In years past, there's been little to no question over not only the top talent in the class but who would go at No. 1. In 2009, Stephen Strasburg was the no-brainer, and Bryce Harper was the slam dunk a year later. Both are now on the Nationals' 25-man roster. Last year was a bit more muddled, with many -- but not all -- feeling that Gerrit Cole was probably the best talent in the Draft. He ended up going first as well.
Whether the perceived top talent in 2012 ends up going No. 1 overall is a conversation for another day. In some ways, this year isn't like last, with most feeling that there isn't nearly the amount of impact elite talent compared with 2011. But the lack of clarity when figuring out who goes where on a list such as this is much more like last year's Draft than the ones previous, at least at the top.
"I think the talent level at the very top is probably down from where it's been when [Mike] Rizzo was able to hit on Justin Upton, Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper," said one scouting director, referring to the Nats' general manager's selections both as GM and when he had the No. 1 pick as the D-backs' scouting director in 2005. "I don't see that kind of impact. I think there are some good picks down through the mid-40s, when you're going to be happy with what you're getting. After that, it's going to be fairly average."
There is some consensus among the many scouts and scouting directors polled that the top talent in this year's class hails from a Georgia high school. Toolsy outfielder Byron Buxton, a speedy center fielder, has continued to impress this spring after a breakout summer.
There are four other high schoolers in the top 10. Carlos Correa and Albert Almora are the next position players. Correa is a shortstop from Puerto Rico who comes in at No. 5, and Almora is another outfielder with tools, a Miami-area product who ranks 10th. The other two are teammates from Southern California, lefty Max Fried (No. 7) and the injured Lucas Giolito (No. 8).
Also in the top 10 are four college pitchers, led by Stanford right-hander Mark Appel at No. 2. Many feel that he will be the first pick, by the Astros. LSU's Kevin Gausman (No. 4), San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer (No. 7) and Texas A&M's Michael Wacha (No. 9) round out that quartet. Florida catcher Mike Zunino is the lone college bat in the top group, coming in at No. 3.
Overall, the list is fairly evenly split, with 51 of the 100 coming from the college crowd, 47 high school players and two from junior college. There are 51 pitchers, not including a couple of prospects who pitch and play the field, with where they would play at the next level unclear.
"Overall, the class, I would agree it's not as top-heavy -- if you're picking in the top 10 or 15 -- as it might have been last year," a second scouting director said. "But there are a lot of talented college pitchers and high school position players."
The numbers in the top 100 bear that out. Of the 51 pitchers, 31 are college arms (not counting one junior college pitcher). And of the remaining hitters -- again keeping two-way players out of the mix -- 26 come from the prep ranks.
Last year's Draft class had tremendous depth in the high school pitching department. This year started with a number of quality prep arms as well, but a rash of injuries has left that list riddled with question marks. There are still 20 high school pitchers in the Top 100, but starting with the top right-hander, Giolito, health has been a big issue.
Giolito had the chance to perhaps be the first high school right-hander to go No. 1 overall, then a sprained UCL sidelined him for the season. Zach Eflin had as much helium as any player, but tendinitis in his triceps shelved him for a while. Matthew Smoral (No. 27) was likely to move up the boards, but a stress fracture in April cut short his season as well. That's not an arm issue, but the lack of time to evaluate him certainly won't help.
"The one thing that's unique this year that I don't remember [happening in the past] is the high number of high-profile injuries, players that are out for the season," the second scouting director said, also mentioning the broken wrist of college outfielder Victor Roache. "The high school pitching market took a hit with some of those higher-profile pitching injuries. It's a long list of talented players who are out relatively early. In some cases, teams didn't get a chance to see them."