With the NFL holding their first round in the draft tonight, I thought it might be time to start looking ahead to the MLB Draft. My intention was to do a mock draft of the entire first round, but the draft is so much more fluid at the top this year that I wound up spending too much time on the top 3 picks. The only thing I could say for certain is that 2 of those 3 picks will almost certainly be Brian Buxton and Mike Zunino. So rather than rush through the bottom of the draft just to get this done, I decided to give you my top 10 along with the hand-wringing thought process I had on each pick, both from the drafting team's perspective and on what I think the Cubs might be thinking along the way.
1. Houston Astros
Mike Zunino, C, Florida
I fully intended to have the Astros take a pitcher here but unlike last season, there isn't a guy who I think is worthy of the number one pick. RHP Mark Appel should have been that guy, but he continues to perplex by getting hit more than he should. There are now questions as to whether he can be a true #1 starter in the big leagues. I think the Astros will go with a college player here. They need help quickly and while Brian Buxton may be the most talented player in the draft, he comes with some risk, as he is a bit raw and hasn't really faced top high school competition. Zunino is the safe pick. He's one of the better hitters in the draft, showing a good approach at the plate and good power potential -- and he plays a premium position on top of it. True catchers who can be middle of the order hitters are rare, and in the end I think the Astros will surprise a bit and go with the best bet. RHP Kevin Gausman would be an interesting pick here as well.
Cubs: Zunino fits the profile of what the Cubs want in their position players but there's almost zero chance he falls to them. If he somehow gets past the Mariners at #3, you can cross your fingers, but if you happen to own a farm, I wouldn't suggest betting on it. Zunino is as good a combination of high ceiling/safe pick as you'll find in this draft.
2. Minnesota Twins
Byron Buxton, OF, H.S. (Georgia)
The Twins always seem to find themselves with an athletic CF'er in the first round of the draft (Torii Hunter, Denard Span, Ben Revere) and Buxton is the best talent in the draft. I think they'll take whoever the Astros don't take between Zunino and Buxton, so they're in a pretty nice position to get a good player. Zunino would be a great choice to allow Mauer to finish his career at another position, ala Craig Biggio, but they won't be disappointed to get the highest ceiling player in the draft. Some think that Buxton is a better player than the highly touted Bubba Starling, thinking he has the same kind of athleticism but a better chance to hit.
Cubs: Buxton isn't falling to the Cubs but despite the presence of top prospect Brett Jackson, the Cubs would love to have had the chance to draft him. You take the best talent. You cannot predict with 100% certainty which prospects will make a big impact and which won't, and if Buxton and Jackson were to both reach their potential, the Cubs would find a place for both of them.
3. Seattle Mariners
Carlos Correa, SS-3B, H.S. (Puerto Rico)
Surprise! Mariners surprised us by taking the more polished Danny Hultzen before talents such as Trevor Bauer, Anthony Rendon, and Dylan Bundy. Appel is the pitcher with the most polish this year followed by Michael Wacha of Texas A&M, but I don't think they'll go the same route this year. Their pitching looks like it's going to be pretty solid with Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton as the top 3 prospects in their system (plus Felix Hernandez if they re-sign him). Not that it would prevent them from taking another arm, but the Mariners trade of Michael Pineda for the potential big bat of Jesus Montero showed how much the Mariners are looking for impact on offense. The Mariners do have a decent 3B prospect in AA in Francisco Martinez, but Correa has a small chance to stick at SS, where he'd be a potential impact bat. If not, he has the athleticism, arm, and bat to play just about anywhere on the field. A more conventional pick here would be a big arm such as Kevin Gausman or Kyle Zimmer, a couple of guys with the potential to replace Felix Hernandez as a #1 guy if he should be traded or leave as a free agent, but I think their #1 prospect Walker has the much better chance of filling that role.
Cubs: Correa can't help but make you think of Javier Baez, another big bat with a slight chance of sticking at SS but will probably move to another position as a pro. Wherever Baez plays, his bat should carry him and the same may be true of Correa. I think the Cubs would strongly consider Correa if he were available at #6 and the pitchers they liked were all taken. They need pitching, but they'll take the top talent regardless of position and sort things out later.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Kevin Gausman, RHP, LSU
Gausman has been rising up the draft boards as the guy with the best college arm in the draft. He could even go #1. I'm not so sure about that, but I don't think he'll slide past the 4th pick. The one question mark is his breaking pitch, which is substandard right now. Keith Law of ESPN suggested he may junk the curve as a pro and learn a slider. That makes him somewhat of a work in progress, but the arm is simply too good to pass up. Surprisingly, Gausman already has a nice change-up, so he's advanced in that respect. It's the breaking ball and command that will dictate how fast he moves and what role he ends up playing in the big leagues. The Orioles would be generating a lot of buzz with phenom Dylan Bundy and the hard-throwing Gausman as a potential 1-2 punch in their rotation. On that front, if Lucas Giolito is healthy, this is the first place I can see him possibly going if the med reports are encouraging and he's throwing well prior to draft time. This is especially true if Gausman is gone by this point.
Cubs: The Cubs desperately need potential impact arms like Kevin Gausman. He once looked like a lock to last until the 6th pick, now it looks like he's a lock not to drop past Kansas City at #5.
5. Kansas City Royals
Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
Appel has the best combination of stuff and polish in the draft. He has 3 pitches and good command, although he leaves his offspeed up in the zone too much and gets hit harder than he should. He's still 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA, however, so it's not like he's getting lit up. He's allowed just 55 hits in 72 innings while striking out 71, nearly a batter per inning. Still, scouts think he should be doing more with what he has. He should be dominating at the college level. It's that incongruity between talent and performance that may cause Appel to slip in this draft. The Royals have a choice between Appel and Zimmer, with Appel being the more advanced pitcher and Zimmer having the better, fresher arm. A wildcard in this scenario is Michael Wacha, who may be as polished as Appel, but has had the better year. Wacha is 5-0 with a 2.48 ERA.
