We just sent our Early Draft Preview (also our College Preview) off to the printer, and a lot of that content will hit the website on Monday. Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez remains the top overall prospect in our rankings, but you'll have to wait three more days for the rest of the names. I'll check in for a 2 p.m. ET chat to answer your draft questions.
8. White Sox
17. Blue Jays
18. Mets (Tom Glavine, A, to Atl)
27. Twins (Torii Hunter, A, to LAA)
30. Red Sox
Supplemental First-Round Picks
31. Twins (Hunter)
32. Brewers (Franciso Cordero, A, to Cin)
33. Mets (Glavine)
34. Phillies (Aaron Rowand, A to SF)
35. Brewers (Scott Linebrink, A, to CWS)
36. Royals (David Riske, B, to KC)
37. Giants (Pedro Feliz, B, to Phi)
38. Astros (Trever Miller, B, to TB)
xx. Athletics (if Mike Piazza or Shannon Stewart sign elsewhere)
39. Cardinals (Troy Percival, B, to TB)
40. Braves (Ron Mahay, B, to KC)
41. Cubs (Jason Kendall, B, to Mil)
42. Padres (Mike Cameron, B, to Mil)
xx. Diamondbacks (if Livan Hernandez signs elsewhere)
43. Yankees (Luis Vizcaino, B, to Col)
44. Red Sox (Eric Gagne, B, to Mil)
xx. Athletics (if both Piazza and Stewart sign elsewhere)
45. Padres (Doug Brocail, B, to Hou)
50. Phillies (Rowand to SF)
52. Brewers (Cordero to Cin)
53. Brewers (Linebrink to CWS)
69a. Braves (for failure to sign 2007 second-rounder Joshua Fields)
84a. Red Sox (for failure to sign 2007 second-rounder Hunter Morris)
Supplemental Third-Round Picks
108. Phillies (for failure to sign 2007 third-rounder Brandon Workman)
109. Astros (for failure to sign 2007 third-rounder Derek Dietrich)
110. Padres (for failure to sign 2007 third-rounder Tommy Toledo)
111. Angels (for failure to sign 2007 third-rounder Matt Harvey)
A team picking at the draft has to be almost solely concerned with getting the best player it can. But there are two reasons that I think the Rays could pass on Alvarez, the consensus top prospect this year.
First, they spent the No. 3 overall pick two years ago on Longoria. Tampa Bay could move Alvarez to left field or first base, where it has productive players in Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, but it has more pressing needs on the mound. The Rays do have a number of talented arms rising through their farm system, but attrition always strikes pitchers and teams never have enough.
Second, while Alvarez is the No. 1 prospect right now, San Diego lefthander Brian Matusz, Missouri righthander Aaron Crow and Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham are close behind him. If Alvarez has clearly separated himself from the pack in June, Tampa Bay could be tempted to take him. But if he hasn't, taking Matusz, Crow or Beckham would make more sense.
Hosmer is the top high school bat in the 2008 draft class and is a top-10 pick based on talent. His advisor is Scott Boras, so signability concerns could cause him to slip. But Hosmer could be the first prep first baseman to go in the top 10 since the Brewers selected Prince Fielder seventh overall in 2002. The only other one this decade was Adrian Gonzalez, the No. 1 choice by the Marlins in 2000.
This isn't limited to high schoolers, either. The last collegian drafted that high as a first baseman was Carlos Pena, whom the Rangers made the No. 10 choice in 1998. South Carolina's Justin Smoak and Miami's Yonder Alonso are good bets to crack the top 10 in June, however.
Because first base is the easiest position to play on the diamond, it comes with the biggest offensive demands. The only way a first baseman will be a premium pick is if clubs believe he'll have a game-changing bat. Doing some very quick research, I came up with just 18 first basemen who have been top 10 choices in the 43 years of the draft. Sixteen of them reached the majors, with Will Clark, Fielder, Todd Helton, John Mayberry, Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas and Tim Wallach becoming all-stars.
Since the baseball draft started in 1965, there always have been a few talented players who have slipped through the cracks. The Senators took Bruce Sutter in the 21st round out of high school in 1970, but the Hall of Famer entered pro ball as a NDFA with the Cubs a year later.
Coincidentally, several other top closers also signed as nondrafted free agents. Dan Quisenberry (Royals, 1975) and Kent Tekulve (Pirates, 1969) didn't exactly fit the mold of what a pitcher is supposed to look like, yet they combined for 428 big league saves. Eric Gagne (Dodgers, 1995), Bryan Harvey (Angels, 1984) and Jeff Reardon (Mets, 1977) also turned pro as NDFAs, though Gagne and Reardon had been drafted previously.
A number of prominent position players were NDFAs as well, among them Bobby Bonilla (Pirates, 1981), Kevin Mitchell (Mets, 1980) and Frank White (Royals, 1970).
Twelve nondrafted free agents made it into the 2008 Prospect Handbook. I'll list them in the order of their ranking on the team Top 30 lists:
Brian Barton, of (No. 4, Cardinals)
Showed five-tool potential before a knee injury slowed him last year.
Henry Owens, rhp (No. 17, Marlins)
Stolen from the Mets, took over as Florida's closer until he hurt his elbow.
Ryan Speier, rhp (No. 19, Rockies)
Fits the typical NDFA profile as a reliever with an unorthodox delivery.
Ehren Wasserman, rhp (No. 22, White Sox)
Emmanuel Garcia, 2b/ss (No. 24, Mets)
Hit .348 in Hawaii Winter Baseball, played for Canada at World Cup.
Kala Ka'aihue, 1b (No. 25, Braves)
Led high Class A Carolina League in OBP (.410), SLG (.583) last year.
Clay Rapada, lhp (No. 25, Tigers)
Traded for Craig Monroe last summer, he's another sidearming reliever.
Frank Herrmann, rhp (No. 26, Indians)
Can fall back on an economics degree from Harvard if he doesn't make it.
Rocky Roquest, rhp (No. 26, Cubs)
His plus fastball drew interest, but he signed before the draft as a fifth-year senior.
Hunter Jones, lhp (No. 27, Red Sox)
Deceptive southpaw could crack Boston bullpen this season.
Brian Horwitz, of (No. 29, Giants)
His bat is really his only tool, but he does own a career .326 average in the minors.
Rowdy Hardy, lhp (No. 30, Royals)
Set an Ohio Valley Conference record with 32 wins, led the CL with 15 last year.