In the United States of America, and especially in the world of sports, there's nothing we love more than to compare.
You see it all through the NFL draft process. Cam Newton reminds so-and-so of Vince Young, while Tim Tebow compares nicely to Mike Alsott.
The MLB draft is no different.
And while it's a lot tougher to project what any of the 1,500-plus picks are going to develop into long-term, that doesn't mean that there aren't decent comparisons to any current big-leaguers.
Last year's draft class was a great example.
No. 3 overall pick Manny Machado was touted as being the next Alex Rodriguez, while Jameson Taillon was widely compared to Josh Beckett, in both his upbringing (Texas) and his stuff (fire-baller).
This year's class is no exception.
It has comps to Tim Lincecum, Evan Longoria and even the most hyped draft prospect in Major League history...Stephen Strasburg.
So, let's get cracking...with another mock draft, complete with comparisons of each pick to a big-league star.
Why Cole is the Pick
The fact that Cole finally appears to have taken over Anthony Rendon as the number one overall talent in the draft says more about Cole than it says less about Rendon.
Yes, Rendon has had a rough year, adjusting to the new bats and dealing with multiple injuries, but most everyone is still a believer in his bat, his power and his stellar defensive ability.
Cole is just that good.
It's not often you can find a pitcher who can deal at 100 mph, maintain his velocity deep into games and compliment that kind of heat with numerous secondary pitches. That's Cole. That was also the description that everyone labeled Strasburg with, and look what happened to him. Before his injury, I mean.
The Pirates, like the Nationals before them, are going to reap the incredible benefits of picking near the top of the draft two years in a row. For Washington, it allowed them to pick up Strasburg and Bryce Harper. If the Pirates could swing Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole in back-to-back drafts, that would do wonders for their long-term future.
And building a rotation around those two would just be unfair.
Considering the fact that they both throw in the upper 90s, and they both have some pretty good secondary pitches, it's no wonder Cole most frequently gets comped to 2009 No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg.
The one difference is that Cole lacks the elite command that Strasburg had over all of his pitches, including his fastball. That one setback has caused some major issues for Cole this year.
Still, getting compared to Strasburg is quite an impressive feat in itself.
Why Rendon is the Pick
In the same way that the Pirates and Orioles reaped the benefits of taking whoever the teams before them didn't last year, the Mariners are going to end up with an elite talent in 2011.
For the longest time, it looked like it would be Gerrit Cole who fell to them with the second-overall pick, but now, it's starting to look like it will be Rendon instead, which is possibly the greatest consolation prize ever!
Rendon would also fill a giant hole for the Mariners at third base, and although the MLB's draft is the least concerned about need of all the major sports, it's still something teams consider, especially when the player on the board also happens to be the best available.
As mentioned before, Rendon hasn't had the best year, but he's put together a pretty gutsy performance. He's dealt with ankle and shoulder injuries, which have limited his time in the field, and he's also dealt with the fact that very few pitchers actually want to pitch to him. He's been walked a ridiculous 64 times in 44 games.
Through it all, he's maintained a .350 average, and he still leads the team in multiple offensive categories, including runs scored (43), doubles (12), triples (two), home runs (four), and steals (10).
In fact, Rendon could possibly be the best number two pick in the history of the draft if he falls to the M's. Baseball America's Jim Callis has been quoted as saying he thinks Rendon is a better prospect than Bryce Harper, who many considered the top hitting prospect of all-time.
Scouts have been saying it for a couple of seasons now. Rendon most closely resembles Evan Longoria, not only for his great hitting ability, but also for his defensive prowess.
And while Rendon might have more juice in his bat, he likely won't be as seasoned or as quick to the Majors as Longoria was, especially considering the drop in production in the power department during the 2011 season.
Why Hultzen is the Pick
Despite all the other big names still left on the board if Cole and Rendon go one and two, it looks like things are shaping up for Danny Hultzen to be the number three overall pick to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hultzen has dramatically improved his stock this season, proving to be one of the toughest pitchers to hit in all of college baseball while showing an up-tick in his velocity and a sharpening of his other pitches.
For the year, the lefty is ranked second in the nation with 104 strikeouts. He's posted an 8-1 record and currently has a 1.31 ERA pitching for the number one team in the country. Hultzen has been the epitome of the staff ace, setting the tone for Virginia and taking on the challenge of facing each opponents number one starter each Friday. He's risen to the challenge, beaten down his opponents and come out as a top-five pick.
The biggest question on Hultzen, and one that's been swirling ever since he signed with the Cavaliers, is how signable he's going to be. There were rumors that his parents really wanted him to graduate, which in Hultzen's case, would take another year, although his father recently made public his intentions that his son finish college, but with no specific time-table.
Even if he is willing to forgo his senior season, it's still going to take a pretty big chunk of change for Hultzen to sign a deal, meaning Arizona better be sure that they're going to get a talent that's equal to the coin they're going to have to shell out.
Hultzen profiles as a Mike Minor-type pitcher, a finesse lefty who experienced a slight improvement in his velocity during his final season, as well as a guy who has excellent command of multiple off-speed pitches.
And while it will be hard to Hultzen to beat Minor's rapid ascent to the Majors, it's likely that he could be one of the first players from the first-round to reach the big-leagues.
Why Bundy is the Pick
The motto for the Orioles since Andy MacPhail took over has been "buy the bats, grow the arms."
And for the first two drafts, MacPhail was a part of that belief held true. The team picked up Brian Matusz and Matt Hobgood with the first two first-round picks of the MacPhail era.
They went off the chart last season to pick up an elite talent, franchise cornerstone Manny Machado, but my guess is that, despite their lack of offensive talent in the pipeline, they head back to the heart of their motto.
And the arm they'll tab with the fourth-overall pick will be one that's very familiar to them, Oklahoma prep star Dylan Bundy.
The Orioles already have Bundy's older brother, Robert, in their employ, so it only makes sense to snag the younger, bigger fish. Bundy has been lights out so far this season, guiding his Owasso HS squad to the number one ranking in the country, according to Baseball America.
Bundy has been the team's ace, going 9-0 and allowing only 15 base hits in 48 innings of work. He's racked up 111 strikeouts, and get this: In eight starts, he has six one-hitters and one no-hitter.
Toss in the fact that he hit 100 mph on one scout's radar gun during his last start, and Bundy's helium is soaring as we near closer to draft day.
The Orioles tried to go the high-school route in 2009, when they tabbed California right-hander Matt Hobgood. That experiment hasn't worked out so well, as Hobgood has struggled with conditioning issues and now arm troubles. He isn't expected to get back on the mound until the summer, at the earliest, and even when he's been on the mound, his velocity has been down from the 94-97 mph the team saw from him prior to the draft. He also hasn't been very effective, showing poor command and a lazy breaking ball.
If MacPhail's smart, he'll turn to the top high-school pitcher rather than try to go off the deep end again.
It's always tough trying to find a comparison for high-schoolers, since they're still so raw in terms of development. We've also yet to see them compete at the college level, which sorts out a lot of wannabes.
I'll go ahead and label him with a Jeremy Bonderman comp. I know Bonderman isn't necessarily active, but everyone knows who he is, so let's move past that.
Like Bundy, Bonderman was considered one of the top high school pitchers in his draft class (2001). He lasted till the 26th pick due to his less than athletic frame, but turned out as one of the best pitchers from that year's draft.
Bundy throws a bit harder than Bonderman, who hung around the low 90s, which should aid his cause, and in terms of control, they're very similar.
If you'd like a current pro player comp, look to Chad Billingsley.
Why Starling is the Pick
No team has benefited more from the structure of the MLB draft than the Kansas City Royals.
They have turned other team's unwillingness to disappoint the commissioner, as well as fiscal constraints, into a major strength for them, and the result has been a slew of high-ceiling players such as Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer, Tim Melville and Eric Hosmer signing for well-above slot recommendations.
