Patrick Daugherty

MLB Draft Preview

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The Top MLB Draft Prospects

Friday, June 03, 2011

If predicting the NFL draft is an inexact science, predicting the MLB draft is a nonexistent one.

Where NFL teams are typically drafting players (in the first round) that will not only contribute but start the following fall, the MLB draft is all about the long haul.

Since the draft was instituted in 1965, just 20 players have skipped the minor leagues and made their professional debut in the majors.

Those being drafted also tend to have options.

If you're a high school player, you can threaten to attend college if you want to drive up your bonus or increase your chances of falling to a team you like. If you're a college player with a little patience, like Aaron Crow, you can simply refuse to sign and re-enter the draft the following year if you don't like the money or the team offering it.

Perhaps the most important difference, however, is that the NFL has a slotting system that is actually adhered to, and not just treated as a loose guideline.

In baseball, your "signability" is everything. Top 10 talents can fall out of the first round thanks to fears they will play hardball at the negotiating table, which just isn't a realistic option in the NFL (ask Michael Crabtree).

Throw in the fact that major-league front offices house some of the most paranoid people in the country, and everything combines to make forecasting the MLB draft a difficult task for even the most connected of insiders. That's why instead of projecting when their names will be called on Monday evening, we'll instead just get you up to speed on the draft's 33 most interesting prospects.

Potential No. 1 overall picks
Unlike the past two years, which saw the best pitching prospect in a generation taken in 2009 and the best hitting prospect in a generation taken in 2010, there is no clear-cut choice for the Pirates to take with the top overall pick this summer, though it is expected to come down to three or four players.

Danny Hultzen - LHP - University of Virginia
The draft's most "polished" pitcher, Hultzen's ceiling isn't considered to be quite as high as you would expect for someone in play to go No. 1 overall.

Not that his credentials are unimpressive. The engine behind UVA's 49-9 season, he boasts a 10-3 record to go along with a 1.59 ERA and 136/16 K/BB ratio in 96 1/3 innings over 14 starts.

Solidly built at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he has a fastball that reaches the mid-90s to go along with a developing slider and an unusually effective changeup for a 21-year-old.

The Pirates are known to look for relative value in the first round, and not necessarily the highest-upside, so if they decide to take the path of least resistance, Hultzen will be the route they go.

Gerrit Cole - RHP - UCLA
If highest ceiling is what the Bucs decide to go with, then it would not be surprising to see them settle on Cole.

A 6-foot-4, 220 pound righty, Cole is the closest thing this draft has to a Stephen Strasburg, though that is admittedly not very close.

His fastball reaches 100, while like Hultzen, he boasts an impressive changeup. Unlike Hultzen, his breaking ball is also considered ready for primetime.

So what's the hang up?

Cole wasn't even close to being the best pitcher on his own college team this season (more on that in a second). Entering the NCAA tournament, he is a middling 6-7 in 15 starts, and the owner of a 3.28 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 107 innings of work.

Certainly good numbers, but hardly befitting of someone that might be the first player off the board this Monday. If you can barely strike out a batter an inning in the Pac 12, what should you be expected to do in the National League Central?

A 100 mile-per-hour fastball will get you far in life, and if Cole is taken with the first pick, it will be because of the potential of his heater, and not his college production.

Trevor Bauer - RHP - UCLA
So if a potential No. 1 pick wasn't even the best pitcher on his own college team, who was better? That would be Bauer, a not quite 6-foot-1, 185 pound righty that has drawn more than one comparison to Tim Lincecum thanks to his diminutive build, and, of course, devastating fastball, which sits in the mid-90s.

If Cole's college statistics are head scratching, Bauer's are, for lack of a better word, awesome. He has won 12 of his 15 starts this spring, posting a 1.27 ERA and dominating 189 strikeouts in 127 2/3 innings.

With comparisons to Lincecum, however, comes another label: injury risk. Lincecum famously fell to No. 10 in the 2006 draft thanks to concerns over his slight build and unusual delivery, which some figured made him a ticking time bomb for injury.

Bauer has routinely exceeded 130 pitches during his college career, so it's hard not to place at least some credence in the pre-draft pessimism. Even though he's produced as much as any player that will be taken on Monday, he's a long-shot to go in the top spot.

Anthony Rendon - 3B - Rice
This bring us to the last player thought to be in play for the No. 1 pick.

Like Bauer, Rendon has been insanely productive during his college career, hitting .394 to go along with 26 home runs (compared to just 22 strikeouts) and a .530 on-base percentage as a sophomore.

However, like with Cole, the elite production you'd expect from someone in play to be the No. 1 overall pick has been missing this year for Rendon, as a shoulder injury has limited him to just six home runs and a .327 average.

He is still reaching base at a sterling .523 clip, but that's likely due in part to the reputation he earned as a sophomore.

Opinions are mixed as to just how serious his injury is/was. He has been limited to DH duties for nearly the entire year, though he did curiously play some second base toward the end of last month, seen as a red flag by some.

However, ESPN's Keith Law has spoken with a source that assures him "there is nothing structurally wrong with Rendon's shoulder," and it does not appear set to be a deal-breaker for the Pirates.

That tends to happen when a player draws frequent comparisons to two of the best third basemen going today, Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria.

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Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for He can be found on Twitter .
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