Here's wishing Red Sox outfielder Ryan Westmoreland good luck with his brain surgery scheduled for Tuesday and a speedy recovery thereafter. Westmoreland, Boston's No. 1 prospect, has a cavernous malformation in his brain.
I'm stingy when it comes to anointing prospects as potential No. 1 starters. I want to see one dynamic pitch, at least one plus pitch to go with plus command and plus makeup—and even then I err on the side of caution. That's why there are only six pitchers whom I would stamp as having legitimate No. 1 starter potential: Stephen Strasburg (No. 2), Brian Matusz (No. 5), Neftali Feliz (No. 9), Martin Perez (No. 17), Tyler Matzek (No. 23) and Jacob Turner (No. 26).
There are five pitchers who ranked in the Top 25 whom I can't quite see as No. 1 starters yet. Madison Bumgarner's (No. 14) fastball continues to sit in the high 80s this spring, and that's a red flag. Jeremy Hellickson (No. 18) and Casey Kelly (No. 24) are very polished but don't have an overwhelming out pitch, while the reverse is true of Aroldis Chapman (No. 22). Kyle Drabek (No. 25) is close, but I'd like to see better fastball velocity and more command.
Behind those two groups are a half-dozen pitchers who could make the jump to No. 1 status. Jarrod Parker (No. 36) was there before injuring his elbow, and he'll miss all of 2010 following Tommy John surgery. Matt Moore (No. 35), Casey Crosby (No. 47), Chris Withrow (No. 48), Zack Wheeler (No. 49) and Shelby Miller (No. 50) need more consistency with their secondary pitches and improved command.
Pitchers do succumb to injury more than hitters. Scanning through some recent Prospect Handbooks, I found several pitchers who were first-round or sandwich picks, got hurt after signing and missed their first full pro seasons: Jon Bachanov, Kenny Baugh, Brad Lincoln, Tyler Lumsden, Bryan Morris, Cory Rasmus, Joe Saunders, Nick Schmidt and Wade Townsend. (Michael Ynoa, whose $4.25 million bonus in 2008 set a record for an international amateur, is another example of a top pitching prospect who missed his first full season.)
I came up with just three position players who were drafted that high and lost their first full pro season to injury: Landon Powell, Scott Thorman and Matt Whitney. None of those three could come close to matching Mitchell's athleticism, so they're not great comparisons. That's good news for Mitchell, because Powell, Thorman and Whitney have made little impact.
Powell, the 24th overall pick in 2004 by the Athletics, injured his left knee during offseason workouts in January 2005 and required surgery. The catcher tore up the same knee again in July 2007 and didn't make it to Oakland until last season, when he hit .229/.297/.429 as a 28-year-old backup.
The Braves selected Thorman 30th overall in 2000, and the first baseman lost 2001 to shoulder surgery. The injury didn't derail him much, as he bounced back in 2002 to lead the low Class A South Atlantic League with 38 doubles and rank second with 57 extra-base hits. Thorman did slug his way to the majors, but he hit just .222/.260/.407 in parts of two seasons with Atlanta.
After the Indians drafted him 33rd overall in 2002, Whitney hit 10 homers in 45 games at Rookie-level Burlington and drew comparisons to Manny Ramirez. But the third baseman stepped on a water sprinkler in spring training and broke his left leg, which needed multiple operations. His recovery was slow, and while he did hit 32 homers between two Class A stops in 2007, he's 26 and has yet to reach the majors.
Mitchell's injury, which he sustained crashing into the outfield wall in a big league exhibition against the Cubs, is particularly worrisome on two fronts. His electric speed is a huge part of his game, and it remains to be seen if he'll be slowed in the future. Secondly, because he divided his first two years at Louisiana State between baseball and football, he has far less experience than most 22-year-olds who played at major college programs. While he's very talented, Mitchell will need a lot of repetitions on offense and defense to reach his ceiling.
Bryce Harper, the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, has attracted all the headlines at Southern Nevada this year. As a 17-year-old who would be a high school junior if he hadn't gotten his GED diploma, he has hit .413/.505/.875 with eight homers in 24 games. Bryan, who transferred from Cal State Northridge to play with his brother, has been the Coyotes' most effective starter, going 5-1, 2.39 with 41 strikeouts in 26 innings.
Harper has a lean, projectable 6-foot-5 frame. The velocity on his fastball ranges from 88-91 mph, and his curveball fluctuates from slightly above average to sweepy. He has walked 17 batters, so he'll have to improve his command and control, especially because he can't overpower hitters.
On pure talent, Bryan Harper probably wouldn't go in the first 10 rounds and likely would head to South Carolina for his junior season. However, there's a good chance that the club that drafts Bryce will also make sure it lands Bryan.
Twice in the past decade, the team with the No. 1 overall pick also grabbed that player's brother. The Twins took Joe and Jake Mauer in 2001, and the Rays selected Tim and Jeremy Beckham in 2008. The Marlins could have done the same in 2000 after starting the draft with Adrian Gonzalez, but the Rays beat them to Edgar Gonzalez in the 30th round.