Stanford third baseman Stephen Piscotty is an underrated college baseball player who will end up landing higher than expected in this year's MLB draft.
Many mock drafts are projecting teams near the top of the draft to select developmental high school players, but by the time the results are in we're going to see that teams value players who can make a more immediate impact.
These men have more experience, more polish and more of an ability to reach the big leagues than their high school peers.
Without further ado, my first MLB mock draft of the year, with major kudos to BaseballProspectNation.com for their hand in doing much of the research.
1. Houston Astros (56-106): Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
The Astros are in desperate need of an upgrade in starting pitcher talent. Appel is the most polished pitcher available in this year's draft, and he is the player who can step into a starting role in the majors the quickest.
He has a wicked curveball, an above-average fastball and a solid changeup, and Appel has shown he's capable of shutting down MLB-caliber hitters during his three years at Stanford.
2. Minnesota Twins (63-99): Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU
Gausman has better potential to become a dominant pitcher at the next level than Appel, but his talents are much more raw. He will take longer to develop, but in the long run the Twins will be happy they made the decision to draft him.
Gausman is long and lean, but he possesses a surprisingly compact delivery that wastes no energy. He has four pitches he uses with regularity, and his changeup can be quite deceiving due to his arm speed.
3. Seattle Mariners (67-95): Mike Zunino, C, Florida
Zunino is one of this year's can't-miss prospects. He possesses all the tools you look for when evaluating catchers, and he is going to be a star in the big leagues.
He can hit for power and is especially adept at driving the ball into the gaps for doubles. Zunino's best quality is his powerful and accurate arm from behind the plate. He could turn into a perennial Gold Glove candidate and All-Star if he stays healthy and continues to develop year-in and year-out.
4. Baltimore Orioles (69-93): Byron Buxton, OF, Appling County High School (GA)
Buxton is an intriguing high school prospect. He possesses blazing speed, a strong arm and Gold Glove potential as a center fielder at the next level, but he may struggle with his bat against big-league pitchers.
Some mocks have him going No. 1 overall, but Buxton isn't going to overtake the three I have above him due to the fact that he is going to be a long-term project.
5. Kansas City Royals (71-91): Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
Correa is going to be a dynamite shortstop or third baseman in the majors in a few years' time. He has one of the best gloves you're ever going to see, and his bat isn't too shabby either.
His baseball director at the Puerton Rico Baseball Academy, Carlos Berroa, tells MLB.com that Correa is, "He's one of those guys that comes along once in a long time. The sky is the limit with this kid and you could not wish for anything but the best for him."
6. Chicago Cubs (71-91): Albert Almora, OF, Marion Christian Academy (FL)
Almora is a tenured USA baseball team member who won this year's Richard W. "Dick" Case Player of the Year award, according to USABaseball.com. He is a polished player for being so young, at the age of 18, and the Cubs will be stoked to see his name still on the draft board when they select.
His strengths are in his ability to hit for a high average, his strong fielding and his arm. The sky is the limit for Almora, and he'll be one to keep your eye on in the years to come.
7. San Diego Padres (71-91): Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)
Giolito is a towering young man who can spit fire from the mound. At 6'6" and 230 pounds, he is an imposing figure, to say the least.
He is currently out of commission with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, according to ESPN.com, but that won't stop the Padres from taking a gamble on landing one of this year's true No. 1 pitcher prospects.
8. Pittsburgh Pirates (72-90): Deven Marrero, SS, Arizona State
Marrero is going to be one of the first players from this year's draft class to make it on to a big-league roster. He has the defensive acumen to become a Gold Glove candidate, and his offensive tools are ready to be tested by big-league pitchers.
He is a bit underrated by many scouts, as far as I'm concerned, but in my book Marrero trails Zunino by a hair as one of this year's can't-miss prospects.
Marrero was originally drafted in the 17th round of the 2009 MLB draft by the Cincinnati Reds before ultimately deciding to head to college instead. It was a good career move for him, as he'll undoubtedly be one of the most coveted infielders in this year's draft.
9. Miami Marlins (72-90): Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)
Fried is the second pitcher from Harvard-Westlake who will be taken in the top 10 of this year's draft. At 6'4", this lefty has all the right stuff to project as a solid No. 2 pitcher in the big leagues.
Fried is currently committed to UCLA, but that won't stop teams from pursuing him at the top of the draft. Unlike Giolito, Fried relies more on his nasty curveball than his fastball to get batters out. He reminds be a bit of a young Barry Zito in that regard.
10. Colorado Rockies (73-89): Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco
Zimmer has a blazing fastball that tops out in the high-90s with excellent movement. He hasn't been dominant for the University of San Francisco during his three years with the college, though. His main issue stems from a lack of control that causes him to leave pitches up in the zone at times.
In addition to possessing a lively fastball, Zimmer has a sweet curveball in his repertoire, and his control issues shouldn't be anything major league pitching coaches can't correct.
