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I’m guessing that they’ll be No. 2 behind Virginia when our Top 25 comes out later this morning, but no college team is hotter than Texas. The Longhorns have won 16 straight games, including 12 straight in the Big 12 Conference, improving their record to 34-7 overall, 16-2 in league play.

As expected, Texas is doing this with pitching. We ranked the Longhorns No. 1 in the preseason, and Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in college history, called his pitching staff the deepest he ever has had. Friday-night starter Taylor Jungmann (4-1, 2.36) is a candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2011 draft, while rotationmates Cole Green (9-0, 1.82) and Brandon Workman (8-1, 3.00) and closer Chance Ruffin (4-1, 0.88, 9 SV) should go in the first two or three rounds this June. Don’t be surprised if midweek starter Austin Dicharry (0-3, 3.62) pitches himself into the early rounds of the 2011 draft when he gets more of a chance to show his stuff next year.

The Longhorns currently have a 2.30 ERA, the lowest in NCAA Division I since LeMoyne’s 1.95 mark in 1992 and the lowest for any major-conference program since North Carolina State’s 1.65 in 1975. The all-time standard? Missouri’s 0.65 ERA en route to a second-place finish at the 1964 College World Series. That might be the most unbreakable record in college baseball.

    If you took all the players from the 2000-09 drafts, and evaluated all of the players based on what they have done in the major leagues at this point, what would the first round of a combined draft look like? Consider money to be no factor.

    Sherm Ladd
    Pittsburgh

The best draft prospect of the last decade was Stephen Strasburg, who has yet to set foot in the big leagues. This analysis favors players who were drafted earlier and had more time to perform well in the majors. Below is how the first round would unfold based on Sherm’s criteria, but realize that it’s not a list of the best draft prospects of the decade.

Just for fun, we’ll assign the draft picks to teams in the reverse order of their 2000-09 records.

1. Royals (.415): Chase Utley, 2b (Phillies, 2000, 1st round)
2. Pirates (.421): David Wright, 3b (Mets, 2001, sandwich round)
3. Rays (.429): Mark Teixeira, 3b (Rangers, 2001, 1st round)
4. Orioles (.431): Joe Mauer, c (Twins, 2001, 1st round)
5. Nationals (.439): Brandon Webb, rhp (Diamondbacks, 2000, 8th round)
6. Tigers (.450): Grady Sizemore, of (Expos, 2000, 3rd round)
7. Brewers (.458): Dan Haren, rhp (Cardinals, 2001, 2nd round)
8. Reds (.464): Ryan Howard, 1b (Phillies, 2001, 5th round)
9. Rockies (.474): Zack Greinke, rhp (Royals, 2002, 1st round)
10. Padres (.474): Cliff Lee, lhp (Expos, 2000, 4th round)
11. Rangers (.479): Jason Bay, of (Expos, 2000, 22nd round)
12. Diamondbacks (.497): Tim Lincecum, rhp (Giants, 2006, 1st round)
13. Blue Jays (.497): Kevin Youkilis, 1b (Red Sox, 2001, 8th round)
14. Cubs (.499): Adrian Gonzalez, 1b (Marlins, 2000, 1st round)
15. Marlins (.501): Prince Fielder, 1b (Brewers, 2002, 1st round)
16. Indians (.504): Scott Kazmir, lhp (Mets, 2002, 1st round)
17. Mets (.504): Brian McCann, c (Braves, 2002, 2nd round)
18. Astros (.514): Justin Verlander, rhp (Tigers, 2004, 1st round)
19. Mariners (.517): Ryan Zimmerman, 3b (Nationals, 2005, 1st round)
20. Phillies (.525): Jonathan Papelbon, rhp (Red Sox, 2003, 4th round)
21. White Sox (.529): Matt Cain, rhp (Giants, 2002, 1st round)
22. Giants (.529): Ryan Braun, 3b (Brewers, 2005, 1st round)
23. Dodgers (.532): Curtis Granderson, of (Tigers, 2002, 3rd round)
24. Twins (.533): Dustin Pedroia, 2b (Red Sox, 2004, 2nd round)
25. Athletics (.550): Rich Harden, rhp (Athletics, 2000, 17th round)
26. Braves (.551): Dontrelle Willis, lhp (Marlins, 2000, 8th round)
27. Angels (.556): Cole Hamels, lhp (Phillies, 2002, 1st round)
28. Cardinals (.564): Dan Uggla, 2b (Diamondbacks, 2001, 11th round)
29. Red Sox (.568): Nick Markakis, of (Orioles, 2003, 1st round)
30. Yankees (.597): Adam Wainwright, rhp (Braves, 2000, 1st round)

