It's Never Too Early . . .

Our first 2009 mock draft




CHICAGO—The American League Central, National League East and NL wild card weren't the only races that went down to the wire.

The Nationals faced a lot of adversity all season, and they had to succumb to even more on the final day of the season. Luke Montz hit the first homer of his big league career, and Kory Casto doubled in one run and scored another to give Washington a 3-1 lead over a Phillies club resting its regulars.

But then Casto couldn't hold onto a throw at first base and the Nationals bullpen provided its usual less-than-stellar work, enabling Philadelphia to cruise to an 8-3 victory. The Nationals' 102nd loss of the season allowed them to clinch the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft over the Mariners.

The vast majority of baseball fans may be getting geeked up over the playoffs, but at Baseball America, we always keep one eye on the draft, even if it's eight months away. A lot can change between now and June, but that can't deter us from offering our first mock 2009 draft:

1. Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, rhp, San Diego State. Strasburg stands head and shoulders above the rest of the draft class, much as David Price did in 2006. Strasburg's resume includes a mid-90s fastball, a hard breaking ball, command, a 23-strikeout game against Utah and an Olympic bronze medal (he was the only collegian on Team USA). The only question is whether the Nationals will ante up for a Scott Boras Corp. client who may seek an eight-figure major league contract. It says here that talent will triumph over money.

2. Mariners: Grant Green, ss, Southern California. If the Mariners hadn't swept the Athletics on the last weekend—their first series win in three weeks—they would have beaten out the Nationals for the No. 1 pick. Green, who's a cross of the best attributes of Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki, makes for a nice consolation prize. He and fellow Trojan Jeff Clement could form the core of Seattle's future lineup.

3. Padres: Dustin Ackley, of, North Carolina. Ackley perfectly fits the Padres' profile of a polished college performer. The best pure hitter in the draft, he should be athletic enough to move from first base to center field next spring, allowing him to fill San Diego's biggest need.

To steal a phrase from BA columnist Jerry Crasnick, the 2009 draft is shaping up as the Scott Boras Olympics. Boras advises Strasburg, the top three college position players (Green, Ackley and Tennessee outfielder Kentrail Davis) , the best prep position player (Donavan Tate) and the best high school righthander (Jacob Turner of St. Charles, Mo.), among others.

4. Pirates: Alex White, rhp, North Carolina. After tangling with Boras over Pedro Alvarez this summer, the Pirates could go down that road again if one of the first three clubs balks at Boras' sticker price. If not, they'll opt for White's lively fastball/slider combo and ignore their track record with first-round pitchers. Six of the eight they've selected in the last decade have needed major surgery, and have a combined 38-59 record in the big leagues.

5. Orioles: Tyler Matzek, lhp, HS/Mission Viejo, Calif. The Orioles landed the best pitcher in the 2008 draft (Brian Matusz) and they could grab the top prep pitcher in 2009, giving them a pair of frontline lefthanders. Matzek's fastball and curve have become legitimate plus pitches since he cleaned up his mechanics.

6. Giants: Donavan Tate, of, HS/Cartersville, Ga. The son of former NFL running back Lars Tate, he not surprisingly is the best athlete in next year's draft. Tate is a five-tool player who's more advanced than most two-sport stars—he's a highly-sought football recruit—and has Carlos Beltran potential if he sticks with baseball.

7. Braves: Matt Purke, lhp, HS/Spring, Texas. By virtue of losing a tiebreaker to the Giants, the Braves may not get the chance to snap up a coveted homestate product in Tate. They do have a greater need for pitching, and Purke could pass Matzek as the cream of the high school pitching crop. The two lefthanders have similar stuff.

8. Reds: Aaron Crow, rhp, Fort Worth Cats (American Association). The No. 2 pitcher in the 2008 draft, Crow went ninth overall but couldn't come to terms with the Nationals, whose final offer was $3.5 million. He'll probably wind up with more money after heading to independent ball and showcasing a fastball that's notable for its velocity, life and command. His slider can be nasty as well. The Reds considered him with the seventh overall choice in June before opting for Yonder Alonso.

9. Tigers: Kendall Volz, rhp, Baylor. The Tigers used their first-round picks on power arms in 2004 (Justin Verlander), 2006 (Andrew Miller), 2007 (Rick Porcello) and 2008 (Ryan Perry), and Volz would fit right in with them. He already works at 92-94 mph with the room to add more velocity, and his hard slider can overpower hitters as well.

10. Nationals: Kyle Gibson, rhp, Missouri. The Nationals failed to sign one Missouri pitcher last year and could take another with the compensation pick they received for Crow. Gibson doesn't have Crow's fastball, but he's polished, projectable and has a pair of solid secondary pitches in his slider and changeup.