This pre-draft ranking updates a previously posted ranking from earlier this month. To be clear, this ranking does not represent a mock draft or projected order of selection. It simply represents my personal ranking of the draft prospects based on a compilation of my own scouting efforts and endless conversations with scouts and front office executives. I have linked scouting reports from this spring on some players. Please note that these scouting reports — or more specifically the draft projection is a snapshot in time and may no longer be applicable based on newer information.
1. Byron Buxton (OF) – Appling County HS (GA) – Scouting Report (03.19.12)
Those that doubt Buxton as the top player in this draft do so while questioning his ultimate power potential. For me, even without the power, he’s the most dynamic position player in this draft and offers the highest ceiling outside of injured right-hander Lucas Giolito.
2. Kevin Gausman (RHP) – Louisiana State University – Scouting Report (04.06.12)
While other pitchers offer the potential to develop into number two starters, Gausman offers the present stuff and continued projection to give him the best profile at that lofty level. Pitchers with number two potential are never in high supply, and Gausman offers the best ceiling among this year’s college pitching crop.
3. Mike Zunino (C) – University of Florida – Scouting Report (03.23.12)
Zunino’s power bat and outstanding catching acumen are enough to make him a top-flight prospect. Combine that with his past performance on elite stages and his outstanding makeup and he is suddenly in the discussion as one of the top players in the entire draft. With positional scarcity on his side, Zunino is among the elite players in this year’s draft.
4. Carlos Correa (SS) – Puerto Rico Baseball Academy – Scouting Report (03.16.12)
Whether you believe in his ability to remain a shortstop or not, Correa’s offensive potential is hard to ignore. The more scouts I speak with, the more convinced I become in his offensive potential. There are scouts that have urged me to consider him the top player in the draft, rather than just one of the top players.
5. Lucas Giolito (RHP) – Harvard-Westlake HS (CA) – Scouting Report (05.08.12)
While Giolito continues to throw on flat ground, the suspense about what happens to him in the draft continues to build. Once on target to become the first high school pitcher ever taken number one overall, Giolito could now land anywhere from the top five to out of the first round depending on his medical reports and perceived signability. If healthy, Giolito has a higher ceiling than any pitcher in the draft.
6. Mark Appel (RHP) – Stanford University – Scouting Report (03.12.12)
Appel has undeniable stuff and has performed well playing for one of college baseball’s elite teams. That said, his performance hasn’t matched scouts expectations based on his raw stuff and more and more scouts are seeing him as a number three starter with the ingredients to be more, but without the feel to make it happen. He is still in the mix to go 1-1 to the Astros, but his stock does continue to slip with many teams in the top ten.
7. Kyle Zimmer (RHP) – University of San Francisco – Scouting Report (04.02.12)
Zimmer was one of the draft’s biggest risers earlier this spring before coming back to earth a little recently. He still offers an outside chance to be a number two starter and more likely a really good number three, which should be enough to easily push him off the board in the top ten.
8. Michael Wacha (RHP) – Texas A&M – Scouting Report (03.30.12)
Wacha has climbed draft boards throughout the spring. He is physical and offers a fine array of pitches and enough feel to get the most out of his raw stuff. While some scouts fail to see front of the rotation potential, the low level of risk associated with Wacha keeps him high on draft boards.
9. David Dahl (OF) – Oak Mountain HS (AL) – Scouting Report (04.05.12)
There are certainly plenty of scouts that question Dahl’s ability to stay in the middle of the diamond as he matures, but even the chance to stay there with his offensive potential makes Dahl a premium pick next month. He is a well-rounded player with ability in all five tools and he could be a well-above average regular if it all comes together.
10. Max Fried (LHP) – Harvard-Westlake HS (CA) – Scouting Report (03.21.12)
Once overshadowed on the Harvard-Westlake roster by Lucas Giolito, Fried got his chance to shine when Giolito was sidelined. Fried offers his own tantalizing package of power stuff, only from the left side, making him another rare commodity. There are teams that really believe in Fried’s abilities and he could go further up draft boards based on individual workouts over the next week.
