The importance of the MLB draft is frequently undervalued by the casual baseball fan. That is no fault of their own though, as the MLB draft doesn't garner nearly as much publicity or media coverage as the NFL or NBA drafts.
It is with good reason that basketball and football are talked about amongst the pundits more because the MLB draft is seldom looked back on with approval by the front office of an organization. However, when a team drafts the right player, and that player does all the right things, amazing things can happen for a franchise (see Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, etc.).
Sometimes teams don't benefit most from picking the best player on the board, but rather when they draft a player to fill a hole in the roster and that will probably be the case down the road when this draft is looked back on.
That being said, here is a mock draft that highlights the smartest moves for the struggling franchises of the MLB.
1. Houston Astros: Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
The crop of pitching talent in the Astros farm system is below average, to say the least. They have one possible top of the rotation guy in Jarred Cosart, but he's far from a lock to become a great major league pitcher.
The Astros won just 56 games last season, and you can look to the 4.51 ERA that the pitching staff posted as one of the primary reasons. They could go with Mark Appel, who would definitely help to turn the franchise around in a couple of years, as he has a fastball that consistently hangs around the mid to high-90s. His curveball and change up are works in progress, but they'll get much better as he gets more training from professional coaches.
At 6'5", 215 pounds, the 20-year-old right hander could stand to put on some weight for durability purposes, but he's as close to a lock to become an MLB success as there is in this draft. His reward won't be as high, which is how it usually works with a low-risk pick like this, but he has to talent to become a big league pitcher and he's only going to get better.
Houston's pitching rotation isn't young either. Wandy Rodriguez is the ace of the staff, but he's 33 years old and it's never comforting to send him out there as you No. 1 starter every fifth day. He has a 3.14 ERA, but you wouldn't throw him in with the aces of the league. Jordan Lyles is the only starter under 27 years old.
The Astros need help all across the board and they can't afford their first round pick to end in a bust, so they need to go with the starting pitcher who has the best chance of having a long, successful career in the major leagues.
2. Minnesota Twins: Byron Buxton, CF, Appling County High School
The general consensus is that Buxton is definitively the best prospect in this draft. Also, the general consensus is that the Twins have a long way to go before they can compete again. Enter Buxton, a five-tool center fielder out of Appling County High School who could be one of the better players in the majors by the time he is called up (whenever that may be).
He's extremely fast and elegant in his running, which translates to him covering an inordinate amount of ground in center field. He hits for average, hits for power and can even pitch if you need him to. Buxton can get it up into the high-90s but we won't be seeing him make his career on the mound.
It's not too often that you see a guy with wrists as quick as Buxton's, who can hit for both average and power on a regular basis. The Twins don't have anybody who can draw people to the ballpark with the exception of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, but they can only do so much.
Buxton is only 175 pounds, and at 6'1", that won't bode well for his health. The good news is he's just over 18 and has plenty of time to bulk up before he gets a call up to the majors.
His athleticism and speed have gotten the most attention for him, which is good because you can't teach those things. Any issues that come about later such as plate discipline, reading the ball off the bat in the field and the fact that he hasn't hit for as much power this season as he had in the past, should be overlooked in favor of the astronomically high ceiling that comes with his skill set.
3. Seattle Mariners: Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rican Baseball Academy
Correa is still just 17 years old, and at 6'4", 190 pounds, he is one of the best hitters in this draft class. This guy can hit, there's no doubt about that, and he will be even scarier once he puts on some muscle and starts to develop more of a power swing.
4. Baltimore Orioles: Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco
There's no clear-cut No. 4 pick in this draft, as the talent drops off significantly after the top three players. His fastball is impressive at the mid to high-90s, but his curveball is better than that, sitting in the high-70s and low-80s. The Orioles have exciting young talent in their lineup, now they could stand to add some pitching.
5. Kansas City Royals: Mike Zunino, C, Florida
The value of the catcher has tailed off a bit in recent seasons. A good hitting catcher is so hard to come by now-a-days, and given the drop off from the elite players at the position to the second tier of players, Zunino would be a good choice.
Zunino could be a diamond in the rough for the Royals who have already stockpiled plenty of younger players in their lineup. Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler are all going to be playing at Kaufmann for a long time, so why not add another bat to that group by drafting Zunino.
At 6'2", 220 pounds, Zunino can hit to all fields for both power and average. That'll help the Royals get out of the perennial rebuilding stage that they can't seem to get out of. He was voted SEC Player of the Year in his final season as a Gator when he hit .316 and had 56 RBI over the course of 61 games.
He hit 17 homers in 228 at-bats and slugged a whopping .658, which was the best on a team that went 44-18. His power numbers won't be helped by the wooden bat, but he's big enough to continue hitting home runs.
