Ask BA

Though it’s Memorial Day—thanks to all of our servicemen everywhere—it’s no time for a day off at Baseball America. The draft is just one week away, so we’re busy compiling information and writing reports while trying to figure out which players will go where in the first round. Keep an eye on our Draft Map, which we’re constantly updating with state-by-state coverage.

Additionally, the NCAA announced its teams and pairings for the regional round of its playoffs today. Aaron Fitt and John Manuel already have analyzed that news in a variety of ways here, and Aaron will have the best regional previews in the business up on our website in the next couple of days.

There won’t be an Ask BA next Monday, because it will be Draft Day. I’ll be providing coverage for Baseball America and MLB Network, so we’ll have a postdraft edition of Ask BA later in the week.

    I often try to evaluate a draft by figuring out how international free agents and recent draftees would fit in. Where would Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Miguel Sano and Yu Darvish go in the 2011 draft?

    Dan Troy
    Davis, Calif.

That’s an interesting way to look at a draft. I’ve said before that I would have taken the 2010 version of Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of the 2010 version of Harper, the first overall pick in last year’s draft. While Rendon remains our top-rated prospect for the 2011 draft, there’s no way Harper wouldn’t go ahead of him now. I still think Harper is the best power prospect in draft history, and the rest of his game has looked pretty good in his pro debut. He’s hitting .326/.411/.593 as an 18-year-old right fielder in low Class A.

With Rendon at less than his best with a shoulder strain that has limited him to DH duty for much of the spring and affected his swing, I’d take Machado (the No. 3 overall pick in 2010) over him as well. Machado is a rare five-tool shortstop and he’s outhitting Harper in the South Atlantic League, batting .333/.450/.611 at age 18. The only negative is that he has missed most of May with a left knee injury, though he should return to game action in extended spring training this week.

Sano, signed by the Twins for $3.15 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, would be a late first-round pick or an early sandwich-rounder. His power potential is exciting, but he looks like a bat-only guy who still has to learn the strike zone and find a position he can settle in at. Though he’s currently a third baseman, he’s already 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds as an 18-year-old.

I don’t know what to tell you about Darvish, the best pitcher in the Japanese major leagues. I’m the same guy who thought Daisuke Matsuzaka couldn’t miss becoming a star
Premium
. International scouts consider Darvish a better prospect than Matsuzaka was at the same stages of their careers, but I still can’t shake the fact that the only Japanese import who has starred in the United States like he did over there was Ichiro, a position player who defies comparisons.

If you wanted to argue that Darvish is big league ready and has an array of plus pitches, you could call him the best pitcher in the 2011 draft and take him over anyone. If you wanted to say he has been worked hard in Japan (1,036 professional innings through age 23) and Matsuzaka also had an array of plus pitches, you’d also be correct. I’ll just split the difference and put him in the top tier of pitchers along with Oklahoma high school righthander Dylan Bundy, UCLA righties Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole and Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen.

While this draft looks like the best since a banner 2005 crop, I can come up with only two 80 tools among our Top 200 players: UCLA righthander Gerrit Cole’s fastball and Port St. Joe (Fla.) HS outfielder Roman Quinn’s speed. Cole repeatedly pitches at 94-97 mph with his heater, and he reached triple digits in his Friday start against Arizona State. Quinn was the fastest player at last year’s East Coast Professional Showcase, covering the 60-yard-dash in 6.35 seconds.

That might not seem like many 80 tools for a deep draft, but top-of-the-line grades are rare. By comparison, I found six in 2010: Bryce Harper’s power and arm, Krey Bratsen’s and Gary Brown’s speed, and Jameson Taillon’s and Stetston Allie’s fastballs. With prospects, it’s more common to rate an 80 for a purely physical tool (such as speed) than one that requires development (such as hitting or usable power).

    With Buster Posey's injury, does the Giants' draft strategy change? I would assume they weren't looking at catchers very much because they had their backstop of the future, but now his future is uncertain. If Blake Swihart or Andrew Susac falls to No. 29, do they take him? If they aren't available, are there any other catchers who wouldn't be a terrible reach at 29?

    Andrew Haynes
    Fresno

Posey’s broken leg won’t affect San Francisco’s plans for the 29th overall pick. For one, the Giants will keep Posey behind the plate and he’ll return to their lineup in 2012. But even if Posey was never going to catch again, either because of the seriousness of his injury or a position change, San Francisco still wouldn’t zero in on a catcher at the expense of all other players in the first round. It doesn’t make sense to limit your options early in the draft, and any catcher the Giants selected wouldn’t be ready for at least a couple of years anyway.

Baseball America rates three catchers in the 2011 draft as first-round talents: Swihart (Cleveland HS, Rio Rancho N.M), Austin Hedges (JSerra HS, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) and Susac (Oregon State). All have extra negotiating leverage, Swihart and Hedges as high schoolers and Susac as a sophomore-eligible. It’s possible signability questions could drive one of them down to the Giants’ supplemental first-round choice at No. 49.

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