This may be the last year that the Royals will be able to exploit that part of the MLB draft, so don't look for them to shy away from high price tag players such as Bubba Starling, whose three-sport status will likely incur a massive signing bonus to sway him away from a commitment to play QB at Nebraska.
The Royals have so much depth at almost every position in their system, but one glaring weakness is centerfield, where their top prospect is a player who they acquired during the offseason for Zack Grienke.
Making a huge splash with Starling would give them possibly the highest ceiling player in the draft.
Not only does Starling has arguably the best speed in the entire draft, but he almost certainly has the best power stroke. There is no ballpark that can contain his monstrous home runs, and he's also an exceptional fielder to boot.
Starling, simply put, is a five-tool freak-show who could put Mike Trout to shame.
He'll likely command a huge bonus, in the $5-7 million range, and the Royals are the one team who has consistently shown the commitment to do whatever it takes to sign the best player.
It's tough to find a player with Starling's combination of speed and power, but the player he most closely resembles is Houston outfielder Hunter Pence.
Like Pence, Starling is a lanky outfielder with great speed and power. Pence filled out once he joined the pro ranks, much like Starling will. And as he fills out, he'll likely lose some speed, just like Pence did, but he should maintain just enough to be a productive base-stealer.
Pence has been an underrated power hitter for the duration of his career in Houston. He's hit exactly 25 homers in each of the past three seasons. Starling should offer more power than that, but if he decides to make himself into a more rounded player, the Pence comp could be dead on.
Why Bradley is the Pick
Bradley has been another break-out star of the 2011 college season.
He was already a known name in college baseball circles, but the steps he's taken this year have not only catapulted his name into the top-ten, but also made many question whether he just might be the top overall pitcher from the college ranks.
It's easy to think that, with his polished approach and his repertoire that includes a low 90s fastball that can touch 95 mph he has an above-average changeup and a potential above-average slider. In addition, Bradley's fastball has some natural sink on it, making him a better bet to succeed since he won't be chasing the strikeouts like some of the other top pitchers with better velocity.
So far this season, Bradley has posted a very deceiving 4-2 record, the worst of any of Tech's starting pitchers.
He's been roughed up a few times, and as a result has only averaged about six-innings per start, which isn't that much in a year where pitchers have been racking up complete-games by the boat-load. On the plus side, batters are only hitting .215 off of him, and he has still yet to serve up a home run.
He's also struck out 78 batters in just 60.1 innings.
Still, Bradley, with a great pitching frame of six-foot-four and 225 pounds, profiles to be an inning-eater kind of pitcher who has enough velocity to challenge hitters and enough polish to make them pound the ball into the dirt for seven or eight innings.
Adding Bradley to a rotation that will one day include Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and 2010 pick A.J. Cole could give the Nationals one of the best home-grown rotations in baseball.
In addition, selecting Bradley over any of the draft's top high-school prospects would allow the Nats to get their player to the big-leagues faster, as the lefty profiles as one of the arms that could make the move the quickest.
The best comparison to Bradley, in both size and stuff, is Chicago's John Danks.
Like Danks, Bradley is primarily a fastball-changeup pitcher, with the latter being his best pitch. His change is one of the best in the 2011 draft class and should be a true weapon for him as a pro.
He also features low 90s velocity like Danks, who also has a decent slider, which is Bradley's No. 3 pitch.
Bradley has the frame and the mentality to be every bit as much of an innings-eater as Danks, who has averaged more than 200 innings the past three seasons.
Why Gray is the Pick
The D-Backs face quite the double-edged sword in this year's first round.
Not only do they have the third-overall pick, but they also picked up a compensation pick for the loss of last year's first-rounder Barrett Loux, who the team broke off talks with after a physical revealed some damage in Loux's arm.
That's great news for the team, which has two of the first seven picks in the deepest draft in recent memory, but also terrible in that they'll likely have to shell out at least $7-8 million for the two selections.
Picking a easy-to-sign college arm with the seventh pick seems to be the direction that the team is currently leaning, especially since this pick isn't protected like it was last year. If Arizona, for example, tabbed high-schooler Taylor Guerrieri at number seven and failed to agree to terms, Guerrieri would head off to college and the D-Backs would lose out on the pick altogether and receive no comp pick in next year's draft.
Hence the selection of Sonny Gray. Gray has flown under the radar in a banner year for collegiate pitchers. The spotlight has been hogged by Cole, Hultzen, Trevor Bauer and Taylor Jungmann, but quietly, Gray has put together a very fine season for one of the top teams in the country.
Pitching on Friday nights for Vandy, Gray has posted an 8-1 record with a 2.00 ERA. He's thrown the team's only two complete-games and leads the team with 67.1 innings, 80 strikeouts and only one homer allowed in 10 starts.
And Gray has been just as steady in his mechanics and with his stuff. His fastball has consistently sat in the 94-97 mph range, and his curveball has been as tough to hit as any pitch in college. Both pitches grade out as above-average and should give the diminutive right-hander an immediate advantage once he begins pro play.
In terms of signability, Gray should be relatively easy to agree with. He's a college junior whose helium is about as high as it can get, so there's no way he's going to risk heading back to college for next year's draft.
He'll likely sign for just above slot, and quickly, allowing the D-Backs to get him some valuable innings late in the year.
Picking up Hultzen AND Gray will make anything else the Diamondbacks do in the 2011 draft very forgettable.
Only one pitcher can get the Tim Lincecum comp, and with all due respect to Gray, he doesn't come close compared to another pitcher on this list.
That leaves Gray the awesome Gio Gonzalez comp. Both pitchers throw in the 93-97 mph range, and both feature sensational curveballs. While Gonzalez's might be one of the most underrated curves in baseball, Gray's is one of the tops in his draft class.
They compare well physically too, as both are under 6-feet, and weigh close to 200 pounds,
Why Guerrieri is the Pick
The Indians haven't made a huge splash with a draft pick since...well, I couldn't really tell you.
As an organization, they've made a habit of playing it safe and taking a college player. They've done it going on 10 years now. So conventional wisdom says they'll end up with another collegiate, likely George Springer or Matt Barnes.
Still, I think this is the year that the Tribe goes all in, bets the farm and tabs flame-throwing right-hander Taylor Guerrieri from South Carolina. Guerrieri has been lighting up radar guns all spring, touching 98 on more than one occasion, and vaulting from a mid-round talent to a potential top-ten pick.
A recent game report from Baseball America (which can be found here), was very favorable informing that Guerrieri's fastball sat in the low-to-mid 90s for most of the game. He also showed an incredible curveball that had tons of movement. The lanky righty also throws a changeup and a cutter, but he didn't need either in this particular outing.
While Guerrieri has jumped to the top of the depth-charts of several teams with picks inside the top 10, there's still a lot of unknowns about him. He just exploded onto the scene, so there's that. He's also a talented hitter who took part in several Perfect Game showcases as a third baseman, so there's that as well. Last but not least, his up-tick in velocity seemingly came from nowhere, and using my home-team's own selection of Matt Hobgood in 2009, that can sometimes be the worst indication of long-term talent.
Still, if Guerrieri can remain healthy and continue to develop his changeup, he could be a top-of-the-rotation starter, the kind of pitcher who could lead a rotation that includes Alex White and Drew Pomeranz.
Keep in mind that before Gerrit Cole was a potential top-overall pick he was a high-schooler who threw hard and had a great curveball. Sound familiar? Like Cole, Guerrieri also has a strong commitment to a prestigious baseball school, South Carolina. You think the Yankees aren't kicking themselves for not forcing Cole by gunpoint to sign a deal?
Few pitchers over the past few seasons have featured more impressive velocity than Ubaldo Jimenez, and while it's a far cry to suggest that Guerrieri has that kind of future to look forward to, he does have similar stuff and build.
At 6'3" and 180 pounds, Guerrieri is just a couple Big-Macs away from Ubaldo's 6'4", 210 pound frame. Both feature insane velocity that they have shown capable of maintaining deep into games, and both throw sweet sliders.
