While the depth of the 2011 draft class remains with the college pitching and the top two picks may remain UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole and Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, the top prep players in the class are in the conversation for selection in the top five. The buzz is that the Pittsburgh Pirates are considering Kansas high school centerfielder Bubba Starling at No. 1 overall, and both Dylan Bundy, a right-hander from Owasso (Okla.) High School, and Monteverde (Fla.) Academy shortstop Francisco Lindor are being strongly considered by clubs drafting in the top 5, including Seattle at No. 2.
But the top prep talents aren't getting such consideration simply because Cole and Rendon have slipped or because clubs have decided to change philosophies, or anything of that nature. The kids belong.
Starling profiles as a power-hitting centerfielder who has drawn some comparisons to defending American League MVP Josh Hamilton for his athleticism, advanced approach and raw power. Bundy brings a four-pitch mix to the table, including a plus-plus fastball that has reached the upper 90s.
Lindor, however, lacks the plus-plus power and as a shortstop obviously doesn't throw four pitches for strikes. But he's unique and at the second most difficult position to fill on the field he stands out like no other high school player has in years.
"I've never seen anything like it," said a crosschecker for an NL club. "The word 'crazy' comes up a lot, he makes crazy plays."
Monteverde's first-year head coach Tim Layden, who played parts of seven seasons in pro ball, adds that "what helps him excel (in the field) is his instincts to the ball. He reads guys' swings. He has a cannon arm and footspeed to get to everything."
But Lindor's glove, arm and speed aren't enough to warrant a first-round pick, let alone a selection in the top 5, where a club such as Kansas City, Arizona or Seattle could take him off the board. He'll have to hit and the confidence clubs have that he will hit for good power -- at least relative to his position -- will need to be high.
"He hits for power," Layden said of the switch-hitter. "And he does it from both sides. He might be more confident from the right side but I wouldn't want (to face him) no matter what side he's batting from." In recent workouts, Lindor homered in half of his plate appearances, and from each side of the plate equally. "He pulled the one as a right-hander and the left-handed one went oppo," Layden said, referring to Lindor's opposite field power display. "His bat control is plus, every scouting director or GM that came in, and they have all been here, has said as much. He's as close to a professional hitter as you'll find at this level."
When selecting a kid high in the draft, makeup comes into play. Clubs need to protect their investments and can't afford for off-field issues to derail a player's development and ultimate trek to the major leagues. There are no concerns with Lindor on this front, and such values play into the 17-year-old's favor.
"He's special," Layden said, telling the story of when Lindor took his team aside and made a speech about how there was no need for the struggling team to continue to play tight. "He told them that they weren't there to play for those in attendance. After that we went 13-4."
Still, the impact Lindor has on the game may dictate where he goes in the draft. But Layden answers that question, saying "he takes over the game batting leadoff. He'll single or walk, steal second, steal third and score on a wild pitch. But he shows such intelligence. He doesn't get out front looking to hit home runs. He stays back and drives the ball."
And sometimes -- quite often, in fact -- Lindor drives the ball out of the ballpark. "and they aren't cheap," said the crosschecker. He's hitting these balls 10, 15, even 30 feet beyond the fence. That's real power."
The 6-foot, 175-pound Lindor has time to mature physically, and could end up a 6-foot-1, 185 or 190-pound switch-hitting, Gold Glove shortstop with above-average power, and plus speed. That's a pretty darned good player, and one that is not common in today's game.
Layden's decision to come to Montverde was heavily influenced by Lindor's presence, too. "It's tough to say no that type of talent. (He's a) once in a lifetime kid."
Clubs will have a similar choice to make next Monday and may find it just as difficult to say no.
Something to prove
• There are still prospects with something to prove as the regionals get underway this weekend, including TCU right-hander Kyle Winkler, whom Keith Law reported last week has experienced some arm tenderness and has pitched just once in three weeks. Whether or not he pitches in the regional remains to be seen, and the same goes for left-hander Matt Purke, who went four innings last week against New Mexico.
• Rendon can always firm up his stock by playing some more in the field and hitting for more power as he faces Alcorn State Friday and then either Cal or Baylor Saturday.
• Another strong showing by Cole could wrap up the No. 1 pick for the right-hander, especially if he shows the kind of velocity (100-101 mph) he flashed in his last start.
• Oregon State catcher Andrew Susac can further put his hamate bone injury behind him and a good weekend at and behind the dish could nudge a club in his direction, such as Boston, Tampa and even San Francisco, especially considering Buster Posey's recent injury.