As the Major League Baseball Rule 4 draft (more commonly known as the MLB Amateur Draft) rapidly approaches on June 4-6, the draft coverage will be ramping up significantly here at NatsGM. The 2012 draft will never be confused with the historically deep and talented 2011 draft, but as with each year, there are plenty of solid prospects and potential major leaguers to the teams that work the hardest to find them. As the 2011 draft will be remembered for its depth of talented starting pitching, and 2010 and 2009 will be noted as the Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg drafts, this year’s edition will be known as the draft that saw the implementation of a new collective bargaining agreement signed last winter, limiting bonuses available to drafted players, amongst many other new rule changes. How these new rules affect the draft is the biggest storyline entering this draft.
Will we see fewer high school players drafted this year than in past years? Will fewer high school kids sign, preferring to try the junior college ranks which allows the player to be eligible for the draft each year? Or will these high school athletes that do not sign opt for 4-year colleges, and as a consequence, play another sport besides baseball, limiting the attention focused on improving his skills. Or even worse, will these young men decide to play another sport entirely? If this happens, will we see a depletion of athletes playing baseball, which would be terrible long-term for the game, and will we see fewer skilled baseball players overall, as players in general are better off developing their skills in the minor leagues rather than in college baseball.
Finally, will we see teams draft college seniors, whom have little to no leverage in contract negotiations, more highly than perhaps their talents warrant as teams try to shift signing bonus dollars away from these players to other players with stronger bargaining positions? Only time will tell, but I am anxious to see how these new rules affect individual team’s draft strategies next week and I am curious how these rules affect the quality of baseball in the major leagues over the next few decades.
In Part 1 today, I will preview some of the best hitters available next Monday. Obviously there are plenty of other batters that are not mentioned, but these are the best batters I have watched in preparation for the 2012 draft.
Mike Zunino Catcher University of Florida -> The consensus top collegiate hitter in this year’s draft, Zunino projects as an above-average defensive catcher with a solid bat, capable of hitting for both average and power. A three-year starter at Florida, Zunino should move quickly through the minor leagues and has the potential to be a future All-Star in his prime. Zunino figures to be drafted amongst the first 5 picks next week.
Deven Marrero Shortstop Arizona State University -> Marrero began this season as the only challenger to Zunino as the top collegiate position player, but Deven has suffered a terrible case of draft-itis this spring and has failed to hit. Marrero will stay a shortstop in professional baseball and the team that drafts him will believe in his bat and that his performance his first two years in college and his impressive summer stints in Cape Cod and Team USA are more reflective of his true abilities. Even accounting for Marrero’s subpar season, he should be drafted within the first 20 picks in the draft, with a chance of going in the top-10.
Richie Shaffer 3B/1B Clemson University -> A quality all-around hitter in a draft year void of solid bats, Shaffer has solid power in his athletic frame and possesses a strong throwing arm. Questions linger if he will remain at third base as a professional, some speculate a move to right field or first base, but his productive bat with solid power should entice a team to gamble on his bat within the first 20 picks.
Stephen Piscotty 3B/1B Stanford University -> One of the few Stanford hitters in recent seasons not to succumb to the infamous “Stanford swing change” (reference Kenny Diekroeger and Austin Wilson, amongst others), Piscotty has a strong track record of success in his three seasons at Stanford and led the Cape Cod League in batting last summer. Like Richie Shaffer mentioned above, there is a strong chance that Piscotty will not remain a third baseman professionally, likely shifting to an outfield corner because of his strong throwing arm and reasonable speed. The team that drafts Piscotty in the middle of the 1st round will be focused on his track record of success and belief that he will develop some power as he matures.
Victor Roache OF Georgia Southern -> Roache entered the season with the reputation as one of the top power hitters in college baseball after hitting 30 home runs last year as a sophomore, then went to the Cape Cod league last summer and was quite impressive outside of a late season slump. Unfortunately Roache broke his left wrist early this season, leaving teams to question how this injury will affect him going forward. Roache is an interesting name amongst the scouting community, as his supporters see him as a power slugging corner outfielder (he reminds me of former Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Greg Vaughn), while his detractors fear his swing-and-miss tendencies and profile as a right-handed hitting left fielder. The team that drafts him will believe in his power translating to professional baseball and will have scouted him heavily last year.
Nolan Fontana Shortstop University of Florida -> Fontana has been the starting shortstop and leadoff hitter at Florida since arriving as a freshman, and has been one of the steadiest and most productive players in college baseball the past three seasons. A terrific defensive shortstop with a below-average throwing arm, some scouts fear he will move to second base as a professional, decreasing his value. A career leadoff hitter with a solid track record of getting on base and some emerging power, the team that drafts him around picks #20-40 will project him as a top-of-the-order hitter and their shortstop of the future.
Tyler Naquin OF Texas A&M -> Perhaps the best hitter for average in this draft class, Naquin also has a powerful throwing arm and has been extraordinarily productive as a collegiate hitter in his career, leading the Big 12 in hitting the past two years. The questions surrounding Naquin involve if he is a good enough athlete and skilled enough defensively to handle being an everyday center fielder. His detractors feel he does not have enough power to be a right fielder and would be inadequate as a center fielder, forcing on him the label of a tweener. The team that drafts Naquin in the back half of round 1 will view him as a strong leadoff hitter with the tools to develop into an adequate center fielder.
High School Hitters
Byron Buxton OF Baxley, Georgia –> A strong contender to be selected 1st overall, Buxton has elite speed, and above-average tools across the board, though some scouts do question his ability to hit for average. He has faced relatively weak competition in the rural areas of Georgia in his high school career, but his package of tools and his upside as a plus defensive center fielder with potential to be an excellent hitter will be difficult for the Astros, Twins, and Mariners to pass on at the top of the draft.
Carlos Correa SS/3B Puerto Rico –> Expected to be the highest player ever drafted from Puerto Rico (the current record is #17 overall), Correa has prototypical size, above-average speed, and a cannon for an arm. Currently a shortstop, Correa is expected to fill out as he matures, making third base his likely position in the major leagues. With solid to plus tools across the board, Correa is expected to be drafted between picks #5-8, with the potential to be drafted even higher if a team believes he will remain at shortstop.
Albert Almora OF Hialeah Gardens, Florida -> A natural center fielder with above-average tools, Almora has long been a well-known name among scouts pointing toward this draft. Almora does not possess elite speed for center field, but his strong throwing arm, natural instincts, and ability to get solid jumps on fly balls make him a certainty to remain in center field. His defensive skills, in addition to a solid bat with developing power, should find Almora off the board within the first ten selections.
Gavin Cecchini SS Lake Charles, Louisiana -> The brother of hyped Boston Red Sox prospect Garin Cecchini, Gavin has quickly made a name for himself as a solid-hitting shortstop with the athleticism and arm to remain there as a professional. While he may not have the highest ceiling, his instincts in the middle infield and polished skills gives him one of the highest floors in this high school class, making him a strong possibility to be selected in the middle of the first round.
Corey Seager SS/3B Concord, North Carolina -> The brother of Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, Corey is every bit as strong of a prospect as his brother. Kyle spent three seasons at North Carolina honing his craft, while brother Corey will likely be drafted highly enough to pass on college and start his professional career. Seager is expected to move to third base as he matures, but his solid left-handed swing and developing power gives him a similar profile to his brother, with the potential for more power. Seager should be selected somewhere in the first round.
Tomorrow I will return with Part 2, a preview of the best collegiate and high school pitchers available in the 2012 MLB Draft.
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