Price Remains First Round's Best Bet




CHICAGO--Teams have all but crossed David Price off their lists. As much as a player can seven weeks before the draft, the Vanderbilt lefthander cemented his status as the No. 1 overall prospect. Barring a late injury, other clubs will be stunned if the Devil Rays don't lead off the draft by taking Price.

After Price, however, the first round is filled with questions. That doesn't figure to change between now and June 7, for several reasons:

There's little consensus as to how the players stack up behind Price. Several top prospects haven't lived up to expectations, and one club's late first-rounder is another's third-rounder.

The majority of clubs prefer to draft collegians, but that crop pales in comparison to the high school group this year. The most preferred demographic (college position players) is extremely thin, while the perceived riskiest (prep pitchers) is especially deep.

MLB is expected to exert more pressure than usual for teams to stick to its bonus recommendations. But after the Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees broke ranks and opened their wallets to beef up their drafts in 2006, large-revenue clubs are wondering why they shouldn't follow suit.

Agent Scott Boras, who's allergic to slotting, just happens to represent our next four top-ranked prospects after Price (see Page 38). His stable also includes six other potential first-rounders and Max Scherzer, the Diamondbacks' 2006 first-rounder who could be the best righthander available if he re-enters the 2007 draft. Also, few teams in the upper half of the first round are known for exceeding slot or taking Boras clients.

Undaunted by the uncertainty, we offer an educated guess as to how the first 10 picks will unfold.

Three Southpaws Near The Top

1. Devil Rays. David Price, lhp, Vanderbilt. Price has been as good as advertised, Tampa Bay needs pitching and it should be relatively easy to get a deal done.

2. Royals. Ross Detwiler, lhp, Missouri State. Kansas City has spent $9.25 million on its last two first-round picks, Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar. The Royals may not want to shell out a huge big league contract to land a Boras client such as Wieters or Scherzer. Prep third baseman Josh Vitters wouldn't make sense with Gordon on hand. That would lead Kansas City to a lefty and home-state product Detwiler.

3. Cubs. Matt Wieters, c, Georgia Tech. Chicago will continue its history of exceeding slot and taking Boras clients. If the Royals take Wieters, the Cubs could be tempted by Andrew Brackman, though that could mean giving another high-risk, high-ceiling two-sport righthander an eight-figure deal after doing the same for Jeff Samardzija in January.

4. Pirates. Josh Vitters, 3b, HS/California. Given Pittsburgh's awful luck recently at keeping first-round pitchers healthy (Bobby Bradley, Sean Burnett, John Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington, Brad Lincoln), a hitter seems to be the way to go. And there's no better pure hitter in the draft than Vitters.

5. Orioles. Daniel Moskos, lhp, Clemson. If Vitters gets this far, Baltimore probably would pounce on him. The next-best non-Boras options are going to be southpaws such as Daniel Moskos and Madison Bumgarner.

Enticing High School Arms

6. Nationals. Rick Porcello, rhp, HS/New Jersey. After the Cubs, Washington may be the only team remaining in the top 10 that will pay a premium price for a Boras client, of which there are two obvious choices. Scouting director Dana Brown has an affinity for players from his home state of New Jersey, and high schooler Rick Porcello has thrown well for the No. 1 high school team in the nation. Assistant GM Mike Rizzo was the scouting director who drafted Scherzer for the Diamondbacks last year.

7. Brewers. Madison Bumgarner, lhp, HS/North Carolina. Milwaukee needs pitching and isn't afraid of taking high school arms. Ruling out Boras clients Matt Harvey (Connecticut) and Porcello, the best prospects are Bumgarner and prep righthanders Blake Beavan, Phillippe Aumont (Canada) and Jarrod Parker (Indiana).

8. Rockies. Jason Heyward, of, HS/Georgia. Colorado likely will be looking for a bat and hasn't gone above slot early in the draft since 2000, so that probably rules out Tennessee outfielder Julio Borbon and California prep masher Mike Moustakas, two more Boras clients. Look for the Rockies to pop Georgia outfielder Jason Heyward--breaking the Braves' heart--over third baseman Matt Dominguez, Moustakas' teammate at Chatsworth High.

9. Diamondbacks. Blake Beavan, rhp, HS/Texas. After extended negotiations with their last three first-rounders (Stephen Drew, Justin Upton, Scherzer), Arizona may prefer a quicker and cheaper deal under first-year scouting director Tom Allison. In that case, the Diamondbacks would go for one of the non-Boras high school righties or Dominguez.

10. Giants. Beau Mills, 3b/1b, Lewis-Clark State (Idaho). The Warriors are an NAIA power, and six of their 12 big leaguers have been drafted by San Francisco. The son of ex-big leaguer and Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills, Beau has thunder in his bat and could give Keith Foulke a run as the best player the program ever has produced.

You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to jimcallis@baseballamerica.com.