05/16/06 4:08 PM ET
Crystal ball: A look at the top 20
Lincecum still likely first choice; Hochevar enters the picture
We're now just three weeks away from the draft and all 30 teams are slowly starting to whittle down their lists and hone in on the players they hope will be there when it comes to be their time to pick in the first round.
Last week, I unveiled my first projection of the top 10 picks of this year's draft. Now I'm ready with an update on that 10 as well as taking a stab at picks 11-20. Ever heard of a fool's errand?
Things are still looking fairly muddled in the top third -- starting with the Royals at No. 1 overall -- making the second third even less clear than usual at this stage of the game.
The wild card in all of this is Luke Hochevar. The former University of Tennessee standout was taken last year in the supplemental first round by the Dodgers, but has not signed. He's technically still under the Dodgers' control until a week before draft day, but scouts have swarmed to watch the right-hander pitch for the Fort Worth Cats in case he re-enters the draft, a distinct possibility. Hochever made his first start on Saturday, giving up two runs and striking out nine (against three walks) in five innings. He reportedly was throwing in the mid-to-upper 90s. His re-entrance, along with the tepid reviews for this overall draft class, has Hochevar's name being mentioned all over the first round. I'll slot him in somewhere in this projection, with the hopes of pinpointing where he'll go the more he throws and the more the picture clears up nationwide.
1. Kansas City Royals: Tim Lincecum, RHP, University of Washington
Lincecum wasn't thrilling on Friday, losing to Stanford's Greg Reynolds (more on him later) and allowing 10 hits and four runs (three earned) while striking out just five. He also threw over 130 pitches, following up a 140-plus pitch performance the previous Friday and a one-batter relief outing mid-week. It's the kind of college abuse a scouting director has to cringe at. That being said, if you liked Lincecum before, nothing happened that made you change your mind, so he's definitely still in the mix. The Royals are down to three candidates for this spot: Lincecum, Andrew Miller and Brad Lincoln, with Lincoln throwing the best of the three of late. If the Royals don't take Lincecum, he could slide quite a bit.
Last week's projection: Lincecum
2. Colorado Rockies: Andrew Miller, LHP, University of North Carolina
Miller was OK, not great, against Virginia on Friday, getting his first loss of the season. He gave up three runs, one earned, and struck out eight in 6 1/3 IP. The Rockies are covering their bases, sending important people to the Lincecum-Reynolds matchup on Friday, as well as to see Miller and their favorite position player in the draft, Evan Longoria. Assuming the Royals stay with Lincecum, though, the Rockies will not pass up the tall left-hander.
Last week's projection: Miller
3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Evan Longoria, 3B, Long Beach State
They'd still love Miller to slip to them, and they're looking at the college pitchers being mentioned at the top -- Lincoln and Brandon Morrow -- but if Nos. 1 and 2 stay the same, they'll stick with Longoria. He's upped his average this season to .364 to go along with a .491 on-base percentage and .613 slugging after going 5-for-12 over the weekend against UC-Santa Barbara. There is some debate over who the top college position player in the draft is, between Longoria and Texas OF Drew Stubbs. But the Rays are stacked in the outfield, so if all else is equal, Longora at third is their man.
Last week's projection: Longoria
4. Pittsburgh Pirates: Brandon Morrow, RHP, Cal-Berkley
There appeared to be some debate with the Pirates over who the right pitcher to take is: Morrow or Lincoln (If Longoria were to fall to them, they could still go in that direction). Now Reynolds, who has beaten Morrow and Lincecum in back-to-back weeks, has entered into the picture, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise if the Pirates went with him here. Morrow hasn't pitched since he threw well in defeat against Reynolds and will likely start on Friday against Arizona State.
