MLB Draft 2014: Team-by-Team Needs and Targets
The path to Major League Baseball is so different than any other major sport in this country that its annual draft takes on an unusual feel. Players aren't taken with the hope of contributing right away, but rather they are first developed in the minors so they can hone their skills and be ready for the highest level.
As a result of the draft structure, teams are rarely drafting on need, at least in the early rounds. You will see in the later rounds that clubs specifically go after talent to fill out the roster of a short-season team, but the top of the draft is about adding the best player available, regardless of position.
That doesn't mean teams can't fill a glaring need along the way, but if that is a particular team's main strategy, it is potentially cutting itself off from getting an impact player.
Now that all 30 franchises have started filling out draft boards and looked at the strengths and weaknesses of both the class and their respective system, here are the needs for each club as well as their top targets for the big event. Some targets are based on speculation while others are based on rumors.
First pick: No. 16
The Diamondbacks have tried to rebuild their outfield over the last two years, starting with the trade of Justin Upton to Atlanta. They've done a poor job supplementing that group, including trading Adam Eaton to the White Sox.
There's talent at the MLB level, with defensive wizard Gerardo Parra in right field and A.J. Pollock doing a solid job early this season in center, but they lack any significant depth in the minors.
Another area the Diamondbacks can stand to add to is starting pitching. Archie Bradley has No. 1-starter upside, but he is currently on the disabled list with the dreaded "elbow strain." Braden Shipley is showing impressive ability at Low-A.
Arizona's strategy has been all over the place in recent years, with the selection of pitchers and position players from high school and college being split fairly evenly since 2009. This indicates that the team will just go with the best player on its board, regardless of position.
If that's the case, Vanderbilt's Tyler Beede is an intriguing option. He's been all over the place in three years with the Commodores, including 111 baserunners allowed and 92 strikeouts in 90.1 innings this season.
Beede has an electric arm with two plus pitches, but erratic command makes his stuff far more hittable than the raw stuff suggests.
Given general manager Kevin Towers' love of "safe" players, Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto is an option on the position player side. He's not going to add much impact, but he does have one of the best bats in the college ranks.
First pick: No. 32
Atlanta's farm system didn't have one outfielder who made the top 14 of MLB.com's preseason team rankings. Todd Cunningham, a 25-year-old in Triple-A with the ceiling of a fourth outfielder, was the Braves' No. 15 prospect and the team's best hope for the immediate future.
Outfield isn't exactly a pressing need at the MLB level for the Braves since Justin Upton and Jason Heyward are signed through 2015, but the severely underwhelming play of B.J. Upton does present a problem that could require a solution long before his contract expires after the 2017 season.
The Braves have always been one of the most conservative teams in the draft, even before the slotting system came into place. They won't pay more than they deem a player to be worth, which basically takes them out of the running for a lot of high-upside high school players.
They also love to protect their house by drafting players from Georgia, with Lucas Sims (2012) and Jason Heyward (2007) being two sterling examples.
There are more than a few first-round high school talents from Georgia who will potentially be available at No. 32, with Michael Gettys and Michael Chavis being the two most prominent examples. Chavis has an advanced bat and above-average raw power, while Gettys is an elite athlete who can play center field with a questionable hit tool.
First pick: No. 90
Baltimore, much like Atlanta, has little outfield impact to speak of. Josh Hart, the 37th overall pick last year, has the makings of a quality leadoff hitter, but no one else in the system really factors into the long-term mix right now.
Baltimore could also use power bats at the corner infield spots. Christian Walker is a solid hitter without much thump in his bat, so if the situation arises—which is hard to predict with a team that doesn't pick until the third round—a big corner infielder could be on the Orioles' radar.
The Orioles will have to wait the longest for their first pick in the draft after their offseason spending spree that added Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. As a result, any talk of who might be on their radar is all speculation.
One name to watch is catcher Evan Skoug, a TCU commit with plus raw power but only average bat speed and a long swing. His defense is mediocre, as he has average arm strength and developing receiving skills, but his bat would play nicely behind the plate if he can stick.
Boston Red Sox
First pick: No. 26
Despite the struggles of the MLB team so far this season, the Red Sox are absolutely loaded in the minors right now. Every level you look at, there is at least one future big-leaguer, led by star second baseman Mookie Betts at Double-A.
One area the Red Sox could stand to address is starting pitching. Matt Barnes hasn't been as dominant since moving to the advanced levels; Henry Owens is difficult to hit but doesn't have much of a command profile (30 walks in 64.1 innings); and Allen Webster is a right-handed version of Owens.
