Because of some family health issues, I didn’t feel I had watched enough baseball to write a proper notes column this week. What I did do, though, was view all of the scouting clips of this year’s top draft picks that I could find. Therefore, what we have here is one amateur’s ranking of the 25 best 2014 MLB draft picks for fantasy purposes.
1. Carlos Rodon - LHP White Sox - No. 3 overall pick (college)
The assumed No. 1 overall pick entering the year, Rodon’s stock slipped some because of fluctuating velocity and concerns about his workload; he topped 130 pitches twice for NC State this season. Still, he was showing pretty good velocity at the end of the year, hitting 95 mph on the gun at times, and he’s the most polished of all of the college starters. His slider is an excellent pitch that should produce strikeouts in the pros nearly as easily as it did in college. He’s a threat to crack the White Sox rotation in the early portion of next season and quickly emerge as their No. 2 starter if he stays healthy.
2. Alex Jackson - OF Mariners - No. 6 overall pick (high school)
Primarily a catcher in high school, Jackson will be moving to the outfield in the pros, as many projected. He offers a smooth right-handed stroke that should produce homers as well as line drives, and now that he’s free of catching responsibilities, he has a chance to move relatively quickly for a high school product. He’s viewed as having the highest ceiling of any hitter in the draft.
3. Bradley Zimmer - OF Indians - No. 21 overall pick (college)
The lanky, 6-foot-5 Zimmer is pretty good as is -- he hit .368/.461/.573 with seven homers in 220 at-bats for the University of San Francisco this season -- but it’s easy to imagine him taking quite a step forward in the power department as he starts spending more time in the weight room as a pro. Given his nice swing and the likelihood of added strength, it wouldn’t surprise me if he proves to be the best college position player in the draft.
4. Tyler Kolek - RHP Marlins - No. 2 overall pick (high school)
Kolek gets the nod over Brady Aiken here mostly because he’s going to the National League and also partly because he was drafted by a team that isn’t going to let him stew in the minors once he shows he’s ready. I don’t think Kolek is quite the pure prospect that Aiken is, but he does have that Roger Clemens-, Josh Beckett-type Texas sheen. A big right-hander with a mid-90s fastball, a curve and a slider, he’s certainly not lacking in the upside department.
5. Brady Aiken - LHP Astros - No. 1 overall pick (high school)
Aiken soared up draft boards this spring to become the first high school pitcher taken No. 1 overall since the Yankees chose Brien Taylor in 1991. He’s a more polished prospect than Kolek with his 91-94 mph fastball, a looping curve that he spots well and a mediocre changeup. Still, I’d give Kolek the better chance of reaching the majors first, just because one is a Marlin and the other is an Astro. It should also be noted that Aiken was one of the youngest players in the draft; he doesn’t turn 18 until August. He has terrific long-term potential, just perhaps not as much as Kolek.
6. Kyle Schwarber - C/OF Cubs - No. 4 overall pick (college)
The Cubs are telling everyone who will listen that Schwarber, who was rated by most as someone who would go in the 10-20 range, was the No. 2 player on their board behind Aiken. Schwarber has the numbers to back it up, having hit .358/.464/.659 with 14 homers in 232 at-bats for Indiana University this season. Still, it seems that even the Cubs are less than confident that he’ll make it to Chicago as a catcher. If they decide to move him to the outfield, he could reach the majors more quickly than any other position player in the draft. It seems to me that he’s far more likely to become an average regular than a star.
7. Tyler Beede - RHP Giants - No. 15 overall pick (college)
The Giants previously had four top-15 draft picks in 15 years and come away with Tim Lincecum (10th in 2006), Madison Bumgarner (10th in 2007), Buster Posey (fifth in 2008) and Zack Wheeler (sixth in 2009), which would seem to bode pretty well for Beede. The Vandy product was originally drafted 21st overall by the Blue Jays out of high school. His results have been a bit on the inconsistent side, though perhaps not as much as the numbers suggest. While he followed up a 14-1, 2.32 ERA in his sophomore campaign by going 8-7 with a 3.58 ERA as a junior, his peripherals were actually a bit better this year (most notably, his walk total dropped from 63 in 101 IP to 47 in 103 IP). The fact that he did get drafted into a great situation in San Francisco is weighed into his ranking here. He’s also getting extra credit because I put a fair amount of stock into Brian Sabean’s talent for picking young pitching.
