The MLB draft is more about selecting the best prospect available rather than filling an organizational need—at least early on. Since the developmental process is so extensive before a player reaches the major leagues, the success rate on draft picks in the sport of baseball is relatively low compared to other leagues.
That's why, even if a position of need is filled at the upper levels of the system, teams are still willing to take a prospect they grade highly. By the time he works his way through the minor leagues, something is likely to have happened to open up a spot.
The good news for teams drafting near the top of Round 1 is that there are several intriguing prospects available this year, including a strong crop of pitchers. With that in mind, let's check out the top prospects available and predict where they will ultimately land.
1. Carlos Rodon (LHP)
Rodon already features two pitches that are close to major-league ready in his fastball and slider. He attacks the strike zone with his heater, which can reach the upper-90s, and then uses his sweeping slider as his out pitch. It's a very impressive combination for a 21-year-old prospect.
He's also a bulldog on the mound. Chris Wright of the Charlotte Observer passed along comments from Rodon about the mindset he enters when it's his day to pitch:
Definitely when you step between those lines ... it makes you into a different person, for sure. It's just game day. People tell me, 'you seem different.' Just not a nice guy. Put it that way. Real serious. I don't want to talk to anyone. Just try to get in a zone. But that's the way it's always been, though, even in high school.
I don't know how I get in that mode. I just change. And I just want to win so bad.
If he was a reliever, he would probably be looking at a quick jump to the big leagues. But in order to have long-term success as a starter, he still has some work to do. Most notably, he must develop a more reliable third pitch—perhaps a refined changeup that will keep hitters honest without overusing the slider.
That said, all the tools are in place for him to become a star. Add in a repeatable, free-flowing motion on the mound, and he should develop into the left-handed ace every team covets. It would be very hard to pass on him with the top pick despite the rise of some fellow prospects.
Projection: No. 1 pick to the Houston Astros
2. Brady Aiken (LHP)
Taking a high school pitcher early in the draft always comes with a lot of risk. Not only is the road to the majors from that level a long one, which only increases the amount of time it will take before the pick pays off, but that extra time in the minors also leads to concerns about potential injuries.
Who is the top prospect in the class?
So it takes a special talent to get drafted early straight from a high school mound. Aiken certainly fits the bill, though. He features an explosive fastball that he commands well with a pair of secondary offerings (changeup and curveball) that have shown signs of improvement.
Aiken and right-hander Tyler Kolek have been battling with Rodon for the top spot among the available pitchers. Assuming Rodon comes off the board first, it will likely be one of the other two aforementioned hurlers going at No. 2, with Aiken holding a slight edge due to his control.
Projection: No. 2 pick to the Miami Marlins
3. Alex Jackson (C/3B/OF)
Jackson is the top hitting prospect in the draft class. He's shown very solid contact ability to go along with plenty of pop. The high school star has also displayed plenty of versatility in the field, as he possesses the skills to play catcher, third base or the corner outfield.
His value would be maximized at catcher, as his hitting ability would be a major asset at a position without a ton of offensive talent. His arm strength would also help in terms of controlling the opponent's running game.
All of those tools have led to his rise up draft boards. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that he may end up going within the top three:
alex jackson, big-time power prospect from SD area, moving up draft boards. may join rodon & aiken (sd too) in top 3— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) May 19, 2014
He seems like a good fit for the Chicago Cubs at No. 4, however. The team is committed to taking the time to rebuild the organization the right way, so it can afford to take Jackson and let him develop behind the plate. He should be lineup cornerstone by the time the Cubs are ready to compete for a title.
Projection: No. 4 pick to the Chicago Cubs