Projecting the first round of the draft three weeks in advance is never easy, and this year is more difficult than most.
None of the four players who entered 2008 as the consensus top four prospects—Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham, Missouri righthander Aaron Crow and San Diego lefthander Brian Matusz—separated themselves from the pack, and Alvarez’ power was diminished by a hamate injury. Furthermore, Florida State catcher Buster Posey stepped up his offensive production and thrust himself into that mix.
Signability concerns surround three first-round talents advised by the Scott Boras Corporation add to the confusion. Alvarez likely won’t fall too far, but Florida high school first baseman Eric Hosmer and California prep righthander Gerrit Cole have no obvious places to land if their asking prices are deemed exorbitant.
Further complicating matters, the deepest position this year is first base, not exactly a prime target for clubs at the top of the draft.
Throwing more uncertainty into the first round was the news Thursday that Fresno State righthander Tanner Scheppers has a stress fracture in his shoulder. We rated Scheppers as the No. 10 prospect in this draft and projected him to go ninth overall to the Nationals in the version of this mock draft in our Draft Preview. Someone could take a first-round flier on Scheppers and hope he returns to full health, but for now we’ll leave him out of our first-round projections.
1. RAYS. Tampa Bay is keeping quiet about its intentions, and the two names that pop up the most are Posey and Beckham. Posey would help the Rays more quickly and fill a bigger need, but he’s unlikely to accept a heavily backloaded deal like David Price did in 2007. Five-tool shortstops are just as rare as all-star catchers, and industry sources are starting to think that Tampa Bay will lean that way. If the Rays opt for a pitcher, Matusz has moved ahead of Crow.
Projected Pick: TIM BECKHAM.
2. PIRATES. After Pittsburgh passed on Matt Wieters last year to take the less expensive Daniel Moskos, the new front-office regime could make amends with the fan base by taking the top player on their draft board and paying whatever it takes to sign him. The Pirates have taken pitchers with their top choice in eight of the last 10 drafts, and six of those hurlers required major surgery soon thereafter. So they’ll likely focus on shoring up their lineup, and while they like Beckham, they’re interested in more immediate help. Alvarez, Posey, Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham and Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso all could be fits.
Projected Pick: PEDRO ALVAREZ.
3. ROYALS. Kansas City could take its choice of the top pitching available. Matusz would give the Royals a quality lefthander for their rotation, while Crow is a local product. There’s some talk that the Royals would pony up for Alvarez, giving them a Boras client atop their draft for the third straight year (following Luke Hochevar and Mike Moustakas). But if both the Rays and Pirates pass on Posey, Kansas City might not want to let him drop any further.
Projected Pick: BUSTER POSEY.
4. ORIOLES. Baltimore has spent three straight first-round picks on position players, and it would be attracted to three-pitch lefty with polish who might make fans forget about Erik Bedard in short order. Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham and South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak are possibilities if the Orioles want another bat.
Projected Pick: BRIAN MATUSZ.
5. GIANTS. It’s no secret that San Francisco needs help for its offense, or that its farm system isn’t prepared to contribute. The Giants wouldn’t be afraid to do business with Boras on Hosmer, but a college bat such as Smoak, Beckham or Alonso would contribute faster. If they want a pitcher, it would be Matusz or Crow.
Projected Pick: JUSTIN SMOAK.
6. MARLINS. California prepster Kyle Skipworth isn’t Posey, but as a four-tool catcher, he’s the next-best thing and would fill a huge organizational void. Florida also would take a hard look at Matusz and Crow if they’re still on the board.
Projected Pick: KYLE SKIPWORTH.
7. REDS. When Crow put together a 43-inning scoreless streak early in the season, he looked like the top candidate to go No. 1, and Cincinnati would be thrilled if he somehow made it this far. One rumor that won’t die pairs the Reds with Florida high school righthander/shortstop/quarterback Casey Kelly, who would be a bit of a reach. Casey’s father Pat manages the organization’s Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate.
Projected Pick: AARON CROW.
8. WHITE SOX. Chicago GM Kenny Williams wanted better position players for his farm system last year—and then the White Sox selected pitchers with their first six picks. That won’t happen this time around, with bats such as Beckham, Alonso, Arizona State first baseman Brett Wallace and Stanford catcher Jason Castro available. Smoak would be in that group as well if he hadn’t found a taker.
