcus Stroman, RHP, Duke University
23rd Overall: St. Louis Cardinals
With their second first round pick, the Cardinals will revert to their usual draft strategy and draft a safer college pick. With Yadier Molina‘s future in St. Louis in question, that player could be a catcher, and TCU catcher Josh Elander could be a fit. Projecting Elander here is wishful thinking as I’ve discussed previously here. Elander is 6’0, 200 and shows good raw power in batting practice, but he has never been able to show it in games as an amateur. He’s a decent line drive hitter who could hit for a good average, but he swings and misses too much for a player who hasn’t shown good power as a collegiate athlete. Elander needs to bring his power out in 2012, and the question is whether that will actually happen. For what it’s worth, he has no extra-base hits in TCU’s first 6 games in 2012. I don’t think Elander is the type of safe pick that the Cardinals like, and although he’s a fit if his power comes, he’s not a first round prospect at this point. He is a good defensive prospect, but unless his power comes, he profiles as a singles-hitting second division regular or backup.
I think instead that the Cardinals do draft a catcher but make a reach for University of Buffalo 6’1″, 210 catcher Tom Murphy. Murphy is the inverse of Elander, hitting for big-time power for a catcher, 25 to 30 homers. He has a quick swing that should also allow him to hit for a solid average, maybe .280. Defensively, he has the tools to be a pretty good defender, but he has to work on his throwing accuracy. Murphy’s bat will almost undoubtedly get him to the big leagues in some capacity, and with some refinement defensively, he could be a the Cardinals next great catcher. Murphy has a little more risk that the Cardinals like, but his overall package of tools make him the best available college catching prospect behind Mike Zunino at this point, and that’s the type of player the Cardinals need to have ready with Molina’s departure a significant possibility.
The Pick: Tom Murphy, C, University of Buffalo
24th Overall: Boston Red Sox
After a late-season collapse in 2011 marred the Theo Epstein era, the Red Sox are not about to panic. They’re not going to aim for a high-riser who can help the major league team quickly. They’re going to stick to their upside draft strategy and a possibility for their pick is RHP Luke Sims from Brookwood High School in Georgia.
Sims isn’t really projectable at 6’2″, 195, but his arsenal is still very intriguing. He has nice movement on his low to mid-90′s fastball but it’s probably his second best pitch behind his sharp mid-70′s curveball with acute late break. His third pitch, a changeup, is further along than most high school pitchers’, and it has already flashed plus, giving him a chance for three plus pitches. Sims does need to work on locating his curve and change. Sims could be a good number two starter in the big leagues if he can refine his control and command, especially on his secondary pitches. The Red Sox have a lot of starting depth in their organization, but they lack upside at the position, and Sims can help deal with that. He’s not a true upside pick as he lacks projectability, but he has more talent than any of the pitchers the Red Sox currently have in the minors.
The Pick: Luke Sims, RHP, Brookwood High School, GA
25th Overall: Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays will draft for upside all day and all night except for a situation like in 2011 where they had so many draft picks they literally could not afford to do that and needed some to draft players who would sign for below-slot. In 2011, they’ll return to drafting for upside.
One of the most intriguing prospects in the draft is C.J. Hinojosa, a shortstop at Klein Collins High School in Texas. At one point, Hinojosa planned to enroll early at the University of Texas, but he failed to complete some of the required classes and remains eligible for the 2012 draft. It will be interesting to see whether Hinojosa is willing to sign, but he sounds exactly like the type of player the Rays like to draft.
Hinojosa is smooth defensively at shortstop, although his arm isn’t superlative. He could be a better fit at second base, but he does have the ability to play at least passably at short. Once you have Hinojosa able to play two positions, the possibilities become limitless. With his fluid defensive actions and good athleticism, Hinojosa could be the Rays’ next super-utilityman. At the plate, he has a nice line drive swing, making him a threat to be a .300 hitter, and despite a 5’11, 185 frame, he has nice power for his size and could be a 10-15 homer threat as he fills out. He’s also a good runner with nice instincts on the basepaths. In addition, Hinojosa is known for his competitiveness, leadership, and knowledge of the game of baseball. If Hinojosa is signable away from Texas, he’s just about a perfect fit for the Rays.
