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Our Draft Experts Select Their First Round

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With the draft less than two months away, we present a look at how the first round would unfold—if three of our draft experts were in charge of each team’s scouting department. This isn’t a projection of how the first round will play out, but rather who editor John Manuel, executive editor Jim Callis and assistant editor Conor Glassey prefer for picks 1-33. They alternated choices throughout the first round while taking into account each club’s needs and financial situation.

1. PIRATES (John): Pittsburgh has flubbed the No. 1 pick before, with Kris Benson in 1996 (who wasn’t a bust but was never quite a frontline starter, either) and Bryan Bullington (over B.J. Upton) in 2002. This draft will be hard to flub, though, because both Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon and UCLA righthander Gerrit Cole look like future stars. I’m taking Rendon here, despite his past ankle injuries and current shoulder problem. I’m confident in his bat and his defense, reports on his makeup are outstanding, and his injuries don’t appear to be long-term issues. Rendon’s all-fields ability should make him a righthanded hitter who can thrive at PNC Park, which is better suited for lefty bats. For Pirates fans worried about infield overload, Pedro Alvarez can easily move to first base as soon as Rendon is ready, because Rendon is better with the glove and Alvarez projects to have enough power to profile at first.

2. MARINERS (Conor): I too would have picked Rendon No. 1. But, if I’m the Mariners, I’m fine with whatever decision the Pirates make because the top two guys are neck and neck. I know Seattle fans are clamoring for a future infield of Anthony Rendon, Nick Franklin, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak, but a future rotation of Felix Hernandez, Gerrit Cole and Michael Pineda is just as enviable. With Cole’s top-shelf stuff and big-game experience in the College World Series and with Team USA, that trio could be a reality by late 2012.

3. DIAMONDBACKS (Jim): For what it’s worth, I also would have taken Rendon for the Pirates and whoever remained between him and Cole for the Mariners. My decision here at No. 3 is much more difficult, because there are so many talented options to choose from. It’s too early to know much about which teams are zeroing in on which players, but Arizona has been linked to Virginia lefthander Danny Hultzen (its 10th-round pick in 2008) for much of the spring. Kansas high school outfielder Bubba Starling has the highest ceiling in the draft, but I don’t think it’s realistic that the Diamondbacks would spend what it takes to buy him away from a scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska when it has to sign the No. 7 choice as well. The easy call is to take a college pitcher, but which one? I’m tempted by Hultzen and Vanderbilt righthander Sonny Gray, but I’ll take Georgia Tech lefthander Jed Bradley, who has better all-around stuff.

4. ORIOLES (John): When he was the manager in Arizona and later Texas, Buck Showalter got involved in the draft decision-making process, reportedly steering the Rangers to take John Mayberry Jr. instead of Travis Buck in 2005. If Showalter has any influence in Baltimore’s draft room, it likely will involve getting polished talent to help the Orioles quickly, while they have some veterans and are trying to end their 13-year streak of losing seasons. Baltimore doesn’t pick again until No. 64, so getting this pick right is imperative. While there have been rumors that he may be tough to sign, Danny Hultzen is the best choice for the Orioles. Another lefthander to team with Brian Matusz and Zach Britton is the smart choice, too.

5. ROYALS (Conor): I’ll make it back-to-back hometown picks by taking Gardner-Edgerton HS (Gardner, Kan.) outfielder Bubba Starling. The Royals are already brimming with minor league talent, owning the top farm system in the game and placing nine players on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list. Starling is a freak athlete with true five-tool potential and has the most upside of any player in the draft. He can lead the second wave of talent coming through the system. Gardner is only about a half hour outside Kansas City and while I don’t expect Starling to give the Royals a hometown discount, perhaps the thought of being able to represent the home team will help sway him toward baseball instead of fulfilling his commitment to be Nebraska’s quarterback.

6. NATIONALS (Jim): I love the Starling pick for the Royals, and I’ll go on record as saying I think he’ll sign a baseball-only deal even if he isn’t chosen by his hometown team. With the No. 6 pick, I’d take Montverde (Fla.) Academy’s Francisco Lindor, the only sure-thing shortstop in this draft. But Washington seems content with Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa as their double-play combination for the foreseeable future, so I don’t think it would pop Lindor. I love Sonny Gray’s fastball/curveball combination and competitiveness, and he’d help the Nationals quicker and fill an area of perceived greater need.

