How The Top 10 Should Shake Out




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CHICAGO—With less than two weeks before the draft, the teams at the top still were zeroing in on whom they should take. While this draft crop pales in comparison to 2011's, there are talented players.

They just haven't separated themselves. Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton is the consensus No. 1 prospect, but he hit just three homers in his first 33 games, a sign that it may be a few years before his bat is ready to make an impact at the big league level. Puerto Rico prep shortstop Carlos Correa is gaining on Buxton.

Talk to three different scouts, and you'll get three different answers as to who's the best pitcher in the top tier of college arms (Stanford's Mark Appel, Louisiana State's Kevin Gausman and San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer, all righthanders). Florida catcher Mike Zunino is clearly the top college position player available but has only one true plus tool.

That's why we're here to help. Last issue, we projected who each team would take in the first round. This time, we'll tell you who clubs should select with the top 10 picks.

Astros Must Forget About ETAs

Rumors continue to swirl that Astros scouts prefer Buxton but that higher-ups want someone who can provide more immediate help. In the first quarter of this season, Houston hasn't been as bad as last year's 106-loss disaster, but it's still years away from contending (especially after it moves to the American League West next year). The Astros' sole focus should be to take the best player available, ETA be damned, and that player is Buxton, a toolshed compared to Matt Kemp and the Upton brothers.  

Buxton and Correa might be the top two talents in the draft, but the Twins have gone from perennial contender to disaster in large part because it has nothing resembling a frontline starter—in the majors or the minors. Minnesota has to take a pitcher at No. 2, and it says here Appel is the best option.

Yes, Appel frustrates scouts because he doesn't dominate more, but the same was said about Justin Verlander at Old Dominion. Appel has a better breaking ball than Gausman, and he has a longer track record and has maintained his top-end velocity better than Zimmer.

The pitching-rich Mariners can add another piece to a formidable lineup of the future by snaring Correa at No. 3. He hasn't gotten quite the same hype, but he compares favorably to Orioles shortstop Manny Machado, the third overall pick in 2010.

Zunino would make some sense at No. 4, but not for Baltimore, which is set behind the plate with Matt Wieters. Clubs never have enough pitching in the AL East, so the pick comes down to Gausman vs. Zimmer. Zimmer gets the nod because he has a better chance to develop three above-average pitches.

That leaves Gausman at No. 5 for the Royals, who need pitching as much as the Twins. With size, athleticism, a mid-90s fastball and a plus changeup, he could surpass Appel and Zimmer. Those three college pitchers are that close.

Whither Giolito?

Though the Cubs would love a shot at one of the premier college arms at No. 6, that's unlikely to happen. Getting Zunino would be a nice consolation prize. Five-tool Florida high school outfielder Albert Almora is another consideration, but quality catchers are scarcer commodities.

Max Fried's stock took a hit after some inconsistent outings a month before the draft, but the California prepster is still the top lefthander available. He looked sharp again in late May, and his downturn could be nothing more than the effects of throwing nonstop all winter. He fits nicely at No. 7 for the Padres, who have plenty of position prospects but not enough arms like Fried's.

By contrast, the Pirates have been loading up on arms and need more bats. At No. 8, Almora is a perfect fit for Pittsburgh, which could build its offense around a future outfield of him, Josh Bell and Andrew McCutchen.

There's a dropoff in talent after the first eight picks, though you may have noticed someone conspicuous by his absence. Lucas Giolito, Fried's teammate at Harvard-Westlake High (Studio City, Calif.), could have been the first pitcher drafted and perhaps the first high school righthander ever selected first overall had he not injured his elbow in early March. Two months later, his health and signability were two of the biggest mysteries in the draft.

They'd have to be comfortable with his elbow and move some money around to sign him under the new rules, but the Marlins could get the steal of the draft with Giolito at No. 9. Even if he needed surgery as some teams speculate, it's easier to fix an elbow than it is to find someone with three swing-and-miss pitches.

There's another electric arm available for the Rockies at No. 10. Duke righthander Marcus Stroman may be just 5-foot-9, but he's an exceptional athlete whose fastball-slider combination is untouchable at times. He has a chance to start despite his size, and the worst-case scenario is that he races to the majors as a lights-out reliever.