The 2013 MLB draft is now just three days away, and the Houston Astros are officially on the clock.
The annual amateur draft has always held a high degree of importance since its inception back in 1965. But for teams like the Astros, who are in complete rebuild, their choices will indeed dictate their future.
Just how the Astros use their first overall pick will determine how the teams directly behind them will make their selections. It's not a clear-cut choice for the Astros—do they go with high-quality college arms in Jonathan Gray or Mark Appel, or do they go after the advanced bats of Kris Bryant or Colin Moran?
Power arm Kohl Stewart is in the mix as well, so Houston's choice on Thursday not only isn't easy, but it's also created a wide and varied set of opinions among draft experts across the web.
Tens of thousands of high school and college players have gone through the process since Rick Monday became the first player ever selected 48 years ago. This year, hundreds of young prospects will be biting their nails for another three days, waiting to find out what the future has in store for them.
While prep and college stars are anxiously anticipating their fates, here is another mock draft they can chew on before Thursday.
A number of experts, including Bleacher Report draft experts Mike Rosenbaum and Adam Wells, have Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray headed to Houston.
But last year, general manager Jeff Luhnow selected Puerto Rico high school shortstop Carlos Correa, surprising just about everyone. The Astros, however, saved $2.4 million in the process. Correa was signed for $4.8 million, giving the Astros extra money to use in later rounds to sign prospects.
That tact could be in play once again with the selection of University of North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran.
Moran is regarded by many to have the most advanced bat in the draft. But he won't cost the Astros nearly as much as Gray or Mark Appel. Once again, the Astros can use the savings to select and sign other draft picks lower on the board.
It was Moran's second year in the summer Cape Cod League last year that cemented his lofty status. Moran hit .314 against the best of the best and showed off a level of plate discipline well beyond his years.
He's carried that success into his junior year at the University of North Carolina, hitting .348 with 13 home runs and 84 RBI with a 1.064 OPS in 64 games. His discipline and keen eye at the plate were clearly on display as well, with just 22 strikeouts against 60 walks.
Moran is a guy who will move quickly through the Astros organization and could easily be ready for full-time action at the major league level by 2015.
Selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the eighth overall pick last year, Stanford University starting pitcher Mark Appel elected to go back to college for his senior year rather than sign.
His decision didn't hurt him at all.
Widely regarded as the most polished pitcher available, Appel posted a 10-4 record and 2.12 ERA in his final collegiate season, with a 0.07 WHIP, 11.0 K/9 rate and low 1.9 BB/9 rate.
Appel features a fastball that sits in the 93-97 mph range with the ability to hold his velocity well into later innings. His 83-85 mph changeup has the ability to be a devastating out pitch at the major league level.
Appel's command and knowledge of what to throw and when to throw it will be a huge asset at the professional level. He'll move quickly through the Cubs organization and give them a polished pitcher ready for full-time action in the majors in short order.
With the Astros' selection of Colin Moran as the first overall, the Rockies may shift their attention toward University of Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray.
There was some concern with Gray when he decided not to pitch last summer in one of the premier collegiate leagues, leaving scouts to wait until the spring for his junior year at Oklahoma.
After his performance for the Sooners, scouts are salivating.
Gray is 9-2 with a 1.55 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 rate. In the Blacksburg regional of the NCAA baseball tournament on Friday, Gray threw a 102 mph pitch at the end of his 129-pitch complete-game effort.
Gray's fastball is both special and electric. He comfortably sits in the 94-98 mph range throughout his outings with the ability to dial it up above 100 mph when needed. His 85-88 mph slider is also an outstanding pitch with late and sharp downward-breaking movement.
Gray's command is already well developed, and he could easily find himself in the starting rotation full-time in 2015.
It's no secret the Minnesota Twins need pitching at this point. Most of their activity this offseason centered around bringing in power arms for the future. Their acquisitions of Trevor May and Alex Meyer were part of that building process.
Now, the Twins will go after another power arm in Kohl Stewart.
