Less than a week before the draft, teams start getting a bit more tight-lipped about their plans and it’s harder to separate the information and the obfuscation. And in what is already a volatile draft class, injury news, both good and bad, can send players’ stock bouncing up and down.
The biggest concrete development since our most recent mock draft involves lefthander Kyle Freeland of Evansville. Ranked No. 5 on on the BA 500, Freeland had an MRI exam this week, which was distributed to the 30 clubs by the Major League Scouting Bureau, to clear up concerns over an old injury that had clouded his draft stock.
Freeland had arthroscopic elbow surgery in 2007, when he was a high school freshman, and as tends to happen before a draft, scouts heard differing reports on the extent of the injury. To short-circuit the rumor mill, Freeland got a fresh exam a bit more than a week out from the draft.
Another college lefthander, Hartford’s Sean Newcomb, also was on the rise, and Newcomb may go out ahead of Freeland, with both jostling with Louisiana State’s Aaron Nola to be the second college pitcher drafted after North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon.
Texas Christian lefthander Brandon Finnegan also had a clean MRI, this one on his shoulder a few weeks ago, but he still had not gone more than five innings in a start in more than a month, so his stock remained volatile and could depend a lot on his regional performance this weekend.
Premium righthanders Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina) and Erick Fedde (Nevada-Las Vegas), of course, have already had Tommy John surgery, so those are two more mystery ingredients to throw into a particularly spicy jambalaya this year.
There are more rumors going around with the top pick now as the draft approaches. One has the Astros cutting a deal with Orlando prep shortstop Nick Gordon. Another candidate for that kind of arrangement is Nola, whose season likely won’t be over by draft time. It’s common for the teams at the top of the draft to let each other know some idea of their plans, but the teams picking soon after Houston don’t expect the Astros to let them know anything firm until the morning of June 5, the day of the draft.
If Rodon doesn’t go here, he may drop to No. 4. It’s tempting to slide him back into this slot and dismiss all the other rumors, but the industry consensus right now is that he will fall a bit and that Houston will, for once, take the consensus top talent on the board. That’s San Diego prep lefthander Brady Aiken, who draws Cole Hamels comps for his polish and has a bigger body.
Projected Pick: LHP Brady Aiken
2. MARLINS: If San Diego prep catcher Alex Jackson doesn’t go here to the Marlins, he’s expected to slip as far as No. 6 to Seattle, which is his floor.
Projected Pick: C/OF Alex Jackson
3. WHITE SOX: The talk to this point has been that the White Sox would not pass on Rodon if he were available here. That talk persists, but so do the rumors linking Chicago to outsized Texas high school flamethrower Tyler Kolek. The Cubs are watching closely because while Kolek is not a Cubs target, Rodon is. The White Sox have a bigger bonus pool than the Cubs, but Rodon likely would eat up more of it.
Projected Pick: RHP Tyler Kolek
4. CUBS: This would be the ideal situation for the Cubs, who covet a fast-moving pitcher with upside. Aiken and Rodon are their top targets, and if both are gone, they remain in play for a deal with the likes of Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost.
Projected Pick: LHP Carlos Rodon
5. TWINS: Other teams believe the Twins are hot on Hartford lefthander Sean Newcomb, and they have done their due diligence there. He combines the power arm the organization needs with the strike-throwing arm action the Twins covet. More likely, though, they will not pass on Gordon, a true shortstop.
Projected Pick: SS Nick Gordon
6. MARINERS: Jackson sits atop Seattle’s board, with Gordon following closely. But if those two preps are gone, they are believed to be choosing between Newcomb and Rodon’s North Carolina State teammate and roommate, shortstop Trea Turner.
Projected Pick: LHP Sean Newcomb
7. PHILLIES: It is hard to imagine LSU righthander Aaron Nola, with a plus fastball, plus control, and two average secondary pitches (with a potential plus changeup), lasting much longer after than this pick, even though he appears to be at best the second or third choice for the first six teams that pick.
Projected Pick: RHP Aaron Nola
8. ROCKIES: Colorado is said to covet Nola but would settle for home-state native Freeland. The Rockies are as confident and knowledgeable as any team about the soundness of Freeland’s arm, as their team doctor performed his high school surgery.
