Throughout the spring I have been dialing up scouting reports on many of the draft’s top prospects. With the draft a little under a month away, it is time to put some context to those reports and begin showing how these players stack up with each other. The following Top 35 is my ranking of the top players in this year’s draft class. As you peruse this list, I urge you to recall my frame of reference for ranking prospects, as detailed in the BPN Ranking Concept that was run at the outset of the site.
For convenience, I have linked to my scouting reports of many of the 35 players listed here. I will continue to run pre-draft scouting reports over the next few weeks and will update the links in this article as the draft approaches. I will also likely be updating my draft rankings in the week before the draft next month.
1. Byron Buxton (OF) – Appling County HS (GA) – Scouting Report (03.19.12)
Buxton is cementing himself as the top player in the draft. He combines athleticism, power, speed and hitting ability to project as a top notch player in the field and at the plate. He is earning more and more praise from scouts as the choice to go 1-1 based on talent alone.
2. Kevin Gausman (RHP) – Louisiana State University – Scouting Report (04.06.12)
He has begun to shed the “raw” tag that had saddled him for the early part of spring. Of late, Gausman has looked like the lone college pitcher in this year’s class with the potential to develop into a true frontline starter. Has the frame and raw stuff to both move quickly and be an All-Star caliber pick.
3. Mike Zunino (C) – University of Florida – Scouting Report (03.23.12)
Zunino is the best player on one of college baseball’s best teams. He combines excellent leadership and makeup with the potential to hit for average and power while more than carrying the defensive load behind the plate. He is everything Major League organizations look for in a catching prospect and he could go as high as the top pick in the draft.
4. Mark Appel (RHP) – Stanford University – Scouting Report (03.12.12)
Appel entered the year as the consensus top prospect in this year’s class. His less than stellar performance has caused his stock to stick and there are a growing number of scouts that wonder if his performance will ever match his tremendous raw stuff. If it does, he has frontline potential, but he comes with considerable risk for a college prospect.
5. Kyle Zimmer (RHP) – University of San Francisco – Scouting Report (04.02.12)
Of all the players with helium this spring, Zimmer may have done more for his draft stock than any prospect. Flashing two plus pitches and a feel for his craft, scouts started to believe he could develop into a number two starter. A recent hamstring injury has calmed some of the hype, but he still fits in the first few picks of this draft.
6. Lucas Giolito (RHP) – Harvard-Westlake HS (CA) – Scouting Report (05.08.12)
Giolito was making a ton of noise early in the spring when he touched triple digits before being sidelined by an elbow injury. He recently began a throwing program and with any luck he will be able to demonstrate his health before draft day. If he proves healthy, Giolito’s enormous raw ceiling could push him back into the first few picks of the draft.
7. Carlos Correa (SS) – Puerto Rico Baseball Academy – Scouting Report (03.16.12)
Correa has emerged at the top of the next tier of prep position players behind Byron Buxton. There are still some scouts that wonder if he can stick at shortstop as he matures, but his offensive profile suggests he could sustain his value with a move to third base down the line. He will require patience, but he has the potential to be an impact player.
8. Michael Wacha (RHP) – Texas A&M – Scouting Report (03.30.12)
Wacha’s recent performance in front of plenty of heat has moved him up draft lists. Some scouts are willing to put two future plus pitches in his arsenal, giving him at least number three starter potential, while others are a bit more cautious but still see a good mid-rotation horse. For a team outside the top five looking for college pitching, Wacha is the first name they’re likely to look at.
9. David Dahl (OF) – Oak Mountain HS (AL) – Scouting Report (04.05.12)
I am an unabashed fan of Dahl. Some scouts see a guy that may not stick in center and may not have the power to truly support a corner outfield spot. I believe in Dahl’s swing and natural hitting ability to the point that I think the power will come and he can be a legit middle of the order threat. He may not go this high in the draft, but I believe in the bat and believe he fits in this realm of the rankings.
10. Gavin Cecchini (SS) – Barbe HS (LA) – Scouting Report (05.01.12)
Cecchini is the best all-around shortstop prospect in this year’s draft class. He is the rare high school shortstop that projects to play the position long term and he has the offensive ceiling to be an all-around impact talent. He may go behind guys like Correa or ASU shortstop Deven Marrero, but he profiles as the better all-around player for me.
11. Max Fried (LHP) – Harvard-Westlake HS (CA) – Scouting Report (03.21.12)
A teammate of Lucas Giolito, Fried has consistently moved up draft boards over the last year. He requires some projection and will require plenty of developmental time but Fried has the ingredients to be a very good pitching prospect. His potential to become a power left-hander makes him even more desirable.
