The 2012 MLB draft is nearly upon us. Just hours separate us from finding out which talented youngster will be joining our favorite professional teams and, as usual, there is little solid information about much of anything.
The MLB draft is notoriously hard to predict, with more players to choose from than any other sport, and anyone claiming to know more than picks one through four is blowing smoke up your butt. After the top few selections there is very little certainty, even for the teams picking.
It's been a long, hard year for teams, their scouts and their front offices as they try to sort through all of the available players and find the one or two players who can be true franchise players. There's likely a few in this year's crop, but only time will reveal to us who they are.
Without further ado, we present to you the final MLB mock draft.
It's really sad to have to preface this pick with this statement:
High school outfielder Byron Buxton is the best player in this year's draft, but the fact that it is the Astros doing the picking, combined with the fact that Buxton comes from the prep ranks, means there's about a five percent chance of Houston's front office pulling the trigger on anyone other than a safe college pitcher who can contribute sooner rather than later.
Taking that into account, it's pretty much a shoo-in that Houston looks in the direction of Texas native Mark Appel, a predictable, reliable right-hander with just enough projection left that there's an outside chance he could develop into a legitimate No. 1 starter.
Appel sure pitched like an ace this season, going 9-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 110 innings. He tossed four complete games, including one shutout, allowed just three homers and held opponents to a .216 batting average.
In addition to the stats, Appel has the tools. Mid 90s fastball? Check. Above-average breaking ball? Check. Promising third pitch? Check. Prototypical size? Check. Athleticism? Check.
So, really...what is there about Appel that makes him such a bad pick?
Fresh off a jaw-dropping performance (complete game with 18 strikeouts) in the series-clinching game of the state championship, Byron Buxton should enter next Monday with as much helium as any high school prospect in recent memory.
There's no question that he's the most talented player in this year's class. He has speed, power, pure hitting ability, great natural instincts, an immense love for the game and a legitimate chance to be a five-tool player at the next level.
Scouts rave over his ability and his athleticism, and he draws rave reviews for his polish, which is remarkable considering he played out his high school career in rural Baxley, Georgia (population 4,500).
The Twins have never been one to shy away from drafting high-risk, high-reward talent, making a similar move back in 2008 when they selected the toolsy-yet-polished Aaron Hicks.
Hopefully Buxton can blossom into the kind of player Minnesota always hoped Hicks would become.
If I was picking first overall, Correa would be my guy, so the Mariners would be incredibly lucky to get arguably the top hitter in this year's draft class with the third overall pick.
Comparing anyone to Alex Rodriguez is premature and rather ballsy but, believe it or not, Correa has been so compared. His pure hitting ability is off the charts. He should hit for power as well, and could be the kind of player who hits .300 with 25-to-30 homers per season.
Defensively, he's no slouch either. Once upon a time it was expected that he would outgrow his natural position (shortstop), but he's shown such determination and willingness to work at the finer points of shortstop that he now appears to have a chance to stick. Even if he has to slide over to third base, his bat would still make him one of the top players at his position.
Correa, born on September 22, 1994, also benefits from being one of the youngest draft-eligible players in this year's class, making him all the more impressive and all the more appealing.
The Mariners pulled a fast one last year, convincing everyone that they were going to take a position player in the first round, only to make a last-minute move for left-hander Danny Hultzen.
This year they'll keep on the steady path and pick up a true franchise player in Correa.
After Appel, Buxton and Correa, it's pretty much a toss-up, leaving the Orioles in a tough situation. Several appealing names are still on the board. Do they go after their stated preference and pursue one of the top remaining college pitchers (Kyle Zimmer, Kevin Gausman or Michael Wacha) or do they forge a new path, testing the waters of the high school crop (Albert Almora, Max Fried or Lucas Giolito)?
