With the 2012 MLB First-Year player draft coming up on Monday, we’ve been working extra hard around here to bring our Baseball Instinct preview of the top players available for the draft. Our list is by no means a mock draft, as predicting what teams should do isn’t our thing. Sure it’s fun to do, but with baseball the possibilities are endless. What we will do is give you our very best list of top talents based on our scouting reports on these players. We are particularly proud of our efforts this season as we got a chance to see most of these players first-hand. Those players that we didn’t see ourselves we spent extra time compiling data from scouts and friends of ours that did see them. We hit you with our top 25 awhile back, but since then a lot of players have moved up and down. With that said, we are going to kick off the weekend with our revised top 25 and throughout the weekend release the rest of our list. It’s going to be a BIG weekend here at Baseball Instinct and we know you’ll be pleased with the resources. Check us out on Monday as we will be doing live updates on the site as well as on our Twitter feed: @BaseballInstinc.
1.Lucas Giolito RHP Harvard-Westlake HS, Studio City, Calif. - Giolito sprained his elbow early in the season making his draft position a question mark. But he has a big frame at 6’6″ and 230 lbs, with a fastball that works 93-96 and touched 100 before he got hurt. His secondaries are both average and project to be above or better with his curve a probable plus offering. Mechanically it’s obvious his coaches were just riding his talent and not trying to correct him. But there are issues that are in need of correction, including tempo and timing. He’s a UCLA commit and if he falls in the draft there’s a good chance he honors that commitment.
Our Instinct - Before spraining his elbow early this season, Giolito was my #1 draft pick and although he won’t go #1 overall in this draft due to the uncertainty of the injury I’m going on record as stating he is still my top HS talent choice and I wouldn’t hesitate to draft him inside the 1st round with or without the need for Tommy John surgery. He’s a player that if he comes back healthy, can be molded into a front of the rotation Ace. Reports are coming back clean on his elbow, but there is no 100% certainty that he won’t require surgery. I would venture that surgery based on his age and upside. Like Bundy was in 2011, Giolito is our #1 selection.
2. Kyle Zimmer RHP San Francisco - Zimmer has a mid 90s fastball that works in the 94-96 range consistently and a hammer curveball that is in the low 80s. Excellent separation of the pitches. Both grade out at near plus and he pairs them with a slider around 90 and a changeup that varies from the low to mid 80s. Both could be average or better. He has a solid 6’4″, 220lbs frame and consistent smooth mechanics.
Our Instinct - He hadn’t been the talk of the draft but has made noise as a potential top of the draft name this season. I think ultimately the Astros will go with the home-grown Appel, but if they decide against him they will almost certainly be looking for a soon to be ready college starter and Zimmer fits that mold. Of the college starters being mentioned as potential first round talents, in my opinion, it’s Zimmer that looks to be the one that will translate into professional success.
3. Byron Buxton OF Appling County HS, Baxley, Ga. - Buxton has plus speed and the arm to handle CF or RF. He shows batting practice power and as he fills out his frame its starting to translate more into game power. With his premium bat speed and an ability to center the ball he could be an above average hitter with premium defense. He’s committed to Georgia.
Our Instinct - Buxton is thought of as an Upton clone. Which Upton and if that’s really a great thing can be debated. But he has 5 tool potential which is always highly valued coming into the draft. Comparison to a young Matt Kemp are negligent at best. But Buxton has the speed and defense ability of a future star. How much he translates his offensive production against weak high school competition will determine if he’s an actual future star. With that said, he has tools that you don’t pass up in the single digit selections of the first round.
4. Mark Appel RHP Stanford - Appel is an established college arm with Stanford and stints on Team USA. He was drafted in 2009 by the Tigers in the 15th round before choosing college, which has proven a wise choice. His fastball sits in the 93-95 range and he can get it to 96-98 although it tends to flatten out when he over-throws it. His slider is a strikeout pitch with excellent tilt. His changeup is currently average at best, but is a pitch he can upgrade.
