Just days from now, some of the top amateur baseball players in the country will see their dreams come true as they become professional prospects. Where they'll fall, nobody truly knows.
Names like Carlos Rodon, Michael Conforto and Alex Jackson have been on the radar for years. Meanwhile, players such as Brady Aiken, Jeff Hoffman and Touki Toussaint have shot up to the top of the class recently.
While some like Hoffman and Erick Fedde have injury questions coming into the draft, both are still projected to go in the first round. For teams at the bottom of the first round that already have talent at the MLB level, taking a risk on a player might pay off in the long run.
As the draft nears, let's take a look at some of the top players and where they might fall on Thursday night.
Carlos Rodon, LHP, N.C. State: No. 1 Overall; Houston Astros
Maybe it's just stubborn, but the notion that Rodon is going anywhere other than the Houston Astros doesn't seem right.
The 6'3", 234-pound left-hander has been solid throughout his college career and was simply on a team that performed poorly on offense all season. Rodon finished with a 6-7 record but did so with a 2.01 ERA, three complete games and a 117-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com provides his reasoning for the N.C. State ace as the No. 1 pick: "A slow start left Rodon's status as the top pick in question. One of the big high school pitchers below could still be Houston's choice, but here's saying the N.C. State lefty has done enough to reclaim the spot."
Rodon is still the strongest pitching prospect in this year's class despite the perceived struggles he experienced this season. While the Wolfpack fell short of their hopes of returning to the College World Series, the lefty will still thrive and join Mark Appel as potential future aces for Houston's staff.
Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS: No. 2 Overall; Miami Marlins
Will he be an outfielder or will he slot behind the plate? With a bat like Jackson's, it really doesn't matter.
One of the highest risers in the last year thanks to his monstrous production at the plate, Jackson will go as the top overall position player in the draft. As the Miami Marlins mull over who they should take, the versatility of Jackson will give them a massive amount of upside at either position moving forward.
While there is a plethora of talented bats and dynamic all-around players in the draft, Jim Callis of MLB.com believes Jackson is the best:
Jackson offers exciting bat speed from the right side of the plate. He has natural loft in his swing, plenty of strength in his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame and the capability to hit monster blasts to any part of the ballpark. Jackson's swing can get a bit long at times, but he generally does a fine job of covering the plate and barreling balls, boding well for his ability to hit for average.
Jackson profiles as a middle-of-the-order hitter, though at what position he'll do his damage at remains to be seen. He certainly has the tools necessary to remain behind the plate, with above-average arm strength and good agility. As with most high school catchers, Jackson's receiving requires some work to bring it up to Major League standards.
Unlike some of the other teams near the top of the draft, the Marlins already have a wealth of pitching slowly developing in the minors. And with the likes of Jose Fernandez eventually returning after Tommy John surgery, adding another power bat would provide a boost to the lineup for the future.
Jeff Hoffman, RHP, East Carolina: No. 14; San Francisco Giants
A young man with all the talent to compete to be an ace at the MLB level, Hoffman simply had one setback that hurt his draft stock.
When healthy, Hoffman has the makings of a supremely talented pitcher at the next level. Clint Longenecker of Baseball America provides one National League scout's thoughts on the right-hander before the injury:
If the guys were swinging with wood today, he would have broken about four or five bats. A few of us were talking about whether he or (ECU righthander) David Lucroy, who is also a groundball pitcher, will have a higher groundball rate this year. It will probably be Lucroy because at this level, guys are going to swing over the top of Hoffman’s fastball because of how much sink he gets. But at the next level, it will be Hoffman.
While most baseball fans will be wowed by strikeout pitchers, Hoffman provides consistency that projects better as a professional pitcher. If he can remain healthy over the next few years, the righty will thrive at the minor and major league level.
For a team like the San Francisco Giants that already have a wealth of pitching at the MLB level, developing Hoffman to take over for Tim Hudson or Tim Lincecum looks like a smart move.
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