Both have also been utilizing their changeups more recently, with Guerrieri using his to catapult himself into top 10 consideration.
Why Jungmann is the Pick
Jungmann has been arguably the best pitcher in college baseball this season.
He's a shoe-in for the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Award. He locked that one up after his back-to-back complete game shutouts to open the 2011 campaign, and now he has his eyes on a top 10 draft slot. He's almost there.
Jungmann is perfect on the season at 9-0 and also has a sterling 1.00 ERA to go along with his sparkling 72-to-13 K-to-BB ratio.
But more than the stats, Jungmann has improved his all-around game this season, sharpening his command, proving his ability to work deep into games and showing a killer instinct that gives him the look of a front-of-the-rotation ace.
Like most of the other college arms, Jungmann has great velocity. He sits comfortably in the low-to-mid 90s, but is capable of reaching back for upper 90s heat. He has two great secondary pitches, in a slider and a changeup, and he's made great strides polishing both pitches this year.
A major key to Jungmann's success has been his improved command. Last year, the right-hander walked 41 batters in 120 innings. The year before, in 2009, he walked 35. This season, he has only 13 and is on pace to keep his total under 30.
The Cubs dealt their best pitching prospect (Chris Archer) during the offseason and the season before went off the deep-end a bit with first-rounder Hayden Simpson, so look for them to go back to a more traditional player.
Can't get more traditional than a star pitcher for one of college baseball's greatest powerhouses.
It isn't necessarily the biggest name, but Jungmann has a lot of Randy Wells in him.
Wells was a bit of a late-bloomer, serving seven years in the minors before coming up for good, and while Jungmann looks like one of the safest bets in the draft, questions about his mechanics could force him to spend a little more time in the minors than he'd like.
Wells is also primarily a three-pitch guy who uses the same fastball-slider-changeup trio that Jungmann has utilized so effectively this season.
The one difference is that Jungmann can reach into the upper 90s with his fastball, while Wells sits more comfortably in the low 90s.
Why Bauer is the Pick
With the second compensation pick of the 2011 draft, the Padres are sitting pretty.
The draft's two elite players (Cole and Rendon) are gone, but with the depth in this draft, picking 10th is just as good as picking third, even better, in fact, if you take into account that the Padres will be looking for a player who they know will sign for close to slot since this pick is unprotected.
That being said, the Padres could use some serious talent, so they won't completely scrimp in that department for a less talented player.
Trevor Bauer would make a great deal of sense for San Diego.
He's a local guy from Southern California who they've had plenty of opportunities to scout, and it seems like the more you see Bauer, the more you like him.
For all the talk and attention that Cole gets, Bauer has been even better so far in 2011. He's on pace to be the first NCAA pitcher in 31 years to lead the nation in strikeouts in back-to-back seasons, and he's likely going to shatter his school record of 165 set last season. He's already up to 142 and he still has at least four regular season starts left.
His ERA currently sits at a minuscule 1.47, a full two runs better than Cole, and he's been a horse on the mound, finishing off five complete-games, two of which have been shutouts. Bauer has consistently challenged the "pitch count" theory, throwing at least 125 pitches a handful of times, but through it all, his body and arm have withstood the challenge.
The Padres have some pretty good pitching depth, but most of their best arms (Simon Castro, Matt Lollis and Keyvius Sampson) profile more as mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starters, so adding Bauer would give them a nice boost.
Watch a video of Bauer throwing, and I guarantee the first thing that will come to your mind is Lincecum.
And while that's a pretty lofty name to throw around when comparing pitchers, it's pretty dead-on. Both feature wacky deliveries. Both eschew the idea of pitch counts. And both have succeeded long after many thought their bodies would break down and their arms would fall off.
Bauer has excellent velocity like Lincecum, reaching the upper 90s, and has the devastating fastball-changeup combo that the Giants super-star has used to destroy National League hitters.
Why Springer is the Pick
The Astros have put a premium in the past few drafts on getting high-upside players with extreme athleticism.
In 2009, they picked up Jiovanni Mier and J.D. Martinez, and last year, they went over-slot for Delino DeShields Jr. and also added Austin Wates and Mike Kvasnicka.
And considering their lack of elite talent, it would be wise of them to dip back into that same well and scoop up Connecticut outfielder George Springer, a talented athlete who was rumored as potential number-one overall pick a few months ago. And while Springer has shown some holes in his swing since then, he's still a good bet to go in the top 10 and a steal at number-11.
Many expected Springer to put together the kind of season that would be worthy of a top-five pick, and while he struggled out of the gate, he has since put together a nice stretch of about 25 games that have put him right back where everyone expected him to be. He's currently hitting .371, best on the team, with a team-leading 20 doubles, nine home runs, 62 RBI and 22 steals.
Springer's best tool is his potential above-average power. He set a school-record last season with 18 homers, and he profiles as a 25-35 HR hitter as a pro. He's also blessed with incredible speed, which was on display last season as well when he stole 33 bases, getting caught only twice.
Springer could very well be a 30-30 guy in the Majors while offering decent defense in one of the outfield corners. He's been playing a good bit of centerfield in college, but as he fills out and focuses more on his power stroke, he's likely be forced to slide over.
There aren't a lot of players with 30 HR-30 SB capability coming out of college (most of them get snatched up out of high school), so Springer is that much more intriguing.
Still, there are a lot of people who are concerned about his slow start and feel he might be susceptible to pro pitching. That, in turn, could cause him to fall to the Astros here at 11.
Not many members of this year's draft class have the combination of speed and power that oozes out of Springer.
Likewise, not many big-leaguers have the same combination that Matt Kemp has made his name on.
Similar in build and in the way they play the game, Kemp is probably the best comparison for Springer, who should have much better plate discipline than the free-swinging Dodgers outfielder.
In the field, their skills are similar as well, although as he fills out, Springer will likely have to move to an outfield corner, while Kemp has maintained his ability to stick in center six seasons into his career.
Why Lindor is the Pick
The Zack Greinke deal forced the Brewers to ransom a good part of their future.
Not only did they surrender top pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi, who has flashed No. 1 stuff since the swap, and fire-baller Jeremy Jeffress, who has emerged as a reliable bullpen arm, but they also had to part with Alcides Escobar, who the organization groomed as the shortstop, cornerstone of the franchise.
Not only did Escobar show one of the flashiest gloves in baseball during his time with the Brewers, but he also showed a fantastic ability to hit for average, mostly while in the minors. And while that same ability didn't manifest in his short time in the National League, the team still believed in his ability to figure things out in the Majors.
Since the Brewers were betting the farm on Escobar, they failed to cover their bases by bringing into the fold more shortstop talent.
So it only makes sense that they take the most athletic, highest-ceiling shortstop available, Montverde Academy's Francisco Lindor.
Lindor isn't the most complete package player at his position, but he is the most eye-popping. His defensive range is fantastic, and his arm is definitely an asset. He can make all the throws and will make his share of web-gems.
At the plate, he should be a solid hitter for average, and while he doesn't offer much pop, he makes up for it by being a switch-hitter. He did fare pretty well in a home-run derby last summer, but his swing doesn't project for that much power.
On the basepaths, he's a pretty good runner. He's not going to be a 30 or 40-steal guy, but he could get good enough in that area to swipe maybe 20 bags per season.
Essentially, Lindor is another Alcides Escobar.
Sounds like a great drafting plan to me.
As you can see above, Lindor is basically a clone of Alcides Escobar.
Both feature little power but are plenty talented at the plate. I'd say Escobar is a bit better as a pure hitter, but Lindor is still so raw, there's no telling how good he could be. He also switch-hits, which Escobar doesn't.
In the field, both are flashy players who can make all the throws.
Why Purke is the Pick
New Mets GM Sandy Alderson is about as smart as they come.
And what could be better for his debut draft that snagging a player who was in the running for the number one slot a few months ago at pick No. 13. Not only would he be getting one of the better steals in the draft, assuming Purke's arm troubles aren't a sign of a long-term problem, but he'd also likely get the left-hander at a great discount.