Our Instinct - When his mechanics are in sync his fastball has tailing movement that will handcuff right-handers and move away from lefties. His slider compliments it well, but when the fastball starts to flatten out he loses the zone up and can be more hittable. If he can refine the change-up into a plus offering he has front of the rotation upside but currently may top out as a potential #2 with a back end of the rotation floor if healthy. He’s really been worked deep into games and moving into an every 5th day workload after logging a ton of college innings is sometimes a red flag. But he has high upside and is an advanced arm.
5. Mike Zunino C Florida - Zunino is the top ranked catcher heading into the draft. He’s the squad leader for the Florida Gators and has hit better this season than he has in the past and he was already considered a 1st round talent. He has above average power and has hit for average despite a long swing. Defensively he’s a plus with the glove and has caught north of 30% of runners looking to steal a base.
Our Instinct - A team with a glaring need at catcher within the organization will reach for Zunino and they’ll get what they’re looking for. His ability to hit for a high average will be a stretch at the higher levels, but if his power translates to average or better he’ll be a valuable commodity based on his defense and make up. Almost a sure-fire full-time professional catcher. His power will define his upside.
6. Max Fried LHP Harvard-Westlake HS, Studio City, Calif. - The lefty Co-Ace of the Harvard-Westlake staff is still healthy while his Co, Giolito is out for the year. Fried is 6’4″ and room to fill out his frame from the current 175 lbs. He doesn’t have premium velocity yet, but works 89-90 and can run it to 92 with a high 3/4 arm slot unlike most left-handers. The arm slot allows for arm-side run and bodes well for him in the future. It’s Fried’s curveball that makes him standout among the talented HS crop of pitchers this year.
Our Instinct - Fried is also a UCLA hopeful like Giolito, but unlike Giolito, Fried is healthy with little left to prove of his ability to pitch professionally. UCLA has a way of drawing their top recruits away from pro ball, but Fried figures to go high within the first round and is even less likely to attend UCLA than Giolito is. Once Fried fills out and refines his changeup he has #2 upside. Adding a cutter to his fastball mix would allow him to use multiple direction movement with his fastball and allow less need for his little used changeup to become an above average offering and still hit his ceiling.
7. Kevin Gausman RHP Louisiana State - Gausman is a big righty with a mid 90s fastball and a potential plus changeup. He throws a curveball and slider but hasn’t mastered either offering. He’s pushed his fastball to 99 this spring and despite not having a plus breaking ball he has made it to the top of the draft charts.
Our Instinct - Gausman’s mechanics aren’t traditional but are the reason his fastball and changeup work so well together. But the lack of a true breaking pitch makes his high-ranking questionable. He has the upside but will need time to develop and refine his delivery. He has mid rotation upside.
8. Albert Almora OF Mater Academy, Hialeah Gardens, Fla. - A Miami commit, Almora has one of the purest swings from the right side in the draft class. His defense is CF is outstanding and his arm will play there as he matures. Almora has solid average tools across the board and should add weight to his 6’2″ frame in time to add some average power.
Our Instinct - Almora is the easiest of the HS position crop to project with a solid overall game. His swing is conducive to contact and he already has the ability to work counts. As he adds power he should develop into an all around above average hitter with plus defense in CF despite not being a plus runner.
9. Lance McCullers Jr. RHP Jesuit HS, Tampa - Bloodlines and premium velocity have had McCullers on the draft charts for a few years. He has mid 90s velocity on his fastball and can touch upper 90s when he’s going all out. A wipe out slider is his out pitch and projects as plus as well and honestly probably already is.
Our Instinct - With a solid frame at 6’2″ 195 lbs, he could stand up as a starter, but his mechanics can become max effort at times. He’s still developing a changeup and if he can master it he’ll be better than his father by far. But the downside is a power RP. Most scouts see him as a RP, but I’ve warmed to the fact that if he’s committed to being a starter then he has the game attitude to make it. That changeup will be the final determining factor. I would take this bet inside the first half of the first round.