Projected Pick: LHP Kyle Freeland
9. BLUE JAYS: The Blue Jays are worried Turner won’t be there for their first pick, but they’ll pounce on the shortstop if he is. If not, they could reach up for Florida high school righthander Touki Toussaint here.
Projected Pick: SS Trea Turner
10. METS: The Mets have been tight-lipped, but the teams around them believe they remain oriented on a bat, with Turner a top target. That’s even though New York has drafted a hitter in the first round five times in six selections since 2008. Pacific Northwest scout Jim Reeves signed one of them already in Wyoming prep outfielder Brandon Nimmo, and he could get another this year. Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto was our Mets pick in the first two mock drafts, and we’re going back to him here.
Projected Pick: OF Michael Conforto
11. BLUE JAYS: We still think pick two in the Jays’ run early in the first round will be a high-upside arm such as East Carolina’s Jeff Hoffman or Toussaint.
Projected Pick: RHP Jeff Hoffman
12. BREWERS: Other clubs believe the Brewers are focused on college players such as Vanderbilt righthander Tyler Beede and Pentecost. Beede’s poor start last week in the Southeastern Conference tournament may push him down a few more spots, though he could reverse that with a strong performance in regionals. It’s that kind of year.
Projected Pick: C Max Pentecost
13. PADRES: San Diego wants a bat but doesn’t want to force one up the board too high. The Padres could go for athleticism and pop with Sacramento prep outfielder Derek Hill here, and if Conforto falls he’s a target as well. But if the right bat is not available, San Diego will go upside with Toussaint.
Projected Pick: RHP Touki Toussaint
14. GIANTS: Rumors related to San Francisco are all over the board. This is our current favorite: Derek Hill isn’t a consensus top 15 pick, but he has the plus center-field defensive tools that fit with the cavernous parks of the National League West. Plus, his dad Orsinio Hill scouts for the Dodgers, so there’s a rivalry tweak for added fun.
Projected Pick: OF Derek Hill
15: ANGELS: Scouting director Ric Wilson is just happy to have a first-rounder after the Angels have given up so many in recent years for free agent signings. The talk remains that they are looking for a bat, and Indiana slugger Kyle Schwarber has the power and polish to fit in the lineup even if he doesn’t stick at catcher.
Projected Pick: C/OF Kyle Schwarber
16: DIAMONDBACKS: Arizona remains in play with prep outfielder Monte Harrison of Missouri. In this scenario, though, taking him instead of some of the other talent on the board looks a bit risky. San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer, who slumped a bit late, still fits in the middle of the first round.
Projected Pick: OF Bradley Zimmer
17: ROYALS: With two picks in the first round (the next at No. 28), the Royals can be aggressive, as they were last year in taking shortstop Hunter Dozier early (No. 8 overall) so they could get lefthander Sean Manaea at No. 34. This draft definitely has its share of banged-up pitchers, most notably Hoffman and UNLV’s Erick Fedde, so if they’re worried one won’t slip through then they could take him here.
Projected Pick: RHP Erick Fedde
18: NATIONALS: The talk hasn’t changed with Washington: bats preferred, especially college. A late playoff surge may help Fresno prep shortstop Jacob Gatewood remain in their mix.
Projected Pick: SS Jacob Gatewood
19: REDS: Tied to Florida preps all year due to the depth of talent there and their own draft position, the Reds did not see a breakout performance at the state’s high school all-star weekend in Sebring, Fla., over Memorial Day weekend. Industry sources still consistently tie Cincinnati to prep arms such as Sean Reid-Foley and Grant Holmes, but as one scouting director put it, “The high school righthander is loved until the draft room, and then the college guys climb.”
Projected Pick: RHP Grant Holmes
20: RAYS: Tampa’s pitching development track record may be the key to unlocking the enigmatic Tyler Beede, who has not had the impressive junior season that a lot of scouts were looking for. His breaking ball was particularly off last weekend. But Beede’s stats look a lot like those of former North Carolina righthander Matt Harvey, another New Englander who had ups and downs in college but then started an All-Star Game in the big leagues. Harvey had 3.3 BB/9 and 9.6 K/9 as a junior, while Beede’s rates are 4.1 and 9.2.
