Less than three months remain until the 2012 MLB draft, and there's no denying that draft season is heating up.
We've already seen several moves that will have a massive impact on the first round.
First and foremost is the season-ending injury to projected top pick Lucas Giolito. The right-hander, who has drawn comparisons to 2010 No. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon, suffered a sprained UCL and it's doubtful we'll see him pitch again for Harvard-Westlake High.
Joining Giolito on the shelf is the top hitter from the college ranks, Victor Roache. The Georgia Southern slugger broke his wrist early on and he too will likely miss the remainder of the season.
The injuries to Giolito and Roache leave gaping holes in the first round, and especially in the top 10. They also open up the door for many others, like Stanford ace Brett Mooneyham, to break into the race.
Without further ado, let's check out an updated look at the first round.
At 10-1, Stanford is off to a blazing start this season, thanks in part to the stellar performance of their ace, Mark Appel.
In four starts, the right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.19 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 31 innings. Batters are hitting a mere .157 off of him. His most recent start, against top-five opponent Rice shows you how how far he's come since a freshman campaign that saw him post a 5.92 ERA in 26 outings. Against the Owls, he pitched nine innings of two-run ball (the game went into extras) and struck out 14, obliterating his previous career-high of 10.
Through four starts, his 40 punchouts are the best in the nation.
Appel would be a perfect fit for the Astros, who haven't had an ace of Appel's caliber since Roy Oswalt was in his prime.
He has it all: perfect size (6'5'' and 215 lbs), a blazing fastball (mid 90s) and a slider that has emerged as a true strikeout pitch.
On top of it all, he's finally starting to dominate like his premium stuff indicates that he should.
While Mark Appel and Lucas Giolito have stolen all the headlines this spring, one player has quietly gone about decimating his competition. LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman is 4-0, with a 1.32 ERA. He's struck out 31 batters in 27.1 innings and has issued just two walks.
He was at his best this past weekend against Michigan. He dazzled for eight innings of two-hit ball, striking out a career-high 11 and walking none. At one point he retired 18 batters in a row.
Following a stellar freshman campaign that saw him emerge as LSU's best starter by the end of the season, Gausman is building momentum that should allow him to best his sixth-round selection by the Dodgers back in 2010.
He's pitched less than 130 innings as a Tiger, but Gausman has already built a reputation as a pitcher with excellent control. He walked just 23 batters in 89.2 innings last year and has just two so far in 2012.
That trait would seemingly make him a perfect candidate for the Twins, who thrive off of control specialists.
A year after becoming only the second Gator awarded as the SEC Player of the Year, Mike Zunino has taken his game up another notch. Through the team's first 16 games, he's been arguably the best player in the nation.
He paces the squad in almost every offensive category, including homers (seven), RBI (21), doubles (six), runs (17) and batting average (.414). He has been at the heart of most of the Gators' offensive outbursts that have helped produce a 15-1 record and a No. 1 ranking.
Furthermore, Zunino has been a star behind the plate. He has yet to commit an error and has thrown out 33 percent of baserunners. Last year he made only three errors all season and threw out 28 percent.
The Gators have a lot of talented players, but the one that makes them tick is Zunino. Hopefully, he'll carry that over into professional ball, where the Mariners would be lucky to have him.
Yes, Seattle recently acquired a player, Jesus Montero, who they hope will be their catcher for the next five to 10 years, but his defensive play pales in comparison to Zunino.
The Orioles last dip into the Georgia well went pretty well. Nick Markakis, drafted in the first round out of Young Harris College back in 2003, has turned into a fine right fielder who won his first Gold Glove in 2011.
Since drafting "Nick the Stick" the O's have failed to draft any position players of note, excluding Matt Wieters, and have instead put their focus on building up a collection of pitchers through the draft. As a result, they have at least six or seven homegrown starters challenging for rotation spots this spring. Meanwhile, Markakis and Wieters represent the only two impact position players.
Byron Buxton, also hailing from Georgia, has been labeled as the top high-school position player available in 2012, offering an impressive array of tools. His speed is as good as any high-schooler and he has shown flashes of incredible power. He's also a very capable fielder.
