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Predicting how a draft will turn out is no easy task. Even if we're pretty certain of what a team values and the players that align with a team's draft strategy, it only takes one unexpected turn of events to throw off the rest of the mock.
There are still two full months until the draft, and so teams are still in the process of evaluating all the players and figuring out which players they like. But simulating how the draft might go is an important exercise, both for Baseball America and for teams--if they've determined that a player might not be available by the time they pick, they can allocate more resources to getting the evaluations right on the players that will be available.
Entering the spring, it appeared that there were three obvious candidates to be taken with the first overall pick. All three were pitchers--New Jersey prep lefthander Jason Groome, Florida southpaw A.J. Puk, and Oklahoma righthander Alec Hansen. The early reviews on players this spring, however, have changed the landscape at the top.
Groome has a mid-90s fastball, a knee-buckling curveball, an improving changeup and a clean delivery. He's nearly 6-foot-5 and has the wide shoulders usually found in innings-eating starters. Groome has been on scouts' radars since his early high school days, and he's managed his workload well. He won't turn 18 until August, making him one of the younger prospects in this year's class. Groome's season kicks off on Friday, and his starts and pitch counts have already been sent out to teams. All of Groome's starts will be heavily monitored by teams picking at the top of the draft.
Puk and Hansen have both battled consistency, clouding the picture of their future roles. At times this season, each starter has been excellent, showing off dominant stuff and mowing through quality college lineups. At other times, they've battled command issues.
Two college players have gotten off to hot starts. Third baseman Nick Senzel (Tennessee) and outfielder Corey Ray (Louisville) are both tearing the cover off the ball and showing promise with non-offensive tools as well.
High school prospects in the mix in the top 10 include Southern California outfielder Blake Rutherford, Kansas righthander Riley Pint, and Puerto Rico shortstop Delvin Perez.
1. Phillies: Jason Groome, lhp, Barnegat (N.J.) High | Video
The Phillies take a chance on Groome, whose high school is less than two hours away from Citizens Bank Park. Groome headlines Philadelphia's rebuilding efforts and gives the organization a potential Opening Day starter. Teams picking at the top will continue to bear down on Groome’s makeup and what it will take to sign him this spring.
2. Reds: Nick Senzel, 3b, Tennessee | Video
Chris Buckley has had three top 10 picks during his decade-long tenure as the Reds' scouting director. He used all three of those picks on college players--Drew Stubbs (Texas, 8th overall, 2006), Yonder Alonso (Miami, 7th overall, 2008) and Mike Leake (Arizona State, 8th overall, 2009). Senzel's elite righthanded bat and chance to stick at third base could land him in Cincinnati.
3. Braves: Riley Pint, rhp, St. Thomas Aquinas High, Overland Park, Kan. | Video
Atlanta has been linked to college position players, but the Braves haven't used their top pick on a college position player since 1991, when they took Mike Kelly with the second overall pick out of Arizona State. They'll be tempted to break that streak here with Corey Ray on the board, but Pint's improved delivery and explosive stuff could be too much to pass up on. Scouts report Pint's most recent outing featured his usual electric fastball up to 100 mph and improved secondary stuff, including a surprising changeup for such a hard-throwing prep pitcher.
4. Rockies: A.J. Puk, lhp, Florida | Video
The Rockies have used three of their past five first round selections on college pitchers, and Puk should be the best available one here. When Puk is pounding hitters down in the zone, he's almost impossible to square up. If he can find more consistency as he matures and gains repetitions, Puk could develop into the frontline starter that Colorado has been searching for.
5. Brewers: Delvin Perez, ss, International Baseball Academy, Ceiba, P.R. | Video
Milwaukee has not shied away from the high school demographic in recent years, taking prep players with its first pick in each of the last four drafts. Brewers scouting director Ray Montgomery previously served in the same position for Arizona, and notably used the Diamondbacks’ first six picks of 2014 on high school players. Perez's massive upside could be too much to pass up on here.
6. Athletics: Corey Ray, of, Louisville
During the 14-year tenure of scouting director Eric Kubota, Oakland has used its first pick on a prep player just three times, selecting Trevor Cahill, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney. Here, Oakland could get a strong college performer with upside in Ray.
