Lining up the first round of the 2014 draft could have been easy if everything had gone according to plan. But as is usually the case with baseball’s June draft, the class has not developed according to plan.
North Carolina State lefthander Carlos Rodon entered the season as the No. 1 prospect, and still may go out No. 1 overall. But Rodon came out of the gates ordinary by his standards, and the high school pitching crop has turned out to be anything but ordinary, with great depth.
A late spate of missed starts further clouded the top of the draft and affected the depth of the college pitching. East Carolina righthander Jeff Hoffman, the No. 2 overall prospect coming into the spring, was scratched from his first two May starts with arm soreness, then announced he was having Tommy John surgery.
Texas Christian lefthander Brandon Finnegan left a start with a sore arm and took the next week off, and Nevada-Las Vegas righthander Erick Fedde took a week off in May as well.
“Those guys certainly complicate things,” an American League scouting director said. “But in general, it’s tough to see all the pitchers enough times, because it is so deep in pitching. So I think you’ll see a lot of the hitters coming off the board in the 20 to 40 range, but maybe 14 or 15 of the first 20 picks could be pitchers.”
Clubs have become accustomed to the “capped draft” era, now in its third year, and much could change between now and June 6 as teams assess signability. With that in mind, here’s how we think the first round and competitive balance round of the draft could shake out. We’ll continue to roll out updated mock drafts right up to draft day.
Scouting director Mike Elias says the Astros have a couple of dark horses in the mix in case signability becomes an issue, but this draft class features three elite talents that Houston will focus on.
Texas prep fireballer Tyler Kolek would become the first high school righthander ever to go No. 1 overall if Houston selects him. His local appeal and 100 mph fastball would win the press conference.
But more likely, Houston looks to the draft’s two top lefthanders, who both have longer track records of success. San Diego prep Brady Aiken has thrown harder and had a sharper breaking ball while maintaining excellent command for a high schooler, and his star turn with USA Baseball’s 18-and-under team is another asset. But neither Kolek nor Aiken has Carlos Rodon’s combination of stuff, physicality and track record. Even when he’s not at his best, Rodon shows scouts a fastball/slider combination that could fit in a big league bullpen now. That makes him Houston’s best bet.
Projected Pick: Carlos Rodon
2. MARLINS: If the Astros don’t take him, it’s hard to imagine owner Jeffrey Loria allowing the Marlins to pass on the Cuban-American Rodon, who was born in Miami. Assuming Rodon is gone, the Marlins will take their pick of prep arms, with Kolek’s unique power too much to pass up.
Projected Pick: Tyler Kolek
3. WHITE SOX:The new draft rules have opened up owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s wallet, so if Rodon were to fall here the White Sox would take him. If Rodon is gone and Aiken is available, he would make sense here. There’s some talk of the White Sox shying away from Kolek, potentially in favor of a college arm, if Aiken and Rodon are off the board.
Projected Pick: Brady Aiken
4. CUBS: The Cubs pick fourth in a draft with three defined elite talents. Hoffman was a contender for this slot, throwing one of his best outings with president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer in attendance, before his late injury. The Cubs will consider San Diego prep catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson and Florida prep shortstop Nick Gordon, but their need for a pitcher likely will lead them to a college arm such as Texas Christian’s Brandon Finnegan or UNLV’s Erick Fedde. They’ll also look at reuniting Vanderbilt’s Tyler Beede and their minor league pitching coordinator, Derek Johnson, who helped recruit Beede to Vandy and coached him there for one season.
Projected Pick: Brandon Finnegan
5. TWINS: The Twins are in on college arms, most notably Fedde and Louisiana State’s Aaron Nola, who fit the club’s profile for having strike-throwing arm action to go with first-round fastball velocity. The two top prep bats, Jackson and Gordon, are attractive options, however, particularly Gordon, a pure defensive shortstop.
Projected Pick: Nick Gordon
6. MARINERS: The Mariners have collected corner bats at the big league level and at the top of the draft of late, and Oregon State’s Michael Conforto is a local option in that vein. Jackson is this draft’s best bat, though, and with Mike Zunino behind the plate Seattle can afford to move him to the outfield get him to the big leagues on a faster track.
