In just three days, the 2012 MLB Draft will commence, and for those teams that lost their own top-tier free agents during the offseason, they will have the opportunity to select an extra prospect in what has commonly been called the "sandwich" round.
The rules for compensation picks have recently changed, and of course the bonus pools attached to draft picks will also affect the draft moving forward, but for now, the sandwich round still offers a lot of intrigue and some pretty good talent.
Teams have different philosophies with regard to their draft strategy—some may make their first pick based on need and then go with the best athlete available with their next selection. Other teams may draft solely on need, while others have a strategy based on prep/college preferences.
Here is our best guess as to which players will be selected in the sandwich round.
The last Minnesotan to be drafted in the first round was Joe Mauer in 2001. Mitch Brown could be the next.
Brown, a senior right-handed pitcher from Century High School in Rochester, MN, has wowed scouts with his 95 MPH fastball, sharp-breaking curveball and developing cutter. He recently struck out 17 batters in six innings, and if available would be an ideal local choice for the Twins with the first pick in the sandwich round.
Senior right-handed pitcher Ty Buttrey of Providence HS in North Carolina has fast risen up the charts over the past year.
Scouts estimate that his fastball velocity rose 5 MPH over the past year. At 6'6'' and 210 pounds, Buttrey has some room to add strength. He also possesses a sharp-biting curveball with a changeup that has shown promise.
As of mid-May, Buttrey was 8-1 with a 0.80 ERA and 96 strikeouts over 60 innings, and scouts marveled over a knuckle-curve that Buttrey used as his out pitch on several occasions.
Over the course of the spring, Palm Desert HS (CA) standout shortstop Tanner Rahier has received invitations from 16 teams to work out for them, and he continues to impress with his play on the field as well.
The 6'2'', 205-pound senior opted not to play high school ball, opting instead to play in a traveling league that uses wood bats to better prepare him for professional baseball. Scouts are not completely sure that Rahier will stay at short—his size and power make him a candidate for third base as well, but at either position, Rahier's skills and max-effort style will be a plus come draft day.
There is a very good reason the University of Florida is ranked No. 2 heading in the NCAA Tournament—it is collection of great young athletes that includes junior shortstop Nolan Fontana.
While he may not possess the skills of other shortstops in the draft, Fontana has great baseball intelligence and utilizes the skills that he does possess to his advantage. Fontana has been praised for his ability to learn where exactly to play each hitter, putting himself in position to make plays defensively.
Fontana has the ability to hit to all fields, and while he has at times displayed a power stroke, is projected to be more of a gap hitter who can hit for high average.
Fontana's abilities and instincts on the field should help him move up the ranks quickly within the Mets' organization.
At 6'6'' and 195 pounds, Olympia High School (FL) senior right-handed pitcher Walter Weickel is certainly an imposing presence on the mound.
Weickel features a fastball that sits in the low 90s and could increase as he adds weight to his lanky frame. Scouts love his 12/6 curveball that he uses effectively on both sides of the plate, and he has a changeup in the works that could serve as a nice third pitch.
Weickel has committed to the University of Miami, so not sure if signability is an issue, but if he is available on the board this late, the Cardinals should snatch him up in a heartbeat.
Depending on who you listen to or follow, pitcher/outfielder Mitch Gueller is a definite prospect who could be drafted late in the first round or as low as the third.
Keith Law has Gueller listed as the 39th best prospect available, while Baseball America lists him as the 107th best athlete. But one thing is for sure—few are as athletically gifted as this two-way star.
More recently Gueller's pitching skills have been on notice. An outfielder with terrific raw power, Gueller also sports a fastball that now sits in the low-90s and can touch 95 MPH with late movement. His low-70s curveball is still a work in progress, but his changeup is very effective when he trusts it.
Gueller is committed to Washington State, so his decision will likely depend on where he is drafted. The Red Sox would do very well to get him in this slot and sign him quickly.
Senior catcher Clint Coulter of Union High School in Washington will have a decision to make come draft day.
Committed to Arizona State in the fall, Coulter's draft position will likely influence that decision. At 6'3'' and 215 pounds, Coutler already has raw power with the ability to shoot the ball to right and right-center. Scouts also like Coulter's arm behind the plate, although some feel his limited range of motion could be an issue.
Still, the ability to hit for power behind the plate is a rare commodity, and the Brewers would do well in drafting Coulter if available at this slot.
Texas Tech junior outfielder Barrett Barnes had an outstanding season for a team that was the only one not to make the Big 12 Tournament, a fact that could hurt Barnes come draft day.
