(Note: This is not a mock draft or a projection of where players will be selected. This is a combination of industry talent rankings and the first-hand evaluations of National Baseball Expert, Frankie Piliere.)
1. Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford | Scouting video
Appel has been on the prospect scene for awhile now. We knew as far back as early last summer that he was the most likely player to go off the board first, and because of that he’s been picked apart this spring by his critics. He has been criticized for not missing enough bats and how he commands his fastball in the zone. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has, however, seemingly answered every question about him this spring. The strikeouts have been there, as have the consistent results and -- of course -- his electric raw stuff.
The Texas native sits at 94-97 miles per hour with his fastball, and he’ll reach 98 fairly routinely over the course of a game. He has carried that great velocity deep into games as well. He compliments that with a knockout low 80s breaking ball and a quality changeup. Perhaps what impresses scouts most, though, is Appel’s free and easy delivery and durable frame.
2. Byron Buxton, OF, Appling County H.S. (Ga.)
Just about the only thing working against Buxton this spring has been his competition, or lack thereof. Buxton’s high school does not face the top teams in Georgia, and it’s been difficult for scouts to see how he stacks up against better opposition.
There has been absolutely zero doubt about his tools, however. Scouts are not a breed that like to gush about a high school player, but they’ve done just that throughout the spring when it comes to Buxton. They believe he is a five-tool player in the making. If you’d like to cast some doubt on him, though, the biggest question mark in his game may be his bat.
3. Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy | Scouting video
Correa is cut from the same cloth as Buxton. The tools are immense, but it’s simply going to be a matter of how much he can refine his game at the plate. He’s a superior athlete with a plus arm, plus speed, and plus raw power, but he still has some work to do as far as translating that into game-action results.
The tools are there for Correa to be a big-league shortstop as well, but at 6-foot-3 and a lot of room to fill out, we’re going to have to wait and see if he can stick there. As talented as this young man is, if his tools blossom, he’s a potential franchise-changing player.
4. Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU | Scouting video
Gausman's stuff, when he's right, stacks up with any pitcher in the class. He typically works at 93-96 miles per hour with his fastball, and he has reached 97-98 routinely this spring. Gausman is long, athletic and also has plenty of projection left. His 80-84 miles-per-hour slider flashes plus bite but will need to show more consistency down the line. The late bite is there and he can miss bats consistently with both his fastball and breaking ball. In other words, the components are there for him to be a front-line starter, but there’s some polishing to be done at the professional level.
5. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco | Scouting report
Zimmer is a prototype. He has the length you like to see from a big-league pitcher as well as the strength. In terms of velocity, although he has been as high as 98-99 miles per hour this spring, expect to see Zimmer mostly at 91-95 and reaching 96 now and then. That's where he lived last summer and where he's settled into later this spring. Zimmer is also the owner of a plus curveball. Thrown at 78-83 miles per hour, it's a hard breaking 12-6 hammer. A vastly improved offering, Zimmer also features a changeup that profiles as a solid-to-average big league pitch. In other words, this is a college arm that has the power arsenal to pitch at the front of a good big-league rotation.
6. Albert Almora, OF, Mater Academy (Fla.) | Scouting video
Albert Almora is that dream player that for which scouts are always on the lookout. He’s that perfect combination of raw tools and game-ready ability. He’s athletic, he shows good power, and he’s going to be a defensive asset in the outfield. The great news is that he’s supremely polished for a high school player and could advance up the minor-league ladder very quickly.
7. Mike Zunino, C, Florida | Scouting report
If you’re looking for a safe bet in this year’s draft class, look no further than Mike Zunino. He’s going to stick behind the plate as a professional and possesses the leadership skills to handle a big league pitching staff. As impressive as all that is, however, it’s the bat that truly jumps off the page. Zunino has 25 home run type power and could very well be another Buster Posey type college catcher that marches up the minor league ladder at a rapid pace.
8. Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake H.S. (Calif.) | Scouting video
Fried is the picture of projection. He has an extra long frame and is perhaps generously listed at 165 pounds. He currently works at 91-93 mph with his fastball and there appears to be a lot more on the way. While a little inconsistent at this stage, Fried’s curveball is going to be a major weapon at the professional level as well. He throws it at 75-78 mph with sharp downward bite. Considering his projectable frame, the current low-90s velocity and the hammer breaking ball, it’s very easy to see him developing into a front end type starter.
9. Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M
Michael Wacha is the college pitcher this year that almost seems a little under-appreciated. He has been ultra consistent throughout his collegiate career and has put up numbers in just about every environment. Wacha will sit anywhere between 90-95 miles per hour with his fastball, mixing in a changeup, a curveball, and a slider. Although his changeup may be his best secondary offering, he does a very good job of commanding all of his off-speed pitches. Wacha may not be a true No. 1 starter at the next level, but he’s going to give someone a very safe bet to get a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.
10. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake H.S. (Calif.)