11. Albert Almora (OF) – Mater Academy (FL) – Scouting Report (05.11.12)
Almora represents one of the safer high school picks in the draft. He is a multi-tooled athlete with surprising polish for his age, thanks in large part to his vast experience on the international stage as part of Team USA. Almora could come off the board within the top five or he could hang on to just outside the top ten.
12. Marcus Stroman (RHP) – Duke University – Scouting Report (05.21.12)
While I personally believe Stroman is a reliever long term, teams are almost certain to give him a chance to start in pro ball. He is widely considered in the second tier of college pitching prospects, but there are teams that like him enough to pull the trigger well within the top ten.
13. Lance McCullers, Jr. (RHP) – Jesuit HS (FL) – Scouting Report (04.27.12)
Scouts have finally gotten a chance to see McCullers unleash his power stuff in a starting role this spring and it has resulted in a rebound of his draft stock. He still draws some grades as future reliever from scouts, but more and more in the industry are coming to the opinion that he at least has a chance to start long term.
14. Gavin Cecchini (SS) – Barbe HS (LA) – Scouting Report (05.01.12)
Among highly-rated high school shortstops, Cecchini is the most likely to remain at the position long term. He offers excellent athleticism and feel for the position, along with the potential to contribute across the board offensively. While he may go off the board a little later than this, Cecchini is a top level talent at a premium position.
15. Courtney Hawkins (OF) – Carroll HS (TX) – Scouting Report (05.15.12)
Power is in short supply in this year’s draft and Hawkins has it in spades. Some of his other tools come up a little short in the minds of scouts, but teams won’t be able to ignore his considerable offensive potential for long. Don’t be shocked if Hawkins comes off the board anywhere in the teens.
16. Stryker Trahan (C) – Acadiana HS (LA) – Scouting Report (04.20.12)
I am a firm believer in Trahan’s ability to stay behind the plate, but there are industry folks that believe he could be destined for an outfield spot down the line. For a team that believes in his work as a backstop and is willing to put in the developmental time to ensure he stays there, he could be a steal.
17. Chris Stratton (RHP) – Mississippi State University
Stratton is a solid college pitcher with good stuff and the potential to fit into the middle of a big league rotation in a couple of years. He may not have the flash or the history of guys like Stroman, Appel or Gausman, but Stratton is a strong competitor that continues to climb many draft boards outside the top ten.
18. Deven Marrero (SS) – Arizona State University – Scouting Report (03.30.12)
There are an extreme few college shortstops in this year’s draft, and Marrero is the best of the crop. He is a quality defender that will stick at the position long term, but the team that drafts him will have to do some work to coax more out of his bat.
19. Richie Shaffer (3B) – Clemson University – Scouting Report (05.03.12)
Similar to Courtney Hawkins, teams will only be able to ignore Shaffer’s power potential for so long. Even with the questions surrounding his ability to stick at the hot corner, his potential plus power and college pedigree gives him a chance to go in the top twenty.
20. Ty Hensley (RHP) – Santa Fe HS (OK)
Hensley requires plenty of projection, but it is difficult to question the potential that exists. With an MLB-caliber body, Hensley can show a plus fastball and the makings of quality secondary pitches. For a team that believes in his bloodlines and future projection, he could go better than expected on draft day.
21. Luke Sims (RHP) – Brockwood HS (GA)
I’m not ashamed to admit it. Sims is my kind of pitching prospect. He has a good frame, good arm speed, clean mechanics and a power fastball. His hard curveball shows signs of being a plus pitch as well and while he’s flown a bit under the radar, I’m a big fan and believe he could end up being one of the better pitchers in this class.
22. DJ Davis (OF) – Stone HS (MS)
Davis is one of the better pure athletes at the top of the draft and he offers elite speed and the potential to play up the middle in center field. He can leg out base hits and has the strength and bat speed to drive the ball to the gaps, putting his 80-grade after burners on display around the bases.
23. Joey Gallo (3B/RHP) – Bishop Gorman HS (NV)
Gallo is another high school player that offers the type of power teams covet. There are serious questions about his hitting ability and whether his potential plus-plus raw power can actually play in games, but if a team believes in both the bat and maybe his ability to play third, he could go high enough to be signed away from his LSU commitment.
