Draft boasts more depth than in recent years
Rays expected to clean up after Pirates take Cole with top pick
There are 30 Major League teams, hunkered down in Draft rooms, dotting their I's and crossing their T's, all in anticipation for the start of the First-Year Player Draft on Monday evening.
They did so with no certainty as to who would be going No. 1 overall. But by Monday morning, the Pittsburgh Pirates, holders of that first overall selection, had decided to take UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole, a baseball source told MLB.com.
Aside from that revelation, the lack of pre-Draft clarity atop boards is a different look than in recent years. In both 2009 and '10, there was a clear-cut No. 1 pick heading into the season, and that's how it played out, with the Nationals taking Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with the top selection in those two years, respectively. This year, there wasn't a no-brainer choice, with Cole, University of Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen and Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon in the mix late in the process.
This Draft class appears to have more depth, though. The general consensus is that the Class of 2011 is one of the strongest and deepest pools of amateur talent that has come around in some time.
"It's good this year," one scouting director admitted. "One of the better ones I've seen in a while. There's a little bit of everything. There's good general depth. It's a lot better than it was in 2010."
Draft fans can find out just how much better it is by tuning in to live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft on Monday at 7 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network. That first evening will include a one-hour preview show, beginning at 6 p.m., followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Days 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
"There are probably four or five guys who have cut themselves away from the rest of the class, then another group of 10-15 that make up the second tier of first-rounders, which is a little deeper than other drafts," a second scouting director said. "Then it becomes a really fun Draft. The depth of this Draft is in the sandwich and second-round picks, and there's a lot of it, especially pitching. I've never seen this much velocity in one Draft. I've never seen 95 [mph] so many times this spring."
It's a good year to have multiple picks, so there's little question the Tampa Bay Rays are the happiest team in baseball. The Rays, already with the reputation of having a strong farm system, will get to replenish it even further by picking 10 times in the top 60.
"We already know who had the best Draft in 2011," the first scouting director said. "Tampa Bay. How can they not? They know this is a chance to propel their organization. How are we supposed to have a Draft comparable to them? We can't."
One strength in this class does come from those arms on the college scene. There are at least a half-dozen college pitchers who currently project to go at or near the top of the first round. Aside from Cole and Hultzen, they include Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt), Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech), Taylor Jungmann (Texas), Trevor Bauer (UCLA) and Matt Barnes (Connecticut) have all been mentioned as potential top 10 picks, with several other advanced arms projecting to go in the first round.
That's not to say there are no high school pitchers to dream on in this class. There are a number of prepsters who are first-round contenders, highlighted by Dylan Bundy in Oklahoma, state-mate Archie Bradley and South Carolina right-hander Taylor Guerrieri. This overall area of depth, though, is also the one drawback to this class: There are no guarantees when it comes to pitching.
"There are lots of quality arms in this Draft, lots of power arms -- starters and relievers, high school and college," one scouting director said. "However, I'm not ready to anoint this as the best Draft in 20 years. Pitching is volatile; lots of things happen to pitchers. The lack of position players puts all the upside on the pitching. That comes with risk. Time will tell us where this Draft rates."
The weakness does indeed seem to come in the batter's box, especially in the college ranks. Advanced hitters tend to rise as the Draft gets closer, and there are a handful of first-rounders there, but there are not too many who seem to be thought of as future impact-type players.
One of them has been mentioned near the top. Rendon had been on most short lists, along with the aforementioned UCLA ace Cole, to go No. 1 overall to the Pirates. While Rendon has hit fairly well this year -- his power numbers are down, possibly thanks to the new bats being used in NCAA action this year -- a shoulder problem has largely limited him to DH duties. It remains to be seen how much the shoulder -- and his medical report -- will play into when he gets selected. LSU's Mikie Mahtook, UConn's George Springer, Utah's C.J. Cron, Hawaii's Kolten Wong and North Carolina's Levi Michael all seem to be primed to go in the first round.
While there might not be depth in the high school hitting crop, there are some very intriguing names, including some being mentioned at the very top. Shortstop Francisco Lindor, who appeals to some teams because he'll be able to stay at the premium position long term, has been mentioned as high as No. 2 overall. So has five-tool outfielder Bubba Starling, who will have to be signed away from being the University of Nebraska's quarterback in the fall. Florida shortstop Javier Baez, a future third baseman, is also figuring into the top half of the first-round conversation.
There's also been discussion about the impending new Collective Bargaining Agreement and how it could include some new Draft rules. Those rules might spell out a hard slotting system that would help eliminate the holdouts, deadline deals and above-slot bonuses. If this is the last year players can cash in by throwing a big bonus demand out there, knowing that next year they might be penned in to a set amount, perhaps some -- especially high schoolers -- will decide to go pro rather than walk away and head to college.
"I think we will see a few more kids sign -- we expect that," the first scouting director said. "The other side [agents] are telling them they're not going to see the amount of changes that are being talked about. But we feel good about those big changes, like hard slotting or an acquisition cap."