Purke's struggles this season have been widely reported. First, it was a pitch count installed in order to keep his innings down after a freshman season that saw him throw 116.1 innings. Then, it was a blister that forced the staff to shut him down for a while. When he finally returned, he looked not like the same pitcher who went 16-0 in 2010. He lost the first game of his career to a team that was 1-14 no less.
The lanky lefty has only made eight starts, and none since being diagnosed with bursitis in his shoulder. Even with less than stellar velocity (84-90 mph), Purke was still pretty tough to handle, allowing only 29 hits in 40.2 innings, while striking out 47 batters. His ERA stands at 1.55.
The bursitis is likely to keep Purke off the mound for at least a few more weeks. The team is progressing with his rehab, and there's a slight chance that he could be back for the conference tournament, making him eligible for NCAA tournament play.
When Purke is healthy, it's hard to find a more productive pitcher. He racks up strikeouts by the truck-load, shows good velocity (92-96 mph) and holds it deep into games. His secondary stuff is solid, including an above-average slider that has become his go-to strikeout pitch.
The thing that has hurt Purke the most isn't necessarily his injury, but rather the incredible depth of this draft class. Whereas he once seemed a lock to go much higher than his 2009 draft slot (14th overall), his bursitis has cast a cloud on him that could cause many teams in the top 20 to eschew him in favor of any number of college or high-school arms with no injury history.
Long ago, Purke received the Clayton Kershaw comp, and assuming he can straighten out his mechanics and overcome his injury concerns that's a very optimistic view of the TCU lefty.
Both feature great velocity, although Kershaw's command is understandably better. Both have plenty of pitches in their arsenal, with each throwing fastballs, sliders, curves and changeups. Both have also received criticism for not using their changeups enough.
It's a long-shot to tab a guy like Purke, with so many concerns and question marks, to turn into the next Kershaw, but not many people thought he could go 16-0 during his freshman season either.
Why Owens is the Pick
For the longest time, I've been projecting that it would be Henry Owens, another immensely talented high-school pitcher, that will end up in South Beach as the Marlins first-round pick.
He fits the Marlins stereotypical first-round mold.
First off, he comes from the prep ranks.
It's been four consecutive seasons, and 10 out of the last 12, that the Marlins have made their first-round pick a high schooler. Their last first pick who hailed from the college ranks was Brett Sinkbeil, who has been a terrible disappointment for the Fish.
Second, he's a pitcher.
Since 2003, the Marlins have tabbed a pitcher with one or multiple first-round picks nine times out of 14. They've reversed the trend recently, picking position players with four of their last six selections, but the team's focus in the draft as a whole has usual been pitching.
Third, he's from California.
The Marlins, like every other pro team, scouts California very aggressively. They found their future third baseman there in Matt Dominguez, hopefully their future catcher in Kyle Skipworth and a potential everyday player in Christian Yelich.
Over the years, they've also scooped up Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Kotsay from Cali.
So, Henry Owens is their man. He's a huge (6'7", 190) lefty who has solid velocity that should improve to above-average with time as he fills out his frame more evenly. He already throws in the low 90s and compliments his heater with a very good curveball that rates as one of the best from the high-school crop. He also benefits from solid control that outpaces that of his fellow high-school lefty Daniel Norris.
Anytime a high-schooler comes along that throws left-handed and has the size (6'7") and the potential for above-average velocity, he inevitably gets the Randy Johnson comp.
And while Owens doesn't have anywhere near the clout to warrant such a simile, he would do just fine with a Jered Weaver comp.
I know Weaver was a seasoned product coming out of college, but in terms of size, stuff and makeup, they're very similar guys despite the fact that Weaver is right-handed.
Both have impressive velocity and great breaking pitches. Both are also incredibly smart. Weaver is one of the best in-game thinkers in baseball, and Owens has shown some of that same ability, correcting his mistakes in-game.
And to clinch the comparison, they both have floppy hair.
Why Anderson is the pick
With the Brewers second pick, and mind you, it's their compensation pick for failing to sign Dylan Covey, the team is likely to go the safe route, which more often than not means college player.
And since the Brewers have arguably the worst pitching depth in the minor leagues, it would only make sense for them to use at least one of their picks to upgrade that area of their system. And since the team also seems to be in win-now mode, they're likely to take a pitcher who could make an impact pretty quickly.
Enter Tyler Anderson, the southpaw from Oregon, who has had a fantastic 2011 season, vaulting his name into the rare first-round air.
A solidly built lefty (6'4", 215 pounds), Anderson has put together a fine campaign, winning six of his 11 starts while racking up 92 strikeouts in 83.1 innings. He's thrown one complete-game shutout and has held batters to a .185 average. He's been incredibly stingy with the long-ball, surrendering only two all season, and has only issued 22 walks.
In terms of stuff, Anderson ranks near the middle of the top college pitchers available. He doesn't have over-powering velocity (88-92 mph), but he has one of the draft's best changeups and is a very polished thrower. He throws strikes, which is something that is key in making the adjustment to pro ball, and has no qualms about throwing any of his pitches, including a developing slider, in any count.
If the Brewers do try to make a big splash with their first pick (No. 12) like I think they will (see Francisco Lindor), it would make sense to take a guy like Anderson, who will likely sign for slot, or close to it, with their second.
Anderson is a very polished college pitcher who closely resembles Orioles lefty Brian Matusz in several ways.
Both are pretty big guys whose two best pitches are a low 90s fastball and a plus changeup. Both throws sliders as their third pitches, and both were wildly successful during their final season in college.
Anderson lacks the curveball that Matusz adds into his repertoire, and his slider isn't as polished, but all the tools are there for him to develop into a "lite" version of Matusz.
Why Cron is the Pick
With maybe one or two exceptions (Mikie Mahtook and Jake Lowery), there has been no better hitter with the new bats than Utah's C.J. Cron.
Cron currently leads the country in hitting with a .448 average, and ranks 19th with 11 home runs. He's driven in a team-high 49 runs, scored a second-best 41 runs and has rapped a ridiculous 22 doubles, tied for the team-lead and second-best in the country.
Cron has always been a strong hitter. See his .431 average and 20 home runs in 2010 and his .337 average and 11 homers as a freshman. Those numbers he accomplished with the old college bats. The damage he's doing this year has come with the new equipment, which was supposed to keep offense down and limit the number of home runs from hitters.
All except for Cron that is, who appears to have actually improved his hitting stroke over the course of this season's 37 games.
Cron began his career as a catcher and has gone back and forth from there to first base, where he filled in last year after an injury to the Utes primary first baseman and where he's played mostly this season, expanding his defensive chops.
If he can make the move back to catcher as a pro, Cron is easily the top catching prospect in this draft and he'll end up challenging Oregon State's Andrew Susac and New Mexico's Blake Swihart for the honor of being the first back-stop drafted.
If not, he's just one of the draft's best pure hitters and a pretty solid defender at first.
Either way, the Dodgers could benefit from his seasoned bat. He could make a killing for the team behind the plate, where they have no long-term plan in place, but he could also take over everyday first base duties from James Loney if and when he moves on from L.A.
Thanks to his size and his sizzling bat, I'd give C.J. Cron a fairly positive comparison to Lance Berkman, another oversized, less-than-athletic fielder who looks lost at any position other than first base.
Berkman was a highly regarded hitter coming out of college, some say the best they've ever seen, and while Cron is very good, he's not at the level of Berkman.
Still, he offers great power and the potential to hit for a decent average.
Why Norris is the Pick
As early as the end of the 2009 high school season, Daniel Norris has been touted as one of the top high school pitchers available in the 2011 draft.
And while a bunch of new names, like Taylor Guerrieri and Dylan Bundy, have leap-frogged Norris, he's still, without a doubt, the top lefty available.
