There's still plenty of data to be collected and an awful lot to talk about, but if I said Gerrit Cole would not be chosen No. 1 or No. 2 come draft day, that would be quite a surprise to many, even a shock to some. So we do have some firm beliefs about this year's class and how it's all going to unfold in six weeks. But here are four potential surprises, starting in the top 10.
1. Pac-10 rules?
I wouldn't necessarily bet on it, and I'd wager that Keith Law wouldn't either, but there's an outside chance that the Pac-10 spots three players among the first 15 picks, and as many as four in round 1. Cole is a virtual lock for the top five, if not the top two, but he could be joined in the top half of the round by teammate and fellow right-hander Trevor Bauer and Oregon State catcher Andrew Susac.
Susac would have had a better shot had he not broken his hamate bone earlier this month, but scouts seems to be convinced enough about the bat that he could still be popped that early. Oregon left-hander Tyler Anderson has a shot at the back portion of the round, too, and to take that a step further, Beavers southpaw Josh Osich has impressed at least one scouting director enough for consideration in the compensation round.
The Pac-10 Conference isn't typically the leader in producing first-round picks, and still may not be this year, but they have a great shot to compete with the ACC, who boasts the likes of Georgia Tech's Jed Bradley, North Carolina's Levi Michael, Virginia's Danny Hultzen and a number of others that will receive consideration among the top 60 selections.
2. Two-fer Arizona
The Arizona Diamondbacks own two of the top 10 picks -- Nos. 3 and 7 -- and are widely expected to tab an easy sign with the second of the two selections because it's unprotected. The club gained the pick as consolation for failing to sign Barret Loux, the No. 6 overall pick from a year ago. If the D-backs don't sign the pick this time around, there is no further compensation, which almost always pushes clubs toward over-drafting a player they know they can sign. But what if the Diamondbacks don't do that?
The Snakes could tab a Hultzen or Vanderbilt's Sonny Gray at No. 3 and still grab a high-profile college player at No. 7. That player is unlikely to be TCU lefty Matt Purke, whose stock has fallen due to shoulder bursitis, but is a draft-eligible sophomore and is almost certain to be anything but an easy sign. But what about a player like George Springer or another college pitcher such as Texas right-hander Taylor Jungmann? While both players have the leverage to threaten to go back to school for their senior seasons, it may behoove them to sign a fair deal in 2011 and get their pro careers under way, rather than risking injury and entering the 2012 draft under new slotting rules that could be implemented between now and then.
The Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals could also choose to try and take advantage in the same manner, as they, too, have multiple first-round picks. The Boston Red Sox typically take the best player available regardless of what the perceived asking price may be, so it may not change the approach of scouting director Amiel Sawdaye and the Sox's bank book. The Tampa Bay Rays have three firsts, but are on a tight budget and may have to avoid a particularly expensive player with their compensatory picks.
3. Marlins bucking trends?
The Marlins are notorious for drafting prep players, particularly in round 1, having taken just seven college players in the first round in their 19 years of existence. But at No. 14 this season there could be a college player available that is too good to pass up, such as Jungmann, Connecticut right-hander Matt Barnes or LSU's Mikie Mahtook.
Among the Marlins' top prospects, according to Law's rankings and based on initial assignments, the club has very few near-ready talents and don't have the payroll to fill holes through free agency. Adding a player at a premium defensive position such as Mahtook or getting a starting pitcher from their own system within two years could win out for Florida this time.
Of course, it depends on who is still available, because if Francisco Lindor happens to slide -- highly unlikely, but stranger things have happened -- the Fish are likely to jump all over the chance to add the shortstop to their organization. With all the high school talent in the class, though, it would be a surprise if the club tabbed a college player with their first-round pick.
4. The Bubba Starling Card
Bubba Starling, a right-handed hitting five-tool centerfielder from Gardner-Edgerton High School in Kansas may be as talented as any player in the class. He's a two-sport star with a commitment to the University of Nebraska to play baseball and star at quarterback on the football team. But if he gives strong hints that he'll sign a baseball deal, not only will the Cornhuskers miss out on a terrific athlete, but the top of the draft will become that much more interesting.
If it weren't for Starling's strong commitment to go to school -- and we can't be sure whether that's completely legit or simply part of the negotiating process for the kid once he's drafted... or even somewhere in between -- he'd be a surefire top five pick with a chance to sneak into one of the top two spots if things broke his way.
But assuming Cole and Rice's Anthony Rendon go 1-2 in some order, Starling becomes the impact talent that many clubs selecting 3-9 lack in their organization. But will any of those be confident enough in Starling's interest to sign to select him that early? Someone most likely will and that would be quite the surprise in itself if Starling is still available after the Chicago Cubs turn at No. 9. But fitting Starling in somewhere could be the toughest piece to fit in the coming mock drafts.
Starling homered twice in a doubleheader Thursday in front of dozens of talent evaluators. Former Los Angeles minor league infielder and senior analyst at MetsMinorLeagueBlog.com Mike Diaz was also in attendance to check out Starling. Diaz's report includes more confirmation of Starling's big-time arm, natural instincts in center and lightning quick hands during his swing.
•With South Carolina's Jackie Bradley, Jr. out for at least three weeks and possibly longer with a wrist injury perhaps one centerfielder that could sneak into Day 1 is Central Arizona JC's Keenyan Walker, who offers plus-plus speed, gap power and an accurate throwing arm. He's a switch hitter batting .411/.505/.617 with 21 extra-base hits in 52 games, but does come with a lot of risk. "He's still raw," said one area scout. "Unrefined is a good word. But there's a lot to look forward to if he puts it all together."
• Right-hander Tyler Beede (Lawrence Academy, Mass.) went six innings in an easy win Wednesday, striking out 15 and yielding just two hits and two walks. He's whiffed 59 against just five walks and four hits allowed in 29 frames this season, displaying why he's a first-round caliber talent.
On the Trail
•Among the more loaded matchups of the weekend include UCLA and Oregon State going head-to-head at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Bauer is slated to go for the Bruins with Osich set to start for OSU.
•Also Saturday, Bradley and his Yellow Jackets teammates will face Clemson, who boast a strong offensive lineup that includes a couple of second-day draft prospects, led by Brad Miller who enters the weekend hitting .431/.535/.595 with 18 steals and good contact rates.