2012 MLB Draft: The Top Candidates to Go No. 1 Overall

Zachary Ball@MLBDraftCntdwnAnalyst IMarch 1, 2012

2012 MLB Draft: The Top Candidates to Go No. 1 Overall

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    We're now a little more than three months away from the 2012 MLB Draft. The college season is about two weeks in and most high-school squads have just kicked off play this week.

    Already, we've seen plenty of impressive performances, whether it is Lucas Giolito hitting 100-mph in his first start of the year, or Mark Appel taking a no-hitter the fifth inning against Texas. Giolito and Appel are just two of a handful of names that could go number one overall on June 4th, and probably the most likely.

    By hitting triple-digits, Giolito, of Harvard-Westlake High in California, has solidified his status as the top high-school pitcher. And with two dominating starts, Appel has laid claim as the top college pitcher.

    As good as those two are, they'll have plenty of competition before we reach draft day.

    Mike Zunino, Deven Marrero and Chris Beck all possess the tools and competitive fire to challenge for the top overall selection, and don't discount the possibility that a player such as Adam Brett Walker comes out of nowhere to claim the honor.

    Without further ado, let's delve into the players who have legitimate arguments for the top spot.

Mike Zunino, C, Florida

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    Zunino burst onto the scene in 2011, establishing himself as the bona fide leader of the Gators squad that fell two games short of claiming their first NCAA title.

    He earned SEC Player of the Year honors after a campaign that saw him hit .371 with 19 homers and 67 RBIs.

    He paced the team in almost every offensive category. In conference play he was astounding, hitting .422 with eight home runs and 33 RBI against the likes of 2011 first-round pick Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt), SEC Pitcher of the Year Grayson Garvin (Vanderbilt) and likely 2012 first-round selection Kevin Gausman (LSU).

    Zunino has rolled that momentum over into 2012, where he's the team's leading hitter (.440).

    The case for selecting Zunino with the number one overall pick is simple. He's experienced, a great hitter who has shown excellent power, and no slouch on defense either.

    Pitting him against some of the best catcher prospects from the past 15 years shows that he isn't quite as talented as Matt Wieters or Joe Mauer, however, there's no reason to think that he can't be a Yasmani Grandal type talent.

    In a year where the talent at the top of the draft class is as weak as it's been in many years, that might be good enough to warrant a top overall selection.

Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)

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    A couple of years ago, Giolito was a scrawny high schooler with a low 80s fastball and plenty of potential. Flash forward to 2012 and he's one of the more impressive specimens in this year's draft class. He's also a good bet to become the first right-handed pitcher from the high-school ranks to be selected first overall.

    Giolito's velocity has improved dramatically since he enrolled at Harvard-Westlake, and now sits at an impressive 95-98 mph. As if that wasn't enough to garner the consideration of the Astros with the first pick in the draft, Giolito reportedly hit 100-mph in his first start of the 2012 season, a complete-game one-hitter.

    As noted in the Yahoo Sports article, the fact that Giolito is already hitting triple digits—in February no less—is quite scary.

    Last year's top selection from the high-school ranks, Dylan Bundy, didn't hit 100-mph until midway through his season, after the weather had started to warm up and velocity came easier. 

    At 6'6'' and 230 pounds, Giolito has the prototypical size that scouts drool over. He's been compared to 2010 number two overall pick Jameson Taillon, who is one of the top pitching prospects in the minor leagues right now. He also has a scholarship offer to UCLA, which has had a habit of retaining the majority of their high-profile recruits the past few years.

    The case for Giolito as the top pick is that he has the most upside and highest ceiling of any player in the draft. He has true ace potential.

Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford

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    Mark Appel is the top pitcher from the collegiate ranks, and arguably the top overall prospect in the 2012 draft.

    That might come as somewhat of a surprise, considering he owned a career 8-7 record coming into this season. What scouts have seen in Appel hasn't necessarily come through in the stat sheet, however, and even with another uninspiring season he seems a lock for the top-ten.

    Like Giolito, Appel has easy velocity.

