One of the things I love most about covering the draft is the absurdly high degree of unpredictability throughout the process. The sooner we can all accept that there are literally no certainties when it comes to the draft, the happier we will all be. It may sound corny, but I’ve long believed that sometimes the only thing you can count on is knowing that you can’t really count on anything. Remember how clever it was to say Anthony Rendon was a much better prospect than Bryce Harper? Now some are coming up with ways to push him to the 9th overall selection, a spot in the draft that conveniently belongs to a team with a gigantic fan base from a major market that just so happens to also have a really strong internet presence. Sorry, I try not to ever say a bad word about any of the experts but that seemed like a pretty egregious traffic grab to me. Anyway, for a more recent example of draft craziness, think back to last weekend. Which player was everybody excited about? Gerrit Cole, of course. This weekend, it seems like it has been all Anthony Meo, all the time. Matt Purke was once as close to a sure thing to go in the top five as anybody, but now the experts claim his stock is down across the board. What in the world is going on?
Minus the Rendon silliness, this is all great news. Well, maybe it isn’t particularly great for Matt Purke, but it is great for any outsider observer of the draft. From summer ball to winter showcases all the way up to live competitive baseball in the spring, the rankings and prospect lists expand and evolve. We’re currently in the midst of a pretty interesting shakeup atop draft boards around the league. In an effort to make some sense of the ever-shifting landscape, here is one man’s take, three months out, of what a 2011 first round draft board might look like:
C: Blake Swihart (Cleveland HS, NM)
SS: Francisco Lindor (Montverde Academy, FL)
3B: Anthony Rendon (Rice)
OF: George Springer (Connecticut) – Jackie Bradley (South Carolina) – Bubba Starling (Gardner-Edgerton HS, KS)
LHP: Matt Purke (TCU) – Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech) – Danny Hultzen (Virginia) – Daniel Norris (Science Hill HS, TN)
RHP: Gerrit Cole (UCLA) – Taylor Jungmann (Texas) – Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt) – Trevor Bauer (UCLA) – Matt Barnes (Connecticut) – Archie Bradley (Broken Arrow HS, OK)
I’d have a really hard time picking out one player that I thought could drop out of this list. I won’t deny that is at least partly because I played it very conservatively here — only five high schoolers — but it is also because the top of this draft has a really unique blend of high upside, high floor talents. Take Lindor and Bauer as two examples of this. If say, Lindor’s bat doesn’t develop quite as expected or Bauer’s quirky approach to pitching turns some teams off, then each player has enough of an unquestionably interesting skill set (Lindor’s plus glove and Bauer’s minimum two plus pitches) to at least warrant consideration later in the first. Outside of injury, there just isn’t a lot that could depress the draft stock of any player on the list.
That’s 16 prospects that I consider safely within the 2011 draft’s first round, leaving us with 17 more spots to fill. Let’s keep some semblance of symmetry going and knock out 16 more.
Very Good Bets
C: Andrew Susac (Oregon State)
2B: Kolten Wong (Hawaii)
SS: Phillip Evans (La Costa Canyon HS, CA)
OF: Brian Goodwin (Miami-Dade CC) – Mikie Mahtook (LSU) – Josh Bell (Jesuit College Prep School of Dallas, TX) – Travis Harrison (Tustin HS, CA)
LHP: Tyler Anderson (Oregon) – Josh Osich (Oregon State) – Henry Owens (Edison HS, CA)
RHP: John Stilson (Texas A&M) – Alex Meyer (Kentucky) – Anthony Meo (Coastal Carolina) – Dylan Bundy (Owasso HS, OK) – Jose Fernandez (Alonso HS, FL) – Taylor Guerrieri (Spring Valley HS, SC)
I’d actually be pretty surprised if Susac, now the clear frontrunner for first college catcher off the board, wasn’t a first rounder on the majority of draft boards as of this moment, but I’m playing it safe and keeping him here. I’d also be surprised if only one high school middle infielder gets selected in the first in what looks like a pretty strong year for the position. Evans is my favorite at the moment, but the exercise still works even if he is subbed out for your top remaining shortstop of choice. Travis Harrison reminds me a little bit of Nick Castellanos, at least in terms of prospect stock, so it will be interesting to see if he follows the expected 2010 first rounder out of the top round or if he keeps hitting enough (and/or keeps his bonus demands down low enough) to stay within the first 33 choices. Osich is the most interesting name on the pitching side. It isn’t every day that a college arm is projected to sneak into the first round without having thrown a breaking ball going into the last full week of March, but Osich’s big velocity and dedicated return from Tommy John surgery gives him a good amount of much deserved leeway. I don’t necessarily think Stilson, Meyer, and Meo are “very good bets,” but I’ve heard each name talked about by one particular club official as potential quick moving professional bullpen conversion candidates. Said official surmised a team picking near the back of the first round — perhaps a team with a record setting number of early picks looking to save a little cash while upgrading a potentially leaky relieving corps at the same time? — could jump on the chance to take any one of the three.
2B: Levi Michael (North Carolina)
3B: Jason Esposito (Vanderbilt)
OF: Derek Fisher (Cedar Crest HS, PA)
RHP: Carson Smith (Texas State)
I’m cheating here and giving four names, but only because I’ve heard each name mentioned specifically of being of heavy interest to a handful of teams picking in the latter half of the first round. I feel bad passing along information like that without being able to give a solid source, so don’t feel bad about thinking I’m full of it and not believing me. If I was reading this instead of writing it, I might not believe it either. Heck, I’m writing it and I’m not 100% believing it. When we look back at this list and see how wrong it was in June, put me down as believing Fisher will be the 33rd first rounder out of this group.