Handicapping The First Round
By Allan Simpson
This is the first in a series of mock first rounds in what is shaping up as a very fluid draft.
This year's draft doesn't have a can't-miss player like 2001, when righthander Mark Prior (who went No. 2 overall) set the early tone. That's why you'll see considerable movement among teams selecting in the first five or six spots, right until the first selection is made on June 4.
One certainty about this draft is that it is deep in pitching--especially high school pitching. There may be more young arms who can throw in excess of 90 mph in this draft than in any other, with three high school pitchers who have been clocked as high as 98 mph at one point in their careers.
Here's how Baseball America handicaps this year's first round (and each team's first pick):
Projected Pick: Bryan Bullington.
2. Devil Rays. Tampa Bay officials have been coy about their selection, but the prevailing thought is that Tampa Bay likes the same two players as the Pirates and will simply take the one who's left. Scouting director Dan Jennings has a longstanding interest in Upton. The Devil Rays have also pursued Texas lefthander Scott Kazmir and fast-rising Georgia outfielder Jeremy Hermida. In the end, the team's tentative financial position may play a role in the selection.
3. Reds. Cincinnati had at least eight scouts a game on multiple occasions to see Kazmir and California righthander Chris Gruler toward the end of each player's high school season. Reds camp is split on their selection, with most favoring Gruler. Word in the industry is that's who they'll take. But GM Jim Bowden favors Kazmir, believing there isn't a more polished pitcher in the draft, college included.
4. Orioles. The Orioles were set at one point to take Virginia Tech lefty Joe Saunders, but that interest subsided. Their attention turned next to the best available high school hitter. If scouting director Tony DeMacio has his way, the pick will be Hermida, one of the best young hitters to come along in years.
5. Expos. Montreal's muddled future caused it to focus on the safest commodity--college pitching--for most of the spring, with Rutgers righthander Bobby Brownlie the primary target. He did not pitch well amid concerns that his arm was not 100 percent, and the polished Saunders soon became a second option. The Expos also took a hard look at some of the quality high school pitching, with Kazmir's high school teammate Clint Everts, Gruler and California lefthander Cole Hamels the chief targets.
6. Royals. The Royals will have a hard time passing on hometown product John Mayberry Jr., whose father once starred for the Royals. They've also spent a lot of time in British Columbia looking at lefthander Adam Loewen, who would become the highest-drafted Canadian ever.
7. Brewers. The Brewers have made noise about taking big slugger Prince Fielder because of a close relationship between the Fielder family and special-assignment scout Bill Lajoie, the GM in Detroit when Cecil starred there. But they have spent more time identifying the best prep arm. North Carolina righthander Jason Neighborgall has as much upside as any pitcher in the draft, though his price tag and lack of command have scared most teams off. A safer pick would be Florida righthander Zack Greinke.
8. Tigers. The organization still has fond memories of a 12-year-old Fielder launching upper-deck home runs at Tiger Stadium in batting practice when his dad played there. The Tigers believe he may have the best raw power in the draft, though most clubs don't see rolling the dice on a one-tool player in the first round. Detroit also is considering Mayberry, whose father was the sixth overall pick out of a Detroit high school 35 years ago.
9. Rockies. GM Dan O'Dowd would prefer a college pitcher such as Brownlie or Stanford righthander Jeremy Guthrie, but Clemson third baseman Jeff Baker's power is an enticing tool. Baker has his detractors, and his association with agent Scott Boras may cause him to slide.
10. Rangers. This is the only pick the Rangers have before the sixth round, and their pressing need for pitching dictates pursuing the most polished college arm. Guthrie and Canadian lefthander Jeff Francis fit the profile and have been mentioned most often.
11. Marlins. The same people who conducted unpredictable drafts in Montreal now call the shots in Florida. If the Marlins are looking to cut a predraft deal with a lower-ranked prospect as they were wont to do in Montreal, then infielder Sergio Santos or outfielders Brent Clevlen and Denard Span could be the targets. If the Marlins play it straight, then Greinke or Gruler are logical candidates.
12. Angels. The Angels want a top high school hitter and have been all over shortstop Scott Moore in their own backyard.
13. Padres. Hamels is a candidate to go as early as No. 5, but his medical record has scared off teams. He broke his pitching arm two years ago, but the Padres know him best and will take a chance on a local kid. Francis, another lefthander, is also on their short list.
14. Blue Jays. Francis is made to order for Toronto's ailing pitching staff and lagging fan support--a Canadian native who can help quickly. If he isn't available, the Jays would look to the next best college pitcher.
15. Mets. The Mets have been difficult to read but seem to prefer a college pitcher, with Saunders and Brownlie attractive targets if they're around. Ball State lefthander Luke Hagerty also is a possibility. The exception might be Everts, the righthanded half of the nation's best high school pitching combo. He had the highest grade turned in by the Major League Scouting Bureau at one point this year and has huge support from a couple of clubs. A darkhorse candidate is Ohio State first baseman Nick Swisher, son of ex-big leaguer Steve Swisher, who once managed in the Mets system.
