Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary HS (FL)
So many prospects who had the talent to be the #1 overall pick (Brady Aiken, Michael Matuella, Kolby Allard) have been felled by injury. Through it all, Rodgers has endured. He’s hit a bit of a power surge over the past month, while still displayed sharp skills on defense and a sharp eye at the plate. Toss in the fact that the first player selected is more than twice as likely (33-to-16) to be a position player, and Rodgers seems destined to end up in Arizona.
Dazmon Cameron, OF, Eagle’s Landing HS (GA)
The greatest first-round pick in Houston’s history was, without a doubt, catcher-turned-infielder-turned-outfielder Craig Biggio. A long 28 years later, the Astros have the opportunity to select a player with just as much athleticism, and one whose ceiling might be as high as the 2015 Hall of Fame inductee. Like Rodgers, Cameron is really starting to heat up, boosting his average closer to .500.
Phil Bickford, RHP, Community College of Southern Nevada
The Rockies most successful first-rounder of all-time was Todd Helton, who accumulated 61.5 WAR during his 17-year career. The 20 pitchers they’ve selected in the first round have combined for 47.2 WAR. You can’t win games in Colorado without good pitching, and as such, Phil Bickford is the team’s best option. He’s had two brilliant campaigns at the college level, and he has big-league size and stuff.
Dillon Tate, RHP, University of California, Santa Barbara
If it seems like the Rangers are always spending their first-round picks on pitchers, that’s because they are. They also tend to favor right-handers (28-to-10), making the flame-throwing Tate an appealing target. He’s not the biggest pitcher, but he throws hard and has a power slider and good control. Tate is averaging close to 10 K/9 and is allowing a meager 5.6 H/9.
Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle HS (CA)
Through the draft and trades, the Astros have quietly assembled a nice stable of young pitching talent, but if they are going to compete in an improving American League West, they’re going to need even more. With two of the top five picks in this year’s draft, they’re primed to go after a whale, and Hooper fits the bill. The team can use some of what they’ll save by drafting Cameron at #2, and sway the big lefty away from his commitment to UCLA. Hooper has already been clocked as high as 97-mph, and there’s much more in the tank. He has flashed an above-average breaking ball and he knows how to spin a changeup. Control and command are currently the only things holding him back, but at 6-7 and 230 pounds, it might just take some time.
Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt University
The Twins have used 13 first-round selections on middle infielders since 1965, and while none have emerged as superstars, they have found some really good players, such as Chuck Knoblauch, Jay Bell and Michael Cuddyer. What a coincidence then, that the top prospect on the board happens to be a middle infielder. Swanson has immense talent, and he already shows the polish of a big-leaguer. He’s relatively new to the position, but he’s incredibly talented and should be just fine at short. His bat is also incredibly impressive and his plate discipline is light-years ahead of most other collegians.
Boston Red Sox
Greg Pickett, OF, Legend HS (CO)
The Red Sox tend to draft position players over pitchers in the first round, almost more than any other franchise. To their credit, the plan has worked, and has netted them players like Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn and Adam Everett over the years. Their most successful first-rounders, however, have been outfielders (Jim Rice, Jacoby Ellsbury and Trot Nixon). Continuing in that vein, Pickett is worth a long look. His power in this draft class is almost unrivaled, especially now that Chris Shaw has been hit with a broken hamate, an injury that has been known to sap the power of heavy hitters. Power isn’t Pickett’s only tool though, as he’s also an above-average defender with a cannon arm.
Chicago White Sox
Nathan Kirby, LHP, University of Virginia
The White Sox are picking inside the top ten for the 15th time since 1965. They’ve held the eighth-overall pick four times previously, and those four players, including current White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham, have racked up a meager 21.5 career WAR. For the better part of the past decade, the White Sox have been drawn to incredibly toolsy (aka raw) prospects, and they haven’t seen much return. They’ve had much better luck when they’ve targeted pitchers, such as Chris Sale, Carlos Rodon and Gio Gonzalez. One of the most desirable prospects, then, has to be Kirby, who like Sale, Rodon and Gonzalez is a college lefty.
Brady Aiken, LHP, IMG Academy
It really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given their tragic history, that the Cubs have only drafted one player in the first round that went on to rack up more than 30 WAR, and that player (Rafael Palmeiro) accumulated the majority of that with teams…er…not Chicago. Their recent drafting history suggests they’re finally on the right track, although the farm system is still bereft of elite pitching talent. Aiken has arguably the ceiling of any prospect in this draft class, and despite undergoing Tommy John surgery last month, he’s still pretty much a lock to go inside the top ten.
Cornelius Randolph, 3B, Griffin HS (GA)
Two extreme draft tendencies converge with the Phillies picking at #10, leading to a pretty predictable conclusion. For starters, almost 70% of players picked tenth-overall are non-pitchers, the highest percentage for any draft slot in the first round. The Phillies, meanwhile, have used 73% of their first-round picks on high-schoolers, second only to the Braves. So, who’s the top high-school position player available? Well, Randolph of course! The third baseman grades out at above-average in every area but running speed, and has a sweet left-handed swing that oozes raw power.
