When team officials head to bed the night before the draft, they usually have a pretty good idea of who they’re going to take in the first round. They may not know exactly who’s going to fall to them, but they at least have a feel for how different scenarios may play out.
Not this year. The draft moves to prime time tonight, with the first pick expected to be announced on MLB Network at about 6:15 p.m. Clubs can spend most of the day working on their choices, and they’re going to need the extra time.
According to multiple team sources, several of the draft’s best high school players blew them away when they revealed their price tags. California lefthander Tyler Matzek, the best prep prospect in the draft, wants “precedent-setting money,” which is interpreted to mean that he wants to surpass the record $7 million guarantee for a high schooler given to Josh Beckett and Rick Porcello. Texas righthander Shelby Miller, previously believed to be signable for around MLB’s bonus recommendations, is asking for $4 million.
New Jersey outfielder Mike Trout (upwards of $2.5 million), Texas outfielder Slade Heathcott (upwards of $2 million), Florida third baseman Bobby Borchering ($2 million) and North Carolina catcher Wil Myers ($2 million) all want top-10-pick money. Oklahoma southpaw Chad James seeks $1.75 million. Previously, Missouri righty Jacob Turner and Texas lefty Matt Purke alluded to Porcello money, while Georgia outfielder Donavan Tate will cost $6 million or more.
Teams are indignant about what they believe to be unrealistic expectations. Two different scouting directors remarked last night that they were getting seven-figure signability estimates for players their clubs hadn’t even planned to draft. On the other side, agents are just as upset about commissioner Bud Selig’s unilateral 10 percent reduction in the slot recommendations.
Below is our latest first-round projection, and we’ll try to stay on top of changes today via the Draft Blog.
1. NATIONALS. The only lock of the first round is that Washington will take everyone’s No. 1 prospect, San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg
Projected Pick: STEPHEN STRASBURG.
2. MARINERS. Seattle zeroed in on North Carolina first baseman Dustin Ackley early, though there have been late reports that his asking price (something on par with Mark Teixeira’s draft-record $9.5 million deal for a position player) could change those plans. Still count on Ackley here, but the Mariners could go with Matzek, who may not be much cheaper, or possibly Fort Worth Cats (American Association) righthander Aaron Crow, who wants at least the $4 million he sought last year as the No. 9 overall pick of the Nationals.
Projected Pick: DUSTIN ACKLEY.
3. PADRES. Rumors San Diego might pop Vanderbilt lefthander Mike Minor persist, but unless Ackley is available, expect Tate to go here. Crow is on the back burner.
Projected Pick: DONAVAN TATE.
4. PIRATES. Not that the second or third picks are set in stone, but it really starts to get interesting here. Crow seems like a good fit for Pittsburgh, but there was a lot of talk Monday that he could plummet to the bottom of the first round. Clubs near the top of the draft think the Pirates will go in another direction, while those in the middle still sense he won’t get to them. Pittsburgh is still exploring Crow, kicking the tires on Southern California shortstop Grant Green (who will be cheaper than fellow Scott Boras Corp. clients Strasburg, Ackley and Tate but isn’t going to settle for slot money) and considering Georgia high school righthander Zack Wheeler (the most affordable of the elite high school pitchers). The Pirates also could decide to save money here by signing a lesser player to a below-slot deal, then spend the cash later in the draft. If they do that, catchers Tony Sanchez (Boston College) and Myers no longer appear to be their priority money-savers. Borchering or California high school righthander Matt Hobgood could be the guy. If everything were equal, Pittsburgh would like a college bat, perhaps an outfielder like Sacramento State’s Tim Wheeler.
That’s a very long way of saying that this pick could go in any number of directions.
Projected Pick: AARON CROW.
5. ORIOLES. Baltimore has spent a lot of time with Wheeler, which would break Atlanta’s heart. The Orioles also could use a shortstop, so Green could go here, and they’ll be mightily tempted by Matzek, who has risen to No. 2 on some draft boards with his performance in the California high school playoffs.
Projected Pick: ZACK WHEELER.
6. GIANTS. San Francisco needs hitting more than pitching and has spent a lot of time working on college outfielders Wheeler, A.J. Pollock (Notre Dame) and Brett Jackson (California). But a team picking this high almost always takes the best player available, and the Giants aren’t afraid of negotiating with tough signs, so that should lead them to Matzek. Zack Wheeler may be Plan B.
Projected Pick: TYLER MATZEK.
7. BRAVES. Zack Wheeler is the obvious pick if he gets here, but he probably won’t. Atlanta wants to stick to its budget with this choice, and with a strong start Saturday in the NCAA super regionals, North Carolina righthander Alex White moved ahead of Minor. If all three pitchers go in the first six choices, there aren’t any obvious candidates who fit here in terms of both talent and cost. The Braves could gamble that Matzek, Purke or Miller wouldn’t turn down a bonus in the neighborhood of $2 million at the Aug. 15 signing deadline, or they could opt for a money-saver such as Stanford reliever Drew Storen or Hobgood. Clubs picking behind Atlanta wonder if scouting director Roy Clark has something up his sleeve.
