As clubs narrow their draft boards over the next seven weeks most, perhaps aside from the Houston Astros -- the owners of the top overall selection -- don't know which name they will announce on draft day. Some, however, know who they won't be taking.
"At this point, at least for us, we have a group we'd like to consider strongly," said an American League scouting director. "We like a lot of players, but since we don't pick 1-1, we have to wait and see. It is safe to say there are some we like that we are pretty sure are off our board at this stage."
It's not too late for players to change the minds of clubs in May, but most of the movement will likely take place within a smaller collection of names than teams began the season considering. The timing of such decisions comes down to minutes, even seconds, before each clubs selects, since they are at the mercy of those picking ahead of them, but there are times when the level of doubt is either high or nearly nonexistent.
"We've known well before our first pick before," a high-ranking scout noted. "We've also needed every second to make a choice. If it were like the NFL, we'd have taken all the time they give you."
It's typical for clubs to have a good idea, if not have the facts, about which players the clubs directly above them in the draft order are planning to select. "It helps you plan when you get that buzz," the scouting director said. "It's all about the plan. Right now, in April, we're still formulating our plan."
He also added, with a wink, of course, "I'll let you know when we finalize."
• Oklahoma State right-hander Jason Hursh (3-3, 2.63 ERA, 61 2/3 IP, 55 H, 49 SO, 15 BB) looks to rebound from what one scout described as an "OK," outing last weekend at TCU, toeing the rubber at home versus Kansas State. Hursh is generally considered a potential Day 1 selection, and Keith Law has him at No. 44 on his latest ranking, which was released Thursday.
• One of a handful of junior college prospects receiving top-50 buzz is left-hander Cody Reed (3.78 ERA, 65 K's in 64 1/3 IP) of Northwest Mississippi Community College. Reed stands 6-foot-4 and tips the scales at 190 pounds and offers a fastball that has already picked up several mph from his high school days, touching 96 this spring. Reed will face Northeast Mississippi Community College over the weekend.
• Left-hander Tom Windle (1.35 ERA in 60 IP), the ace of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, will face Michigan State on Friday, looking to rebound from a mediocre outing at Northwestern last week in which he needed 113 pitches to get through five innings. He issued five walks and surrendered seven hits.
• Florida right-hander Jonathon Crawford (4.17 ERA in 54 IP) will take the mound Friday at Missouri, giving him a full week of rest after starting the first game of the Thursday-through-Saturday series last weekend. Crawford's fastball and slider was among the more revered two-pitch combos entering the season, but he's spent most of the spring in the low 90s, which has him overusing his off-speed stuff and nibbling at the corners. His stock has fallen as much as any preseason first-round talent, but there's still time for him to make up for it.
• Aaron Blair is the ace of the Marshall staff and the right-hander may be pitching his way into the first round thanks to a 2.40 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning. He'll try to take another step in that direction this weekend at Central Florida, which boasts its own pitching prospect in right-hander Ben Lively.
• Arizona State right-hander Trevor Williams (4-3, 3.05 ERA, 65 IP, 65 H, 47 SO, 9 BB) has answered some questions this spring, but is still not striking enough guys out. He has fanned 47 in 65 innings, albeit with just nine walks. He could solidify his status with a strong final six weeks. Part one of that trek is Friday at home versus nonconference opponent Valparaiso.
• LSU Saturday starter Ryan Eades makes start No. 10 on the year this weekend at Alabama. Eades was not at his best last weekend at Arkansas, allowing five earned runs on eight hits and three walks and leaving after four innings. His status hasn't taken a hit, but there are a number of college arms gathered in the top 25, jockeying for position come draft day. He has a 1.97 ERA on the year with 56 strikeouts and 16 walks in 59 1/3 innings.
• One of the top pitching matchups among draft prospects this weekend is at Pepperdine where right-hander Scott Frazier (4.65 ERA, 62 IP, 55 SO, 23 BB) faces Gonzaga ace and potential top-20 pick Marco Gonzales (2.71 ERA, 63 IP, 60 SO, 14 BB). Frazier is physical at 6-7 and 230 pounds, but there are concerns about his delivery and control, thus the expectation that he's a Day 2 selection.
• Top prospect Mark Appel will lead Stanford versus defending national champion Arizona and right-hander Konner Wade, a possible Day 2 talent. Appel "wasn't great" a week ago, according to an area scout, who added "it looked like maybe he was pitching to his competition." Appel faced Washington last Friday and while he picked up the win he wasn't crisp. If he is indeed pitching to his competition at any level, the Wildcats may be the bait scouts need to get another great outing from the Stanford star.
• Ryne Stanek (1.64 ERA, 49 1/3 IP, 43 SO, 19 BB), who flashed ace stuff last week but still was not as sharp with his command as he's been at times in the past, gets another chance Saturday versus Texas A&M.
• Sean Manaea, the top college left-hander in the class, again had problems throwing strikes consistently last Saturday, walking four batters over 6 2/3 innings versus Creighton, but he was otherwise strong, striking out eight and allowing just five hits. Manaea will go to battle against Illinois State this weekend.
• Jonathan Gray (1.19 ERA, 68 1/3 IP, 81 SO, 13 BB) and the Oklahoma Sooners host New Orleans in a weekend series. Gray fanned 10 last Friday at Baylor and appears firmly in the top 5, based on talent. Law currently has him ranked No. 2
• Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley (2.60 ERA) takes on New Mexico this weekend, setting up a pitcher-hitter battle between he and Lobos star D.J. Peterson (.402/.515/.833). Shipley is a surefire first-round pick and Peterson is receiving substantial buzz in the 15-35 range.
• The top college hitters in the class, San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant (.341/.517/.849) and Stanford outfielder Austin Wilson certainly have done nothing to hurt their draft stock. Bryant was off to the races in February and has maintained strong performances through the spring. He'll take his power swing to Santa Clara for the weekend. Wilson missed the first several weeks due to injury, but in his first eight games back (five starts), he's 10-for-26 with five extra-base hits.
• Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge (.336/.424/.544) will get Air Force at home this weekend, likely needing a very strong finish to warrant top-10 consideration, while Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe aims to continue his utter domination of SEC pitching. Renfroe, a first-round talent, is batting .429/.494/.865 with 13 home runs this season, including an 8-for-14 series at Texas A&M last week. Renfroe will face Auburn this weekend.
• Colin Moran and the North Carolina Tar Heels host Duke this weekend, with Moran working on a first-round resume, thanks to a .396/.510/.644 line. He's more of a doubles hitter, however, so his ceiling in this draft may be limited to the 20s, though a club looking for a "safe" pick could pop him earlier and possibly save a little on their draft budget.
• Yukon (Okla.) High School star Jon Denney plays a doubleheader Thursday at Harrah High School and single games Friday at Dale High and Saturday versus Enid. Denney has nine regular-season games remaining and could be the first catcher off of the board.
• Dominic Smith, perhaps the best pure hitter in the class on the prep side, is scheduled to face St. John Bosco in the second of a home-and-home before taking the weekend off. Smith has seven regular-season games left.
• Kentwood (Wash.) HS catcher Reese McGuire heads to Thomas Jefferson for a rematch of a 2-1 win last month. McGuire is red hot of late, loading up on extra-base hits, something he wasn't doing a lot of earlier in the year.