    He can touch 97 mph, but sits more comfortably in the mid 90s. He too has prototypical size and a couple of promising breaking balls.

    The one knock on Appel has been that he lacks results. If his first two starts of this year are any indication, that won't be the case for much longer.

    In two starts, he's racked up 15 strikeouts in 14 innings, allowed just five hits and scored two victories. In his most recent outing, he struck out ten and carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning against Texas.

    If Appel were selected first overall by Houston, he would be the third college right-hander selected with the top pick in the past four years, following Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Gerrit Cole (2011).

Deven Marrero, SS, Arizona State

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    If there was ever a case for drafting a college shortstop first overall, Deven Marrero's would be the strongest argument thanks to a combination of factors.

    For starters, he's one of the most experienced and polished defensive shortstops to come out of the college ranks in at least five years. He took home Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors last season and is a good bet to win the honor again in 2012.

    Second, taking into account the weakness of the top of this year's draft class, Marrero's talents will be more in demand than ever.

    After an incredible freshman campaign, during which he broke the school-record for batting average (.397) by a first-year player, Marrero struggled to adjust to the new college bats in 2011. His average slipped nearly 90 points and he slugged only two home runs in 219 at-bats.

    He's off to a rough start so far this season, hitting .318 while committing three errors in just six games, but there's still plenty of time to rehabilitate his draft stock.

    If he were to go number one overall, the Astros would be getting a seasoned defender who could be better than most of the top defensive shortstops in the majors. They would also be getting a top-of-the-order bat who has slighty above-average speed and a better chance to hit for power than Francisco Lindor, the top drafted shortstop (eighth overall) from the 2011 class.

Byron Buxton, OF, Appling County HS (GA)

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    It was Buxton, and not consensus top high-school player Lucas Giolito, who topped Baseball America's debut top-25 prep rankings, and while it's hard to compare the two, there's no doubt the former is one of the top high-schoolers available.

    Buxton is an incredible athlete, and has already drawn some comparisons to the Upton brothers, specifically Justin. He has sensational speed, incredible raw power and a cannon arm, capable of hitting 94 mph, according to Perfect Game.

    The state of Georgia has long been known for producing great high-schoolers turned big-leaguers, including Jason Heyward, Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann, and Buxton could be the next in that line.

    Buxton had a fantastic junior campaign at Appling County High, hitting .597 with 10 homers and 42 RBI. He also swiped ten bases and was clocked at 3.8 seconds from home to first base, further showcasing his top-notch wheels.

    Taking high-school players with the top overall selection has long been a crap shoot, with just as many misses (Matt Bush, Brien Taylor) as hits (Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez), although the recent successes of outfielders taken first overall from the prep ranks, including Justin Upton, Delmon Young, Hamilton, and Ken Griffey Jr., does offer some encouragement.

David Dahl, Of, Oak Mountain HS (AL)

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    In many ways, Dahl compares favorably with Buxton.

    He too offers speed, power and a great arm, and as a pure hitter he probably ranks ahead of the Georgia prep superstar. One thing that must be taken into account, however, is the level of competition in Georgia, where Buxton plays, is considerably tougher than Alabama, where Dahl plays.

    Hitting .449 as a junior is still an impressive feat, and for his efforts Dahl was named the Birmingham News Hitter of the Year. He solidified his draft status, likely as a first rounder, with a strong showing at the Tournament of Stars in Cary, North Carolina last summer. He hit .714 in two games against some of the best high-schoolers in the nation before leaving due to an illness.

    Baseball America draft guru Nathan Rode offers some very high praise for Dahl. 

    We call a guy a "dude" when he does it all, Rode said.

    We reserve that for a guy that's a lock for the first round because he has all five tools. He's got arm strength, foot speed and plays consistently good defense. He squares up the bat with regularity and hits for a high average. He also projects to hit for power. His tools easily qualify him among the top-10 high school guys in the country.

    The case for Dahl as the number one pick isn't as strong as Buxton's or any of the other players on this list, but as of right now, there's no telling how high his ceiling is.