A two-sport star who has committed to Texas A&M, Stewart could easily be swayed by the $4.544 million in slot money the Twins have to offer with the fourth overall pick.
Stewart already has a fastball that sits comfortably in the low to mid-90s and is regarded as the most well-developed heater among prep pitchers. Overall control and command are issues as well as a consistent release point, but it doesn't dampen his overall potential.
Stewart has been on the Twins' radar for two years, as they assigned a scout to watch him on a regular basis during that time. He may be one of the most obvious choices on this list.
If my crystal ball is correct and the Houston Astros go after Colin Moran with the first pick, the Cleveland Indians will be more than happy to select University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant as a consolation prize.
Bryant's power numbers are off the charts. He clubbed 31 home runs with 62 RBI in 62 games for San Diego, adding a .329 batting average and stratospheric .820 slugging percentage.
At 6'5" and 215 pounds, Bryant's obvious strength is his power—it's certainly not hard to see him as a potential 30 HR/100 RBI guy at the major league level.
While he has a good feel for the strike zone at the collegiate level, it's largely been developed against inferior pitching staffs. How that plate discipline resonates at higher levels is a concern as he starts facing more experienced pitchers with better secondary offerings.
Still, Bryant's power potential simply can't be passed up, especially in an era where power numbers are down across the board.
In addition, he's a great fit in Cleveland. Prospect Lonnie Chisenhall has disappointed at the major league level, giving someone like Bryant the chance to step up and assume the role of top third-base prospect.
Despite the fact that he's only been pitching full-time for two years, Braden Shipley is one of the prized collegiate arms in the draft.
Shipley had to work his way to the top—undrafted out of high school, he played shortstop full-time at Nevada with occasional turns on the mound. That changed in 2012 when Shipley switched to pitching as his primary role.
It turned out to be a pretty good switch.
Shipley posted a 9-4 record and 2.20 ERA this season, with an 8.6 K/9 rate.
He is widely regarded as the third-best college arm behind Jonathan Gray and Mark Appel, and the Marlins won't hesitate to scoop him up with the sixth overall pick.
Scouts absolutely love Frazier's raw power and his already well-developed plate discipline.
He hit 24 home runs as a junior and followed up with 17 home runs and 45 RBI this spring, along with a .485 batting average.
His skill set is off the charts for a prep player of just 18 years of age, and he's the right choice and the best athlete available for the Boston Red Sox with the seventh pick.
Drafted three years ago by the Seattle Mariners, right-handed pitcher Ryne Stanek opted to attend the University of Arkansas. His choice was wise—he's developed into one of the top college arms available.
Stanek fits here: The Royals seem to be targeting pitching, and he's a developed arm with three solid pitches.
He posted a 10-2 record with a stellar 1.39 ERA in his junior year, holding opposing hitters to a .207 average in one of the toughest college baseball conferences in the country.
There's been some concern with a slight decrease in velocity this year for Stanek, and his command of secondary offerings hasn't been as spot-on as in the past. But he's still clearly a top-half first-round pick.
Regarded as the top catching prospect in this year's draft, Reese McGuire is already a plus defender with a sweet swing from the left side of the plate.
The Pirates selected two catchers last year within the first 10 rounds, but McGuire's skills could top both of them.
McGuire hit .436 in his senior year with a .559 on-base percentage. At 6'1" and 190 pounds, McGuire could develop decent power as he progresses as well.
Austin Meadows is just too good of an athlete for the Toronto Blue Jays to pass up with the 10th overall pick.
His competition with fellow Georgia high school outfielder Clint Frazier has been well documented, and while Meadows has a different skill set, he's no slouch in terms of his potential in the majors.
Meadows has the ability to hit for both power and average, excellent speed and the athleticism and defensive skills to easily handle center field.
Meadows hit .535 with a .633 on-base percentage while adding 17 stolen bases during his senior year.
Drawing comparisons to a player like Raul Mondesi certainly isn't a bad thing, and if college outfielder Hunter Renfroe can live up to those expectations, the New York Mets would be quite pleased.