12. Albert Almora (OF) – Mater Academy (FL) – Scouting Report (05.11.12)
Almora could be a late riser on draft boards. Though there is some dreaming involved, Almora has the potential for five above-average tools. He plays exceptional defense in center field, a true gift for hitting the baseball, projectable power and surprising polish in all phases. His polish and tools could make him an enticing package for a team at the back of the top ten.
13. Lance McCullers, Jr. (RHP) – Jesuit HS (FL) – Scouting Report (04.27.12)
McCullers has long been considered one of the top prep arms in this year’s class, and his stock is again soaring after some very strong recent performances. He has showed improved control in recent weeks without sacrificing his impressive raw stuff. He needs to improve his change-up and command, but more teams are beginning to believe in him as a starter.
14. Stryker Trahan (C) – Acadiana HS (LA) – Scouting Report (04.20.12)
The top high school catcher in the draft, Trahan offers serious power potential and the tools to be a quality defender behind the plate. His hitting ability will need time to develop and he is unlikely to maintain his surprising speed the longer he catches, but Trahan should be the second catcher off the board in this year’s draft.
15. Courtney Hawkins (OF/RHP) – Carroll HS (TX)
While scouts are still intrigued by his pitching ability, the majority of talent evaluators are more interested in his athleticism, speed and power as a position player. Though extremely raw, Hawkins flashes the raw tools for plus speed, plus power and a plus arm in right field. A team that believes in his athleticism and potential to hit long term could pop him in this range, but he could also fall to the 20s.
16. Marcus Stroman (RHP) – Duke University
Stroman’s stock has been flying this spring as he continues to blow through the ACC with an impressive fastball-slider combination. He has begun to alleviate some concerns over his size by simply overpowering his competition, but some scouts still see a dynamic reliever with closer potential more than a mid-rotation starter.
17. Victor Roache (OF) – Georgia Southern University
A broken wrist has sidelined Roache for much of the 2012 season. His inability to display the power (30 home runs) he showed in 2011 has forced him down some draft boards, but he still fits into the first round because of his impressive power profile. He will always have a lot of swing and miss in his game and may be relegated to left field, but his type of power can be difficult to find.
18. Deven Marrero (SS) – Arizona State University – Scouting Report (03.30.12)
Marrero is the best of a weak crop of college shortstops, and his inability to post strong numbers this spring has him slipping on many draft boards. He has plus defensive tools and a good arm, giving him a left side profile, but questions are popping up about his ultimate offensive ceiling. He looks more and more like a defense first player that hits for some average and doubles along the way.
19. Tyler Naquin (OF) – Texas A&M
A teammate of top ten prospect Michael Wacha, Naquin is working to shed the tweener profile he’s been tagged with. He has one of the best offensive approaches in the first round, but he lacks the pop desired in a corner outfielder, and he is largely untested in center field. He’s a good runner and an instinctual player, but a team will have to take a leap of faith that he can handle center to view him as an everyday player.
20. Ty Hensley (RHP) – Santa Fe HS (OK)
Hensley’s bloodlines (father was a second round pick) leave him with a good feel for pitching at his age. He is a big-bodied (6-5, 220) right-hander that shows a plus fastball and mixes in a curveball and change-up that are both intriguing pitches in their own right. Most scouts view his ceiling as more of a mid-rotation workhorse, but in a weaker class like this one, he should fall into the first round.
21. Richie Shaffer (3B/1B) – Clemson University – Scouting Report (05.03.12)
Along with Mike Zunino, Shaffer profiles as one of the best power prospects in this college class. He moved to third base this season and while he has looked rough, there are some scouts that think it might work well enough for him to stick. He has enough hitting ability for his power to play in games, but his prospect stock rests heavily on his ability to man the hot corner passably.
22. Zach Eflin (RHP) – Hagerty HS (FL) – Scouting Report (04.19.12)
When Eflin’s fastball spiked this spring, he began moving up draft boards in a big hurry. He has a projectable frame that leaves scouts believing his velocity spike could be maintained long term. The big question now surrounds Eflin’s health as he was shut down with an arm injury this spring. While the MRI reportedly came back clean, the uncertainty surrounding his status could keep him falling as the draft approaches.
23. Brian Johnson (LHP) – University of Florida – Scouting Report (04.25.12)
Johnson could be drafted as either a pitcher of first baseman, but more talent evaluators are leaning toward him as a left-handed starter as the draft approaches. He has a solid three-pitch mix and a durable frame that could make him a valuable inning-eating number four starter down the line.
24. Stephen Piscotty (3B) – Stanford University
Stanford’s best offensive player, Piscotty still has some significant development remaining once he turns pro. He has a good frame and room to add some much-needed strength. He is a natural hitter that uses the whole field and has at least average power projection if he gets stronger. His defense is a little rough, but he has the tools to be a quality defender at third.
