With 24 hours to go before the selections begin, the draft remains a muddled mess, making the process of doing a mock a series of hedged wagers. "This is easily one of the most unpredictable first rounds I've ever seen," said one team official. Basically, the draft pool has two clumps of players, one made up of the top 10, followed by a larger group of up to 40 players. With even the first overall pick still up in the air, any one last-minute flip could change the board dramatically.
1. Tampa Bay
This is not like last year, when the Rays had the first overall pick and everyone knew for months that the team would select Vanderbilt left-hander David Price. This is more like 2003, when Tampa had the first overall pick and waited until literally minutes before the draft to choose Delmon Young over Rickie Weeks. This time around, the choice is between Florida State catcher Buster Posey and Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham (with Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez still in the mix, but a long shot), but the circumstances are much different for the now-contending Rays. Posey is the safer pick, a player who could make it to The Show quickly while providing nearly Gold Glove-level defense and contributing at the plate by hitting .280-plus with 15-20 home runs and 70 walks. That's an All-Star at the position, and more important, he'd be ready to help over the next few years, when the rest of Tampa's embarrassing amount of talent is lined up to make a long-term run.
Selection: Buster Posey, C, Florida State
The Pirates are in a bit of a pickle with this selection. The Rays are good because they've done great things with their picks; the Pirates are faltering because they have failed with theirs. In 2006, they selected Brad Lincoln in front of Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum. In 2005, they nabbed Andrew McCutchen -- a fine prospect in his own right -- but one pick later the Reds selected Jay Bruce. In 2002, with the first overall pick, they decided on Bryan Bullington over B.J. Upton. Many of those decisions were based on money, and while new team president Frank Coonelly was previously charged with enforcing MLB's silly slotting system for the draft, the Pirates insist that they are playing it cheap no longer. That seemingly would make Alvarez the obvious pick here, but his price might be too high, even for the Pirates, who are concerned with some holes in his swing and his ability to stay at third base long-term. Tim Beckham is more risky, but should come at a more reasonable price, and many believe he's a superior prospect to Alvarez by any measurement.
Selection: Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin HS (GA)
3. Kansas City
The Royals' selection has come down to a series of if-then statements. However, at the top of the list is, "If Pedro Alvarez is there, take him," or more simply, "Vote for Pedro." They believe he's the top player in the draft, and they have no qualms about selecting Scott Boras clients, having nabbed Mike Moustakas and Luke Hochevar with their previous two first-round selections. Yes, Alvarez is a third baseman, and yes, the team already has Alex Gordon, but they're in love with Alvarez's offensive upside, see Billy Butler as a DH, and expect one of those two third basemen sliding over to first. Beyond Alvarez, there have been plenty of rumors of the Royals doling out the cash for another Boras client, Eric Hosmer, but that only comes into play if Alvarez is already off the board. Posey would also be tempting, especially in an organization that has little to speak of at either the big league or minor league level at catcher.
Selection: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt
The Orioles are a club that tends to lock onto players early, and this year they locked onto the two top college pitchers, left-hander Brian Matusz of San Diego and Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow. Both were phenomenal in last weekend's regional play, throwing complete-game shutouts, but Matusz has been more consistently good and has been the Orioles' preference for some time. Late rumors have them also considering South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak, which would give them the top college power-hitting prospect in each of the last two drafts. For now, that's still a rumor, and for now, they still prefer the arm.
Selection: Brian Matusz, LHP, University of San Diego
5. San Francisco
The Giants are one of the wild cards in the draft. Not only are they highly unpredictable in terms of who they might pick, they keep things as far as who they're considering pretty close to the vest. There have been almost-daily rumors about their taking a player who is nowhere close to the fifth pick overall in terms of value, including Arizona State's Ike Davis and Vanderbilt's Ryan Flaherty, but with the names involved changing every few hours, it's best to ignore those and focus on what San Francisco needs, and has seemingly been on all along -- a college position player who could move through the minors quickly. Despite some late action on Crow and the temptation to take a power bat like Smoak, the Giants now seem to have their focus on the other Beckham shortstop -- Gordon, from the University of Georgia (no relation to Tim). A Golden Spikes finalist who is batting a remarkable .397/.505/.781 going into super-regional play, Beckham is nowhere near the defensive wizard that Omar Vizquel is, but should provide a significant offensive upgrade.
Selection: Gordon Beckham, SS, University of Georgia
Like the Orioles, the Marlins have been locked in on their player for some time now. The top high school catcher, Kyle Skipworth has had a record-breaking season and greatly impressed scouts both in games and during private workouts. He's a big left-handed hitter with excellent power and enough defense to stick behind the plate, and he would have a clear path to the majors in a catching-weak Marlins system. There are some inside the organization who would like to consider a college closer here, but the sixth pick is too high to employ that gambit. There's also a late push in favor of University of Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso; if he worked out, the Miami native and Cuban immigrant would be the face of the franchise, but the Marlins are a team that has always stuck to slot, and Alonso may have priced himself out of the opportunity.
