MLB Draft 2011: Ranking the 25 Prospects Who Are Closest to MLB-Ready

Zachary BallAnalyst IApril 18, 2011

MLB Draft 2011: Ranking the 25 Prospects Who Are Closest to MLB-Ready

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    We've now reached the halfway point of the college baseball season, meaning the buildup to the 2011 MLB draft has officially started.

    The usual suspects are still out in the forefront.

    Guys like Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Sonny Gray are still top-five picks, while there's been some incredible movement by players like Taylor Jungmann and Danny Hultzen, who have catapulted themselves into top 10 or even top-five consideration.

    In case you hadn't noticed, high school ball is also heating up. 

    Pitchers Archie Bradley, Dylan Bundy and Taylor Guerrieri are securing their statuses with fine seasons, while Bubba Starling and Tyler Beede are just kicking off their seasons.

    Regardless of what you think of the MLB draft, whether you love it or hate it (stupid compensation picks), the one thing that everyone wants to know is when their favorite team's top pick will make an impact on the big-league roster.

    If you're a Giants or Reds fan, you probably care more about this than most, since you've benefited from the additions of Buster Posey and Mike Leake. Those are two players who sped through the minors, or in Leake's case, never even set foot on a minor league field, arriving in the majors just in time to make a huge impact on a team destined for the playoffs.

    No matter who you root for, check it out, and when your favorite team selects Matt Barnes from UConn, you'll know when to expect him to join your team's big-league rotation.

25. Archie Bradley, RHP, Broken Arrow HS (Okla.)

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    Hard-throwing right-hander Archie Bradley, from Oklahoma, kicks off our list.

    Next to Dylan Bundy, Bradley is the most MLB-ready high-school pitching prospect, thanks to his big-league body and his arsenal of pitches.

    He already throws in the mid-to-high 90s and doesn't appear to be as in love with the strikeout as most high-school pitchers are. That's not to say that he doesn't rack them up with the best of them.

    He has 73 strikeouts so far this season in only 41.1 innings, and he has only allowed one earned run all season, good for an ERA of 0.22.

    The 6'4" righty can touch 97-98 mph with his fastball but hasn't hit those numbers on a consistent basis so far in 2011. That might have something to do with the fact that he spent the entire fall and winter playing quarterback for his high school.

    Bradley is a top prospect in football and he has committed to Oklahoma, where he'd likely fight for the backup QB spot behind Landry Jones.

    That is if the first round of the MLB draft doesn't come calling.

    Bradley pairs a couple of promising secondary pitches (changeup and a knuckle-curve) with his two-seam and four-seam fastballs.

    Right now, it looks like it's a three-way battle between Bradley, Bundy and Taylor Guerrieri for the honor of first high-school pitcher taken, but with his impressive arsenal of pitches and his big-league-ready frame, Bradley could easily speed through the lower levels of the minors and arrive in the big leagues some time around 2015.

24. Ricky Oropesa, 1B, USC

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    You can almost be assured that Oropesa, one of the most consistent hitters in college baseball, will be a top-two round talent on draft day.

    Thanks to his sweet left-handed swing and patient approach, he also has a good chance to reach the majors quickly.

    Oropesa's power is as good as just about any college hitter in the 2011 draft class, and despite his struggles with the new metal bats (five home runs in 132 at-bats), he should be a hitter capable of producing 20-25 homers per season.

    Last season, Oropesa became the first USC Trojans hitter to lay claim to the team's Triple Crown since Jeff Clement in 2005. The first baseman hit .353 with 20 home runs and 67 RBI and earned All-Pac-10 honors, earning a place on Baseball America's All-America second team. For good measure, Oropesa led the Trojans, which finished a disappointing 28-32, in steals with seven.

    This season, he's been just as good, posting a .348 average and leading the team in just about every offensive category.

    Clearly, the biggest part of his game is going to be power. And his moonshot-producing raw talent is a major reason that the Red Sox took a gamble on him with their 24th-round pick back in 2008. His strong commitment to USC landed him in Los Angeles, turning down even the most lucrative offer from the Sox.

    While Oropesa has a solid approach at the plate, there are some holes in his swing that lead some to believe he'll rack up a decent number of strikeouts as a pro. Not Mark Reynolds numbers, but around 130-170 per season.

    If he lands with the right organization, Oropesa could start out in High-A ball. From there, it could be a quick rise to the big leagues. 

23. Alex Meyer, RHP, Kentucky

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    If Meyer could exercise even the slightest bit of control over his impressive stuff, he could be one of the first players from the 2011 draft to reach the majors.