Kansas City won just 71 games last season and currently sit at six games under the .500 mark through 62 games in 2012. They're trying to bust out of the rebuilding period, and Zunino would be a great addition to one of the youngest teams in baseball.
6. Chicago Cubs: Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU
The Chicago Cubs are 17 games under .500, have won only 18 games this season and need a power pitcher who can come in and set them up for the future. Gausman can be that guy.
He throws four pitchers: a fastball, curveball, slider and a change up. His fastball is going to be extremely hard for hitters to get a hold of at the next level because he can frequently get it up to 99 miles per hour with some late movement. His curveball is the least effective of the four, but just the fact that he has a fourth pitch that we can deem as relevant is impressive.His slider sits in the mid 80s and as a third pitch can be considered adequate. His Bugs Bunny change up is where he's going to make his money, as it fades late and complements his fastball perfectly.
He'll be the best pitcher left on the board at No. 6, and he could also wind up having one of the higher upsides of all the draftees. It's just a matter of working on his secondary pitches to complement the high velocity fastball.
The Cubs need to give their fans something to look forward to in the future, and need a pitcher who will be in the big leagues in two to three years, not three to four years. If Gausman can work on his command in the minors, and figure out how to throw all four pitches for strikes, the Cubs will look back on this draft affectionately.
7. San Diego Padres: Albert Almora, CF, Mater Academy Charter
The Padres desperately need a bat for the future, and Almore has the best chance of anybody in this draft to become an All-Star hitter. He may not have the highest ceiling, but he certainly has the highest probability of success.
We've seen many draftees in the past become busts, so it won't be surprising if the Padres draft a guy who has been touted as a lock.
Almora's swing is smooth and mechanically sound, as he got great coaching during his time at prep school. He won't hit for power as much as he'll hit for average, but the Padres don't hit for much of anything so whatever he can bring will help them. That being said, he'll hit for power at the next level thanks to the massive torque he generates from his hips.
Bud Black has virtually nothing to work with in terms of bats, as the Padres are 27th or worse in batting average, runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Cameron Maybin has proved to be useless in center field, posting just a .223 average in 2012, so a guy like Almora would be perfect.
Almora covers so much ground in center field and can reasonably hit above .300 right when he gets into the majors. He relies on his instincts and athleticism mostly, but he possesses a strong arm in center field and would be a significant upgrade over anybody that the Padres have in the outfield.
8. Pittsburgh Pirates: Deven Marrero, SS, ASU
Marrero has a rocket for an arm, something that's always sought in a shortstop prospect. He can hit for average too, but hasn't shown this year what he showed last year. His power isn't all that impressive, but if he pans out, he could be the Pirates starting shortstop sometime in the coming years.
9. Miami Marlins: Courtney Hawkins, OF, Carroll High School
Hawkins could be a guy who comes into the league and makes an impression like Giancarlo Stanton, He has brute power and will eventually develop into a decent average hitter as well.
He's 6'2" with respectable speed for a 210-pound kid, but poses a risk because of the lack of quality pitching he saw in high school.
10. Colorado Rockies: David Dahl, CF, Oak Mountain High School
Yet another possible five-tool guy in this draft, Dahl would benefit from being a power hitter at Coors Field. He's a raw player but he has to tools necessary to polish his skills, and should become a respectable center fielder in the next five years.
11. Oakland Athletics: Joey Gallo, 3B, Bishop Gorman High School
Gallo has the power necessary to become one of the great power hitting corner infielders in baseball. He's never going to hit for much average, though, and at 6'5", 220 pounds, he might one day need to become a designated hitter when he becomes too big for third.
12. New York Mets: Max Fried, RHP, Harvard Westlake High School
Fried looks extremely comfortable on the mound, and has a change up that breaks later than most others. His fastball isn't off the charts, but it's respectable enough to get him by. With the first wave of pitching prospects set to come up within the next year and a half or so, they'll need to start a second wave to bring up after.
13. Chicago White Sox: Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M
Wacha has a great build for a starting pitcher at 6'6", 200 pounds. Pointing out the negatives first, his slider and curveball are less than stellar, but his fastball command, velocity and control make him an intriguing prospect for the 2012 draft.
14. Cincinnati Reds: Andrew Heaney, LHP, Oklahoma State
Heaney's best pitch is his curveball, but his fastball has shown promise in terms of location more than velocity. His third pitch, a change up, can't quite be called a plus-pitch yet, but that may change with time.
