This year's Draft: Pitching, pitching and more pitching
Mound talent abounds in both high school, college in 2014 Top 100 Draft Prospects list
The 2011 First-Year Player Draft opened with the selection with four pitchers: Gerrit Cole (Pirates), Danny Hultzen (Mariners), Trevor Bauer (D-backs) and Dylan Bundy (Orioles). That had never happened before, and it hasn't happened since.
In 2004, the Padres chose shortstop Matt Bush (who would finish his ill-fated career on the mound) with the No. 1 overall pick before clubs went on a run of seven straight pitchers: Justin Verlander (Tigers), Philip Humber (Mets), Jeff Niemann (Devil Rays), Mark Rogers (Brewers), Jeremy Sowers (Indians), Homer Bailey (Reds) and Wade Townsend (Orioles). Seven pitchers in the first eight selections was unprecedented, and that also hasn't been repeated.
That very well could change soon. Pitchers headline this year's Draft prospects to such an extent that both of those records likely will be matched. The standard of 20 pitchers selected in the first round in 2001 also could be equaled.
"There could be eight or nine pitchers taken in the top 10," a scouting director with an American League team said. "How many can go in the top 15? Twelve? Thirteen? There are so many arms. This is a deeper pool of players than last year, especially with pitchers."
The consensus top four prospects in the Draft, to be held June 5-7, are all pitchers, one from each demographic. There's a college left-hander (North Carolina State's Carlos Rodon) a college right-hander (East Carolina's Jeff Hoffman), a high school lefty (Brady Aiken from Cathedral Catholic in San Diego) and a high school righty (Tyler Kolek from Shepherd, Texas).
TOP 2014 DRAFT PROSPECTS
|Rank||Prev.||Player, Pos., School|
|1||9||Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS (Calif.)|
|2||1||Carlos Rodon, LHP, NC State|
|3||4||Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd HS (Texas)|
|4||2||Jeff Hoffman, RHP, East Carolina|
|5||3||Alex Jackson, C, Rancho Bernardo HS (Calif.)|
|6||11||Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU|
|7||12||Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia HS (Fla.)|
|8||6||Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt|
|9||24||Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville|
|10||19||Bradley Zimmer, OF, San Francisco|
|11||21||Brandon Finnegan, LHP, TCU|
|12||18||Grant Holmes, RHP, Conway HS (S.C.)|
|13||5||Trea Turner, 3B, NC State|
|14||17||Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford|
|15||14||Kyle Schwarber, C, Indiana|
|16||8||Touki Toussaint, RHP, Coral Springs Christian Academy (Fla.)|
|17||22||Erick Fedde, RHP, UNLV|
|18||31||Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Sandalwood HS (Fla.)|
|19||NR||Mike Conforto, OF, Oregon State|
|20||35||Michael Chavis, SS, Sprayberry Senior HS (Ga.)|
Rodon was a strong favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Astros, who hold the first pick for a third year running, but he has shown only glimpses of dominance after an outstanding sophomore season with the Wolfpack and summer with Team USA. Just when it seemed that Hoffman's 16-strikeout performance against East Tennessee State on April 17 might be the start of him making a move to the top, he missed his start this past weekend because of minor arm soreness.
As a result, the thinking at this point is that Houston should and will select one of the high school pitchers (see Jonathan Mayo's related story here). Aiken already had the makings of three plus pitches heading into his senior year, and now he has added more power to his fastball and curveball. Kolek throws consistently harder than anyone in this Draft class and has hit 102 mph out of the stretch.
If the Astros do pick a prep pitcher, they'll be bucking history. No high school right-hander has gone No. 1 overall and only two prep lefties have. David Clyde (Rangers, 1973) bombed after being rushed straight to the Major Leagues, while Brien Taylor (Yankees, 1991) injured his shoulder in an off-field altercation and is one of three No. 1 picks to conclude his career without reaching the big leagues.
Houston scouting director Mike Elias said his club has narrowed its pool of candidates for the top choice to seven, with five of them on a short list. While Elias wouldn't identify the players, it's almost certain that Aiken, Hoffman, Kolek and Rodon are the front-runners. The Astros also are believed to be considering Rancho Bernardo High (San Diego) catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson and Louisiana State right-hander Aaron Nola, and they are thought to be keeping tabs on North Carolina State shortstop Trea Turner and San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer.
While Elias doesn't know who Houston will select on June 5, he's pleased with the Astros' options.
"We're definitely happy with the level of talent among the players we're considering," Elias said. "It's a good group. All of them are extraordinarily talented, and a lot of them should be extremely valuable Major League players. But in terms of having a huge separation between the first and second pick, I don't really feel that's the case. We can go in a number of different directions and be happy with that pick."
Scouts have been much happier with what they've seen from the pitchers than they have from the hitters. Rodon and Hoffman may not have quite lived up to their previous billing, but several college pitchers -- Nola, left-handers Kyle Freeland (Evansville), Brandon Finnegan (Texas Christian) and Sean Newcomb (Hartford) and righty Erick Fedde (Nevada-Las Vegas) -- have taken a step forward and put themselves into position to go in the upper half of the first round. High school righties Grant Holmes (Conway, S.C.,) and Sean Reid-Foley (Sandalwood High, Jacksonville, Fla.) have done the same.
Jackson has maintained his status as the top position prospect, but the other three players whom MLBPipeline.com ranked among the 10 best overall prospects coming into the year have regressed: Turner, Clovis (Calif.) High shortstop Jacob Gatewood and Gainesville (Ga.) High outfielder Michael Gettys. Turner is the fastest player in the Draft, Gatewood's raw power rivals that of anyone and Gettys is arguably the most electric athlete available. Yet there are enough concerns about their hitting ability that Turner likely will fall out of the top 10, Gatewood could drop into the second half of the first round and Gettys could slide all the way out of it.
"There aren't many hitters," a senior scouting executive with a National League team said, "and you can punch some holes in just about any of them."
Few up-the-middle players figure to be taken in the top half of the first round. There's a good chance that Jackson will wind up in right field, so that leaves Turner, Olympia High (Orlando, Fla.) shortstop Nick Gordon and Zimmer. Gordon, Zimmer and Sprayberry High (Marietta, Ga.) shortstop Michael Chavis are the three first-round position players who have boosted their stock the most this year -- the exceptions to the rule in a Draft that clearly will be dominated by pitching.