25. Luke Sims (RHP) – Brockwood HS (GA)
Sims is a bit of an unheralded member of this year’s prep class. He’s a classic high school right-hander that flashes mid-90s velocity and sits in the low-90s consistently with a smooth, athletic delivery. His curveball can be one of the best in the draft among high school arms. He has plenty of projection remaining and could be a steal at the back of the first round.
26. Andrew Heaney (LHP) – Oklahoma State University
Heaney reminds several scouts I spoke with of another college lefty in last year’s draft, Tyler Anderson of Oregon. A slightly built kid, Heaney needs to add strength and improve his stamina and durability to hang as a starter, but he has the building blocks with a solid four-pitch mix including a potential plus change-up. Heaney could be drafted much higher than this rating by a team looking for a polished college arm once Wacha and Stroman are off the board.
27. Walker Weickel (RHP) – Olympia HS (FL)
Weickel had an opportunity to move himself into the top half of the first round with a strong spring but he has struggled to maintain his mechanics and has lost the consistency he began to display on the showcase circuit in 2011. He still has a projectable frame (6-6, 200) and intriguing raw stuff, but he’s going to be a project that requires plenty of patience and involves a high degree of risk.
28. Matt Smoral (LHP) – Solon HS (OH)
Like Weickel, Smoral has a huge frame (6-8, 225) that he struggles to control. His raw stuff intrigues scouts as he sits in the 90-92 range from the left side and will bump 94-95 in most outings. He is a bit of an unknown as the draft approaches, thanks in large part to surgery on his right (landing) foot at the beginning of April. He should be back on the mound just before the July signing deadline, meaning he may fall well below this slot in the draft and become a very difficult sign.
29. Lewis Brinson (OF) – Coral Springs HS (FL)
Though raw, Brinson offers a tantalizing power-speed package that teams can have trouble shying away from. Some scouts believe his hitting mechanics need to be refined to improve his contact ability and to allow his plus power potential to come through more regularly. He has the speed and athleticism to handle center field long term.
30. James Ramsey (OF) – Florida State University
Ramsey could be a mover in the first round on draft day. Playing for one of the top teams in the nation this year, he has stood out as a complete stud at the collegiate level. He has five tools that can profile from fringe-average to solid-average. If he can prove that he can handle center field long term, he profiles an everyday player that does a little of everything. If he has to move to a corner, then the bat will have to surpass current projections.
31. Hunter Virant (LHP) – Camarillo HS (CA)
I remain a bit higher on Virant than many scouts I speak with. He has a projectable body and good present stuff, leaving me with the belief that his stuff can come along a tick or two. He has a good feel for pitching despite being very new to the craft, mixing four pitches with aplomb. His change-up has a chance to be a weapon with more consistency and he could be a number three starter if given time to develop.
32. Peter O’Brien (C) – University of Miami
O’Brien stands out for his plus-plus raw power potential, though scouts struggle to see it completely coming through in games because of his below-average hitting ability. O’Brien struggles to make consistent contact and could become an all-or-nothing type of hitter. He has little chance of sticking behind the plate, meaning his power will have to carry him as a right-right, bat-only prospect.
33. Trey Williams (3B) – Valencia HS (CA)
Williams has a classic third base profile with good defensive actions, a big arm and plenty of power potential. He moves well at third and should stick there comfortably. He can drive the ball out of the park to all fields, but he needs to improve his pitch recognition and selectivity at the plate to reach his offensive potential. He is one of the more intriguing power bats in the high school class and he could land anywhere from the back of the first round to the start of the second round.
34. Ty Buttrey (RHP) – Providence HS (NC)
It’s easy to dream on Buttrey. He has a impressive 6-5, 205 pound frame that screams projection. His fastball already sits in the low-90s and has touched higher this spring, with many scouts believing he has more to come as he matures and grows into his body. His curveball has improved rapidly over the last year and he also shows some feel for a change-up. Seeing Buttrey as a serious starting pitching prospect is a lofty dream right now, but a dream that could be evolve into a considerable payoff.
35. Joey Gallo (RHP/3B) – Bishop Gorman HS (NV)
Just about everything about Gallo screams power. He has incredible raw strength for his age and can already blast balls out of any ball park. His power comes with considerable swing-and-miss and most scouts have trouble projecting that to change. He has similar high-risk potential on the mound where he can get up to 95 mph at times and sit I the 89-91 range consistently, though his feel for pitching is very rough. Gallo has two-way potential and could come off the board on either side of the ball in the supplemental round.