David Rawnsley is the director of scouting for Perfect Game and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been almost four weeks since I last assembled a 2011 mock draft, which has given all the potential first-rounders in this year’s class plenty of opportunity to solidify, or even improve their standing within the scouting community. Unfortunately, it has also given a couple of notable high-end prospects time to plant seeds of doubt in scouts’ minds about their worthiness as possible first-rounders.
Players in this tenuous latter category, where questions and even doubts have crept into the picture, fall into three general categories.
The first applies to players like Texas Christian sophomore lefthander Matt Purke. After going 16-0 as a freshman at TCU and initially projecting as one of the top 3-4 prospects in this draft, he is currently unable to pitch because of shoulder soreness, and scouts, quite frankly, aren’t sure about the exact nature of his injury or when he will be able to pitch again this spring—if at all.
Because of all the uncertainty surrounding Purke, he may no longer be on the first-round draft board of some clubs. And his situation raises the obvious question: could he end up becoming this year’s version of Anthony Ranaudo, the former Louisiana State star whose draft standing in 2010 was compromised by a tender elbow?
Ranaudo was on the short list of prospects to go No. 1 overall in last year’s draft, but slipped to the 39th pick overall when he missed most of the spring and his stuff was flat on the occasions he did pitch. The Red Sox took a flier on Ranaudo and watched him regain his old form during the summer in the Cape Cod League; satisfied he was healthy, they ended up giving him a $2.55 million signing bonus, roughly equivalent to the slot for the sixth pick in the draft.
The poster boy for the second category is Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon. Like Purke, the exact nature of Rendon’s lingering shoulder injury is unknown. He has played only sparingly in the field this spring, and by all accounts does not have the same bat speed and explosiveness in his swing that he did as a freshman and sophomore.
Rendon is a position player with a long track record as a hitter, though, so he falls into a slightly different category than Purke. But he was the early favorite to go No. 1 overall in June, and scouts have had no choice but to start worrying a bit about his status.
South Carolina outfielder Jackie Bradley falls into roughly the same category. His season-ending wrist injury isn’t considered a serious setback as he had already established his credentials as an elite talent, but it is Bradley’s second significant wrist injury in two years as he broke a hamate bone early in the 2010 season. It is safe to say, with his latest setback, that he no longer qualifies as a solid bet to be drafted in the first 10-12 picks in the first round.
The third category is tougher to quantify as it deals with draft-year performance, mostly as it applies to pitchers, and it is the one that has always perplexed me.
It goes like this. You’re a scout, and you’ve seen a pitcher throw for years. He has always been healthy and continues to throw his normal raw stuff. But he suddenly has one or two mediocre starts late in the spring of his draft year, and insecurities begin to seep into your thought process. Could there be something wrong? Do I move the pitcher down my list? Eventually, you find yourself hoping that the pitcher lights it up in his next outing so all the uncertainty drifts away.
Exhibit A in this third category this year is UCLA righthander Gerrit Cole, generally regarded as the best arm in the 2011 draft class since he rejected a first-round offer from the New York Yankees in 2008.
While some of Cole’s pitching peers, notably teammate Trevor Bauer, keep humming along, Cole has not been pitching up to his early-season standards with the draft little more than a month away. He has not dominated hitters recently like he has over much of his career at UCLA. But, then. Philadelphia Phillies ace righthander Roy Halladay allowed seven runs in a start last week, too.
There should be no mistaking that Cole has been one of the absolute-best pitching prospects in the college game over the last five years, and therefore little or no reason to speculate that anything should change with his lofty draft standing because his stuff has been a bit flat in a couple of outings. It’s just the nature of the game, and many veteran scouts have seen it happen time and again.
Keeping in mind the recent travails of Purke, Rendon, Bradley and Cole, here’s how I see the first round of this year’s draft possibly unfolding:
1. PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Gerrit Cole, rhp, UCLA
I have no hesitation about keeping Cole in the top slot, and I trust the Pirates like the thought of a future rotation that includes Cole, and 2010 top picks Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie.
2. SEATTLE MARINERS
Anthony Rendon, 3b, Rice
Unlike Cole, I do have some hesitation about Rendon in this spot. One factor is the unnerving thought of giving a player $6.5 million (the amount Taillon received in this slot last year) and knowing that he might need potentially-significant surgery on his shoulder before you see him on a field. The second is the realization that Rendon has had major injuries for three straight years. That’s what you call a track record.
3. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Danny Hultzen, lhp, Virginia
My first thought after watching my colleague Kendall Rogers’ video on Hultzen from two weeks ago at Georgia Tech, was “Wow, there’s my No. 3 pick!” That’s if he makes it to the Diamondbacks, that is.
4. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Trevor Bauer, rhp, UCLA
Bauer’s body of work this season and a year ago, plus his pure stuff and advanced pitchability, moves him up and ahead of Georgia Tech’s Jed Bradley, who I previously had in this slot. Two personal observations on Bauer. First, I would ignore the steady stream of 125-135-pitch games as it is less strenuous on the arm working once a week in college than every five days in pro ball. It would be different if Bauer were to come into a game in relief in mid-week, too, as often happens at the college level. Second, his major-league comparison for me is David Cone.
5. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Bubba Starling, of, Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner, Kan.
Starling’s recent quad injury, which will cost him three weeks of an already short high-school season, shouldn’t alter the Royals thought process. They’ve already done plenty enough homework on the local star, one of the best natural athletes in the draft.
6. WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Jed Bradley, lhp, Georgia Tech
I had Florida high-school shortstop Francisco Lindor in this spot a month ago, and he’s done nothing to hurt his stock since then. I also had Bradley No. 3, and there are just too many quality college pitchers still on the board for a franchise like the Nationals to pass on in favor of an 18-year old shortstop.
7. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (For failure to sign 2010 first-round pick Barret Loux)
Dylan Bundy, rhp, Owasso (Okla.) HS
I’m convinced that this is going to be a surprise “signability” choice as the pick is unprotected and the Diamondbacks will have already spent big money on the No. 3 pick. It’s impossible at this point to slot a specific player here without more information, but typically that kind of player is more naturally slotted in the 15-25 range, and would move up if willing to accept a pre-draft deal in perhaps the $1.8-2.0 million range. Texas A&M righthander John Stilson might be an ideal fit, but after last year’s debacle involving Stilson’s former teammate Loux, that might be a bit too cynical to speculate on him in this spot. Bundy is the top high-school arm in the draft, and he warrants this slot on his sheer talent.
8. CLEVELAND INDIANS
Taylor Jungmann, rhp, Texas
The Indians, who usually draft conservatively, will have their choice of top-flight college righthanders in this slot. You couldn’t go wrong with anyone in the trio of Jungmann, Vanderbilt’s Sonny Gray or UConn’s Matt Barnes.
9. CHICAGO CUBS
Josh Bell, of, Dallas Jesuit HS
It’s a given that veteran Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken will go off the board for a player he likes, in any round. He did it frequently with success in Toronto and pulled the surprise of the first round last year by taking diminutive, but hard-throwing righthander Hayden Simpson from an NCAA Division II school. The Cubs might have gone for a smooth-fielding shortstop like Lindor in this spot, if not for the fact that the Cubs best big-league player is 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro. Bell might remind Wilken of one of his Blue Jays surprise first-rounders, Vernon Wells, who was also a Dallas-area high-school outfielder when Toronto picked him fifth overall in 1997.
10. SAN DIEGO PADRES (For failure to sign 2010 first-round pick Karsten Whitson)
FRANCISCO LINDOR, ss, Montverde Academy, Clermont, Fla.
The Padres have become increasingly more tools-oriented, and there are plenty of big-tool, high-ceiling players still on the board. Lindor has slid far enough.
11. HOUSTON ASTROS
Matt Barnes, rhp, Connecticut
Barnes would be an obvious top-10 pick in most drafts, so the Astros should feel good about getting a big, durable righthander in this slot. He should move quickly through their thin system.
12. MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Sonny Gray, rhp, Vanderbilt
I have frequently compared Gray to former Brewers all-star Ben Sheets, so slotting him here is irresistible. Many scouts will think this is too low for the Vanderbilt star, but that’s a reflection of the overall talent level in this draft, not a negative reflection on Gray.
13. NEW YORK METS
John Stilson, rhp, Texas A&M
Stilson has been outstanding all season in a starting role for Texas A&M, and should have proven to scouts by this point that a pitcher with three present big-league pitches and plus command potential is a future starter. His stock may continue to rise as the draft gets closer.
14. FLORIDA MARLINS
Taylor Guerreri, rhp, North Augusta (S.C.) HS
Some scouts like Guerrieri as much as Bundy, if not more. Both have touched 97-98 mph this spring, and Guerreri has reportedly touched 100. He is more the classic projectable high-school righthander than Bundy, and both have similar present raw stuff. This is a typical Marlins-type draft.
15. MILWAUKEE BREWERS (For failure to sign 2010 first-round pick Dylan Covey)
George Springer, of, Connecticut
The Brewers’ already-thin farm system was gutted this off-season for seasoned starting pitching to win this year in the big leagues, so the organization is in a “best prospect available” mode. That means a player like Springer, a high-ceiling, 5-tool type talent.
16. LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Tyler Anderson, lhp, Oregon
Now that they are being operated by Major League Baseball, the Dodgers will likely be a bit more conservative this time than they were last year, when they reached deep into their pockets to buy righthander Zach Lee away from a football career at LSU.
17. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Blake Swihart, c, Cleveland HS, Rio Rancho, N.M.
The Angels scouting department has been significantly reorganized since last year, so the club’s general draft philosophy is still to be determined. Getting a talent like Swihart at this point of the draft, though, would be a great investment if they aren’t scared off by the high-school catching demographic.
18. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Daniel Norris, lhp, Science Hill HS, Johnson City, Tenn.
The issue with Norris has always revolved more around consistency than about his natural ability and raw stuff. He’s shown better consistency this spring. The A’s obviously value southpaws, with Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson headlining one of baseball’s top young starting rotations.