Like Markakis, Buxton is also a two-way star, as evidenced by the fact that he's Appling County High's staff ace. Buxton and another pitcher combined on a no-hitter in the school's first game of the season.
As reported by the Baltimore Sun, the O's worked out Buxton on Sunday.
For a video look at Buxton, check out this from MLB.com.
McCullers was considered the top high-school pick more than a year ago, but concerns about his ability to stick as a starter have dropped him back a little. With the injury to new consensus top prep pitcher, Lucas Giolito, however, McCullers will likely see his name scoot back up a bit.
Stuff has never been a question with McCullers, who was throwing 97 mph as a 16-year-old. In addition to his mid-to-high 90s fastball, he also features a knee-buckling curveball that is one of the best of it's kind in the high-school crop. He used primarily those two pitches the past two seasons, dominating hitters as his squad's closer and then as a starter.
McCullers also has lineage in his favor. His father was a pitcher in the big leagues for seven seasons.
The Royals have drafted better than most over the past few years, and even with the graduations of Mike Moustakas, Aaron Crow and Eric Hosmer, they still have one of the best farm systems in baseball. Adding a high-upside arm like McCullers could ensure that they continue to excel.
The Cubs have one of the weakest farm systems in baseball when it comes to starting pitching.
It just so happens that this year's draft is heavy on just that. With Lucas Giolito likely falling out of top-five consideration, the Cubs would no doubt love to have a chance at him. Until the full extent of his injury is known, however, there remains the possibility that he could still go ahead of the Cubs selection at No. 6.
Excluding Giolito, the top right-handed pitcher in the draft class is now Walker Weickel. Weickel has everything an organization looks for in an ace: ideal size (6'6'' and 205 lbs), premium velocity (mid 90s fastball) and an above-average breaking ball.
He's also an exceptional fielder and a pretty good hitter. All three tools (hitting, fielding and pitching) have been on display this season as Weickel has helped lead Olympia to a perfect record.
The Cubs have also been scouting San Francisco starter Kyle Zimmer, although he's a bit of a reach at pick No. 6.
Marrero has long been considered the top position prospect available in the 2012 draft, but coming off of a subpar season in which he struggled to hit for power, his junior season was going to make or break his draft hopes.
Early on, the results aren't very promising. He is hitting .333, but he hasn't shown much pop, accumulating only two extra-base hits and a mere six RBI in the Sun Devils first 14 games. Defensively, he's also struggled. The 2011 Pac-10 defensive player of the year has already committed four errors.
Regardless of the stats, Marrero is still considered a polished hitter and an incredible defender. He's basically a more seasoned, more experienced version of last year's first-round pick, Francisco Lindor.
The Padres have been looking for a franchise shortstop for a few years now and Marrero could be that guy.
A mere week after hitting 100 mph with his fastball in his season debut, California prep star Lucas Giolito, sprained his UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) and will likely miss the rest of his senior season.
Luckily, the injury shouldn't require surgery, just a lengthy rehab process. According to Harvard-Westlake coach Matt LaCour, Giolito hurt himself on the final pitch of his second outing, one in which he hit 98 mph on the radar gun multiple times.
Still, one has to wonder what kind of effect the injury will have on Giolito's draft status. Prior to this week he had been considered one of the top prospects in the entire draft, with many publications bumping him up all the way to No. 1 in the wake of his triple-digit debut.
I forecast a drop, but a modest one. The Pirates have never been one to shy away from talent for any reason, especially recently.
Adding him to a collection that includes Gerrit Cole, the top pitcher in the 2011 draft, and Jameson Taillon, the top pitcher in the 2010 draft, would give the Pirates a fearsome trio.
The only other position player who could give Byron Buxton a run for his money is Alabama prep star David Dahl.
Like Buxton, Dahl is a five-tool player who is oozing talent. He's an incredible hitter who is likely better than Buxton at the plate. He too has shown flashes of power, and has blazing speed on the basepaths. He has a strong arm and good instincts in the outfield.
He has also gotten off to a strong start this season, pacing the Oak Mountain High Eagles as they have cruised to numerous easy victories.