11. Oakland Athletics (74-88): Richie Shaffer, 3B, Clemson
Shaffer is underrated as both a leader on and off the field, according to The State. As an A's fan, I hope the team doesn't overlook this can't-miss prospect.
Shaffer has one of this year's most powerful bats. Combined with his diverse fielding skills, which allow him to either play third or first base at the next level, he is going to be a valuable player for whichever team is lucky enough to land him.
The A's haven't had a big-time third basemen since Eric Chavez was at the height of his career, so it makes perfect sense for them to make a bold move to take Shaffer with the No. 11 overall pick of this year's draft.
12. New York Mets (77-85): Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe HS (LA)
The Mets don't currently have a legitimate dual-threat shortstop on their roster. Omar Quintanilla is a fine defender, but his skills with a bat are severely lacking.
Cecchini possesses both strong attributes on both sides of the equation. He makes solid contact with his bat, and his speed and quickness will serve him well on both offense and defense.
13. Chicago White Sox (79-83): Courtney Hawkins, RF, Carroll HS (TX)
Any team looking for a big-time power hitter with a strong arm should consider taking Hawkins. This young man has both qualities in spades, and though he's raw when it comes to hitting for average, given time in the minors he'll turn into a star.
At 6'3" and 210 pounds, Hawkins is a big man for one so young. He has the frame and physique to become a dominant player in the big leagues.
14. Cincinnati Reds (79-83): Marcus Stroman, RHP, Duke
Stroman isn't a big pitcher. At 5'9" and 185 pounds, he reminds me a bit of Rich Harden in that he maximizes every ounce of his frame to excellent results on the mound.
His fastball hovers around the mid-90s, but his best attribute is that the ball moves well once it leaves his hand. Stroman also features a slider, cutter and changeup, and he can call on any of his pitches at any given time.
15. Cleveland Indians (80-82): Hunter Virant, LHP, Camarillo HS (CA)
Virant is an athletic pitcher whose stock has seen a bit of a bump since he threw a no-hitter in his final start of the month of April. His curveball rivals that of Fried's, though Virant's isn't quite as polished or controlled.
Virant projects to become a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter for the Indians, and he'll only get better as his lanky frame starts to fill out over the next few years.
16. Washington Nationals (80-81): Chris Stratton, RHP, Mississippi State
The Nationals are developing one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball, and they would do well to add Stratton to the list of prospects that will help them in the future.
While Stratton wasn't highly regarded coming out of high school, he's made the most of his time at Mississippi State. He features four main pitches: a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, a devastating slider and a solid changeup.
Stratton is extremely underrated, and he will prove it by moving though the minor-league ranks in swift fashion on his way to becoming a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter for the Nationals in a year or two.
17. Toronto Blue Jays (81-81): Matt Smoral, LHP, Solon HS (OH)
If you're looking for a Randy Johnson clone without the 100 miles per hour fastball, Smoral's your man. At 6'8" and 225 pounds, Smoral towers over hitters when he's on the mound.
Smoral isn't devoid of a lively fastball, which is his best pitch. He gets plenty of movement on the pitch, and combined with a developing slider and changeup, he has a ton of potential to become a solid pitcher in the big leagues.
18. Los Angeles Dodgers (82-79): Lance McCullers, RHP, Jesuit HS (FL)
McCullers' father, also named Lance, pitched in the big leagues for seven years. His son certainly has the pedigree to outdo him.
McCullers has a blazing fastball that tops out around 98 miles per hour, and he complements that pitch with a hard-breaking slider that catches hitters off guard on a regular basis. Additionally, McCullers features a developing changeup that will continue to become more effective as he goes forward with proper training.
19. *St. Louis Cardinals (90-72): Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M
Wacha is an intimidating figure as he looms over hitters at 6'6" and 215 pounds. His main two pitches so far in his career have been his fastball and his changeup.
His fastball isn't particularly overpowering, topping out around the mid-90s, but he puts a nasty bit of movement on the pitch. The changeup he features is stellar, as hitters can hardly ever tell the difference between it and his fastball due to his consistent arm movement.
20. San Francisco Giants (86-76): Joey Gallo, 3B/RHP, Bishop Gorman HS (NV)
It's rare nowadays that a player can come into the big leagues as a prospect who can play as either a pitcher or as an infielder, but that is precisely what Gallo brings to the table.
Gallo is a big-time power hitter, and his fastball has been clocked at 98 miles per hour, according to brewersrumors.com. He is an intriguing prospect on both fronts, and the Giants could use the help on both fronts, as well.
21. Atlanta Braves (89-73): D.J. Davis, OF, Stone HS (MS)
If you're looking for raw speed, look no further. Davis possesses world-class speed, and his ability to cover ground in the outfield makes him an attractive prospect on its own.
He uses his speed well on the bases, as well, and he should be able to become a base-stealing threat at the pro level. The biggest concerns about Davis are regarding his bat, which is a raw aspect of his game that needs to be developed.