    As it stands right now, though, he's still at least two-to-three years away from being big-league ready. 

    Meyer entered the 2011 season looking to improve upon his less-than-stellar 2009 and 2010 seasons and trying to make a name for himself in this deep 2011 college draft crop.

    And while Meyer, lovingly nicknamed Bubba, has turned some heads, he hasn't made as much progress as scouts had hoped to see out of him.

    He has posted an ERA more than two runs under his career average and he has 71 strikeouts in only 62.2 innings, but his command over his pitches has been borderline abysmal. He's walked 32 batters, tossed seven wild pitches and hit three batters.

    The bright spots have come more frequently in 2011, though, like his March 12th start against Niagara, in which Meyer threw a complete-game shutout, striking out 13 batters and walking only two. He threw 83 of his 118 pitches that night for strikes and didn't hit anyone or record any wild pitches.

    At 6'9" and 230 pounds, Meyer understandably has trouble repeating his delivery but will undoubtedly get a look in the first round due to his outstanding velocity (mid 90s) and a potential above-average slider.

    Some have suggested moving Meyer into a bullpen role, where he could utilize his two-pitch arsenal without having to worry about improving his changeup. 

    If that were the case, Bubba could move much quicker.

22. Preston Tucker, 1B, Florida

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    Tucker has a great story.

    Considered a "no-star" prospect coming out of high school, he had to make multiple trips to Tallahassee to try out for the coaching staff at Florida State. They told him he wasn't talented enough to have a chance at making their squad, so Tucker turned his gaze towards Gainesville and an up-and-coming Gator baseball program.

    Flash forward three years and Tucker is one of the best hitters in college baseball and a legitimate top-two round talent in this year's MLB draft.

    Tucker got off to a hot start at UF. As a freshman he paced the squad with 15 homers, 85 RBI and a .364 average. For his efforts, he was named Freshman of the Year by numerous publications and tabbed as a player to watch for this year's draft.

    Last year, Tucker stumbled a little bit and backpedaled in just about every offensive category. He still hit .331 with 11 homers and 49 RBI and improved his plate discipline. He ranked second on the club with 43 walks.

    This season, Tucker might not even reach the numbers he notched in 2010, thanks to a solid all-around UF squad that is probably the deepest team in the country. Still, he's currently hitting .336 with 11 doubles, a team-leading seven homers and 32 RBI and a .404 on-base percentage. 

    As a pro, Tucker should be a solid all-around player in the mold of a Billy Butler, both at the plate and in the field. He doesn't offer as much potential to hit for average, but he should have similar power to Butler, and the same inability to play anything other than a little first base and a lot of DH.

    Tucker should start off at least Low-A ball, if not High-A, and he could move quickly thanks to his great approach at the plate. 

21. Tyler Anderson, LHP, Oregon

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    Anderson is a very interesting guy to keep an eye on on draft day.

    A seasoned lefty who has compiled a 14-15 record in two-and-a-half seasons pitching for Oregon, Anderson has caught the attention of scouts and team officials alike with his dominating start to the 2011 season.

    Pitching for a vastly underwhelming Ducks squad, Anderson has been a model of consistency. Of the Ducks 17 total victories, Anderson has five. He's 5-1 with a team-leading 1.49 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 66.2 innings.

    Anderson throws in the low 90s (very low 90s) and has trouble mustering enough velocity to get to 92 mph, but his command and the sinking action on his fastball make it look a lot better. He has 20 walks so far this season as result of a true breaking pitch. His changeup is an above-average pitch, but it doesn't have incredible movement on it, leading many to think he could get beat up by more experienced hitters as he rises through the minors.

    It's amazing the progress Anderson has made since signing with the Ducks back in 2008 after turning down an offer from the Twins, which drafted him in the 50th round that same year. As a freshman, he struggled to make it through the fourth inning regularly. He went 2-9 that year with a 6.26 ERA.

    He put in the time and effort over the offseason and came back as a new pitcher in 2010. He paced the Ducks squad with a 7-5 record, a 2.98 ERA and a 105-to-33 K-to-BB ratio in 102.2 innings. He continued to have problems with the long ball, serving up 11 homers after surrendering nine the year before.

    He's continued that progress this season, and through 66.2 innings, he's only given up one homer.

    Anderson is another guy who could end up in the bullpen if he can't find a reliable third pitch. 

20. George Springer, OF, Connecticut

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    Springer had as much draft helium as any prospect in the land coming into the 2011 season. 

    He was being widely touted as college baseball's only potential 20-20 player and a dark horse for the No. 1 overall selection in June's draft.

