The 2016 Draft is exceedingly difficult to project for a couple of reasons. No one has stamped himself as a clear-cut top-of-the-Draft option, and the deepest demographic for first-round talent is also the one that scares teams the most.
There are seven high school pitchers worthy of going in the first half of the first round, starting with the headliners on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Draft list: New Jersey left-hander Jason Groome and Kansas righty Riley Pint. But the injury epidemic among young arms makes clubs leery of taking them early in the first round. A total of seven prep arms have been top-15 picks in the past three years, and only once in the past 44 Drafts have more than five been taken in the first 15 selections (six in 1998).
• 2016 MLB Draft: June 9-11 on MLB Network, MLB.com
So most of those high school hurlers will go lower than they're rated, and some could try to force their way out of the first round to fall to teams with large bonus pools who could pay them well above pick value in the supplemental first or early second rounds. Conversely, it's not a deep year for college hitters or pitchers, but the demand for prospects who can deliver quicker returns will push some of those players higher in the Draft.
1. Phillies: A.J. Puk, LHP, Florida
Puk has been inconsistent this spring, but at his best, he's still a hulking lefty with a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider. He has pitched well three of the past four weekends, and he seems to be Philadelphia's guy if he can stay on that roll. Plan B appears to be the top high school position player (California outfielder Mickey Moniak), with the best college position player (Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis) also in the running. Whoever it is, he'll sign for well south of the assigned pick value of $9,015,500, putting the Phillies in position to spend big on later selections.
• Complete 2016 Draft order
2. Reds: Nick Senzel, 3B, Tennessee
Cincinnati would be very interested in Puk if the Phillies pass. If not, the Reds likely would choose between Senzel, the best pure hitter in the college ranks, and flashy Puerto Rican shortstop Delvin Perez, who has the highest ceiling in this prep crop.
3. Braves: Kyle Lewis, OF, Mercer
Atlanta is the first team in play on a high school pitcher and prefers Pint to Groome. But with a shortage of college bats and a $12.4 million bonus pool that will allow the Braves to spend big on someone who drops to picks Nos. 40 and 44, the better play could be to grab Lewis here and pounce on a prep arm who drops.
4. Rockies: Mickey Moniak, OF, La Costa Canyon HS (Carlsbad, Calif.)
Colorado is strongly linked to Moniak and several other outfielders. The next option could be Lewis, and if both are gone, the Rockies could turn to Louisville's Corey Ray or California high schooler Blake Rutherford.
5. Brewers: Corey Ray, OF, Louisville
Milwaukee could take a shot on Groome or Pint, but it appears more inclined to pursue a bat. The Brewers are attached to every toolsy position player with any chance to go in the first round. In this scenario, their decision would come down to Ray vs. Perez.
6. Athletics: Jason Groome, LHP, Barnegat (N.J.) HS
There's a lot of Senzel-to-Oakland talk if he's available, though that doesn't make a ton of sense for a so-so system with a lot of infielders (including 2014 first-rounder Matt Chapman, who's not moving off the hot corner) and not much else. The A's like Groome more than Pint, and it's hard to believe a big lefty with quality stuff and more polish than Puk is going to drop much further than this.
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7. Marlins: Riley Pint, RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Overland Park, Kan.)
If Pint is still on the board, he probably won't get past Miami or Detroit. The Marlins also could consider a position player such as Ray or Perez.
8. Padres: Delvin Perez, SS, International Baseball Academy (Ceiba, P.R.)
San Diego GM A.J. Preller is willing to gamble on high ceilings, so he probably wouldn't walk away from Groome. Perez fits that mold, too, as do high school right-handers Matt Manning (California) and Ian Anderson (New York) and prep lefty Braxton Garrett (Alabama).
9. Tigers: Matt Manning, RHP, Sheldon HS (Sacramento, Calif.)
No early first-round talent has more helium right now than Manning. The son of former NBA player Rich Manning has a fresh arm capable of delivering 99-mph fastballs. With the way the top of the Draft is lining up, Detroit seems destined to get a prep pitcher. If Groome, Pint and Manning aren't available, the Tigers would move on to Garrett, Anderson and right-hander Forrest Whitley (Texas).
