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Ranking the toughest players to sign

6/23/2011

The Tampa Bay Rays had 60 selections in this year's draft, and despite the fact they are far from big spenders, they have inked 28 of those selections already, including one of their three first-rounds picks and three of their seven sandwich rounders.

Negotiations with prep right-hander Taylor Guerrieri (No. 24) and centerfielder Mikie Mahtook (No. 31) out of LSU, the club's top two selections, are likely to last into August, but they did get Jake Hager's name on the dotted line.

Hager, a shortstop out of Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas, draws comparisons to Marcus Littlewood, who was taken in the second round by Seattle a year ago. "He loves the game," an NL scout said about Hager." He plays like it and brings a lot of reliable athleticism to the field. I'd bet on this kid making it to the big leagues."

Hager, based on pure talent and overall value, probably is an overdraft at No. 32 overall, but there's some upside in his game and his intangibles make him a solid acquisition.

The Houston Astros have inked 28 of their 50 picks, including second-round pick Adrian Houser, a right-handed pitcher out of Locust Grover High School in Oklahoma, and the Atlanta Braves have signed each of their first five picks with the exception of first-rounder Sean Gilmartin, a left-handed starter from Florida State. He could see the big leagues within two seasons, and is critical to the club's draft class since they didn't select many high-upside talents.

Along with Hager, other first-round picks who have signed include No. 10 overall pick Cory Spangenberg, who got a signging bonus of a little more than $1.8 million from the San Diego Padres. San Diego also inked one of its three sandwich-round picks, shortstop Jace Peterson. Joe Panik, a shortstop from St. John's, signed with the San Francisco Giants as the No. 29 pick.

There were reports Wednesday that the St. Louis Cardinals had reached an agreement with No. 22 pick Kolten Wong, but the second baseman from Hawaii remains unsigned, according to GM John Mozeliak.

So far there has yet to be an above-slot signing high in the draft, but the majority of those deals will not go down until the August 15 deadline nears. When I polled a dozen high-ranking officials asking which player they believe will be the toughest sign among the top 33 picks, here were the results:

1. Archie Bradley, RHP, No. 7 pick, Arizona Diamondbacks

2. Blake Swihart, C, No. 26, Boston Red Sox

3. Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, No. 24, Tampa Bay Rays

4. Bubba Starling, CF, No. 5, Kansas City Royals

Most seem to believe Swihart will sign with the Red Sox, but also believe it will be among the top few bonuses for a prep player this year. Shortstop Francisco Lindor out of Montverde Academy in Florida, received two votes with one significant mention: "He'd be the No. 1 pick in 2014 [if he went to college]." Bradley and Starling both have offers to play Division I college football, so that gives them each more leverage. Also worth noting is the fact that the D-backs took Bradley with a pick they received as compensation for failure to sign 2010 first-rounder Barrett Loux. Therefore, if they don't sign Bradley, they don't get another comp pick in 2012.

Classes on the Cape

With the 2011 draft behind us, it's time to begin focusing on the draft class of 2012, and the Cape Cod League, Team USA and the summer showcases will give us the first look. The Area Code Games aren't until August but the tryout sessions are under way and the early returns suggest a deep high school class, but one that lacks the number of star-quality talents as this year's group. More bats appear to be on the horizon, however.

But on the Cape it's a good mix of college talent, including 2011 draftees Jason Coats, an outfielder out of TCU, and right-hander Carter Capps from Mount Olive College. Both are looking to improve their bargaining position with a strong showing against top college competition in a wood bat league. Coats, who started the spring with a chance to be a top-50 pick but ended up a 12th-round selection by the Orioles, has six hits in 21 at-bats, including two doubles. "He's still putting himself in tough counts," said one scout, "but the tools are real and should play (in pro ball)."

Capps has touched the mid-90s with his fastball -- low-90s on the Cape so far -- and while the No. 121 overall pick is hoping to maximize his value by impressing the Seattle Mariners, the club feels they will get him signed in the end.

Gonzaga southpaw Ryan Carpenter, a seventh-round pick by the Rays, also is on the Cape looking to regain some momentum lost by a poor showing this spring, but his stuff still is underwhelming scouts.

As for the class of 2012, Victor Roache, Georgia Southern's power-hitting first baseman, boasts a .394/.524/.697 triple-slash to go with two long balls. He's also showing patience. "He's the classic power bat; he'll strike out but can go deep (in counts) and the (wood) bats aren't having much of an impact. He's made that adjustment and is showing he can find the sweet spot."

Jacksonville's Adam Walker has struggled thus far, but "isn't lacking strength, bat speed or hand-eye coordination," said a scout, adding that the right-handed hitter "just isn't timing things. It's too soon to draw anything from the schedule just yet."

Georgia Tech has supplied a first-round starting pitcher in each of the last two drafts (Deck McGuire, 2010, Jed Bradley, 2011) and could have a third straight June producing a first-round arm. Right-hander Buck Farmer is suiting up for the Chatham Anglers and while the results haven't been grand, he's missing bats and throwing strikes. "The control is there, but there's a lot of white," one scouting supervisor said, alluding to Farmer's lack of command within the zone. It's just been one outing thus far and the league simply serves as a chance for players to get noticed and for clubs to start sorting through the class.