Draft : : Rankings
Thursday, November 14, 2013

2014 Draft: Top 250 Prospects

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Perfect Game

2014 Raw Draft Order

Astros Corral First Overall Pick Again,
Will Focus on Two North Carolina Arms

By virtue of posting the poorest record in Major League Baseball for the third consecutive year in 2013, the Houston Astros will make draft history next June by picking first overall for the third time in a row.

The Astros became just the third team in the draft’s 48-year history to garner consecutive 1/1 picks this year, joining the 2006-07 Tampa Bay Rays and 2009-10 Washington Nationals in earning that dubious distinction. But whereas both the Rays and Nationals had already gone a long way towards reversing their losing fortunes by the time they made the second of their consecutive picks, the Astros continued to bottom out.

The team extended their string of 100-loss seasons to three in 2013, while dropping a franchise-record 111 games. That was 11 more losses than the Miami Marlins, the only other team to lose at least 100 games this season, which raises the specter whether the Astros, who have done little to bolster their roster during the off-season, may be in line for a fourth consecutive shot at the No. 1 pick overall in 2015.

Houston’s previous top draft selections were Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa in 2012 and Stanford righthander Mark Appel in 2013, and the pair, who played briefly together this summer at Quad Cities of the low Class A Midwest League, have had encouraging careers to date and gone a long way towards providing the Astros with one of the most fruitful farm systems in the game. But neither player—the more advanced Appel, in particular—is considered a lock to even play in the big leagues a year from now.

With the top pick in the 2014 draft, the Astros will obviously gain access to yet another premium prospect, further supplementing the depth of talent in their organization.

North Carolina State lefthander Carlos Rodon is a clear-cut favorite to go No. 1 overall next June—and may have even been picked ahead of either Correa or Appel in the last two drafts had he been eligible. In neither case were Correa or Appel considered consensus No. 1 selections, nor did they receive the largest signing bonuses in their respective draft classes, even though the Astros were allotted the greatest amount to sign the top pick under terms of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Those circumstances could change next year with the celebrated Rodon in the talent pool, especially if he performs to the level he did as both a freshman and sophomore at N.C. State, when he went a combined 19-3, 2.33 with 86 walks and 319 strikeouts in 247 innings, and led all NCAA Division I pitchers in strikeouts as a sophomore with 184—37 more than his closest competitor. Rodon also dominated international competition during the summer in a second consecutive stint with USA Baseball’s college national team.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound lefthander has thrown consistently in the mid- to high-90s throughout his college career, and augments his fastball with an equally dominant slider and improving change. His ability to command his dominant raw stuff sets him apart from any other pitcher in the 2014 draft class.

The Astros acknowledge that Rodon, an unsigned 16
th-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2011 draft out of a nearby high school, is on their short list of candidates, and planned to send a delegation of front-office people and scouts to North Carolina to meet with the lefthander this month to establish a relationship.

We're going to meet with several guys,” Astros scouting director Mike Elias told mlb.com. “We have a few meetings lined up this month, and he's on the list.”

Rodon is the obvious front-runner to go No. 1 overall with the draft still six months out, another North Carolina college pitcher, East Carolina righthander Jeff Hoffman, has emerged as a viable alternative should the Astros switch gears and seriously consider someone other than Rodon.

On Perfect Game’s early ranking of the
Top 250 Prospects in the 2014 draft class, Rodon is ranked No. 1, Hoffman No. 2.

Hoffman hasn’t enjoyed anywhere near the same kind of success as Rodon through his first two college seasons at ECU, going a combined 9-9, 3.48 with 60 walks and 139 strikeouts in 184 innings. The undrafted New York high-school product is considered more of a late bloomer, though has been one of the dominant arms in the Cape Cod League the last two summers.

ite making just four starts in 2013 in a return engagement to Hyannis, he was an easy selection as the top professional prospect on the Cape on the strength of an explosive fastball that was consistently between 94-97 mph and peaked at 98. He also featured a curve with hard, late action, and a vastly improved changeup as his third pitch.

Unlike the physic
ally-mature Rodon, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Hoffman is still growing into his long, lanky frame, and appears ripe to make a profound leap forward next spring, possibly causing a dilemma for the Astros over which pitcher to choose with the No. 1 selection.

To be sure, North Carolina will be a popular destination next spring for the Astros, and scouts from all organizations. In fact, North Carolina State and East Carolina, located just an hour apart and long-time rivals in the eastern half of the state, traditionally play each other in home-and-home games each season and will do so a week apart in 2014, on April 2 and April 9, in a pair of mid-week encounters. It is highly unlikely, though, that the two pitchers will hook up against one another—or even see action in either encounter.

North Carolina State, which made its first College World Series appearances in 45 years last spring, will also feature another premium draft pick in shortstop Trea Turner, the top-rated college position prospect in next year’s crop. He ranks No. 4 overall, according to PG.

Interestingly, N.C. State’s banner 2012 freshman class also featured the top unsigned high-school selection from the previous year’s draft in catcher Brett Austin, a supplemental first-round pick of the San Diego Padres. But Austin hasn't progressed as hoped in his two years with the Wolfpack, while Rodon and Turner have taken quantum leaps forward.

College pitching shapes up as the dominant theme of the 2014 draft, with Rodon, Hoffman and fireballing Louisville closer Nick Burdi ranked 1-2-3 by Perfect Game. Among the top 10 prospects overall, six are college arms, including Vanderbilt righthander Tyler Beede, the only first-rounder from the 2011 draft to go unsigned. Beede, who tied for the national lead in wins a year ago while posting a 14-1 record, is considered a notch below the Big Three and ranks No. 5 overall.

A handful of teams may be somewhat hesitant to place Burdi in the same elite group as Rodon and Hoffman because of his limiting role as a closer, but the 6-foot-3, 220-pound righthander has flashed the best raw arm strength of any pitcher in the 2014 class and was thoroughly dominant in his end-of-game role as a sophomore for the Cardinals. The Illinois high school product, a 24
th-round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2011, went 3-3, 0.76 with 16 saves, along with 62 strikeouts in 36 innings on the strength of a fastball that was routinely clocked in triple digits.

In contrast to a fairly-defined crop of college arms, there is little or no consensus on the top high school talent in the 2014 draft. California shortstop Jacob Gatewood, Georgia outfielder Michael Gettys, Florida shortstop/righthander Nick Gordon, California catcher Alex Jackson and Texas righthander Michael Kolek have consistently been ranked among the nation’s top prep prospects, but none has asserted himself to date as the best of the bunch.

Right now, it’s safe to say that the Astros focus in the 2014 draft will be on college pitching, with Rodon and Hoffman ranking as the early favorites to go No. 1 overall.

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