The Marlins have gone pretty heavy after pitchers in the first round the past few years, but with such little position player talent, they're in prime position to scoop up at least one player of Dahl's caliber.
Wacha built some impressive momentum late last season, filling in for injured starter John Stilson, and pacing the Aggies effort in the College World Series.
He's back and better than ever in 2012, consistently putting A&M in position to win. He's already racked up three victories and 34 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. He's only allowed two earned runs, good for a 0.70 ERA, one of the top numbers in the country. Batters are hitting a team-low .148 against him.
He's been so dominant that the only thing that has stopped him so far this season has been a rain delay that forced him out of his most recent start after six innings.
Wacha doesn't offer as much upside as some of the other top arms, specifically Lucas Giolito or Lance McCullers Jr., but he does seem like he's a much safer bet. Like Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, Wacha deals in the low to mid-90s, and throws a mean slider. He also offers a changeup and curveball.
Wacha has prototypical size (6'6", 200 lbs) and has performed exceptionally well under all the pressure that accompanies a staff ace.
The Rockies are quietly building a collection of young pitchers, including Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. Wacha would slot in nicely behind those two.
The A's had been pretty consistent drafting position players the past few years, but broke that trend with Vanderbilt ace Sonny Gray last year. At the time, they were lacking in quality starting pitching options. Since the addition of Gray, the A's have also added Brad Peacock, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone and A.J. Cole.
They have a promising, youthful rotation heading into 2012, which means they're more likely to head back to their old drafting ways and go after a hitter. They could get a potential steal with the 11th pick by selecting Georgia Southern slugger Victor Roache.
Roache led the nation in home runs in 2011, and was well on his way to a stellar junior campaign when he broke his wrist. The injury will likely force him to miss the remainder of the season, and could damage his draft stock immensely.
Roache is the perfect player for the A's, in the same way that Michael Choice was back in 2010. Both players have light-tower power, incredible plate discipline and are more athletic than their given credit for.
Having Roache and Choice occupying the corner outfield spots would be a major coup for the A's.
The Mets didn't plan too wisely for when Jose Reyes inevitably departed, and as such they're now looking at a Ruben Tejeda-Ronny Cedeno shortstop timeshare.
It doesn't get much better down in the minors either, where the Mets' top shortstop prospect is Jordany Valdespin, a 24-year-old with a career on-base percentage below .350. Clearly that isn't going to be enough, and with the Mets' financial situation being what it is, it's unlikely that they're going to spring for a big-name in free agency anytime soon.
That leaves the draft, and Louisiana prep shortstop Gavin Cecchini, the top player at his position from the high-school crop.
Thanks to Cecchini's defensive prowess, he won't last the first round. Toss in the fact that he's a decent hitter with speed to burn and he's definitely a top-15 pick.
If he reaches his ceiling, Cecchini has what it takes to be a franchise shortstop.
Beck burst onto the scene with a strong 2011 campaign, and he now figures to play a prominent role on day one in 2012, giving Georgia Southern an opportunity to have two players selected in the first round for the first time ever.
Beck features a mid-90s fastball that can scrape 96 to 97 mph. He complements the pitch with two potential above-average offerings, a slider and a changeup. He's got great size (6'3", 220 lbs) and has performed well over the summer. He earned So-Con tournament Most Outstanding Player honors and followed that up by earning All-Star honors in the Cape Cod League.
Unfortunately, he hasn't fared too well in 2012, as the whole team has struggled to deal with the loss of slugger Victor Roache. In four starts, Beck has already served up four home runs and has an ERA of 4.33. Batters are hitting .255 off of him, a year after they hit .211. Combine that with a weaker offense, and it doesn't figure to get much easier for Beck.
Still, he offers great potential, and assuming he reaches his ceiling he could give the White Sox a No. 2 starter.
The Reds have a large cache of position talent, but are severely lacking in the pitching department. Luckily, the strength of this draft appears to be pitching, which means they'll likely still have plenty of options picking 14th.
A player who has really opened some eyes this spring is Duke right-hander Marcus Stroman. He offered the best performance of the season to date against George Washington last week, striking out a career-high 17 in a mere seven innings.