8. Michael Conforto - OF Mets - No. 10 overall pick (college)
Conforto got drafted 10th overall on the promise of left-handed power; he hit .345/.504/.547 with seven homers in 203 at-bats for Oregon State this year. His looping swing figures to leave him vulnerable to belt-high pitches, but he has the discipline not to chase balls he can’t hit, which should lead to decent OBPs even if his batting averages are fairly low. He projects as a left fielder in the pros.
9. Nick Gordon - SS Twins - No. 5 overall pick (high school)
Tom’s son and Dee’s younger brother, Nick Gordon has a big arm and plenty of speed. He also has the swing and build to hit for a little power down the line. It’s just going to take a long time for him to put all of his tools together and emerge as a major league shortstop. There’s a good chance he’ll prove worth the wait, but it is the wait that drops him a few spots here.
10. Aaron Nola - RHP Phillies - No. 7 overall pick (college)
It’s no surprise that the Phillies grabbed the most major league-ready player available when they picked at No. 7. Nola has faced some of the best competition in the country at LSU, and he went 11-1 with a 1.47 ERA and a 134/27 K/BB ratio in 116 1/3 innings this season. He slings the ball from a low three-quarters angle, which makes him an injury risk in the minds of some, but he could emerge as a middle-of-the-rotation starter as soon as next summer.
11. Luke Weaver - RHP Cardinals - No. 27 overall pick (college)
Weaver’s slight build makes one wonder how he’ll hold up -- despite being 6’2”, he’s listed at 170 pounds, putting him in a two-way tie for the lightest player to go in the first round -- but he has a good low-90s fastball that runs away from left-handed hitters and a quality changeup. Also, while he’s not particularly comparable to Michael Wacha, it’s true that both slipped in the draft because of concerns over their breaking balls. Weaver’s top two pitches are good enough to allow him to advance quickly.
12. Touki Toussaint - RHP Diamondbacks - No. 16 overall pick (high school)
If Toussaint adds velocity as he fills out his 6-foot-3 frame, he could prove as dominant as any pitcher in the class. His 12-to-6 curveball is going to be a terrific weapon regardless. He’s a 90-93 mph guy right now, but added strength and better mechanics might push him towards the mid-90s.
13. Casey Gillaspie - 1B Rays - No. 20 overall pick (college)
It seems to me that the Rays made a mistake choosing Gillaspie over Zimmer when they picked 20th. The younger brother of White Sox third baseman Conor, Casey is a switch-hitter with power, but he’s limited to first base and he might not hit for average from both sides of the plate.
14. Erick Fedde - RHP Nationals - No. 18 overall pick (college)
A potential No. 3 starter with a low-90s sinking fastball, slider and changeup, Fedde was selected 18th overall just two days after undergoing Tommy John surgery that will keep him out for the next year. The Nationals have never been shy about targeting talent that may have slipped because of injury, and Fedde would have gone in the top 10 if his elbow had help up just a little bit longer. They won’t mind waiting the extra year for him.
15. Monte Harrison- OF Brewers - No. 50 overall pick (high school)
One of the best athletes in the draft, Harrison will have to decide between signing with the Brewers or going to Nebraska to play wide receiver. He’s a raw prospect likely to need several years in the minors, assuming he signs in the first place, but he’s also one of the handful of players here with the tools to become a fantasy superstar.
16. Jeff Hoffman - RHP Blue Jays - No. 9 overall pick (college)
A likely top-five pick before blowing out his elbow and requiring Tommy John surgery, Hoffman was the first of the Jays’ two first-round picks. He was throwing in the mid-90s with a good curve and an average changeup before getting hurt, and he offers more upside than several of the pitchers ahead of him here. However, both the Tommy John surgery and the getting drafted by an AL East team result in him being dinged as a fantasy prospect.
