1. 3B Javier Baez (Arlington County Day HS, Florida)
From watching Baez a good bit this spring, scouts are pretty confident that can run, throw, and hit for power. Much of his projection revolves around his defensive upside. Considering many think he has the requisite footwork and quick release to catch and perhaps the agility and range for shortstop, I have to believe he’ll be just fine at third base as a pro. A pretty cool outside the box comp I’ve heard on Baez is current Rangers infielder Michael Young.
2. 3B Matt Dean (The Colony HS, Texas)
I’m trying to imagine the Texas Longhorns squad adding both Josh Bell and Matt Dean to their already stacked core of young talent, but there’s just no way that both stud prep stars wind up in Austin, right? For the sake of the rest of the Big 12, I hope not. Dean’s commitment to Texas is reportedly quite strong, but I don’t think it’ll scare off pro clubs looking for the next big thing. The kind of plus power and special defensive tools that Dean brings to the table ought to get him paid this year.
3. 3B Tyler Goeddel (St. Francis HS, California)
Fast rising Tyler Goeddel has emerged as one of the finest prep players in California this spring. He’s shown all five tools in game action, including a really strong hit tool. His arm, speed, and power are all average or better, and his pro frame gives him room to mature physically.
4. 3B Jake Hager (Sierra Vista HS, Nevada)
Hager is a shortstop on many team’s draft boards, but I prefer him as a potential defensive star at third base. His arm and reaction time are both perfectly suited for the hot corner. The only downside with moving him off short is the acknowledgement that his bat, specifically his power, profiles better as a middle infielder that at a corner. His approach to hitting and history of hitting with wood assuage some of those worries, but I understand the concern. I’ve heard a Daric Barton comp on his bat that I like.
5. 3B Chris McFarland (Lufkin HS, Texas)
The 2014 draft class might wind up loaded with premium third base prospects if all of the supposed difficult signs wind up at their respective universities. McFarland’s down senior year has many thinking he’ll wind up at Rice this fall. That’d be great news for college baseball, but a bummer for the fans of whatever team drafts him. They’d be missing out on an excellent athlete with five-tool upside at third. McFarland’s lightning quick bat is his best tool, followed closely behind by his well above-average raw power and aided by his discerning eye at the plate. His speed, size, and arm are all exactly what you’d want out of a potential big league regular.
6. 3B Taylor Sparks (St. John Bosco HS, California)
Taylor Sparks, the former American Idol finalist (probably), is one of the most fascinating draft prospects in this year’s class. There are polished prospects who may be short on tools, but have high floors and a relatively clear path up the minor league ladder. There are raw prospects who have tremendous physical gifts, but need a lot of professional work to reach their admittedly difficult to hit ceilings. Then we have a guy like Sparks, a rare prospect with upside who is undeniably raw yet somehow not super toolsy. There are a lot of 50s in his scouting report (average arm, average power, average speed, average defense), but also something about his game that leaves you wanting more, in a good way. Part of that could be the rapid improvement he showed in certain areas — namely power and speed — this spring. If he can improve in those two areas, who is to say he can’t keep getting better after he signs on the dotted line?
7. 3B Matt Papi (Tunkhannock HS, Pennsylvania)
Another player with a better than average shot at winding up in class this fall, Matt Papi’s solid across the board tool set could get him drafted early enough to keep him away from enrolling at Virginia. His best tool is an electric right arm, a true plus tool that helps the still raw defender compensate for his occasional defensive shortcomings.
8. 3B Nicholas Howard (St. John’s College HS, Washington DC)
Howard is a similar player to Matt Papi, at least in the way both players have standout throwing arms and less than stellar defensive reputations. I obviously think both prospects will work out at the hot corner — they wouldn’t be on this list otherwise — but their respective defensive progress will be something to monitor as they enter pro ball. Howard’s power and athleticism make him a really interesting option after some of the elite prep bats are off the board.
9. 3B Austin Slater (The Bolles School, Florida)
I don’t often account for signability in these rankings unless something obvious is up. That’s exactly the case with Slater, a player who would be ranked higher on merit (really like the bat) but dinged for being a 99% slam dunk to attend Stanford (their new strategy targeting top prep stars named Austin has now worked two years in a row) after hobbling through an injury plagued senior season of high school. He could reemerge in three years as a premium pick once again.
10. 3B Patrick Leonard (St. Thomas HS, Texas)
Leonard has a fun mix that includes an above-average hit tool, impressive power upside, good athleticism, and above-average arm strength. Questions about his defensive future keep him lower than his bat warrants, at least for now.
11. 3B Hunter Cole (Moore HS, South Carolina)
Cole is another really tough sign (strong Georgia commit) with loads of raw power and good defensive tools. His bat is currently way more advanced than his glove, so maybe part of the idea of heading to Athens is to polish up his overall game and help him pop up as a first rounder in 2014.
12. 3B Alex Santana (Mariner HS, Florida)
As a plus athlete with above-average speed, Santana is a bit of an anomaly in this year’s high school class. Some question his power upside, but there is a long way to go before his body (6-4, 190) fills out.
13. 3B Austin Davidson (Oxnard HS, California)
Davidson’s down senior season will probably cost him some cash in the short-term, but his solid blend of tools will still get him noticed on draft day. I think he has the chops to be a good defender at third base, but his lack of power upside may keep him from ever holding down an everyday spot. It is tough to project a utility player on a high school prospect, but Davidson’s skill set — average arm, average speed, cerebral player — seems well suited for spot duty.
14. 3B Ahmad Christian (Trinity Christian Academy, Florida)
It sure doesn’t seem like Christian will sign a pro contract this year, but his crazy athleticism, great range, and plus glove are all too good to leave him off this list. In the likely event he’ll wind up at South Carolina, it’ll be interesting to track his development as a dual-sport (the other being football) prospect. Like Hunter Cole before him, going off to school could be a blessing in disguise for his long-term outlook. There are still many concerns about Christian’s offensive ability and three years in the SEC will provide a clearer picture of his skills.
15. 3B Max Kuhn (Zionsville HS, Indiana)
Three reasons why I like Max Kuhn: 1) his upside with the bat, 2) any early round prep prospect from Indiana is fun, and 3) baseball could use another quality Max. One of my first — and as it turns out, only — autographs came from Max Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball, at a shoe store when I was six.
16. 3B Dustin Houle (Langley SS, British Columbia)
Houle probably fits best behind the plate, but I’m sticking with him as a third baseman for now. He is a talented player who will need a lot of minor league reps. That shouldn’t be a problem for him because , as one of the youngest draft-eligible players this year, youth is on his side.
17. 3B Brian Anderson (Deer Creek HS, Oklahoma)
18. 3B Justin Atkinson (St Aloysius Gonzaga SS, Ontario)