Last week's projection: Morrow
5. Seattle Mariners: Brad Lincoln, RHP, University of Houston
If Lincoln keeps pitching the way he has of late, he won't be here for the Mariners at No. 5. On Friday, he beat No. 1 Rice -- on the road -- with a complete-game shutout, yielding five hits and striking out nine. He's now 11-1 with a 1.67 ERA, 26 walks and 141 strikeouts in 113 IP. Imagine what he could do if he wasn't hitting and DHing when he wasn't pitching. This is the first place where the wild card's name -- Hochevar -- has come up.
Last week's projection: Lincoln
6. Detroit Tigers: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Highland Park HS, Dallas, Texas
Finally, a prepster. Kershaw has risen to the top of a relatively weak high school class, though a recent oblique problem may make some pause. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he is the epitome of the projectable high school lefty. He hasn't pitched since the injury, but it's not the kind of thing that would stop a team from taking him, especially considering he went 10-0 with a 0.46 ERA and 104 strikeouts before going down.
Last week's projection: Kershaw
7. Los Angeles Dodgers: Greg Reynolds, RHP, Stanford
And you thought I wasn't going to make any changes to the top 10. This might be the biggest changeup to the draft, as the Dodgers are notorious for taking high schoolers. They could stick with that if the Tigers don't take Kershaw, but this could be a year in which they go college in the first round. In this scenario, Reynolds would be the best one on the board, but the Dodgers would love it if Lincoln somehow came down to them. Another possibility: If the higher-ups all go arms, the Dodgers would not let Longoria go by.
Last week's projection: Jeremy Jeffress
8. Cincinnati Reds: Drew Stubbs, OF, University of Texas
As mentioned last week, Stubbs was considered the top position player in the class heading into the season. According to some, he's been passed by Longoria. But Stubbs certainly isn't without skills. Most feel he can play center field defensively in the big leagues right now and he has hit .337 with 11 homers, 48 RBIs and, a 1.031 OPS and 21 steals. He's also struck out 52 times in 53 games, the main knock on his game. Once upon a time, the Reds thought Lincoln could be here, but that doesn't seem realistic now. If Stubbs goes earlier and they still go position player, the guy they might go with is the one I've got listed going next.
Last week's projection: Stubbs.
9. Baltimore Orioles: Bill Rowell, 3B, Bishop Eustace Prep, Pennsauken, N.J.
The shortstop at his New Jersey high school, most see the 6-foot-5, 195-pounder sliding over to third as a pro. He could make a nice complement in the O's system with last year's first-rounder Brandon Snyder, unless of course the Reds nab him first.
Last week's projection: Rowell.
10. San Francisco Giants: Daniel Bard, RHP, University of North Carolina
It remains to be seen how Bard's latest bump in the road will hurt his draft status. The right-hander didn't make it out of the fourth inning in his Sunday start against Virginia, giving up five hits and three walks in 3 2/3 IP. But there's still no denying that when he's on, he's got a tantalizing combination of stuff and smooth delivery. If Reynolds somehow slides, the Giants would be a likely suitor, but that now seems unlikely. They could go the position player route, and Wake Forest's Matt Antonelli is still on the radar.
Last week's projection: Bard.
11. Arizona Diamondbacks: Luke Hochevar, RHP, no school
I know it might seem crazy to think the Diamondbacks would go down this road after waiting almost the full year to sign their 2004 first-round pick, Stephen Drew, who is also represented by Scott Boras. But that's worked out well and they're not afraid to take a chance. This might be the right draft for it, with Hochevar being the best advanced arm on the board if he's back in.
12. Texas Rangers: Kyle Drabek, RHP, The Woodlands HS, Texas
The Rangers would love to add a position player to the fold here and if Stubbs somehow fell to them, they would be ecstatic. That, however, is unlikely to happen. They have designs on using Texas for a draft stomping ground much like the Braves do in Georgia. There's been some noise they like Kyle McCulloch, the right-handed pitching teammate of Stubbs at Texas. But perhaps they'll stay at home and take a shot with Drabek, Doug's kid. He may have the best arm and ceiling of any high schooler in the draft, but there has been some talk of makeup issues that could cloud his future.
