We’re entering uncharted waters this year in the 2012 MLB Rule 4 Draft. Major League Baseball has collectively bargained a new draft structure that few have any idea what to expect from team and player/advisor behavior. For the first time, teams will be allotted a budget by the commissioner’s office for their picks in the top ten rounds of the draft. Should a team spend above that budget, they will be penalized a stiff tax on the overage, and possibly face a loss of draft picks in future drafts (To get the specifics, see this article from Baseball America). Needless to say, expect the Rockies to remain well within their budget of $6,628,300 for their twelve picks within the first ten rounds.
This presents two scenarios worth watching as we get closer to Monday night’s opening round. First, will the Rockies be able to afford any big name players that should fall out of the top tier of players (roughly seven deep, thumbnailed below)? Second, will the Rockies cut a pre-draft deal with a "lesser" prospect at a more friendly below slot number to save money for later picks? We’ll address the second issue later, but to the first, I highly doubt the Rockies will gamble on any of the big seven, should they fall, without knowing ahead of time if any would be willing to take slot money at pick ten ($2,700,000). Ultimately, we may never know the answer to this, as the top seven players are on such a distinct tier, I don’t expect any to slip through the first nine picks of the draft. Here are those top seven players:
Top Players Not Expected to Reach Colorado’s Tenth Overall Pick (Ranked by My Preference):
Carlos Correa, SS, HS:
My top player of the draft, and I’m a bit perplexed as to why he isn’t everyone’s number one player. Correa has both present size and a frame to dream on, as well as an infield arm that has been clocked as high as 97 mph. He has good athleticism and movement skills for shortstop right now, and even if he outgrows the position, he’d be a plus defender at third. Beautiful right handed swing with power and average potential.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco:
His recent injury woes have led to rumors of him slipping, but the talent pool of college starting pitcher prospects is extremely shallow, and Zimmer is one of the very few with ace potential. Electric fastball and slider combo with a simple delivery expected from an infield convert.
Byron Buxton, OF, HS:
Prospect fans have been spoiled over the last few drafts with can't-miss sure-things at the top of the draft, but Buxton brings the draft back to a Tim Beckham-type athleticism gamble for the consensus top prospect. Tools are evident, but Buxton has not faced top competition and requires more dreaming than you'd like for a first overall pick.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Louisiana State:
Colorado fans may remember the name of this local HS product from the 2010 draft, as the Rockies flirted with selecting him in the first round. Gausman still has a projectable frame as a draft eligible sophomore, but already features plus present velocity. Little to fuss with here, though he could stand to tighten his breaking ball.
Albert Almora, OF, HS:
It's taken longer than I'd expect for a player with these skills to climb the draft rankings, but he now seems like a top six lock. Almora isn't the athlete that some of the other HS outfielders to be taken in the first round are, but he has the best present skills. Considered a heady defender in center with the bat to produce average and power, he may be the safest HS pick in the draft with All Star upside.
Mike Zunino, C, Florida:
Zunino has become a victim of overexposure. When you've been on the big stage for this long, people will eventually pick faults at your game. Let's not forget that catcher is an extremely difficult position to fill, and he has the tools to be one of the most complete catchers in the majors. Won't be the best offensive or defensive catcher, but the total package will make him a multi-appearance All Star candidate.
Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford:
Rivaling Buxton for top overall pick honors it seems, I'm just not a huge fan, partly for his fault and partly his environment. Appel features starters stuff but doesn't miss bats, his delivery is a little too clean, and Stanford arms have a horrible reputation for succumbing to heavy college workloads. That said, barring health issues, he is practically a slam dunk number three starter, with the ability to be much more.
One theory is that the new rules will embolden teams to take the top players available, given the budget constraints of teams below them and the rigidity of the rules governing overspending. Players/Advisors seemingly hold less leverage now than in years past, with even the biggest spenders being less inclined to forfeit future picks for talent that isn't considered to be can't-miss. Still, frugal organizations may still opt for below slot deals to insure that they stay within budget parameters and allow for flexibility in later rounds.
Stay tuned, and we'll be back tomorrow with my favorites for the Rockies in the 2012 MLB draft as well as players the Rockies should avoid.