The strength of the 2013 MLB draft class is, once again, college pitching. The depth in college hitters is below average despite a handful of first-round talents such as San Diego's Kris Bryant, North Carolina's Colin Moran and Stanford's Austin Wilson. On the prep side, there are a number of intriguing position players, and some of those are getting first-round consideration, but the upside play at the high school level is again on the side of the pitching.
Right-hander Kohl Stewart of St. Pius X High School in Houston leads the charge, with left-hander Trey Ball (New Castle High School, Ind.) also garnering attention in the top half of the first round. Still, the first round could be dominated by hitters. Here's why:
Major League Baseball is loaded with young pitching. From Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, David Price and Felix Hernandez to Matt Harvey, Matt Moore and a plethora of promising prospects nearing their big league debuts, including Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole, the league is packed with star arms. What the league lacks, however, is the same in the form of position players. And teams, across the board it seems, know it.
The draft has changed in recent years, going from a best-player-available venture to one where clubs more often draft for organizational need. Furthermore, when it comes to young, promising hitters and big-time talents up the middle, clubs see very few opportunities to acquire what they are missing. Teams don't often trade these kinds of players, and rather than allowing them to get to free agency, they lock them up to long-term deals very early.
This could very well lead to more clubs looking to tab position players earlier in the draft than they otherwise might, perhaps for bonuses that fall short of MLB's recommendations, and leaning on the depth in pitching to avoid ignoring the class' strength.
"[There's] a better chance of getting that [college] pitcher with your second pick than the bat you're looking to add," said one high-ranking executive, whose club is not alone in such a realization.
Another senior scout pointed out that, "We're at the point now where it makes more sense for us to go for what we don't have." He was quick to point that, "it has to make sense, and the player has to be signable."
We're not likely looking at an inordinate number of gross overdrafts, but we're also not necessarily looking at a first round dominated by starting pitchers if the clubs don't see the value in them where they're drafting. It could be the other way around.
"It's not reaching when it's this player at X amount of dollars or this player at this much more or less money," the executive said. "It all matters. It's a salary cap, and we have to work it to our advantage."
Such strategies could get Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge a spot in the top 15 and the likes of New Mexico third baseman D.J. Peterson and Cal State Fullerton outfielder Michael Lorenzen more Day 1 consideration than their talent would suggest. It also could mean a pitcher with a first-round grade, such as Jacksonville right-hander Chris Anderson, UC Irvine righty Andrew Thurman and lefty Gonzaga ace Marco Gonzales could fall to the compensation round, or beyond.
It's almost as if the MLB draft has turned over a leaf much like that of fantasy football. Once a tight end or kicker is taken off the board, a run on them often starts.
"The top guys, Appel, Gray, Stanek, Shipley, those guys, they aren't going to fall out of the first round," the senior scout opined. "Some of the second-tier guys that have first-round abilities ... they could drop if the bats start to go quickly and teams react to it."
What to watch
• Ryan Eades, who went six innings last weekend versus Florida and allowed two earned runs, three hits and three walks, takes on Texas A&M Saturday at College Station. Eades (8-1, 2.36 ERA, 76 1/3 IP, 75 H, 68 SO, 22 BB) struck out six Gators, but did not blow away a lot of the brass in attendance with his stuff. "I like this kid," one scouting director said. "There is a lot to like. I just don't know that I love him."
• North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran (.386/.508/.636) will face Georgia Tech right-hander Buck Farmer, an early Day 2 talent in his own right and the owner of a 92-23 K/BB ratio in 83 1/3 innings. Moran's quite impressive numbers and line-drive stroke have some comparing him to former Tar Heel and 2009 No. 2 pick Dustin Ackley in terms of hitting acumen, and Padres third baseman Chase Headley for his upside in the power department.
• Stanford ace Mark Appel (8-3, 1.56 ERA, 86 1/3 IP, 62 H, 106 SO, 15 BB) will take on Oregon State, which boasts 2014 prospect Michael Conforto anchoring the lineup. Appel's changeup, which may be his best pitch, may be on watch in this pitcher-batter matchup, as Conforto bats left and handles fastballs well. Cardinal right fielder Austin Wilson (.325/.416/.558) will face OSU lefty Matt Boyd, a solid college starter some clubs view as a reliever in pro ball, giving scouts a nice point of reference for both players.
•Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek (6-2, 1.87 ERA, 67 1/3 IP, 53 H, 59 SO, 26 BB) goes against SEC rival Tennessee at home Saturday, looking to bounce back from a mediocre showing at Kentucky last weekend. Stanek has been inconsistent this spring, and compounded that with 5 1/3 innings that yielded seven hits and three earned runs in Lexington. He walked two and had the occasional problem commanding his fastball, but clubs still appear to be high enough on him to believe the top 10 is possible.
• Oklahoma ace Jonathan Gray (8-1, 1.20 ERA, 89 2/3 IP, 51 H, 104 SO, 16 BB) will take on cross-state and Big 12 rival Oklahoma State, who will send sophomore-eligible right-hander Jason Hursh (4-4, 2.63 ERA, 82 IP, 82 H, 65 SO, 22 BB) to the mound. Hursh is generally considered a top-50 prospect with a chance at the compensation round. Gray wasn't at his best last week at West Virginia, but pounded the strike zone for eight innings and struck out six batters.
• Perhaps the biggest pitcher-batter matchup of the weekend will take place in the tilt between Mississippi State and Ole Miss, where Bulldogs outfielder Hunter Renfroe (.394/.488/.781) will step into the box against Rebels right-hander Bobby Wahl (9-0, 1.21 ERA, 81 2/3 IP, 51 H, 64 SO, 35 BB). Many scouts see Wahl as a reliever in pro ball, but he has good stuff and Renfroe will have to be on his game to produce. If Wahl is to shake the reliever label, a sharp outing this weekend could go a long way.
• Indiana State southpaw Sean Manaea (5-4, 1.61 ERA, 61 1/3 IP, 41 H, 77 SO, 24 BB) will go Saturday afternoon at home versus Alcorn State. He's running out of opportunities to prove he's more in line with what he showed in the Cape Cod League last summer and less what he has shown thus far in 2013. "At this point, he may have been so overrated that he's now underrated by some," said one crosschecker.
• Two of the top college hitters in the class will be on display at Fresno State this weekend when Peterson's Lobos visit Aaron Judge's Bulldogs. Peterson will bring a .410/.521/.798 triple-slash into Friday's opener. The third baseman has 38 extra-base hits on the year. Judge has turned it up a notch the past week or so and is now batting .366/.456/.634 with nine home runs on the season. After a disappointing showing two weekends ago in front of some high-ranking heat, Judge collected five hits nine at-bats last weekend at UNLV, including a double, triple and a home run. He homered again Tuesday versus Hawaii and went 3-for-4 in the game. Among the concerns with Judge as a prospect are his game power and the length of his swing.
• Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley, fresh off a 130-pitch effort last weekend, will face UNLV Friday. Shipley is 7-2 with a 2.49 ERA and 78-27 K/BB ratio in 86 2/3 innings, but it's his athleticism and arm speed that scouts love the most. "I'm not sure what he is," said an area scout, "but I know he's good."
• Bryant and the USD Toreros play host to Portland, with the top college hitter in the draft seeking to expand his NCAA Division I lead in home runs. Kris Bryant has 25 now and is on pace to reach 30.