With 3½ weeks to go before the draft, the Rays' plans for the No. 1 overall pick remain undetermined. Florida State catcher Buster Posey (more on him in a second) remains the rumored frontrunner, but he's not a lock like David Price was for Tampa Bay a year ago.
There's less uncertainty surrounding the top prospect for 2009. The Padres currently lead the race for the top choice, and just like they did the last time they led off the draft in 2004, they'd grab a guy in their backyard—though this one should work out much better than Matt Bush has.
San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg has destroyed college hitters this spring, going 8-1, 1.28 with a 125-11 K-BB ratio in 84 innings. His stuff has been just as ridiculous than his statistics, as he has pitched with excellent command of an upper-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider. A lot can change between now and June 2009, but Strasburg is well ahead of the rest of the field right now.
The last Ask BA focused on highly drafted catchers, and we're back for more. I wouldn't say that most catchers drafted in the first round wind up switching positions, though. Since 1989, 31 catchers have gone that high, and only 10 have moved from behind the plate.
Posey is the current favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Rays, and though he only began catching two years ago, he has made such a quick transition that scouts project him as a possible Gold Glover. He's more athletic than most backstops, and his arm and receiving skills are both plus tools.
As a shortstop, Posey displayed the same strong arm and soft hands. His range was more ordinary, and at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he doesn't have a traditional shortstop build. But it's still fair to say that the whole package could add up to an average defender at short.
This draft is light on shortstops who can provide both offense and defense, and with Posey's explosion at the plate this spring (.471/.570/.843 with 15 homers in 51 games), he would have been the third-best shortstop available, behind only the non-related Beckhams, Georgia high schooler Tim and the University of Georgia's Gordon. Posey wouldn't go No. 1 overall as a shortstop, but he'd go in the middle of the first round.
A legitimate two-way player offers more additional intrigue than he does additional value. The team that selects him is betting that it has evaluated him correctly and thus will be playing him at his optimum position and not need a Plan B.
Clubs seem fairly split on where Hicks should wind up, though I think he'll be an everyday player because he may have the best pure tools of any outfielder in the draft. Rick Ankiel aside, if a team needs to turn to a fallback option, it's much easier to shift a position player to the mound than to make the move in the opposite direction. Martin and Kelly entered the season better known as position players but have made more strides on the mound.
If they were strictly hitters, Hicks would be a mid-first-rounder, while Martin would be an early supplemental first-rounder and Kelly would be a late sandwich pick or early second-rounder. Martin projects as a slugging third baseman, while Kelly is an athletic shortstop who still has to prove more with the bat. There's also some concern that at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he could outgrow the position.
On the mound, they're arguably the three best high school pitchers in the draft. All of them have fastballs that sit in the low 90s and plus breaking pitches, as well as room on their frames to add more strength. They'd all be mid-first-rounders and would rate in the same order as we have them on the Tracker: Hicks, Martin, Kelly.
"Good" is an understatement—this year's crop of first basemen is exceptional. Though teams prefer players who offer more well-rounded skills than first basemen usually do, six guys who project to play that position in the majors have a chance to go in the first round: American Heritage High's (Cooper City, Fla.) Eric Hosmer, South Carolina's Justin Smoak, Miami's Yonder Alonso, Arizona State's Brett Wallace and Ike Davis, and California's David Cooper. Wake Forest's Allan Dykstra could crack the sandwich round.
All of these players owe their draft status to what they can do at the plate, but it's an interesting idea to look at them from the defensive angle. Smoak isn't an exceptional athlete, but he's a smooth fielder whom scouts hail as a potential Gold Glover. Both Hosmer and Davis have very strong arms for first basemen—they both pitch in the 90s with their fastballs—and have enough athleticism to possibly warrant a look in the outfield.
Alonso is an average defender at first base. Wallace and Dykstra both have played third base this spring, and the 6-foot-1, 245-pound Wallace has exceeded expectations at the hot corner. He's still going to be a first baseman, however, and he's the fifth-best defender in this group. Cooper and Dykstra are adequate at best with a first baseman's mitt.
Alonso is the third-best prospect, behind Hosmer and Smoak, but I think he can beat them both to the major leagues. Hosmer is a high school player (and may wind up attending Arizona State), and Alonso is more of a polished hitter than Smoak.