With the MLB draft on deck, the usual questions have begun to sprout. Who will go No. 1 overall? Will teams prefer high school or college pitchers? Which players will drop due to injuries or perhaps poor seasons?
While we won't know the answers to those questions until the draft begins, there are plenty of whispers to consider. Below, we'll take a look at three juicy rumors currently making the rounds.
The Houston Astros have a tough decision to make when they pick No. 1 overall at this year's MLB draft. There isn't a consensus top player available, but it isn't due to a lack of talented players on the board. In fact, it would appear there are as many as six players the team deems worthy of being the selection.
The team has narrowed its choices at No. 1 to six potential players, a person familiar with the club's thinking said: college pitchers Carlos Rodon and Aaron Nola, high school pitchers Tyler Kolek and Brady Aiken, high school catcher Alex Jackson and high school shortstop Nick Gordon.
Rodon was the industry's consensus best available player heading into this spring, but the North Carolina State lefthander might have been surpassed by a younger southpaw, Aiken, a polished San Diego product who draws Cole Hamels comparisons.
Casting such a wide net could be a smoke screen from the Astros, especially when many folks feel Aiken and Rodon are the top players in the draft. Given the struggles of last year's top pick, college pitcher Mark Appel, it wouldn't be surprising if the team was leaning toward Aiken.
A lefty with several plus pitches and good control for his age, Aiken is a unique talent and a player who seems to have a low bust potential despite coming straight out of high school.
On the other hand, there's a reason why high school pitchers are almost never the top overall pick in the draft—the unknown with how they'll develop in the minors is so great. If the Astros fear that unknown, it's more likely they'll go with Rodon.
It's a huge choice. Luckily for the Astros, they have so many promising options to choose from.
While many teams are focusing during the draft on which players they'll be selecting, the Chicago Cubs appear to be also trying to position themselves to add a draft pick for next season.
How? By trading Jeff Samardzija, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
The Cubs have inquired about receiving a competitive-balance draft pick and the accompanying bonus-pool money in other deals and would consider teams' 2015 draft choices as sweeteners for a package that returns Samardzija. It's rather unlikely the Cubs strike a deal for Samardzija this week, meaning the tradable 2014 draft picks won't go toward him. Of the contending teams who could make an offer and have interest, the Colorado Rockies, choosing 35th, make the most sense. Chicago executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are creative enough, too, to consider three-team deals with an asset as valuable as Samardzija, like Price not a free agent until after next season.
Samardzija certainly has plenty of value at the moment. Ignore his 1-5 record, and you see a pitcher with a 2.54 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 67 strikeouts in 78 innings. A man who certainly misses bats—he has 461 strikeouts in his last 466.1 innings pitched—Samardzija could help gain the Cubs another pick in their long rebuilding effort.
There are conflicting reports on this, however, as Mark Polishuk of MLB Trade Rumors passes along:
"A baseball source differs from the report referenced below, telling MLBTR there is no truth to the assertion that the Cubs have inquired about receiving a competitive balance draft pick as part of a Samardzija deal."
Well, then. Stay tuned. Where there is smoke, there is generally some type of fire. But in this case, the fire may simply be the Cubs shopping Samardzija, not that they are shopping him to add a pick at the draft.
San Diego Padres
You could argue that the San Diego Padres need help anywhere they can get it. But the team isn't about to take a risk when going after top prospects who have perhaps been injured in the past, according to Jeff Sanders of U-T San Diego:
In need of top-flight bats throughout the farm system above all else, the Padres won't shy away from taking pitching early in this week's amateur draft if that's how their board shakes out.
That wish list, however, doesn't include plans to look at two top-of-the-draft players – East Carolina's Jeff Hoffman and UNLV's Erick Fedde—who could slip to the Padres at No. 13 after undergoing Tommy John surgeries this season. At least not with their first pick, team sources have said.
It probably isn't a huge leap to suggest that the Padres will avoid such pitchers if indeed they are prioritizing pitching in this draft. Still, it would appear avoiding injury risks is a priority. Beyond unnamed sources, Padres brass has publicly said it'll be cautious about approaching players with injury histories.
"Predicting health is hard enough as it is," assistant general manager Chad MacDonald told Sanders. "We want to take someone who is healthy. There are too many good options on the board."
It's a fair approach to take. While players coming off injuries have often dropped, resulting in teams getting bargains later in the draft—Jackie Bradley Jr. for the Red Sox comes to mind—safe is always better than sorry when it comes to the draft.