Ian Happ, 2B/OF, University of Cincinnati
Taking a look at the Reds top ten prospect list, it’s clear that this farm system is built on pitching and toolsy outfielders. What they’re lacking, in both the minors and at the major league level, is a star shortstop. Happ may not have the range to stick at shortstop, and he’ll never be as talented defensively as current shortstop Zack Cozart, but his bat is what sets him apart, and makes him worthy of a upper-first round selection. What Happ has done this season is nothing short of amazing and he should have no problem riding his bat to the big-leagues very quickly. And oh yeah, it probably doesn’t hurt that Happ hails from just over the border in Pittsburgh, and currently plays his ball for the hometown Bearcats.
Triston McKenzie, RHP, Royal Palm Beach HS (FL)
The Marlins have been pretty effective at finding homegrown talent over the years, securing players like Charles Johnson, Jose Fernandez, Chris Volstad and Gaby Sanchez, all from within a 300-mile radius of Miami. They’ve also had great luck with high-schoolers, including Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Christian Yelich and of course, Fernandez. If they choose to go that route again, they have an immensely talented prospect with a vast ceiling in McKenzie, who checks in at 6-5 and 160 pounds. There’s plenty of projection, including a fastball that currently sits in the low-90s but should break into the mid-to-high-90s with a little more meat on his bones. McKenzie has an above-average breaking ball and has flashed a solid changeup to go along with very smooth mechanics.
Tampa Bay Rays
Alex Bregman, SS/2B, Louisiana State University
There’s no denying that the Rays farm system is well-stocked. What it’s lacking, however, is a big-name player with a very high ceiling. Heck, some might say the big-league roster is lacking that if you take away Evan Longoria. Tampa and Bregman seem to be the perfect match, especially taking into consideration the fact that the young infielder won’t need much minor league seasoning. He could be joining Longoria in the big-league infield before next year’s All-Star break, and it seems improbable that Logan Forsythe or Asdrubal Cabrebra will be able to fight him off.
Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt University
The Braves affinity for high-school talent has been well documented, but in case you need a refresher, 81% of the team’s first-round selections since 1965 have come from those ranks. However, three of their last six first-round picks have come from the college ranks, and each was a pitcher. The player with the highest ceiling left on the board has to be Buehler. He missed some time earlier this season with some elbow soreness, but now that he’s back on the mound he’s looking like the Buehler of old, aka Vanderbilt’s true ace (sorry Carson Fulmer).
Kolby Allard, LHP, San Clemente HS (CA)
Interestingly enough, the three most successful Brewers’ first-round picks of all-time have been shortstops. Fortunately, Milwaukee has a talented, young player manning the position at the big-league level in Jean Segura, so they can focus on more pressing matters. The organization’s pitching depth has been ravaged by promotions (Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson) and a general failure to develop talent. From a talent standpoint, it might be impossible to fail with a prospect like Allard. If he didn’t have nagging back pain that has limited him to just two starts this season, he’d no doubt be in the running for the top overall pick. Instead, he’ll likely fall out of the top ten, giving teams like Milwaukee the chance to dream on him.
New York Yankees
Kyle Tucker, OF, Plant HS (FL)
Only four organizations draft more religiously from the high-school side, so it shouldn’t be surprising that seven of the last eight first-round selections the Yankees have made have been from those ranks. And while none of those selections have helped the big-league club in any way, shape or form, it has allowed the Yankees to stockpile a nice collection of talent. Let’s face it though, the team isn’t getting much younger. They currently have every position except for shortstop manned by someone 31 or older. Tucker is a player that has been shooting up draft boards. He’s got great size (6-4, 175) and has a big-time arm and bat.
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, University of Louisville
The Indians revival under the watchful eye of Terry Francona has been largely accomplished through great pitching and timely hitting. Still, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that only one of the Indians’ starting pitchers (T.J. House) is homegrown. In fact, of the last seven pitchers that were selected in the first round by Cleveland, only one, 2014 pick Justus Sheffield, remains with the organization. Time to change that. While the Indians have tried the quick-fix method with the selections of Alex White (now with Colorado) and Drew Pomeranz (now with Oakland), neither had the quality of stuff that Funkhouser has. On any given night, when his command is on, he can be near un-hittable.
San Francisco Giants
Kyle Molnar, RHP, Aliso Niguel HS (CA)
The Giants drafting tendencies have been pretty fair. Since 1965, they’ve drafted just two more high-schoolers than collegians in the first-round, and just four more position players than pitchers. When it comes to picking in the 11-20 range, however, they’ve been very heavy-handed in the kind of player they’re looking for. A whopping 68% of those 22 selections throughout the years have been spent on prep prospects, combating the supposed theory that the Giants prefer to draft seasoning collegians over higher-risk, higher-upside players. Molnar happens to be the best of both worlds. While he does hail from the high-school ranks, he is incredibly polished and he’s more physically mature than the majority of prep pitchers. The fact that he combines a low-90s fastball with two secondary offerings that flash above-average is also appealing.