Middle infield depth isn't necessarily a strength, but it's hardly a weakness. Xander Bogaerts is starting for the big league club in his rookie season, Betts is an on-base machine, Deven Marrero is playing a steller shortstop without much bat, and Wendell Rijo is just 18 years old.
The Red Sox love to get aggressive in the draft, which is why they have one of the best and deepest farm systems in baseball. They have the picks to play with this year, too, sitting at No. 26 and No. 33.
As a result, expect the Red Sox to go after upside regardless of the situation since they can take risks with a fallback plan. UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde would have likely been a top-10 pick if not for Tommy John surgery that he is expected to undergo shortly. The success of the operation could make him a bargain late in the first round thanks to a plus fastball-slider combination.
Another name to watch for, perhaps at No. 33 instead of No. 26, is left-hander Justus Sheffield. He's undersized at 6'1" and 180 pounds, but he has advanced control and three above-average pitches.
First pick: No. 4
Pitching, pitching and more pitching. The Cubs have the best collection of high-upside position player talent in baseball, including Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler.
What's holding the Cubs system back—and clouding its future—is a lack of impact pitching. C.J. Edwards, acquired from Texas in the Matt Garza trade last year, is the best of the bunch but hasn't pitched since April with shoulder inflammation.
A lot of Chicago's top pitching prospects behind Edwards project better as relievers, like Arodys Vizcaino and Pierce Johnson. The good news is this draft is loaded with pitching, even beyond the first round.
The bad news for the Cubs is that Jeff Hoffman's injury completely reshaped the first round. If the East Carolina hurler was still around, Jed Hoyer's staff would have a serious decision to make.
As things stand, the top three arms—Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon and Tyler Kolek—will likely be off the board when the Cubs pick. That means they can reach for a player who will take less money at No. 4, hoping to land one of the injured starters (Hoffman or Fedde) at No. 45.
However, with so much space in between picks, the Cubs would be better off going after the best player available. Alex Jackson may not stick at catcher in pro ball, but he's got some of the best bat speed and raw power among high school position players.
Chicago White Sox
First pick: No. 3
There was a time not that long ago when the White Sox needed to address everything in their system. They've gotten much better at drafting in recent years, though it's still a system trying to build consistent depth at every level.
One area Chicago hasn't addressed in the first round in recent years is starting pitching. Chris Sale (2010) was the last arm the White Sox took in the first round. Since then, they have chosen to address the infield (Tim Anderson) and outfield (Courtney Hawkins) early on.
There's plenty of position player depth in the system, including Hawkins, Anderson, Trayce Thompson and Carlos Sanchez. The star power isn't there, but MLB players are eventually going to come out of that group.
Picking third in a draft with three potentially elite pitchers guarantees that the White Sox will get someone they desperately need. Brady Aiken is the favorite to go No. 1 overall when the Astros pick.
The choice then comes down to N.C. State left-hander Carlos Rodon—who is a Cuban American and very appealing to Miami owner Jeffrey Loria at No. 2, according to ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required)—and Texas flamethrower Tyler Kolek.
Kolek would be a nice consolation prize if Rodon is off the board. He's a 6'6" right-hander who has touched triple digits and flashes a plus curveball. His command and control are wild right now, so he would be a big project for the team to take on. However, the upside is enormous if the big man hits.
First pick: No. 19
When is the catching help coming for Cincinnati? Devin Mesoraco turns 26 in June and started the season strong, but he has fallen back to earth in May after returning from the disabled list.
There's not a lot of excitement on the infield for the Reds right now, either, though Jesse Winker will likely end up at first base and has one of the best bats in the system. They need to start supplementing their infield, or they will be forced to rely on aging talent like Brandon Phillips for a long time.
If the Reds decide to go the catching route, Kennesaw State's Max Pentecost is an intriguing option as a player with average tools across the board. He's not a superstar, but he should have no problem moving quickly through the system and starting in the big leagues for years.
The odds of a true catcher who can hit a little bit lasting that long seem slim, so the Reds will likely dip their toe back into the high school pitching crop that has produced such strong results recently with Robert Stephenson (2011) and Nick Travieso (2012).
Florida State commit Sean Reid-Foley is one of the most polished high school pitchers in the class, as he touches the mid-90s with his fastball and has a knockout slider.
First pick: No. 21
Few teams have the kind of intrigue in their system that the Indians have had the last few years. It's not a good system—at least not yet—but there are players at the lower levels with the potential to take off in a big way soon.