7. DIAMONDBACKS (John): This is Arizona’s compensation for its failure to sign Barret Loux last summer, giving the Diamondbacks two picks in the top seven, the first time that’s happened in draft history. If they fail to sign this selection, they get no compensation in 2012, so signability is at a premium. That said, the organization has a unique opportunity to add two high-ceiling talents in an above-average draft class. After taking Jed Bradley with Arizona’s first pick of this exercise, I like the idea of going for upside again. Spring Valley HS (Columbia, S.C.) righthander Taylor Guerrieri has as much helium as anyone in the draft, and his upper-90s fastball adds a power arm to a system that has lacked many in recent years. His commitment to College World Series champion South Carolina shouldn’t keep him from signing for slot this high in the draft, which is north of $2 million.

8. INDIANS (Conor): I was tempted to take Francisco Lindor in this spot. He would fit perfectly into a Cleveland system bereft of shortstop prospects, but the Tribe hasn’t used a true first-round pick on a high school player since 2001, when they selected righthander Dan Denham out of Deer Valley (Calif.) HS. So I’m going with UCLA righthander Trevor Bauer. The Indians probably still imagine what things would be like if they had signed Tim Lincecum as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2005, Bauer, who’s reminiscent of Lincecum, can help remedy that.

9. CUBS (Jim): I’d be surprised if the Diamondbacks took Guerrieri over one of the many college pitchers left on the board at that point, especially with an unprotected choice. I could see Bauer going there, though I like Conor’s Lincecum/Bauer parallel. While Chicago looks set at shortstop for a while with Starlin Castro, they have a gaping hole at second base. I’m taking Francisco Lindor here, with the idea that he nudges Castro over to second base in a few years. If not Lindor, the Cubs probably would opt for a righthander such as Dylan Bundy (Owasso, Okla., HS), Taylor Jungmann (Texas) or Matt Barnes (Connecticut).

10. PADRES (John): Once again, I get to pick for a team that has an unprotected compensation pick. After failing to sign Karsten Whitson a year ago, San Diego doesn’t intend to miss its mark again, and there are plenty of college pitchers to choose from who should sign for slot at No. 10. The Padres got a chance to see Matt Barnes up close twice in March when Connecticut played in San Diego and liked what they saw: a big-bodied, electric-armed athlete who maintains his stuff. Barnes can get even better as he improves his secondary stuff and has a top-10 arm.

11. ASTROS (Conor): We’ve said it a lot before, but this draft is just crazy deep, so I had some good options here. I strongly considered Connecticut outfielder George Springer and briefly thought about Taylor Jungmann but wound up settling on Dylan Bundy. Any of those players would have looked nice in Houston’s thin system, but I went with Bundy because of his mid-90s fastball, hammer curveball and clean mechanics.

12. BREWERS (Jim): Milwaukee has had much more success developing hitters than pitchers, prompting its offseason trades for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. With the front of their rotation looking good and their system deeper in arms than bats, George Springer makes more sense than Taylor Jungmann here. After Bubba Starling, Springer has the best tools in this draft and is the center fielder Milwaukee needs. Though his bat is his least polished tool, he has recovered nicely after a slow start to 2011.

13. METS (John): New York may have a new front office, but ownership hasn’t changed and the Mets have more financial issues now than they have had in recent years, so it’s hard to imagine them stepping out financially in 2011. They aren’t likely to spring for a tough signability guy who falls, such as Texas Christian lefthander Matt Purke, but still can get a top talent with Taylor Jungmann available. The lean Longhorns ace has dealt all season and has shown a big-game mentality since starring in the 2009 College World Series as a freshman. That should suit him well when he gets to New York.

14. MARLINS (Conor): It just makes too much sense to go with the top player left on our Midseason Top 50 here. Broken Arrow (Okla.) High righthander Archie Bradley is a classic Marlins pick. Scouting director Stan Meek lives in Oklahoma and has seen a lot of Bradley over the past of couple years. Florida also often drafts high school players, with eight of their last 10 top selections coming from the prep ranks. The Marlins don’t typically break the bank and they’ll likely have to pay quite a bit to lure Bradley away from his commitment to play football and baseball at the University of Oklahoma. But his two-sport prowess would allow Florida to spread his bonus over five years, making it easier to swallow.

15. BREWERS (Jim): With my second straight Milwaukee pick—an unprotected choice as compensation for not signing 2010 first-rounder Dylan Covey—I’m not necessarily looking to balance the Springer selection by taking a pitcher. If Matt Purke were 100 percent, he’d be the guy, but he also wouldn’t be available at No. 15. College outfielders Jackie Bradley (South Carolina) and Mikie Mahtook (Louisiana State) are considerations, as is Daniel Norris (Science Hill HS, Johnson City, Tenn.), the top prep lefthander in the draft. But give me the best catcher available: Blake Swihart (Cleveland HS, Rio Rancho, N.M.). He’s athletic, he’s a switch-hitter and has more offensive upside than most players in this draft, too.