Projected Pick: GORDON BECKHAM.
9. NATIONALS. Washington GM Jim Bowden loves to draft upside, and California high school outfielder/righthander Aaron Hicks could be mighty tempting. Advanced pitching is a greater concern, and the Nationals could have their choice of the second tier. Scheppers might have been the frontrunner before he got hurt, so that could leave Tulane righthander Shooter Hunt and Eastern Kentucky lefty Christian Friedrich if the Nats go pitching. In the end, Alonso’s bat may be too good to pass up.
Projected Pick: YONDER ALONSO.
10. ASTROS. New scouting director Bobby Heck comes from the Brewers, who always keep their draft plans close to the vest. It’s believed that Houston would prefer Skipworth if he got by the Marlins. Otherwise, one of the few remaining quality college starters could be the direction in which the Astros would go. Houston took another Tulane starter (Brian Bogusevic) in the first round three years ago, and it will hope for better results this time.
Projected Pick: SHOOTER HUNT.
11. RANGERS. Texas always seems to be on the hunt for pitching, and there might be just one of the first-round-caliber college starters on the board. The Rangers always seem to be cutting draft deals with Boras, too. Hosmer would still need a home, and it’s frightening to think of the damage he could do in Arlington.
Projected Pick: ERIC HOSMER.
12. ATHLETICS. Skipworth won’t get past this spot in the draft. Gordon Beckham probably wouldn’t either. With both of them gone, Oakland could opt for one of the polished first-base bats, such as Alonso or Wallace. If the A’s go the latter route, they could try Wallace at third base, where he has played for Arizona State this spring.
Projected Pick: BRETT WALLACE.
13. CARDINALS. Jeff Lunhow’s scouting department is associated with the “Moneyball” philosophy, yet St. Louis had used two of its last three top choices on well-rounded high school players. Fast-rising California prep outfielder Zach Collier fits that mold. Castro could be attractive, as could local righthander Tim Melville, the best high school pitching prospect in the draft.
Projected Pick: ZACH COLLIER.
14. TWINS. Minnesota would love a shot at one of the better college starters, and Friedrich would be the last man standing. Athletic outfielders are often a prime Twins target, so Collier could go here as well.
Projected Pick: CHRISTIAN FRIEDRICH.
15. DODGERS. In the six years that assistant GM Logan White has run the scouting department, Los Angeles has used four of its top choices on high school pitchers. If no one else has bought into Hicks huge upside, the Dodgers might not be able to resist. They could pick Hicks and send him out as an outfielder, too.
Projected Pick: AARON HICKS.
16. BREWERS. Milwaukee surprised everyone by taking a Boras-advised college senior at No. 7 last year, and Matt LaPorta is working out very well. Going the same route this year could plug some of the leaks in the big league bullpen, as Georgia righty Joshua Fields shouldn’t need much minor league seasoning. The Brewers aren’t afraid to take a toolsy youngster, so Collier, Connecticut high school outfielder/shortstop Anthony Hewitt and Alabama prep outfielder Destin Hood could go here.
Projected Pick: JOSHUA FIELDS.
17. BLUE JAYS. In an attempt to revive a flagging farm system in 2007, Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi decided to mute his preference for productive collegians over less-developed high schoolers. But if Alonso or Wallace lasts this long, he’d be a no-brainer for the Blue Jays. If they’re both gone, they could turn to the likes of Wichita State third baseman Conor Gillaspie, South Carolina shortstop Reese Havens or California first baseman David Cooper. Don’t rule out the top Canadian: sweet-swinging Brett Lawrie, though his lack of a set position might be a turnoff.
Projected Pick: CONOR GILLASPIE.
18. METS. New York has the financial wherewithal to spend as much as any team does on the draft, but it apparently will stick to slotting once again in 2008, even if Hosmer is still on the table. The Mets need a catcher for the near future, and Castro has convinced scouts he can handle the defensive responsibilities and produce at the plate. New York has checked out Friedrich, but it’s unlikely he’d get this far.
Projected Pick: JASON CASTRO.
