The operative word in any Major League Baseball draft is ceiling. Players with a high ceiling, and some track record of performance, are going to be taken very early.
One of the biggest reasons you hear a name like Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray, who was on draft radars before the college season but shot up as it moved along, is because his ceiling went from that of a mid-rotation starter to a potential No. 1 with increased velocity and sharper stuff this year.
So as the final days leading up to the draft count down, and teams put the finishing touches on their draft boards, we want to present you with a look at the players in this year's class who have the highest ceiling.
Remember, ceiling is the absolute best-case scenario for a player to hit, so the odds of all the names on this list—or even a majority—reaching that level are slim.
The Ceiling: No. 1 starter
Why Gray has helium
With the possible exception of a Georgia high school outfielder, no one in the country has garnered as much attention as Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray. He started the season as the No. 2 pitcher in Norman, behind Dillon Overton, who will also be a high draft pick this year.
Gray's ascension can be attributed to two different things. First, he is showing a true plus-plus fastball. The velocity sits 92-96 and has touched triple digits on more than one occasion. His slider is another swing-and-miss option right now.
Second, Gray just looks to be more comfortable and confident on the mound now than ever before. It is obviously easy to be confident against college hitters while bringing a huge fastball, but you need more than that against big leaguers.
That is where the slider and command/control come into play. Gray is going to pitch in a big league rotation very soon, but he could easily end up being the best pitcher taken in this draft. No easy feat in a class with Mark Appel.
There is going to be a lot of speculation about Gray right now, after Keith Law of ESPN reported that he tested positive for Adderall in a pre-draft drug test. But given his talent, it is hard to see the right-handed pitcher dropping out of the top five picks.
The Ceiling: No. 2 starter
Why Appel has helium
The biggest name in this year's class, Mark Appel should put his name on the bottom line of a contract and get into pro ball after being drafted two times before.
Appel is the best player in this year's class, with only Gray really close. He has the track record of performance at one of the best baseball programs in the country, brings plus stuff across the board and has a great pitchers frame and enough polish that he won't need much time in the minors.
Even though his fastball isn't quite as electric as Gray's, Appel's heater has sat in the mid-90s throughout his college career. Despite entering this season as the top talent, which could have led to some downfall because we love to bring down college athletes who stick around too long, he has actually helped his stock.
Not only is Appel showing a better fastball than ever, but he has also improved his changeup and slider to the point where he could have three true plus pitches in the big leagues. His delivery is clean and no longer are hitters picking up the ball before it leaves his hand.
The Ceiling: All-Star center fielder with big power potential
Why Meadows has helium
On the position player side, Austin Meadows has more raw tools than any high school player in this year's draft. Of course, he probably comes with as much risk, if not more, than the other top players in the class.
Meadows plays the game with such a laid-back approach that there can be a perception that he is not into what happens. That isn't the case at all, as he is just so smooth in the batters box that he can get away with it.
With the bat, Meadows does show very good bat speed and raw power potential in a very good, athletic 6'3", 200-pound frame. His swing doesn't produce the kind of in-game pop you want to see because he attacks with more of a line-drive swing than one that will put the ball over the fence.
Eventually Meadows will find his home run swing and bring that plus power into games. He is also a plus runner with range and instincts for center field. His throwing arm is decent, but nothing really special.
On a great day, Meadows looks like a four-tool player at a premium position. On a mediocre day, he may have questions about his hit and power tools, as well as his ability to stay in center field, that push him, slightly, down some draft boards.
The Ceiling: No. 2 starter
Why Stewart has helium
Kohl Stewart could—and probably will—be the first high school player taken in this week's draft. It might take a pick incredibly high, like in the top five to six, to bring him into professional baseball since he has a scholarship to Texas A&M to play quarterback on the football team and pitch for the baseball team.
The good news for baseball is that the Aggies already have a quarterback in place—some guy named Johnny Manziel—who will be there for at least one more year, keeping Stewart on the bench until 2014.
