With the Rule 4 Draft scheduled for next week, we are coming down the home stretch and narrowing focus to a final five targets for the Orioles' first round pick (4th overall). Our last pref list was ten names long -- today we shorten to five, with one player set as a "back-up" pick, and four dropping out of consideration completely:
Final Pref List:
1. Kevin Gausman, rhp, Louisiana St. Univ.
2. Albert Almora, of, Mater Acad. (Hialeah Gardens, Fla.)
3. Carlos Correa, ss/3b, Puerto Rico Baseball Acad. (Gurabo, P.R.)
4. Mark Appel, rhp, Stanford Univ.
5. Byron Buxton, of, Appling County HS (Baxley, Ga.)
Kyle Zimmer, rhp, Univ. of San Francisco
No longer considering:
Gavin Cecchini, ss, Barbe HS (Lake Charles, La.)
Deven Marrero, ss, Arizona St. Univ.
Lucas Giolito, rhp, Harvard-Westlake HS (Studio City, Calif.)
Mike Zunino, c, Univ. of Florida
Gausman vs. Appel:
Gausman and Appel were the two most impressive starters on the Team USA squad last summer, my top two college arms coming into the season, and finish as the top two arms in the draft class. Both have electric stuff, both have areas to improve upon and, most importantly, both have shown some growth over the past 12 months.
Appel has seen an improvement in SO/9 between his sophomore and junior seasons in Palo Alto (a sizable jump from 7.16 to 9.44), with the ability to miss bats being the biggest question mark for the two-year Friday night ace. While the quality of his stuff has been inconsistent throughout the spring, Appel has finished strong, flashing two plus secondaries (power slurve and change-up) and a mid-90's fastball through most of May. Additionally, Appel has held his velocity late into games and late into the season. He has front-end stuff, with his ultimate ceiling to be determined by the ability of a developmental program to tease a little more precision and consistency out of him.
Gausman was the best pure arm on Team USA behind Marcus Strohman (Duke Univ.), breaking the triple-digit barrier multiple times on the radar gun and showing flashes of a quality curve and slider. This spring he has focused a little more on the fastball/slider/change-up combo, reserving the curve for particular occasions requiring a change of the hitter's eye-level. A high-ceilinged arm with mechanical inconsistencies when he arrived in Baton Rouge, Gausman has been shaped by Coach Mainieri and staff into perhaps the best Friday night starter in the country. In my last look-in this spring, Gausman showed two future plus pitches with his slider and change-up, and a future plus-plus fastball that hit 97 mph in his last inning of work. As one AL cross-checker stated upon Gausman's exit from the game, "You win championships with arms like that."
Like Appel, Gausman profiles as a front-end arm, but there is a little more athleticism in the LSU righty and a little more room for growth. Gausman tends to produce a greater number of groundballs than does Appel, in no small part because of a tougher pitch plane and greater ability to create angles with his pitches. These two are highly talented arms, but both the scouting and the advanced statistical breakdowns favor Gausman as the slightly better investment. Gausman finishes the year as the top arm in the draft and the top prospect on our preference list.
The prep position players:
Earlier this month I broke down Almora and Buxton in detail, with Almora's combination of ceiling and probability beating out Buxton's sky-high potential. The third prep position player we would have in the mix for Baltimore is Puerto Rican infielder Carlos Correa (who ranked third overall on our most recent pref list, behind Gausman and Almora).
Correa entered the year as an easy top 15 talent for me, with much of his value built off of strong showings in October and January in the tournament and showcase format, respectively. Already a sturdy 6-foot-3, 185-pounds, Correa has a broad frame that projects to another 20-pounds or so (perhaps a bit more). Couple the body with what is currently average range and quickness in his lower-half and you get a high likelihood that Correa will find his way over to the hot corner during his journey through the minors. His hands and arm, however, should make him an easy plus defender at third and it is absolutely possible that the arm strength and fluid actions allow him to stick at short in spite of what is likely to be fringy range. His defensive profile could resemble that of Troy Tulowitzki when all is said in done, though he lacks the first step quickness that allows Tulo to play an above-average short at the Major League level.
Offensively, Correa has a nice blend of projected power and hit tool, which is wholly a product of his first rate bat speed and hand-eye coordination. He has knack for loud contact and has showcased the potential for plus in-game power down the road (he already flashes that raw pop during batting practice). Assuming the move from shortstop, the best case scenario is a top-tier defensive third baseman with a chance to post triple-slashes of .315/.380/.550 -- easily one of the highest-ceilings in the entire draft class.
While Correa comes with a little more certainty than Buxton, he isn't as tested as is Almora and the difference in defensive value between third base and center field is not insignificant. Ultimately, the decision as to how to comparatively rank Almora, Buxton and Correa comes down to how you value probability versus ceiling. For me, Almora's blend of projection and probability gives him a slight edge over the other two highly talented prepsters and lands him second on the Camden Depot pref list. The Orioles would be fortunate to introduce any of the three to their system. It's a nice situation this year wherein little separates the top five talents in the draft, as Baltimore is guaranteed a choice between at least two of them.
A not-quite-ace in the hole:
Though the numbers indicate that Baltimore will have a guaranteed shot at one of the top five talents in the draft, it's important to have a fallback in case of the unexpected. San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer is a small step behind the two college arms listed above and can serve as that back-up if cost enters the picture.
This could come about under two scenarios. The first is a case where the two remaining top 5 talents indicate signing bonus demands well ahead of Baltimore's valuation. While the O's are allotted $4.2 million to spend on this pick, the profiles of the available players would generally come in to the $2.75 to 3.25 million range, which would leave some extra money for Baltimore to spread out across the rest of their picks. If advisors push this tactic -- treating the allotments as new "recommendations" for bonus amount -- it could make sense to revert to a fallback.
Likewise, even if the top 5 talents float reasonable signing bonus requests, it could make sense to sign a the fallback option provided the drop in value on the pref list is less than value of the money saved. That is, if the aggregate of your first and second round selections is better with a slightly lower value pick in the first and a much higher value pick in the second (say $2.5 spent in the first and second as compared to $3.5 spent in the first and $1.5 spent in the second), it's a scenario worth exploring.
The only name that fits the bill this year would by Zimmer. He has similar upside to Appel and Gausman, but lacks their refinement. He has also seen fluctuations in his velocity and the quality of his stuff from game-to-game and at times from inning to inning. He is highly athletic and has a skill set that profiles well for a good developmental group. The same, he hasn't been tested over the course of a long season and it is unclear where his stuff will ultimately sit once he's throwing every five days over the course of a six month season.
See for yourself:
For today's draft video, here's a look at our remaining pref list, one video a piece. Later this week we will link to my full detailed reports, which will be publishing at DiamondScapeScouting.com (and will include multiple videos for most of these players):