As the final preparations are being made for the 2013 Major League Baseball draft, one of the most common terms that you will hear in mock drafts and predictions is "helium."
The word is used to describe players who are really generating a lot of buzz and are likely to be taken much higher than originally anticipated.
At this stage of the game, where teams have seen everything they possibly can from the players, there is going to be a lot of debate in draft rooms about who should be taken. It is because of helium—and the desire to not miss on the next big thing—that the draft is so unpredictable.
With the hours ticking away, here is our list of the players who have the most helium in this draft class leading into the first round on Thursday night.
Ball is the best two-way player in the draft and could be selected as an outfielder, depending on what his new team needs or feels is best for him. But if you want to maximize his value and take advantage of his projection, it is smart to take him as a pitcher.
Being left-handed and touching 92 mph with the fastball, as well as having a lot of projection in his 6'6", 180-pound frame, Ball could be a very good No. 3 starter with the chance of becoming a No. 2 if his breaking ball takes a couple of steps forward.
When the high school season started, Ball was likely going to be taken in the middle of the first round. Now, as teams continue to fall in love with/be fascinated by his raw athleticism and upside, it wouldn't be a shock if he goes eighth overall to the Kansas City Royals or, more likely, 10th to the Toronto Blue Jays, who always favors ceiling and athletes.
Unlike Ball, who is virtually all upside and projection, Alex Gonzalez is a very good college performer with polish and a ton of pitchability into his professional career.
Gonzalez has a great pitcher's frame at 6'3", 200 lbs and will be able to handle a 200-plus-inning workload with a very simple delivery and a good four-pitch mix. The best weapon he has is a fastball that sits in the low 90s, and he can cut or sink it to get a ton of weak contact.
Bringing a good slider and changeup, Gonzalez doesn't necessarily overwhelm you with stuff and upside, which is why he isn't at the very top of draft boards (sitting somewhere in the 15-20 range). But he is going to go higher than he's projected because there are teams who value "steady and safe" in the draft.
A volatile choice due to a lack of overall stuff, Bickford grabbed a ton of headlines over the weekend when he struck out 18 hitters, including the final 17 he faced, in a start that helped Oaks Christian win a California Interscholastic Federation title.
Bickford is exactly the kind of high-risk, high-reward pitcher most teams love to see from the high school ranks. His delivery is clean with no wasted movement, he uses a three-quarters arm angle to get good movement on the fastball and his electric arm speed allows him to touch the high 90s.
The problem with Bickford comes with his off-speed stuff. He doesn't have a great feel for any of it, though his changeup is a decent pitch right now. He has to improve his slider or curveball to become a starting pitcher in the big leagues.
At 6'4", 185 pounds, there is plenty of upside left in Bickford's frame that could make him a top-15 pick.
In a year where there are so few potential impact shortstops available, Tim Anderson is a clear standout because of his offensive upside. He has electrifying speed and could develop average power.
If there was a better chance Anderson could stay at shortstop—his arm strength is just average, which could push him to the outfield—there is little doubt that he would be a sure-fire first-round pick. It also doesn't help his case that he has yet to prove himself against quality competition.
That said, given his raw athleticism and potential to play shortstop, don't be surprised if Anderson gets popped in the middle of the first round to a team that likes toolsy athletes (e.g. Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis).
The one word that comes to mind when describing Travis Demeritte is "raw." He has some very exciting tools—highlighted by the best bat speed of any player in the class not named Clint Frazier—and is a very good athlete.
Already listed at 6'1", 195 lbs, Demeritte will outgrow shortstop and move to third base, where his arm will play in, though he has to show better actions to make it to the hot corner.
His approach at the plate is still—to use the magic word—raw. He is an aggressive hacker at times and struggles to adjust against off-speed stuff. But athletes with this kind of bat speed are very rare, and he could get taken by a team late in the first round or, worst-case scenario, early in the second round by a team that loves developing tools (Toronto and Texas immediately spring to mind).
In a pretty good draft for third basemen, Chad Pinder doesn't exactly stand out against the likes of Kris Bryant, Colin Moran and Eric Jagielo. But that should not detract from the good things he can do on the field and push him into the second-round mix.
While he doesn't project to have a lot of power thanks to a smaller frame and a swing that uses virtually no stride, he has good bat-to-ball ability and will likely end up as a solid doubles hitter with 10 to 12 homers per season and a solid batting average.
Defensively, Pinder isn't a star, but he has good arm strength and soft hands that will allow him to make most routine plays.
In the MLB draft—or any draft, for that matter—it is hard not to be a fan of ceiling. We watch and dream on what a player could turn into, not what they are right now.
That is why Adam Plutko doesn't get a lot of national recognition, because he just isn't going to overwhelm you with stuff. He shows a fringe-average fastball that really holds him back, but he remains a very high prospect thanks to a solid off-speed arsenal and excellent command.
Plutko, who has been UCLA's best starter since Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer left, could be taken as a safety net in the second round by a team who wants to save a little money and hope that he will develop into a back-end starter.
At what point does the talent and skill on the field outweigh the measurables? That is the question facing Sam Moll, who has the stuff to be a first-round pick as a lefty who can touch the mid-90s with his fastball and a knee-buckling curveball that will miss bats, but he gets dinged because he is only 5'11" with little plane on his heater.
Yet there is some evidence suggesting that Moll could pitch out of a rotation because he does keep the ball down in the zone very often, though the lack of plane will make it easier for professional hitters to elevate it.
While he will probably be best served as a two-pitch reliever, Moll has a chance to go late in the second round or, more likely, the third round as a potential sleeper for a team that believes he can start.
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