It's no secret the Mets are in need of power outfield bats, and Renfroe would absolutely fulfill that need. He hit .352 with 15 home runs and 58 RBI this spring for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, with a .634 slugging percentage and 1.098 OPS.
It took a while for Renfroe to develop in college, but after a strong showing last summer and this spring, his stock took off. For the Mets—desperate for help in the outfield—the timing couldn't have been any better.
The Seattle Mariners have had their eye on talented corner infielder D.J. Peterson for quite some time. They drafted him in the 33rd round of the 2010 MLB draft.
Peterson instead chose to go to New Mexico, and three years later, the Mariners will be interested once again.
Peterson hit .408 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI in his junior year. The numbers overall are just mind-boggling—46 walks against just 35 strikeouts, an .807 slugging percentage and a 1.347 OPS.
With an advanced bat already, Peterson could move quickly through the Mariners' system if he can utilize the same plate discipline and pitch recognition at higher levels.
Two-way high school star Trey Ball will simply be too good for the San Diego Padres to pass up with the 13th pick.
Ball has tremendous upside either as a pitcher or a corner outfielder. At 6'6" and 180 pounds, he throws a fastball that sits comfortably in the low 90s and has a developing changeup and slider.
As a hitter, Ball possesses a natural swing with the ability to hit to all fields. His short season at New Castle High School wasn't a true test of his overall abilities, however, and the Padres may opt to choose him here based on projections and his high ceiling.
With several young pitching arms nearly ready for the majors, the Pirates will use both of their first-round picks this year to go after high-ceiling high school position players.
If my projections are correct, they'll have already selected high school catcher Reese McGuire. With the 14th pick, the Pirates will go after high school shortstop J.P. Crawford.
Definitely one of the best shortstops in the draft, Crawford is a quality bat from the left side who hit .452 in his senior year. At 6'2" and 180 pounds, he is smooth defensively and should stick at the shortstop position for the long term.
With the skill set he's displayed thus far, Crawford could push current Pirates prospect Alen Hanson in a competition for the top shortstop prospect in the system.
Left-handed high school pitching prospect Ian Clarkin has been absolutely stellar in his senior year at James Madison High School (Calif.). He's posted a 9-2 record with a 0.96 ERA with 132 strikeouts against just 24 walks in 72.2 innings.
Clarkin has committed to San Diego, so signability could be an issue. Still, the Diamondbacks could take a chance on a pitcher with tremendous potential.
College right-hander Chris Anderson started out like a ball of fire this spring for Jacksonville before hitting a wall. He rebounded somewhat in his last couple of starts to post a 7-5 record and 2.48 ERA in 14 outings.
Anderson has shown solid command of a fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch 95 mph. His slider is his second-best pitch, and he's working on developing his curveball and changeup.
If those secondary pitches continue to progress, Anderson would offer the Phillies an excellent four-pitch repertoire that would work well in the middle of their rotation.
After three excellent seasons with Oral Roberts, right-handed pitching prospect Alex Gonzalez is ready to move on, and the Chicago White Sox could be the right destination.
The White Sox last selected a college arm in the first round three years ago. That pitcher was Chris Sale—that worked out pretty well for them.
Gonzalez doesn't have the explosive stuff Sale possesses, but he has three above-average offerings (fastball, curve, changeup) that will serve him well moving forward. He posted a 9-5 record and 1.83 ERA in 15 starts at Oral Roberts this spring, showing excellent command with a 0.97 WHIP and 2.1 BB/9 rate.
During his nine-year career, reliever Bryan Harvey saved 177 games, including an American League-leading 46 for the California Angels in 1991.
Harvey passed along his good baseball genes to his son, Hunter.
At Bandys High School in North Carolina, Harvey was undefeated as a pitcher in his final two years, posting a 7-0 mark with a 1.81 ERA in his junior year and following up with an absolutely astounding senior season.
Harvey was 8-0 with a 0.38 ERA and struck out a whopping 116 batters in just 54.2 innings.