10. David Dahl OF Oak Mountain HS, Birmingham - The Auburn commit is a solid hitter from the left side with a compact swing that keeps the bat in the zone a long time. He uses the whole field to his advantage showing power from left-center to right currently. His arm will play in RF if he’s forced to move from CF.
Our Instinct - The rare pro ready swing path is on Dahl’s side as he enters the draft. His power could become above average and have him a 20+ HR threat. His speed is average and doesn’t project out as more than that. He’s going to hit a lot of doubles as he’s coming up through a system but eventually he’ll come into his power and should be a solid all around hitter and defender.
11. Matt Smoral LHP Solon (Ohio) HS - Smoral is a 6’8″, 225 lb monster lefty. He hurt his foot after his first start of the year so he’s dropping on draft boards everywhere. When healthy he work in the low 90s touching 95 and could have more in the tank once he learns to use his body properly. His secondaries are a slider and changeup in the low 80s. The slider when on is a strikeout pitch.
Our Instinct - Smoral is a good bet to attend UNC if he drops in the draft, but a team with vision will see a big lefty with ace potential. He needs development time for his delivery and body to grow into a single entity but this is a package that isn’t available to teams often. Especially from the left side.
12. Carlos Correa SS Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R. - Correa is a big 6’4″ and 190 at 17 years old. He’s going to fill out more and as he does his current above average speed will wane. Reports of plus speed aren’t accurate unless he was hurt at the WWBA. He has a long swing but keeps the barrel through the zone a long time. Whether he can stick at SS will determine his upside. Committed to Miami.
Our Instinct - While he looked average defensively when we saw him at the WWBA, he’s almost certainly going to outgrow the position. His arm will play at 3B but I don’t think he’s going to develop into a 20+ HR type. He’s so young and raw at this point that its hard to project him out, but we’ve seen other High School SS that have translated to pro ball and Correa doesn’t look like it’s going to translate. He could turn into a .280 hitter with 10-15 HR power. He’s the one first round type that could make me look very wrong though.
13. Ty Hensley RHP Santa Fe HS, Edmond, Okla. - Hensley is a solid 6’5″ and 220 lbs with a plus fastball that has spiked in 2012 to the mid 90s touching 97. He holds his velocity deep into games and when his mechanics are in tune his curveball is a plus major league pitch. He scrapped his changeup in 2012, which had been a developing offering
Our Instinct - Hensley is a solid framed righty with premium velocity and a power curveball that is already near plus. He has some minor mechanical issues but nothing to hold him back. I don’t see a reason why he can’t pick up where he left off with the changeup and add it back into his arsenal is short order. His arm speed and slot are conducive to a changeup and if it develops as hoped he has mid rotation stuff or better.
14. Stryker Trahan C Acadiana HS, Lafayette, La. - The top High School catcher in the draft class, Trahan has excellent power and speed potential. Posting sub 6.50 time in the 60 and showing above average power at the showcases. Defensively he’s athletic and has an above average arm. Swinging it from the left side, he just has tools that most catchers do not employ.
Our Instinct - When a High School catcher has the tools to be a pro, one thing needs to be at the forefront. He needs to have a clean swing path so the learning curve is shorter. Once you tack on turning pro, traveling and then learning to be a professional catcher, the hitting development can become a secondary and simple raw power is not going to translate. Trahan can hit. His swing path is clean, his power though raw is evident and he’s an athlete that can be molded into a pro catcher. He’s dropping on draft boards because his catching ability is being questioned. He’s a high school senior. Catchers don’t tend to mature at age 17.
15. Michael Wacha RHP Texas A&M - Wacha works in the low to mid 90s, 89-93 range most often with good sink when he’s mechanically in time. The fastball plays up due to a short landing in his delivery. His second best pitch is his changeup which works more based on his arm speed and deception than it does movement. It could become a plus pitch with some work on different grips and finger pressures until he finds controlled movement. He lacks a true breaking pitch and currently uses a slider on occasion.
