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Living outside of Chicago has given me the rare opportunity to attend three of the four Division Series. I watched the Cubs lose games to the Dodgers on Wednesday and Thursday, as their best team in at least two generations went down quietly and Wrigley Field turned into a morgue. On Saturday, I watched Milwaukee celebrate its first home playoff game in 26 years and a Brewers win to cap the day off, though the Phillies wrapped up the series on Sunday. I didn't attend that latter game or the Rays-White Sox matchup because of family commitments, but I'll be at U.S. Cellular Field tonight to see if the White Sox can force a deciding fifth game.

    With the regular season finished, what does the draft order look like? The main thing I want to see is if the Dodgers were able to get a top-15 pick and be protected if they sign someone like C.C. Sabathia.

    Kevin Birnbaum
    Hollywood, Calif.

Teams that finish in the bottom half of the major league standings don't have to surrender their first-round pick if they sign a Type A free agent (one who ranks in the top 20 percent among his position grouping, based on Elias Sports Bureau number-crunching). The Dodgers nearly pulled off the unprecedented double of advancing to the playoffs and having a protected first-round choice, but they finished with the 15th-best record in baseball. I believe the closest any team has come to accomplishing that feat was the 2006 Cardinals, who had just 83 regular-season victories (but went on to win the World Series) and picked 18th in the following year's draft.

Below is the draft order for the first round of 2009. The Mariners are still negotiating with first-rounder Joshua Fields, so that compensation pick will disappear if they sign him. Compensation choices for unsigned first-rounders only come once, so if the Nationals, Mariners and Yankees can't sign their bonus picks in 2009, they'll wind up with nothing.

Protected First-Round Picks
1. Nationals (59-102)
2. Mariners (61-101)
3. Padres (63-99)
4. Pirates (67-95)
5. Orioles (68-93)
6. Giants (72-90)
7. Braves (72-90)
8. Reds (74-88)
9. Tigers (74-88)
10. Nationals (compensation for failure to sign 2008 first-rounder Aaron Crow)
11. Rockies (74-88)
12. Royals (75-87)
13. Athletics (75-86)
14. Rangers (79-83)
15. Indians (81-81)
16. Diamondbacks (82-80)
Unprotected First-Round Picks
17. Dodgers (84-78)
18. Marlins (84-77)
19. Cardinals (86-76)
20. Blue Jays (86-76)
21. Mariners (compensaton for failure to sign 2008 first-rounder Joshua Fields)
22. Astros (86-75)
23. Twins (88-75)
24. White Sox (89-74)
25. Mets (89-73)
26. Yankees (89-73)
27. Brewers (90-72)
28. Phillies (92-70)
29. Yankees (compensation for failure to sign 2008 first-rounder Gerrit Cole)
30. Red Sox (95-67)
31. Rays (97-65)
32. Cubs (97-64)
33. Angels (100-62)

Before anyone asks, when teams finish with the same record, the tiebreaker (and higher pick) goes to the club with the worst record the previous year.

A quick followup: Reader Jordan Husband (Waukesha, Wis.) e-mailed me to ask if the compensation picks are unprotected, as the chart above implies. The compensation picks are protected and can't be lost as free-agent compensation. Sorry about the confusion.

And a second followup: Reader Travis Orton (Phoenix) pointed out that I had listed the Fields and Cole compensation picks in the wrong spots. They're corrected now.

    I enjoyed reading BA's Top 20 prospect rankings for the U.S. college national team Premium. What would a combined USA Baseball list look like with the Olympic team and draft-eligible junior-team members added for consideration?

    Brett Johnson
    Princeton, N.J.

The professional players on the Olympic team will stand out the most because they're further developed and have faced significantly better competition. That said, I'm taking a college player over any of the pro guys. San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg, the lone collegian on the bronze-medal Olympic squad, has all the earmarks of a No. 1 starter.

1. Stephen Strasburg, rhp, Olympic/college (San Diego State)
Stands above 2009 draft class like David Price did in 2007.
2. Matt LaPorta, of, Olympic (Indians)
Slugger will be in Cleveland's lineup next year, possibly by Opening Day.
3. Brett Anderson, lhp, Olympic (Athletics)
Key piece in Dan Haren deal is moving fast as a three-pitch lefty with polish.
4. Trevor Cahill, rhp, Olympic (Athletics)
He and Anderson should anchor the Oakland rotation in the near future.
5. Dexter Fowler, of, Olympic (Rockies)
Switch-hitting, five-tool athlete is putting it all together.
6. Taylor Teagarden, c, Olympic (Rangers)
Solid all-around talent should emerge as starter from Texas' catching logjam.
7. Donavan Tate, of, junior (HS/Cartersville, Ga.)
The son of former NFL running back Lars Tate is the top prep position prospect for 2009.
8. Matt Purke, lhp, junior (HS/Spring, Texas)
He and Tyler Matzek are the two best arms in the 2009 high school class.
9. Kyle Gibson, rhp, college (Missouri)
Should follow Aaron Crow to give the Tigers a top-10 pick for the second straight year.
10. Jake Arrieta, rhp, Olympic (Orioles)
Baltimore's $1.1 million investment in 2007's fifth round is looking wiser and wiser.
11. Andrew Oliver, lhp, college (Oklahoma State)
In the midst of a lawsuit against the NCAA, he should be a mid-first-rounder next June.
12. Jacob Turner, junior (HS/St. Charles, Mo.)
Show-Me State continues to show quality pitching, with Turner the latest example.
13. Kendal Volz, rhp, college (Baylor)
Hard thrower had a 0.00 ERA and went 8-for-8 in save opportunities for college team.
14. Mike Minor, lhp, college (Vanderbilt)
He's not Price or Pedro Alvarez, but he should give Vandy a third straight first-rounder.
15. Kentrail Davis, of, college (Tennessee)
Established himself as college team's most dangerous bat before hurting his wrist.

    What's the deal with Astros catcher J.R. Towles? He was horrible in the bigs this year, and he struggled after being demoted the first time, but he did rebound to hit pretty well in Triple-A. Has this year changed the perception of the Astros that he could be an all-star catcher? What did it say when they took catcher Jason Castro with the 10th overall pick in June? What do you see Towles developing into?

    Derek White
    Peoria, Ill.

I'm not sure the Astros would publicly call Towles a potential all-star after he batted .137/.250/.253 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 54 major league games, but they haven't given up on him yet. Brad Ausmus has retired and Humberto Qunitero has an uninspiring bat, and Houston GM Ed Wade has said that he hopes that Towles can come to spring training next year and seize the club's catching job.

Towles is still just 24 and he still has upside. He performed in line with his career minor league numbers after his demotion to Triple-A, batting .304/.370/.500 with seven homers and 28 RBIs in 48 games. He still has solid tools across the board and more athleticism than most catchers. I still believe he can be a solid regular, and a catcher who's a solid regular for a while usually winds up in an All-Star Game or two.

I wouldn't read too much into the Castro selection. The Astros drafted Castro simply because they thought he was the best player on the board at No. 10, not to try to fill a perceived need behind the plate.

Sept. 29 Ask BA