Projected Pick: ALEX WHITE.
8. REDS. Like Atlanta, Cincinnati would prefer to stay within its budget with its pick. The Reds’ two best options appear to be the same as Atlanta’s, Minor and White. If both are gone, they’ll consider Crow and Miller and hope to whittle down their price. Arizona State righthander Mike Leake is a fallback choice, and Hobgood may be as well. Matzek also would be tough to pass up, though Cincinnati doesn’t want to be the precedent-setter.
Projected Pick: MIKE MINOR.
9. TIGERS. Late word is that Detroit won’t have a blank check to sign its favorite player who falls because of signability, which would have been Matzek, Turner or Purke. The Tigers could draft Crow and dig in, assuming he won’t want to head back for a second season in independent ball. Candidates for a slot deal include Lipscomb lefthander Rex Brothers, Trout and James.
Projected Pick: REX BROTHERS.
10. NATIONALS. Because this is a compensation pick unprotected going forward, Washington will make sure it has this player all but signed beforehand. In order, the Nationals are targeting Minor, Storen, Kennesaw State righthander Chad Jenkins and Pollock.
Projected Pick: DREW STOREN.
11. ROCKIES. Colorado is all over Hobgood. White, Leake and Brothers are other considerations more in line with the Rockies’ usual preference for collegians.
Projected Pick: MATT HOBGOOD.
12. ROYALS. It’s unclear whether Kansas City will be willing to exceed slot. If the Royals do, Green and Myers are possibilities. Late word is that they’re exploring college pitchers, which suggests that they’ll toe the line.
Projected Pick: CHAD JENKINS.
13. ATHLETICS. If Tate doesn’t go No. 3 to San Diego, Oakland is the only other club with much visible interest in him. The Athletics’ other priorities are Green, Leake and Trout, though the order is unclear. Leake would be the easiest of the four players to sign.
Projected Pick: MIKE LEAKE.
14. RANGERS. Lots of questions here. Is Miller’s sudden $4 million asking price just a ploy to make sure he drops to Texas? Would financially strapped owner Tom Hicks spend what it takes to sign Purke? Are the Rangers the leading candidate to take St. Paul Saints (American Association) righthander Tanner Scheppers in the first round? Will they gamble on Heathcott, a talented two-way player whose makeup scares some clubs? Or could they pop a raw upside guy like Puerto Rican high school outfielder Reymond Fuentes?
Projected Pick: SHELBY MILLER.
15. INDIANS. Cleveland almost certainly will take an experienced pitcher. They like Indiana righthander Arnett, Brothers and Jenkins, and they’ll also think about indy leaguers Crow and Scheppers.
Projected Pick: ERIC ARNETT.
16. DIAMONDBACKS. Borchering appeared to be Arizona’s No. 1 candidate among position players, but his asking price is about $500,000 over the slot at No. 16 and the club already has to stretch its budget to sign seven of the top 64 picks. The Diamondbacks could recalibrate their sights on Pollock, with two California high schoolers (third baseman Matt Davidson, shortstop Jiovanni Mier) and Fuentes also in the mix.
Projected Pick: A.J. POLLOCK.
17. DIAMONDBACKS. Arizona wants homestate college star Leake, but Oakland or Texas could snatch him a few picks ahead. If the draft unfolds as we’ve projected here, there won’t be another college pitcher to take—unless the Diamondbacks get creative and gamble on Missouri righthander Kyle Gibson, who was a possible top-five pick before coming down with a stress fracture in his pitching forearm. Clubs should be able to evaluate Gibson on the mound by the end of July, and he’s a low-risk, high-upside gamble for a team with extra picks. Whichever team plans on popping Gibson hasn’t tipped its hand yet, but Arizona makes as much sense as any.
Projected Pick: KYLE GIBSON.
18. MARLINS. Florida has had success with high school pitchers and with Oklahomans, and James’ $1.75 million asking price is in the same territory as the slot recommendation here. Other possibilities: Jenkins, Arnett, Borchering, Storen, Jackson and Boston College lefthander Mike Belfiore.
Projected Pick: CHAD JAMES.
19. CARDINALS. At this point, these picks lean more toward guesswork than informed speculation. St. Louis would love a lefthander, but Brothers, James and Minor all figure to be gone. If they’re willing to spend, the Cardinals could land Purke, who’s more talented. Other above-slot options are Turner, a local product, and Green, who’s running out of places to land in the first round. St. Louis also has shown visible interest in Texas high school outfielder Randal Grichuk and likes proven college performers (Leake, Pollock, Wheeler, Storen) if one falls.