The Pick: C.J. Hinojosa, SS, Klein Collins HIgh School, TX
26th Overall: Arizona Diamondbacks
Following a breakthrough 2011 season behind a younger core, the Diamondbacks are going to be fierce competition with the Giants for NL West supremacy for at least the next few years. They still have an excellent farm system led by the pitching trio of Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley, and Tyler Skaggs who will make a great major league rotation even better. In the 2012 draft, the D-backs will look to fill organizational needs with players who will be able to rise quickly through the minors. One position of need is third base, where 30 year old Ryan Roberts broke out in 2011 but doesn’t appear to be the team’s third baseman of the future (that title belongs to prospect Matt Davidson).
A player to bridge the gap between Roberts and Davidson could be Fernando Perez, a 6’2″, 200 third baseman from Central Arizona Junior College. Perez isn’t really projectable but has a smooth swing a could hit for a solid average. He is developing average power, below-average for a third baseman. Defensively, Perez has good actions along with a great arm. Perez could be a quick-moving third baseman that could profile best as a utilityman on a contending team like the D-backs. He has little upside, but the D-backs are focusing all their attention on their major league team and Perez fills a need.
The Pick: Fernando Perez, 3B, Central Arizona JC
28th Overall: Milwaukee Brewers
Thanks to Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers, the Brewers have two consecutive first round picks. They’ll be able to go for a combination of present ability and upside with these two picks.
I think they would lean towards giving the upside pick at 27th overall just so they have a little wiggle room around slot bonuses. Considering the Brewers have an organizational gap at third base, it makes sense for them to draft a prep third baseman with upside, and that’s what they would get with Rio Ruiz.
Ruiz, a 6’2″, 195 third baseman out of Bishop Amat High School in California has three above-average tools in his hitting ability, raw power, and arm. Ruiz’s great bat speed has helped him make contact and hard contact consistently, and he has good present power with the ability for plus power as he finishes filling out. Ruiz is a very good athlete who could play defensive back for the USC Trojans if he doesn’t sign, but his actions at third base seemed to take a lot of effort. Ruiz could profile well in right field thanks to his plus arm strength, which makes also a solid pitching prospect thanks to a decent low-90′s fastball and a plus slider. Ruiz has the ability to be an above-average all-around third baseman if he can grow into his frame and hit for power and if he can become fluid enough at third base to stay there.
Brian Johnson, who we’ve mentioned a couple times above, is a very interesting prospect because of his ability both as a pitcher and first baseman. Johnson, who comes in at 6’4″ and 227 pounds, throws a fastball in the low-90′s, a decent breaking ball, and a changeup that has the best chance of any of his pitches at being a true plus pitch. He does have good control and solid command, but he profiles as more of a third or fourth starter or a reliever unless his stuff suddenly plays up when he converts full-time to pitching. As a first baseman, Johnson has excellent power that he’s already been able to harness, but he strikes out too much and his defense is questionable. As I said above, he could be a 30 home run hitter in the big leagues, but he would most likely do that while hitting for a low average and being unreliable defensively. The most likely scenario is that Johnson turns into an excellent-hitting 4th starter in the big leagues. The Brewers are still trying to contend, and Johnson could move quickly to help the big league team in some capacity.
The Picks: Rio Ruiz, 3B/RHP, Bishop Amat High School, CA
Brian Johnson, RHP/1B, University of Florida
29th Overall: Texas Rangers
After losing two consecutive World Series, the Rangers have to be frustrated. But with a topflight major league team and one of baseball’s best farm system’s the Rangers will remain a legitimate contender for at least the next several years. Even after their recent success, the Rangers should stick with their usual draft strategy with the 29th overall pick and go for upside. One player who could fulfill that is 6’2″, 205 shortstop Tanner Rahier out of Palm Desert High School in California.