Our Instinct - Wacha has clean mechanics outside of the short landing. Though the flaw causes him to drag his arm at times which causes command issues. The lack of a true breaking ball puts him in a position of needing time to develop and leaves him open to being rushed through his development. He has mid rotation upside if the breaking pitch becomes average or better.
16. Courtney Hawkins OF/RHP Carroll HS, Corpus Christi, Texas - Hawkins is committed to Texas, but with some of the best game ready power in the high school class this year he may go high enough to sway his commitment. He has a solid 6’3″, 215 lbs frame and is an above average runner with a plus arm for RF.
Our Instinct - Hawkins bat is ready for the move to the pro stage. He’s not a power only hitter, willing to take a walk and work the count. With instruction he’ll be able to further employ his game power in better hitters counts. He makes consistent hard contact and uses the whole field with plus plus power to the pull side. He has the arm to stick in the more premium RF corner. But CF won’t be a play for him in pro ball.
17. Joey Gallo RHP/1B Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas - Plus Plus raw power and a plus arm should lead to a player landing inside the top 5, but Gallo has bouts with strikeout tendencies. He currently plays 3B and his arm is enough to play anywhere, but it will take a lot for him to stick at 3B.
Our Instinct - If he sticks at 3B he’s going to be a steal for whoever takes him away from LSU. Which won’t be easy. He’s a below average runner, so it’s his power bat that will need to get him to the majors and if it translates he’s a 30+ HR power hitter at 1B or 3B. Gallo is a player that could really blossom under the right hitting system. So his development will really be determined by where he ends up. He won’t turn into a major league caliber hitter on his own despite coming with major league ready now power.
18. Marcus Stroman RHP Duke - Stroman is a SP and SS with Duke and throws a low 90s fastball that he can run up into the 93-96 range in shorter stints. He pairs the fastball with a slider that currently grades near a plus pitch. One of the most athletic pitchers with 1st round talent.
Our Instinct - He’s just 5’9″ but has a solid frame and his mechanics are upwards of max effort to get his premium velocity. He looks like he’ll eventually end up in the bullpen due to his size, mechanics and two pitch mix. But a team that thinks he can stay in the rotation will reach for him and he’ll get a shot at the rotation before moving to the bullpen.
19. Tyler Naquin OF Texas A&M - Naquin has grown as a hitter year over year, hitting .403 thus far in 2012. He’s a RF for the Aggies, but profiles better in CF as a pro. His lone plus tool is a plus-plus arm which easily handles RF and will handle CF as well. His speed is above average and he’s a threat to steal when on. His power is still lacking though he uses the gaps to get the best of his speed.
Our Instinct - He’s just 175 lbs and could add weight as he matures. If that happens and he adds the power that has been missing he could have the overall 5 tool package that scouts look for. Right now, he has the contact ability to be successful and defensively will make an easy transition to the pros despite questions to the contrary.
20. Richie Shaffer 3B/1B Clemson - Shaffer is listed at 3B on many scouting reports because he made the switch there in 2012 for Clemson. His current .934 Fielding Percentage and his foot work and agility point to more and more time at 1B in the future. His power is legitimate as a tool and with a draft class thin on corner infielders with power he will still be highly regarded. But a power hitting 1B in the mold of a Paul Konerko, that swings it from the right side, are few and far between in terms of big league success stories.
Our Instinct - His power may very well translate to the big leagues, but at a position that is log-jammed by bat first players. His overall value is diminished by is probable future as a 1B only defender. If he can continue to make the transition to 3B his bat could be premium.
21. Andrew Heaney LHP Oklahoma State - Heaney is a smaller lefty at 6’2″ 175 lbs and as a college pitcher there probably isn’t much more growth there. But his high 80s fastball has become a solid low 90s mph pitch and his slider has become his best secondary pitch. He also commands an average changeup well and despite not having elite stuff he gets strikeouts.