The biggest need for Cleveland in the draft is power pitching. The Indians too often rely on command-control pitchers with average stuff. They also have too many arms currently who project as relievers, putting them in a bind when one of their MLB starters goes down.
One major sign of progress in recent years has been the way Cleveland has drafted. This used to be a franchise that went safe with low-risk college players who didn't have a lot of immediate impact, but it has recently taken players such as Francisco Lindor (2011) and Clint Frazier (2013).
If that trend continues, the Indians are in a prime position to add high-ceiling talent with the No. 21 and No. 31 picks. One of the key names to watch is Lee's Summit West High School outfielder Monte Harrison, an explosive athlete with a scholarship to play wide receiver at Nebraska.
Harrison is miles away with the bat, but he projects as an above-average defender in center fielder with plus raw power.
Kodi Medeiros is an intriguing left-hander with two plus pitches and a deceptive three-quarters arm slot. His size (6'0", 185 lbs) is slightly concerning, though, and it could push him out of the first round.
First pick: No. 8
This may come as a shock, but the Rockies are light on pitching. Who would have thought? At least the cupboard isn't bare, with Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler being two of the game's top prospects. But there's so much pressure on those two to be successful that it's going to be disastrous if one of them suffers any kind of setback.
They could also stand to add some safer position player talent. Colorado's best prospects in that area are, for the most part, in A-ball, including David Dahl, Rosell Herrera, Raimel Tapia and Trevor Story. They're exciting, fun to watch and have a world of upside, but they are all so far away from the big leagues.
There's a certain type of arm you need to succeed in Colorado, and neither LSU's Aaron Nola and Hartford's Sean Newcomb has it.
Nola and Newcomb are guys with above-average fastballs who can touch 94-95 mph, but they rely upon movement and control to succeed. The thin air of Colorado isn't going to give them the same natural movement, and they don't have the power stuff to make up for it.
San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer, brother of Kansas City prospect Kyle, has some of the best tools among college position players, tremendous athleticism and is a natural center fielder.
First pick: No. 23
Position players and starting pitching are essential for Detroit to replenish. Nick Castellanos was the only notable position player to watch in recent years, and he has already graduated to the big leagues.
The Tigers are so predictable in their thinking on draft day that it's become almost comical to think about. Nine of their last 12 first-round picks were right-handed pitchers who are at least 6'2".
It's imperative the Tigers add impact players to give their farm system some hope. Their aging MLB roster won't be intact forever, and based on what's coming, the long-term future is dark.
If we follow Detroit's love of tall right-handed pitchers who throw really hard, Louisville's Nick Burdi makes perfect sense. He's strictly a reliever with a violent delivery, but he has one of the best fastballs in the draft and complements it nicely with a swing-and-miss slider.
Burdi could conceivably pitch out of an MLB bullpen by the end of this season. The Tigers relievers currently rank 26th in MLB in terms of ERA, and in win-now mode, it might be in their best interest to look short term.
First pick: No. 1
When you have the No. 1 overall pick for three straight years—and you also trade away every available asset on your MLB roster for two consecutive years—it's hard to have a bad farm system.
Fortunately for the Astros, general manager Jeff Luhnow has built one of the best and deepest systems in baseball. Everywhere you look, there is impact talent making his way to Houston.
All of Luhnow's efforts have been used to rebuild what was a barren minor league system, to the point where they really don't have to fill an area of need this year. This is the one draft where they can play by whatever rules they want without getting any criticism.
It's so simple for the Astros with the No. 1 pick: choose Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon or Tyler Kolek. Aiken is getting all the helium in the world right now, while Rodon and Kolek have enough question marks to warrant dropping to the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively.
Aiken is getting pumped up by Clayton Kershaw comparisons, which certainly isn't a bad thing. It's important to remember that the comparisons are for Kershaw as a prospect, not as the two-time Cy Young winner we know now.
Regardless of which version he's compared to, Aiken has established himself as the best player available and should hear his name called first on June 5.
Kansas City Royals
First pick: No. 17
Few teams know how to make the most out of their high-upside players than the Kansas City Royals—at least when they are coming through the system. Every year, they have at least two or three teenagers who show impressive tools and look like impact big leaguers.
Those players being able to put it all together at the MLB level has been a different story, but there's help on the way. The one area that's seriously lacking for the Royals right now is the outfield.
Jorge Bonifacio has long been a favorite prospect of mine due to his explosive tools, but he's also a right fielder who has never hit more than 10 homers in four minor league seasons before 2014. Bubba Starling has an OPS just over .600 in High-A.
