With all the attention being paid to presumptive No. 1 pick Bryce Harper, it's easy to forget that next week's draft will include two other high-school-age players who in any other year would be considered worthy of the top selection. The best pitcher available is righthander Jameson Taillon of The Woodlands, Texas. After Harper, the best position player is shortstop Manny Machado of Brito High in Miami. Both were teammates of Harper's on the under-18 national team that last year won the U.S.'s first Pan Am Junior Championships gold medal in that age group. Taillon, 18, dominated Cuba in the final in Venezuela, striking out 16 in 7 2/3 shutout innings despite having to work around a 35-minute rain delay between the second and third innings. Machado, 17, helped start a six-run, seventh-inning rally for Team USA with a single; he batted .367 with two home runs in the eight-game tournament. "There's nothing like wearing that USA across your chest and dogpiling in a foreign country," Taillon says.
The next great thrill for both players will come next week: Look for the Pirates to take Machado at No. 2 and the Orioles to follow by choosing Taillon. They're not in Harper territory, but the pitcher and the shortstop have generated their own excitement. The 6'6", 220-pound Taillon, who complements a 99-mph fastball with a spike curve, a slider and a changeup, is a classic Texas power pitcher in the mold of Roger Clemens and Josh Beckett. "He's got as good an arm as those guys," says one National League area scout. Talent evaluators are also impressed with his maturity; Taillon is such a strong student that he considered graduating from high school a year early so he could play at Rice. His high school opponents this spring wished he had left: He went 8--1, with a 1.79 ERA and 114 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 62 2/3 innings. Among his victories was a seven-inning no-hitter in which 19 of the 21 outs came by strikeout.
Machado is a lanky, 6'3" power-hitting shortstop of Dominican descent who grew up in Miami, so it's hardly a surprise that some scouts compare him to a young Alex Rodriguez. He idolized A-Rod while growing up, and his uncle Geovanny Brito would often tape Rodriguez's games and use them as instructional videos for his nephew. This spring Machado batted .639 with 12 home runs and 68 RBIs in 29 games, showing remarkable power for a player who's never done serious weight training. "He has a very short and deliberate swing," says U.S. national team coach Garye LaFevers, "and he's very patient at the plate." If his frame fills out, Machado, who accepted a scholarship offer from Florida International, could, like his idol, eventually move to third.
Taillon says his U-18 teammate is "the most fluid player I've ever played with." In turn, Machado raves about how fierce a competitor Taillon is. Within a few short years they should be admiring each other from major league dugouts.