24. Andrew Heaney (LHP) – Oklahoma State University
Heaney reminds me of Oregon lefty Tyler Anderson who was popped in the first round last year. He’s more of a touch and feel guy when compared to many of the arms pushing toward the first round, but his polish, command and four-pitch mix make him a potential fast mover.
25. Corey Seager (3B) – Northwest Cabarrus HS (NC)
Seager is the younger brother of Mariners prospect Kyle Seager, giving him strong bloodlines to back up his impressive skill set. Seager has defensive potential and a physical frame, allowing easy projection as a classic third baseman with good defense and power. He is relatively polished for a high school hitter and he has had some late helium that could push him into the teens.
26. Matt Smoral (LHP) – Solon HS (OH)
If teams get good reports on Smoral’s medicals (broken foot), they could rely on their prior reports and still pop him in the back end of the first round. An enormous high schooler, scouts can drool on his raw potential and some scouts believe he could be a number two starter if it all comes together. If teams shy away on draft day and he falls outside of the first round, he could head to North Carolina.
27. Walker Weickel (RHP) – Olympia HS (FL)
There are rumblings that Weickel is falling on some draft boards, but those teams that believe in his highly-projectable 6-foot-6 frame could still envision him as a first round pick. He has shown low-90s velocity and two potential average or better secondary pitches, giving him the building blocks of a mid-rotation starter as he adjusts to his lanky frame.
28. Stephen Piscotty (3B/1B) – Stanford University – Scouting Report (05.28.12)
Piscotty needs to stick at third base to be a significant prospect, and if a team believes in his ability to do that, he could go higher than this rating based on his polished bat. At his best, Piscotty shows solid power to all fields, a good approach and some solid hitting ability, giving him a well-rounded offensive profile at the hot corner.
29. Tyler Naquin (OF) – Texas A&M – Scouting Report (05.25.12)
Naquin has fallen in my own rankings over the last month, after too many scouts raised concerns about his status as a “tweener.” There are questions about his ability to stick in center and whether he has enough power for a corner, leaving him in outfield no-man’s land as a potential fourth outfielder. His broad skill set and lengthy college track record keep him on the radar as a potential late first rounder.
30. Brian Johnson (LHP) – University of Florida – Scouting Report (04.25.12)
While Johnson plays both ways for Florida, he profiles better on the mound in pro ball. A big, physical left-hander, he figures to develop as a starter in the short term and could evolve into a number four starter down the line.
31. Victor Roache (OF) – Georgia Southern University – Scouting Report (05.18.12)
Roache entered the year as one of the top power bats in this year’s draft class. His wrist injury – described by many as very serious and worrisome – has put evaluations on hold and may have him falling out of the first round. Despite Roache’s impressive raw power, his detractors note his lack of contact and the stiffness in his game as potential concerns.
32. Hunter Virant (LHP) – Camarillo HS (CA)
There are rumors that the new bonus restrictions in the CBA could push Virant to college unless he’s taken much higher than expected. If considered signable, he offers a live arm that has taken quickly to pitching. He has surprising pitchability, can run his fastball as high as 93 mph and shows feel for two secondary pitches at times. That’s an impressive package for a raw lefty that lacks experience on the mound.
33. Lewis Brinson (OF) – Coral Springs HS (FL)
Brinson is a superb athlete with potential in all facets of the game. He has a chance to defend in center field with solid instincts and plus speed. Despite some coordination issues because of his long limbs, Brinson shows some feel for contact and the ability to put a charge in the ball. Though he requires some dreaming, Brinson has impact potential because of his athleticism and could be a good gamble at the back of the first round or start of the supplemental round.
34. Pierce Johnson (RHP) – Missouri State University
Johnson would sit considerably higher on this list and would likely rank with guys like Heaney and Stratton above if not for concerns over the health of his arm. Having dealt with a forearm strain on multiple occasions, teams are concerned he will ultimately require surgery. When healthy, Johnson has a very good above-average to plus fastball and quality breaking ball that can both be out pitches.
35. James Ramsey (OF) – Florida State University
Ramsey has been one of college baseball’s most exciting players this year, tearing apart opponents en route to a magnificent season. For all his college success, there are questions about just what type of player he can be as a professional. He’s good in just about every category, but doesn’t blow you away outside of his leadership ability. There’s a chance he could stick in center field and some teams have noted they might like to try him at second base.