Projected Pick: MATTHEW PURKE.
20. BLUE JAYS. The strength of the draft at this point starts to shift from pitchers to position players. Toronto would like an up-the-middle athlete, and the best one in the college crop is Louisiana State’s Jared Mitchell. The Blue Jays already have a connection to Mitchell in scouting adviser Smoke Laval, the former coach at LSU who was part of the recruiting process to land the two-sport star.
Projected Pick: JARED MITCHELL.
21. ASTROS. Houston has been attached to Texas high school outfielders Grichuk and Heathcott but wouldn’t take a third, Everett Williams. Mitchell could interest the Astros as well, but they now appeared strongest on Mier, who could pass Green to become the first shortstop drafted.
Projected Pick: JIOVANNI MIER.
22. TWINS. Minnesota is leaning toward an arm but may see its wish list of guys like Arnett, Jenkins, Hobgood and Storen exhausted before its pick arrives. That could open the door for Kansas high school righthander Garrett Gould, Florida righty Billy Bullock or Belfiore. Though he may cost them more than slot, the Twins may not be able to pass on Borchering.
Projected Pick: BOBBY BORCHERING.
23. WHITE SOX. Chicago gets linked more to athletic outfielders than any other position, but don’t be surprised if it pounced on Arnett or Jenkins should they somehow fall. Otherwise, the White Sox will probably go for Williams or Mitchell, both of whom should sign for slot. Sanchez could go here as well, and this could be the high-water mark for fast-rising Oklahoma righthander Garrett Richards.
Projected Pick: EVERETT WILLIAMS.
24. ANGELS. If Green is still on the board, this may be his last chance to go in the first round. Trout would be another above-slot option, while Mier, Fuentes and Grichuk would be more budget-conscious picks for a club with four of the first 48 choices.
Projected Pick: MIKE TROUT.
25. ANGELS. Los Angeles can pair a bat at No. 24 with an arm here. Possible pitching targets include Gould, California high school lefthander Tyler Skaggs, Kennesaw State righthander Kyle Heckathorn and Bullock. The Angels could gamble on Gibson after doing the same with the late Nick Adenhart, signing him for $710,000 after he blew out his elbow in high school. They also might be the team at the bottom of the first round that’s rumored to be exploring New York high school lefty Stephen Matz.
Projected Pick: GARRETT GOULD.
26. BREWERS. Milwaukee is another team investigating the athletic outfielders. If Mitchell, Williams and Trout are gone, the Brewers may not want to fight Heathcott’s asking price because they have five of the first 74 picks. They could hope for Borchering (also pricey) or Pollock to drop, but may wind up with Davidson, Mier or Fuentes.
Projected Pick: MATT DAVIDSON.
27. MARINERS. Like any of the teams down here, Seattle hopes to benefit from someone who falls. Sanchez has been rumored as high as No. 4 but could get here if Pittsburgh doesn’t take him. The Mariners are the first team that realistically could take Florida high school shortstop Nick Franklin, and they’re intrigued by Scheppers as well.
Projected Pick: TONY SANCHEZ.
28. RED SOX. Getting Turner here would be a coup for Boston, which is as aggressive as any team in the draft. Though the Red Sox are willing to spend, they’d pass on Tate and Green and it’s unclear how far they’d go for Purke. They’d take Crow as well. Boston needs catching, and could consider high schoolers Myers, J.R. Murphy (Florida) and Max Stassi (California). Georgia first baseman Rich Poythress could slide in here as well.
Projected Pick: JACOB TURNER.
29. YANKEES. Because this pick isn’t protected and New York actually has a draft budget, the Yankees aren’t just going to take an unsignable guy here and hand him a blank check. They’re not going to meekly adhere to slot either, and are one of the strongest teams on Heathcott. New York is one of several clubs at the bottom of the draft hoping for a crack at Pollock, and Jackson and Murphy are two other considerations.
Projected Pick: SLADE HEATHCOTT.
30. RAYS. Despite drafting Tim Beckham No. 1 overall last year, Tampa Bay would select Mier if he got here. The Rays aren’t accustomed to picking this low, so they’re tied to many more names than usual, mainly athletic high school outfielders (Fuentes, Florida’s LeVon Washington, Texas’ Todd Glaesmann and Colorado’s Jacob Stewart) and college pitchers (Bullock, Richards). Myers’ bat and athleticism will be hard to ignore, however.
Projected Pick: WIL MYERS.
31. CUBS. Chicago really wants Pollock but won’t get him. That could have the Cubs turning to the more athletic but less polished Jackson. They might spend on Turner if he got by the Red Sox and Yankees.
Projected Pick: BRETT JACKSON
32. ROCKIES. Colorado considered Wheeler with its No. 11 pick at one point, making it an easy decision to take him here.
Projected Pick: TIM WHEELER.