Where Unsigned Talent Would Fit In The Top 100
CHICAGO — Scouts would like to see Mark Appel dominate college competition more consistently and improve his command, but at the same time, they liken him to Justin Verlander. That's why the Stanford righthander enters 2012 as the favorite to go No. 1 in the draft.
Appel has a lean, athletic 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame with room to add more strength, and he throws easy 92-95 mph heat while topping out in the upper 90s. He also owns a true slider.
With our Top 100 Prospects issue annually coming on the heels of our Early Draft Preview, we often get asked where the best unsigned prospects would fit among the game's premier talents. Read on to find out.
As good as Appel's stuff is, he wouldn't have been taken ahead of the four pitchers who kicked off the loaded 2011 draft: the Pirates' Gerrit Cole (No. 12 on the Top 100), the Mariners' Danny Hultzen (No. 21), the Diamondbacks' Trevor Bauer (No. 9) and the Orioles' Dylan Bundy (No. 10).
Appel also would rank behind Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (No. 19), my choice as the best long-range talent from the 2011 draft, but ahead of the other two elite talents from that crop, Royals outfielder Bubba Starling (No. 24) and Diamondbacks righthander Archie Bradley (No. 25). I'd slot Appel in at No. 22, right behind Hultzen.
No team ever has taken a high school righthander with the top overall selection, but Harvard-Westlake High's (Studio City, Calif.) Lucas Giolito could make history in 2012. He's bigger than Appel at 6-feet-6 and 230 pounds and he also generates overpowering stuff with little effort. During the fall, Giolito sat comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball and backed it up with a plus-plus curveball.
Giolito has comparable size and stuff to Bradley, and I'll give the latter the edge because he went out and had a dominant senior season and is a year ahead. I'll put Giolito at No. 26.
Buxton Close To Starling
The best position player and top athlete in this year's draft class is Appling County High (Baxley, Ga.) outfielder Byron Buxton. He stands out foremost with his plus-plus speed, and he also has a strong arm (low 90s off the mound) and intriguing power potential (he finished second in the Under Armour All-America Game home run derby last August).
The player he most closely resembles from the 2011 draft is Starling. At 6-feet-4 and 180 pounds, Starling is bigger than the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Buxton and has more power upside. Buxton's swing and approach at the plate are better than Starling's were at the same point.
Buxton fits best somewhere between Starling and the next wondrously gifted outfielder on our Top 100, the Blue Jays' Anthony Gose (No. 39). I'll split the difference and place Buxton at No. 32, just ahead of Cubs outfielder Brett Jackson.
Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero and Florida catcher Mike Zunino headline the 2012 college position players. Marrero is a rare college prospect in that he can play shortstop at the major league level, and he should hit for average while providing some gap power and solid speed. Zunino offers plus righthanded power, a reliable approach and efficient catch-and-throw skills.
Marrero is a college version of Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (No. 37), the eighth overall pick a year ago. Both are Florida high school prospects, with Lindor a little flashier at shortstop, a bit quicker and perhaps possessing a tad more offensive potential as a switch-hitter. I'd add Marrero right behind Lindor and Giants outfielder Gary Brown at No. 39.
Zunino parallels Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal (No. 53), who was part of the offseason Mat Latos trade with the Reds. Zunino has a little more pop while Grandal is a switch-hitter, and they're similar defenders. I'll give Grandal the benefit of the doubt because he already has succeeded in Double-A, and slide Zunino in at No. 54.
Soler Vs. Cespedes
Yoenis Cespedes would have made fine fodder for this column had he not agreed to a four-year, $36 million contract with the Athletics shortly before we went to press. After his signing, we inserted him at No. 14 on the Top 100 and fellow Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler became the prize of the international market.
Soler, who will play this season at age 20, is six years younger than Cespedes and thus has less of a track record. In terms of tools, righthanded power is the calling card for both. There are questions as to how much they'll hit for average, but they're both plus runners underway and have strong arms.
Soler will command a contract in the same neighborhood of Cespedes, though I'm leery of the fact that Cuban defectors' performance rarely lives up to the hype (latest example: Aroldis Chapman). I'll be conservative with Soler and rank him at No. 43, sandwiched between third basemen Nolan Arenado (Rockies) and Mike Olt (Rangers).