Victor Roache, OF, Georgia Southern

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    The NCAA home run leader in 2011, Roache was destined for another fantastic season, one that could have catapulted him into consideration for the top overall pick. Just six games into the Eagles 2012 campaign, however, Roache broke his left wrist and stands to miss a considerable amount of time.

    According to Roache himself, via Twitter, "left wrist and lookin like the rest of the season.”

    Through those six contests, Roache was hitting .412 with two long balls. He slugged a school-record 30 homers in 2011 in just 62 games, tossing aside the conventional wisdom that hitters would struggle to hit for power with the new college bats.

    After the season, he shined in the Cape Cod League, where he challenged for both the home run and RBI crowns.

    There's little doubt that Roache has the best power in the 2012 draft class and even with the wrist injury, he'll likely still go in the first round.

    If he can return at some point this season and show he still has the power stroke, he could regenerate some interest in a top-10 selection.

Marcus Stroman, RHP, Duke

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    Stroman doesn't get as much love as some of the top college pitchers (Mark Appel and Chris Beck), but you can make the argument that the right-hander has the best pure stuff of the trio. 

    Stroman made his mark as the top reliever on Team USA's collegiate team last summer, but is making the transition to starting full-time in 2012. Splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation last season, Stroman racked up 90 strikeouts in a mere 64 innings. He only surrendered one home run and posted a 2.80 ERA.

    Furthermore, the diminutive (5'9'' and 175 pounds) right-hander wowed scouts with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a stunning slider that has the makings of a true plus pitch. With Team USA, Stroman was able to crank his fastball up to 97 mph.

    Unfortunately, the switch to starting hasn't gone so well for Stroman.

    He's been hit pretty hard in two starts, but he improved dramatically after his debut outing. More importantly, he maintained his velocity (92-95 mph) throughout his 100-pitch second start, and showed that his slider is still one of the top pitches of it's kind in the college crop.

    Stroman will inevitably draw some comparisons to 2011 first-rounder Trevor Bauer, due to both size and velocity, and while that could help him, Stroman is going to have to show some dramatic improvement as a starter in order to stay in first-round consideration.

Chris Beck, RHP, Georgia Southern

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    Who would have thunk that Georgia Southern would have two of the top draft prospects heading into the 2012 season?

    Slugging outfielder Victor Roache may get most of the attention, but it's right-hander Chris Beck that could be going higher on draft day.

    Beck currently ranks behind only Appel among the top college arms, and with a strong, consistent season in 2012, he could give the Stanford ace a run for his money.

    Beck was excellent in 2011.

    He thrived as the team's Friday night starter, accounting for a quarter of the team's win total with nine victories. He also posted a 3.23 ERA in 19 starts and struck out a team-high 109 batters in 103 innings.

    At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Beck has a perfect frame. His fastball is an above-average pitch, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s, sometimes scraping the 96-97 mph range. His slider and his changeup both improved drastically over the course of the 2011 season, with the former showing potential as a plus offering.

    He has also shown well during the summer, pitching incredibly well (2-3, 2.12 ERA, 41 strikeouts) in the Cape Cod League. 

    Beck has looked sharp in his first two outings of the 2012 campaign, posting one victory while holding down a 2.08 ERA.

Adam Brett Walker, OF, Jacksonville

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    A true dark-horse, Adam Brett Walker of Jacksonville University is probably the best player in college baseball that you've never heard of.

    Walker burst onto the scene as a freshman, hitting .312 with 16 homers and 58 RBI. He turned his game up another notch in 2011, challenging for the NCAA batting average crown (.409), while setting career-highs in doubles (24), RBI (74) and steals (14). For his efforts he was awarded the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year honors.

    During the summer, Walker took his impressive bat to the Cape Cod League, where he struggled, hitting .216, but still showed solid power (four homers in 38 games).

    This season hasn't been as kind to Walker, who's struggles have been one of the primary reasons for the Dolphins 2-5 start.

    The junior is hitting .179 with just one home run.

    Luckily for Walker, it's a very long season, and when it comes to the draft, more often than not it's what have you done for me lately. If he can finish strong, he should be set for a first-round selection.