Like many of his other high school rivals, he throws in the low-to-mid 90s, showing pretty good movement on his fastball. He has one of the best curveballs in this class, a pitch he has used to devastating effect against the helpless hoards of Tennessee prep hitters. It's a pitch that should grade out as above-average at the next level.
He also tosses a changeup that has looked really good at times, but needs a ton of work to be a usable pitch as a pro. If developed properly, it could be another above-average pitch, giving him three and making him a viable candidate to emerge as a top starting pitcher prospect.
If anything prevents that from happening, it will likely be Norris' control. He is famous for his high-walk totals during games, once walking nine batters in a double-digit strikeout no-hitter.
The Angels have been keen on picking up pitching in the early rounds the past few seasons. They added Cam Bedrosian, Daniel Tillman and Donn Roach in 2010 and they also drafted Oregon State standout Josh Osich, but were unable to come to an agreement. The year before they spent five of their first nine picks on pitching.
In a year like this, where the pitching is so deep, it only makes sense for them to go to that same well again.
It's tough pinning the tail on some of these donkeys, but I'll go ahead and slap a left-handed Kyle Drabek label on Norris. They're similar in size and have comparable stuff.
Drabek has also had his bouts with wildness and currently leads the American League in walks, something I would expect Norris to challenge for each season.
Many also thought Drabek would end up pitching out of the back of a bullpen, potentially developing into a top-notch closer, and many have had those same fears about Norris and his ability to remain in a starting role.
Why Fisher is the Pick
Derek Fisher sure knows how to swing the lumber.
And he does it so destructively that ESPN dedicated a whole story to his destructive ways with the bat. Included among the destroyed: church windows, car windshields and of course...baseballs.
Fisher has been so incredible that he's hearing his name more and more among the top high school hitters. It's now very likely that he'll end up hearing his name called in the first round, possibly towards the middle of the deepest opening round in recent memory.
Last season, Fisher enhanced his lore, slugging .440 with nine home runs. This season, he's done enough damage to check in at No. 34 on Baseball America's list of the Top-50 draft prospects. He also garnered much first-round support in the site's mock draft that saw him slotting in at No. 26 to the Red Sox.
Let's get down to Fisher's tools, which obviously start with his insane power.
For starters, he has as much power as any high-school hitter. This kid can launch balls out of any park and does it in one of the more violent manners you'll ever see. In a way, that makes you feel sorry for the ball.
In addition, he's got great speed, especially for a guy who currently checks in at 6'3" and 215 pounds. The combination of those two skills alone would be enough to make teams take a long, hard look at him this June, but he's also a solid outfielder, who has made an incredible transition from the infield.
In vast expanse of Oakland's stadium, they need guys who can cover a lot of ground, and Fisher could be just that guy for them.
With Fisher's all-around solid play, with a major impact power bat, I'd say Carlos Quentin would be a fair comp to stick on him.
Quentin has great power, but is rarely healthy enough to show what he can do over the course of a full-season. When he has been healthy, he's shown 30-plus HR power. Fisher should slot in nicely around that same mark as a pro.
Defensively, they're about on par, with Fisher coming out ahead just a bit. Quentin has been solid for the White Sox in right-field, racking up 16 assists in his three-plus seasons there.
Why Susac is the Pick
The Red Sox have ridden the Jason Varitek train for 15 seasons now, and it's about time they go to work trying to find his replacement.
The Sox have filled the void created by multiple Varitek injuries over the years with Doug Mirabelli, Kevin Cash, and now Jarrod Saltalamacchia. None have stuck so far, so there's no real reason to expect "Salty," who's currently hitting .200 to, either.
Enter Susac, who has rocketed up draft boards with an impressive showing in 2011 for one of the nation's most surprising teams, Oregon State. The likely All-American catcher hit .359 with four homers, 27 RBI and a 21-to-23 BB-to-K ratio in 27 games before he was sidelined with a broken hamate bone that required surgery.
Just about everyone expected Susac to be lost for the remainder of the season, but his surgery and rehab went astonishingly well, allowing him to return to the field this past Tuesday. For the time being, Susac is sticking to DH duties, although he would be a much added boost if he could return to his spot behind the plate for the CWS.
Offensively, Susac offers a good amount. He has amazing plate discipline. He rarely chases pitches out of the zone and is very skilled at picking his spots to swing. He offers above-average power, even though he didn't tap into it too much in his limited playing time.
Behind the plate Susac really shines. He has a tremendous arm that has produced amazing pop times, both during the season and last summer in the Cape Cod League. He has pretty good footwork and isn't too big that he'll be forced to move from behind the plate.
College catching has proven to be quite the find for teams over the past few seasons, with backstops like Matt Wieters, Buster Posey, Yasmani Grandal and Tony Sanchez rising up the boards late in the season, positioning themselves for a top 10 selection.
The easiest comparison for Susac is last year's first catcher taken, Grandal, but he's still in the minor leagues. Both feature above-average power and are above-average defensively.
If I had to reach for a true big-league comparison, it would probably be Major League veteran Ramon Hernandez. Like Grandal and Susac, Hernandez has made his mark in the big-leagues with his defense.
His power has been a welcomed addition, and during his prime, he was good for 15-20 homers a year for four seasons. That sounds like a similar career path for Susac.
Why Bradley is the Pick
In any other year, Archie Bradley would be the best high-school pitching prospect in the country.
This year, he's not even the top pitcher in the state of Oklahoma.
Despite residing in Dylan Bundy's shadow, Bradley has quietly gone about his business, shutting down the state's best hitters and boosting his draft stock. In this draft, though, one surprise could throw off the whole shebang and send a talented player like Bradley sliding down into the bottom-half of the first-round.
The same thing happened to Zack Cox last year.
For the Rockies, getting Bradley here at No. 20 would be a super-steal, especially for a right-hander that offers some of the best, easiest velocity in the draft. The burly high-schooler throws consistently in the 93-96 range, topping out at 98 mph with ease. He has excellent control of his fastball, rivaling Bundy in that department.
His go-to breaking pitch is a curveball that has a lot of knuckle-curve action to it. It's been a devastating pitch for him, especially this year as he's fine-tuned his command of it. He also features a changeup that he hasn't had to use too much.
One reason Bradley could slip this far is his dual-sport status. He has a full scholarship to Oklahoma to play both baseball and football, where he is one of the nation's top quarterback recruits. Bradley, obviously, has one of the strongest arms of any prep QB and also features some of the best accuracy. He could be the No. 2 QB for the Sooners from the first day he sets foot on campus and just an injury away from snatching up some playing time for the projected No. 1 team in the country.
His commitment to OU will likely have him demanding a bit more than Bundy or Guerrieri, effectively making him slip to the later picks in the first-round.
In the same way that 2010 No. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon was frequently compared to Josh Beckett, the same could be said of Bradley.
No, Bradley doesn't share Beckett/Taillon's Texas roots, or that mean-spirited demeanor on the mound, but he is a big-bodied flame-thrower who has impressive command of all of his pitches.
Bradley's secondary stuff isn't nearly as impressive as Taillon's, but neither was Beckett's, and he moved very quickly through the minors.
Why Bell is the Pick
Last year, the Blue Jays rebuilt one half of their farm system by taking three very talented pitchers with their first four picks.
Now it's time to move on to the position players.
Texas high-schooler Josh Bell is one of the 2011 draft's fastest movers, as in moving up draft boards.
The 6'3", 205 pound, outfielder is arguably a five-tool talent depending on who you ask. Baseball America tends to agree, calling his offensive upside some of the best in this high-school class.
Bell is a switch-hitter with the chance for above-average power, but the exciting tools don't end there.
He has a short, powerful swing and combines it with excellent bat speed to crush pitches in the zone to all parts of the field.
In the field, he offers slightly above-average defensive ability. He has a cannon for an arm but lacks the range to stick at centerfield as a pro, his position so far in high school. Bell could play center in a pinch and will likely begin his pro career there, but he won't be long for a corner spot.
Neither spot will diminish the impact of his impressive arm strength, giving him yet another tool.
