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Draft : : Top Prospects
Top Prospect Reports: 1-50
Allan Simpson        
Published: Sunday, June 03, 2012

Contributing: David Rawnsley, Patrick Ebert, Ben Collman, Todd Gold

1. MARK APPEL, rhp, Stanford University (Jr.)
At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, with a fastball that has approached 100 mph, Appel was a near-lock to be one of the first 2-3 picks in the 2012 draft—perhaps No. 1 if he pitched consistently to a level he flashed in 2011 as a sophomore at Stanford and during the summer in the Cape Cod League. At his best, his arm was electric with a fastball at 97-98 mph, and two above-average secondary pitches in his slider and circle changeup. He mixed all three pitches effectively, and was able to work each to all parts of the strike zone efficiently with an extremely free and easy arm action. His poise and aggressive approach to pitching were also prominently on display.  This season he has gone 5-1, 2.88 with 20 walks and 55 hits allowed in 72 innings, while striking out 71. For a pitcher earmarked as a possible No. 1 pick overall, during some of his starts, particularly away from the comfort zone of his home field at Stanford, hitters have had little difficulty squaring him up, and scouts have commented how comfortable hitters appear to be when standing in against him. Rarely will he buckle a hitter’s knees with one of his pitches. Balls may explode out of Appel’s hand and he has good life on his pitches in the strike zone, but he is prone to leaving them up and over the plate too often, and consequently gets hit more often than a pitcher with his impressive raw stuff should. Appel could become more dominant as he refines his raw stuff, especially his changeup, but may never be a true strikeout artist.

2. BYRON BUXTON, of, Appling County HS, Baxley.
Buxton has wowed scouts with his superior athletic ability and raw tools this spring, even playing against small-school competition in rural southeastern Georgia. It’s rare that scouts will drop multiple grades of 80 (highest possible score on the traditional 20-80 scouting scale) on a prospect, but Buxton is so talented that he may be one of the few. For sure, he’s an 80 runner, and tossing an 80 on his arm strength and defensive skills in center field wouldn’t be an exaggeration of those tools, either. He has plus raw bat speed, as well, although his hitting tool doesn’t presently rank among the elite players in the 2012 high-school class. Scouts believe his power potential warrants a significant grade, too, but are openly wondering why Buxton hasn’t hit a single home run this spring. Teams at the very top of the draft board have Buxton in their deliberations, and he is a very safe bet to be among the top few selections.

3. KEVIN GAUSMAN, rhp, Louisiana State University (So.)
The 6-foot-4, 185-pound Gausman was drafted in the sixth round out of a Colorado high school in 2009, but passed up on a potential seven-figure bonus to enroll at LSU, knowing he would be draft-eligible as a sophomore in two years. He was predictably inconsistent as a freshman when thrust immediately into LSU’s weekend rotation against Southeastern Conference competition, but improved steadily and finished 2011 with a 5-6, 3.51 record, along with 23 walks and 86 strikeouts in 90 innings. He then pitched well last summer in both the Cape Cod League and for USA Baseball’s college national team, and has continued that improvement this spring in going 7-1, 3.12 with 20 walks and 97 strikeouts in 75 innings for the Tigers. Greater success has coincidentally come to Gausman after he replaced his curveball as his primary breaking pitch in favor of a slider that immediately showed plus future potential. His fastball has been steadily in the mid-90s this spring, and frequently topped out at 97-98 mph, even in the late innings. Scouts have commented, though, that he can do a better job of pitching down in the strike zone with the pitch, and while his changeup grades out as a third potential plus pitch, he could use it more aggressively. Gausman is now considered a strong candidate to be among the first five picks overall, maybe even No. 1, which would certainly justify his decision two years ago to pitch in college before going pro.


4. KYLE ZIMMER, rhp, University of San Francisco (Jr.)
Zimmer was a virtual unknown in the scouting community late last spring when he hooked up with UCLA righthander Gerrit Cole in an opening-round game of the NCAA tournament. With a large mass of scouts on hand to take in what turned out to be Cole’s last opportunity to pitch before he was ultimately taken with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 draft, it was Zimmer who ended up taking center stage. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound righthander was dazzling in retiring 26 of the first 28 UCLA hitters he faced before settling on a 3-0, four-hit shutout with no walks and 11 strikeouts. That signature outing instantly catapulted Zimmer up 2012 draft boards, and he has done nothing this spring but enhance his status to a point where he is a consideration for the No. 1 pick overall, just like Cole a year ago. Zimmer has a strong, athletic frame with an extremely loose arm and comes from a three-quarters angle. His delivery is easy and controlled, and he has outstanding balance. He showcases an explosive fastball that is a steady 92-94 mph, and has topped at 99; he commands it extremely well to both sides of the plate. He also flashes a power slider and curve, and an improving changeup, and has continued to improve the command of his secondary pitches. In 10 starts this season, he is 4-3, 2.86 with 11 walks and 75 strikeouts in 69 innings. With his relatively new-found status, Zimmer still lacks polish in his delivery and approach, but he is seen by scouts as much more athletic than Mark Appel (No. 2), with more upside possibly than any college pitcher in this year’s draft.

5. MICHAEL ZUNINO, c, University of Florida (Jr.)
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Zunino has done everything expected of him this season, and more, and is a favorite for any player-of-the-year awards if he continues at his present offensive pace (.338-10-39, 1.076 OPS). If anything, his defense has improved over 2011 and he even calls most of his own pitches, a rarity in college baseball. Current San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey went fifth overall in the 2008 draft, and there is no reason why Zunino should go any later.


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