That gives him 39 strikeouts in 26.1 innings and early momentum in the national player of the year race. More important, it gives him some helium as draft season kicks off.
The Reds had luck with a diminutive college right-hander, Mike Leake, a few years ago, and will likely find their best will come from the college ranks in 2012.
With the recent injury to Lucas Giolito, all the pressure to lead Harvard-Westlake back to the state finals is on lefty Max Fried.
Fried is arguably the top left-hander available in 2012. He offers premium velocity (91 to 94 mph) and has two potential above-average offerings in a curveball and changeup. He was clocked during his most recent start as high as 95 mph.
He benefits from a very smooth delivery that should allow him to jump quickly right into pro ball. At 6'4" and 170 pounds, he could stand to put on some more weight, which might allow him to add a tick or two to his fastball.
The Indians recently traded away two high profile arms (Drew Pomeranz and Alex White) and aside from Zach McAllister, they're severely lacking in starting pitching. Fried could fill a major hole in their system.
Johnson had a phenomenal season in 2011, posting a 3.62 ERA and a 72-15 K:BB ratio in 15 starts. He was also one of the Gators' best hitters, hitting .405 in 84 at-bats.
This season is going to be a true test for Johnson. He has the size and stuff to be a fantastic starting pitcher, but he needs to have another strong season in order to prove he's even the best starter on his own team. In four starts, he's been adequate, but has benefited greatly from Florida's high-octane offense. He's 2-0, despite a 4.12 ERA.
Like most of the players on the UF roster, Johnson was already drafted once, back in 2009 by the Dodgers. He spurned that offer to come to UF, where he has continued to grow into his 6'3", 225-pound frame and develop his stuff. Johnson has been excellent at keeping his low-90s fastball down and in the zone.
The Nats filled a lefty hole in their rotation with Gio Gonzalez, but they could still use some more lefty pitching prospects.
Williams emerged as one of the top hitters from the 2012 high-school crop as early as 2010, and he's done nothing but impress since.
Williams had some pretty big shoes to fill in 2011, taking over shortstop duties from Christian Lopes, who transferred and then was selected in the seventh round and earned an $800,000 signing bonus from Toronto.
Seeing as how Toronto is familiar with Lopes and Valencia, it only makes sense that they would target Williams, who hit .500 with six homers and 10 RBI in his final 10 games of 2011.
His bat is what makes him special, as he offers above-average power (he hit six homers in three games against rival West Ranch HS this past season). He should hit for a decent average as well.
On defense, he's a much better defender at third than he ever could have hoped to be. He's not going to win Gold Gloves, but he won't hurt his team much either.
It's no secret that the Dodgers have not drafted well the past two years. First, they threw $5.25 million at high-school pitcher Zach Lee in 2010, and then they went the cheap route last year with Stanford lefty Chris Reed. They have a decent system, but lack true elite talent, especially in the outfield.
A player who is sure to be underrated come June and one of the top five-tool players in this draft class, Albert Almora has shown an impressive skill set at each of the summer showcase events. He's also been on a tear this spring, hitting .650 with 10 steals and 11 RBI in five games.
In addition to having a sensational bat, he's an incredible fielder with a strong arm, capable of reaching 93 mph off the mound.
Assuming their financial mess is resolved by then, the Dodgers would be lucky to get their hands on a player with Almora's ceiling.
In addition to having one of the coolest baseball names ever, Trahan happens to be the top overall catcher in the 2012 class, and a player that the Cardinals would be lucky to get their hands on.
Trahan is a solid athlete, who happens to be one of the best running catchers to come along in the past decade. In addition to playing all over the diamond, he's also seen time at tight end and quarterback for the school's football team. He has a cannon for an arm and has consistently produced some of the top pop times on throws to second on the showcase circuit.
Trahan is committed to Ole Miss, although with his combination of skills it's unlikely he'll ever set foot on campus. That's not to say he hasn't already made an impression on the SEC.