Elier Hernandez was the only other outfielder who placed within the top 20 of MLB.com's preseason team rankings, but he's also 19 years old in Low-A.
The Royals have tried to supplement their pitching staff in recent years with high-ceiling college arms like Kyle Zimmer (2012) and Sean Manaea (2013). If that trend continues in 2014, Virginia's Nick Howard could be an option due to the fact that he has touched 95 mph as a starter and flashes a plus slider.
Howard might be around when the Royals pick again at No. 28 or even No. 40, so if they want to get back to selecting high-ceiling position players, Michael Chavis is an intriguing option. Jacob Gatewood is someone to keep an eye at some point, too. His hit tool is questionable, but his raw power is enormous and could lead to 25-30 homers at peak.
Los Angeles Angels
First pick: No. 15
The Angels are picking in the first round for the first time since 2011. Their farm system certainly reflects that, with no impact talent at any level, even though there are a couple players who project as serviceable big leaguers.
This isn't going to be a system- or franchise-altering draft, unlike the year they selected Mike Trout (2009), but it is imperative that the Angels find someone who projects as more than a back-end starter or late-inning reliever.
It sounds like a vague description to say that a team needs impact talent—everyone wants it—but the Angels are getting by right now with a roster comprised of the best player in the sport, a 34-year-old lumbering first baseman, a No. 1 starter whose fastball averages 85.6 mph and, when he returns, the volatile bat of Josh Hamilton. They need something to come out of this draft.
The last time Los Angeles picked in the first round, it took C.J. Cron from Utah on the basis of big raw power despite average bat speed and defense so bad that he's nothing more than a long-term DH. The Angels went with reliever R.J. Alvarez from Florida Atlantic in 2012 with their first pick (third round) and Hunter Green from Warren East High School in the second round last year.
Trying to find a consistent pattern is difficult, so perhaps the Angels are just going to go with the best player available instead of trying to find someone who can make it to the big leagues quickly.
If that's the case, Evansville's Kyle Freeland would slot in nicely as a long, lanky left-hander with command and three above-average pitches.
If college bats are still all the rage, Indiana's Kyle Schwarber is the best of the bunch, as he has plus-plus raw power and a good approach to make up for average bat speed.
Los Angeles Dodgers
First pick: No. 22
At some point, the Los Angeles Dodgers have to figure out their long-term catching situation. Even with all the money they have spent on the MLB roster over the last two years, Drew Butera and Tim Federowicz are still setting up behind the plate every day.
That's not to say finding a solid catcher is easy, but it does speak to how little effort the Dodgers have put into upgrading the position.
The good news is this draft has catching talent. The bad news is the Dodgers pick too late to get the top two backstops on the board.
Even if the Dodgers could get their hands on Max Pentecost, their history suggests that pitching will be the target in the first round, as they have gone that route eight times in the first round since 2004.
Florida State's Luke Weaver has a similar profile to last year's first-round pick Chris Anderson, as he is a right-hander with excellent arm action and a power fastball that touches the mid-90s. Weaver has better present command and a solid changeup.
If the Dodgers like high-ceiling talent, right-hander Spencer Adams is an intriguing pitcher to keep an eye on. He's projectable at 6'4" and 180 pounds, with a above-average fastball and room to add more velocity in the future.
First pick: No. 2
The Marlins have been as aggressive as any team in terms of promoting their top prospects, graduating Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich last year before anyone thought they were ready.
As much fun as Adeiny Hechavarria is to watch at shortstop, he can't hit enough to play every day. That's not a problem the Marlins can solve soon, because they don't have any other notable shortstops in the system.
Adding another front-line starter couldn't hurt. Andrew Heaney is going to be in Miami soon, having just moved up to Triple-A, but he's more of a high-end No. 3 starter than someone you can build a rotation around.
We've already mentioned that owner Jeffrey Loria wants Carlos Rodon if he's still on the board, which certainly wouldn't be a bad selection.
The Marlins have always seemed like a club that will bet on upside early in the draft, which is what makes Tyler Kolek so intriguing at this spot. He's not the same type of pitcher, but the marketing possibilities of comparing him to a past Texas high school star named Josh Beckett are incredible.
If a position player is what the Marlins are interested in, catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson and shortstop Nick Gordon have all the potential in the world. It seems a little too early to slot either one here, though, so expect a pitcher to come off the board at No. 2.
First pick: No. 12
Other than the Angels, there wasn't a system in worse shape coming into the 2014 season than Milwaukee's. It's still not a good system, but the early returns for players like Tyrone Taylor (.765 OPS), Orlando Arcia (26-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and Michael Reed (.897 OPS) provide some hope.