7. Marlins: Blake Rutherford, of, Chaminade College Prep, West Hills, Calif. | Video
If Alec Hansen can right the ship, Miami might take him here. The Marlins have been aggressive in Oklahoma for quite some time, not surprising given scouting director Stan Meek’s Oklahoma roots. High picks Chad James (2009, first round), J.T. Realmuto (2010, third), Mason Hope (2011, 5th) and Andrew Heaney (2012, first) came out of Oklahoma. Miami has also had success in Southern California, taking Christian Yelich, a similar player to Rutherford, with its top pick in 2010. Rutherford’s polished but will be tempting for teams ahead of Miami, but his age--he turns 19 in May--could push him behind some of the other top prep prospects.
8. Padres: Kyle Lewis, of, Mercer
Lewis has arguably the most raw power in this year's class, and the high cost of righthanded power at the major league level will make him a coveted commodity toward the top of the draft. Lewis is tied for second in Division I with 11 home runs. Padres GM A.J. Preller made a name for himself by adding high-risk, high-reward talent in his role within the Rangers' scouting department, so Lewis could be a good fit here.
9: Tigers: Dakota Hudson, rhp, Mississippi State
The Tigers have valued velocity over the years, and snatched up Texas fireballer Beau Burrows in 2015. They also have leaned heavily on Southeastern Conference performers for top picks such as James McCann, Jonathon Crawford and Kevin Ziomek. Hudson pitches with a plus fastball and a hard slider, and has pitched well against quality competition this spring. The Padres also could be in on Hudson, as Preller drafted him out of high school when he was with the Rangers.
10. White Sox: Ian Anderson, rhp, Shenendehowa High, Clifton Park, N.Y. | Video
Chicago hasn’t taken a prep pitcher with its first pick since 2001, when it took righthander Kris Honel, so this would be a bit of a shift for the White Sox. Anderson has been off to a strong start, however, and some industry sources believe he could push himself even higher than this spot. He'd be the best available prospect for the White Sox here.
11. Mariners: Bryan Reynolds, of, Vanderbilt | Video
Seattle could use a win in the draft, and Reynolds is a safe college performer with three years of track record at Vanderbilt. This spring, Reynolds has shown more game power and improved his walk rate as a junior, posting an Isolated Slugging Percentage (ISO) of just under .300 and walking in over 18 percent of his plate appearances.
12. Red Sox: Connor Jones, rhp, Virginia | Video
Jones is among the safest prospects at the top of this year's class, with a steady track record of improvement, a clean delivery and a lethal arsenal of stuff. Here, the Red Sox nab a polished college pitching prospect that could move through the minor leagues relatively quickly.
13. Rays: Mickey Moniak, of, La Costa Canyon High, Carlsbad, Calif. | Video
After picking a high-risk player with their first round pick in Garrett Whitley in 2015, the Rays could play it a bit safer here. Moniak has a contact-oriented swing and approach, and outstanding defensive instincts in center field.
14. Indians: Buddy Reed, of, Florida | Video
Cleveland has shown that it values upside early in the draft, and Reed’s defense in center and exceptional speed give him a high ceiling if he can put things together offensively.
15. Twins: Drew Mendoza, ss, Lake Minneola (Fla.) High
Minnesota has used its first pick on a prep position player five times over the last ten years, and Mendoza's feel for hitting has him shooting up draft boards this spring. Many scouts still have questions about Mendoza's pure bat speed, and he'll have to move to third base, but he has definite helium.
16. Angels: Alec Hansen, rhp, Oklahoma | Video
The Angels have favored pitching toward the top of the draft under scouting director Ric Wilson, and Hansen could add some punch to a farm system in desperate need of high-ceiling talent.
17. Astros: Josh Lowe, 3b, Pope High, Marietta, Ga. | Video
Armed with a deep, rich farm system, the Astros can afford to take a chance on a risky high ceiling talent like Lowe. The Georgia prep star is an elite athlete with massive raw power, and he has shown upside on the mound, giving him fallback option if his bat doesn’t play at the highest levels.
18. Yankees: Kevin Gowdy, rhp, Santa Barbara (Calif.) High | Video
The Yankees appear to like the SoCal demographic; they used three of their first four picks on SoCal prospects in 2015. They've also had success with pitchers at the top of the draft in under scouting director Damon Oppenheimer. Here, the Yankees could pounce on a projectable three-pitch prep prospect in Gowdy.
19. Mets: Daulton Jefferies, rhp, California | Video
The Mets have stockpiled pitching in recent years, developing arguably the best rotation in baseball. While his velocity has fluctuated, Jefferies has moved up this spring thanks to an epic changeup, sharp slider and excellent performance. His skinny, thin-shouldered frame makes him a bit of a risk, but his stuff and track record make him a good fit here.