“(Trahan) is a heck of a talent,” said an SEC coach. “You see the plus bat-speed, you see the ball just jump of his bat –be it aluminum or wood – and then you watch the kid run and throw? He’s a star in college at third base or the outfield. If he can stay at catcher he’s the type of kid who could take you to Omaha.”
The Cards just inked Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75 million deal, but catchers tend to have a short lifespan, especially in the collision-heavy National League.
As one of the top pitchers from the high-school crop and arguably the top left-hander, Smoral would be a welcomed addition to the Giants organization, one that is particularly lacking in high-ceiling starting pitching depth.
At 6'8" and 225 pounds, Smoral certainly looks the part of a big leaguer.
The left-hander has been clocked in the low 90s, reaching as high as 94 mph, and complements his fastball with a stellar slider, one of the best in the high school class. He also offers a two-seam fastball, a curve and a changeup.
The Giants have been exceptional at developing high-schoolers in recent years (Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner). Smoral is considerably more raw than either of those, but the reward could be just as high.
As of right now, Underwood is the top pitching prospect, and one of the top position prospects, in the state of Georgia, where the Braves have been very active in the draft the past decade.
The Braves narrowly missed out on a chance to draft Zack Wheeler a couple of years ago, and while Underwood doesn't have that kind of talent, he's more than impressive enough to warrant first-round consideration.
He has great velocity, capable of reaching 97 to 98 mph, and the makings of an above-average curveball.
Underwood also carries on in the tradition of many former Braves draftees in that he's a legitimate two-way player who could be a first-round pick as a hitter.
Virant has been on the draft scene for quite some time and there's no doubt he has the talent to challenge Max Fried and Matt Smoral as the top lefty.
He's been consistently clocked in the low to mid-90s, and has touched 96 mph in the past. He complements his fastball with a stellar curveball, one that could be one of the best in the class with a bit more experience and polish. Virant was exceptional last year, compiling a 1.54 ERA. He also tossed a perfect game.
Virant is a great athlete, capable of playing multiple positions. He shows enough potential at the plate to warrant a spot in the draft, but on the mound his future as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter is going to be too much to ignore.
The Blue Jays have quietly built one of the best collections of left-handed pitching in baseball, and adding Virant, a UCLA commit like Max Fried and Lucas Giolito, would just add fuel to the fire.
The Cardinals lost a huge lineup presence when they dealt Colby Rasmus to Toronto this past summer, and they would do well to find a replacement for him.
Travis Jankowski, from small-town Lancaster, Pennsylvania, could be just that guy. Granted, the Stony Brook outfielder doesn't have as much power as Rasmus, but he would give the team a top-of-the-lineup guy they've been lacking for years.
In 2011, Jankowski was a revelation. He hit .355 with 38 RBI and a team-leading 30 steals. His sterling season extended to his play in the outfield, where he posted a perfect fielding percentage in 115 chances in center. He further boosted his draft stock with a strong summer. He was named MVP of the Cape Cod League after hitting .329 with 22 RBI and 15 steals.
This season, he's struggled to find his footing. His average has dipped to .280 and he has only two RBI. He's managed to swipe five bases, putting him on base to get close to his 2011 total.
Let's face it, the Red Sox need a shortstop who can hit. Jose Iglesias is a fine defender, but lacks pop.
Puerto Rican infielder Carlos Correa would be an excellent addition. He's likely growing too big to stay at shortstop long-term and a move to either third base or the outfield is in his future, but his bat is going to be his meal ticket.
Assuming he slides over to third, he'll have one of the strongest throwing arms in the system. If he heads to the outfield, he'll be an assist machine. And don't discount the chance that he sticks at shortstop, he is quite an athlete.
Correa in many ways resembles 2010 first-rounder Manny Machado (still growing into his body, great arm, great raw power), although his ceiling isn't likely as high.
Correa recently made headlines, topping ESPN.com's list of middle infielders available in 2012.
Nevada high-schooler Joey Gallo has arguably the best power in this draft class, both at the plate and on the mound, where he's known for touching the mid- to high 90s. At the plate is where his professional future lies, however.
He played at third base for a while, where it would make the most sense for his cannon arm, but at 6'5" and 205 pounds, he's slowly outgrowing just about every position except for first base.
