During the past few weeks, BaseballNewsHound.com ranked the top 60 prospects for the 2012 MLB Draft and posted in-depth scouting reports on the top five talents. With draft time looming less than twenty-four hours away, Ryan Kelley posts his finalized rankings of the top ten prospects and offers some analysis on the players.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Projected Draft Slot: Astros at #1
Overall Future Potential: 59
Mark Appel, Stanford’s ace righthander, lacks the starpower of recent top overall picks Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. And he is probably a step below Dylan Bundy or David Price in terms of ceiling. Appel is still tremendously gifted, however, and what he lacks in Strasburgian potential he more than makes up for with a sure-fire big league profile. A late bloomer, Appel was drafted by the Tigers (2009) out of Monte Vista high school as a raw, lanky reliever with a two-sport background. Three years later, he’s developed in to a fireballing future ace with a veteran feel for the game. Standing at a fit 6’6″ and 220 pounds, he’s blessed with a Major League body. He isn’t a spectacular athlete, but he has a surplus of baseball tools and he generates premium velocity out of an easy, repeatable delivery. His fastball sits firmly in the 92-95 MPH range deep in to his starts, and he can ramp his velocity up to 97-98 MPH when he’s on his game. Despite facing premium competition in the PAC-12, and lineups armed with fastball-killing metal bats, he’s a fearless strike-thrower with an aggressive, go after ‘em demeanor on the mound. The complete package, Appel also has command over two big-league-caliber offspeed pitches, armed with a nasty, strikeout slider and a solid changeup. A close friend of NFL top draft pick Andrew Luck, a fellow Stanford alumnus, Appel has a shot at completing history’s first number-one draft pick duo; no two number one draft picks have ever been selected out of the same program in the same year.
Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)
Projected Draft Slot: Cubs at #6
Overall Future Potential: 60
Lucas Giolito boasts this draft class’s most gifted right arm. Just seventeen years old, Giolito can already out-throw most big league pitchers. His fastball sits in the 92-96 MPH range easily and he lit up triple-digits on a radar gun in his first start of 2012. Carved out of stone and built for pitching, Giolito stands at 6’6″ with a lean 225-pound frame. He needs time to hone his game of course, but his phenomenal coordination and physical gifts afford him much better mechanics and control than most high school pitchers. Though he’s tall and high-waisted, he’s off the charts athletic; showing great balance and body control. His delivery is simple, clean and he repeats it well. Unlike most young power pitchers, his velocity doesn’t come with any command or mechanical issues, and he is already able to throw quality strikes with his heater, consistently. A downer slider, his breaking ball is premium as well, showing hard, late break. He throws his slider with good mid 80′s velocity, and exhibits a great feel for it in general. In terms of arm-speed and command, his changeup is advanced for his age, and it should also be a big league offering with more development. The only thing standing between Giolito and the top of this list is the sprained elbow he sustained in March. While he missed most of his senior season at Harvard-Westlake, he’s recovered from the injury well.
Appling County HS (GA)
Projected Draft Slot: Mariners at #3
Overall Future Potential: 63
Athletically speaking, Byron Buxton is a Ferrari. All-State in both football and baseball, Buxton has put together a remarkable career at his rural Georgia high school. On the national scene, he’s outshined the nation’s brightest young stars with monster performances in the East Coast Pro Showcase and in the Under Armour All-American Game. He runs a legitimate 6.5 sixty-yard dash, giving him top-of-the-scale straight-line speed. Unlike most young speedsters though, Buxton transfers his wheels the diamond seamlessly. He can get from home to first on drag bunts in 3.88 seconds, and he has been clocked around 3.18 seconds stealing second base. At the plate, he shows above-average raw power and hitting skills. He has a good feel for the barrel, and once he hones his baseball instincts, he could be a dangerous MLB hitter. He’s also a great defender in centerfield, using the tools he’s polished as a wide receiver and defensive back on the football field to track deep flies and make acrobatic plays. A fireballing pitcher with a 94 MPH heater, his arm plays well in the outfield as well. The most important point about Buxton’s game? He gets rave reviews for his makeup, hustle and work ethic. While he needs time to develop, Buxton’s package of physical and mental gifts give him the opportunity to be the next Eric Davis.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
University of San Francisco
Projected Draft Slot: Royals at #5
Overall Future Potential: 59
Undrafted out of high school as a third baseman, Zimmer only briefly took the mound as a freshman at the University of San Francisco. During his short stint coming out of the bullpen in ’10, however, his coaches saw potential in his arm. After he honed his game over the following summer, he returned to become one of the NCAA’s most dominant starting pitchers for the next two seasons. Though he’s still relatively new to the starting rotation, Zimmer’s command and control are already Major League-quality and should be plus in the future. After growing three inches since high school, Zimmer’s body has matured in to a 6’4″ power-pitcher’s frame. His powerful legs and sturdy base afford him great balance, and his delivery is free and easy. He has a quick arm, and he does a nice job of using his lower-half to add power to his repertoire. This season, his fastball has jumped from 90ish MPH to clocking consistently in the 92-94 MPH range. He spots it to both sides of the place with precision and he’s a very efficient pitcher. His tightly-wound 11-5 curve gives him a second above-average pitch, and his changeup should be a third, by the time he makes his big league debut. Zimmer’s ceiling is that of a front-end starter and like Mark Appel, he’s a relatively safe bet for the middle of a big league rotation.
