High risk, high reward.
That's the name of the game when it comes to high school pitching in the Draft. Pick the right one and you could get a Josh Beckett. Pick the wrong one and you could end up with a Brien Taylor.
This year's crop of high school arms has its fair share of future stars, especially at the top of Draft boards. The group has been impacted by injuries, particularly to right-hander Lucas Giolito, who would have been the first prep pitcher taken. His elbow issue has made him the biggest wild card of the Draft. Injuries to other right-handers like Zach Eflin and Matt Smoral have left the high school pitching pool with more than a few question marks, but there is no question there's some intriguing talent to be had early on.
"It's deep at the top," a scouting director said. "The main ones from the summer and the fall are the ones we've scouted. There's a considerable amount of high school kids who have lived up to [expectations]. Then it falls off. After the top, it's guys who are probably going to go to school, depending on how this Draft shakes out."
The new rules concerning spending, most think, will impact the second tier of high school players the most. Previously, some of them may have slid, but teams would go over slot to keep them from going to college. That won't be nearly as feasible this time around.
To see when the prep pitchers get taken, check out the wall-to-wall coverage of the Draft on June 4-6. It starts with the first round and Comp 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 high school arms who have the best chance to go in the early stages of the Draft, with where they rank in the Draft Top 100 in parentheses. It's a considerably right-handed list, with only two southpaws in the top group.
Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake, Calif. (7)
The lefty, who is the top-ranked high school arm in this class, hit a few bumps in the road recently, with two starts that had some concerned and others foreseeing a slide. But he bounced back with a terrific playoff effort. In that start, like he had for most of the season, he showed a fastball up to 95 mph, a sharp curve he can throw for strikes and a good changeup, as well. Projectable lefties with that kind of stuff don't grow on trees, a big reason why many teams in the top 10 were watching Fried closely.
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake, Calif. (8)
If Giolito was healthy, he'd be atop this list and there would be serious discussion about him becoming the first high school right-hander to go No. 1 overall in the history of the Draft. Giolito has the plus-plus fastball (up to 100 mph earlier this spring), an outstanding power curve and a very good changeup, with command of all three, when healthy. That, of course, is the big caveat, following his elbow sprain. He was working his way toward throwing off the mound pre-Draft for scouts, but there was no guarantee of that happening. The question now is if a team will take him high enough to sign him away from UCLA, with some thinking it might take a team with multiple picks who can be a little more creative with their Draft pool to get something done.
Lance McCullers, RHP, Jesuit HS, Fla. (18)
There are few pitchers in this class who have more arm strength than McCullers, the son of the former big league pitcher of the same name. McCullers entered the spring as a power arm who hits the upper 90s with ease and combines that with a slider that has the chance to be an above-average pitch. He also concerned some with command issues and some effort with his delivery, leading many to think he looked like a future closer. He has improved his control this year and it will be interesting to see how that impacts his stock on Draft day. A team that thinks he can start may give him a shot in the opening round.
Lucas Sims, RHP, Brookwood HS, Ga. (20)
High school pitchers can be mercurial at times, but Sims has been the model of consistency all year. In a recent playoff start, his fastball sat where it typically does, in the 91-92 mph range and he featured a very good breaking ball, when he stayed on top of it, to go along with the heater. He also threw a solid changeup, something scouts undoubtedly wanted to see from the right-hander. His name was popping up as high as the middle of the first round.
Zach Eflin, RHP, Hagerty HS, Fla. (22)
Eflin was shooting up Draft boards this spring as quickly as anyone in the class, but hit a wall when he was shut down with triceps tendinitis in April. He missed a good chunk of time, but did return to the mound, albeit briefly, with a clean bill of health. He has the enticing combination of size, projectability, stuff and pitchability that isn't often found in prep pitchers. Scouts should get a last look at him in the Florida high school all-star event in Sebring over Memorial Day Weekend. Assuming no setbacks, a place in the first round seems a distinct possibility.
Others: Ty Buttrey, RHP, Providence Sr. HS, N.C.; Ty Hensley, RHP, Santa Fe HS, Okla.; Matthew Smoral, LHP, Solon HS, Ohio; Nick Travieso, RHP, Archbishop McCarthy HS, Fla.; Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia HS, Fla.; Hunter Virant, LHP, Camarillo HS, Calif.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.