More questions than answers in Draft
After consensus No. 1 Strasburg, it's anybody's guess
It's Stephen Strasburg and everyone else.
That about sums up the 2009 Draft class. Though it's still four weeks from Draft day, what's going on at the top of the Draft is as clear as day. After the No. 1 pick, however, it's, as one scout put it, "as clear as mud."
MLB.com will offer live coverage and analysis of the entire Draft on June 9-11. MLB Network will broadcast the first round on the evening of June 9 from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J., and those selections also will be simulcast live on MLB.com. Beginning with the 33rd pick, up-to-the-minute on-air coverage from the remaining rounds on the first night will shift exclusively to MLB.com/Live. Once the first night is done, the Draft will pick back up with the fourth through 30th rounds, via conference call from MLB Headquarters in New York, at noon ET on Wednesday, June 10. Rounds 31-50 will be on Thursday, June 11, starting at 11:30 a.m.
At this point, perhaps the only thing that can be accepted as fact as the June Draft approaches is that Strasburg, the right-hander from San Diego State, is far and away the best talent in the class. And barring some unforeseen circumstances, he will be taken by the Washington Nationals with the No. 1 pick. The Aztecs ace has been nothing short of dominant from start to finish, quickly and definitively separating himself from the rest of the Draft class, most recently with a 17-strikeout no-hitter in his last start.
"This guy goes out and dominates every time," one National League scouting director said. "He shows you what you're looking for in a Major League pitcher. You can see him quickly helping the Major League club out. When you're picking high in the Draft, that's what every club wants -- someone who can impact your organization and impact it quickly. He fits all of those."
The one remaining question regarding Strasburg and the Nationals is just how the right-hander will fit into their budget. Strasburg is advised by agent Scott Boras, and there has been speculation that Strasburg will command a record-breaking bonus figure. Add in the fact the Nationals didn't sign their first-round pick last year, and the negotiations between the two sides could be extremely interesting if Washington does go ahead and draft Strasburg.
While most see a quick path to the big leagues for the San Diego State ace, he doesn't have history on his side in terms of pitchers doing well after being the top pick in the Draft. Since the Draft was instituted in 1965, a pitcher has gone No. 1 overall a total of 13 times, including in two of the past three years. All but one -- Brien Taylor -- has pitched in the Majors, but it hasn't exactly been a parade of All-Stars, with names like Ben McDonald, Paul Wilson and Kris Benson dotting the list. The Nationals will hope, of course, that Strasburg will be the exception, rather than the rule.
The view after Strasburg is more than a little murky, all the way throughout the first round. It's worth noting that scouts, by the nature of their profession, tend to be cautious. It's their job, after all, to pick apart a prospective draftee, to make sure they know about every potential cause for concern. Even so, the industry does not seem thrilled with this year's selection, particularly at the top, where kind estimations say there are only about a dozen players who appear to be bona fide first-round talents.
"Every year, we say it's down," one scouting director said. "There will be guys that will end up being good Major League players out of this Draft. But there's nobody that's stepping up saying, 'Pick me, pick me.' I kind of feel for the teams that are picking 2-10 because, simply, there's nobody that's stepping up and saying, 'I should be the second pick in the country.' It's going to come down to the organization saying, 'OK, this is the guy that we want and this is who we're going to take.' I think you could throw a lot of them in a hat, shake them up and they'd all be the same guy."
While the elite talent may not have risen to the top, there is depth in the class, especially in terms of young catchers available, as well as pitching. The arms come from both the college and high school ranks. Right-handers Alex White from the University of North Carolina, Kyle Gibson from Missouri and ASU's Mike Leake, along with lefties Mike Minor, late risers Rex Brothers and James Paxton top the college arms. The high schoolers are intriguing as well, with lefties Matt Purke and Tyler Matzek joining righties Zach Wheeler and Shelby Miller to lead the prep list.
That doesn't even include the two arms that don't fit into either category, the two pitchers who were drafted out of college in 2008 and didn't sign, then opted to go to independent league ball rather than return to college. Former Fresno State right-hander Tanner Scheppers has been generating a lot of buzz with the way he's thrown this spring, though there are those still worrying about the shoulder that shut him down last spring and led him to slide to the second round. He's now pitching for the St. Paul Saints. One-time Missouri ace Aaron Crow is the other wild card, a right-hander taken by the Nationals in the first round last year who is now pitching for the Fort Worth Cats. Both could find their way into the top 10 if they continue to throw well in front of scouts.
Scheppers and Crow represent a wrinkle in this year's Draft, the first time teams have received compensation for unsigned picks. The Nationals are the first team to have two top 10 picks, as they have the No. 10 pick for not coming to terms with Crow. The Pirates get an extra second-round pick for Scheppers and the Yankees get a first-rounder back for not signing their top 2008 pick, Gerrit Cole. They'll all get a chance to draft from the perceived strength in the Draft -- those arms -- if they so choose.
The high-school position strength, however slight it might be, appears to be behind the plate. Prep backstops like Max Stassi, Andrew Susac, Austin Maddox and even the injured Luke Bailey are all potential high picks, something not often seen in a Draft.
And what of the college bats? That was an area of strength in last year's class. This year, the consensus is that it's the weakest part of the Draft. Some will still go early, with UNC's Dustin Ackley and USC's Grant Green likely to be among the advanced hitters taken early. It may not be an overwhelming group, but as scouts always say, there will be big leaguers, and good ones, in this Draft, even if they haven't quite separated themselves as yet.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.