I can't make any detailed playoff predictions because both wild-card spots are up for grabs and the No. 2 and 3 seeds in both leagues have yet to be determined. So with the caveat that it's possible these teams could match up in the Division Series rather than the Championship Series, I like the Rangers over the Yankees in the American League and the Phillies over the Brewers in the National League.
World Series? Give me the Phillies over the Rangers in seven games.
Here's my take on the best players who will qualify for the 2012 Prospect Handbook, position by position. Anthony Rizzo and Jason Kipnis could lose their prospect eligibility in the last three days of the regular season, but for now they make my team:
Devin Mesoraco, c, Reds
Has made a quantum leap from where he was two years ago.
Anthony Rizzo, 1b, Padres
Passed Casey Kelly as most significant player received in Adrian Gonzalez trade.
Jason Kipnis, 2b, Indians
Prototypical offensive second baseman has hit .285/.350/.545 in Cleveland.
Anthony Rendon, 3b, Nationals
You've heard me say this before: He was the best prospect in the 2011 draft.
Jurickson Profar, ss, Rangers
Gets nod over Manny Machado because he's a lock to stay at shortstop.
Christian Yelich, lf, Marlins
Biggest surprise on this team, but he's a solid athlete with a potentially special bat.
Mike Trout, cf, Angels
BA's Minor League Player of the Year has three 7 or 8 tools (bat, speed, defense).
Bryce Harper, rf, Nationals
Continues to live up to impossible expectations; look for him in majors by mid-2012.
Jesus Montero, dh, Yankees
While he may not be a catcher, September callup shows why he'll be a devastating hitter.
Matt Moore, lhp, Rays
Poised to be Rays' secret playoff weapon (think David Price, 2008) if they advance.
Julio Teheran, rhp, Braves
Just needs to refine his curveball to be ready to dominate in the big leagues.
People on both sides of the current negotiations tell me that commissioner Bud Selig isn't going to get the mandated draft slotting he keeps clamoring for in the new collective bargaining agreement. For all the potential draft changes that have been discussed, the only one that seems highly likely is an earlier signing deadline. My guess it will be July 15, one month earlier than the current standard.
MLB has to negotiate draft changes with the MLB Players Association, but the signing deadline is a slam dunk because it benefits everyone one and hurts no one. I totally disagree with Rory's suggestion that bonuses could decrease. It doesn't matter when the deadline is—agents will back teams up against it no matter when it falls. There may be less spending on the 2012 draft, but that's because the 2011 crop was unusually deep, especially at the top.
The vast majority of players will get the same bonus whether the deadline is July 15, Aug. 15 or a week before the next year's draft (as it was before 2007). The earlier deadline will allow draftees to get six weeks of pro experience, rather than in many cases having to wait until the following year to make their pro debuts, which will make everyone happy.
Additionally, if players receiving above-slot bonuses don't have to wait two months for MLB to allow clubs to sign them, a few more might turn pro. In the third round of this year's draft, there's a good chance the Mariners would have landed Kevin Cron (now at Texas Christian) and the Marlins would have inked Connor Barron (now at Southern Mississippi) if they could have signed in late June or early July.
Villalona isn't anywhere close to being one of the Giants' 10 best prospects. Signed for a then-franchise record $2.1 million in 2006, he last played professionally in 2009, when he batted .267/.306/.397 in high Class A and had his season end prematurely with a strained quadriceps in July. While he offered plenty of raw power and was only 18, his utter lack of athleticism and strike-zone discipline raised huge questions about his future.
Villalona's baseball career seemed over after he was was arrested and charged with fatally shooting Mario Felix de Jesus Valete in a dispute over a seat in a bar on Sept. 19, 2009. He spent three months in jail before he was released on bail, and the charges eventually were dismissed after he paid the victim's family $139,000.
After his arrest, San Francisco placed Villalona on the restricted list in order to retain his rights without having to give him a roster spot. He filed a $5 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against the team last month, but he's expected to settle the suit and report to the Giants' complex in the Dominican Republic. However, the United States revoked Villalona's visa following his arrest, and it's uncertain whether he'll ever be allowed to re-enter the county.
Even if Villalona can come back, he's essentially a one-tool player who has lost two years of at-bats and is best suited to DH. His conditioning was poor before his arrest, so there's no telling what kind of shape he's in now. He has a long way to go to restore his prospect status.