Crystal ball: Projecting the first 10 picks
Top of draft difficult to put together with no clear-cut No. 1
The conversation usually goes something like this:
Me: I'm working on my first projection of the first 10 picks.
Scout X: (Laughter). Good luck with that.
Yet here we are, once again in mid-May trying, somewhat foolishly, to piece together our first projection of the spring. It's only the top 10 picks and it will be updated several times before the First-Year Player Draft commences on June 5, yet there is this strong desire to nail it down right now. And that, of course, is nearly impossible.
In reality, the biggest hope is to get most of the names right. The order will come later. It's like that game Mastermind. First, you make sure you have the right colors, then you put them in the correct sequence. If people can look back at this first crack at projecting the top of the first round and see that most of the names actually did go in the top 10 of the actual draft, I'll pat myself on the back. Without further ado, here goes nothing.
1. Tampa Bay Rays: Buster Posey, C, Florida State
It appears the Rays have narrowed it to five names for the top pick (there's no David Price this year): Posey, the FSU backstop who's had a tremendous year with the bat to move himself into consideration; Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham, who's got tools galore and can stay at short; Pedro Alvarez, the Vanderbilt third baseman who's among the most polished hitters in the Draft; Brian Matusz, the lefty ace for the University of San Diego; and Southern California high school catcher Kyle Skipworth.
I believe Skipworth is on the outside looking in and I keep coming back to thinking (based on no real inside information) that it'll be between Posey and Beckham. This week, I'll go with what's been the hottest rumor as the Rays get a good hitter who can catch.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt
Yes, that's right. I'm putting it in print. The Pirates have said they would spend more money in this Draft and take the best available player. If that's the case, then Alvarez is the guy, despite a broken hamate bone in his hand that took away more than a month and has made it somewhat slow for him to regain his timing and power this spring.
Alvarez can flat-out hit and will hit for power while staying at third and getting to the bigs in a hurry. In other words, he's exactly what the Pirates need. But there is a difference between spending more money and meeting the possible bonus demands of a Scott Boras advisee. If the Pittsburgh braintrust decides that leap can't be made, or that Alvarez's hand is a true concern, there are other options.
Both Beckham and Posey will get serious consideration if passed on by the Rays. If the Bucs decide that pitching is the best way to go, Matusz profiles as a front-of-the-rotation starter as does University of Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow.
3. Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer, 1B, American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla.
The Royals would happily take Alvarez if the Pirates pass on him, but with him gone, they might go with one of the following two bats: Hosmer, the prep star, or Justin Smoak, the University of South Carolina first baseman. Hosmer is also a Boras advisee, but that doesn't necessarily seem to scare the Royals, who took Boras clients in the first round in each of the past two years. That being said, enough may be enough and Smoak could be the option. Going pitching is still a possibility, and if that's the case, Matusz is still in their mix.
4. Baltimore Orioles: Brian Matusz, LHP, University of San Diego
Everything I've heard about the O's involves a college player. Not that they're one of those teams you can peg like that, it's just that's the way the rumor breeze has been blowing. Matusz appears to be atop their list and they'll take him if none of the top three do. They could also consider Crow or maybe even Tanner Scheppers out of Fresno State. There have been some bats mentioned as well, with Smoak being the most prominent. The University of Georgia's Gordon Beckham could also sneak into the mix here, but we'll stay with the southpaw, who's got pretty good stuff for the time being.
5. San Francisco Giants: Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin HS, Griffin, Ga.
The Giants would probably love for Posey to be around, but that seems highly unlikely at this point. If they want to stay with a college bat, the same names come up: Smoak and Gordon Beckham, while they'd also consider the pitching tandem of Matusz and Crow. In the end, though, they might be hard pressed to pass up the overall package that Tim Beckham has to offer. It may take him a little longer to develop than some of the collegians, but he's got the potential to do just about everything. He's drawn some comparisons to the Upton brothers, which may not be fair, but you get the point. And unlike with B.J. and Justin, most people are confident that Beckham will be able to stay at shortstop long-term.
Yes, the Giants have a number of middle infielders in the system, but it's difficult to look past this talent and most organizations will tell you that you can never have too much talent, especially with impact potential, up the middle.
6. Florida Marlins: Kyle Skipworth, C, Patriot HS, Riverside, Calif.
The Marlins have never shied away from taking chances and picking the "high risk, high reward" high school types. There are a few who fit the bill here. While it might sound improbable, Hosmer's name has cropped up and the Marlins surely have had ample opportunity to see the Miami-area prepster. Ditto with University of Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso, but you have to wonder if his name has cropped up solely because of proximity. Just because they can see a guy a lot because he's nearby does not mean they'll take him as the No. 6 overall pick.