16. DODGERS (John): Like the Mets, the Dodgers have financial constraints thanks to ownership problems. That didn’t stop Los Angeles from paying $5.25 million to Zach Lee, last year’s first-rounder, though it was spread over five years and backloaded. With such a deep draft class, there’s no need for the Dodgers pay heavily to find a good fit. While I considered Mikie Mahtook and Jackie Bradley here, I’ll go with Oregon southpaw Tyler Anderson, who has upside while also being one of the draft’s safer selections.

17. ANGELS (Conor): I really like Anderson’s mix of stuff, poise and polish and would have considered him here. Like everyone else around this spot, I thought about Matt Purke, but with a pick this high, I’d shy away from an expensive player who might be hurt. Instead, I’m opting for a player with similar upside. Daniel Norris doesn’t have Purke’s track record, but he has flashed similar stuff and doesn’t create as many concerns with his delivery.

18. ATHLETICS (Jim): It’s no secret that Oakland needs bats, and it has several to choose from. Jackie Bradley and Mikie Mahtook would provide a quicker return, but another outfielder, Josh Bell (Jesuit College Prep, Dallas), has a significantly higher offensive ceiling. The A’s haven’t taken a high school position player with their top pick since Eric Chavez in 1996, but Bell could put an end to that trend.

19. RED SOX (John): Boston has two first-round picks, here at 19 and again at 26. The Red Sox were looking greedily at Bell, as they’ve had some success of late with prep draftees, and are feeling like they got their pocket picked by the Athletics. Still, it’s not a total loss, as Boston has its pick of the top remaining college position players. Outfielders Jackie Bradley and Mikie Mahtook are good options, but the Red Sox have outfield depth in their system, neither blows scouts away with their tools and one of them could be available at No. 26. Oregon State catcher Andrew Susac almost assuredly won’t be. The top college catcher on the board usually goes well before pick 19, and Susac’s broken hamate bone—which ended his season in April—doesn’t take the shine off his strong tools or his outstanding 2010 Cape Cod League performance.

20. ROCKIES (Conor): He has slipped a little this season—and I initially wrote that even before he injured his wrist this weekend—but if you told the Rockies in February that they would be able to snag Jackie Bradley at No. 20, they’d likely have jumped at the chance. He came into the year as BA’s No. 7-ranked prospect, which may have been a little rich considering he doesn’t have a standout tool. But he does have phenomenal instincts, allowing him to get great jumps in center field and make the most of his solid-average grades across the board. I considered Mahtook and a couple of high school arms here, but Bradley’s prowess in center field is the scarcest commodity.

21. BLUE JAYS (Jim): Toronto is trying to get more athletic up the middle, drafting center fielder Jake Marisnick in 2009 and shortstop Dickie Joe Thon in 2010, plus signing shortstop Adeiny Hechevarria and trading for center fielder Anthony Gose last year. Unless they opt for a high school arm like Jose Fernandez (Alonso HS, Tampa) or Henry Owens (Edison HS, Huntington Beach, Calif.), they’ll be looking at more middle-of-the-diamond players. The candidates include Mikie Mahtook, shortstops Javier Baez (Arlington Country Day HS, Jacksonville) and Levi Michael (North Carolina), and second baseman Kolten Wong (Hawaii). If they’re sold that Baez will stick at shortstop, he might be the choice, but I’ll go with Mikie Mahtook’s solid all-around tools here.

22. CARDINALS (John): St. Louis scouting director Jeff Luhnow has to be feeling like his pocket got picked here, too, with  solid college outfielders Bradley and Mahtook going right in front of him and long-time favorite Bauer long gone. (St. Louis is one club that isn’t scared at all by Bauer’s long-toss regimen or his mechanics.) In two of the last three years, St. Louis has taken the college hitter with the best track record: Brett Wallace in 2008 and Zack Cox in 2010. In this draft, Levi Michael stands out among the remaining college position players. His numbers haven’t suffered too much with the new bats, and he has a shot at playing shortstop, though more likely he’ll be a big league second baseman.

23. NATIONALS (Conor): Washington has spent big on the draft the last two years, mainly because it had the No. 1 overall pick each time. While the Nationals don’t have the top choice this year, they still have to open their wallet because they have two first-round picks in a loaded draft in a year where bonuses could go crazy. That’s why I like them making a splash here with Matt Purke. BA’s No. 3-rated prospect entering the season, Purke has slipped because of some questions about the health of his shoulder. Washington can add a huge talent who would fit nicely with Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann—two other pitchers that have dealt with arm problems—at the top of its future rotation.

24. RAYS (Jim): This is the first of Tampa Bay’s record 12 picks in the first two rounds. The Rays can kick off what should be a productive draft with some hometown flavor, taking Alonso HS (Tampa) righthander Jose Fernandez. He’s the top player remaining at this point from BA’s midseason Top 50 list, and he has one of the best fastballs in the draft.