Both directions have paid off for the O's of late (see prep phenom Dylan Bundy and college pitchers Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta), but the past has also presented the organization with some haunting memories. Fans in Baltimore remember vividly the failed draft of 1999, in which the team had seven of the top 50 picks and committed to building with college pitching only to see all of their picks bomb out of pro ball within a few years.
Also, keep in mind that before hitting on Bundy, the O's got straight Fs with high-schoolers Billy Rowell, Brandon Snyder and Matt Hobgood.
The bottom line is that the O's are lucky new management is in place to make this decision. In the end, it seems pretty likely that the team will go the safe route and take the best available pitcher, Zimmer. The San Francisco ace dealt with a few minor ailments this season, but performed incredibly well when you consider he got some of the worst run support in college baseball and still managed to put together the line (5-3, 2.85, 104:17 K:BB) that he did.
He also gets a leg up on Gausman and Wacha because of his feel for his breaking ball, which should be an above-average offering. At best, Zimmer could challenge Bundy for the top spot in the rotation, but more realistically he could slot in right behind him at No. 2.
Like Seattle, Kansas City seemingly had their mind made up last year to go after one of the top college arms. When hometown hero Bubba Starling somehow fell into their laps with the fifth overall pick, however, they were forced to change their plans.
This season, there is no Starling to distract them from getting one of the top college throwers (Appel, Zimmer, Gausman, Wacha). With Appel and Zimmer gone in the top four picks, Gausman represents the highest ceiling, and he should be Kansas City's pick. The LSU right-hander has pitched lights out (10-1, 2.84, 125:24 K:BB) this season, showing a perfect combination of poise and tenacity.
His fastball is just as good as Appel's and Zimmer's, but his secondary stuff isn't as polished. Still, his upside (as a No. 2 starter) is the highest the Royals are likely to feel safe going after, especially after witnessing the swift collapse of their pitching depth in their farm system.
On the heels of one of their worst stretches in their long and storied history, the Cubs are really in rebuilding mode. Don't be surprised if they shed some of their top talent, including the troublesome Starlin Castro before the season is done.
All the teams that have undergone similar rebuilding processes, including Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston, have begun with a catcher. Matt Wieters, Tony Sanchez and Jason Castro represented fresh starts for each franchise and led the way to brighter futures for each squad.
The Cubs have a couple of interesting catching options, but none offer the offensive and defensive upside of Zunino, who has tortured SEC pitchers the past two seasons, slugging 35 homers (and counting) while maintaining an average around .350.
In addition to adding some pop to one of the saddest offensive units in baseball, Zunino would also bring stability to a pitching staff that has seen handfuls of catchers come and go over the past decade.
Let the craziness begin!
Stratton ranks behind Wacha, Stroman and maybe even Andrew Heaney, but the Padres have been experts at bucking conventional wisdom the past few years.
His heater can't match Wacha or Stroman and he doesn't have Heaney's polish, but what Stratton does have that those other three lack is a four-pitch repertoire that should allow him to have a greater degree of success in the lower and middle levels of the minors. And believe me, his fastball is still plenty good, capable of reaching 96 mph.
Competing in the National League West doesn't appear to be much of a possibility this year or even next, at least not without some big-league-ready players like Stratton.
The Pirates have been lauded as one of the top drafting organizations in baseball the past few years, but the simple truth is that they've simply been willing to make the decisions that make the most baseball sense. Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole were no-brainers, as was taking a chance on Josh Bell in the second round last year.
This year the choice is just as simple. The franchise has impact players in one or more levels of the minors at nearly every position, except shortstop.
Enter Deven Marrero, the top defensive shortstop in this year's class. Despite disappointing at the plate the past two years, most teams appear to be confident that he will hit enough to warrant a spot on a big-league squad sooner than later.
While he waits for his bat to heat back up, the team that takes a chance on him can take solace in the fact that he offers good plate discipline, doesn't strike out too often and has some pretty sneaky speed.
The Marlins have been undyingly loyal to the high school ranks over the past decade, and considering that Fried is the top high school pitcher available, it seems like the perfect fit.