Projected Pick: RHP Tyler Beede
21: INDIANS: No potential first-rounder has more on the line in regional play than Texas Christian lefthander Brandon Finnegan, who hasn’t pitched past the fifth inning in a start since April 17 and missed a couple of starts as well. A good start this weekend could push the 5-foot-11 southpaw back up the first round.
Projected Pick: LHP Brandon Finnegan
22: DODGERS: While the pick of Spencer Adams, a high school righthander from Georgia, from earlier mocks still makes sense, most clubs have Reid-Foley higher on their boards and suspect the Dodgers are no different. One source suspects that with so much at stake in the big leagues, Los Angeles will be tempted by one of the fast-moving college relievers such as Louisville’s Nick Burdi, Virginia’s Nick Howard or San Diego State’s Michael Cederoth.
Projected Pick: RHP Sean Reid-Foley
23: TIGERS: The talk tying the Tigers to the aforementioned relievers has not abated.
Projected Pick: RHP Nick Burdi
24: PIRATES: Pittsburgh doesn’t need another toolsy prep outfielder, but Monte Harrison at No. 24 overall would be too good to pass up.
Projected Pick: OF Monte Harrison
25: ATHLETICS: The A’s have been high on Mississippi prep infielder Ti’quan Forbes, but pushing him up the board to No. 25 feels like a stretch. The fastest-rising college position player appears to be Stanford third baseman Alex Blandino, who ranks second in the Pac-12 with 11 home runs. The lack of power Friday night arms in the conference meant Pac-12 hitters were crosschecked later than much of the rest of the country; there were no pitchers to bear down on early. Blandino was taking advantage, helping power Stanford to a hot streak and himself into the back of the first round. The A’s drafted him out of high school (38th round, 2011) as well.
Projected Pick: 3B Alex Blandino
26: RED SOX: Blandino would make sense for Boston as well if he’s available. Many scouts see Georgia prep infielder Michael Chavis in a similar light, as both hitters may be better suited for second base than third. Another late-comer is California prep righty Luis Ortiz, who missed two weeks earlier this spring due to arm tenderness but came on late, regaining his mid-90s velocity and hard breaking ball.
Projected Pick: RHP Luis Ortiz
27: CARDINALS: Both St. Louis and Boston have two picks between 26 and 34, and the Cardinals pick after Boston both times. They’re hoping the Red Sox don’t pick their pockets twice, though they are in on Ortiz and would make sense as a landing spot for Blandino as well.
Projected Pick: 3B/2B Michael Chavis
28. ROYALS: Kansas City would love this scenario, with Hawaiian high school southpaw Kodi Medeiros dropping to their second selection, and this year it looks like taking the health risk with upside (in this case Fedde at No. 17) first may be the way to go. The Braves also are believed to be in on Medeiros, who hit 96 mph in two mid-May starts.
Projected Pick: LHP Kodi Medeiros
29. REDS: The Reds, like many teams in this part of the draft, would like a college bat, but the best available at this point are all first basemen such as Wichita State’s Casey Gillaspie and Kentucky’s A.J. Reed. Cincinnati could still take one and hope to flip him in a future trade, as they did with Yonder Alonso in 2008.
Projected Pick: 1B Casey Gillaspie
30. RANGERS: Texas has been tied to high-upside preps both on the mound at at the plate, and the Rangers’ fondest hope is that Monte Harrison falls this far. They’ve leaned heavily on Georgia in recent drafts (with mixed results) and could go that route again.
Projected Pick: RHP Spencer Adams
31. INDIANS: Cleveland has a weakness for college corner bats, and Reed fits that profile perfectly.
Projected Pick: 1B A.J. Reed
32. BRAVES: The Braves are in on Adams in particular and prep lefthanded pitching in general, but they also have recently emerged as a potential suitor for prep bats such as Chavis and Forbes.
Projected Pick: SS Ti’quan Forbes
33. RED SOX: Three Virginia players—outfielder Derek Fisher, outfielder/first baseman Mike Papi and closer Nick Howard—all are in play from picks 25-45. Boston has its pick in this scenario.
Projected Pick: OF Derek Fisher
34. CARDINALS: St. Louis doesn’t draft off college performance as much as it was perceived to five to seven years ago, but it’s hard to ignore Papi’s production. He led the Atlantic Coast Conference in home runs and has 96 walks the last two seasons.