Those are just three players, and none of them are above High-A, so it's still a system in dire straits. Even if they opt to go after a safe player instead of someone with a higher ceiling who is more volatile, that would be a huge win for the Brewers system based on where it is now.
The Brewers could be an interesting landing spot for a college starter like Vanderbilt's Tyler Beede or, on the very remote chance he falls, LSU's Aaron Nola.
The odds of Nola getting to this spot are slim, while Beede's inconsistency this season makes it hard to justify taking him in the top half of the first round. It's not implausible that Beede could be around when the Brewers pick again at No. 41.
The team already has a franchise catcher in Jonathan Lucroy, but going back to the strategy of taking talent regardless of position, Kennesaw State's Max Pentecost would be a good value at this spot.
Pentecost isn't loaded with high-ceiling tools, but he knows how to hit, has a little power, has good speed for a catcher and, more importantly, is going to stay behind the plate.
First pick: No. 5
Coming into the year, it seemed like there was nothing the Twins really needed. They had two of the top-10 prospects in baseball and star power all over the field.
Now, while the team still has a very good system, Miguel Sano isn't going to play until 2015 after having elbow surgery, and Byron Buxton has played in just five games this season due to a wrist injury. Those are two rare talents that you can't simply replace, so it doesn't matter how high you pick.
The absence of Buxton has also shined a light on how little depth there really is in the outfield for the Twins. Eddie Rosario has experience in the outfield, but he has spent more time at second base and will continue to do so when he returns from a suspension. Max Kepler is a good athlete with a nice swing who hasn't yet taken off the way his tools suggest, though he is just 21 years old in High-A.
One of the biggest reasons Minnesota's system has taken off over the last two years is due to a change in draft philosophy. The franchise used to play the safe game by drafting command pitchers who gave up a lot of contact, which was enough to make them consistent playoff contenders but always got them knocked around in the playoffs.
They are betting big on tools and upside now, starting with the Buxton selection in 2012 and continuing with flame-throwing right-hander Kohl Stewart last year. If they stick to that philosophy, shortstop Nick Gordon is a perfect fit with the glove to stick at the position and has underrated strength in his 170-pound frame.
If pitching is the name of the game, Hartford right-hander Sean Newcomb is moving up draft boards quickly thanks to injuries to other players and impressive performances late in the year. He's a 6'4" left-hander with one of the easiest deliveries you will see and a plus fastball-slider combination.
New York Mets
First pick: No. 10
Few teams in baseball can match the pitching depth the Mets have added over the last few years, with Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Rafael Montero already in the big leagues and Noah Syndergaard, Domingo Tapia and Steven Matz coming in the next year.
The position players are solid as a whole, though the best ones are in A-ball, including Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario and Gavin Cecchini. They can stand to add talent that doesn't have the volatility of those players, even if the ceiling isn't as high.
The Mets' strategy in recent years has been to bet on tools, so if they go the high-floor route, it likely won't come until the team makes its second pick (No. 84 overall).
One player who is going to go in the first round—though it's hard to place exactly where because of the debate about his upside—is NC State shortstop Trea Turner. He's a solid-average defensive shortstop with good range and plus running speed. But at 6'1", 171 pounds with marginal bat speed and a flat swing, he does not project to be a great offensive player.
LSU right-hander Aaron Nola has a chance to fall here, and he could be a very attractive option for the Mets. He is going to move quickly and can slot in behind Harvey, Wheeler, Montero and Syndergaard by the end of 2015, giving the Mets one of the best young rotations in baseball.
New York Yankees
First pick: No. 55
If you have been watching the Yankees at all in 2014, you know that starting pitching is a huge priority for this franchise. CC Sabathia's best days are clearly behind him; Hiroki Kuroda, for as durable as he's been, is finally pitching like a 39-year-old; Michael Pineda is never going to be dependable; and Ivan Nova won't pitch again until 2015 after having Tommy John surgery.
Signing Masahiro Tanaka was out of necessity as much as it was about adding a young impact starter to the MLB rotation. There's nothing coming to New York in the pipeline. Manny Banuelos is throwing at Double-A Trenton, but he is averaging fewer than three innings in eight starts so far.
Thanks to their offseason spending spree, the Yankees' first pick doesn't come until midway through the second round, making the odds of landing an impact prospect slim. There's good depth in the class, so they should be able to find a quality MLB player.
There are two non-first round catchers I like in this draft: Chase Vallot and Evan Skoug. It's too early for the Yankees to go after Skoug, but Vallot has the arm strength and some athleticism to stay behind the plate. He can turn into an offensive-minded catcher thanks to plus bat speed and big raw power.