On the basepaths, he has pretty good speed. That should wane as he develops a bit more and adds some muscle, but his instincts and fundamentals are good enough that he could be a 15-20 steal guy as a pro.
When you're talking pure tools, only Bubba Starling has more than Bell, leaving the Texan in pretty good shape. He could be the second outfielder taken on draft day and would be an excellent pick for the Blue Jays at No. 21.
While no player from this year's draft can claim to have a set of skills as polished as Jason Heyward's, Bell comes the closest.
While he may not ever have the plate discipline of Heyward, Bell can match him in the power and fielding department. Bell also has a rocket arm that should play well in an outfield corner.
And he should be a threat to steal 10-15 bases a season, which is about on par with what Heyward offers.
Why Stilson is the pick
Aside from one season (2009), the Cardinals have always favored seasoned college players over high-risk, high-reward high schoolers.
They broke that trend in '09 with Texas fire-baller Shelby Miller, who has been a godsend for the St. Louis system, and while it might be wise of them to try that route one more time, it's likely the Cardinals will revert to their status quo and take one of the many college arms that litter this draft.
One of 2011's break-out stars John Stilson would be a solid pick and a likely player to be around when they pick at No. 22.
Stilson rewrote the A&M record books as a reliever last season, setting all sorts of records. As one of the nation's most effective closers, Stilson struck out 114 batters in just 79 innings, saving 10 games and posting a ridiculous (even for college) 0.80 ERA. He struck out 13 batters per nine innings.
This season, Stilson made the jump to the rotation, where he has been better than anyone could have expected him to be. He currently has an ERA of 1.59 and has 89 strikeouts in 85 innings. He has only surrendered one long-ball all season long and has one complete-game shutout.
On the mound, Stilson regularly sits 92-96 mph but can reach for a little extra and hit 98 on occasion. His fastball has very good movement and is a definite plus pitch. His slider is his go-to breaking ball, and has the makings of a very good pitch. His changeup hasn't seen much action, especially last year, when he was a fastball-slider reliever.
Surprisingly, there's still a lot of projection left with Stilson. He's only been pitching for three seasons now, as he played primarily shortstop in high-school. As he gains more experience on the mound, he should get even better.
He's already a guy who maintains his velocity into the later innings and has the makings of an inning-eater. He likely won't be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he has excellent potential as a No. 2 guy. And if that doesn't work out for him, whichever team drafts him knows that he will make a dominant reliever.
Since Stilson was a long-time reliever, the best comparisons for him tend to be guys pitching out of the bullpen. Huston Street is a fine example.
Both pitchers feature primarily a fastball-slider combination, with their heater sitting in the low-to-mid 90s. Street is also incredibly stingy with the home runs, aside from this season. He's only given up four or five per season for the length of his six-year career.
That comparison, however, doesn't mean that Stilson is destined for the bullpen.
Why Meyer is the Pick
"Bubba" has been something of a quandary over his three seasons at Kentucky, alternating between being insanely dominant and a mechanical meltdown. This season, he's been a little bit more of the former, ranking in the top 10 nationally in strikeouts and pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA.
As effective as Meyer has the potential to be, he's so darn big (6'9", 220 pounds) that it's incredibly hard for him to repeat his mechanics, and as a result, he gets out of alignment way too easy. That's why for every complete-game shutout with 10 or more strikeouts, you'll also see a couple of outings where he struggles to get out of the fourth-inning without giving up double-digit hits and five or six runs.
Meyer will most likely be drafted as a starter, and with a huge body and mid 90s velocity, you can't really blame anyone for going that route, but I think he's just going to struggle just the same and finally force a move to the bullpen, where he would be more likely to keep his mechanics in line for just an inning or two.
If he can do that, he could have a very impressive career as a closer, and without a doubt, he'd be one of the most intimidating ones, combining a fastball that can touch 97 mph with an impressive curveball that looks nearly un-hittable when he commands it well.
Meyer's name has been mentioned in tandem with the Nationals for a few weeks now, as they've been one of a few teams that have scouted him multiple times throughout the course of the college season. He has also been tabbed as Jim Callis' pick for the Nationals, all the way up at No. 6 in his first mock draft for Baseball America, which can be found here.
It's tough to find a comparison for a guy as big as Meyer is, but an intriguing pitcher who shares many similarities with Bubba is former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar.
Hochevar doesn't necessarily have Meyer's size, but he is a pretty big guy (6-foot-5, 220 lbs), and he too has had his struggles with repeating his delivery. He also has trouble throwing strikes and has many outings that are reminiscent of Meyer. One start it's a seven-inning, three-hit gem, and the next is a four-inning, 11-hit shellacking.
Hochevar also has great velocity and throws both a two- and four-seamer just like Meyer, while both feature a pretty good curveball and a changeup as their secondary pitches.
Why Fernandez is the Pick
With 10 picks in the first 60, the Rays stand to add more talent that any team has ever had the potential to in a single draft. Lucky for them, this year's event has one of the deepest pools of talent ever.
Baseball America's fifth-ranked high-school pitcher and local Tampa product Jose Fernandez would be a fantastic addition to an already stocked Tampa Bay pitching system.
Some view Fernandez, a former pitcher for the Cuban National Youth Team, as the top overall prep pitcher thanks to his mid-90s heat, which tops out at 97 mph.
Overall, Fernandez is one of the best high school arms with arguably the best velocity. He complements his powerful heater with a very impressive curveball that looks unhittable at times. The pitch is definitely a potential above-average pitch as Fernandez progresses.
He also throws a changeup, but like his curveball, it too needs tons of refinement. Simply put, Fernandez is more of a thrower and less of a pitcher. All three of his pitches lack the command and control he's going to need to survive as a pro.
Luckily, the Rays thrive at developing prospects like Fernandez.
Aside from his stuff, Fernandez is very reminiscent of Matt Hobgood and Jesse Biddle in that he has a pro-looking body with very little physical development left.
His fastball is about as fast as it's going to get, so all he needs to do now is work on sharpening his command and developing his secondary pitches.
If he can do that, he could be the steal of this draft. Getting a Cuban defector before he reaches his prime or even his essential stages of development is almost unheard of, and if any team could turn Fernandez into an All-Star, it would be Tampa, who can easily afford to spend one of their 12 picks in the first two rounds on him.
With only two viable pitches in his arsenal, it's tough to find a comparison for Fernandez that isn't a reliever.
Sticking to him as a starter, the best comparison I can think of is Charlie Morton, Pittsburgh's revitalized starter. Like Fernandez, Morton is mostly a fastball-curveball pitcher who throws something other than those two pitches less than 10 percent of the time.
Morton has good velocity, although Fernandez's is better. Both pitchers share a pretty big, bulky body as well.
Why Howard is the Pick
The Padres missed out on adding a top-notch pitcher to their farm system last year when Karsten Whitson decided against pro ball and instead headed to the University of Florida.
If they could add two, including Trevor Bauer with their first pick, they could be one of the big winners in this draft. With all the depth in this draft, especially in the pitching department, San Diego will likely see somebody, most likely a high-school arm, fall to them all the way at No. 25.
They would be incredibly pleased if that arm belonged to Dillon Howard, a prep right-hander from Arkansas.
Howard throws in the mid-to-high 90s and was Baseball America's fourth-ranked high-school prospect heading into the 2011 draft season.
In a write-up they did on him before the season, Conor Glassey praised his performance in last summer's Connie Mack World Series, during which Howard's squad, Midland, swept through a very tough schedule to the Series Championship.
Howard was named CMWS MVP in a league that featured not only Oklahoma's top-two prospects Archie Bradley and Dylan Bundy, but also Daniel Norris.
Howard has been scouted as high as 98 mph, throwing both a two- and a four-seamer. His slider is very good, although it gets very slurvy at times. His changeup has above-average potential as well, and one of his coaches calls that pitch, and not his high 90s fastball, his best pitch.