13. Chicago Cubs: Travis Snider, OF, Jackson HS, Mill Creek, Wash.
This might seem like a bit of a stretch, but if teams are willing to take a shot in this first round, why don't I? The Cubs do like Snider's power potential and despite his "bad body" -- 6-foot, 230 pounds -- think he could be a prototypical right fielder, but it's just a question whether they like him at No. 13. Keep in mind the Cubs don't pick again for several rounds, so they want to make this count. Assuming they want to go high school, names like third baseman Chris Marrero, catcher Hank Conger or 1B/OF Chris Parmalee could sneak into the conversation. One sleeper: Kyler Burke from Tennessee.
14. Toronto Blue Jays: Matt Antonelli, 3B, Wake Forest
As confusing as it gets at this point in the first round, one thing several people have told me is that the Jays like Antonelli. And there's a lot to like. He's hit .335 this year with some power (.605 SLG) and patience (.446 OBP) to go along with pretty good speed (15 steals). Of course, it wouldn't be shocking if Toronto decided to their usual thing and go the college pitching route.
15. Washington Nationals: Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, Halifax County HS, Va.
The Nationals have stayed in the area the last two drafts with Bill Bray and Ryan Zimmerman, so going with the high schooler from Virginia would make a lot of sense. Jeffress has as much arm strength as anyone in the draft and has been clocked in triple-digits this season. If the Nats want to stray from their own region, they're interested in Nebraska's Joba Chamberlain, if he proves he's healthy. They also could be looking at San Diego starter Josh Butler. A sleeper to watch: Sean Black, from Lenape High School in New Jersey.
16. Milwaukee Brewers: Brooks Brown, RHP, University of Georgia
Brown is on the rise, largely because he's in stark contrast to some of the "undersized" righties higher on the list. Brown is 6-foot-3 and weighs 205 pounds and also throws in the mid-90s with regularity. He's Georgia's Saturday starter, but he leads the team in innings (81 2/3) and strikeouts (94) while holding hitters to a .234 average.
17. San Diego Padres: Joba Chamberlain, RHP, Nebraska
Chamberlain put himself on the map last year in leading Nebraska's charge to the College World Series. He'll have to prove some nagging injuries aren't an issue and that he can keep down his weight (listed at 225), but the Padres love the college arms and Chamberlain is the type who, when 100 percent, can move quickly. So could Missouri's Max Scherzer, who could've been a top five pick if biceps tendinitis hadn't kept him out of several starts.
18. Philadelphia Phillies: Chris Tillman, RHP, Fountain Valley HS, Calif.
Tillman didn't pitch all that well in a marquee matchup against catcher Hank Conger recently, and his slide could easily continue past the Phillies. But he does have a little more polish than some of the other high school arms, a commodity the Phillies have interest in. A distinct possibility is Sean Black (mentioned above), the Lenape High School ace who has come seemingly out of nowhere and into the first-round picture. He's been cranking it up to 94 mph of late and there aren't that many live arms like that out there.
19. Florida Marlins: Chris Marrero, 3B, Monsignor Pace HS, Opa Locka, Fla.
The Marlins certainly haven't shied away from taking high school arms (Volstad, Thompson last year, for instance) and pitchers like Jeffress or Black could intrigue them with their arm strength. So could Tillman if he slips this far. Suffice it to say the Marlins haven't crossed too many names off their list at this point, and they've been able to see Marrero in their home state plenty of times. Once considered to be the top high school position player in this class, Marrero's performance has disappointed some, but not enough to slide out of the first round.
20. Minnesota Twins: Hank Conger, C, Huntington Beach HS, Calif.
Rounding out the top 20, the Twins seem to be headed in the high school direction. They've obviously shown a willingness to do either depending on what a particular draft looks like, and they may think a young bat is the way to go. Conger has been moving up of late because of his bat, not just because he's a catcher. Obviously, the Twins are set with Joe Mauer for quite a while, so they could afford to let a teen-aged backstop like Conger develop slowly before having to decide if they need to move him.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.