Although Giolito has given scouts a scare with his troublesome right elbow this spring, it may be his price tag that ultimately pushes the flame-throwing righty down the draft board. He’s reportedly told teams that any bonus size outside of top six slot is out of the question at this point. So, if he is going to sign, it’s going to take a big effort by a team later in the round or later in the draft.
11. David Dahl, OF, Oak Mountain H.S. (Ala.) | Scouting video
This is a draft class loaded with left-handed bats, and Dahl is in that top group. He’s perhaps the best of those sweet-swinging lefties, as he stays extremely compact and smooth to the baseball. He goes to left field well and puts on an impressive display in batting practice. Dahl also has a highly professional approach and stays very balanced on off-speed pitches. The power coupled with his plus throwing arm give him the ideal skillset to be an impact type center fielder in the big leagues.
12. Richie Shaffer, 3B, Clemson | Scouting report
Few players in this class can challenge Shaffer's pure power. And, it's not just raw power. Shaffer shows plus power in game action in just about every setting he has played in. Wood bats have proven to be no challenge for him, as he showed tremendous carry to the middle of the field on the Cape last summer. He profiles as a potential 30-homer bat at the next level.
Position is a significant question mark in Shaffer's game. He's playing third base at Clemson but may eventually find himself at first base as a professional. His consistency at third base isn't there and he may simply outgrow the position over time. A corner outfield spot isn't out of the question either. Most importantly, what Shaffer will give a club this June is a low-risk power bat.
13. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Duke | Scouting video
Marcus Stroman isn't going to intimidate anyone with his size, standing at 5-foot-9. But, his stuff is as good as any pitcher’s in college baseball. You could make the argument that he is purely a reliever, given his max effort delivery and lack of size. He has two dominant plus pitches that make him an ideal candidate for the closer role at the big-league level.
Stroman pounds the zone with a 93-96 miles-per-hour fastball with some good riding action up in the zone. He then finishes hitters off with a potential plus-plus slider that comes in at 83-86 miles per hour with tremendous late bite. He has the bulldog mentality to close in the big leagues, but he also has shown the pitchability this spring to make the case that he could also start as a professional.
14. Lance McCullers, RHP, Jesuit H.S. (Fla.) | Scouting video
McCuller’s draft stock has been on somewhat of a roller coaster ride since last summer. Initially, he was considered the best prep arm in the class. But, throughout much of this spring, doubts crept in as to whether his max effort delivery would force him to the bullpen as a professional. To the young righty’s credit, he calmed down that delivery near the end of his spring season and didn’t lose much off his fastball. If teams are convinced he can still work at 94-97 miles per hour and maintain it over the course of a game, he’ll be off the board in the first 20 picks.
15. Joey Gallo, 3B, Bishop Gorman H.S. (Nev.) | Scouting video
Power is the name of the game when it comes to Joey Gallo. He’s arguably the best power bat in the draft, at the college or high school level, and that power seems to come almost effortlessly. Whether he can play third base for the long haul remains to be seen, but given his 40 homer-type potential, the position he plays isn’t all that big of a concern.
16. Tanner Rahier, SS, Palm Desert H.S. (Calif.) | Scouting video
Rahier is a plus athlete with what scouts like to call quick twitch muscles. He’s the type of athlete that looks like he could play anywhere on the field. He’s also the type of hitter that’s already showing a professional approach. The California native hits hard line drives to all parts of the park with regularity and shows plus raw pull power. With the tools to stick at shortstop and this type of potent bat, he’s one of the more complete total packages in this class.
17. Courtney Hawkins, OF, Carroll H.S. (Tex.) | Scouting report
Scouts are always looking to fit a player into a big-league profile. It's easy to do that with Hawkins. He's a highly athletic right-handed slugger with power that translates right now. There are some rough edges, but it's very easy to see what Hawkins can be as a professional.
18. Chris Stratton, RHP, Mississippi State
Stratton is what’s referred to by scouts as a “pop up guy,” and that’s in reference to where his stock began the season and where it is now. Stratton shot up the boards earlier this spring, as he showed a 93-97 miles-per-hour fastball as well as a plus slider. He might be a little more raw than the typical first-round college talent, but he also may be taken as high as the top 10 picks.
19. Stephen Piscotty, 3B, Stanford | Scouting report
The hit tool is where Piscotty stands out. He makes a lot of contact and showed a feel with the wood bat in the Cape Cod League last summer. More so than most players in this draft class, he looks like a plus hitter who could move up the ladder quickly because of that.
20. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Oklahoma State | Scouting video
The most intriguing aspect of Heaney's game is the ease in which he performs. His delivery is simple and effortless, yet he still produces above-average raw stuff and maintains good command. He is also still highly projectable and figures to add bulk to his slight 174-pound frame. He works steadily at 90-91 miles per hour and gets up to 92-93 consistently. The lanky southpaw also shows a lot of confidence in his solid 73-75 miles-per-hour curveball and 77-80 miles-per-hour changeup. With command of three pitches, an easy delivery and potentially more velocity on the way, Heaney shows good upside as a No. 3-type big-league starter.
