Quick comparison time:
Last year, three weeks before the signing deadline, there were 11 unsigned first-round picks and a total of 40 unsigned players in the first five rounds. The biggest difference between a bonus and MLB's slot recommendation in the top five rounds (not counting two-sport deals spread over multiple years) was $233,000—Cubs fourth-rounder Matt Cerda signed for $500,000.
This year, three weeks before the signing deadline, there are 20 unsigned first-round picks and a total of 63 unsigned players in the first five rounds. The biggest difference between a bonus and MLB's slot recommendation in the top five rounds (again, not counting two-sport deals) is $51,000—Rockies sandwich-rounder Rex Brothers got $969,000.
In the end, all but nine players signed out of the first five rounds in the 2008 draft. I don't expect the number to be much higher this year, maybe a dozen. We're still waiting for MLB to start approving deals significantly over slot, but so far Pirates seventh-rounder Trent Stevenson ($350,000 bonus/$200,000 over slot) is the only draftee to get a deal worth more above MLB's recommendation than Brothers.
I still have a lot of faith in both Moustakas and Anderson. Neither is savaging pitchers like they did last season—Moustakas is hitting .247/.284/.409 at high Class A Wilmington, and Anderson is batting .259/.349/.390 in Double-A Portland—but both are young for their levels and they're still two of the best hitting prospects in the minors.
Moustakas, 20, has been in a monthlong slump in July that has killed his numbers, yet ranks fourth in the Carolina League in RBIs (61) and eighth in homers (11). He has been focusing on working counts and learning which pitches to attack. At times he has gotten too passive, and at others too aggressive. He still needs to do a better job of using the whole field and not trying to do too much. Moustakas also hasn't been helped by playing in one of the most inhospitable home parks in high Class A: his .185/.235/.325 numbers at Wilmington's Frawley Stadium are much worse than his .292/.321/.472 numbers on the road.
Anderson, 21, seemed poised for a big season at Portland after hitting .316/.436/.526 there in the last six weeks of 2008, but he hasn't homered since June 28. His walk totals (46 in 89 games, compared to 29 in 41 Double-A games last year) may not indicate it, but he has been pitched around a lot more in his second tour of the Eastern League. He too has struggled to find a balance in between being too aggressive and too passive. Anderson has admitted to losing his confidence at times. He has plenty of raw power, and he'll show more of it in games once he turns on pitches more consistently. He also has had a tough time solving lefthanders since arriving in Double-A.
Moustakas and Anderson are both well ahead of the development curve and have plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments. My biggest concern about either of them is that I'm not convinced that Moustakas will have enough range to stay at third base. But I'm not at the point where I'm worrying about their bats.
Usually, the answer to this type of question is the pitcher with the best pure stuff. Latos sits in the mid-90s with his fastball and has a nasty slider that can overpower hitters, while Hanson can't quite light up the radar guns the same way with either pitch. But I still think Hanson has the higher ceiling, because he has four quality pitches: a consistent low-90s fastball that runs in on righties, a hard slider, an equally tough curveball and a changeup.
Latos isn't far behind, though, and in the minors, he showed better control and did a better job of keeping the ball in the park than Hanson. After a lost season in 2008, when he pitched just 56 innings because of shoulder, oblique and maturity issues, Latos has come a long way this season. They're two of the top young pitchers in the majors and have pitched well in their brief time there.
When I was working on our draft coverage this spring, one of the scouts I spoke to likened Mitchell to Carl Crawford. Crawford is a little bigger (6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, versus 6 feet and 192 pounds for Mitchell), but both jump out at you with their game-changing athleticism and speed. Crawford could have been an option quarterback at Nebraska, while Mitchell played wide receiver on a national championship football team for Louisiana State. He also won another national title at the 2009 College World Series, where he was named Most Outstanding Player.
The 23rd overall pick in the draft, Mitchell signed for $1.2 million. Though he has hit .393 in his first eight games at low Class A Kannapolis, he may not race to the majors. He split time between two sports at Louisiana State, and while he's obviously gifted, he's also in need of a lot of polish. He put an emphasis on taking pitches to get on base, but he often falls behind in the count, leading to strikeouts. He needs more balance in his stance and less uppercut his swing, and he shows more speed than savvy on the bases and in the outfield.
At the same time, Mitchell wouldn't be the first gifted athlete who took off once he focused solely on baseball. Realistically, he's at least two years away from joining the White Sox, who have been searching for an answer in center field since trading Aaron Rowand.