    And while he hasn't exactly had the kind of breakout season that most expected from him, he has rebounded nicely from a fairly slow start. As of late, he has been one of the hottest hitters in the country.

    Like many other hitters, Springer has struggled to hit for power with the new BBCOR bats. One year after swatting 18 homers and two years removed from a 16-homer campaign, Springer has only four through 34 games. Most of his other offensive numbers are well below his 2010 pace, although he still leads the team in RBI and is second in average (.339) and hits (42), and he's only three doubles shy of setting a new career mark.

    Springer does have some speed to burn, and while opposing pitchers have kept a better eye on him in 2011, he still has 14 steals in 20 tries. He's walked only 18 times, but he still has an OBP of .453 thanks to 12 hit-by-pitches, a number that leads the team by six.

    Springer projects as a power-hitting corner outfielder with potential above-average speed, and before the season, there were projections of him as a potential 30-homer/30 stolen bases kind of guy.

    He might have to pawn off some of his speed to tap into that above-average power, but regardless, he's a seasoned hitter who should be able to move through the minors quickly.

19. C.J. Cron, 1B/C, Utah

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    Utah's C.J. Cron is having such a great year at the plate that you could probably drop him in Low-A ball right now and he'd have a good shot to hold his own.

    A player who I touted as a potential top-10 pick only weeks after the 2010 MLB draft, Cron has been one of the hottest hitters, if not the hottest, in all of college baseball. Through 28 games, the right-hander is hitting .478 with 13 doubles, eight homers, 37 RBI, 29 runs and a ridiculous .805 slugging-percentage. 

    And while this seems like a breakout year for the catcher-turned-first baseman, he actually had his already, last year, when he hit .431 with 20 homers and 81 RBI. Not too many hitters are going to reach the 20-homer plateau this season with the new bats, but it's great to see that the dip in power hasn't affected Cron's overall hitting ability.

    He truly is a gap-to-gap, line-drive hitter for whom homers are just an added bonus.

    Cron began his career at Utah as a catcher and he projected as a good one. Injuries, though, to him and other players, forced a move to first base, where he developed into a solid defender as well. He has a .990 fielding percentage so far this season, making only three errors in 268 total chances.

    Cron's polished bat and aggressive approach at the plate should not only make him a first or second-round pick, but should allow him to move quickly.

18. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Owasso HS (Okla.)

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    High school players don't normally reach the majors within one to two years, and ascensions to the big leagues like the one Rick Porcello made a few years ago with the Tigers are almost impossible.

    Simply put, if you're not a player drafted out of college, you aren't making it to the big leagues for at least two or three, and sometimes four or five, years.

    While Dylan Bundy might not make it to the highest level really quickly, he's a safe bet to be the first high schooler from the 2011 class to strike it rich.

    Featuring a mid-90s fastball and three other pitches, two of which have above-average potential, Bundy is the most complete package of any high school pitcher. He also has good control and excellent command for a prep pitcher.

    This season Bundy has been nearly unhittable, allowing only 12 base hits in 48 innings of work. He's racked up 11 strikeouts and, get this, in eight starts, he has six one-hitters and one no-hitter.

    His most recent start was supposed to come in a historic matchup that pitted Bundy against fellow top-10 projected pick Archie Bradley, but the game was suspended due to the awful weather that swept across the country at the end of last week.

    Bundy made his start on Saturday instead and tossed a gem, allowing only one hit and striking out 16 of the 20 batters he faced. 

    Toss in the fact that he hit 98 mph on a radar gun during his last start and Bundy's helium is soaring as we near closer to draft day.

    His solid combination of pitches, along with his control and his high velocity, should allow Bundy to dominate hitters in the lower levels of the minors and shoot up to the majors quickly for a high schooler.

17. Kyle Winkler, RHP, Texas Christian

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    The unheralded true ace of TCU's Horned Frogs rotation that also includes potential/probable top-10 pick Matt Purke, Kyle Winkler has been one of the best pitchers in college baseball this season. In the process, he has generated plenty of first-round interest.

    His consistent effort also makes you wonder why teams were sleeping on him in the first place.

    Through nine starts, Winkler is 6-1 with a 1.42 ERA. He has posted the team's only complete-game shutout and leads the squad in innings pitched (63.1) and strikeouts (69). Winkler has shown pinpoint accuracy, issuing only 11 walks, and he has only one wild pitch all season. Purke, on the other hand, has four and has hit eight batters in only eight starts.

