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Who's No. 1? Handicapping the Draft field

Lefties Aiken, Rodon look like top choices for Astros, but four others are candidates

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

When the 2014 Draft season started, it appeared that the answer to "Who will be the No. 1 pick in the Draft?" was a no-brainer, slam dunk.

North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon was all but given an Astros jersey. But as they say, that's why they play the games. A bit of a slow start, coupled with perhaps unfair expectations, has moved Rodon back to the pack, while others have stepped forward into the competition to be the top selection.

The First-Year Player Draft will take place this week, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday.

MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

As has been the case each the past two years, the Astros, who will pick first on Thursday, have been kicking the tires on a number of candidates. Some seem to be more serious possibilities than others. Some might be a Plan B type or a dark horse. That doesn't mean that candidate won't be the selection. Who saw Carlos Correa coming in 2012? He was listed as a "dark horse" in this story two years ago.

The Astros have said they have narrowed the field to six. So here they are, from the front-runners to candidates to dark horses.

FRONT-RUNNERS

Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS (Calif.)
Rank in Top 200: 1

Aiken has performed his way to this spot by being more consistent than anyone, drawing comparisons to Clayton Kershaw along the way.
Why he should go No. 1: Three above-average to plus pitches, all with outstanding command, coming from an ideal pitcher's body and a smooth delivery. He's consistently performed even as the attention and pressure grew.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: The Astros could decide they need someone who will get to the Major Leagues faster than a high school pitcher. The history of prep southpaws going No. 1 overall -- David Clyde and Brien Taylor -- isn't great.

Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State:
Rank in Top 200: 2

Rodon didn't run away and hide as the presumptive No. 1 pick. He's still pretty good, possessing perhaps the nastiest slider in the class.
Why he should go No. 1: Even with the slow start, he put up some serious numbers in a strong college conference. He has a long track record of success in college and for USA Baseball against tough competition.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: His command has eluded him at times. His slow start, with stuff that seemed to regress for a time, might concern the Astros.

STRONG CANDIDATES

Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS (Calif.)
Rank in Top 200: 4

Considered by most to be the best hitter in the Draft, with the ability to hit for average and a ton of power. The only question is if a team wants to slow down the bat to let him develop as a catcher.
Why he should go No. 1: See above about being the best hitter in the class. The power and hit tools are legitimate. He has an outstanding arm and could develop into a tremendous offensive-minded catcher, while having the bat to profile as a corner outfielder as well.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: Can he catch? If he can, is a team willing to wait for that part of his game to develop? If he can't, is his bat special enough to be No. 1 as an outfielder, a la Bryce Harper?

Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd HS (Texas)
Rank in Top 200: 3

Kolek is a beast of a young man, one who consistently hits 100 mph. While he might not be as polished as Aiken, he has more of a feel for pitching, complete with outstanding breaking stuff, than one might think for a power-armed guy his size.
Why he should go No. 1: He might have the most upside of anyone on this list of candidates. His size, arm strength and pure stuff all point to being a top-of-the-rotation type starter when all is said and done.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: His command needs to be refined, though that's not uncommon for a high school power pitcher. No one has seen a high school pitcher throw this hard so consistently, and it's difficult to know what to make of that. A high school right-hander has never been taken with the No. 1 overall pick.

DARK HORSES

Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia HS (Fla.)
Rank in Top 200: 5

Son of Flash and brother of Dee, Gordon is a rarity on the amateur scene in that he will absolutely be able to stay a shortstop. Adding strength this spring ended concerns about his ability to do so and helped his offensive profile.
Why he should go No. 1: Guys who won't just stick but excel at a premium position such as shortstop are always valued highly and Gordon has the chance to be a very good all-around player up the middle, the kind around which winning teams are built.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: While he is a tremendous prospect, he isn't the best player available. This would be a deal to save money and spend more aggressively later on, like the Astros did in 2012 with Correa -- though Gordon doesn't have Correa's offensive profile.

Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
Rank in Top 200: 6

A finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, Nola has dominated in the tough Southeastern Conference with a combination of good stuff and a tremendous feel for pitching.
Why he should go No. 1: He might have the highest floor of anyone in the class. He also might be the quickest to get to the big leagues, with the chance of being a very successful starting pitcher for a very long time.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: With that high floor comes a limited ceiling. Nola might be low-risk, but do you want to take a potential No. 3 starter with the top pick, which is typically reserved for elite-level, impact talent?

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter.