With the draft coming up on Monday, we wanted to take yet another look at how the first round might unfold, this time if four of our draft experts were making the calls. This isn’t a projection of how the first round will play out, but rather who editor John Manuel, executive editor Jim Callis and assistant editors Conor Glassey and Nathan Rode would prefer for picks 1-33. We changed the order up from our original experts draft, and the four experts alternated choices throughout the first round while taking into account each club’s needs and financial situation.
1. PIRATES (Conor): It’s a bit of a muddled year at the top, but my decision still came down to the two players we’ve had up there for most of the year: Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon and UCLA righthander Gerrit Cole. I’m sticking to my guns and taking Rendon with the top pick in spite of his shoulder injury. I’ve held the opinion all spring that he’s the best player in this draft, and I’m not going to change that stance now. I don’t think Rendon’s injuries are long-term concerns and when making a top pick, you have to weigh a player’s entire track record. Rendon will hit for average and power and will be a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman—and that’s where I’d keep him defensively.
2. MARINERS (Jim): I would have taken Rendon No. 1 overall, and I believe the Mariners would like to take him at No. 2. There’s a lot of talk that Seattle prefers a bat and is leaning that way even if Rendon is gone. There’s a little too much risk with Kansas high school outfielder Bubba Starling to grab him here, and it’s also a little early for Florida prep shortstop Francisco Lindor. That means I get my choice of pitchers in this draft, and despite all the terrific college arms available, I’m taking Oklahoma high school righthander Dylan Bundy. He’s closer to a college pitcher than a typical high schooler anyway, and he might not need much more than a year and a half in the minors. His stuff, command, athleticism and work ethic are all exemplary, so give me Bundy.
3. DIAMONDBACKS (John): That’s a bold pick for Mr. Callis. I don’t consider this pick too bold, though I know UCLA righthander Trevor Bauer is not the consensus choice. But I don’t see how I can pass on him at three. He’s Captain Long Toss, which has obvious appeal for me. He’s also leading the nation in strikeouts for the second straight year, and I trust Bauer’s knowledge of pitching and of his body to allow him to adjust his training methods to a professional workload. I also trust his deep repertoire and polish. He’s comparable to Tim Lincecum coming out of college with more command and a bit less electricity in his arm. I’m not passing on that, even though I know I’m leaving Nathan Rode to pick between Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen with the fourth pick.
4. ORIOLES (Nathan): I knew it was wishful thinking for Bundy to get to me. I also thought I would have an easy pick at No. 4, but Captain Cheeseball made it tougher by taking Bauer. I like the high school position players like Bubba Starling and Francisco Lindor, but having two high-quality college pitchers available is just too tempting. Gerrit Cole offers a wicked arsenal and an ideal frame, but I’m confused by his performance this season. Danny Hultzen offers two, maybe three, plus pitches and plus command. Given that it comes from the left side I’ll take him in the hopes that he’ll zip through the minors and join the major league rotation quickly. I know some question his crossfire delivery, but it’s worked for him so far and I’m not inclined to change him.
5. ROYALS (Conor): This pick really hinged on what Nathan did ahead of me. I thought if Nathan took Danny Hultzen, I’d take Gerrit Cole. But if Nathan had taken Cole, I was ready to pounce on Bubba Starling. I love the thought of Starling winding up in Kansas City, but I’m perfectly content with Cole, whom I considered with the top pick.
6. NATIONALS (Jim): This might be the easiest pick in the draft. There are six players who have separated themselves from the pack, and five of them have been taken. The Nationals have shown in the past that they’ll spend whatever it takes to sign impact talent, so I’m taking Bubba Starling here, even if the best athlete in the draft probably will exceed the $6.25 million two-sport deal that Donavan Tate got as the No. 3 overall pick in 2009. To get Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Starling with successive first-round picks . . . I’m not sure any team has gotten that much ceiling from three straight first-rounders.
7. DIAMONDBACKS (John): Conversely, the seventh pick is the toughest on the board. First because the top six is quite defined, and because as a compensation pick this selection is not protected—meaning if the Diamondbacks don’t sign the player they take here, they get nothing. While I don’t think Arizona will go cheap, you can’t go crazy and signability remains a factor. That rules out Francisco Lindor, who would make sense at seven but might be expensive. I do not believe it rules out fellow Florida prep and Puerto Rico native Javier Baez, whose bat is more electric than Lindor’s anyway. He may not remain a shortstop, but he has the power potential to fit at third base or be an offensive second baseman, if he’s athletic enough to stay in the middle of the diamond. Arizona would get one of the draft’s most electric bats no matter where he plays.
8. INDIANS (NATHAN): There is a ton of really good pitching available, but the chance of getting an electric, up-the-middle player like Francisco Lindor is too valuable to pass up. I don’t think there is much of a question of him staying at shortstop, where he’ll provide above-average defense. At the plate he can be a dynamic, top-of-the-order hitter, though I’m not sold on reports of power being a weapon for him. He’s strong and hits the ball hard, but his game power will be average at best. I can’t complain about having that in a player who provides so much else in other aspects of the game.
9. CUBS (Conor): There are a number of ways the Cubs could go here. I’m sure they’d love it if Bubba Starling dropped down here. Of the players still available, I considered one of the top college arms still on the board, but ultimately I’m going with the other pitcher/quarterback in Oklahoma prep righthander Archie Bradley. He was a little inconsistent this season, but finished strong to help his team win a state championship and remind scouts why he was the top high school pitcher on the board heading into the season.
10. PADRES (Jim): Eight college pitchers have a chance to go in the first 10 picks, and Taylor Jungmann (Texas), Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt), Matt Barnes (Connecticut), Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech) and Alex Meyer (Kentucky) are all still available. The decision for me comes down to Jungmann vs. Bradley. I’ll go with Taylor Jungmann, barely, because he has been so good for three years. He pitches off his fastball, which means that John Manuel, picking next for the Astros at 11, would be all over him. This pick is also unprotected, but I find it hard to believe a college pitcher is going to turn down good money to return for his senior season.
11. ASTROS (John): Jim just ruined my fantasy of getting Jungmann at 11. It’s disappointing, but I’ll find a way to move on by taking Connecticut righthander Matt Barnes. He’s the kind of high-upside player Bobby Heck and his staff have focused on in recent years, and has dominated from start to finish in 2011. I could also see taking Sonny Gray, Jed Bradley or South Carolina prep righty Taylor Guerrieri here, but to me Barnes has upside and will get to the majors quickly. With a team as needy as the one in Houston, that should be a consideration when other factors are fairly equal.
12. BREWERS (Nathan): You really notice how many power arms are available in this draft when you contemplate a pick in the middle of the first round and still find plenty to choose from. Sonny Gray and Jed Bradley both provide value at this point, but I’m not too shy about riskier picks so I’m going to take Taylor Guerrieri. His physical frame and power stuff make me think he can pitch at the front of a rotation. His fastball/curveball combination is dominant, and I’m excited to see what he’s capable of when he uses his cutter and changeup more often. Both pitches show the potential to be at least average.
13. METS (Conor): I was really hoping for Matt Barnes here, as I personally like him more than some of the other college arms like Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley and Sonny Gray. There are a ton of arms in this draft, so if I were the Mets, I’d roll the dice on getting a high-upside arm with pick No. 44 and go in a different direction here. I’ll take the best position player on our board and grab Connecticut outfielder George Springer. You can find arms later, but I think it’s a lot harder to find players with Springer’s five-tool potential.
14. MARLINS (Jim): I keep hearing the Marlins are looking at college bats with this pick, and I like Louisiana State outfielder Mikie Mahtook the best of the options remaining there. But if Jed Bradley is here, I’m taking the big, strong lefthander who’s a groundball machine. A month ago, Bradley had no prayer of lasting this long. But he has tailed off a little in the last month, a decline that proves fortuitous for Florida.