19. BOSTON RED SOX
Archie Bradley, rhp, Broken Arrow (Okla.) HS
Bradley routinely gets overshadowed by Bundy, a fellow Oklahoma prep righthander, but there will be no shortage of scouts who will speak up at pre-draft meetings to make the potential Sooners quarterback a high priority. The Red Sox, more than any other club, have shown the willingness in recent years to spend the kind of money it will likely take to sign Bradley.
20. COLORADO ROCKIES
Andrew Susac, c, Oregon State
It’s tempting to pop hard-hitting LSU outfielder Mikie Mahtook in this spot, if only as a continuation of the organization’s absurd run on drafting high-profile quarterbacks—Kyle Parker (Clemson) and Russell Wilson (North Carolina State) in 2010 being the latest. Susac, Oregon State’s power-hitting, draft-eligible sophomore catcher, is a better fit.
21. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Jose Fernandez, rhp, Alonso HS, Tampa
Fernandez seems to have generated less chatter this spring than his talent and pitching maturity warrant. He’s an outstanding value in this slot, and would move quickly through the Blue Jays already well-stocked minor-league system.
22. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Alex Meyer, rhp, Kentucky
Meyer is moving up draft boards quickly with a series of dominating performances, much in the way that North Carolina’s Matt Harvey did last year when he landed with the Mets at No. 7. Meyer could do the same.
23. WASHINGTON NATIONALS (As compensation for Type A free agent Adam Dunn)
Andrew Chafin, lhp, Kent State
Tommy John surgery no longer carries the stigma it once did, which makes Chafin and his consistent plus present stuff irresistible at this point in the draft.
24. TAMPA BAY RAYS (As compensation for Type A free agent Carl Crawford)
JAVIER BAEZ, 3b, Arlington Country Day HS, Jacksonville, Fla.
The biggest question with the Rays in this draft is how to strategize the 10 picks they have in the first round and compensation round. If they get Baez here and Georgia prep outfielder Dwight Smith at No. 31, they’ll have two of the top pure high-school bats in the draft to go with first-rounders Josh Sale and Justin O’Conner from 2010. Then it might be time for them to start tapping the deep 2011 pitching pool.
25. SAN DIEGO PADRES
Jackie Bradley, of, South Carolina
Is it unfair to compare Bradley to former big-league outfielder Jacque Jones? Jones peaked in 2002 with a .300-27-85 season, but was out of baseball six years later at age 32.
26. BOSTON RED SOX (As compensation for Type A free agent Adrian Beltre)
Anthony Meo, rhp, Coastal Carolina
The Red Sox used to be known as an organization that emphasized players in their own back yard, especially when legitimate talent warranted it. Meo, a Rhode Island native, would certainly be a step in that direction, as would Massachusetts prep righthander Tyler Beede. It would hardly be a reach as Meo’s fastball has been clocked at 98 mph.
27. CINCINNATI REDS
Robert Stephenson, rhp, Alhambra (Calif.) HS
Stephenson was clocked in the 94-97 mph range in the early innings of his last start, and still touched 94 in the seventh inning. That velocity is representative of many of his outings this spring.
28. ATLANTA BRAVES
Kolten Wong, 2b, Hawaii
Under-sized shortstop Christian Colon was the fourth pick in last year’draft. Does Wong project to be any different type of player down the road aside from his being a righthanded hitter only? That will be an interesting question for scouts to argue when they slot the slugging second baseman.
29. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Brian Goodwin, of, Miami-Dade JC
The Giants are always looking to become more athletic, and they don’t come more athletic in this draft than Goodwin.
30. MINNESOTA TWINS
Derek Fisher, of, Cedar Crest HS, Rexmont, Pa.
Fisher’s senior season got underway late, so there is plenty of time to wait on him. But there was no more impressive high-school hitter in the country late last summer and during the fall than this athletic lefthanded bat.
31. TAMPA BAY RAYS (As compensation for Type A free agent Rafael Soriano)
Dwight Smith, of, McIntosh HS, Peachtree City, Ga.
If this slot is reserved for “best high-school hitter”, then the lefthanded-hitting Smith, with his big-league bloodlines, should get the nod. Some might push for Southern California outfielder/third baseman Travis Harrison ahead of Smith.
32. TAMPA BAY RAYS
Matthew Purke, lhp, Texas Christian
While this pick might seem risky for the Rays, especially when factoring in the bonus outlay to sign 10 picks before the start of the second round, it really makes sense. If they can’t sign Purke, they would get a compensation pick in the 2011 draft, and would have more available money to spread out among their seven sandwich-round picks. If Purke does become this year’s equivalent of Ranaudo and return to full health this summer, they’d pull a huge coup by getting arguably one of the draft’s top five talents. It would be a win-win situation.
33. TEXAS RANGERS (As compensation for Type A free agent Cliff Lee)
Mikie Mahtook, of, Louisiana State
Mahtook would fit well in the late teens or early-20’s on a different mock draft, and could well go higher than the final pick of the first round.