More important, he doesn't have any lingering injury concerns, like those that plague his former teammate Lucas Giolito, who very easily could have been the Marlins pick.
It's been an up-and-down season for the southpaw, but Fried has front-line stuff—with the proper development, he could emerge as a No. 1 starter, but that's an awful long way off.
The strength of the 2012 high school crop is without a doubt the outfielders. Along with Buxton, three other players have a legitimate chance at being selected in the top 10. Of those three (Albert Almora, David Dahl and Courtney Hawkins), Almora has the most complete package of tools.
For starters, his bat is lethal. He should be an above-average hitter who also hits for power. He has good speed, excellent fielding ability and a strong arm. In many regards, he compares favorably with Manny Machado, who played at Mater Academy earlier in his high school career.
The Rockies drool over offensive potential, and after going with a safe lefty with little projection (Tyler Anderson) in last year's draft, expect them to return to their drafting ways of old.
The A's tend to trend pretty conservative with their picks, drafting almost always from the college ranks. While they tend to prefer position players in the first round over pitchers, it just so happens that for the second year in a row, the best player on the board happens to come from the mound.
Marcus Stroman was without a doubt the top performing pitcher in the country this season. He racked up strikeouts by the truckload, finishing as the NCAA runner-up with 136. He also finished second in strikeouts per nine innings and had 12-, 13- and 17-strikeout performances.
The A's don't tend to concern themselves with things like size, a department that Stroman is lacking in, instead focusing on results, a department that he thrives in.
He may never be a full-time starter at the big-league level, but he'll get every chance to prove he can pitch every five days.
The cupboard is bare in New York. Aside from a few high-profile pitching prospects, the Mets farm system is in shambles. Last year's first-round selection Brandon Nimmo was a great start, but it's going to take more high-upside players to turn this franchise around.
Gavin Cecchini is arguably the top shortstop prospect in this year's draft, and taking into account Deven Marrero's struggles at the plate the past two seasons, it's safe to say he's the most complete one as well. He doesn't have as high a ceiling at the plate as his brother, Garin, who was drafted by Boston back in 2010 (and who is currently hitting above .300 in the minors), but he should be good enough to play every day.
On defense is where Cecchini will earn his paycheck, however. He's an incredible defender with great footwork, a strong arm and a quick release. He's one of few shortstops in this draft who seem a likely bet to remain at the position long-term.
The White Sox have placed a much-needed emphasis on gathering as many elite athletes as possible the past few years, but have, for the most part, neglected their pitching depth. As a result, they have some of the worst pitching prospects in baseball.
Luckily, picking 13th should allow them to have a chance at one of the top college arms. Adding a player like Wacha would give them a solid arm that should get to the majors quickly. Wacha has the stuff and the stamina to be an innings-eater, and his ceiling as a No. 2 starter is much higher than anyone else the Sox have in their organization.
Hawkins has been one of the top stories of the spring. His appearance at the National High School Invitational cemented his status as a first-round talent, and the rest of his spring for Carroll High did nothing to diminish his meteoric rise.
Just looking at Hawkins, you can tell this guy has a big-league body and big-league strength. He can crank the ball out of any part of any ballpark and punishes mistakes. Despite his hulking presence, he's a surprisingly fluid runner; on the basepath and in the field.
He's played center field when he hasn't been pitching, but he seems a pretty likely bet to slide over to one of the corners eventually, where his power profile would fit beautifully.
The Reds have swung and missed on numerous outfield prospects over the years, but Hawkins' tools should make him bust-proof.
At the beginning of the 2012 season, there were actual debates over whether Dahl was a more superior prospect than Byron Buxton. Clearly, we now see how far ahead Buxton is, and it will likely be reflected on draft day when he is selected in the top three picks.
Dahl won't fall too far, however, and he would be a perfect fit in Cleveland, where the Indians should be searching for a long-term replacement for Grady Sizemore.
