Ask BA

The Pirates’ magic number is seven. Any combination of Pirates losses or Mariners victories that totals seven will wrap up the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft for Pittsburgh. The Pirates have had the top pick in the draft three times and didn’t land a single all-star among Jeff King (1986), Kris Benson (1996) or Bryan Bullington (2002).

Maybe Pittsburgh needs to consult with the other franchises in town. The NFL’s Steelers got Hall of Famers Bill Dudley (1942) and Terry Bradshaw (1970) with their No. 1 overall picks, whiffing only on Gary Glick (1956). The NHL’s Penguins hit home runs with Mario Lemieux (1984) and Sidney Crosby (2005), and Marc-Andre Fleury (2003) goaltended Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup in 2009.

The race for the No. 2 choice is much more wide open. With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Mariners (57-92), Diamondbacks (59-91), Orioles (59-90), Royals (61-87), Nationals (62-87) and Indians (62-87) are all in the running.

    Based on highest ceiling along with reasonable performance to date, who are the top five prospects who haven't played above high Class A?

    Wes Iredale

    Cincinnati

I’ll give you two lists for the price of one, the top five prospects who haven’t played above high Class and the top five who haven’t played in full-season ball. I’m not including prospects with zero pro experience, such as Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Pirates righthander Jameson Taillon. The first two picks in the 2010 draft would have ranked 1-2 on the second list.

The top five prospects who haven’t made it past high Class A:

1. Mike Trout, of, Angels

Exceeded all expectations, hit .341/.428/.490 with 56 steals in first full season.

2. Matt Moore, lhp, Rays

Recovered from 0-7 start to lead minors with 208 K in 145 IP.

3. Wil Myers, c, Royals

Bat will play anywhere, and he may stick behind the plate.

4. Jacob Turner, rhp, Tigers

Has more polish and more consistent curveball than . . .

5. Shelby Miller, rhp, Cardinals

Threw 95 mph in seventh inning of playoff start with 13 whiffs.

The top five who haven’t made it to full-season leagues:

1. Manny Machado, ss, Orioles

No. 3 overall pick in 2010 draft has all five tools.

2. Zach Cox, 3b, Cardinals

Best pure hitter in 2010 draft will develop power as well.

3. Gary Sanchez, c, Yankees

Could be the second coming of Jesus Montero.

4. Jurickson Profar, ss, Rangers

Flashy defender can do it all except for hitting home runs.

5. Yasmani Grandal, c, Reds

Switch-hitting catcher with solid power and defensive tools.

    Your 2007 first-round redraft was interesting, and as a Red Sox fan, I'm excited to see that you almost had lefthander Drake Britton making the list. However, I'm puzzled that Anthony Rizzo is nowhere to be seen. I thought you regarded him as the best first-base prospect in the system, having passed Lars Anderson, and he put up great numbers this year. Do you view Britton as being that much better than him?

    John Parolisi

    Dallas

I do believe Rizzo is the Red Sox’ top first-base prospect, and he put up a nice .260/.334/.480 season between high Class A and Double-A at age 20. Fully recovered from a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which cost him most of the 2008 season, he has a ceiling of a solid regular and a good chance to reach that ceiling. He has a smooth lefthanded stroke and above-average power potential, and he also shows soft hands at first base.

All that said, I like Britton a little more than Rizzo. A rare underhyped Red Sox prospect, Britton fell to the 23rd round of the 2007 draft because of signability and signed at the Aug. 15 deadline for $700,000. He blew out his elbow at the end of 2008 and needed Tommy John surgery, which limited him to 12 innings last season.

Boston brought him back slowly this year, working him 76 innings over 21 starts in low Class A. He has regained quality stuff: a 90-95 fastball that features good sink, a curveball that shows flashes of becoming a plus pitch and a changeup with promise. He has a clean delivery and throws strikes.

It’s harder to find lefties with Britton’s tools than it is to find first basemen with Rizzo’s. Rizzo is a safer bet to deliver on his potential, but I’ll bet on Britton’s upside.

    Given a roughly average draft budget and a roughly average and equally distributed (college vs. high school, hitter vs. pitcher), would you pursue a particular draft philosophy in terms of how to spend the budget and whom to give it to? The Twins, for instance, tend to go for college arms and high school athletes; the Cardinals, with exceptions, go for college bats and arms; the Red Sox spread the wealth; other clubs put it on a few potential superstars.

    Alexander Lagrone

    Rapid City, S.D.

Narrowing your focus in the draft also narrows your chances for success. If money is an issue, a club will have to opt for more college players and fewer high schoolers, who have more negotiating leverage. But from a pure talent standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to eliminate an entire demographic.

A typical draft will produce about four superstars, 8-10 stars, 12 solid regulars and maybe a couple of dozen useful players who aren’t close to cornerstones. Most of the players who make it to the majors out of the draft are fringe big leaguers.

Almost every player who reaches the big leagues would have gotten there regardless of whether he was drafted out of high school or college. Talent is talent, and there isn’t enough to go around in the draft to ignore players who don’t fit a certain profile.

In general, the safest bets are the college hitters and the riskiest picks are high school pitchers. But if the majority of clubs feel that way, then the college hitters will thin out quickly and the best choices remaining will come from other demographics. And if a team gets to its pick and the top player on its draft board is a high school arm, it should take him.

My draft philosophy is pretty simple: take the best prospect available.

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