Howard has good command of all of his pitches, and unlike most others, has no injury history to be concerned with. His delivery is easy and his mechanics appear to be pretty sound. Howard has front-of-the-rotation stuff if he can bring along his changeup.
If Howard hears his name called in the first round, he'll be the first Arkansas prep player to be awarded such an honor since 1995.
Few pitchers in the big leagues are as skilled at mixing their pitches as Chicago's Matt Garza. This season, for example, he's thrown five pitches at least 11 percent of the time.
Like Howard, Garza throws both a two- and four-seamer, both of which he runs up into the low-to-mid 90s. Both feature nice, big breaking balls and promising changeups that are lethal when they're on.
Both guys are big, burly inning-eaters too.
Why Baez is the Pick
Getting comps to Hanley Ramirez is something that will get you noticed, but that's the territory that Baez has found himself in this spring.
And while he's a far cry from being the type of prospect that Ramirez was coming out of the Dominican Republic in 2000, Baez is plenty talented, enough to warrant looks from all 30 teams, including the 26 that have first-round selections.
As a player, Baez is a potential five-tool stud.
He started the season as Arlington Country Day's starting third baseman, but moved over to short near the mid-way point of the season in order to showcase his talents. He's performed well enough that whatever team drafts him is likely to try to keep him at short for as long as they can.
Baez is a bit stocky (6'1", 205 lbs) for shortstop, but he's such an incredible athlete that he has a legit shot to stick. If he can't third base is an option, as is second, or even catcher.
He's already very strong and should only get stronger as he gets more experience.
He has good speed, not great, but good, but he makes up for it with great athleticism and excellent instincts.
His bat is as quick as any in the high-school class according to Baseball America's John Manuel, who, in a three-man mock draft, tabbed Baez as the 25th overall pick in the draft heading to San Diego, where Baez made a name for himself with a huge weekend at the 2010 Aflac All-American Game.
Baez has spent most of the season playing second-fiddle to Francisco Lindor, the top shortstop prospect from the loaded high-school crop, but as draft day draws nearer, he could see a modest rise thanks to his advanced bat and great power potential.
Baez would make a great fit for Boston, who is kind of thin at the shortstop position. They just brought up Jose Iglesias, although they made a point of saying that he's only up temporarily. As good as he is defensively, he doesn't offer anywhere near the impact bat that Baez has.
As mentioned above, Baez has gotten some Hanley Ramirez comparisons this season, and while he doesn't have the speed or the polished defensive skills at shortstop, he's about on par with Ramirez's ability when he first came over to Florida.
The main reason Ramirez is the easiest comp is because of the bat. Both have good pop, with Baez having maybe a little extra, and both are outstanding hitters.
Like Ramirez, Baez's arm is strong enough for short, and might be well suited for third as he ages.
Why Tilson is the Pick
The Reds are another team that has drafted incredibly well over the past few years. Last year alone, the big-league, division-winning club was aided by farm-grown Joey Votto (who went on to win the N.L. MVP), 2009 first-round pick Mike Leake and 2005 first-rounder Jay Bruce. They also got minor contributions from Homer Bailey, Travis Wood and Drew Stubbs.
This year, picking late in the first round for the first time in quite some time, the Reds are going to have a wealth of options at their disposal. This 2011 class is as a deep as any, and is capable of producing potential everyday, All-Star caliber players as late as the 27th pick, where they will be selecting.
Baseball America recently did a cover story on an under-the-radar player Charlie Tilson, a potential five-tool outfielder from Illinois, reviewing his appearance at the Super-60 Showcase, an event comprised of the best talent from the Midwest.
Tilson's greatest tool is his above-average speed. He could be one of the fastest runners in the draft, not just the high-school crop. He has at least 40-50 steal talent, and like another pick on this list (Shawon Dunston Jr.), is excellent at using his speed to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples.
His bat is solid but not spectacular. Not yet, anyway. He has incredibly quick wrists and shows a lightning-quick aggressive swing that one day could produce above-average power.
He flashed what he may one day be capable of at the 2010 Area Code Games. Tilson, all 6'0" and 175 pounds of him, put on one heck of a show, clubbing the only home run of the entire weekend and stealing seven bases in only three games.
For now, he's more of a slap-hitter with the "get on base" mentality, which works great, because Tilson is a terror once he's on base.
He further impressed at the Super 60 showcase this spring and has put together a fantastic campaign for New Trier High School, hitting .500 with 22 runs and 19 steals in the same number of attempts. And he's accomplished all that in only 16 games. All stats are courtesy of the Chicago Tribune and as are current as April 28th.
In the field, Tilson benefits from his speed. It allows him to get to balls most center fielders can't, and allows him to hide the fact that his arm strength isn't that amazing. Still, Tilson looks like a long-term center fielder.
There's a ton of projection in Tilson, and any team willing to take a chance on that could be very handsomely rewarded down the road.
The Reds had success with a guy very similar to Tilson, Jay Bruce, and while Bruce hasn't exploded into the superstar they and Baseball America predicted, he has had a very solid start to his big-league career.
Thanks to his speed and his above-average defensive ability, I'd say Andrew McCutchen, another talented outfielder who was a high school pick, would be a solid comp for Tilson.
Tilson has probably a little more speed, although McCutchen's bat was more polished when he was coming out. Tilson will probably follow a path similar to McCutchen's, spending anywhere from three to five seasons in the minors before arriving in the big-leagues.
Once there, he could be a similar type of impact player near the top of the linuep.
Why Esposito is the Pick
In case you hadn't noticed, the Braves have a long-term problem at third base.
Their current starter, Chipper Jones, is 39-years old and has witnessed a decrease in his home run totals the past three seasons. Martin Prado has also logged some time there, but he doesn't have the power to profile at third long-term.
Down in the minors, the Braves have very few legitimate third base prospects. They have a wealth of shortstops in their system, many of whom could likely stand to make the move over a few feet, but none with the exception of maybe Edward Salcedo has the bat to stick there.
Enter Esposito, one of the most seasoned third baseman available in this draft, both at the plate and in the field.
Esposito has had some tough shoes to fill at third, taking the place of former No. 3 overall pick Pedro Alvarez. While Alvarez has moved onto the Majors, Esposito has flip-flopped back and forth from third to shortstop, trying to find a spot that will utilize his skills efficiently.
Now, it seems he's finally found a home at the hot corner.
Esposito's glove is about as solid as they come. He obviously had enough athleticism to play a little shortstop, so you know he won't have trouble making all the plays. He has a very strong arm and looks very comfortable at the position.
At the plate, he's a very seasoned hitter. He doesn't offer as much power potential as Alvarez did, but he should be able to generate 15-20 home runs per season as a pro, about on par with what the Braves have gotten out of Chipper during the past three to four seasons. He's also going to be pretty capable of hitting for a decent average, and his plate discipline is good enough that he should be able to move pretty quickly through the minors.
He's also got great speed for a third baseman, and that was another reason the Commodores tried him at SS. He stole 31 bases in 2010 and could have 15-20 steal potential in the pro ranks.
Vandy products seem to move pretty quickly (see Alvarez, David Price and Mike Minor), so the hope for the Braves should be that Esposito would be ready by the time Jones' contract options run out in 2013.
It's tough to find a current big-league third baseman with Esposito's skill-set. David Wright would be selling him a bit high, as he doesn't have Wright's power or his ability to hit for a decent average. They do have comparable speed, however.
Tampa's Sean Rodriguez might be a good comp if he could get enough playing time to put together a full-season's worth of numbers. Last year's stats for Rodriguez sound like a good projection for Esposito through the same number of games: .251 avg, 19 2B, nine HR, 40 RBI, 53 R, 13 SB in 118 games.
Stretched out for a full-season, Esposito might be capable of reaching 25-35 doubles, 15-20 home runs, 75-90 RBI and 20-25 steals.
Why Maples is the pick
Not many eight year olds can stake their claim on a high-school rotation slot, but then again, most eight year olds aren't as talented as Dillon Maples, whose father was drafted back in 1979 out of the same Pinecrest High School that Dillon now attends.