As far as upside on the mound, left-hander Alex Verdugo is one of the more intriguing arms in the draft. He's a two-way player who could get drafted as a position player, but a southpaw who can touch 93 mph with a solid-average changeup is too valuable to feature anywhere else.
First pick: No. 25
For all of the accolades Billy Beane has received over the years, and deservedly so, one thing the A's haven't done recently is build depth in the farm system to supplement all of their graduations and trades.
They have one of the best prospects in baseball in shortstop Addison Russell, but there is not much beyond that. There isn't one specific area for the A's to focus on since they need impact at virtually every position except shortstop.
If you want to single out one thing, a power-hitting outfielder would take the top spot. Last year's top pick, Billy McKinney, is a left fielder whose strengths lie more within his ability to make contact and find gaps than hit the ball over the fence.
The level of shock when Oakland drafted Russell two years ago was substantial, because it was the first time since 2001 that the franchise drafted a high school player in the first round. The trend continued last year with McKinney.
Assuming Beane and his staff stick to that strategy this year, several intriguing options jump out. Shortstop Ti'Quan Forbes is a projectable athlete at 6'4" and 175 pounds. He may outgrow the position in the future, but he has a big enough bat to project well at third base.
Right-handed pitcher Grant Holmes is underrated because he lacks physical projection at 6'2" and 190 pounds. Still, no high school pitcher in this class, save for Brady Aiken, combines present polish, pitchability and stuff better than the Conway High School stud.
First pick: No. 7
An aging roster and years of trades have really wiped out most of what the Phillies have in the farm system. They do have some depth at a lot of positions, including shortstop (J.P. Crawford, Roman Quinn and Zach Green) and corner bats (Maikel Franco, Aaron Altherr, Carlos Tocci and Cord Sandberg).
Crawford is a potential star, and Franco has the power to hit 25-plus homers. They are the only impact players in the group right now, though, which doesn't bode well for a team locked into a lot of big contracts at the MLB level.
After Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the starting rotation lacks depth. A.J. Burnett was always a short-term solution anyway, even though he has a 3.51 ERA in 66.2 innings. Left-hander Jesse Biddle is a starter who can mix four pitches but isn't more than a No. 3 option.
Aside from the Cubs, no team is going to shape the direction of Round 1 more than the Phillies.
ESPN's Keith Law noted (subscription required) in his first mock draft that the front office is pushing to select someone who can move quickly through the system in order to try and maximize the potential for the current MLB team.
If that's the case, LSU's Aaron Nola makes sense for the Phillies. He's been a dominant force in the SEC for two years, features two plus pitches and has great deception thanks to a three-quarters arm slot.
His delivery is unusual, and it isn't what you normally see from a high-end starter, but Nola makes it work and repeats it well. Combine that with his polish, and it won't take long before he reaches the big leagues.
First pick: No. 24
This is the first time since 1993 that the Pirates are selecting outside of the top 20. They certainly aren't starved for talent at any level in the minors, owning several impact prospects on the mound and in the field.
Thanks to that level of depth, there really isn't an area the Pirates are pressed to find talent. They can just plug players in and keep churning out big leaguers, like the should-have-been-promoted-already Gregory Polanco, projectable stud Austin Meadows and the underrated Josh Bell.
The injury to Jameson Taillon does leave the Pirates thin in terms of pitching at the upper levels, but they still have good depth at the MLB level and can get by until he returns next season.
The Pirates have been all over the map in recent years, going after upside and ceiling last year with Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows and falling into Mark Appel in 2012 before failing to sign him.
Tools appear to be of the utmost importance to Pittsburgh's talent-evaluation staff. Two names who immediately stand out in that regard are high-schoolers Monte Harrison and Jacob Gatewood.
Both have significant questions about their ability to make contact, but Harrison is a premium athlete with bat speed and power, while Gatewood has plus-plus raw power and could end up as a 25- to 30-homer player in time.
San Diego Padres
First pick: No. 13
San Diego's system has been fascinating to watch the last three years. It's never produced a player you will find in the top 10 of an overall top 100 list, but there's always a handful of guys who make the list, as the team has good depth in the minors.
This year, there is a clear divide between the two sides, as pitching has overtaken the position players. The return of Rymer Liriano, who missed last year with Tommy John surgery, has given the Padres more outfield depth.
Middle infielders are seriously lacking right now. Jace Peterson got a brief 10-game tryout in the big leagues before getting sent down to Triple-A, while Dustin Peterson projects as a third baseman.