Rahier is an interesting prospect in that that season he’s forgoing his senior year of high school baseball to play in a wood-bat league where he’ll get to play junior colleges. Rahier shows excellent bat speed with some power, mostly to the gaps, and he could be a .300 hitter with 35 doubles and 10 homers. Like most shortstops, Rahier has above-average speed and is a 20 stolen base threat. Defensively, Rahier isn’t fluid in his motions but hasn’t had a problem making plays, partially because of his plus arm. Rahier is an enthusiastic player whose intangibles get the most out of his tools. The Rangers may be loaded at shortstop with Elvis Andrus in the major leagues and Jurickson Profar coming on strong, but Rahier could fit at multiple positions and he’s the kind of player who will play anywhere to get on the field.
The PIck: Tanner Rahier, SS, Palm Deset High School, CA
30th Overall: New York Yankees
Despite always being in win-now mode, under Brian Cashman the Yankees have almost always gone with high school upside picks in the first round of the draft except for when a college player is just too good for them to pass up (like they thought Andrew Brackman was). After drafting high school position players in the first round or supplemental first round in each of the past three drafts, the Yankees will look for a high school pitcher in the 2012 draft, and they may find a good one in Duane Underwood out of Pope High School in Georgia.
Underwood isn’t exactly projectable at 6’2″, 205, but he has a lot of room to grow within his arsenal. His fastball may max out at the 92-95 MPH it is now, but it has some nice movement and sink. However, his fastball could be just his second best pitch down the line. Underwood has flashed plus with a hammer mid-70′s curveball, and if that pitch can be refined it could be an excellent pitch for him. He also throws a straight changeup that has a nice contrast with his fastball. Underwood needs some mechanical corrections that could make his entire arsenal more effective. If the Underwood can receive the right tutelage and get his pitches right, he has the upside of a second starter or maybe even an ace. He does have considerable risk, but the Yankees can certainly afford a player with his upside and he appears to be a good fit.
The Pick: Duane Underwood, RHP, Pope High School, Georgia
31st Overall: Boston Red Sox (Compensation for Jonathan Papelbon)
With the final pick of the first round, the Red Sox have their second selection, this one because Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies. Once again they’ll go with upside, but unlike the 24th pick, where in this mock they drafted a more published high school pitcher, with this pick they would go with a pure upside pick. Nick Williams, a 6’3″, 190 outfield from Ball High School in Texas has a heigh ceiling but an incredibly low floor.
Williams has a plus tool in his great speed, and he also shows incredible bat speed that gives him the ability to hit for both average and power. But he hasn’t figured out how to hit breaking balls at all as an amateur, and he swings and misses way too much. Defensively, he should have plus potential but he seems lazy and uncoordinated in the field. Williams is going to need a lot of adjustments as a pro, but if he can harness his tools, he could be an excellent player.
The Pick: Nick Williams, OF, Ball High School, TX
That’s it for the first round. Interestingly, in this mock draft we have 18 high school players drafted, 12 college players, and 1 junior college player. That would be the most high school players selected in the first round, not counting the supplemental round, since 2000, although there were 17 high school players drafted in 2010. Maybe that many high school players being drafted is a little extreme, the high school class this year is clearly better than the college class overall. In this mock first round, we saw some crazy things going on here as a high school pitcher was selected first overall for the first time and several teams defied their usual draft tendencies. Although I highly doubt that I called the first round even close to correctly this early in the process, this mock at least gives us an idea of what could happen.
For our mock supplemental round, please see here.
Topics: 2012 Draft, Albert Almora, Brian Johnson, Byron Buxton, C.J. Hinojosa, Carlos Correa, Chris Beck, David Dahl, Deven Marrero, Duane Underwood, Fernando Perez, Gavin Cecchinil, Jake Barrett, Joey Gallo, Kenny Diekroeger, Kevin Gausman, Lance McCullers, Lucas Giolito, Luke Sims, Marcus Stroman, Mark Appel, Max Fried, Mike Zunino, Nick Williams, Rio Ruiz, Stephen Piscotty, Stryker Trahan, Tanner Rahier, Tom Murphy, Travis Jankowshi, Trey Williams, Walker Weickel