19. CUBS. Chicago is the first team that has been linked to Cole, though it’s always possible that another club is lying in the weeds. The Cubs have no pressing needs and scouting director Tim Wilken loves athletes, so they could take a long-term project like Hewitt. Wilken’s Gulf Coast ties also could lead him to Kelly, who shows equal promise as a pitcher and a shortstop.
Projected Pick: CASEY KELLY.
20. MARINERS. Seattle grabbed a high school righthander with Phillippe Aumont at No. 11 last year, and they could go for another in 2008, especially if none of them have gone off the board yet. That would give the Mariners their choice of Melville, Ethan Martin (Georgia) and Jake Odorizzi (Illinois). If they wanted to try to duplicate their success with Brandon Morrow, they could go for Texas Christian closer Andrew Cashner.
Projected Pick: TIM MELVILLE.
21. TIGERS. After spending $12.6 million on 2004-06 first-rounders Justin Verlander, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, Detroit didn’t plan on busting slot last year. Then Rick Porcello fell all the way to Tigers at No. 28, and they invested another $7 million. They could be willing to spend heavily on Hosmer, but less likely to do so on Cole, who’s not nearly as polished as Porcello. Detroit could address its beleaguered bullpen with a quick fix like Cashner, or take one of the top high school arms.
Projected Pick: ANDREW CASHNER.
22. METS. New York has gutted its system to build up its major league club, so its focus is on restocking the farm with the best available talent. That leaves the Mets looking at the high school arms or college infielders such as Gillaspie, Miami second baseman Jemile Weeks, Havens and Arizona State first baseman Ike Davis.
Projected Pick: ETHAN MARTIN.
23. PADRES. There will be no polished college pitchers for San Diego to choose from, unless California righthander Tyson Ross’ recent outings have turned its head. Plan B will be an advanced college bat. Wake Forest’s Allan Dykstra is a local product, and Davis and Cooper would be two other first basemen to consider. Davis has the most athleticism and a chance to play the outfield, so that could be the tiebreaker.
Projected Pick: IKE DAVIS.
24. PHILLIES. Philadelphia GM Pat Gillick built the Blue Jays’ World Series clubs on sheer athleticism, and the best athlete in this draft is Hewitt. He’s very raw, but that never has scared Gillick. Collier and Hood are two other possibilities.
Projected Pick: ANTHONY HEWITT.
25. ROCKIES. Colorado has spent time checking out Hewitt, Castro and Odorizzi. If the Rockies want to get another fast-track college reliever after taking Casey Weathers at No. 8 in 2007, Rice righthander Bryan Price could be their man.
Projected Pick: JAKE ODORIZZI.
26. DIAMONDBACKS. Cole is a high school version of Max Scherzer, so this could be his best fit. Both have stressful deliveries that generate excessive velocity, and both are advised by the Scott Boras Corporation. Arizona also has had success with established college stars, so the first basemen and infielders all could be in play.
Projected Pick: GERRIT COLE.
27. TWINS. Lawrie’s bat had as much helium as any prospect’s in May, and while his position remains in question, he could fill Minnesota’s longstanding hole at third base. The more scouts we talk to, the more we find who think Lawrie could stick as a catcher, which could put him in the Twins’ mix at 14. Another possibility for a third baseman could be South Carolina’s James Darnell, a sleeper to go this high.
Projected Pick: BRETT LAWRIE.
28. YANKEES. The obvious move would be for New York to use its financial muscle to pay what it takes to get whatever top talent falls because of signability. Hosmer would be a coup for the Yankees, but Cole could be too raw for their tastes. They’ve been scouting a lot of lefthanded pitchers, making high schoolers Kyle Lobstein (Arizona), Brett DeVall (Florida), Mike Montgomery (California) and Robbie Ross (Kentucky) candidates.
Projected Pick: KYLE LOBSTEIN.
29. INDIANS. Cleveland has recovered from a slow start to move back into first place in the American League Central, and a fast-track reliever might be useful. There would be several to choose from, starting with Arizona righthander Ryan Perry and Price.
Projected Pick: RYAN PERRY.
30. RED SOX. Boston would be in play on any big-ticket talent who slipped because of signability, though the Red Sox’ style has been to bust slots in later rounds. If Havens would have signed for slot money out of high school, they would have taken him over Jacoby Ellsbury in 2005. Three years later, Boston will finally get its man.
Projected Pick: REESE HAVENS.