Gallo hit .471 with 25 homers and 78 RBI last season while helping Gorman to it's sixth straight state championship.
Gallo recently received some accolades from ESPN too.
I said it before and I'll say it again. Walker and Arizona seem destined for each other.
The JU star is a hulking beast of a man (6'5", 225 lbs) who has above-average tools across the board.
He led the team in numerous offensive categories in 2011, including batting average (.409), doubles (23), homers (13) and RBI (75). He was also a perfect 14-for-14 on the basepaths and played near-perfect defense (.992 fielding percentage) splitting time between first base and the outfield.
This season he's struggled a bit, but he's still shown the same tools that generated talk of him going in the first round. He's slugged two home runs and racked up a team-leading 13 walks, but his average has dropped more than 100 points.
With a strong finish he might be able to sneak his way into the first round.
Another player who's getting a lot of love early on this college season is San Francisco right-hander Kyle Zimmer.
Baseball America even reports that he's getting some love as a candidate for the top overall pick.
Working in Zimmer's favor is the fact that he's been clocked as high as 98-mph and has a knee-buckling curveball. He's definitely a lock to go in the first-round, it's just a matter of how high he can climb. He's also got prototypical size at 6'4'' and 220 lbs.
The Brewers, despite the additions of 2011 first-rounder Jed Bradley and Taylor Jungmann are still incredibly thin at starting pitching. Zimmer would be an added boost.
The Brewers dipped in the Florida well a few years back when they selected Matt LaPorta back in 2007. They never got to see whether that experiment would have worked because they dealt LaPorta to Cleveland.
Fast forward five years and the Brewers are searching for their next slugger, with Prince Fielder departing for Detroit. Florida slugger Preston Tucker has been undervalued and underappreciated for the majority of his career. He wasn't good enough to earn his way onto the FSU roster as a freshman but found a home in Gainesville.
He had a banner year in 2011, and is off to a killer start in 2012. In 16 games, Tucker has slugged five home runs, driven in 13 runs and maintained a .302 average.
He's proven to be one of the most consistent bats in the nation.
The Rangers no doubt would love to have a shot at picking up Mitchell Traver. He has the Texas bloodlines and the Lone Star State's fireballing legacy running in his veins, but there's a great chance that he'll be long gone by the time the Rangers pick at No. 29.
A solid consolation prize would be Hawkins, a two-way star who could be a first-rounder as both a hitter or a pitcher. On the mound he can get his fastball into the mid-90s and complements the pitch with a decent curveball/changeup combination.
At the plate he might be slightly better, featuring some of the best right-handed power in the high-school class. He has a great arm and decent speed.
Nolan Ryan would no doubt jump at the chance to develop Hawkins as a pitcher, but his potential at the plate might be too tough to ignore.
Heading into the 2011 college season, with Diekroeger coming off of a sensational freshman campaign at Stanford, many considered him a likely top-10 selection in 2012.
And then he played the 2011 season...and underperformed. He struggled mightily with the new bats, witnessing declines in just about every offensive category. Furthermore, Stanford struggled to play at the level that was expected of them, putting even more pressure on Diekroeger to be perfect.
Coming into the 2012 season, that pressure should be lessened. Stanford returns the likely No. 1 pick in the draft, Mark Appel, as well as fourth-year starter Brett Mooneyham, who missed the entire 2011 season.
He's already looked like a different player, hitting .310 with 11 RBI and seven walks in 15 games. Furthermore, he's been a steady contributor and a spark-plug near the top of the lineup.
Mooneyham was all the rage last spring. He had the size (6'5'', 215), the fastball (mid-90s) and the attitude that teams look for in a first-round pick.
Unfortunately, before his junior season could even get underway, Mooneyham suffered an injury and missed the entire campaign. He's back and completely healthy, and looking every bit as good as advertised. In four starts, he's racked up four wins and a better ERA than that of staff ace Mark Appel. He's also accumulated 37 strikeouts in 27 innings.
Assuming Mooneyham can sustain this success, he could find his way back into the first round, where everyone expected him to be in 2011.