Any Major League front-office type is sure to talk about the importance of finding talent up the middle. That means behind the plate, in center field and, of course, in the middle infield.
Typically, finding a shortstop who can stay at that premium position is more of a priority than getting help at second base, but both are important and teams undoubtedly will be loading up on middle infielders during the upcoming First-Year Player Draft. But what exactly will they get?
The short answer is not a whole lot. In the past, looking for advanced college infielders who could impact a big league team quickly was key. These days, if a team can't find a high schooler who can develop as an infielder, they may be out of luck, especially early in the Draft.
"As far as college, it's below average," a scouting director said. "For the last three or four years, everybody knew this year was coming [with bonus restrictions]. A lot of the top high school players, teams would draft them in the sixth to 10th round and pay them a lot of money. A lot weren't going to college. Therefore, the college crop this year is well below average. In three years, when a lot of these [high school] guys are going to college, it's going to be excellent. And it's about average at the high school level."
Last year, two high school shortstops, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez, went in the top 10, to the Indians and Cubs, respectively. To see when the middle infielders come off the board this time around, check out the wall-to-wall coverage of the Draft on June 4-6. It starts with the first round and Compensation Round A on Monday, June 4, at 7 p.m. ET. The first night of the event will be broadcast live on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com. Rounds 2-40 will also be streamed live on MLB.com on June 5-6.
MLB.com's coverage, sponsored by CenturyLink, will include Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Here's a more detailed look at the middle infielders who have the best chance to go in the early stages of the Draft, with their rankings in the Draft Top 100 in parentheses.
Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (5)
Correa should become the highest-drafted high school player ever from Puerto Rico, as his name is being mentioned frequently in conversations about the top-10 picks. While it isn't easy for the higher-up executives to see players from Puerto Rico frequently, he's performed extremely well when they've been on hand, most recently at a tournament in Puerto Rico. While Correa is big, he has all the actions to stay at shortstop, at least for the time being. And he should hit enough, with power, to move to third base should it come to that. The team that takes Correa will believe the Troy Tulowitzki comparisons.
Deven Marrero, SS, Arizona State (13)
Marrero has been on radars for a while, having been a solid high school prospect in 2009. He is, by far, the best defender at his position in this class and one of the few who has no questions at all about a long-term ability to stay at shortstop. The questions that do come up are about Marrero's bat, as he's struggled for much of the season offensively. He did go 8-for-12 with three doubles, a triple and five RBIs last weekend against Washington, which can only help his stock. Even with the offensive difficulties, Marrero's name is still being mentioned as a potential top-10 pick.
Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe HS (La.) (19)
His older brother Garin is a third baseman in the Red Sox organization, but this Cecchini, also a product of his father-coach Glenn at Barbe High School, is speedier and a middle infielder. He's a threat on the bases, a consistent line-drive gap hitter and a baseball rat who gets extremely high marks for his makeup. Cecchini's instincts and tools combination have his name firmly in discussions involving the middle of the first round.
Addison Russell, SS, Pace HS (Fla.) (21)
Over the summer, Russell appeared to have slowed and grown, and not all in a positive way. All the talk was about how he'd have to move to third base, though he does have the raw hitting tools -- particularly projected power -- to be fine there. But then Russell worked hard to get into much better shape to the point where most believe he'll be able to stay at shortstop. If that's the case, he becomes a much more intriguing prospect at a premium defensive position.
Tanner Rahier, SS, Palm Desert HS (Calif.) (49)
Rahier has one of the more interesting stories of this year's prep group in that he doesn't actually play for Palm Desert High School. Instead, he opted to play in a wood-bat travel league and his stock has been on the rise for most of the spring. Rahier most likely won't be able to stay at shortstop -- some say third, some say second is a likely destination. In either place, his ability to hit and grow into hitting for power should fit just fine and his defensive actions could make him an excellent defender in either spot. Rahier's best tool might be his makeup: He plays an all-out, aggressive style that allows him to maximize his skills.
Others: Kenny Diekroeger, SS, Stanford; Nolan Fontana, SS, Florida; C.J. Hinojosa, SS, Klein Collins HS (Texas); Tony Renda, 2B, California.