Our Instinct – Because he’s able to get the most out his stuff and has a very deceptive ability to change arm angles, he gets a lot of swings and misses. He’s very tough on lefties and if he can’t hold up as a back-end starter he could be a situational lefty. He’s probably not far off from being major league ready.
22. Walker Weickel RHP Olympia HS, Orlando - At 6’6″ and 220 lbs, Weickel is a big kid and takes to mound with calm and presence. His stuff, while excellent doesn’t translate to his size yet. At least not all the time. He works his fastball in the 92-93 range but at times can push it to the mid 90s. He pairs it with a 12-6 curve and a solid changeup.
Our Instinct - He’s made strides over the past year and is already refining his secondaries. He’ll probably add additional weight to his lower half and tightening his mechanics should add some velocity and get him into the mid 90s regularly. A Miami recruit, he’s going to need to go this high in the draft to sign and has the talent to where he shouldn’t fall out of the 1st round.
23. Zach Eflin RHP Hagerty HS, Oviedo, Fla. - Elfin has a commitment to UCF if he’s not draft inside the 1st round. His velocity which sat 90-93 at the WWBA in October has upticked to the mid 90s this spring and raised the outlook on his draft placement. His changeup is another average or better pitch with good sink while his breaking pitch, a curveball, is inconsistent. The curveball shows sharp break when it’s on but mechanical issues prevent him from locating well.
Our Instinct - Despite a large frame, Elfin doesn’t use it to his advantage to its full extent. His landing point is short and he clearly brings the ball through with mostly arm. That’s an issue short-term because it affects his command and long-term because it can lead to shoulder issues. He’s cleaned it up some this spring and when he’s loose and going in the game he can extend the stride which is when he’s at his most effective. Easily corrected, the mechanical issue shouldn’t stop a team looking for upside to take Elfin inside the 1st round.
24. Deven Marrero SS Arizona State - Marerro is a plus defender with a plus arm at SS. His power is just a tick below average and projects more as gap to gap doubles hitter with a possible chance to hit double-digit HR if his power upticks as he gets older. His speed is just average but he’s a good base-runner and the tool plays up because of it.
Our Instinct - Marerro is the best bet of the 1st round talent to stick at SS. While he may not have the projection with the bat of a Carlos Correa, Marerro should hit for average tools across the board and the point is that he isn’t mostly projection. He’ll stay within the top half of the first round because of his ability defensively and how much of star he becomes will then be dependent upon his bats upside.
25. D.J. Davis OF Stone HS, Wiggins, Miss. - When speed comes attached to a tool set that includes contact ability it can make for an exciting player. Davis was a player who had the speed but until the 2011 WWBA hadn’t proven an ability to hit enough to make himself a premium offensive player. With elite 80 speed out a of a high school CF, maturity may finally have met raw skill.
Our Instinct - Davis has elite level speed and is going to cause fireworks on prospect charts once he settles into short season ball with his new team. He has matured as a hitter since the WWBA and with that he’s moving up the draft boards in some circles. He has a short up the middle approach and once he’s able to drive the gaps he could be a very dangerous leadoff hitter. He doesn’t project to hit for much power if any, but he has a solid frame at 6’1″ and 180. He’ll be an above average to plus CF defender despite only having an average arm.
Thanks for checking out our top 25 and make sure to check us out all weekend long as we release the rest of our list. Don’t forget to catch the draft starting on Monday on the MLB Network.
Stick with Baseball Instinct and we’ll keep you a step ahead of the game. Check back soon for more Prospect coverage. While you’re here, check out our Baseball Instinct 360° – it’s our top 360 prospects for 2012. Also check out a friend of ours for all of your fantasy sports needs. Fantasy Rundown is updated religiously and is truly an awesome resource. Thanks for checking Baseball Instinct. We’re working hard to bring you the best of the minor leagues and make the site the best experience it can be, so don’t hesitate to tell us what you would like to read about. Email us now at firstname.lastname@example.org.