He has a fastball that sits in the low 90s with the ability to raise that up a notch. His curveball is easily his best pitch with its late movement and is effective as a quality out pitch.
Harvey has no designs on a college career, so signing him won't be an issue for the Dodgers.
Aspiring young baseball players can easily get overlooked when playing at small community colleges. But in the case of shortstop Tim Anderson, it's hard to overlook his gaudy statistics.
At the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II level, Anderson was first in batting average (.495), second in hits (90), fourth in runs scored (60), second in total bases (160), first in on-base percentage (.568) and second in slugging percentage (.879).
Oh, and Anderson can run a little, too—he finished fifth with 41 stolen bases.
It's hard not to take a chance on all that.
The Cardinals already have the best farm system, according to Baseball America, so they can afford to take a flier on Anderson.
Larry Bird's alma mater has produced a pretty good baseball prospect this year.
Left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea shined for the Sycamores during his career, but it was his showing in the Cape Cod League last summer that vaulted Manaea quickly up draft boards. He posted a 1.47 ERA against the best college bats in the country.
Manaea's stock may have dipped a bit with decreased velocity on his fastball this spring, but a tweak to mechanics could correct that. He showed off a fastball that ticked 96 mph last summer. Manaea also offers up excellent command of three pitches with a smooth, repeatable delivery.
The Tigers already have an up-and-coming southpaw in Drew Smyly—adding another quality left-hander certainly wouldn't hurt.
Considered one of the best defensive catchers among the high school class, Nick Ciuffo showed off his skills at the plate during senior year at Lexington High School (S.C.) as well.
Ciuffo hit .507 with 25 RBI in 33 games in leading his Wildcats to a 28-5 record and a Class 4A state baseball championship.
Considering the Rays' hitting woes behind the plate, they could very well opt to choose Ciuffo here and see how the bat plays at higher levels.
The Baltimore Orioles had pretty good luck in drafting one LSU pitcher already in Kevin Gausman.
Could lightning strike twice for them in the 2013 MLB draft?
Ryan Eades posted an 8-1 record with a 2.81 ERA for LSU this season and will continue pitching as the Tigers look to advance in the NCAA tournament.
Eades got rocked in LSU's tournament on Friday, lasting just 2.1 innings in the Tigers' win over Jackson State.
Just six days before the draft, it wasn't an opportune time, but Eades is still a solid choice for the Orioles as they look to build their rotation for the future.
It's been a few years since the Texas Rangers went into the college ranks to select a pitcher (Tommy Hunter, Alabama, 2007). They could end that with their pick of Gonzaga southpaw Marco Gonzales.
Gonzales was a solid two-way player for the Zags but is clearly coveted for his skills on the mound. With three plus pitches, Gonzales posted a 7-3 record and 2.80 ERA in 14 starts while hitting .311 as well.
Gonzales isn't projectable based on size (6'1", 185 pounds) or fastball velocity (88-92 mph). But with sharp command and a sound approach, he could easily carve out a solid career as a mid-rotation starter.
There's something about Southern California that keeps popping out tremendous high school pitchers for the MLB draft, and Phil Bickford is no exception.
Bickford doesn't just throw with velocity—his fastball touches 96-97 mph—he consistently throws it over the plate.
If Bickford wasn't already on teams' radars before Saturday, he certainly is now. He struck out 18 batters in a masterful one-hit shutout to lead Oak Christian High School to a 4-0 victory over El Rancho to win the California Southern Section championship.
Bickford put an indelible stamp on his prep career with the win for sure.
The Oakland Athletics could have a tough time signing him with his commitment to pitch for Cal State Fullerton.
The San Francisco Giants have shown a knack for selecting high school pitchers with first-round picks, as they've chosen three in the past five years.
This year may be no different.
Robert Kaminsky is currently 9-0 with a 0.14 ERA after his latest complete-game shutout for St. Joseph's High School (N.J.) in a state playoff game on Friday. He's struck out 119 batters in 64 innings while issuing just seven walks.