The word has been that the Marlins have been all over Skipworth. There has been some debate over whether his defensive skills are good enough for him to stay behind the plate, but he's shown enough ability to get a shot there, no question. And most people are confident he's going to hit. A recent rough game made for a few pauses, but there's enough who believe there's plenty of track record to draw from to not let him slide too far if Florida ends up passing.
7. Cincinnati Reds: Aaron Crow, RHP, University of Missouri
Not long ago, a scenario that saw Crow available in this spot didn't seemed plausible. The right-hander had a long track record of success and was putting together an extremely impressive run of 43 consecutive scoreless innings. A few rough outings in a row, combined with some back spasms and some questions about mechanics, has made this possible.
Once thought to be in the mix for the top overall pick, it's not like Crow is going to slide too far and the Reds might find it hard to pass up on his terrific pure stuff. If they're looking for another college right-hander, Scheppers or perhaps Tulane's Shooter Hunt is a possibility. Offensively, they might be interested in Gordon Beckham and there's been some buzz about them liking ASU first baseman Brett Wallace.
8. Chicago White Sox: Gordon Beckham, SS, University of Georgia
Every once in a while, there's a rumor so strong, one repeated from numerous sources, that you almost can't believe it to be true. At every turn, word was that the White Sox really liked Wallace. While most consider him to be an outstanding hitter, something about it just didn't seem to be right. That's not to say that if things fall differently, they wouldn't look in his direction, but in the scenario laid out here, with Gordon Beckham available, they'll go with who most would consider to be the better overall player.
Along with Posey, no hitter has helped his cause more with his performance than the Georgia shortstop. He's been among the NCAA leaders in just about every offensive category, showing a lot more power. He could get to the bigs quickly and how often does a possible impact bat in the middle infield come along?
9. Washington Nationals: Justin Smoak, 1B, University of South Carolina
In some ways, picking a little lower might be a good thing in this Draft. There's a list of about 10-12 names among the top-10 possibilities -- not including the inevitiable surprise (think Matt LaPorta last year) -- and by the time the Nats pick ninth, they might have their minds made up for them based on what's happened with the first eight picks.
If Hosmer slides a bit because of perceived bonus demands, he could end up here and he is a bat almost all believe will play quite well in the pro game. If he's gone, though, we'll go with the next best available player -- something the Nationals will likely do -- and that's Smoak. Switch-hitters with legitimate power don't come around all that often and the Nats will be pleasantly suprised he's even around for them to consider.
10. Houston Astros: Tanner Scheppers, RHP, Fresno State
It's always difficult to know what a team is going to do when its got a new scouting director and GM in the fold. Bobby Heck worked under Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik and if he's as unpredictable as his old boss, who knows what will happen here?
What is known is that the Astros didn't have a pick until the third round last year and didn't sign anyone until their fifth rounder. So they'll want this one to stick. With the need to get an influx of talent into the system, and quickly, the college route seems to make the most sense (that being said, they'd probably be very interested in Skipworth if he were still around).
Alonso might be of interest, but here's a hunch that a power arm that could get there quickly will be ordered up. Scheppers is likely the next best option after Crow and Matusz on the college front. He was scratched from a start last week with some reported tenderness, but he was expected to make his Friday start this week. If that issue becomes larger, Shooter Hunt might fit the bill for the Astros.
Wild cards: Since in every Draft there seems to be at least one or two picks that appear to be out of the blue, even in the top 10, it makes sense to mention a couple of names that feel like reaches for the top third of the first round, but have been mentioned in conversations nonetheless.
One is Stanford catcher Jason Castro, who has followed up a good Cape Cod season last summer with an outstanding junior season. He's improved his defense and hits left-handed. The question is how far he will rise and how much of it is a case of overvaluing a catcher who can hit. ... Another name being tossed around up top is Casey Kelly, a two-way high school standout. There have been reports he only wants to play shortstop as a pro and he has the raw potential to be an exciting, big and athletic middle infielder. He's also a top football recruit and could decide to play quarterback at the University of Tennessee. He's played himself into the first round this year, but top 10? You have to wonder if the connection is being made because his father is Reds bench coach Pat Kelly, and Cincinnati will pick seventh.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.