The Padres have been aggressive in the draft for years, going after tools and upside instead of safe and conservative players. Even Hunter Renfroe, last year's top pick out of Mississippi State, was lauded more for his athleticism than his performance in college.
Considering how the Padres like to take risks, I wonder if they are a sleeper team for East Carolina's Jeff Hoffman. They could sign him, redshirt him until next May and get a bargain at No. 13 based on where he was projected to go when the season started.
High school pitchers have always been appealing to San Diego, so a high-upside arm like Touki Toussaint or Spencer Adams would make sense here as well.
San Francisco Giants
First pick: No. 14
Can the Giants please get a position player worth talking about? Their system is loaded with pitching, and some of it is because of the way they draft, and some of it is just due to poor strategy when it comes to non-pitchers.
Catcher Andrew Susac should carve out a career in the big leagues, though it won't come in San Francisco as long as Buster Posey is behind the plate. He's also more of a power-before-hit player, so his defense will have to improve for him to be a starter.
Other than Susac, where is the future position player coming from? Last year's first-round pick, Christian Arroyo, was a reach who doesn't project to stay at shortstop and doesn't have the offense for third base.
Unless the Giants upend their whole draft strategy, a hard-throwing right-hander is going to be their first pick.
Virginia's Nick Howard certainly fits that criteria, as he possesses a mid-90s fastball, but he would be a reach at No. 14. They can also take a chance on Jeff Hoffman if they feel confident about his ability to return from elbow surgery.
A potential sleeper candidate to watch in case he falls here is Bradley Zimmer, who plays for the University of San Francisco and has all sorts of tools that would play nicely in AT&T Park.
First pick: No. 6
While the Mariners have several high-ceiling talents to keep an eye on, all of them are so young and far away that they aren't going to make any significant impact until Taijuan Walker returns from the disabled list.
On the positive side, one reason the system is shallow right now is due to promotions of James Paxton, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino. While those players are still trying to find their niche, no system would look good losing that much talent from the minors.
Pitching is still the overwhelming strength of the system, so whatever the Mariners decide to do in the draft should revolve around bats.
The worst-kept secret in baseball is Seattle's affection for Alex Jackson, per Jason A. Churchill of ProspectInsider.com. That's surprising only because no one ever has any idea what the Mariners are going to do before the draft (see: Danny Hultzen in 2011).
Jackson has the kind of bat speed and raw power to be a star, even if he moves to the outfield. Still, there are questions about his hit tool thanks to the length in the swing and his below-average pitch recognition.
College players have long been a preference for the Mariners early in the draft, so a sleeper name to watch here is LSU's Aaron Nola, especially if Jackson is off the board when they are picking.
St. Louis Cardinals
First pick: No. 27
It's a mistake to say the Cardinals don't have a strong system, but after graduating Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal and Matt Adams last year, there's no way they were going to stay on that lofty perch.
They still have Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty and a healthy dose of young pitching to build around, including Marco Gonzales and Rob Kaminsky.
Their biggest weakness, which was evident last year in the big leagues, is at shortstop. The Cardinals signed Jhonny Peralta for four years to get rid of Pete Kozma in a move that looks brilliant thus far, though they still don't have any depth to help out in case of injury.
For a team that has built such a great farm system over the years, St. Louis has done a lot of its damage on the international market and later in the draft. It's been fairly conservative early in the draft, grabbing college players with its first selection in every season since 2010.
The first name that immediately jumps out is Florida State right-hander Luke Weaver, whom the Cardinals certainly know after drafting James Ramsey from the same school in 2012. Weaver has a plus fastball-changeup combination that the franchise loves.
A sleeper candidate to watch is left-hander Foster Griffin, a highly projectable 6'5" pitcher with good fastball command and a changeup that flashes above-average potential.
Tampa Bay Rays
First pick: No. 20
What makes Tampa Bay's success at the MLB level so astounding is how badly the franchise has drafted and developed in recent years. It's much easier to find stars when you're picking at or near the top of drafts with players like Evan Longoria and David Price waiting for you.
This season has finally shown some cracks in the Rays' foundation, as they no longer have the depth to overcome the areas where they are lacking. Specifically, they need to find position players who can hit.
Hak-Ju Lee is a good defensive shortstop who doesn't have the frame or bat speed to be a quality hitter in the big leagues. They have no power in the system, at least none that plays in games. Plenty of guys have it during batting practice.
Considering how weak Tampa Bay's hitting in the minors is—not to mention how well the power bats line up with where the team is picking this year—it would be an upset if the Rays didn't go that direction.
