Projecting The First Round: May 19

It might be easier to resurrect the Royals than it is to project the first round of the 2006 draft, for a variety of reasons. Starting at the top, Kansas City doesn’t know what it’s doing yet. Overall, the crop is considered the leanest since 2000, which was one of the worst drafts ever.

The demand for position players greatly outstrips the supply. That means that the record of 20 pitchers in the first round (set in 1999, matched in 2001) is in jeopardy, and some clubs will wind up overdrafting position players to make sure they get one.

Three weeks before the draft was set to kick off, here’s our best guess as to what will happen on June 6. We’re assuming that potential first-round righthanders Pedro Beato (Mets/St. Petersburg, Fla., CC) and Bryan Morris (Devil Rays/Motlow State, Tenn., CC) will sign as draft-and-follows rather re-enter the draft. We expect righty Luke Hochevar, now with the independent Fort Worth Cats, will turn down the Dodgers and be eligible for selection.

1. ROYALS. Kansas City has narrowed its focus to North Carolina lefthander Andrew Miller, Washington righthander Tim Lincecum and Houston righty Brad Lincoln. Miller may want a contact bigger than the $5.25 million deal last year’s top college pitcher, Mike Pelfrey, got from the Mets. It’s uncertain whether owner David Glass will write that check. But the Royals are in such dire straits on the field that the only thing that makes sense is for them to identify the best prospect and find a way to sign him. Lincecum would cost significantly less than Miller, because he could slide for a while if he doesn’t go No. 1 overall.

Projected Pick: Andrew Miller.

2. ROCKIES. Colorado is looking at Miller and Long Beach State third baseman Evan Longoria, the consensus best position player available. The Rockies would prefer Miller, but if he’s gone they’ll take an infielder with their top pick for the fourth straight year.

Projected Pick: Evan Longoria.

3. DEVIL RAYS. Tampa Bay failed to sign Miller as a third-rounder out of high school and would love another crack at him. If Longoria is gone, the only options are pitchers, something the Devil Rays need. Lincoln would be the choice over Lincecum and California righthander Brandon Morrow.

Projected Pick: Brad Lincoln.

4. PIRATES. Drafting Texas high school righthander Kyle Drabek would be a boon for the marketing department, because his father Doug won a Cy Young Award for Pittsburgh in 1990. But owner Kevin McClatchy prefers college players and it’s hard to envision him doling out $3 million to a prepster with shaky makeup. Stanford righty Greg Reynolds, who’s making a late charge up draft boards, would be a better fit as a college pitcher with polish and tools.

Projected Pick: Greg Reynolds.

5. MARINERS. GM Bill Bavasi, who’s on shaky ground, is expected to seek more immediate than long-term help. Local product Lincecum would be a natural choice who should reach the majors faster than any player out of this draft. But Seattle is believed to prefer Hochevar, the Dodgers’ 2005 supplemental first-rounder. Hochevar wants a big league contract and he’ll probably get it.

Projected Pick: Luke Hochevar.

6. TIGERS. If the top five unfolds as we expect, Detroit would consider Texas high school lefty Clayton Kershaw and Texas outfielder Drew Stubbs. They apparently also like Wake Forest third baseman Matt Antonelli, who would be a huge reach at No. 6. A year after taking Cameron Maybin, grabbing another toolsy outfielder will be too tempting to resist.

Projected Pick: Drew Stubbs.

7. DODGERS. Under scouting director Logan White, Los Angeles has snatched up high school talent while other teams focus on college players. White isn’t dogmatic about it, but the current trend often leaves prep players atop his draft board. That will be the case again this year, as the Dodgers will choose between Kershaw and Virginia high school righty Jeremy Jeffress.

Projected Pick: Clayton Kershaw.

8. REDS. Cincinnati will hope that Stubbs or especially Kershaw will make it down to them, but that won’t happen. The Reds haven’t expressed much interest in Lincecum, making Morrow the more likely choice.

Projected Pick: Brandon Morrow.

9. ORIOLES. Baltimore has spent a lot of time working on Jeffress and New Jersey high school third baseman Bill Rowell, the best prep position player available. But if Lincecum slides this far, the Orioles won’t be able to pass up the most electric arm in the draft.

Projected Pick: Tim Lincecum.

10. GIANTS. San Francisco is probably the first team that would ponder taking Drabek, who has more tools than anyone in the draft if you count him as a two-way player. But North Carolina righthander Daniel Bard has the kind of power arm Giants player personnel director Dick Tidrow covets. Miami high school third baseman Chris Marrero is a third possibility.

Projected Pick: Daniel Bard.

11. DIAMONDBACKS. If Lincecum drops to Arizona, he won’t get any further. By taking Stephen Drew and Justin Upton with their last two first-round picks, the Diamondbacks have proven they aren’t afraid of hefty bonuses or lengthy negotiations. Missouri righthander Max Scherzer, a Scott Boras client, is still on the board. But so is Nebraska righty Joba Chamberlain, who has comparable stuff and an easier price tag to swallow.

Projected Pick: Joba Chamberlain.

12. RANGERS. Texas always needs pitching and there are two quality arms still on the board. Drabek is a local product, but Scherzer would carry less risk if he is healthy. It wouldn’t be the first time the Rangers did business with Boras.

Projected Pick: Max Scherzer.

13. CUBS. Chicago needs position prospects, and Rowell would fit the bill. If the Orioles take him at No. 9, the Cubs would shift gears and go with another high school bat, Washington first baseman/outfielder Travis Snider or California catcher Hank Conger.