16./24./26./30. Athletics. Oakland has seven of the first 39 picks and will use the windfall to replenish a player-development system that has graduated a lot of talent in the last few years. Their preference is to go after college players. Middle infielders are in short supply, and the A's will jump at the chance to get the best one on the board, North Carolina's Russ Adams, with South Carolina shortstop Drew Meyer a fallback. They would also like to land a premium college pitcher with one of their next two picks, with Hagerty a likely selection. The A's won't be able to pay market value for all their selections, so inexpensive college seniors like Clemson shortstop Khalil Greene, Wake Forest closer Dave Bush or California righthander Trevor Hutchinson will come into play as well. They could also look at cutting deals with lesser players to keep their budget in line.
17. Phillies. With Scott Rolen on his way out in Philadelphia, the Phillies have looked at Florida prep third baseman Matt Whitney as Rolen's potential replacement. The team also has looked at lefthanded pitching, with Hagerty in that mix.
18. White Sox. College pitching is the White Sox' priority. Kentucky righthander Joseph Blanton is a prime target, but they've also looked at Hagerty and Saunders.
19. Dodgers. A new administration in Los Angeles has targeted a high school hitter. If Mayberry slides this far, he would be made to order for the Dodgers. Moore, Whitney and Tampa high school outfielder Span would also fit here.
20. Twins. The Twins are content to take the best high school player that falls to them. Everts, Hamels and Span are the names most frequently mentioned, though Clevlen is also a possibility.
21. Cubs. Brownlie was the top college player at the start of the season, but his failure to dominate and questions about his health may cause him to slip. The Cubs, a team with extra early-round picks (Nos. 32, 36 and 38), are in position to take the risk. They are also not averse to taking a Boras client who may fall and would consider Neighborgall and Texas righthander Mark McCormick, both of whom have 98 mph on their resumes.
22. Indians. Cleveland stockpiled righthanded pitching in last year's draft and won't go that route again unless Everts, Greinke or Gruler slips. The Indians will turn their attention to the best hitter available this time, with Santos a strong candidate.
23. Braves. The Braves have become the most territorial team in the game during Roy Clark's tenure as scouting director. With Georgia loaded with talent again and the Braves having extra picks, it wouldn't be a surprise they took Georgia players with their first three or four selections. Hermida will be off the board, but outfielder Jeff Francoeur, one of the nation's top football talents, is made to order. They'll also consider local products such as righthander Micah Owings and catcher Brian McCann.
25. Giants. The Giants have made noise about overdrafting a catcher such as Houston's Chris Snyder, but may settle for a college pitcher. Villanova's Brian Slocum and Nevada's Darrell Rasner are on their list.
27. Diamondbacks. College pitching is a priority for the Diamondbacks, who would jump at Blanton or Hagerty in this spot. A dependable closer also is on the wish list and San Diego State's Royce Ring could fit perfectly. The defending World Series champions also could roll the dice on pitchers like Neighborgall or McCormick, who have huge ceilings but could slide right through the first round because of signability.
28. Mariners. Seattle hasn't followed conventional wisdom with its early-round picks, but has a true first-round pick for the first time in three years. Snyder and Fresno State two-way talent Ben Fritz are possible college selections, while lefthander Jon Lester, a local product, has been heavily scouted as well.
29. Astros. The Astros had success in Nevada two years ago, taking righthanders Chad Qualls and Anthony Pluta. The state has two more righthanders who have been closely watched by Houston, Rasner and Kevin Jepsen. Northeast Texas CC righty Derick Grigsby also is on their list.
57. Red Sox. Boston's past regime went out of its way to take players with New England ties and would consider Connecticut pitchers Charlie Morton and Mark Rosen in this year's draft. The new regime has strong ties to the Marlins, who did what it took to sign premium talents like righthander Josh Beckett. The Red Sox could end up taking the player deemed most unsignable who slides out of the first round and pay him top dollar, or simply address a need with a player like Louisiana hitting machine Micah Schilling.
71. Yankees. The Yankees would give up a first-round pick any day for a chance to sign a player of Jason Giambi's stature. This year they'll focus on players with one exceptional tool, like Stanford power-hitting outfielder Jason Cooper.
102. Cardinals. St. Louis forfeited its first two picks for signing Jason Isringhausen and Tino Martinez and won't select until the last pick in the third round. They'll do everything they can before the draft to sign Washington draft-and-follow righthander Blake Hawksworth, even if it costs them a seven-figure bonus. He would be the equivalent of a first-rounder. The Cardinals are not averse to taking Boras clients and there may be one or two still available, such as Purdue righthander Chadd Blasko.
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