20. Dodgers: Nolan Jones, ss, Holy Ghost Prep, Langhorne, Pa. | Video
The arrow is pointing up on Jones, who added significant muscle in the fall. The Dodgers can afford to gamble on upside this high in the draft, and Jones has a high ceiling as left-side infielder with power potential.
21. Blue Jays: Cal Quantrill, rhp, Stanford | Video
Toronto took an injured college pitcher in the first round in 2014 (Jeff Hoffman), and Cal's father Paul works for the Blue Jays. Quantrill is also a Canuck, having played for the Ontario Terriers during his prep days.
22. Pirates: Alex Kirilloff, of/1b, Plum High, New Kensington, Pa.
The Pirates could add a local talent here in Kirilloff, who has explosive bat speed and power from the left side. Kirilloff played first base often on the showcase circuit, but he is a solid runner underway, and will look to prove himself as a center fielder in the coming months.
24. Padres: Will Benson, of, The Westminster Schools, Atlanta | Video
Assuming San Diego has already added a college bat, they could snatch up a riskier high school option here. Given Preller’s fondness for high ceiling talent, and his roots in Texas, an Atlanta-area prep player makes sense here.
25. Padres: Braxton Garrett, lhp, Florence (Ala.) High | Video
Garrett is off to a hot start this spring, and he’s got some helium after his stellar performance at last week’s National High School Invitational. After taking risky power bats with their first two picks, San Diego could add a polished southpaw with a devastating three-pitch arsenal.
26. White Sox: Zack Collins, c, Miami | Video
After betting on the upside of Anderson at pick No. 10, the White Sox could add Collins’ potent lefthanded bat. The Miami catcher has worked to improve his defense and he’s destroying opposing pitchers so far this season, battin .418/.587/.716 through just over 100 plate appearances.
27. Orioles: Jordan Sheffield, rhp, Vanderbilt
Sheffield has performed for the Commodores on Friday nights this spring, and he pitches with elite fastball velocity. An organization that feels they can fix his command issues could be all in on Sheffield. Here, the Orioles add a player with ceiling to a farm system in need of some muscle. Local prep third baseman Joe Rizzo could also be in consideration here.
28. Nationals: Matt Manning, rhp, Sheldon High, Sacramento | Video
Manning's season has just begun--he played basketball this winter--and he's off to a strong start. His projectable frame and athleticism stick out for some, while others worry that the length of his arm swing could give him trouble finding a consistent release point. His upside makes sense for the Nationals here.
29. Nationals: Carter Kieboom, ss, Walton High, Marietta, Ga. | Video
The Nationals already have one Kieboom--catcher Spencer Kieboom--and could add his younger brother here. Carter has shown improved infield actions this spring and has a solid foundation for hitting, with a patient approach and a quick bat.
30. Rangers: Forrest Whitley, rhp, Alamo Heights High, San Antonio
Texas has valued pitching in the draft in recent years--using its top pick on an arm in each of the last three drafts. Whitley is a relatively local product who came out of the gate hot this spring, and he played for the Rangers’ Area Code team last August, so they should be very familiar with him.
31. Mets: Will Craig, 3b, Wake Forest
Craig has a strong understanding of the strike zone and power from the right side of the plate. He has an excellent track record of performance at Wake Forest, and an analytically inclined team such as the Mets could bite here.
32. Dodgers: Matt Krook, lhp, Oregon
Assuming the Dodgers have taken Nolan Jones, they could choose to double down on impact potential here at No. 32. Krook has been hot and cold this season, battling command issues, but he’s a southpaw who has a fastball with life, and promising breaking pitches, so he could be an appealing option for Los Angeles at this spot.
33. Cardinals: Matt Thaiss, c, Virginia
Thaiss has helium this spring, thanks to steady improvement behind the dish and a step forward offensively. Thaiss has controlled at-bats this spring; he’s walked 15 times and struck out only twice thus far. The Redbirds could add a safe bat here, and bet on Thaiss’ ability to stick behind the plate.
34. Cardinals: Joey Wentz, lhp, Shawnee Mission East High, Prairie Village, Kan.
Wentz is climbing up draft boards after a hot start. He's a 6-foot-5 southpaw pitching with a plus fastball and he's showing flashes with his offspeed stuff.