Projected Pick: Alex Jackson
7. PHILLIES: The Phillies are always going to be tied to high-ceiling prep talents like Gordon and Jackson, but both could be gone and Philadelphia took an athletic prep shortstop in the first round last year in J.P. Crawford. Evansville lefthander Kyle Freeland will be an attractive option for teams in this range, and the Phillies have a long history with him, having drafted him in the 35th round out of high school in Colorado in 2011.
Projected Pick: Kyle Freeland
8. ROCKIES: Freeland would be a good fit for the Rockies as well, as a native of the state and a college lefty. Scouting director Bill Schmidt has gone the college southpaw route three times before (Jeff Francis, 2002; Christian Freidrich, 2008; Tyler Anderson, 2011), but one of the high-ceiling righthanders might be his best option this year.
Projected Pick: Erick Fedde
9. BLUE JAYS: Toronto has two of the next three picks and a $9.5 million signing budget, so it might be a perfect landing spot for Hoffman. The Jays look for loud tools, so N.C. State shortstop Trea Turner and his top-of-the-scale speed also could be in play. It would make more sense for the Blue Jays to grab him here and roll the dice with their second pick.
Projected Pick: Trea Turner
10. METS: The Mets feel like they’re about to turn the corner in the big leagues and are well stocked with young pitching, so they would like a college bat who could move through the system quickly. Turner would be tempting if he’s available, but Conforto is the consensus best college hitter and has the polished approach the team is looking for.
Projected Pick: Michael Conforto
11. BLUE JAYS: Hoffman’s combination of athleticism and premium velocity fits well despite his lack of a dominant track record. The Jays also are the kind of team that would gamble on Miami prep righthander Touki Toussaint, who has as much upside as any high school pitcher in the draft after Kolek.
Projected Pick: Jeff Hoffman
12. BREWERS: Milwaukee would be waiting with open arms if Fedde, Finnegan or Hoffman falls. The Brewers haven’t had success with prep righties (Dylan Covey, Jeremy Jeffress, Mark Rogers) in the last decade and likely wouldn’t want to take on the risk of Toussaint, so their best-case scenario is that another team doesn’t grab Nola ahead of them.
Projected Pick: Aaron Nola.
13. PADRES: The Padres went against the grain in the last draft with this much high school pitching, taking Cory Spangenberg in 2011 five spots ahead of Jose Fernandez. San Diego went all-in on prep arms in 2012 and could go that route again here with Toussaint, who is trending up and could continue to do so with a strong outing at Florida’s high school all-star game in Sebring in late May.
Projected Pick: Touki Toussaint
14. GIANTS: The Giants will have plenty of out-of-the-way power arms to consider, from prep righthanders Grant Holmes and Sean Reid-Foley to physical Hartford lefty Sean Newcomb. But personnel director Dick Tidrow would be just the guy to bring the most out of Vanderbilt’s erratic ace Beede.
Projected Pick: Tyler Beede
15: ANGELS: With their first first-round pick since 2011, the Angels should have their pick of college position players thanks to the run on pitchers ahead of them. Position scarcity gives Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost an edge over San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer, though either one would fit.
Projected Pick: Max Pentecost
16: DIAMONDBACKS: Zimmer’s fall is Arizona’s gain. Newcomb also would be a strong consideration if he fell here, and Holmes could be another fit, though a prep pitcher seems unlikely.
Projected Pick: Bradley Zimmer
17: ROYALS: The Royals would likely jump at the chance to reunite former San Francisco teammates and brothers Bradley Zimmer and Kyle Zimmer, the righthander who was their 2012 first-round pick. But if Zimmer is gone, Holmes fits with his ability to work up in the zone with his four-seamer and down with his hard breaking ball.
Projected Pick: Grant Holmes
18: NATIONALS: Washington has benefited in past seasons from players who started the year high on draft boards but fell, usually due to injury. The Nats could benefit again if an injured pitcher falls, or by gambling on the powerful but erratic bat of Fresno high school shortstop Jacob Gatewood. He started the year regarded as one of the top prep bats available but has had an iffy spring.
Projected Pick: Jacob Gatewood
19: REDS: An organization once synonymous with injured pitching prospects now boasts an impressive pipeline dating back to 2004 first-rounder Homer Bailey and including Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani and soon Robert Stephenson. Prep arms such as Holmes or Reid-Foley are targets this year.