Indiana's Kyle Schwarber could be in play if he's not off the board, though considering how much raw power he has, it might be a stretch to get him at No. 20. Another direction they can go is Kentucky's A.J. Reed, who isn't far behind the IU product in terms of raw power but doesn't have the same bat speed.
If the Rays really want to reach for upside, California high school star Marcus Wilson would be a very good pick. He's got a projectable 6'3", 170-pound frame with the bat speed and glove to stick in center field.
First pick: No. 30
One thing that has become evident this season with the rash of pitching injuries to the MLB club is how little depth the Rangers have in that area. Alex Jackson and Luke Jackson are the best of the bunch, but they aren't more than No. 3-4 starter types who can fill out a rotation.
The Rangers could also use more help in all areas in the upper levels.
They have a number of toolsy athletes in the lower levels who can take significant steps forward by the end of 2014 or midway through next season—Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson, Nomar Mazara, Jairo Beras and Ronald Guzman—to complement top-tier talents like Jorge Alfaro, Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas.
All you have to do is look for the best athlete on the board, because that's what the Rangers love. That strategy always makes their farm system fascinating to watch, even if it takes a long time to develop that talent.
Forrest Wall is the kind of player a team like Texas can fall in love with, because he's got a profile that is eerily similar to Odor: a second baseman with an explosive hit tool, underrated power and above-average speed.
Drafting a high school second baseman early is usually taboo, but Wall bucks the trend with his offensive potential.
Other than Wall, just look for any premium athlete who might slip due to signability or performance concerns such as Monte Harrison, Derek Hill and Ti'Quan Forbes.
Toronto Blue Jays
First pick: No. 9 (also pick at No. 11 for failing to sign Phil Bickford last year)
The Blue Jays are usually one of the most aggressive teams in the draft, taking chances on players who may be difficult to sign with the hopes of procuring elite talent. It hasn't worked out well lately, with Phil Bickford and Tyler Beede opting to attend college instead.
Another problem for the franchise is that going all-in to win at the MLB level has left the system lacking in top-tier talent. Marcus Stroman will be in Toronto's rotation very soon, but none of their other top prospects projects to contribute for a while. Aaron Sanchez is at least one full year away.
They traded Noah Syndergaard, Travis d'Arnaud, Justin Nicolino and Jake Marisnick from their system prior to 2013, which put a huge dent in their talent. Granted, they did it with the hopes of winning at the MLB level, which they are doing now, and that's part of why you build depth in the farm system. However, it also puts more pressure on the 25-man roster to stay healthy.
The Blue Jays are as predictable as any team in the draft. They want premium athletes or high-upside pitchers who already throw in the mid-90s. With two of the first 11 picks in the draft, general manager Alex Anthopoulos has plenty of ammo to work with.
Touki Toussaint seems like a given for the Blue Jays at No. 9. He's a big, powerful right-handed pitcher with a plus fastball, improved curveball and much better mechanics to project at least average command.
As for the No. 11 pick, the Jays could go the college route, hoping to sign a player right at slot or slightly under to spend money on later. NC State shortstop Trea Turner is solid value at this spot, as is Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto.
First pick: No. 18
The Nationals lack the impact at the top of their system, even though they have arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball (Lucas Giolito), an improving power arm (A.J. Cole) and the toolsy-but-underwhelming Brian Goodwin.
Normally, this would be a strange complaint for a team that has drafted players like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Giolito in recent years, but the first three players flew through the minors and the latter can only hide so many deficiencies.
Offense is also a problem for Washington's system, as the organization lacks an impact hitter at any level of the minors. Goodwin has never figured out how to translate his tools into consistent performance. Michael Taylor has good raw power, but he has also struck out 70 times in 176 at-bats this season.
Considering how aggressive the Nationals are in the draft, don't be surprised to see them take a risk at No. 18. They did it two years ago with Giolito when he was battling elbow problems, and they have hit big with the prized right-hander in his return from Tommy John surgery.
Don't be shocked if Jeff Hoffman is the object of Washington's desire, assuming he makes it to this spot. He would have been a top-five selection if not for the injury, and he even had some physical projection in his 6'4", 185-pound frame.
Travis Watkins, Hoffman's roommate and catcher at East Carolina, said this of his pitcher, per Brian Haines of the News & Observer: "He’s a competitor. He goes out there and does everything he can to find a way to win. He’s a gamer, and he just loves to compete."
High school slugger Jacob Gatewood could also slot in here if the Nationals fall in love with his raw power.
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