Cubs: Appel could fall to the Cubs, especially if the Royals go for Zimmer or Wacha instead. While Appel's star may have fallen just a bit, he'd still be the Cubs best starting pitching prospect. Easily.
6. Chicago Cubs
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, U. of San Francisco
Despite some reported loss in velocity of late, I think the Cubs would be thrilled if Zimmer fell this far. The earliest reports had Zimmer topping out at 98 mph. I've seen told recently that his velocity was 91-93 by one source and Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game said he was recently clocked at 93-97 mph. If the latter is true, Zimmer would be a great pick here considering he has such a fresh arm and surprisingly good command for a pitcher with his limited experience. I have a full report on Zimmer here, including a tip by one of our readers (Kevin) who saw Jed Hoyer scouting the 6'4" right-hander. Subsequent reports had Theo Epstein scouting him as well. Zimmer would be the kind of potential impact pitcher the Cubs desperately need in their organization. Other possibilities are RHP Michael Wacha, SS-3B Carlos Correa, H.S LHP Max Fried, and H.S. CF Alberto Almora. Almora is the real darkhorse here. Then, of course, there's the Lucas Giolito scenario. With the new CBA, t's not as likely that potential impact high school players will go pro if they aren't selected early. There are no overslot signing bonuses, so the Cubs may just go with a top high school talent and get college players later.
7. San Diego Padres
Alberto Almora, CF, H.S. (Puerto Rico)
The Padres do have Cameron Maybin, who is signed through 2016 with a team option for 2017. Almora should be ready by then. Maybin is a rising star, although he's struggled this season, and he's signed to a team friendly deal, but one of two things will happen. Either he will become a star and the Padres won't be able to afford him beyond 2017 -- or he won't. If he doesn't, then he becomes replaceable with a less expensive rookie. Almora is a true CF with a good feel for hitting and power potential. He's a good fit in spacious Petco Park defensively. He and top RF prospect Rhymer Lyriano could make 2/3 of a very good young OF a few years down the road.
Cubs: The Cubs aren't about to tell me what their draft plans are, but my Cubbie-senses are tingling that Almora is on their radar. He just fits the profile of the kind of player both Sr. VP of Scouting and Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Wilken like in a player. He's athletic, he plays a premium position and he has a nice swing with an advanced feel for hitting.
8. Pittsburgh Pirates
Deven Marrero, SS, Arizona State
A few weeks ago, there was little chance of Marrero sliding past the Pirates, who are seemingly always looking for a SS. Now that's not a safe bet. In fact, it may take a late hot streak by Marrero to ensure that the Pirates still take him. Marrero is the best true SS in the draft and up until this year, he showed good bat potential. As of a couple of days ago, Marrero was hitting in the .280s at the college level. The hitting tools and mental makeup is there, so it's puzzling to say the least. I'm going to predict that Marrero rights the ship and finishes strong, putting him in play here at the 8th pick. If he doesn't, he could continue sliding deeper into the first round. I'll go with Michael Wacha or Max Fried here as fallback picks.
Cubs: With some fans obsessing about every Castro error, Marrero is the one guy in this draft who's truly good enough defensively to move Castro to 3B in the near future. His poor season, however, practically ensures that the Cubs won't be pulling the trigger at #6. They have bigger needs right now, the first of which is impact talent and Marrero looks more like a solid regular at a premium position than an all-star at this point
9. Florida Marlins
Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M
The Marlins were looking for pitching this season and picked up veterans Carlos Zambrano and Mark Beuhrle, but those are likely short term solutions. Once the Marlins stadium money runs out they won't be able to make the free agent binges like they did this past offseason. Michael Wacha is a polished arm with a good fastball that has improved since last season. Some reports have him touching the mid 90s now. He also has an advanced change-up and a good feel for pitching. He needs to improve his breaking pitch, which limits his upside right now, but Wacha is good enough in all other areas that he's a pretty solid bet to make the majors fairly quickly.
Cubs: Wacha may be an option for the Cubs at #6 if Gausman, Appel, and Zimmer are all of the board. The lack of a good breaking pitch, however, makes me wonder about his ceiling. The Cubs have quite a few guys who fit into the category of "if everything goes right then maybe he's a #3 starter." I think they need more than that with the 6th pick.
10. Colorado Rockies
Max Fried, LHP, H.S. (California)
Fried started garnering attention as Giolito's teammate at Harvard-Westlake High School. Fried is a different kind of pitcher than Giolito. He has an above average fastball but it's his great curveball and feel for pitching that's his bread and butter. He's good value at this point in the draft. Some think Fried has enough stuff and feel that he could be as much as a #2 pitcher. That may be a bit optimistic, but at the #10 pick in a relatively weak draft class, that's a chance well worth taking. Duke RHP Marcus Stroman looms here as well, but his height (5'9") may scare some teams off. There's no question he has good enough stuff, however.
Cubs: Fried is a possibility at #6 for the Cubs. He has the kind of mental makeup and advanced feel that Tim Wilken really likes even if his stuff isn't quite on par with the top pitchers in this draft. I think he becomes a possibility if the top 3 college arms are off the board.
I have a vague idea of how I'd complete this mock draft, but I'll save that for another time. The names mentioned in this article are the ones Cubs fans should be keeping an eye on...for now. There will be updates, so any late-risers will be included in those editions.
Filed under: MLB Draft