    Winkler doesn't have the easy velocity that comes so naturally for Purke, but he can still crank it up there in the mid 90s, and when he mixes his fastball with his slider, which has developed into an above-average pitch, he can be very hard to get a handle on.

    Last season, as a part of the terrifying (to face) trio of TCU starters, Winkler posted a 12-3 record and coupled it with a 3.39 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 116.2 innings. He did have a problem with the long ball, serving up 15 homers, but it looks like he's back to his anti-homer ways, giving up only two so far this season. He also gave up only five as a freshman.

    The real key for Winkler, if he wants to remain a starter, is developing his changeup, which, until now, he hasn't needed too frequently. As a reliever, he could move very quickly, but whichever team drafts him will be getting a proven starting pitcher who is durable and a winner (25-5 as a starter).

16. Levi Michael, SS, North Carolina

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    Michael is one of the best all-around players in college baseball.

    He has an incredible mix of athleticism and baseball knowledge that make him a very scary player to face off against. 

    He's a seasoned hitter who has improved every season. As a freshman, he hit .290, but he also hit 13 homers, drove in 57 runs and scored 54 more. Last year, he focused more on line-driving the ball, and the result was fewer homers (nine), but an average 56 points higher (.346). This year, he's been a solid combination of his first two seasons, hitting three homers while maintaining a .336 average.

    Michael is also a very patient hitter with great plate discipline. He struck out 30 more times than he walked as a freshman, improved that number to 18-plus on the walks side in 2010, and this year has 11 more walks than strikeouts. 

    He's also a very good baserunner. Michael didn't do much damage on the base paths as a freshman, but he exploded for 20 steals last year. He's been even better in 2011, stealing 13 bags so far, getting caught only once. 

    And last but not least, Michael is a solid defender. After bouncing around his first two seasons, he finally settled at shortstop this year. He's experienced some growing pains, but he's only made six errors in 146 total chances.

    Michael is a polished player who should find a home in the first few rounds of the draft and should be one of the quickest to reach Double-A.

15. Kolten Wong, 2B, Hawaii

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    Wong is one of a handful of legitimate second baseman prospects in the 2011 MLB draft class.

    He's also one of the more polished hitters available and, as such, he'll likely hear his name called in one of the first two rounds.

    Wong exploded onto the scene with a stellar freshman season at Hawaii, during which he hit .341 with 11 homers and 52 RBI. He added in 11 steals and a very impressive BB-to-K ratio (25-to-23) to boot.

    He followed up his rookie campaign with an even more impressive 2010 season. Wong hit .357 with four triples, seven homers, 40 RBI and 57 runs. He stole 19 bases and had 16 more walks than strikeouts. 

    He boosted his stock even further with an impressive performance in the Cape Cod League. Wong hit .341 with three homers and 11 RBI in 38 contests. He also led the league with 22 steals and posted another strong walk ratio (18-to-13). He was rewarded for his efforts with the League MVP trophy.

    Wong returned to Hawaii for his junior season and, so far, he's raking at a record pace. His average currently sits at .400, and he has five homers and 27 RBI. All three numbers pace the Warriors squad. He also leads the team in runs scored (27), steals (13) and is second in walks with 18. Like usual, Wong has more walks than strikeouts (12).

    Wong has played solid defense at 2B during his three years of college ball. His arm is good enough and his footwork is decent enough to stick there. His bat should make him one of the better offensive players at the position, and he should move quickly through the minors.

    If Wong were to get picked up by, say Tampa Bay, he could arguably be in the majors by mid-2014.

14. Jason Esposito, 3B, Vanderbilt

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    Esposito is a player who was primed for a huge breakout year in 2011. While his season hasn't gone exactly as planned, he's still one of the better all-around third basemen available in the 2011 draft crop and a sure-fire bet to be off the board before the third round.

    Esposito has been a key cog to the Commodores 32-5 start, but his season got off to a rough start. His early struggles to produce at the plate were compounded by the new bats and made even worse by the team's attempt to move him to shortstop.

    After a few weeks, he moved back to the hot corner, and his bat started to sizzle. It hasn't stopped since.

    For the year, Esposito is hitting .329, a solid number, but still sixth on a very talented Vandy squad. His five homers rank second on the team, while his 30 RBI lead the team by two. He's struggled to maintain a steady BB-to-K ratio (11-to-27) after making incredible progress during his first two seasons, but he's also had to deal with getting beaned a team-high 10 times.

    Esposito's play at third base was a reason he was rumored to be a first-round pick coming into the 2011 season. Now that he's back there, he's once again showing above-average defensive ability. He blows the socks off of another former Vandy third baseman (Pedro Alvarez) who's now playing in the majors.