The Braves won't be afraid to take a risk on him to get better, though, and if he can learn to get the head of the bat on the ball more often he'll become a big-time threat in the big leagues.
22. **Toronto Blue Jays (81-81): Andrew Heaney, LHP, Oklahoma State
Heaney doesn't look like much on the mound, at 6'2 and a sleight 175 pounds, but don't let his frame fool you: He has the pitches and control to become a solid pitcher in the majors.
One of Heaney's best attributes is his ability to keep the ball in the strike zone without giving up the middle. He has excellent control of all four pitches, and his changeup can be downright nasty at times.
23. St. Louis Cardinals (90-72): Nolan Fontana, SS, Florida
Fontana is a defensive wizard. He has been named to the SEC all-defensive team two times during his time with the Gators, and his ability to cover ground and make accurate throws from all angles will serve him well at the next level.
Fontana isn't just a gem on the defensive side of the ball, though, as he possesses a decent bat to go along with his fielding prowess.
24. Boston Red Sox (90-72): Carson Kelly, 3B, Westview HS (OR)
Kelley played both third base and as a pitcher for Westview HS, but his future as a pro will certainly be at third base. ESPN's scouting report on him also suggests that he could be moved into the outfield in the major leagues.
Kelley's best attribute is his swing with the bat. He has power to all fields and will naturally produce extra-base hits without trying to do so.
25. Tampa Bay Rays (91-71): Lucas Sims, RHP, Brookwood HS (GA)
Sims is currently signed to play for Clemson next year, but he could easily forego his college career for a shot at the big-time this summer.
ESPN's scouting report on him reads: "...he could also land in the top half of the first round of the draft thanks to a plus fastball and curveball. The breaking ball sits in the low 80s with good shape, depth and late break."
26. Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68): Pierce Johnson, RHP, Missouri State
Johnson is an underrated prospect whose record of 4-6 this year doesn't indicate his true worth heading forward.
He features three pitches: a fastball that reaches into the upper 90s, a solid changeup and a nasty curveball. He used all three pitches to record 119 strikeouts in 99.2 innings this year, according to MissouriStateBears.com.
At 6'3" and 180 pounds, Johnson has the frame and the skills to develop into a quality middle-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues, and if he learns to keep the ball down in the lower half of the strike zone he'll be playing against major leaguers in no time.
27. ***Milwaukee Brewers (96-66): Stephen Piscotty, 3B, Stanford
The Brewers will be thrilled to see Piscotty still sitting on the board when they pick here. He has been a stud for the Cardinal for three years, putting up monster numbers on the offensive side of things and getting progressively better as a defender.
Piscotty isn't going to blast 30-plus home runs a year, but he has a penchant for getting the ball in play and driving home runs in clutch situations. He will be a solid player at the next level for years to come and is a steal at the bottom of the first round.
28. Milwaukee Brewers (96-66): Clint Coulter, Union HS (WA)
The Brewers get to go for a two-fer here due to their compensation for Prince Fielder, and they'll take advantage of this opportunity to land one of the best high school catchers in the nation.
ESPN's scouting report on him says, "He shows strength and a good approach at the plate and during the Area Code Games tryouts last summer stood out with a short swing and good hip rotation."
Coulter is going to take a year or two to make it to the majors, but when he arrives he should be a good player.
29. Texas Rangers (96-66): Zach Eflin, RHP, Hagerty HS (FL).
Eflin brings excellent size, at 6'5" and 200 pounds, and a strong repertoire of pitches to the table for the Rangers. He has improved the velocity on his fastball this past year, according to ESPN.com, which has made him an attractive option at the bottom of the first round.
Eflin is a long-term prospect, of that there is no doubt, but his ability to improve over the course of the past year gives hope that he could become a nice contributor as a pro in the years to come.
30. New York Yankees (97-65): Addison Russell, SS, Pace HS (FL)
Russell is a candidate to move to third base as a pro, according to ESPN's scouting report. He possesses "well above-average bat speed that may turn into enticing power come draft day."
The Yankees need to start thinking about who they want to replace both Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, and Russell could be one of the pieces they need to make a seamless transition.
31. ****Boston Red Sox (90-72): Corey Seager, 3B, Northwest Carrabus HS (NC)
Seager, like Russell, is thought to be a better third-base candidate than as a shortstop as a pro. He is an enticing young prospect with plenty of power in his swing. It doesn't hurt his cause that he has an older brother, Kyle Seager, currently playing in the big leagues with the Seattle Mariners.
ESPN's scouting report on Seager: "He's wiry strong and smart at the plate and keeps things simple, and as he gets stronger the power will develop."
*Compensation from Los Angeles Angels for Albert Pujols
**Compensation for failing to sign 2011 first-round pick Tyler Beede
***Compensation from Detroit for Prince Fielder
****Compensation from Philadelphia for Jonathan Papelbon
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