Which first-round picks will become clubs' top prospects?
Jim Callis responds to fans' questions about baseball's future stars
My attention always is divided this time of year. While recovering from (and continuing to cover) from my favorite off-field event, the Draft, I'm excited about my favorite on-field event, the College World Series. Eight teams are convening in Omaha and will begin play for the national championship on Saturday. It's tremendous baseball in a tremendous atmosphere in a tremendous city with tremendous hospitality.
Cash Kruth and I will provide MLB.com's coverage from Omaha this year. When I arrive there on Tuesday, I'll be attending my 27th CWS in the last 29 years. I'm picking Vanderbilt to repeat as national champion by beating Florida in the finals, though Texas Christian could give the Commodores trouble in their half of the bracket.
Assuming all first-rounders sign, how many of them would you consider their team's No. 1 prospect? (I ask you this every year.)
-- J.P. S., Springfield, Ill.
I always enjoy this question, which J.P. started asking back when I was writing "Ask BA" columns at Baseball America. I see four first-rounders who would take over as their club's top prospect if they signed contracts today (though we won't officially include 2015 draftees in Prospect Watch until the end of July).
It's not a slam dunk that the No. 1 overall pick (Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson) and the top prospect (Lake Mary, Fla., High shortstop Brendan Rodgers) would ascend to No. 1 on their team list. I'd take Swanson over Archie Bradley with the Diamondbacks and Rodgers over Jon Gray with the Rockies, but a case can be made to stay with the more established right-handers.
The most obvious No. 1 prospect is Vanderbilt righty Carson Fulmer, who'll displace shortstop Tim Anderson with the White Sox. The only other new No. 1 will be Niskayuna (N.Y.) High outfielder Garrett Whitley. We'll probably shuffle our Rays list around a lot -- catcher Justin O'Conner won't remain ahead of all of the other holdovers -- but I'd take Whitley and his huge ceiling over any of the current Tampa Bay farmhands.
Although he was the third pitcher selected, Carson Fulmer is arguably the best pitcher in this Draft. Where would he rank among the pitchers in the 2014 Draft? He wouldn't be in the Carlos Rodon tier, but is he better than Aaron Nola?
-- Nick D., Chicago
I won't argue against Fulmer as the best pitcher available in 2015. He ranked No. 1 among arms and No. 3 overall on the MLBPipeline.com Draft Top 200, and he has a longer and better track record as a starter than the next-best pitchers, UC Santa Barbara right-hander Dillon Tate and Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay.
Looking back at our 2014 rankings, Fulmer would fall behind a healthy Brady Aiken and Rodon. The consensus probably would place Fulmer behind Tyler Kolek as well, though I'm not completely sold that Kolek is going to develop the polish to be a frontline starter.
Next on our 2014 list was Nola, and that makes for an interesting debate. Fulmer has a higher ceiling because he has better stuff, but Nola has a higher floor because he has a better delivery and command. I won't bet against Fulmer becoming a starter, but I'll give Nola the edge because he has solid stuff and is so advanced.
Will the Astros have enough money to sign their first five picks, along with North Florida Christian High (Tallahassee, Fla.) right-hander Cole Sands and Oak Ridge High (Conroe, Texas) righty/first baseman Luken Baker?
-- David A., Galveston, Texas
The Astros came away with three of the seven best prospects in the Draft in Louisiana State shortstop Alex Bregman (the No. 2 overall pick), Plant High (Tampa, Fla.) outfielder Preston Tucker (No. 5) and Eagle's Landing Christian Academy (McDonough, Ga.) outfielder Daz Cameron (No. 37). Add in college right-handers Thomas Eshelman (Cal State Fullerton, second round) and Riley Ferrell (Texas Christian, third round), and the bonus bill for Houston's first five picks will run in the neighborhood of $16 million to $17 million.
At $17,289,200, the Astros have the highest bonus pool allocation in the four years this system has existed, and they can go to $18,153,660 without forfeiting a future first-round choice. They should be able to sign their first five selections and may have enough left over to offer a seven-figure bonus to a player after the 10th round (where any cash over $100,000 counts against the pool). If Houston does have the money to do so, Mission Viejo (Calif.) High left-hander Patrick Sandoval (11th round) or Sands (22nd round) would be more likely to sign than Baker (37th round), who emailed teams to tell them he wants to play both ways at TCU.
What were your thoughts on the Rangers' draft? Especially if they're able to sign their top four guys?
-- Jason B., Al Ain, United Arab Emirates
The Rangers' draft haul has the potential to be the best from 2015, which is saying something considering they didn't have any extra picks. They landed two right-handers who were potential No. 1 overall picks at one point (UC Santa Barbara's Dillon Tate in the first round, Duke's Michael Matuella in the third), another who once projected as a first-rounder (Houston's Jake Lemoine in the fourth), another who once had second-round aspirations (Vanderbilt's Tyler Ferguson in the sixth) and one of the best speedsters available (West Columbus High, Cerro Gordo, N.C., outfielder Eric Jenkins in the second).
There's a reason Texas was able to land Matuella, Lemoine and Ferguson where it did. Matuella had back issues and little track record of staying healthy before he had Tommy John surgery in April. Lemoine hasn't pitched since going out with a shoulder impingement in mid-March, and Ferguson lost the strike zone for much of the season.
While there's a lot of risk involved, the potential reward makes it a worthwhile gamble. Even if Matuella, Lemoine and Ferguson don't pan out, Tate and Jenkins could make for a solid Rangers draft all by themselves.