    And while his bat isn't as impressive as Alvarez's, he still should have more than enough pop to make a splash in pro ball.

    Esposito is also an aggressive baserunner who stole 51 bases his first two seasons and he has 10 so far in 17 tries this year.

    His solid all-around play should be enough to move him quickly through the minors.

13. Matt Barnes, RHP, Connecticut

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    Barnes has come a long way since setting foot on UConn's campus for the first time back in 2009.

    Back then, he was a scrawny right-hander who threw in the low 90s with very little control, and it showed in his freshman season results: 5.43 ERA, 23 walks and four wild pitches in 53 innings.

    He made dramatic improvement during his sophomore season, posting an 8-3 record, a 3.92 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 82.2 innings, emerging as the ace of the Huskies squad that surprised everyone with a 48-16 record.

    It was after the season that Barnes took a huge step forward and tossed his name into the ring as a potential top-10 pick.

    Pitching at the Team USA trials in North Carolina, he showed consistent mid-90s velocity, a menacing bulldog attitude on the mound and four potential above-average pitches, en route to a dominating performance that included back-to-back strikeouts of projected No. 1 pick Anthony Rendon and reigning CWS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr.

    Barnes looked like a lock for the top three with a solid 2011 season and even garnered some support from ESPN.com's Keith Law, who tabbed him as a potential No. 1 overall selection.

    Like Springer, Barnes got off to a rough start. He righted his ship very quickly and has been the catalyst in UConn's turnaround, winning his last seven starts after losing his first two. His ERA is one of the best in the country, at 1.02, and he has two complete-game shutouts to his name. True to his non-strikeout pitcher form, he has an economical 61 strikeouts in 69 innings.

    If Barnes' turnaround is for real, and he can harness his momentum from his stellar summer and great start this season, he could move incredibly quickly.

12. Mikie Mahtook, Of, LSU

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    Mahtook has been arguably the top hitter of the 2011 college season and is living proof that you can hit for power with the new bats.

    All it takes is some mighty power, which Mahtook has in spades.

    The 6'1", 192-pound spark plug has been Mr. Do-it-all for the LSU Tigers this season, improving upon his impressive 2010 campaign that saw him hit .335 with 10 homers, 50 RBI, 68 runs and 22 steals.

    Through 33 games, Mahtook is hitting .387 with 10 homers, tying his career-high from 2010, and showing it takes more than brute strength to hit with the new BBCOR bats. He also has 21 steals and is two away from setting a new career high in that category.

    Mahtook has been the table setter for the Tigers, getting on base, scoring runs, driving in runs, hitting homers and stealing bases, doing whatever it is that the team needs him to do on any given night.

    And to top it all off, he has also continued to play above-average defense in the outfield for LSU.

    With his improved plate discipline and his surprising pop, Mahtook has surely improved his draft stock as much as any hitter this college season.

    If he can prove to be as polished a hitter as he's looked, he should move really quickly.

11. Jed Bradley, LHP, Georgia Tech

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    Bradley has been another huge surprise of the 2011 season.

    He was expected to have a great season, but he's really been the anchor of a very young and inexperienced Georgia Tech squad.

    Taking the ball on the weekend for the Yellow Jackets, Bradley has a win-loss record (3-2) that doesn't begin to quantify how good he's been. He's struck out a team-leading 72 batters in 53.1 innings and allowed only 42 base hits. He's also the only Tech starter to not surrender a long ball so far this season. 

    Bradley's ERA currently sits at 3.21 but suffered immensely from the beating he took last weekend against Virginia. The lefty gave up seven runs on eight hits in 4.1 innings and was saddled with his first loss of the year.

    Last year, he went 9-5 with a 4.83 ERA, not exactly numbers worthy of a first-round pick. He was, however, 6-2 in a very deep, talented ACC, and he was good enough to be named to the All-ACC second team. He also played second fiddle to eventual first-rounder Deck McGuire.

    As good as Bradley's stats have been, it's his stuff, and the dramatic improvements in it, that has scouts buzzing. Baseball America has actually reported that a few cross-checkers have rated Bradley's repertoire of pitches as the best of any college pitcher eligible this June.

    Bradley throws his fastball in the low 90s and complements it with a slider and a changeup that are both potentially above-average pitches. And his control of his arsenal is top notch. Enough so that Bradley has drawn comparisons to Jeremy Sowers, who parlayed a successful career at Vandy into a first-round draft slot.