Trenton Clark, OF, Richland HS (TX)
Much like their in-state rival, the Pirates also tend to draft in extremes. They have the fourth-highest percentage (64%) of selections from the high-school ranks, while they own the second-highest percentage (64%) of position player selections. They are also the only franchise in baseball, besides Tampa, that has a position (outfield) other than “right-handed pitcher” as the most frequently selected in the first round. And somehow, their farm system still seems to be loaded with elite pitching prospects. Continuing with their trend of selecting toolsy outfielders, Clark would be a great selection here at #19. A physically mature, five-tool talent, Clark has shown flashes of some pretty impressive raw power, but it’s his defensive ability and plus speed that will draw the majority of attention.
Luke Lowery, 1B/OF, East Carolina University
From 2001-11, the A’s used 24 consecutive first-round picks on college players. So of course they used four in a row on high-schoolers from 2012-13 before going back to the college route with 3B Matt Chapman last year. We, for one, think they’re back on the bandwagon, with their top two targets being SS Richie Martin and 1B/OF Luke Lowery. It’s hard to turn one’s back on a future Gold Glove winner such as Martin, but the offensive upside with Lowery will be too hard to ignore. And while he’s no Gold Glover, Lowery is no slouch either, offering defensive versatility having seen time behind the plate, at first base and in the outfield.
Kansas City Royals
Tyler Jay, LHP, University of Illinois
The Royals have struck paydirt with the last three college pitchers they selected in the first round. Last year’s pick, Brandon Finnegan, has already reached the Majors, while Sean Manaea and Kyle Zimmer will be knocking on the door in short order. The next in that line might be Jay, a versatile lefty who has served as the Illini closer the past two years. The results (18 saves, 90-to-16 K:BB in 79.2 IP) have been outstanding, but he has the stuff to be a starter at the next level, much like Finnegan. Unlike Finnegan, he’ll probably get the chance to make the conversion right away.
Alex Young, LHP, Texas Christian University
The Tigers may have one of the more imposing rotations in baseball, but their farm system is another story. Their top pitching prospect, LHP Kevin Ziomek is a future middle-to-back of the rotation starter, and beyond him there is very little to get excited about. Young fills two voids for the Tigers. He has a very high upside, possibly as a #2 starter, but he’s also a seasoned pitcher that shouldn’t need much time in the minor leagues. He could be ready to help the big-league club in two or three years, giving them some much needed flexibility.
St. Louis Cardinals
Chris Betts, C, Woodrow Wilson HS (CA)
The Cardinals tend to draft from the college ranks, and they tend to favor pitching, but Yadier Molina isn’t getting younger and with little in the way of catching depth in their farm system, Betts is the player to watch here. A solid all-around catcher, Betts has the talent to go in the top 15 picks, but it’s likely he’ll slip to the 20-30 range. In addition to his slightly-above-average defensive skills, Betts has plus raw power.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Luken Baker, RHP, Oak Ridge HS (TX)
The Dodgers finally appear to be getting the hang of this whole drafting process, and their past few drafts have netted them some of the top talent in their farm system, such as RHP Grant Holmes and SS Corey Seager. Enter Baker, a two-way talent that has first-round potential as both a hitter and on the mound. And while his plus power is appealing, his mid-90s fastball and two promising breaking balls make him even more enticing as a pitching prospect. The Dodgers have already shown a proclivity for Texas pitchers, drafting four in the first round since 2006, including one Clayton Kershaw.
Donny Everett, RHP, Clarksville HS (TN)
The Orioles have used five of their last seven first-round selections on pitchers, and seeing as how that process has netted them two of the top pitching prospects in baseball (Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey), an up-and-coming starter (Kevin Gausman) and one of their top relievers (Brian Matusz), it seems likely that the trend will carry on into 2015. Luckily for them, the top players on the board are all pitchers. They go the high-school route 56% of the time, so Everett would be a common sense pick. Like Harvey, he has a smooth delivery and easy heat. His breaking ball has flashed above-average and he’s shown good feel for a changeup.
Los Angeles Angels
Michael Matuella, RHP, Duke University
The Angels had a pick in the first round last year for the first time since 2011, and they went with one of the highest upside prospects in the draft in LHP Sean Newcomb. They return this year, with the final pick of the first round, and a wealth of options at their disposal. Since their top prospects lists seems to be heavy on pitching, and since they don’t seem to favor any one class or position over another, it’s safe to assume they’re going to take the “best player available” approach. In that case, Matuella, once-upon-a-time a candidate for the top overall pick, is the guy. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery last month, and a complicated history of other nagging injuries, Matuella has great size, a blazing fastball and good command of his secondary pitches.