25. PADRES (John): After going with Matt Barnes at No. 10, I’m also in charge of San Diego’s normal first-round pick here. The Padres need a little bit of everything, so I’m going to balance out the college pitcher with a high-upside high school player in Javier Baez. Baez is getting mixed reviews at shortstop, but he has surprised some scouts with his play there. If he has to move, he’s athletic and versatile, and he could handle third base, second base or even catcher. He’ll need to quiet down some preswing movement at the plate, but it’s hard to find better bat speed. The Padres already have seen him rope an opposite-field triple to the alley at Petco Park during last year’s Aflac All-American Game. He should be relatively signable, as he’s committed to Chipola (Fla.) JC.

26. RED SOX (Conor): It might seem like a little bit of a reach, but I’m going with Cedar Crest HS (Lebanon, Pa.) outfielder Derek Fisher. I think Fisher’s price tag may be pretty steep, as he has a commitment to Virginia, but Boston won’t shy away from an expensive player, especially if he’s loaded with tools like Fisher. I did consider prep pitchers like Henry Owens and Dillon Howard (Searcy, Ark., HS) with this pick, but the Red Sox can get comparable players with picks 36 and 40 if they choose. This draft is incredibly deep and there are plenty of big arms available. There are far fewer lefthanded hitters with Fisher’s combination of towering power and above-average speed. Boston also will like the fact that he’s a Northeast kid who doesn’t turn 18 until a week after the signing deadline.

27. REDS (Jim): Cincinnati could go in several directions here. I’ll give the Reds sweet-swinging Kolten Wong, who should be ready to take over at second base not long after Brandon Phillips’ contract expires following the 2012 season. They could take strong-armed college righthanders John Stilson (Texas A&M) and Anthony Meo (Coastal Carolina), who could shoot to the majors quickly if they’re used as relievers. Cincinnati also could go for more risk and more reward with high school pitchers Henry Owens or Dillon Howard.

28. BRAVES (John): It’s the second year for Tony DeMacio in Atlanta as scouting director, and his first effort was a success, with strong early returns. The Braves have mined Southern California well of late for the likes of Freddie Freeman, Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen. Even though they’ve changed area scouts in SoCal, and even though it’s a down year in the area, they have a clear shot in this scenario at Huntington Beach lefthander Henry Owens. He’s a projectable high school pitcher who fits the Braves’ template.

29. GIANTS (Conor): I would have loved to keep Henry Owens in the state of California, but instead I’ll have to go with another first-team preseason All-American in Dillon Howard. San Francisco is flush with pitching at the big league level, but you can never have too much. Howard has a physical frame, a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and good secondary stuff. Maybe one day he’ll put his donut-making skills to use to help bond with Tim Lincecum.

30. TWINS (Jim): Minnesota hasn’t used a first-round pick on a college position player since Travis Lee in 1996, but Utah first baseman C.J. Cron might make a lot sense. Few players in this draft make as much consistent hard contact as he can. But I’ll have the Twins take John Stilson—whom they failed to sign as a 19th-rounder our of Texarkana (Texas) JC two years ago—and let them figure out if he’s going to be a starter or reliever. He has better pure stuff than most of the members of their big league rotation, and he also could develop into their closer of the future.
31. RAYS (John): Tampa Bay’s plethora of picks is well-publicized, as is its preference for athleticism. But they’re not blind to the hit tool, either, and with so many picks, they can use a portfolio approach. That’s why I’m taking C.J. Cron here. He’s one of the best college bats in the draft, and he’ll move quickly in an organization that needs to get some big bats to the big leagues pronto.

32. RAYS (Conor): Speaking of not ignoring the hit tool, I really like East HS (Cheyenne, Wyo.) Brandon Nimmo for Tampa Bay’s second straight pick. Nimmo’s high school doesn’t have a team, yet he’s a sure thing to be the highest-drafted player ever out of Wyoming (current record holder William Ewing was an Angels fourth-rounder in 1976). Nimmo is one of the best pure hitters in this year’s high school class. He’s also an above-average athlete who won a state title in the 400-meter dash this year and runs a 6.54-second 60-yard dash.

33. RANGERS (Jim): Expect Texas to grab the best remaining athlete on the board at this point. Even with Fisher and Nimmo gone, that leaves Miami-Dade JC outfielder Brian Goodwin, Farragut HS (Knoxville, Tenn.) catcher/third baseman Nicky Delmonico, New Trier HS (Winnetka, Ill.) outfielder Charlie Tilson and Central Catholic HS (Modesto, Calif.) outfielder Billy Flamion. Assuming the Rangers believe he can remain in center field, their pick is Goodwin, who wouldn’t have been eligible for the 2011 draft had he not transferred from North Carolina.

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