    Heading into this season, Bradley was named a second-team All-American by Baseball America, and the 12th-best college player by CollegeBaseballDaily.com

10. Jackie Bradley, OF, South Carolina

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    Next to Anthony Rendon and Springer, Jackie Bradley Jr. is arguably the most impressive position player available.

    In addition to hitting a combined .358 during his two seasons as a Gamecock, Bradley has also posted huge walk numbers, stolen a couple of bases and played sterling outfield.

    Bradley was crucial to South Carolina's College World Series championship run in 2010 and will be a key piece if the Gamecocks can mount an encore in 2011. He was named MVP after hitting two home runs and driving in eight RBI during the semifinals and finals.

    Despite his relatively low stolen-base numbers, Bradley has good speed, certainly good enough to stick in center field, where teams are going to be drooling over him for his ability to hit for power. He saw a lot of that power sapped during the beginning of last season when he was recovering from a broken hand, but it should return in 2011.

    Bradley is a beast in the field, tracking down balls no other players can or should be able to reach. There's a rumor going that he once threw in a ball from right field during a high school All-Star game that was clocked at 101 mph.

    Clearly, he has a good arm to boot.

    Bradley's struggles at the plate have been well publicized, so I won't dig too much into it, but hitting .278 in college is like struggling to keep your head above .200 in the majors, so Bradley could use a strong finish to the 2011 season if he wants to keep his name in the projected top 10.

    He does have six homers with the new bats, which is impressive and another sign that he could have borderline above-average power at the next level.

    With his defense, Bradley is definitely a safe bet to move pretty quickly, but his final destination will rest on the strength of his bat.

9. Taylor Jungmann, RHP, Texas

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    In spite of all the doubts and concerns about his mechanics and delivery, Jungmann hasn't let anything slow him down in 2011.

    The 6'6" right-hander has been as dominating as any college pitcher in recent memory, earning eight wins in his first nine starts, including two by complete-game shutouts. His ERA currently sits at a minuscule 1.11 and his 63-to-9 K-to-BB ratio is one of the best in the country. 

    He's holding hitters to a .173 average and has only given up nine extra-base hits all season. And he's only had one start in which he's failed to go at least eight innings.

    As such, Jungmann has catapulted himself back into top-five pick consideration. 

    The velocity is there, no question, as Jungmann sits in the mid 90s, touching 97 and 98 mph on occasion. So are the solid complementary pitches, in the form of an above-average curveball and above-average changeup.

    To top it all off, Jungmann is an innings eater who thrives in clutch games. He was instrumental in the Longhorns run to the CWS Championship Series two years ago, and he'll likely play a key part in this year's run as well.

    Jungmann won't move as fast as some of the other top college arms, especially if he struggles with his mechanics early on, but it shouldn't take him more than two-and-a-half-to-three years to reach the majors.

8. Matt Purke, LHP, Texas Christian

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    Purke has eased his way back into the rotation this year for the Horned Frogs after missing some time with a blister on his throwing hand.

    He looked fantastic in his first two outings of the year and has quietly built some momentum, pitching well enough over his past few starts to increase his record to 4-1, decreasing his ERA to a season-low 1.55.

    The 2011 season hasn't exactly been a banner year for him, however. He suffered the first loss of his college career (20-1) to a team (Houston Baptist) that entered the game with a 0-14 record. And he's been surpassed as the ace of the rotation by right-hander Kyle Winkler.

    Still, he has 47 strikeouts in 40.2 innings and has only allowed 29 hits and two homers all season.

    Questions about Purke's health and his lanky frame, which many believe could lead to an injury down the road, might cause him to slip out of the top five, but letting him get out of the top 10 would be a crime.

    Moving him to the pen, a la Chris Sale, another lanky lefty who throws hard, might be in Purke's best interest. It would help preserve him and put much less stress on his scrawny frame, allowing him to reach back for an extra few mph.

7. Tony Zych, RHP, Louisville

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    The top-ranked relief prospect in the 2010 Cape Cod League, Zych has had his fair share of struggles in 2011, but he has been the anchor of a very impressive Cardinals bullpen.

    As a freshman at Louisville, he earned Freshman All-American honors after a season in which he went 6-2 with two saves and a 3.25 ERA. He finished with 31 strikeouts in 44.1 innings. He carried the momentum over from that to his stint with Team USA, where he posted an impressive 2.93 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 15.1 innings.

    Last season, Zych fluctuated between the bullpen and the rotation, and it had an impact on his game. He still posted a winning record (5-2), but his ERA ballooned to 5.13. He did, however, have 50 strikeouts in 59.2 innings.

