If a team wants an outfielder with some upside in this year's First-Year Player Draft, it had better take him early, and from the high school level.
There are a number of talented prep outfielders to choose from, many of whom will go in the first half of the first round, and there are some others who could go before the Draft's first night is complete.
"There are definitely some high-end high school outfielders with solid combinations of power and athleticism," one scouting director said. "It's probably the area where the most upside lies in this Draft."
The collegians, however, do not measure up to the high schoolers this year. It has been pointed out, particularly with teams knowing that some kind of slotting system was on its way, that teams overspent to sign high school hitters in the past few years, greatly thinning out the college ranks. It's led to what many believe is a ho-hum college group.
"'Ho-hum' would be putting it nicely," the scouting director said.
To see when these outfielders are taken, 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 outfielders who have the best chance to go in the early stages of the Draft, with their rankings in the Draft Top 100 in parentheses.
Byron Buxton, Appling County HS, Ga. (1)
The consensus is that Buxton is the best talent in the Draft, though the team that takes him might have to be patient in allowing the Georgia prepster to develop. He has all of the five tools you hear so much about, with speed his best skill. But he has shown the ability to hit for average, some raw power and outstanding defensive abilities. He's drawn comparisons to the Upton brothers for good reason, with a good makeup giving teams confidence that he'll work to maximize his considerable natural talent. It would surprise no one to see Buxton's name come off the board in the top two or three selections.
Albert Almora, Mater Academy, Fla. (10)
If it weren't for Buxton, the talk about the high school outfielder with the best tools would be centered on Almora, who's made a name for himself as a USA Baseball regular while also shining in various showcases. A natural leader, he should hit for average and power as he progresses. He's an outstanding defensive center fielder and a heady baserunner. An excellent summer led to a strong spring, leading Almora's name to come up in many top-10 conversations.
Courtney Hawkins, Carroll HS, Texas (12)
While Buxton and Almora get higher marks for their overall skills, particularly their speed, they don't match Hawkins and his raw power. He can turn around any fastball and can drive the ball to all fields, though he will swing and miss on occasion. A center fielder, he'll slide over to a corner spot and could be a prototypical right fielder with a plus arm that hits the low 90s from the mound, and he has decent speed for a guy with power. Hawkins really showed what he can do at USA Baseball's National High School Invitational against Gulliver Prep (Fla.), when he homered for the game's only run and struck out nine while on the mound. His name is cropping up, starting from the back end of the top 10 to later in the first round.
David Dahl, Oak Mountain HS, Ala. (14)
While Dahl doesn't appear to have the power upside of the three prepsters above him on this list, there's still a lot to like about the left-handed-hitting outfielder. He has a very good approach at the plate, makes consistent contact and uses his outstanding speed well, both offensively and defensively. He's drawn comparisons to Johnny Damon and that could fit even more if he adds some strength and a little more pop down the road. Even if he doesn't, Dahl profiles just fine as an above-average defensive outfielder who should hit for a high average, get on base and steal some bases.
Tyler Naquin, Texas A&M (26)
The best of a relatively weak college outfield group, Naquin suffers a bit from being a tweener. He has one of the best outfield arms in the country, but doesn't have the power profile for a prototypical right fielder. He doesn't necessarily have the speed or range to be an everyday center fielder, either. But what he has done is hit throughout his college career with an outstanding approach from the left side of the plate. That, along with the arm and his overall instincts, should land Naquin somewhere in the second half of the first round.
Others: Anthony Alford, Petal HS, Miss.; Barrett Barnes, Texas Tech; Skye Bolt, Holy Innocents Episcopal HS, Ga.; Lewis Brinson, Coral Springs HS, Fla.; Kolby Copeland, Parkway HS, La.; D.J. Davis, Stone County HS, Miss.; Jeff Gelalich, UCLA; Mitch Haniger, Cal Poly; Travis Jankowski, Stony Brook; James Ramsey, Florida State; Victor Roache, Georgia Southern; Brandon Thomas, Georgia Tech; Preston Tucker, Florida; Nick Williams, Galveston Ball HS, Texas; Jesse Winker, Olympia HS, Fla.; Jameis Winston, Hueytown HS, Ala.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.