As far as his on-field performance is concerned, Stewart already has a plus fastball that sits in the mid 90s with some movement and a knockout slider. He also has a good curveball and changeup in his back pocket.
There are some concerns about Stewart's delivery, which is very stiff and could push him to the bullpen in a worst-case scenario, but a high school pitcher with this kind of present stuff is rare to find and makes him worth the big financial investment it will take to get him away from Texas A&M.
The Ceiling: No. 2 starter or above-average right fielder
Why Ball has helium
Depending on what you prefer, it is easy to see Ball as a starting pitcher or corner outfielder in professional baseball. He has played both positions in his high school career, but will be pushed one way or the other at some point on Thursday evening.
On the mound, Ball has everything a team could want in a high school left-hander. He is already showing above-average velocity on the fastball, with the potential to add more with his highly projectable 6'6", 180-pound frame. He also shows some feel for a curveball.
The command and control, as well as lack of a third pitch right now, do give Ball a ton of risk, but when you can dream on a player with this kind of frame and velocity from the left side, it is hard not to love what he could become.
As far as Ball's position-player talents go, he looks very good in that regard. He has good bat speed, raw power that he will show in games more when his body fills out, a plus throwing arm and above-average running speed.
There is some length to his swing, as he starts his hands just below his ear and raises his hand slightly during his load, but he can get around on pitches to hit line drives right now.
Considering how rare it is to find a high school lefty already touching 91-92 with the fastball and projects to add more, Ball will start his career as a pitcher.
The Ceiling: Five-tool center fielder
Why Renfroe has helium
Even though he isn't in the first tier of college players available in this year's draft, Hunter Renfroe might offer more upside than the likes of San Diego's Kris Bryant and North Carolina's Colin Moran, the two position players likely to be taken ahead of him.
The reason Renfroe falls short is because his track record of success in the SEC is limited to 2013. He was on the prospect radar before the season because of his raw tools, but he had to put them on display this year after hitting an uninspiring .252/.328/.374 two years ago.
Renfroe finally put everything together and is hitting a much better .345/.435/.632 this year. He continues to show the potential for at least four plus tools with the chance at five, if his hit tool keeps getting better.
Raw college players are dangerous to gamble on, but Renfroe is a tremendous athlete with big-time power potential, plus running speed, throwing arm and defense in center field. Since he can play a premium position, it wouldn't be a shock to see him taken in the top 10.
The Ceiling: Offense-first catcher with big power
Why Denney has helium
In a year that is very good for high school catchers, Jon Denney stands out because there are fewer questions about his bat than the other two first rounders, Reese McGuire and Nick Ciuffo.
Denney has a very simple swing that is able to generate bat speed and power thanks to quick hands through the zone and very good rotation. He is a big kid and will eventually show his plus raw power more in games with some experience.
That is not to say Denney is without flaws, as there are real concerns about his ability to remain behind the plate. His frame is very good for the position, at 6'2", 205 pounds. He has a good throwing arm and athleticism.
He is still raw as a receiver and doesn't always do a great job of blocking balls in the dirt. Now that he is going into pro ball, where the off-speed stuff will be much better, Denney could find himself overwhelmed and forced to move off the position.
However, it is far too early to give up on Denney behind the plate. If he can even find a way to be fringe-average at the position, his bat will make him a potential All-Star.
The Ceiling: Star third baseman
Why Demeritte has helium
Of all the players on this list, Demeritte is the most volatile. The difference between what he is right now and what he could be is huge, but when you see the raw tools in play, it is hard not to love the package he presents.
Demeritte probably has the best bat speed in this class after another Georgia high schooler, Clint Frazier. His swing is long and will likely prevent him from ever being a great average hitter, but he can explode through the zone, giving him plus power potential.
While he has played shortstop in high school, Demeritte is going to outgrow the position and move to third base. He has a ton of athleticism, quick lateral movement and an arm that is plenty strong enough for the hot corner.
Given how raw Demeritte is, he could end up being a steal as a second-round pick, though it's possible a team that bets on tools and upside in the draft—Texas would be a perfect example—he could sneak into the first round.
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