There are always several variables scouts have to deal with when evaluating a Draft class and deciding who to pick. As the 2015 First-Year Player Draft rapidly approaches (June 8-10), and MLB.com launches its Top 100 Draft Prospects list, it has become painfully obvious, pardon the pun, what the biggest wrench in Draft plans has been: injuries.
"All the injuries have things muddled up," an American League scouting director said. "Guys at the top don't have a sense of what it looks like. If you pick at the bottom, you have to start considering those guys you thought you wouldn't have to consider."
"I think it could go either way with those guys. There will be so many discussions in this Draft on how to use the picks and pool money. Some will look at those injured guys as an opportunity."
Breaking down the Top 100 is similar to reading an ER log. Two pitchers have already undergone Tommy John surgery: Duke's Michael Matuella and last year's No. 1 overall pick, Brady Aiken, who had initially planned to pitch for IMG in Florida before going under the knife. Kolby Allard, thought at one point to be the top high school arm in the class, has missed nearly all of his senior season in California with a stress reaction in his back. Virginia lefty Nathan Kirby, once considered the top college southpaw in the class, was shut down with a strained lat and will miss the remainder of the season. Even Santa Barbara's Dillon Tate, the player who has increased his stock more than any other with his performance this spring, scared some in the industry when he missed a start because of a trap muscle strain, though he appeared to return strongly to action Friday.
"There are guys hurt, there are a lot of nicked-up players, especially on the college front," a National League scouting director said. "There are a lot of teams who will go from the USA teams, from the Cape [Cod League], from past performances. The college guys are still going to go.
"What's going to happen to Matuella, Aiken, Allard and Kirby? If you're a believer in them, in this landscape, someone is going to take them early."
That landscape, even without injuries, does appear to be a bit muddled, mostly because of a lack of separation at the top. Florida high school shortstop Brendan Rodgers remains at the top of Draft boards and is as close to a front-runner to go No. 1 overall to the Arizona Diamondbacks as there is going to be in this year's class. Tate has pitched his way into the conversation, now standing at No. 2 on the Top 100, and scouts will be watching his health carefully in the ensuing weeks. Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson leads a relatively deep class of middle infielders, and could be considered for the top spot should the D-backs decide they want a more advanced player, one who can definitely stay up the middle and perhaps be a top-of-the-order catalyst down the road.
The fact that there is no slam-dunk top pick filters down. Typically as the calendar turns to May, a firmer top 10 or so has taken shape. That hasn't happened this year. The result has been more of a scramble, with more players being in the mix for more teams than people can remember compared to past Drafts.
"We're seeing teams in the top eight to 10-15 still seeing those players that normally we would say, 'This guy is going to be 15-30.'" the NL scouting director said. "I don't think they have that comfort in the top 10 or so picks. They're still in there trying to figure these guys out. You see a lot of up-and-down performances. Normally guys separate themselves out. I don't know if guys have done that. No matter what boxes you want to check off in your organization, I just think this group, more than normal, are just filling in less boxes than you're normally getting."
While that might be discomforting to some, there are others who see opportunity. There might be consensus that there hasn't been top-of-the-Draft separation, but there is a sense that if there isn't quality in terms of elite-level talent, there is quantity a bit further down.
"I think it's outstanding," a second NL scouting director said. "I think there's tons of depth. If you pick mid-first round through the fifth round, it's exceptional. It's not great to be picking at the top of the Draft. I think it's an exceptional year for talent, but the talent at the top is not what people that are selecting that high in the Draft would want for franchise-type players."
That scouting director felt there are power arms to be had throughout, and the Top 100 bears that out. A total of 54 of the 100 are pitchers, with 42 throwing from the right side. There are 23 outfielders on the list, and the relative depth in the middle infield is shown with 13 shortstops and three at second base on the list, even if many more end up moving to the right side of the infield.
"The running joke in the industry was that every team could get an everyday second baseman if you wanted," the first NL scouting director quipped.
It's no surprise that California leads the way in representation on the Top 100, with 18 prospects. Florida is right behind them, again no shocker, with 17 and Texas comes in with a dozen. Georgia continues to be a hotbed for Draft talent with nine on the Top 100. What makes that group so interesting is that all are high schoolers.
"I think our numbers show that the Southeast has probably the most players," the first NL scouting director said. "There's nothing abnormal there, in terms of top of the Draft/better ability guys."
"That's why everybody is gathering at the Marriott Gateway in Atlanta," the second NL director joked.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.