He too, burst onto the 2011 draft scene with a very impressive 2010 season, in which he hit 94 mph on the radar gun and posted a 0.95 ERA, racking up 117 strikeouts in just 52.2 innings.
The next logical step was his invitation to all of the major summer showcases, where he more than held his own, and established himself as one of the top right-handers from the 2011 high-school class.
He was a recent profile of Baseball America, who posted a glowing subscriber-only review of his performance in his season debut. Maples displayed the same low-to-mid 90s heat that put him on the draft map last year and complimented his fastball with an above-average curveball and an improving changeup.
In an early season start, Maples tied his own school-record with 18 strikeouts in 6.1 innings. He had a no-hitter broken up with one out in the seventh and was removed from the game after throwing 110 pitches.
Other recent developments for Maples, who is a UNC commit, include rumors that the football team plans to have him walk-on at kicker, provided he gives up a multi-million dollar bonus to attend Chapel Hill to join the Tar Heels baseball squad. Maples reportedly kicked a 53-yarder last fall and has the leg to hit from 60.
Maples has top-15 potential, but due to the outstanding depth in this year's class, he could wind up looking at a late-first round selection, and with a team like San Francisco, Maples would be the perfect combination of need and taking the best player available.
A quick peek at San Fran's farm system reveals a glaring weakness in the pitching department. Maples could be just what the doctor ordered.
While Maples doesn't have the same outstanding control, or the varied repertoire that Jeremy Hellickson has, he's as good as any for a starting off point.
Both are well-built (but not too big) right-handers who have a great fastball-curveball combination. Hellickson has utilized that combo to jump to the top of 2011's rookie class, and Maples would likely use the same two pitches to carve up rookie-ball hitters.
Hellickson should also be a guy to follow for Maples when it comes to sharpening your secondary pitches. Few pitchers in the A.L. throw as many different pitches as he does, offering both two- and four-seam fastballs, a curve, a changeup, a slider and a cutter that he added last season.
Why Nimmo is the Pick
While Nimmo is a talented prospect, there's still a ton of projection on him because he hails from Wyoming, a state that doesn't have high-school baseball due to the terrible spring weather (highs of 48 degrees) and the lack of funding.
Luckily for him, if there's anything that MLB scouts love more than production, it's projection, and the Twins happen to value projection more than just about anyone.
But it's not like Nimmo hasn't done any kind of producing during his four years of high school. He's just had to find different routes.
For the most part, he has had to resort to playing with traveling teams, including American Legion ball-clubs and stocking up on showcases.
As his performance at the Under Armour All-American Game at Wrigley Field last year showed, he's already very talented. Nimmo earned MVP honors and finished with two hits, including a triple, two runs and two RBI.
The scouting report on the 6'2", 190 pound Nimmo doesn't look overly impressive (good bat, good runner, chance for above-average power, solid defense), but he's such a hard-worker, and he's very advanced for playing far fewer games than any other high-schooler.
He is advanced enough to draw scouts to Wyoming by the truck-load in the middle spring in order to see him play in a few American Legion games.
And don't forget just how raw this kid is.
With a few years of experience, and the proper teaching, he could be a potential 30-30 guy (homers and steals) in a state known more for 40-40 days (temperature and wind gusts).
The Twins have made a killing with toolsy outfielders and currently have two (Denard Span and Delmon Young) manning positions there in the big-leagues.
With Nimmo's all-around solid game, a very good comparison would be Cincinnati's Drew Stubbs.
Stubbs is a solid all-around player as well, combining surprising pop with a decent average, while adding something extra in the speed department. Last year, Stubbs stole 30 bases, hit 22 home runs and hit .255.
Like Stubbs, Nimmo will probably be susceptible to the strikeouts early on (Stubbs struck out 168 times last year) and maybe even deep into his career, due to his lack of competition and top-notch experience.
Stubbs also has above-average defensive ability, making him an all-around solid comp.
Why Swihart is the Pick
Swihart is arguably the top high-school catcher available this June. In fact, there's a good chance he good be the top catcher, regardless of class.
His blend of athleticism, ability behind the plate and hitting talent make him a likely first-round pick as well.
Earlier in the year, Swihart was named the MVP of the Sal Puentes Baseball Tournament after leading his team to the tourney title, going 5-for-8 with a homer and six RBI. Cleveland HS is one of the best teams in the state of New Mexico, and clearly, the switch-hitting catcher is a big reason why.
Swihart is the most polished catcher in the high school class and has the best chance to remain behind the plate thanks to his wiry frame, strong arm and solid fundamentals. Like most catchers who sign out of high-school, he'll need a ton of experience to prove he can handle the job long-term. Right now, though, he looks like the the back-stop with the highest ceiling, both behind, and at the plate.
At the plate, he's a switch hitter with some decent power. He projects to have slightly above-average power and could hit 20-25 homers per season as a pro.
Due to the premium placed on offensive-minded catchers who can remain at the position, Swihart shouldn't get out of the first 20 picks without being selected.
If he somehow does, though, the Tampa Bay would be an ideal landing spot with their wealth of picks (three in the first-round alone) and their glaring need at the position. Not only would Swihart be the top defensive back-stop, but he'd also be one of the better hitters in the system.
I would hate to compare Swihart to the most recent highly-drafted high-school catcher, Kyle Skipworth, but luckily, Skipworth is still in the minors, making him an ineligible comp.
Therefore, I'll go with Milwaukee's up-and-coming backstop Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy isn't a switch-hitter like Swihart, but he has a similar build and an offensive profile that is right about on par with what Swihart is capable of.
Lucroy hasn't gotten a full season to show what he's capable of, but I could see both guys putting up numbers that are similar to Lucroy's seasons in the minors: 15-20 HR, .280 average, 30 doubles
Why Wong is the Pick
Wong is one of just 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-2013.
Wong's lethal combination of hitting for average and speed is best symbolized by current big-leaguer Brian Roberts.
Roberts has slowed as he's aged and has suffered a drop-off in the power department, but when he's at his best, he's a .300-to-.315 hitter with 15 HR and 35 steal capability. That sounds like a decent projection for Wong, although he may not have enough juice for that many dingers. Maybe more like eight to 12 per season.
On defense, Roberts has considerably more polish at second, but it took him some time since he came up in the O's system playing shortstop. Wong should be an average defender at second given some time.
Why Greene is the Pick
If Greene somehow manages to slip past the Braves, who have made a habit of scooping up elite Georgia high-school talent (Brian McCann, Jeff Francouer and Jason Heyward), look for Texas to start praying he falls to them.
The Rangers have one of the more impressive farm systems in baseball, but it's on the strength of their pitching, and not necessarily their deep position player talent. Adding Greene to the mix would help that greatly.
He would instantly have a profound affect on their overall power level, where only Mike Olt stands out right now. He'd also fit right in with fellow bashers Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz in the outfield.
Without a doubt, Greene is one of the top power-hitters in this draft class, and he's also one of the fastest risers. He worked his way up to a No. 15 selection in Baseball America's recent mock draft and could be one of the first high school outfielders off the board after Bubba Starling.
In addition to his light-tower power, Greene also has a cannon for an arm. It should turn him into an assist-machine in one of the outfield corner spots. He isn't the fastest guy around, but the speed he does have serves him well enough.
The negatives on Greene include his tendency to try to pull pitches more than he should, and a likely less than impressive batting average as he climbs through the minors.
But the power will be enough to force a team to snatch him up in the first-round.
I've got two comps for Greene, both of which have their positives and their negatives. On one hand, he's got a little bit of Garrett Jones in him. Kind of a free-swinger with great pop, but also very streaky. I'd say that's the under on him.
He's also got a lot of Carlos Lee in him. Very homer-happy and kind of un-athletic looking. Both have better speed that you'd give them credit for, and both also have pretty solid arms.
I'd put the comp for him as a pro somewhere between Lee and Jones.