This is not a mock draft. The rankings below, broken down by those under and over the age of 19, are my take on the cream of the crop of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft class. I’ve seen some of the players below live, watched video of the rest and narrowed down my player-pool focus based on industry information.
1. Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
Correa has elite bat speed, athleticism and present power. He has an extremely strong arm and has given evaluators reason to believe he’ll stick at shortstop, despite his already 6-foot-4 frame. Likely to be the youngest player drafted in this year’s first round, he’s a balanced hitter who generates leverage from a solid base and takes a relatively effortless swing. There’s more projection in him, which could allow him to become an elite big leaguer. A case can be made that Correa has the highest upside of any hitter in the 2012 draft class. If I was heading the Astros’ draft, he’d be my choice with the No. 1 overall pick. Update: Drafted No. 1 overall by Astros.
2. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)
Giolito has not pitched in a game for nearly three months due to a sprained ulnar collateral ligament. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff that once had him getting No. 1 overall buzz -- no high school righty has ever been drafted No. 1 overall. While there’s no doubting his stuff, Giolito doesn’t do the best job generating energy with his core. His elbow injury and elite potential make him one of this year’s most intriguing players to follow. Update: Drafted No. 16 overall by Nationals.
3. Byron Buxton, OF, Appling County HS (GA)
Big, strong, athletic teenage outfielder is a pretty popular draft profile. It was Bubba Starling in 2011, Bryce Harper in 2010, Donavan Tate in 2009, Aaron Hicks in 2008 and Jason Heyward in 2007. Buxton has easy bat speed, but his actions at the plate are that of a raw, long-armed hitter. And while he is fast, he takes a little while to get up to full speed. As far as his hit tool and overall athleticism go, Buxton isn’t on the same tier as any of the hitters above. Update: Drafted No. 2 overall by Twins.
4. Albert Almora, OF Academy HS (FL)
Almora generates very good bat speed with a smooth, short swing. He’s not a projectable physical presence but 6-foot-2, 180 pounds is hardly little. His speed may be more suitable for a corner outfield position than center in the long run. Almora is a safer bet than Buxton to transition well to pro ball. Though he may have holes and limitations, he’s a decent bet to be a big leaguer and perhaps an above-average one. Update: Drafted No. 6 overall by Cubs.
5. Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)
Fried has an advanced secondary, promising command for a pitcher his age and a frame that has some projection. While his long stride helps take stress off of his arm, he drops down quite a bit to get there, which results in a flat fastball plane. That Fried is among this year’s top draft talents speaks to the lack of elite amateurs available. He’s still someone to follow though. Update: Drafted No. 7 overall by Padres.
1. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco
With three offerings that already show average or better, in his fastball, power curve and changeup, Zimmer has the makings to be an above-average MLB starter. He didn’t start pitching full-time until his freshman year in college, and his velocity has fluctuated this season. It’s difficult to say if he’s been up-and-down because he’s still relatively new to pitching or for other reasons. Still, he’s very athletic and has No. 2 starter upside, which sounds pretty golden when you consider the other top amateurs who are eligible for the draft. Update: Drafted No. 5 overall by Royals.
2. Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU
A draft-eligible sophomore, Gausman could be the oldest player taken inside the 2012 draft’s top 10 picks (Devin Marrero of ASU and Stephen Piscotty of Stanford are both older). He’s big and mechanical but he has above-average fastball velocity and pitches on an excellent plane. The ball also shoots out of his hand -- thanks to a good tempo and excellent arm speed -- and maintains velocity. He has a very live arm. His over-the-top arm slot helps him throw a power curveball that could become a plus offering. He also throws a slider and is comfortable throwing a changeup. Gausman could succeed in the big leagues this year as a reliever. His powerful arsenal and deception make him a potential No. 2 starter long-term. Update: Drafted No. 4 overall by Orioles.
3. Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
Hearing about Appel’s raw stuff is more exciting than seeing him in action. And the knock on him has been that his stuff is better than the results. His mid-90s fastball, sharp-breaking slider and late-tumbling changeup all play down due to his lack of deception (Some pitchers hide the ball for the majority of their delivery; Appel shows it just about from start to finish). He also has a poor tempo, which makes him relatively easy to time. While he’s a pretty good bet to pitch in the big leagues, Appel may have trouble improving his deception and tempo at this stage of his development. There are more than three players in this draft class who have higher upsides than him. Update: Drafted No. 8 overall by Pirates.
4. Mike Zunino, C, Florida
College hitters are usually popular draft prospects. They move quickly and are more predictable than other profiles. Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Alex Gordon and Ryan Braun all arrived in the big leagues from college. Mike Zunino may be the best college bat in his class, though he doesn’t begin to compare to any of the college hitters list above. He’s also a lackluster athlete who can only play catcher or first base. He takes a good hand path to the ball and stays balanced and level, but he has a long swing that could be exploited in pro ball. Zunino’s value lies in his potential to be an average or better hitter for a catcher. Update: Drafted No. 3 overall by Mariners.