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Top of Draft skews younger than usual

Top of Draft skews younger than usual

We've seen the next generation of prospects. And it skews young.

Draft Central
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The talent flowed from the top on Monday, when the Nationals stuck to plan and chose prodigy Bryce Harper at the top of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Harper, considered by many analysts as one of the best prep prospects in the past two decades, headed off a talent-laden first round that featured fellow youngsters Jameson Taillon and Manny Machado picked among the top three selections.

That represents the first time three players that young have been selected that high in two decades. Harper, just 17 years old, made his entry a full year ahead of schedule. Taillon and Machado are both high school seniors. The last time three prep-age players were chosen at the top of the Draft was 1990, when Chipper Jones, Tony Clark and Mike Lieberthal were the first three selections.

And if you exclude that case, there's only one other Draft in the past 35 years that fits the criteria. That would be 1987, when prep players Ken Griffey Jr., Mark Merchant and Willie Banks were all chosen in the top three picks. Players from four-year universities also had a heavy presence in the top 15 on Monday, but high school players began to reassert themselves after the midpoint of the round.

Harper, chosen out of the College of Southern Nevada, is believed to be the first junior college player selected first overall. His age, though, pales in comparison to his impressive skillset, which has garnered the attention of a player far beyond his age. When Harper's name was read on Monday, it was met with a lively ovation that caught Commissioner Bud Selig off guard.

"Thank you," said Selig, gathering himself after the raucous applause. "I didn't think it was that much of a surprise."

And it wasn't, not if you've been paying attention to the Draft circles over the past 12 months. Harper gained notoriety for leaving high school early and earning his GED to attend Southern Nevada, where he debuted as the youngest player in his conference. Harper led his team in virtually every offensive category en route to being named the Scenic West Athletic Conference Player of the Year.

That accolade will go right on top of 2009, when Harper was named Baseball America's High School Player of the Year as a sophomore. Harper, who will likely play in the outfield as a professional, gives Washington its second consecutive prime building block. The Nationals selected Stephen Strasburg first overall last season, and the right-hander will make his big league debut on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh was the team up after Washington, and the Pirates selected Taillon to help flesh out its stockpile of pitching prospects. Taillon, out of The Woodlands High School, is regarded by many analysts as the top prep pitcher from Texas since Josh Beckett was chosen second overall in 1999. Taillon, who stands 6-foot-6, is considered a power arm with a lot of projection left in his frame.

The Orioles were linked to Taillon in recent weeks, but they selected Machado as their consolation prize. Machado, a solidly built shortstop out of Brito Private High School in Hialeah, Fla., has drawn comparisons to former top pick Alex Rodriguez. Baltimore has concentrated heavily on pitching in recent seasons, and Machado will immediately become one of the team's top position player prospects.

The run of prep players ended at No. 4, where the Royals selected shortstop Christian Colon out of Cal State Fullerton. Colon, who was chosen by Colorado in the 10th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft but didn't sign, batted .352 with 16 home runs this season. Colon will join prospects Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon as the standard-bearers of Kansas City's next generation.

Cleveland went back to the college well with the fifth overall choice, taking southpaw pitcher Drew Pomeranz out of the University of Mississippi. Pomeranz went 9-1 with a 2.24 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .139 batting average this season. Pomeranz was named second-team All Southeastern Conference for the 2009 season and the SEC Pitcher of the Year in 2010.

Matt Harvey, a right-hander from the University of North Carolina who was once a top high school prospect but reclaimed his status with a big junior season, was taken by the Mets with the No. 7 pick.

Two potential second-generation players -- Delino DeShields and Cam Bedrosian -- were chosen with the eighth and 29th choices in the Draft. DeShields, a speedy infielder just like his father and namesake, was selected by the Astros despite a commitment to Louisiana State University. Bedrosian, son of former Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian, was taken by the Angels. He is smaller than his father but has a mid-90s fastball with a slider that could lead him to being a short reliever like his dad.

San Diego took prep pitcher Karsten Whitson with the ninth overall selection, and Oakland rounded out the top 10 by selecting outfielder Michael Choice out of University of Texas-Arlington. Choice, who wasn't drafted out of high school, batted .383 with a .568 on-base percentage during his junior season, and he further enhanced his credentials with 16 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 16 attempts.

Eight of the top 15 picks were pitchers, with outfielders (three) and shortstops (two) representing the next two tiers of talent. Eight of the top 15 picks also came from four-year universities, with six coming from high school and just Harper from the junior college ranks. Eleven of the next 17 picks came from the high-school ranks, and only two college pitchers were taken after pick No. 15.

By contrast, 15 first round picks came from the prep ranks last year, but only three went in the top 10. This year, four prep players were selected from the state of Georgia alone, with DeShields the highest pick among them. Georgia native Kyle Parker -- who doubled as Clemson's outfielder and quarterback last season -- was taken at No. 26 by the Colorado Rockies.

Cincinnati made an interesting choice at No. 12, dovetailing a few of its recent selections by taking backstop Yasmani Grandal out of the University of Miami. The Reds had chosen a first-rounder out of Miami -- first baseman Yonder Alonso -- just two seasons ago. Cincinnati also took prep catcher Devin Mesoraco 15th overall in 2007, and Grandal should be able to move through the system a little faster.

Two college pitchers who were expected to go higher -- Georgia Tech's Deck McGuire and Florida Gulf Coast's Chris Sale -- found homes in the top half of the Draft. McGuire went 11th overall to Toronto, while Sale fell to the White Sox at No. 13. Sale gained acclaim at a small school by going 11-0 with a 2.01 ERA and racking up more strikeouts (114) than baserunners allowed via hits (83) and walk (14).

The Angels had five of the top 40 selections due to some free-agent defections last winter, and they picked for the first time at No. 18. The Halos took two-way prep player Kaleb Cowart with its first pick, later selected Bedrosian and closed out their first round by taking prep outfielder Chevy Clarke.

Los Angeles selected two more prep players in the compensatory round, which saw 11 of the 18 players selected came from the prep ranks. Six of those high school players were pitchers, and three more played the infield. The Blue Jays took a pair of prep players of their own in the compensatory round -- pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard -- and also nabbed Asher Wojciechowski out of The Citadel.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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