Barnes hit .325 with nine HR and 49 RBI, swiping 19 bases and posting a 1.016 OBP. His swing is a bit herky-jerky, often not generating power with his legs and hitting off his front foot. But the results are there and the swing can be refined, and the Rangers should scoop him up if he is still available.
A stress fracture in his right foot playing on an ill-prepared field in March ended this young man's season early, but left-handed pitcher Matt Smoral is still highly-regarded nonetheless.
An imposing presence at 6'8'' and 225 pounds, Smoral features a low-90s fastball that touches 95 at times, a tight-breaking slider and good command and location.
Smoral's three-quarter delivery has drawn comparisons to Madison Bumgarner, and while his injury hurt his chances to be drafted higher, a sandwich-round pick is still pretty good considering he has not pitched in almost three months.
If the Houston Astros are on the hunt for a potential closer down the road, Arkansas sophomore pitcher Nolan Sanburn might be their guy.
Sanburn already has two plus pitches that have garnered attention—a mid-90s fastball that often touches 98-99 and a hard late-breaking curve.
Sanburn has decent command, but it's his closer-like mentality that may serve him well in a young Astros' organization.
The Minnesota Twins have very few guys in the system capable of hitting the ball out of Target Field with consistency, but that could change if they go after Joey Gallo.
At 6'4'' and 200 pounds, the Bishop Gorman senior first baseman is a power display already, hitting .509 with 21 HR as a senior. He does have a big loopy swing, but with refinements, that power could easily be harnessed into a shorter more compact swing that could conquer Target Field with ease.
Georgia sophomore southpaw pitcher Alex Wood posted outstanding numbers this year—a 7-3 record with a 2.73 ERA and just 21 walks against 100 strikeouts in 102.1 innings pitched.
Wood's 2.73 ERA was the best posted by a Georgia starting pitcher since Dave Fleming notched a 2.08 ERA back in 1989. In the always-tough SEC conference, that's special indeed.
Wood features a mid-90s fastball, sharp, downward breaking curveball and a changeup that could use some work, but his upside is just too good for the Chicago Cubs to pass up in this slot.
Some 20 or 30 years ago, a pitcher who was 6'1'' and 180 pounds would not have been considered undersized, but that's exactly how St. Mary's junior right-handed pitcher Martin Agosta is viewed today.
But size can be deceiving. Starring as St. Mary's Friday night pitcher, Agosta was 9-2 with a 2.18 ERA, striking out 95 batters in 103.1 innings. He features a fastball that sits comfortably in the low-to-mid 90s, has a good feel for the strike zone and scouts love his ability to constantly keep hitters guessing.
Agosta's repertoire would play well at Petco Park.
The word "toolsy" has been used in describing the talents of Coral Springs High School (FL) outfielder Lewis Brinson, and when that adjective is applied to a prospect, it is never a bad thing.
Baseball America likened Brinson to Cameron Maybin, and his power-speed combination has many scouts salivating at what could be. Brinson hit .394 with four HR, 21 RBI and 12 stolen bases during the regular season with Coral Springs.
Right-handed pitcher Shane Watson put together two outstanding finishing seasons at Lakewood High School, and now waits to see exactly where he will land.
This would be solid pickup for the Rockies. Watson has a fastball that sits anywhere between 89-93 MPH but with late-breaking movement, a curveball that scouts project could be his out pitch at the major league level, and he already features solid control.
Watson has committed to USC, so Colorado will have to do some convincing and pony up max bonus money to get him to change his mind.
Several hours down the coast from the city of Oakland sits a pitcher who would be an excellent pickup for the Oakland A's with the 47th pick in the MLB Draft.
Kieran Lovegrove of Mission Viejo High School is considered to have one of the best fastball/slider combinations among prep pitchers in the draft. His fastball sits in the low 90s but can be dialed up to 95 MPH when needed. His slider is already a plus pitch, sitting in the high 70s with almost as much swing-and-miss capability as his fastball.
At 6'4'' and 180 pounds, Lovegrove could fill out and develop even more velocity over time, but will need to develop much better command if he hopes to be a front-line starter in the future.
As a junior first baseman/outfielder at Jacksonville, Adam Brett Walker has certainly caused scouts to take notice of his prodigious power.
All Walker did this year was put up a slash line of .343/.426/.581 along with 19 stolen bases, following on the heels of a sophomore season that was pretty special as well (.416 average, 71 RBI).
Walker adds some intrigue as far as his placement in the draft—he is not gifted defensively, either in left field or at first base—but drawing comparisons to Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton cannot be all bad.
The Cincinnati Reds have not had a real speed-burner on the basepaths for quite a while. However, that would change if they drafted Stony Brook outfielder Travis Jankowski.