Selection: Kyle Skipworth, C, Patriot HS (CA)
The Reds are lining up to throw the first real curveball of the first round. They have been heavily scouting the top group of college sluggers, as well as Gordon Beckham, while also dreaming of a scenario that would drop either Matusz or Crow to them. However, a surprising new name has entered the mix -- the Reds were in hard on Canadian prepster Brett Lawrie after he went off with eight home runs in eight games against professionals in the Dominican, and they came back with reports encouraging enough to prompt a quickly-scheduled private workout on Tuesday afternoon. As one scouting director put it, "If there's anyone who can improve his stock with a private workout, it's Lawrie." Assuming all went as expected, the surprises start at lucky number seven. If they decide to play it safe, Alonso is currently at the top of their board.
Selection: Brett Lawrie, INF, Brookswood SS (BC)
The White Sox would love to get a shortstop like Gordon Beckham into their system, but with him off of the board, they'll turn to one of the many slugging first basemen from the college ranks. The obvious candidates are Alonso and Smoak, with the longstanding rumor about Arizona State's Brett Wallace as a dark horse beginning to die out over the last week. Currently there is a split in house as to which is the superior prospect, Alonso or Smoak, but perhaps what is most telling is that during last weekend's conference tournaments, Kenny Williams went to the SEC games to see Smoak, and not the ACC to see Alonso. That could mean nothing, or it could mean everything, but the general consensus in the industry is that Smoak is the better talent.
Selection: Justin Smoak, 1B, South Carolina
The Nats have been attached to many prospects throughout the spring. They had a brief affinity for Skipworth, but it looks like he won't be available, and he didn't play especially well when Washington sent their top brass, including GM Jim Bowden, to see him. The Nationals have reportedly been hoping for Hosmer to fall to them for months, and they're willing to pay the price for his kind of power potential. If the price ends up too high however, they'll happily select Crow, although late rumors that he also wants an 'elite major league deal' aren't helping matters.
Selection: Eric Hosmer, 1B, American Heritage HS (FL)
Houston is looking to make up for last year's draft debacle, when they didn't pick until the third round, and then were unable to sign their first two picks, leaving fifth-round selection Collin DeLome as their torch-holder for the year. They'll have some excellent college players available to them, and while the system needs practically everything, they have no big-time power prospects in their system, and Alonso would change that. Signability could be an issue here, but it would be no different with selecting Crow.
Selection: Yonder Alonso, 1B, Miami
The Rangers would be pleasantly surprised to see one of the elite college players fall to them. Barring such a plummet, there's been some talk of them selecting a college closer, as well as a late surge for high school pitcher Ethan Martin, one of the more athletic and projectable arms in the draft. In this scenario, Crow is just far too good a talent to let him slide any further, and as always seems to be the case, Texas needs pitching.
Selection: Aaron Crow, RHP, Missouri
The A's are currently drooling at the numerous possibilities that might involve one of this year's elite college talents dropping to them. If Beckham or Smoak somehow fall this far, expect the A's to not only select the player, but to also perform a happy dance of joy while doing so. Unfortunately, chances are neither player will be around, leaving Oakland to opt for door number two. While he's certainly not what many A's fans would expect, the team is very high on two-way high school star Aaron Hicks, who has first-round talent as both a center fielder and as a pitcher. Teams prefer him on the mound, and of late he's seemingly softened on his stance that he'd like to begin his career as an everyday player. That might be enough for Oakland to take the risk, as the remaining players that would normally appeal to them here (college, polished) aren't good enough to justify a pick this high.
Selection: Aaron Hicks, RHP/CF, Woodrow Wilson HS (CA)
13. St. Louis
The Cardinals are notoriously tight-lipped under the stewardship of scouting director Jeff Lunhow, but it does look like they're aiming at arms, but the granularity ends there, as they have high schoolers like Hicks and local product Tim Melville on their short list, as well as the usual group of college closers, but with the second best college lefty starter still on the board, they'll be hard-pressed to go in another direction. Eastern Kentucky's Christian Friedrich has a big league-ready curveball right now, and could be in the middle of the Cardinals' rotation in short order. There is a rumor beginning to circulate that University of Arizona reliever Ryan Perry, who touched 100 mph on multiple occasions during last week's regional play, has entered the picture and has a sizable group of supporters inside the organization.
Selection: Christian Friedrich, LHP, Eastern Kentucky
The Twins like athleticism and youth, and both Hicks and Lawrie are very high on their board. If the Reds decide to go in another direction, Lawrie might still be available at 14, and the Twins would be awfully tempted to take him. Their third option here is Ethan Martin, another two-way talent who started the year as a better third baseman, but goes into June more highly regarded for his work on the mound. He's a bit on the raw side, but some feel that his ceiling matches up with that of any high school pitcher on the board.
Selection: Ethan Martin, RHP, Stephens County HS (GA)
15. Los Angeles-NL
It's no secret that the Dodgers are also very high on Hicks, who plays in their back yard. With Hicks likely already gone by the time they pick, there has been a lot of speculation about the Dodgers going the college closer route, and their scouting department has been seen in attendance of Texas Christian closer Andrew Cashner's late-season games. The problem is that kind of safety selection just doesn't fit with the Dodgers' philosophy. High-ceiling high school players do, and the best one on the board at this point could be two-way Florida prep star Casey Kelly, the son of a big leaguer who has first-round talent as an infielder and as a pitcher, while also having a scholarship to play quarterback at the University of Tennessee clouding his signability, a factor which contributes to people having him going anywhere from seventh to 30th.
Selection: Casey Kelly, SS/RHP, Sarasota HS (FL)