Let the countdown and the chase to be No. 1 begin.
The 2013 MLB draft is less than a month away. On Thursday, June 6, teams will begin selecting the best college and high school talent from around the country, starting with the Houston Astros, who have the No. 1 overall pick for the second year in a row.
There are a handful of candidates the Astros likely are considering with their pick. Not only have these amateurs been playing well all spring long, they're also getting a lot of extra pub lately as draft day is fast approaching.
Let's break down the pros and cons of the draftees who could go in the top spot. And while only one of the following can be picked 1-1, the others won't have to wait much longer to hear their name called.
11 starts, 86.1 IP, 8-3 W-L, 1.56 ERA, 62 H, 106:15 K:BB
- At 6'5", 215 pounds, Appel has about as sturdy a frame as you could ask for from a potential front-line starter who has no injury history and will be able to pitch plenty of innings.
- He possesses a prototypical power arsenal for a Texas-born right-hander, with a mid-90s fastball, a plus slider and a quality changeup, and he shows above-average control and command.
- As a 21-year-old college senior, Appel is the closest to the majors among the top picks, so he should be able to contribute sooner than later, perhaps as soon as mid-2014.
- After falling from the potential top pick heading into the 2012 draft to No. 8 overall (primarily due to signability concerns and the Astros' draft strategy), Appel took a big risk in turning down the Pirates to return to school, but the fact that he's been even better this year shows strong makeup.
- While it's not a bad thing, per se, Appel is more of a "known commodity" and doesn't have as much projection in him as some other likely high picks, simply because he'll turn 22 a month after the draft and is already filled out.
- If there's a knock on Appel's stuff, it's that his fastball lacks movement, which occasionally makes him more hittable than he otherwise should be.
- Appel is advised by Scott Boras, meaning whichever team takes him is going to have to pony up, especially after Appel rejected the $3.8 million offer from the Pirates last year.
12 starts, 89.2 IP, 8-1 W-L, 1.20 ERA, 51 H, 104:16 K:BB
- At 6'4", 239 pounds, Gray has more heft to him and is more physical than Appel, which should help him hold up as he logs innings, as will his lack of any injury history.
- He has a big fastball, a plus-plus pitch that sits in the mid-90s and touches 100, which he teams with a slider that is a true weapon, giving Gray a pair of major league-ready pitches.
- As a 21-year-old college junior who burst onto the scene as a legitimate candidate for the top overall pick this year, not only does Gray bring some extra intrigue, he also won't take long to get to the majors.
- Gray has less of a track record than Appel, his main competition for No. 1 overall, which makes him a slightly riskier selection.
- His repertoire isn't as deep as Appel's, given that his changeup isn't yet as advanced.
- While Gray's control and command are above average, they are not elite, so it may take him a little more time to develop in the minors.
.390 BA, 4 HRs, 28 RBI, 19 SBs
- Meadows has a strong build at 6'3", 212 pounds, and is also an above-average runner, so he should be able to stick at his current center field position, at least initially, which would make him more valuable as an up-the-middle player.
- His tools, athleticism and projection (he just turned 18 in May) make for a package that flashes all five tools and is among the very best in this draft class, the kind that teams target and dream on simply for the immense upside and potential.
- The fact that he's a lefty hitter with good bat speed is a nice bonus, since the majority of pitchers are right-handers, something Meadows can take advantage of as he irons out his swing.
- As a high school pick, Meadows is rather raw, particularly on offense, which makes him a high-risk/high-reward type with less of a chance to reach his sky-high ceiling.
- The team that selects him will need to be ready to develop his offensive approach and hit tool, while also showing patience as he transitions to pro ball.
- Meadows' arm is fringy, which should be fine for center field, but it could be below average if he has to move to a corner as he fills out.
*Meadows' 2013 high school statistics are unavailable.
49 games, 174 ABs, .333 BA, .506 OBP, .851 SLG, 25 HRs, 51 RBI, 31:56 K:BB
- A 6'5", 215 pounds, Bryant's calling card is his powerful bat from the right side, one that could make him a perennial 20-homer (or more) slugger.
- A college junior, Bryant won't turn 22 until next January, but he should be able to start his pro career in A-ball and get to High-A (or above) during 2014, his first full season, as a 23-year-old.
- Bryant's approach has improved each year during college, which shows he's capable of making adjustments to get better.
- His strong arm fits well at the hot corner and would enable him to handle right field if he moves.
- While the power already is plus, Bryant's hit tool is less of a sure thing, as he may struggle to hit for average and make consistent contact, particularly against pro pitching after facing non-elite competition in college.
- As a right-handed batter, Bryant is going to have to continue to hit for plenty of power to maintain his top prospect status while climbing through the minors.
- May wind up moving to either first base or corner outfield, which would depress his stock and put more pressure on his bat in the long term.
10 starts, 61.1 IP, 5-4 W-L, 1.61 ERA, 41 H, 77:24 K:BB
- At 6'5", 235 pounds, Manaea is not only a large left-hander, he's also the top one in this draft class, which automatically makes him a candidate to go early in the first round.
- Manaea, 21, has an above-average fastball for a southpaw (low-to-mid 90s) and good deception with the pitch, as well as solid-yet-developing secondary offerings in a slider and changeup.
- Manaea entered the spring as one to watch after dominating the Cape Cod League last summer, going 5-1 with a 1.22 ERA and an 85:7 K:BB in 51.2 innings.
- Manaea's junior season has been somewhat inconsistent despite the stats, as he hasn't shown the same plus stuff as he did over the summer.
- He needs to improve his control, command and overall pitchability, which could mean he will require more developmental time in the minors.
- A lingering hip injury has knocked his stock a bit in recent weeks and could make some teams think twice about picking him, since he hasn't been at his best or healthiest.