Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2012 MLB Draft starting to come into focus

There are less than two months left until the MLB Draft and this means clubs are starting to get a picture of who the top prospects are going to be when it comes to selection time. Many of the top baseball writing sites have started to put together their initial lists of who are the best players available in the June draft. Baseball America thinks there are five major players for the top pick. Keith Law of ESPN has a similar ranking with high school outfielder Byron Buxton named as the top player on his mid-season list.
The Twins will be selecting second in the draft and this puts a lot of pressure on the club to pick up a player that can be an impact arm or bat for years to come. This leaves the team in an interesting predicament when it comes to the second player to come off of the board. Should the team pick the best available player? Or since there are no clear-cut favorites for the top spots, should the team pick the best available player at a position of need for the organization?

As I documented during this offseason, the Twins have a variety of options at their disposal with the second pick. Currently in the Twins farm system, there is a surplus of high quality outfielders and this could allow the team to focus on some other needs in the draft. During last year's first round, the Twins selected middle infielder Levi Michael with the 30th pick of the draft. The team also moved one of their top prospects, Eddie Rosario, from the outfield to second base. Does this mean the team is set in the middle infield? Both of these players are multiple years away from appearing at Target Field so it is hard to say they will be the cornerstones of the infield for foreseeable future.

At the same time, pitching is a vital part of the game and finding top of the rotation starters can be hard to do. Free agent starting pitching is extremely costly so the best way to save money is to find arms in the draft. The Twins could be losing four out of the five members in their starting rotation at the end of the year. Former first round picks Alex Wimmers and Kyle Gibson might be ready to join the rotation at some point next year but both of those players are far from guaranteed to make it the big leagues in 2013. By adding a college arm like Kyle Zimmer or Mark Appel that could move through the system quickly, the organization might be benefited the most in the short term.

 With all of that being said, what happens if the Astros don't take Byron Buxton with the first pick in the draft? The young outfielder is being compared to players like the BJ Upton and Justin Upton who were top prospects coming out of high school. In the past the Twins have seemed to have a tendency to select highly athletic outfielders with some of their early round picks. Denard Span, Ben Revere, Joe Benson, and Aaron Hicks were all high school players with enough athletic ability that the club felt good about selecting them in the first or second round. Buxton would certainly fit into this athletic outfielder mold and the Twins could jump at the chance to pick him if he falls to their spot in the draft.

If the draft were to play out as shown in the graph above, the Twins would be selecting the top college position player in the draft, Mike Zunino. The stud catcher from the University of Flordia was recently named as Baseball America's Midseason Most Outstanding Player for the collegiate level. He is the best player on the best team in the country and he continues to get better as the season goes on. As a junior he has hit .346/.408/.684 with 10 home runs and 15 RBI. At the same time he is an outstanding catcher behind the plate who can control the base paths and be in command of the pitching staff. The Twins have already seen Mauer move away from some of his catching duties this season and it would make sense to pick the player to replace him in this year's draft.

There is still a little less than half of the season for players to separate themselves for the MLB Draft. The picture for the top players available has started to come into focus with Buxton and Zunino being near the top of the list. There will be plenty of options for the Twins when it comes to the selection in the second spot of the draft. But with no clear-cut favorites for the top spots in the draft, there are going to be some people who are unhappy with the team's selection. The Twins could take an athletic high school outfielder, the top college bat, or an experienced college pitcher. Now there are only a few weeks until June 4th for these players to stand out above the crowd.

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