Projected Pick: Bill Rowell.

14. BLUE JAYS. Toronto is said to be high on Snider, but the Blue Jays have avoided high school players under GM J.P. Ricciardi. He prefers college players, and Antonelli comes out of the same infield mold as former Ricciardi first-rounders Russ Adams and Aaron Hill.

Projected Pick: Matt Antonelli.

15. NATIONALS. Washington could use some pitching help pronto, and Chamberlain would provide that if he gets this far. Jeffress, one of the few high schoolers ever to reach 100 mph, would be the best alternative if Chamberlain doesn’t.

Projected Pick: Jeremy Jeffress.

16. BREWERS. If the Giants opt for Drabek, Milwaukee probably wouldn’t shy away from the risks that come with Bard’s high ceiling. Getting Snider’s bat at 16 would be a nice complement to previous first-rounders Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks.

Projected Pick: Travis Snider.

17. PADRES. New vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson always has preferred refined college pitchers who throw multiple pitches for strikes. That’s a perfect description of Texas righthander Kyle McCulloch, who commands solid but not spectacular stuff.

Projected Pick: Kyle McCulloch.

18. PHILLIES (from Mets). Philadelphia is hurting for position players in a draft with few sure things. The Phillies may have to roll the dice on someone like Louisiana high school outfielder Jared Mitchell, a Louisiana State-bound wide receiver with raw baseball skills. They’d also have to consider any of the previously mentioned pitchers if they dropped.

Projected Pick: Jared Mitchell.

19. MARLINS. Marrero is a local product with the best all-around package of tools among high schoolers. The Marlins have strong ties to the state of Oklahoma, the home of ultrapolished prep lefthander Brett Anderson. But they also believe in ceiling, and at this point Drabek’s would far exceed that of anyone remaining.

Projected Pick: Kyle Drabek.

20. TWINS. Minnesota would prefer to take a bat. The Twins might have had to reach a bit for someone like Mitchell, Tennessee high school outfielder Kyler Burke or South Carolina prep outfielder Jason Place. They won’t have to do that with Marrero on the board. Minnesota also has been associated with Anderson.

Projected Pick: Chris Marrero.

21. YANKEES (from Phillies). Despite the franchise’s historic fascination with southpaws, the Yankees’ rebounding farm system is light on lefthanders. Anderson would get to the majors quick for a high schooler, but not as quick as a college lefthander, UCLA’s David Huff.

Projected Pick: David Huff.

22. NATIONALS (from Athletics). Washington will continue to target pitching–unless there’s a position player too promising to ignore. Conger is the best catcher available, and even if he has to move from behind the plate, he has more than enough bat to be a regular elsewhere.

Projected Pick: Hank Conger.

23. ASTROS. Another team that will take a hard look at Anderson, Houston would rather have a college pitcher. Missouri State righthander Brett Sinkbeil would be an obvious choice, assuming he recovers from an oblique strain to show his stuff again before the draft. If he can’t, college righties Villanova’s Kevin Mulvey, Georgia’s Brooks Brown and Miami’s Chris Perez would be considered.

Projected Pick: Brett Sinkbeil.

24. BRAVES. Before Atlanta took Joey Devine last year, it hadn’t selected a college player with its top choice since Mike Kelly in 1991. Look for the Braves to return to their high school roots, and they’d gladly take Anderson if no one else had. Other prepsters who fit Atlanta’s profile include Burke, Mitchell, Place and Florida shortstop Stephen King.

Projected Pick: Brett Anderson.

25. ANGELS (from Indians). Los Angeles had some early interest in Pepperdine catcher Chad Tracy, but he has slipped and would be a reach for a club that doesn’t pick again until No. 102. The Angels love high-ceiling pitchers, so Florida prepster Colten Willems could be their man.

Projected Pick: Colten Willems.

26. DODGERS (from Angels). Unless a quality hitter surprisingly plummets, Los Angeles won’t reach for a position player just to take one. The Dodgers will sort through a field of pitchers that includes Mulvey, Brown, Perez and a pair of hard-throwing high schoolers, Texas righty Jordan Walden and Alabama lefty Kasey Kiker.

Projected Pick: Kevin Mulvey.

27. RED SOX. Boston has had difficulty filling lineup holes from within, so finding at least one hitter with its consecutive picks is a priority. The Red Sox could haggle with Boras over Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta, or opt for a high school hitter such as California outfielder/first baseman Chris Parmelee, Florida catcher Max Sapp or California first baseman Lars Andersen. Parmelee is the most advanced of that group.

Projected Pick: Chris Parmelee.

28. RED SOX (from Yankees). The Cape Cod League is in Boston’s backyard, so the Red Sox scout it very heavily. San Diego State righthander Justin Masterson broke out on the Cape last summer and could become a big league setup man in relatively short order.

Projected Pick: Justin Masterson.

29. WHITE SOX. Chicago is set to contend for at least the near future, so it can afford to take a long-term project such as California high school righthander Chris Tillman. Walden and Kiker also might be hard to ignore. If the White Sox opt for more immediate help, they’ve been linked to Clemson outfielder Tyler Colvin, though that would be a stretch.

Projected Pick: Chris Tillman.

30. CARDINALS. St. Louis signed a pair of Boras clients (Tyler Greene, Mark McCormick) in the first round a year ago. With 2006’s lackluster talent, the Cardinals could travel that route again. Southern California righthander Ian Kennedy will be here, and St. Louis has been pleased with the last Trojans righty they got out of Boras’ stable, Anthony Reyes.

Projected Pick: Ian Kennedy.