10. White Sox: Blake Rutherford, OF, Chaminade Prep (Canoga Park, Calif.)
Though Chicago likes college pitchers and took Carlos Rodon and Carson Fulmer with its past two first-rounders, Puk won't get here and the other college arms (led by Mississippi State right-hander Dakota Hudson) would be a stretch at 10. There will be multiple attractive high school pitchers, but the White Sox haven't spent a first-rounder on one since Kris Honel 15 years ago. Rutherford may fit best, ahead of the next-best college bat (Miami catcher Zack Collins).
11. Mariners: Braxton Garrett, LHP, Florence (Ala.) HS
Seattle is believed to prefer a bat, which could be tough if the top three college hitters and top three high school position players go in the first 10 picks. The next option could be Collins, especially if the Mariners think he could stay behind the plate, but Garrett's stuff and advanced feel for pitching may allow him to move as fast as any college starter in this Draft.
12. Red Sox: Zack Collins, C, Miami
If Boston doesn't have one of the players above fall into its lap, it would have to weigh the merits of Collins vs. the remaining high school arms, such as Whitley. The Red Sox also could start a mid-first-round run on high school bats by choosing from among third baseman Joshua Lowe or Taylor Trammell (both from Georgia), or outfielder Alex Kirilloff or third baseman Nolan Jones (both from Pennsylvania).
13. Rays: Joshua Lowe, 3B, Pope HS (Marietta, Ga.)
Lowe has some feelers from the Braves, Brewers and Athletics in the top 10, though the consensus is that he'll go in the teens. Tampa Bay also could take a high school arm and could be the first club in on Vanderbilt right-hander Jordan Sheffield.
14. Indians: Forrest Whitley, RHP, Alamo Heights HS (San Antonio, Texas)
Assuming Garrett and Collins are gone, it looks like a prep right-hander (Manning or Whitley) for Cleveland. If they're both gone, the Indians could opt for one of the Pennsylvania high school bats.
15. Twins: Ian Anderson, RHP, Shenendehowa HS (Clifton Park, N.Y.)
Minnesota is on all of the top-tier high school right-handers and there's one more left in Anderson, who hasn't been easy to see this spring because he had to battle the New York weather, not to mention pneumonia and an oblique strain. If all of the prep righties are gone, the Twins could look at a college version (Hudson, Sheffield) or be tempted by Kirilloff's classic right-field profile.
16. Angels: Alex Kirilloff, OF, Plum HS (Pittsburgh)
Los Angeles' decision likely will come down to high school bats (Kirilloff, Jones, Georgia outfielder William Benson) vs. college right-handers (Hudson, Sheffield, Virginia's Connor Jones).
17. Astros: Dakota Hudson, RHP, Mississippi State
A possible top-10 pick until he slumped in April, Hudson has rebounded in May and should spark a run on college pitchers in the latter half of the first round. Seven of our next 17 projected picks are college arms, and right-handers Corbin Burnes (St. Mary's), Logan Shore (Florida) and Justin Dunn (Boston College) and lefty Anthony Kay (Connecticut) also could be factors for clubs seeking mound help sooner rather than later.
18. Yankees: Jordan Sheffield, RHP, Vanderbilt
If one of the high school arms doesn't get here, New York could grab a college pitcher. Sheffield is just 6 feet tall, gets wild at times and has Tommy John surgery in his past, but he could be a steal here because he's the college starter with the best chance for three-plus pitches. There's a reason he draws Marcus Stroman comparisons.
19. Mets: Will Craig, 3B, Wake Forest
Craig has arguably the best track record of any college hitter and won't last much longer than this, even if a future move to first base is likely. New York is associated with several college performers and could get another at No. 31.
20. Dodgers: Nolan Jones, 3B, Holy Ghost Prep (Bensalem, Pa.)
Los Angeles seems to be targeting a high school position player and a college pitcher with its two first-rounders. The better value appears to be to get Jones or Wisconsin shortstop Gavin Lux at No. 20 and wait on the arm until No. 32.