He throws comfortably in the low 90s with his fastball while offering up an outstanding curveball with a developing changeup. Kaminsky is committed to North Carolina but is considered signable.
He seems like a perfect fit for the Giants in this slot.
Stanford University continues churning out outstanding baseball players. They'll have two first-round picks this year in pitcher Mark Appel and outfielder Austin Wilson.
Wilson is a great fit for the New York Yankees, as he has a polished bat with plus power with a rocket arm.
He suffered a stress reaction to his right elbow earlier this spring that limited him to just 31 games in his junior year for the Cardinal. However, at 6'5" and 245 pounds and with a comparison to Giancarlo Stanton, Wilson is the right pick in this slot for the Yankees.
While Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge may possess the most raw power of anyone in the draft, it hasn't quite translated to games.
Judge hit 12 home runs in his junior year, the most of his collegiate career. He added a solid .369 batting average and 1.117 OPS as well.
At 6'7" and 255 pounds, the potential for prodigious blasts is certainly there. While he's played center field in college, a move to right field is likely in his professional future.
There's a lot to like about Judge—it will be a matter of developing a better approach and finding a way to not let his size work against him. For the Reds, it could certainly be a worthwhile project.
I love this pick for the St. Louis Cardinals. High school right-hander Devin Williams is local kid who grew up pitching just 20 minutes north of Busch Stadium.
Williams committed to the University of Missouri, but a pick by the hometown Cardinals could easily change his mind. He features a fastball that sits in the low 90s and has the possibility of developing even more velocity as he continues to mature.
Williams is working on a curveball and changeup as well. It's a win-win both for him and the Cardinals in this slot.
Given the Tampa Bay Rays' love of pitching, they might have a hard time passing up the opportunity to select Marshall right-hander Aaron Blair.
Blair, 5-5 with a 2.85 ERA this spring at Marshall, has an excellent fastball that sits in the low to mid-90s, and he's able to hold that velocity deep into games. His command of the fastball is excellent; it's consistently throwing his secondary pitches for strikes that Blair needs to work on.
Blair has a solid delivery with a three-quarter arm angle that gives his fastball late movement. If he can develop those secondary pitches and improve on his ability to throw them for strikes, he could be an excellent addition in the Rays' already-solid stable of organizational arms.
After going with a college pitcher with their first selection in the first round, the Texas Rangers will switch gears and take chance on a high-ceiling high school position player in Billy McKinney.
McKinney hit .372 with a .585 on-base percentage in his senior season. While he has a commitment to play at TCU, the first-round selection by the hometown team could be a very attractive lure.
McKinney has been praised for his work ethic and passion, two attributes that may not count for much in the sabermetric community but will certainly help him in his quest.
The Atlanta Braves have taken three left-handed pitchers with their last four first-round picks in the MLB draft.
They'll switch it up a bit this year.
Right-hander Andrew Thurman posted a 6-4 record and 3.23 ERA at UC Irvine this spring, with a 1.04 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 rate.
Thurman has solid command of four pitches and the potential to develop into a solid innings-eater during his professional career.
Right-handed pitcher Kyle Serrano has committed to play for the University of Tennessee. That's not a surprise, considering his father, Dave Serrano, is the head coach there.
But the younger Serrano could be swayed with his flight up the rankings into a possible first-round slot. A poised and polished young pitcher who helped lead his team to the state finals, Serrano already possesses three pitches with solid command of each.
For a Yankees team screaming for young, durable arms, Serrano could be an excellent fit.
Named the Big East Player of the Year in May, Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo excelled in his junior year, hitting .388 with nine home runs and 53 RBI in 56 games.
Jagielo possesses the ability to hit for both power and average and could potentially move quickly through the Yankees' system.
His size—6'3" and 215 pounds—could eventually necessitate a move to the outfield. However, the power bat absolutely works in a corner outfield position as well for the Yankees.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
Feel free to talk baseball with Doug anytime on Twitter.