15. Cleveland Indians: Addison Russell, SS, Pace High School
Russell has one of the fastest bats in this draft, but it hasn't shown in regards to his hitting for average lately. He makes up for those shortcomings in power, which he has a lot of. To show you how invested he is at playing shortstop, he lost 25 pounds in the offseason in hopes of staying at the position.
16. Washington Nationals: Chris Stratton, RHP, Mississippi State
Any pitcher who has four pitches at his disposal is always going to have a high ceiling. When you give that pitcher a 96 mile per hour fastball to go with three other pitches, he typically won't have a problem getting hitters out. Now the only thing he has to do is refine his
17. Toronto Blue Jays: Ty Hensley, RHP, Edmond Santa Fe High School
Hensley is another big guy who has the potential to dominate hitters at the next level.Typically relying on his fastball, which rests mostly in the mid-90s, he also has a Barry Zito-like curveball that keeps hitters off balance.
18. Los Angeles Dodgers: Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard Westlake High School
Another guy who is a big-framed pitching prospect is Giolito, who stands at 6'6", 230 pounds. He would be a lot higher than No. 18 if he didn't suffer a season-ending elbow injury. His fastball can hit triple digits, and he has two secondary pitches that can be labeled as plus material.
19. St. Louis Cardinals (A. Pujols - LAA): Richie Shaffer, 3B, Clemson
Shaffer isn't going to be a perennial All-Star in the majors, but he could give the Cardinals a nice option at a corner position a few years in the future. His power and arm in the field are his calling cards, and he certainly won't disappoint when it comes to that.
20. San Francisco Giants: Matt Smoral, RHP, Solon High School
Smoral has a good fastball that he can put on either side of the plate, but his injury history has some teams worried about him. If he can overcome those issues, we could see a powerhouse on the mound, as his 6'8" height will throw hitters off.
21. Atlanta Braves: Marcus Stroman, RHP, Duke
He's undersized but he has four plus pitches. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and he also has a curveball, a slider and a change up that he can throw for strikes.
22. Toronto Blue Jays (T. Beede - unsigned): Zach Efflin, RHP, Hagerty High School
Efflin has three pitches that he can throw past hitters, but his mechanics aren't always sound. In this day in age, teams are looking for a guy who will rely on sound mechanics and avoid injury. That hasn't helped Efflin's draft stock and it we'll have to wait until draft day to see which team takes a chance on him.
23. St. Louis Cardinals: Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe High School
Cecchini is more of a prospect for his fielding that his skills at the dish, but he should blossom into a respectable hitter for average once his body develops in due time.
24. Boston Red Sox: Clint Coulter, C, Union High School
Coulter is above-average behind the plate in terms of arm strength, but his actual catching skills could use some practice. He's going to hit for power during his major league career but not much else.
25. Tampa Bay Rays: Ty Buttrey, RHP, Providence High School
Once again, another perfect-sized pitcher coming out of the high school ranks in this draft. He's a fast worker, which a lot of hitters will hate, and his size allows him to throw down on hitters. He has the physical tools to become a formidable MLB pitcher, he just needs to hone his craft.
26. Arizona Diamondbacks: Stephen Piscotty, 3B, Stanford
His power tailed off at the end of the season, hitting just two over the course of 35 games, but that power will likely return once he meets some professional baseball hitting coaches.
27. Milwaukee Brewers (P. Fielder - DET): Stryker Trahan, C, Acadania High School
Trahan's value took a tailspin after a somewhat disappointing performance in his senior year, but he still has power and he will be able to hit for average eventually. His defense is the biggest question here, but that's one of the easier things for a catcher to fix.
28. Milwaukee Brewers: D.J. Davis, OF, Stone County High School
Davis covers so much ground in the outfield that his speed would be enough on its own to get him drafted in the first round. He's not much of a hitter, though, but should be able to muster a respectable on-base percentage to give him chances to steal bases.
29. Texas Rangers: Lewis Brinson, CF, Coral Springs High School
Brinson is 6'4", which may give way to the notion that he is too big to play center field, but he is one of the best in this class. He's going to hit for power too, but will need to put on some weight to make that so.
30. New York Yankees: Tanner Rahier, SS, Palm Desert High School
Any shortstop who gets drafted to the New York Yankees will almost certainly fail to live up to Derek Jeter's name, but Rahier can hit for average and plays a decent shortstop.
31. Boston Red Sox (J. Papelbon - PHI): Duane Underwood, RHP, Pope High School
Underwood has a pretty good fastball that he uses to set up his curveball and change up that can be considered above average. His delivery is so smooth, which helps his draft stock because he gets up to the mid-90s with minimal effort. He'll only be 17 on draft day, so we won't be seeing him in the bigs for quite awhile.