University of Florida
Projected Draft Slot: Marlins at #9
The 2011 SEC Player of the Year, catcher Mike Zunino has posted big numbers against NCAA baseball’s best competition throughout his three-year Gators career. Zunino offers the entire package of tools, complete with polished receiving skills and a great baseball acumen. He’s the position’s rare five-star athlete. He can run the sixty-yard-dash in 6.8 seconds and he’s so fluid behind the plate that he can already post 1.8-second pop times. Despite average arm strength, he’s skilled at controlling the running game– think Miguel Montero. Zunino is a goalie-type catcher, and his Florida pitching staff clearly benefitted from his soft hands and surprisingly advanced pitch-framing ability. In the batter’s box he’s a remarkable hitter. He has an all-fields approach with a sweet swing and great hands. He squares up pitches in all parts of the zone, and can drive pitches on the outer-half of the plate to right field with authority. In games, he shows plus power to his pull-side already, and he has the strength and prerequisites for above-average homerun pop to all fields. Though his patient approach makes him prone to strikeouts, he’s skilled at putting the bat on the ball. In short, Zunino is the rare catching prospect who offers above-average value both at the dish and behind it.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Louisiana State University
Projected Draft Slot: Orioles at #4
In stark contrast to the two college pitchers ranked in front of him on this list, Gausman is a long-time prospect who’s established his blue-chip status with years of first-rate performances in the amateur arena. Boasting multiple All-State and All-American selections during his high school career in Colorado, Kevin Gausman already had a strong resume before he entered LSU. Drafted by the Angels in the 6th round of the 2010 draft, he was considered one of the country’s top high school arms two years ago. Since then, he’s continued to develop as a top-flight arm, honing his control and his offspeed pitches. Working with an electric 92-97 MPH heater, he had no trouble mowing down the SEC’s advanced hitters as a freshman in 2011 and was named a Preseason All-American by Baseball America heading in to this season. His game centers around his power fastball, which explodes out of his razor-sharp, fully-extended overhand release. He pounds the strikezone with both a four-seamer and a two-seamer. His two-seam touches the high 90′s and show’s tremendous sink and tail. He stays on top of the pitch well, and it shows nasty run and sink down and in on right-handed batters. He maintains his velocity throughout his starts and rarely dips below 92 MPH. He also throws a very strong changeup with heavy sink and arm-side fade. Though his breaking pitches still don’t have tight break, he’s done a better job of throwing both his curve and slider for strikes. His delivery and mechanics are solid, though his release and landing are still inconsistent, victimizing his command in the process. Even if Gausman can’t cut it as a Major League starter, his premium fastball should make him a weapon out of the bullpen.
Mater Academy (FL)
Projected Draft Slot: Rockies at #10
A seven-time member of the USA National Team, Albert Almora has a remarkably polished all-around game for a high school ballplayer. Following in the footsteps of future MLB stars like Will Clark, J.D. Drew, Ryan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, he took home the USA Baseball’s Dick Case Award in 2011 after batting .365/.397/.492 through fifteen games with the 18U team. He’s lauded for his baseball acumen and for his grinder approach. Though he doesn’t offer any really loud tools at present, he’s one of those players that appears to be made for the game. Like many stars before him, baseball, a game that overwhelms many of the nation’s top athletes, appears to slow down for him. Almora looks like a veteran Major Leaguer in the batter’s box, showing tremendous plate vision and consistently putting the barrel on the baseball. He has a sweet swing with strong hands, smooth timing and fluid weight transfer. A line drive machine, he drives the ball to all fiels, and should develop legitimate homerun pop once he adds more strength. He’s a polished baserunner with solid-average wheels that play a tick-higher due to his instincts and reads. In centerfield, his acrobatic body control and excellent fluidity and hand-eye coordination make him an above average defender. He’s a well-coached outfielder with a firm handle on the position. He has above-average arm-strength as well and he can make all of the necessary throws. A possible .300 hitter with 15-20 homerun pop and the skills for a big league centerfield job, Almora should hear his name called within the top ten picks on draft day.
Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
Projected Draft Slot: Twins at #2
A tall, lanky shortstop out of Puerto Rico’s Baseball Academy, Carlos Correa is poised to become the highest drafted player in the island’s history of producing talented ballplayers. He’s garnered extensive national attention during his final season at the academy, regularly drawing large crowds to his games and practices. The first Puerto Rican player in nearly a decade to earn a spot at the Aflac All-American Game, Correa has packed his trophy case with numerous awards and accolades. After taking home honors as the 2011 Rawlings Defensive Player of the Year, he dazzled scouts with his power, mid 90′s arm strength and sub-6.8 running speed. A true student of the game, when he’s not in the classroom, Correa spends every minute available either on the field or in the cage. Measuring 6’3″ and weighing about 190 pounds, he has a hitter’s build, with long arms, square shoulders and a high waist. More importantly, he has the hitting skills to match. He’s armed with great bat speed and sharp pitch recognition. His hands are lightning quick and he can get-around on pretty much any pitch he’s sees. In batting practice, he flashes at least above-average raw power already. He gets great hand-extension and uses his strong wrists and core to whip the bat through the zone. What’s so impressive though, is that Correa isn’t just a hitter, he’s also a true shortstop. Though he lacks the build of the position’s prototype, he has very soft hands and he moves smoothly to both his glove and arm side. He has fairly quick feet as well, and he has enough body control for the middle of the infield, He also has a cannon for an arm, one of the strongest among this draft’s infielders, and he can make all of the throws–and then some. Correa is still light-years away from the big leagues, but if he can stick at short, he has the tools for stardom.
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Projected Draft Slot: New York Mets at #12
No doubt, pitching prospects are a very risky asset. For teams looking to avoid the big price tags attached to boom or bust high school arms, while fortifying their futures with a mid-rotation starter, Michael Wacha is their man. He lacks the electric fastball of the other top arms on this list, but he makes up for it with arguably the class’s best all-around package of command, control and stuff. He pitches downhill and spots a heavy low 90′s fastball to all four quadrants of the zone. Using an up-tempo, delivery, he wraps his wrist a bit, creating extra length in the back of his delivery, but has a very quick arm, with full-extension and follow-through. He hides the ball well, and his heater jumps out of hand. He shows great balance throughout his mechanics, and though he takes a medium-length stride, his over-the-top slot and arm-speed make his fastball very difficult to pick-up and react to. His mechanics and long fingers add natural downward angles and heavy two-seam run. To go with his sinker, he’s developed a cutter to neutralize lefties. He should be a very solid groundball pitcher at the next level. Wacha doesn’t have a consistent breaking ball, but his changeup is already a solid plus. He commands it nearly as well as his fastball, and throws it with an identical release, out of the same tunnel. His change proves very difficult for opposing hitters to read and time, and it also shows nice two-seam action. Because he releases his changeup with fastball arm-speed and out of the same arm-slot, pro hitters should have difficulty adjusting to it. Beyond his impressive college career, he was the Collegiate National Team’s most effective starter last year, going 1-0 with a 0.79 ERA in 11 1/3 innings pitched.
Alfred M. Barbe High School (LA)
Projected Draft Slot: Washington Nationals at #16
The younger brother of top Red Sox prospect Garin Cecchini, Gavin was born in to a baseball family and he hails from a one of the strongest high school programs in the south. His parents are both highly regarded coaches at Barbe High, and he’s been immersed in baseball since early childhood. He’s put together an extraordinary amateur career, taking home honors as Lousiana’s Mr. Baseball after batting .415 with 7 home runs and 31 stolen bases this season. Through 15 starts with the 2011 18U National Team, Cecchini hit a club-leading .500 with 17 RBI and 10 steals. To cap off his high school baseball career, he led Barbe to the class 5-A State Championship, and took home All-State and Rawlings First Team All-American honors. Like his brother, he’s gifted with awesome hitting prowess and he continue to hone his skills and improve his game, working tirelessly in the cage since he was old enough to swing a bat. He has excellent bat control and he generates easy bat speed. His hand-eye coordination and plate vision give him the prerequisites for a high batting average in pro baseball. Though his hands are prone to getting out in front his body, he does a great job of staying inside the ball and using his core and legs to whip the bat through the zone. To go with a textbook line-drive swing, Cecchini also has learned advanced pitch recognition and plate discipline, and he’s very difficult to keep off base. He has an intelligent approach at the plate, and though he’s selective, he doesn’t hurt him self with passivity. His hands move cleanly and directly to contact, and he’s very short to the baseball, following through with a smooth, fluid finish. A 6.7 runner, he has plus gam-speed and he’s an aggressive baserunner. His quickness works well at shortstop too, where he shows the light feet, soft hands and smooth actions demanded of an everyday Major League shortstop. He’s unbelievably sure-handed for a high school shortstop, and his quick release allows his solid-average arm to play-up. Though he’s added 10-15 pounds of muscle throughout the past year he still doesn’t have a lot of strength in his swing. Most of his power comes from his ability to barrel the baseball, but he has the frame to eventually grow in to 10-15 home run pop.