MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Unlike past years, no clear-cut No. 1 Draft pick

Unlike past years, no clear-cut No. 1 Draft pick

Unlike past years, no clear-cut No. 1 Draft pick
It seems that the only thing certain about the top of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft is that there is no certainty.

There is no clear-cut choice for the No. 1 overall pick this year, no Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper. Some in the industry believe there isn't even necessarily a Gerrit Cole, last year's top selection by the Pirates. With no obvious direction to head in, the Astros, who hold the first pick, are looking at seven or eight potential candidates.

Some seem more viable than others. A survey of national cross-checkers and scouting directors made it clear who most consider to be the best talent. When asked who they would take if they were picking No. 1, it was almost unanimous: Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton. At the same time, though, the same scouts, with one exception, believed the Astros would not take Buxton. Nearly all thought Stanford right-hander Mark Appel will be this year's No. 1. College pitchers usually need less time to reach the Major Leagues and are considered less-risky selections.

The annual First-Year Player Draft will take place on June 4-6, beginning with the first round and compensation round A on Monday, June 4, at 7 p.m. ET. The first night of the event will be broadcast live on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com. Rounds 2-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on June 5-6.

MLB.com's coverage, sponsored by CenturyLink, includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list, Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player, and Draft Caster. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

There will be a lot of talk across all venues about what the Astros will do and how it cause things to filter down. As one scouting director put it, "We can't figure out No. 1. How are we supposed to figure out [our pick]?"

With that in mind, here's a closer look at the potential choices for the top pick, from strong candidates to dark horses.

STRONG CANDIDATES

Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
Rank in Top 100: 2
Some see him as this year's Cole, a college ace with outstanding stuff who hasn't always had the results you'd expect.
Why he should go No. 1: Three future above-average to plus pitches. Prototypical pitcher's body. Pitching for major college program as its ace. Looks and sometimes pitches as future top-of-the-rotation type. Should be relatively quick to the big leagues.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: Results have been inconsistent. Stuff has been inconsistent, with his velocity sometimes fluctuating from inning to inning. That's led some to small whispers about his toughness on the mound.

Byron Buxton, OF, Appling County HS, Ga.
Rank in Top 100: 1
A toolsy outfielder who's drawn comparisons to the likes of Justin Upton, he is the clear consensus pick as the most talented player in the class.
Why he should go No. 1: One scout called him a "six-tool player." Ability to do everything on a baseball diamond, with plus tools across the board. One scouting report labeled him a future MVP type.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: From a small town in Georgia, he hasn't been tested by top competition during his regular season. As a high schooler, it might take him longer to get to the Majors than some others on this list.

Kevin Gausman, RHP, Louisiana State
Rank in Top 100: 4
This Draft-eligible sophomore has progressed from being a pure thrower, when he was coming out of a Colorado high school two years ago, to being a much more complete starting pitcher.
Why he should go No. 1: Big, projectable right-hander with two potential plus pitches in his fastball and changeup. Mental toughness, goes right after hitters with the potential to be a front-line starter.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: His breaking ball isn't as good as his other two pitches, making it difficult to see him as a future No. 1 starter, which is what you want with the top pick. If breaking ball and overall command don't come, could be a future reliever as opposed to top-of-the-rotation starter.

Michael Wacha, RHP, Texas A&M
Rank in Top 100: 9
Why he should go No. 1: Big (6-foot-6) with four-pitch mix. Two are potential plus in fastball and changeup. Consistent performer who really knows how to pitch.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: Inconsistent breaking ball. Fastball has been plus in terms of velocity, but it's been flat this spring. Hasn't been as dominant this year as he was first two years of college.

Kyle Zimmer, RHP, San Francisco
Rank in Top 100: 6
Why he should go No. 1: A future front-end anchor, top-of-the-rotation type. A power pitcher with future plus fastball and breaking ball. Has a fresher arm because he was converted to pitching, so he hasn't thrown as much as others.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: He might have a fresher arm, but it's also less tested. Not having pitched as much gives him less of a track record to go on.

Mike Zunino, C, Florida
Rank in Top 100: 3
Why he should go No. 1: Has the chance to be a top-notch everyday catcher with power. One scout said he has tools comparable to Matt Wieters.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: He's not No. 1 on most teams' boards in terms of talent. It would be more of a draft out of need than taking best available player.

DARK HORSES

Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Rank: 5): With strong showings this spring and tools aplenty, he's been shooting up Draft boards. But it's tough to get full evaluations on players in Puerto Rico and if you're going to take a high school position player, why wouldn't you take Buxton?

Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake HS, Calif. (Rank: 7): Top prep arm, left-handed, projectable, with the chance to have three above-average to plus pitches. But only two high school pitchers have gone No. 1 (though both were lefties) and Fried hasn't thrown as well lately.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.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.