    And Zych iced his cake this summer in the Cape Cod League, where he collected a league-leading 12 saves, notching a 0.89 ERA, with 29 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. For his efforts, he was named the league's relief pitcher of the year, and the top pro prospect of the year, both amazing honors.

    This season, Zych has been very solid, saving nine games for Louisville, posting a 4.11 ERA and notching 15 strikeouts in 15 innings.

    Clearly, Zych's future is coming out of the bullpen. He can crank his fastball into the mid-90s now and complements it with an above-average slider.

    Zych could be one of the first college relievers off the board and could be one of the first to reach the majors.

6. Trevor Bauer, RHP, UCLA

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    Gerrit Cole certainly gets all the attention, but like Matt Purke, it's quite possible that he isn't even the best pitcher on his own team.

    That's right, diminutive Trevor Bauer, all 6'1" and 175 pounds of him, led the Bruins in most statistical categories last year and is threatening to do the same again in 2011. 

    He was 21-6 as a starter at UCLA through 2010 and has posted a career 3.00 ERA. He also has a very impressive, very Tim Lincecum-like 257 strikeouts in only 236 career innings. Last season, he led the nation with 165 punch-outs.

    It's fitting, too, since Bauer admires the diminutive Lincecum, also a record setter from the Pac-10. Like the long-haired San Francisco Giant, Bauer throws in the mid-to-high 90s, sometimes touching 97 mph.

    Bauer also has a plus secondary pitch—a great curveball that helped him rack up a school-record number of strikeouts.

    Unlike Lincecum, however, Bauer is a true student of the game—a real scientist when it comes to pitching.

    He's devoted serious time and effort to honing his delivery, utilizing off-the-wall methods and training exercises to aid his development and strengthen his muscles.

    Bauer is the only Bruin who abstains from the weight room during the season.

    So far in 2011, his quirky methods are paying off. He has the best record on the team (7-1) and paces UCLA in ERA (1.47), innings pitched (73.2), strikeouts (110), complete games (three), shutouts (two) and batting-average against (.148).

    Lincecum only needed 13 minor-league starts to prove his big-league worthiness. Bauer will likely need more seasoning than that, but possibly not too much more.

5. Sonny Gray, RHP, Vanderbilt

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    Also very Tim Lincecum-like, Sonny Gray is a beast on the mound, despite his 6'0", 185-pound frame.

    Gray has put up huge numbers at Vandy, especially last season, when he went 10-5 with a 3.48 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 108 innings. Gray pitched poorly in Vandy's first few games of the CWS, but he improved as the tournament went on.

    Gray then went to work establishing himself as the ace of the USA collegiate team.

    He dominated in every game he appeared in, posting a 3-0 record and striking out 37 batters in only 24 innings. Against Sri Lanka, he was particularly hard to hit, allowing only one base hit, striking out 14 batters in five innings. Only one out came via something other than a strikeout.

    For his troubles, or lack thereof, Gray was named Baseball America's Summer Player of the Year for 2010, further enhancing his draft stock for 2011.

    And Gray has continued to dominate for the Commodores in 2011.

    Pitching without nearly as much national attention as Gerrit Cole or Danny Hultzen, Gray has posted a 7-2 record, he has struck out 73 batters in 60.1 innings and he has notched a 1.79 ERA in nine starts. 

    The diminutive Gray throws in the mid-90s and features one of the draft's best sliders. His changeup is good, too. And he is one of the best at making adjustments on the mound. His own coaches refer to him as an on-the-mound pitching coach.

    It's hard to imagine Gray slipping past the seventh pick, and he could easily go as high as No. 3.

    If whichever team selects him moves him to the bullpen, Gray might not need any minor-league work, moving straight through to the majors.

    In order to achieve the honor as a starter, though, Gray might have to wade through a season or two in the minors.

4. John Stilson, RHP, Texas A&M

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    Texas A&M's John Stilson has played a huge role in the Aggie's 24-9 record and fifth-overall ranking in the national polls, but he's also improved his draft stock so much that he could find his way into the top 15 picks come June.

    Stilson pitched the entire 2010 season out of the A&M bullpen, racking up nine victories in 33 appearances, posting a ridiculous 0.80 ERA. He racked up an astounding 114 strikeouts in only 79 innings and walked only 23 batters, surrendering only two homers all year. He saved 10 games and was one of the best closers in college baseball.

    He was so good that the Aggies decided to move him into the weekend rotation for the 2011 season, where he has continued to dominate.

    He's made 10 appearances in 2011, nine of which have come as the team's starting pitcher. He's only managed to pick up three wins (3-1), but his presence has been felt in every game he's pitched. He's only allowed one home run, only nine earned runs and he has an ERA of 1.28. He also has a team-leading 68 strikeouts in 63.1 innings.