15. BREWERS (John): Somehow I wound up making another compensation pick. Here for Milwaukee, I will test a theory Jim Callis and I have talked about: Take a college junior and play hardball. How much leverage does Vanderbilt righthander Sonny Gray really have? He’s not going to get any taller; Vanderbilt’s team likely won’t go 47-10 again; why would he risk adding more mileage to his arm in college? I’ll take him 15th overall and offer him a slot bonus, and if he wants to pull a Chris Sale and move quickly to help Milwaukee’s big league bullpen down the stretch, I’ll give him that chance.
16. DODGERS (Nathan): The financial situation in Los Angeles doesn’t make this pick easy. I’m a big believer in Dallas high school outfielder Josh Bell’s bat and love his projection. I also like what Tennessee prep lefthander Daniel Norris has to offer in projection, feel and makeup. But I think their prices might be too steep. So I shifted my focus to two players that could be easier signs. I like North Carolina shortstop Levi Michael’s all-around skills and think he can stay at shortstop, but I’m going with Tampa prep righthander Jose Fernandez. He has the stuff and size to be an impact arm, and while he might not be cheap, he may be easier to sign than some similar arms.
17. ANGELS (Conor): I considered a number of players with this pick: Alex Meyer, New Mexico high school catcher Blake Swihart, California high school righthander Robert Stephenson and Oregon lefthander Tyler Anderson. Ultimately, though, I’m going with Daniel Norris. I love his athleticism, mid-90s fastball and the chance for three above-average pitches when all is said and done. Like Nathan mentioned, Norris also has exceptional makeup and poise.
18. ATHLETICS (Jim): Word is that the A’s want a college bat with this choice, and I have plenty to choose from in Mikie Mahtook, Levi Michael, Utah first baseman C.J. Cron, Hawaii second baseman Kolten Wong, Indian River (Fla.) JC third baseman Cory Spangenberg and Oregon State catcher Andrew Susac. I’m going to put the emphasis on “bat” and take the best pure hitter of this group and one of the best in the entire draft in Cory Spangenberg. I’m not sure where he’ll play on the diamond, but we’ll make the bat and speed work somewhere.
19. RED SOX (John): Josh Bell has informed clubs that he wants to go to college at Texas, and his signability always was known to be tough. He also has as much upside as just about any hitter in this draft. While the Red Sox usually don’t go over slot with their first-round picks, Bell is good enough to make an exception. The Sox have the money, Boston’s a college town and his talent is too special to pass up. I’ll roll the dice and take Josh Bell.
20. ROCKES (Nathan): I had hopes that Daniel Norris would reach this point because he could be a great fit for the Rockies given his makeup, but there are still plenty of good options to consider. I considered two players for this spot. Levi Michael doesn’t figure to be around much longer, but I’m going with Blake Swihart. I believe his athleticism will allow him to stay behind the plate, and his bat and ability to play other positions make me comfortable that he could also move in order to progress to the big leagues more quickly, a la Wil Myers.
21. BLUE JAYS (Conor): This is the first of five picks the Blue Jays will make on the first night of the draft. Some of the top guys left on my board include Alex Meyer, Tyler Anderson, Mikie Mahtook and Levi Michael. In the end, though, I’m going to go with Robert Stephenson, who has been up to 97 mph this spring.
22. CARDINALS (Jim): St. Louis has had success grabbing a player who fell in the first round of the last two drafts, and has no complaints with Shelby Miller or Zack Cox. I’d be happy to employ the same strategy here, but the first 18 players on BA’s Top 200 have been plucked. I’ll take Levi Michael, who should be able to fill one of the glaring holes in the Cardinals’ middle infield in short order.
23. NATIONALS (John): The Nationals have been rumored to have interest in Alex Meyer all spring, and Jim had them taking Meyer sixth overall in his first mock draft in mid-May. This spot makes more sense. Meyer has a big body and bigger stuff, and he started to harness it this year. I still think he’ll take longer to get to the majors than most college pitchers, due in part to his size, but he has more upside than the average No. 23 overall pick.
24. RAYS (Nathan): With the first of 10 picks the Rays have on day one, I had a few guys in mind that were further down the BA board. But I have a feeling someone out of high-ceiling high schoolers Henry Owens, Tyler Beede and Brandon Nimmo will still be around in the early 30s, so I’m jumping on Mikie Mahtook. I’m not sold on his ability stick in center field, but I like his athleticism and strength and can afford to take a gamble with so many picks early on.
25. PADRES (Conor): To me, Tyler Anderson isn’t all that different from the lefthanders near the top of the board, and I’d be thrilled to get him this far down in the first round. He pitches with an average fastball, but will touch 93 and has great control of his four-pitch mix. Anderson won’t need much time in the minor leagues, grew up just five hours away from San Diego in Las Vegas, and will love pitching in spacious Petco Park.
26. RED SOX (Jim): It’s no secret Boston needs catchers and has money to spend, so California high school catcher Austin Hedges is an obvious fit here. He won’t be cheap to sign away from UCLA, but he’s the best defensive catcher in the draft. There are mixed reports on his bat, but he should provide adequate offensive production. If the bat scares you off, other non-catcher options here would include C.J. Cron or Kolten Wong, neither of whom figures to last this long in the real draft.
27. REDS (John): The Reds’ farm system is in fine shape, but they could always use more pitching. The college route might make more sense what with last year’s top prep pitch, Drew Cisco, already requiring arm surgery. The top college arms are all off the board, though, and I don’t think the Reds will go for a prep arm here. With no attractive college arm, we’re going to go for tools and take Miami-Dade JC outfielder Brian Goodwin here. He’d give Cincinnati a dynamic outfield with Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs once he arrives—think of him as a good version of current Reds left fielder Fred Lewis.
28. BRAVES (Nathan): Atlanta fans seem to have run out of patience in center field so I considered South Carolina’s Jackie Bradley or Wyoming high schooler Brandon Nimmo. I’m not a believer in drafting for need—though Nimmo’s talent is worthy of consideration in this spot—and you can never have too much pitching. I’m going with upside and taking lanky California prep lefthander Henry Owens. He’s shown an average to plus fastball and a curveball with big break. The Braves can afford to be patient as he develops his repertoire.
29. GIANTS (Conor): I love Utah first baseman C.J. Cron, but I just think he fits better on an American League club. The Giants have a history of having good second baseman, from Robby Thompson to Jeff Kent to Ray Durham, and Hawaii’s Kolten Wong could be next in line. Wong is one of the draft’s best pure hitters and would be a top-of-the-order sparkplug.
30. TWINS (Jim): I’ll just keep it simple and take the best player remaining on our board. There’s no way C.J. Cron is going to last until the 30th pick on Monday, but if he does, Minnesota will say thank you very much and start planning for having his powerful bat in the middle of its lineup.
31. RAYS (John): The Rays’ hearts just went pitter-patter over the thought of getting C.J. Cron . . . too bad. They could use a power bat and might give Indiana slugger Alex Dickerson a long look. With this record bonanza, the Rays have to take signability into account, but I’m also expecting them to takes some risks on players with upside. I’ll bank on them getting Florida prep speedster Roman Quinn a bit later and take Arkansas prep righty Dillon Howard here. Their track record of developing pitchers has to be attractive to tough signs like Howard, who is committed to Arkansas.
32. RAYS (Nathan): As I mentioned with the first Rays pick, I was banking on Henry Owens, Tyler Beede or Brandon Nimmo being available. I really like the idea of taking a shot at Beede, the Massachusetts high school righthander, with this pick, allowing me to fall back on the seven remaining picks on the first day in case I can’t sign him. But with Howard getting popped at No. 31, I’ll go with Brandon Nimmo. He’s a good athlete and can stay in center as long as his knee holds up—possibly a concern on Tampa’s turf. He has shown an ability to hit the ball to all fields and would be welcome addition to the franchise’s lefty hitters like Josh Sale and Drew Vettleson.
33. RANGERS (Conor): The Rangers were forced to stick to slot during last year’s draft, but I don’t think that will be the case this year. It will be interesting if local star Josh Bell gets to this spot on Monday. He’s not available here, so I’ll go with California high school righthander Joe Ross, who could one day be division rivals with his older brother Tyson.