Looking at the list, two things jump out. First, much of the best talent was identified in the top rounds. Fifteen of the 30 most productive big leaguers so far were first-round choices, one was a sandwich pick, three more were second-rounders and two others were third-rounders. Only three players went in a double-digit round: Dan Uggla (11th), Rich Harden (17th) and Jason Bay (22nd).

Second, only 16 of the 30 clubs were represented with a draft pick above. Surprisingly, the Expos/Nationals led the way with four choices: Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Bay from the 2000 draft, plus Ryan Zimmerman. The Phillies (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels) and the Red Sox (Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon) were the only teams with as many as three.

    If teams were allowed to trade draft picks, what kind of deals do you think we'd see? It's hard to imagine that teams would give up current players for draft choices, like they do in the NFL, because MLB draftees typically don't have an immediate impact. Would we see more trades involving teams trying to stockpile picks with those using multiple choices to move up to get a guy they love?

    Gerald Andriole
    St. Louis

There’s enough discussion of allowing teams to trade draft picks to put it on the agenda for negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement. It’s not a high-priority issue, however, so I wouldn’t count on it actually happening. There are proponents who believe trading draft choices would give better options to clubs at the top of the draft that don’t want to exceed MLB’s slot recommendations, while there are others who think dealing draft picks would give more leverage to agents.

If trading draft picks does come to pass, I do think most of the deals would involve one team packaging multiple choices to move up and get a player it wants who may not fall to them. Last year, five clubs in the top 10 (Pirates, Orioles, Braves, Reds and Nationals) made financially motivated choices and likely would have been amenable to trading down and adding extra picks. Pittsburgh, which took Tony Sanchez at No. 4, and Baltimore, which selected Matt Hobgood at No. 5, could have gotten those players lower in the first round.

I do believe we would see some trades involving players. With deals at the trade deadline at the end of July, draft choices could be used as an extra sweetener. Also, if a team wanted to trade out of the very top of the draft, passing up a chance at an elite prospect, I could see it landing a combination of players and picks.

Imagine if the Nationals decided this year that they didn’t want to hand out another eight-figure major league contract to Bryce Harper after giving one to Stephen Strasburg in 2009. In Sports Illustrated’s classic “Baseball’s LeBron” story on Harper last June, Harper said one of his dreams was to play for the Yankees. If New York coveted Harper, its first-round pick (No. 32 overall) wouldn’t be a suitable centerpiece for a deal, and throwing in next year’s presumed low first-rounder wouldn’t be much more enticing. But if the Yankees were willing to discuss catching prospect Jesus Montero, that might help the deal get done.

    Who are the top current minor leaguers least likely to be brought up until September if at all this year, yet could begin next season with a starting job in the majors?

    Joel Levitt
    Chicago

The most talented candidate is Yankees catcher Jesus Montero (No. 4 on our preseason Top 100 Prospects list). He still needs to spend a lot of time refining his defense behind the plate and New York is covered at catcher (Jorge Posada) and DH (Nick Johnson). Montero’s bat is so potent, however, that even the Yankees may not be able to resist calling him up before September.

The most likely candidate from the upper half of our Top 100 is Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (No. 31). Cleveland won’t contend this year and has no reason to spend a 40-man roster spot on Chisenhall, who otherwise wouldn’t have to be protected in the offseason. If Jhonny Peralta doesn’t step up his production, the Tribe won’t want to pick up his $7 million option when it could get more out of Chisenhall for the major league minimum in 2011.

Other elite prospects who could spend the entire season in the minors and make Opening Day rosters in 2011 are Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley (No. 11), Phillies outfield Domonic Brown (No. 15), Rangers lefthander Martin Perez (No. 17) and Royals lefty Mike Montgomery (No. 39).

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