21. Blue Jays: Joey Wentz, LHP, Shawnee Mission (Kan.) East HS
Wentz could be the toughest sign among the seven best high school arms, and he'd earn more than Toronto's pick value ($2,285,100) if he can find his way to a big-pool team after the first round. That still may not deter the Blue Jays, who have taken eight prep pitchers in the first or supplemental first round this decade. After Wentz, there are more first-round-worthy high school hurlers in California right-handers Jared Horn and Kevin Gowdy and Texas southpaw Kyle Muller, though there may not be room for them in the first 34 picks. Toronto also likes Georgia prep outfielders Trammell and Brandon Marsh.
22. Pirates: T.J. Zeuch, RHP, Pittsburgh
The last time Pittsburgh took a local product in the first round was 2004, and Neil Walker worked out nicely. Zeuch's season ended on Thursday, but he has steadily climbed Draft boards since missing the first month of the season with a groin strain.
23. Cardinals: Connor Jones, RHP, Virginia
While he may not be the sexiest pick, Jones has been a standout performer for the Cavaliers for three years and may have the highest floor among this Draft's college starters. St. Louis has three selections in the first round and is tied to mostly collegians with this choice.
24. Padres: Cal Quantrill, RHP, Stanford
Perhaps the biggest wild card in the first round, Quantrill was projected as a top-10 pick before he had Tommy John surgery in March 2015 and hasn't pitched for the Cardinal since. Rumors are rampant that San Diego will do a deal with him as its second or third first-rounder, though the weak college-starter crop could mean that he won't make it to No. 24.
25. Padres: Taylor Trammell, OF, Mount Paran Christian School (Kennesaw, Ga.)
San Diego can afford to gamble with its three first-rounders, so it could go with another high-ceiling talent along the lines of Georgia prep outfielders Trammell, Benson and Marsh.
26. White Sox: Gavin Lux, SS, Indian Trail Academy (Kenosha, Wis.)
In a terrible Draft for shortstops, Lux has established himself as the second best behind Perez after improving his tools this spring. Chicago is higher on Georgia right-hander Robert Tyler than most clubs.
27. Orioles: William Benson, OF, The Westminster Schools (Atlanta)
Besides Benson, Virginia catcher Matt Thaiss (a gifted hitter with a likely future at first base) or a college pitcher are options.
28. Nationals: Drew Mendoza, 3B, Lake Minneola (Fla.) HS
Mendoza is the most unsignable first-round talent and it may take at least $3 million to divert him from his commitment to Florida State. He's a gifted hitter, however, and Washington has a track record of paying Boras Corp advisees.
29. Nationals: Eric Lauer, LHP, Kent State
Lauer is a lefty who throws quality strikes with four different pitches and he leads NCAA Division I starting pitchers with a 0.76 ERA, making him a nice value at No. 29.
30. Rangers: Buddy Reed, OF, Florida
Reed could have been the first college position player selected had he produced at the plate this spring. He hasn't but still is as tooled up as any collegian, which will make him attractive to Texas.
31. Mets: Bryan Reynolds, OF, Vanderbilt
Scouts would like to see Reynolds make more consistent contact, but he's a switch-hitter with the chance for four average-or-better tools. That makes him a first-rounder in this college position-player crop.
32. Dodgers: Cody Sedlock, RHP, Illinois
With teams desperate to find some worthy college pitchers, Sedlock seems criminally underrated. Moving from the bullpen to rotation this spring, he has broken former first-rounder John Ericks' Illinois season strikeout record while maintaining good stuff and throwing strikes in longer stints.
33. Cardinals: Robert Tyler, RHP, Georgia
Tyler can reach 99 mph and flash a plus changeup, though his lack of a reliable breaking ball and command may make him more of a closer than a starter as a pro. Dunn is another possibility.
34. Cardinals: Matt Thaiss, C, Virginia
Thaiss would give St. Louis a third college first-rounder in this scenario. The Cardinals also have interest in prepsters such as Trammell, Lux and Marsh should they make it this far.