Dahl is exactly that kind of player, assuming teams aren't scared away by the less-than-inspiring spring he had. He has all five tools, just like Buxton, and while he'll need a bit more polishing (one of the cons of playing in the less competitive Alabama), he could be every bit as good.
Playing against inferior competition, one wouldn't expect Dahl to be as polished a hitter, but he really knows what he's doing at the plate; combining excellent pitch recognition with great raw power and an innate hitting ability. He could be a .290, 20-home run guy at the next level.
Like Buxton, he also has great speed, and while there have been concerns about his ability to stay in center field, I have none. He's a graceful athlete who can track down nearly everything.
It's hard to believe that a nagging arm injury could cause the prospect with the highest ceiling of any player in this draft to slip all the way out of the top two or three picks and all the way down to No. 16, where the Nationals would be lucky (not to mention smart) to take a chance on the massive right-hander.
Before Giolito succumbed to injury in the second start of his season, he was clocked at 100 mph. He added to that pitch one of the draft's best curveballs, giving him two above-average pitches. Some seem to be concerned about the velocity, wondering if maybe going that high caused his injury, but remember this: He was throwing as high as 95 to 98 for all of his junior year, and there was no injury. It's not as if throwing hard was something new for him.
Adding Giolito would be right in line with GM Mike Rizzo's affinity for power pitchers.
The Jays are always doing things unconventionally, especially in the draft, and their unique approach fostered by GM Alex Anthopoulos has allowed them to grow one of the top farm systems in baseball.
There's no question that the Jays love high school pitching, and while they tend to trend toward lefties, the top remaining player on the board is McCullers, a player who (if he had another two to three inches) could be one of the top five picks.
There's no denying that he has one of the top fastballs in the game, and he throws a curve and a slider—both of which have promise, but neither of which has emerged as a true weapon. Hence the talk of McCullers eventually finding his way to the bullpen.
Enter the Jays, who have been exceptional at developing unfinished products as of late.
Heaney finished the season on a tear, earning Big 12 Conference Player of the Year honors, as well as a spot on the All-American first team. He finished with a nation's best 140 strikeouts, tossed six complete games and held batters to a .180 average. He was best in his league in ERA (1.60), strikeouts, shutouts, complete games and batting average.
The most precious honor will likely come tomorrow, however, as he's likely to be selected in the first round, and L.A. would be a great fit for the crafty lefty. The Dodgers have a solid farm system and most of their top prospects are pitchers, but few, if any, are close to making a big-league impact.
Heaney could very easily be the first pitcher from this draft class to reach the majors.
The past two years have seen the Cardinals draft a player who was considered one of the top hitters from the college crop. Both Zack Cox (2010) and Kolten Wong (2011) have worked out incredibly well, rocketing through the Cards system, so there's no reason to go another route.
Travis Jankowski has had a sensational campaign, highlighted by a jaw-dropping performance (.600, five RBI, six runs in three games) in the America East tournament and an upset victory over Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament this past weekend. He finished the regular season with a .411 average, 16 doubles, nine triples, four homers, 40 RBI and 34 steals. Along the way he was awarded as the America East Player of the Year and a second-team All-American.
Jankowski is the prototypical leadoff hitter, offering great pure hitting ability, excellent plate discipline and elite speed. Defensively, he's also a stud. He's only committed one error over the past two seasons, and his speed allows him to get to many balls that other center fielders cannot.
Over the past decade, the Giants have quietly built one of the best pitching development programs (draft to minors to majors) in baseball. Their program has churned out, among others, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Erik Surkamp, Heath Hembree and Zack Wheeler.
Offensively, however, they have really struggled to produce big-league talent. Even uber-prospect Brandon Belt has failed to live up to expectations. So what's the moral of the story? Stick to drafting and developing pitchers.
At 6'6" and 220 pounds, Ty Hensley's potential is as massive as his frame. The right-hander followed in the footsteps of Dylan Bundy as this year's Gatorade State Player of the Year, and is the next great Oklahoma pitcher, following the path blazed by Bundy, Archie Bradley and Michael Fulmer last year.
Naquin offers two above-average tools, including pure hitting ability and arm strength. He had a phenomenal year in 2011, leading the nation in hits while posting a .381 average and racking up seven outfield assists.
This year he was even better, hitting .385 with 16 doubles, six triples and 21 steals. He recorded only two assists, but that is just a testament to how much the nation came to respect his strong, accurate arm.
Naquin is a gamer who plays hard and gives his all every time out. He increased his stock this past season by showing increased athleticism in center field. He's had his share of doubters about his ability to remain in center, and while he still might be destined for an outfield corner, he'll likely get every chance to prove himself at his natural position.
The Braves have long lacked a strong on-base presence atop their lineup, and Naquin could give them just that.
After picking up McCullers with their first pick, getting the top power-hitting shortstop (after Correa) would be a definite victory for the Jays. Ideally, they would love if Cecchini fell to them with their first pick, but if that doesn't happen, they should have no problem scooping up Russell with their second.
The Florida prepster opened plenty of eyes this spring with his impressive power displays, but an underrated part of his game was the strides he made on defense. He really committed himself this past offseason and showed better footwork and accuracy, leading many to believe that he has a real chance to stick at shortstop long-term. If that is indeed the case, he could be drafted much higher than expected on draft day.
The Cardinals would love to get one of the top four college arms, but picking 19th and 23rd likely won't provide them with that opportunity. Their best chance to add a seasoned college arm should come in the form of UGA lefty Alex Wood.
Wood has thrived since returning to the mound after missing the entire 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. He out-dueled 2011 top overall pick Gerrit Cole in a regular-season matchup last season and has made eight starts against top-20 teams this year.
His fastball has come back better than ever, reaching as high as 96 mph, but it's been his changeup that has garnered him first-round consideration late this draft season. If he can develop his curveball into a more impressive weapon, he could be a true force as a starter.
A true power pitcher, Travieso is likely to be targeted early on draft day. He's one of just a handful of high school pitchers capable of throwing in the mid-to-high 90s available this season, and pitchers of his caliber have always appealed to the Red Sox.
Travieso has bounced back and forth between relieving and starting during his high school career, but with a move to Archbishop McCarthy, he has really strengthened his repertoire, including a fastball that has hit 99 mph and a changeup that has flashed above-average potential.
He's already tossed one no-hitter this season and narrowly missed out on another, but I get the feeling that the highlight of his season will come on Monday.
The Rays would no doubt love a chance at hometown hero Lance McCullers, but seeing as how he will likely be gone before they pick at No. 25, they'll have to set their sights elsewhere. If they look too hard, however, they might overlook the most obvious choice, Clemson slugger Richie Shaffer.
Shaffer has split time between first and third base while at Clemson, but regardless of his position, he's shown incredible pure hitting ability. He hit a team-leading .333 this past season with 10 homers, 46 RBI and 61 walks in the same number of games. He's shown enough power to make many think he could be a 20-to-25 homer-per-season hitter in the majors.
While he's shown incredible athleticism and enough raw talent to play at third, the Rays have struggled to find a franchise first baseman since cutting Carlos Pena loose the first time a couple of years ago. In Shaffer, they would have a patient hitter who gets on base at a high clip and also hits for average, and who also happens to be a very capable defender.
The younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, Corey is a talented prospect in his own right, one who could very easily find his way into the first round on the basis of an incredible power stroke and his impressive defensive ability.
Like many high school shortstops, Seager should be ticketed for the hot corner once he turns pro, but his bat profiles there quite well. Power is without a doubt his best tool. The bat simply explodes off his bat and he can hit it out of any park. His pure hitting ability is strong, but he's never going to be a batting title champ.