17. Derek Hill - OF Tigers - No. 23 overall pick (high school)
Hill can fly in center, but I’m not sure about the bat. In high school, he used a big leg kick to try to hit for power, when he should be hitting the ball on the ground and using his legs to reach base. In a best-case scenario, he could be a leadoff hitter with big steal numbers someday.
18. Michael Chavis - SS Red Sox - No. 26 overall pick (high school)
The Red Sox announced Chavis as a shortstop, but most expect him to move to second or third before he reaches the majors. That presents a problem for his path to Boston, particularly if Xander Bogaerts ends up at the hot corner for the long haul, but it’s still a distant concern. Chavis had one of the best line-drive swings in the draft, and he possesses surprising home run power, too, for a guy who stands 5-foot-10.
19. Nick Howard - RHP Reds - No. 19 overall pick (college)
Howard transitioned from starter to closer at Virginia this year and racked up 19 saves and a 50/12 K/BB ratio in 29 1/3 innings. The Reds are expected to move him back to the rotation, eventually anyway. If they want to keep him in relief for now, he might be a candidate to help them in the second half of this year. Come 2015, he should definitely be in a minor league rotation working on polishing up his slider and changeup. A future as a major league closer is a possibility, but ideally, his secondary pitches would come along well enough to keep him in the rotation.
20. Nick Burdi - RHP Twins - No. 46 overall pick (college)
The first pure reliever drafted, Burdi had an 0.51 ERA and a 62/10 K/BB ratio in 35 1/3 innings for Louisville this year. He throws in the high-90s with a hard slider, giving him definite closer potential. Of course, the Twins already have a pretty good one of those in Glen Perkins under control through 2018, which is why Burdi doesn’t rank higher on the list. Much could happen in the next couple of years, but Burdi projects as a setup man initially.
21. Max Pentecost - C Blue Jays - No. 11 overall pick (college)
Pentecost, a product of Kennesaw State, should be a big-league catcher, but his bat is a question mark. This year’s .423/.483/.631 line came against weak competition in the Atlantic Sun Conference. More important was his impressive showing as the MVP of the Cape Cod League (with wood bats) last year. He’s going to need at least a couple of years in the minors in order to put things together.
22. Zech Lemond - RHP Padres - No. 86 overall pick (college)
Petco pushes Lemond into the top 25 here, but he was a potential third-round steal no matter where he went. After a couple of years as a reliever, Lemond moved into Rice’s rotation in March without nearly enough preparation and came down with a sore elbow as a result. However, before that happened, he should very good stuff as a starter, with a fastball that continued to touch the mid-90s and a hard curve. His arm may not hold up, but if it does, he should prove to be a fine starter in a great situation in San Diego.
23. Sean Newcomb - LHP Angels - No. 15 overall pick (college)
The first ever University of Hartford product to go in the first three rounds (Jeff Bagwell went in the fourth), Newcomb is a big left-hander capable of throwing in the mid-90s. He’s less polished than most of the other college hurlers drafted early; his slider needs tightening up, his changeup is raw and his control is below average (he walked 38 in 93 1/3 innings this year despite overmatching the competition to the tune of a 1.25 ERA). Still, there’s a lot for the Angels to work with here.
24. Jack Flaherty - RHP Cardinals - No. 34 overall pick (high school)
The Cardinals went with possible below-slot guys with some early picks so that they could afford to sign Flaherty away from North Carolina. While he doesn’t have any one huge weapon at the moment, Flaherty draws raves for his easy delivery and pitching aptitude. He could move relatively quickly for a high school pitcher.
25. Braxton Davidson - OF Braves - No. 32 overall pick (high school)
The Braves gave up their first-rounder to sign Ervin Santana, but they got the No. 32 pick in return for losing Brian McCann. Like so many other Braves early picks over the years, Davidson is a toolsy high schooler from the South (North Carolina, in this case). He offers terrific power potential, but he looks like a low-average guy right now.