21. Matt Smoral, LHP, Solon H.S. (Ohio) | Scouting video
Projection is the optimum word with Smoral. He’s 6-foot-8 with a lot of room to grow. But, the fact that he has better than average present velocity is a huge plus. He currently sits at 90-92 miles per hour, and bumps 93 routinely. When he irons out his mechanics and packs on some weight, those 93s are going to become far more routine for him and it wouldn't be surprising to see him eventually sitting in the mid 90s. Smoral’s curveball is currently a fringe-average pitch and will need to be tweaked at the professional level.
Size, projection and athleticism are all big keys for Smoral. But, we can’t discount his high quality present stuff. This is a young lefty with the framework for three at least solid-to-average offerings and already has a plus fastball. If his health is not a question mark on draft day, there will be teams clamoring for his services in the first round.
22. Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe H.S. (La.)
While it seems that there is some division in the scouting industry as to just how liked Cecchini is, the scouts that like him feel very strongly about his upside. He has shown that he can be a consistent line drive hitter with an outstanding speed and an ability to stay at shortstop. This is an outstanding athlete with plus range defensively, a player that you have nothing to worry about with when it comes to staying at the challenging position of shortstop.
23. Ty Hensley, RHP, Santa Fe H.S. (Okla.) | Scouting video
Like most high school arms, it’s the fastball that will make you quickly notice Ty Hensley. He works steadily at 92-94 miles per hour, and as he matures we’ll likely begin to see him reaching 95-96 routinely. Hensley also has the large, broad frame scouts look for in a right-hander. Put that together with two outstanding offerings, including a hammer 12-6 curveball, a developing changeup, and a clean delivery and the total package is pretty impressive. Hensley is a first-round type talent, and considering he hasn’t even been primarily a pitcher for very long, we should only continue to see improvement from the hard-throwing righty.
24. Pierce Johnson, RHP, Missouri State | Scouting report
Pierce Johnson is an enticing overall package for professional scouts. His loose arm, power fastball at 91-95 miles per hour, and slider make him very attractive, but there's also a lot of untapped upside. He should be viewed as a potential mid-rotation starter as a pro. Expect him to be off the board anywhere from the middle to the back end of the first round.
25. Deven Marrero, SS, Arizona State | Scouting report
Marrero’s game will not be defined by his offense, but the ASU shortstop proved over the summer that he could handle the wood bat. He has a highly mature approach and a compact swing that will translate beautifully at the next level. He hits from a strong base and his balance is outstanding as a result. Marrero is going to make a lot of contact as a professional and squares the ball up as consistently as any college player in the 2012 draft class. Yes, he has struggled at many points this spring, but ultimately he still has the upside of an everyday shortstop in the big leagues.
26. Jose Orlando Berrios, RHP, Papa Juan XXIII (P.R.) | Scouting video
Berrios looks to be one of the most complete, three-pitch pitchers in the high school class, and his stock appears to be rising by the day. Last summer, he typically lived around 90-93 miles per hour with his fastball, but he’s been working around 93-95 this spring. Berrios lives on the plate with his fastball, but more impressive is his feel for his secondary pitches. He mixes a solid-average changeup at 80-83 miles per hour as well as a high potential plus curveball at 74-77 mph. He is smart about mixing his pitches and attacks hitters consistently. Couple that advanced feel for pitching with a jump and velocity and he could be one of the steals of the draft.
27. Zach Eflin, RHP, Hagerty H.S. (Fla.) | Scouting report
Eflin entered the season as a highly regarded projectable right-hander. By the end of the spring, he was considered one of the elite prep arms in the draft class. That’s what happens when your velocity jumps from 89-91 to 92-95 miles per hour. Eflin now has that power fastball to go with his long, athletic frame and good curveball.
28. Tyler Naquin, OF, Texas A&M | Scouting video
This is a draft class lacking in college bats, and in some scouting circles Naquin is not a top 30 prospect. But there is such a thing as supply and demand, and Naquin’s draft stock has benefited from that. However, let’s not take away from Naquin’s on the field ability. He is a highly athletic outfielder with a strong throwing arm and a consistent line drive swing. His power is the biggest question mark in his game.
29. Corey Seager, 3B, Northwest Cabarrus H.S. (N.C.) | Scouting report
Corey Seager is the type of defensive talent that may very well win multiple gold gloves someday. He’s that good over at third base. But, considering his projectable frame and big power potential, let’s not discount just how dynamic an offensive player he may end up being as well.
30. Addison Russell, SS, Pace H.S. (Fla.) | Scouting video
Russell is one of the most complete players in this draft class. He’s made massive improvements at shortstop this spring, and his plus arm and range should allow him to stick there at the next level. As much as he has improved there, it is still his bat that stands out. He shows plus bat speed and flashes big power to the middle of the field. His swing is level and compact, and he looks confident in driving the ball to right-center field. We’ll see how his in-game hit tool develops, but he’s as close as it gets to a five-tool player.