    Stilson was able to generate heat in the high 90s frequently out of the bullpen in 2010, and while the move to the rotation has dropped him into the 93-95 mph range, he's still got more-than-enough velocity to remain a starter long term. He's also impressed with his ability to maintain his velocity deep into games, which was a big question mark after his switch to the rotation.

    Stilson also has a vicious slider that is a true strikeout pitch.

    As good as Stilson has been in the Aggies rotation, there's the belief out there that he's still likely bound for a bullpen role as a pro. Velocity in the high 90s is just too hard to turn down, and his changeup isn't much to speak of, leaving him with only two usable pitches.

    If that's the case, and he does end up pitching in the eighth or ninth inning, he should move through the minors really quickly, needing very little seasoning.

    If whichever team ends up with him decides to leave him as a starter, they could be looking at three-to-four years of development.

3. Danny Hultzen, LHP, Virginia

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    Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen has arguably been the best pitcher in college baseball this season, and he's been good enough to earn Baseball America's Mid-season College Player of the Year honors.

    Hultzen made it to the halfway point of the season undefeated, at 8-0. He has 99 strikeouts in only 61.1 innings, which is surprising because he's never really been a big strikeout guy. He's only allowed 38 hits, and he's posted a 1.17 ERA.

    Hultzen is similar to 2009 first-round pick Mike Minor, in that he's a very polished, very safe left-hander who could reach the majors very quickly. And while Hultzen likely won't get there in the one year it took Minor, he shouldn't be too far behind.

    His velocity has ticked up a bit so far this season, to 93-94, but he usuallly sits in the 90-93 mph range. His curveball is one of the best in the draft class, and when he commands it well and mixes it well with his fastball and his changeup, he's very, very hard to get good contact off of.

    Hultzen will also toss in a splitter every now and then.

    The lefty has had such a great start to the 2011 season that he's catapulted himself from a late first-rounder to a potential top-three pick.

2. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Rice

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    The first hitter from the 2011 draft class to reach the majors should be, without a doubt, the top position player available—Anthony Rendon.

    Rendon proved he could do just about anything during his first two seasons, in which he won Baseball America's Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year honors. 

    This season got off to a rocky start for the slugger. He had ankle surgery during the offseason, and when he finally got healed up from that, he overextended his shoulder during some stretching exercises. That has limited him to DH duties for most of the season and also may have played a role in the fact that he only has three homers so far this season. He hit 20 homers as a freshman, and 27 last season.

    Of course, you could also blame the new bats.

    Through it all, Rendon has maintained a very high average (.349) and has a career average over .380. 

    The real shocker so far this season has been how little opposing pitchers want to face him. He's been issued 57 walks (to only 21 strikeouts), a good chunk of which have been intentional. 

    When he's at his best and 100-percent healthy, Rendon is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman who can hit for power and average. He's been compared to Evan Longoria in the past, and while he still has a ways to go to reach that ceiling, he has all the tools.

    Rendon shouldn't need more than two years in the minors and could get to the majors even faster depending on who drafts him.

    Rendon is a more big-league-ready player than Pedro Alvarez, who needed only 192 minor-league games to reach Pittsburgh.

1. Gerrit Cole, RHP, UCLA

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    Cole not only has the best velocity of any pitcher in the 2011 MLB draft class, but he's also the most big-league ready and could be the very first player from this year's draft to reach the majors.

    It's no joke when scouts and experts compare him to Stephen Strasburg. The only thing that Cole lacks is the top-notch command that made Strasburg such an easy choice at No. 1.

    Cole throws in the mid-to-high 90s and is capable of touching triple digits. His fastball alone has been enough to dominate Pac-10 hitters during Cole's three-year run at UCLA. You toss in arguably the best slider in the draft, a true plus-plus pitch, as well as a changeup that has above-average potential, and Cole is an easy top-two pick.

    This season Cole has been lights out for the Bruins, posting a 4-3 record, a 2.22 ERA and notching 75 strikeouts in 65 innings. He also has three complete games to his name, including two of his last three starts. 

    Did I mention he's an innings eater?

    Cole could invariably follow the same path that Strasburg took to the majors, needing less than a season. It will be tempting for whoever ends up with him (most likely Seattle or Pittsburgh) not to stick him in the bullpen (a la Chris Sale, 2010) in order to speed his ascension to the big leagues.

    If Cole isn't pitching in a big-league rotation by the All-Star break of the 2013 season, I'll be very surprised.