On the basepath and in the field he's shown solid speed, but just wait until he starts to fill out his 6'4", 190-pound frame. He'll slow down in a hurry, expediting his move to third base.
The D-Backs have gone through several third basemen, both in the bigs and the minors, and have yet to find a solution that is worthy on both sides of the ball. Seager could be that guy.
This could be a banner year for the Alabama-Mississippi region, with two players (David Dahl and D.J. Davis) ticketed for the first or second round. Dahl should go very early due to his five-tool talent, but Davis and his world-class speed shouldn't be too far behind.
When it comes to speed, few players offer more in this draft class than Davis. He's been clocked with ridiculous times to first base and from first to home. He's even drawn some comparisons to some of the top runners in the game, including Reds prospect Billy Hamilton, who is widely regarded as the fastest man in baseball.
The rest of his tools are light years behind his speed, but he has shown impressive ability at the plate. His style of play is very similar to Hamilton's, i.e. get on base and wreak havoc once you're there.
The Brewers have back-to-back picks in this year's draft, and after selecting conservatively last year, it's time to start going after some elite talents.
After using both of their first-round picks on pitchers last year, it's time for the Brewers to start making some moves to rebuild the positional depth of the farm system that they raided to get Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum a couple of years ago.
Starting with D.J. Davis with their first pick would be wise, and adding a proven power hitter in Victor Roache would be a strong follow-up pick. Without his injury this season, Roache could have been a top-10 pick, but a broken wrist has kept him from the field for all but six games in 2012, limiting his exposure and forcing him to have to remind teams how good he was in 2011.
That year he hit 30 homers and drove in 84 runs, leading the NCAA in the former category and setting numerous school and conference records.
Hopefully, Roache's bat could replace Prince Fielder's.
The Rangers have made no secret of their love for left-handed pitching. Through the past decade, the majority of their top pitching prospects (Martin Perez, Joe Weiland, Robbie Erlin) have been southpaws, as the organization has proven to have an excellent pitching program conducive to turning many of them into incredibly talented pitchers.
Hunter Virant offer the Rangers a massive opportunity. He's still rather raw, but is actually one of the most refined, polished pitchers from the high school crop. He has great velocity and complements his heater with the best curveball in the prep class. Having two above-average pitches right out of the chute should help him immensely.
Like so many of the Rangers' other pitching prospects, Virant is an excellent athlete. He played numerous positions throughout his high school career and showed enough promise to warrant a mid-to-late-round look as an outfielder, but his ceiling on the mound is just too much to ignore.
The Yankees have been so good in the international market, as well as free agency, that they haven't really had to place an emphasis on drafting. As a result, it's rare for them to even have a first-round pick, and when they do, they tend to go after unconventional players.
This year's pick could be lefty Matt Smoral from Ohio. He too has been limited in his playing time this season due to multiple nagging injuries. When he's on the mound and on his game, though, there are few pitchers as intimidating and as good as Smoral.
At 6'8", he casts a large shadow, and combined with the fact that he's a lefty, he's drawn a fair share of comparisons to Randy Johnson. Smoral's changeup and slider are both underdeveloped pitches, and as a result he might actually benefit from heading to UNC, where he has a strong commitment.
The Red Sox farm system is in great shape, bolstered by a few draft selections from 2011 (Matt Barnes and Jackie Bradley) who have blossomed into fantastic players, and numerous other home-grown prospects (Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Jacobs and Bryce Brentz).
As a result, they're more committed to the "best player available" approach. In their case, picking last in the first round, the top remaining talent is high school slugger Joey Gallo of prep superpower Bishop Gorman.
Gallo's power is easily the best from the high school crop, and his hitting ability is vastly underrated. He has 30-to-40 homer-per-season juice, although he'll likely accumulate a fair share of strikeouts as well. Defensively, he's improved drastically since his early days at Gorman.
He's athletic enough to handle first base and an outfield corner, and he could even give third base a try at some point. He has more than enough arm strength, having touched 94 mph on the mound this past season.