Projected Pick: Sean Reid-Foley
20: RAYS: Tampa will be tempted by the college closers who start to fit at this range, such as Louisville’s Nick Burdi or Virginia’s Nick Howard. The quick fix wouldn’t fit the organization’s philosophy, though. Five-tool outfielder Monte Harrison, arguably the draft’s top athlete, certainly would.
Projected Pick: Monte Harrison
21: INDIANS: The Indians’ need for power arms could lead them down the path of a reliever, such as Burdi and Howard. But the availability of Newcomb here would bring the system something it desperately needs, a starter with a plus fastball.
Projected Pick: Sean Newcomb
22: DODGERS: Two strong tendencies figure into this pick. Assistant GM Logan White has a particular affinity for athletic high school pitchers, and new national crosschecker Roy Clark knows Georgia talent like no one else. Fast-rising Peach State prep righthander Spencer Adams fits both tastes.
Projected Pick: Spencer Adams
23: TIGERS:Detroit’s desire for relief help is well documented, as is the organization’s bent toward power arms, college players and a short-term approach. It all adds up to a college closer.
Projected Pick: Nick Burdi
24: PIRATES: The Pirates system is long on athleticism but could use a polished bat. The best options are bad-bodied players such as Indiana’s Kyle Schwarber, who could move to first base or left field, and Georgia prep Michael Chavis, who might play second base but also is a catcher conversion candidate.
Projected Pick: Kyle Schwarber
25: ATHLETICS: Oakland drafts for upside as much as any team now, but probably not here with the draft’s top college mashers, Wichita State’s Casey Gillaspie and Kentucky’s A.J. Reed, both on the board. Gillaspie’s patient, disciplined approach and power from both sides win the day.
Projected Pick: Casey Gillaspie
26: RED SOX: Boston would love for Harrison to slip this far, and that’s possible. California high school outfielder Derek Hill, who has some swing questions but could get by just on his speed, defense and arm in center field, would be a fine consolation prize.
Projected Pick: Derek Hill
27: CARDINALS: Hill would also fit for St. Louis, and if he’s not available the organization’s ability to develop power arms should come into play. In a draft with plenty of velocity, Howard could appeal considering his work as a starter in 2013 for Virginia and in the Cape. Once he gives up hitting, he could take off on the mound.
Projected Pick: Nick Howard
28. ROYALS: Their second selection could enable the Royals to gamble if a player falls. It also could allow them to take a risk with low-slot lefty Kodi Medeiros, the Hawaiian high school pitcher they’ve scouted heavily.
Projected Pick: Kodi Medeiros
29. REDS: The Reds could balance their first pick of Reid-Foley with a Florida position player. Florida high school shortstop Milton Ramos is polarizing but has a first-round glove.
Projected Pick: Milton Ramos
30. RANGERS:Texas has not been as successful developing homegrown arms since Derek Holland’s ascent to Arlington. If healthy, Fresno prep righthander Luis Ortiz has one of the draft’s top arms, but he hasn’t been quite right all spring.
Projected Pick: Luis Ortiz
31. INDIANS: Cleveland used to draft a college first baseman virtually every year, and Reed would be tempting. But a big finish by Virginia outfielder Derek Fisher, who was slowed early by a broken hamate bone, could push him ahead of the slow-twitch Reed.
Projected Pick: Derek Fisher
32. BRAVES: Atlanta scouting director Tony DeMacio values lefthanded pitching, and Georgia prep southpaw Mac Marshall is just sitting there, but it appears that he has pitched his way out of the first round, being passed by the likes of Orlando high school lefty Foster Griffin. Georgia product Chavis also could fit here.
Projected Pick: Foster Griffin
33. RED SOX: Production matters at some point, and Reed’s power in the best college conference in the country figures to get him off the board before the second round. The Red Sox are also intrigued by Marshall with their second selection.
Projected Pick: A.J. Reed
34. CARDINALS: With their second pick the Cardinals could take a signability risk such as fast-rising Southern California prep righthander Jack Flaherty or hard-hitting but oft-injured Florida prep second baseman Forrest Wall.