Hitting .355 in his junior year, Jankowsi was successful in 30 of 32 stolen base attempts, and showed the ability to easily turn singles into doubles and go from first to third with ease.
Jankowski already has an advanced eye at the plate, striking out only 20 times in 186 at-bats. Defensively, Jankowski is already considered a plus defender in center field, and his instincts will play out well on as a potential leadoff hitter at the major league level.
Pope High School senior pitcher Duane Underwood is one of the best prep power pitchers in the draft. His fastball sits easily in the mid-90s with the ability to dial it up to 97-98 MPH, and also possesses a decent array of secondary pitches that can be improved with time.
Pope has committed to Georgia, so placement in the draft could very well decide his future. As a sandwich-round pick, Underwood could be convinced.
With a local flavor, the Los Angeles Dodgers would do well in selecting Cal Poly junior outfielder Mitch Haniger.
Haniger hit .346 with 13 HR and 64 RBI in his junior season, and at 6'2'' and 215 pounds projects to be a solid hitter with power at the higher levels.
Another year in college seemed to do a world of good for catcher Peter O'Brien.
After being drafted in the third round of last year's MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies, O'Brien opted to stay in school and transferred from Bethune-Cookman to Miami.
The exposure on a more competitive stage with the Hurricanes was a good choice—O'Brien put together a solid senior season and upped his draft status by improving his defense behind the plate. O'Brien can also rake with the bat as well, hitting .354 with 10 HR and 38 RBI.
At 6'3'' and 200 pounds, Olympia High School senior outfielder Jesse Winker projects to be an outstanding corner outfielder who can develop into a natural home run hitter at higher levels.
Scouts love his approach from the left side of the plate, and already shows an advanced awareness at the dish as well. Winker is committed to powerhouse baseball program Florida, so signability could be an issue, especially if he does not go higher in the draft. With a sandwich-round pick, choosing high school players can always be iffy, but it could be worth it for the Cardinals to take a chance on Winker.
A two-way star at Westview High School in Oregon, Carson Kelly could actually be drafted as either a third baseman or a pitcher.
However, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com believes that Kelly's real value in the future is as a position player, and for the Phillies, finding a permanent replacement for Placido Polanco in a few years will be necessary, and Kelly could be that man.
There are a number of great prep pitchers in this year's draft, but Puerto Rico product J.O. Berrios presents tremendous upside with his already-impressive three-pitch arsenal.
Berrios features a fastball that sits comfortably in the low-90s already, and he has developed a terrific power-breaking ball that Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com calls "an absolute hammer."
Georgia Southern pitcher Chris Beck probably would have been rated quite a bit higher if not for a disappointing junior season, but he still has the stuff that gives scouts pause.
Beck had an outstanding summer in the Cape Cod League last year, posting a 1.62 ERA and striking out 41 in 52 innings. However, in his junior year, Beck took a bit of a step back, posting a 4-6 record with a 3.72 ERA, 22 BB and 97 strikeouts in 84.2 innings.
Still, his low 90s fastball, slider and sharp breaking curve make him a solid prospect in many eyes, and for the pitching-strapped Cubs, would be an excellent choice with the 56th pick.
Louisville junior pitcher Matt Koch has a perfect two-pitch arsenal that could serve him very well in moving up the ladder quickly at the professional level.
Picking up valuable experience as a closer for the Louisville Cardinals, Koch mixes in a nice low-to-mid 90s fastball with a plus slider that breaks sharply at the plate. If he stays in the back of the bullpen, Koch could find himself in the majors much quicker.
Prep first baseman Keon Barnum has turned heads with his abilities at the plate, and his .417 average and lofty 1.326 OBP in his senior only enhanced his draft status.
Barnum has committed to Miami, so it remains to be seen whether or not a sandwich-round selection will help sway his decision.
Tyler Gonzales has flown a bit under the radar in terms of elite prep pitchers, but there is no denying he has abilities that translate well to the big league level.
Gonzales has a fastball that sits comfortable in the low-to-mid 90s, plus slider that he throws at around 85 MPH with late break. While he does not have a well-developed third pitch, scouts believe that if Gonzales can work on his changeup and possibly even a fourth pitch, he could be a solid starter at the major league level.
Although he underwent Tommy John surgery in Sept. 2010, it might be worth it for the Toronto Blue Jays to take a chance on right-handed pitcher Reid Scoggins.
After surgery, Scoggins was throwing comfortably in the mid-to-high 90s, hitting 98-99 at times with late movement as well. A pure power pitcher, Scoggins also has decent command and his secondary pitchers (curve, changeup) are decent but not great. However, with a blazing fastball and even an adequate array of secondary pitchers, Scoggins could be a keeper.