If the college pitchers in next month's First-Year Player Draft had its own slogan, it might be something like, "Appel and Gray and what else can you say?"
Stanford's Mark Appel and Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray not only are the cream of the college pitching crop, they are the top two players on MLB.com's Draft Top 100 prospects list. Many expect them to go with the top two picks, in one order or the other, to the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs.
"You've got the two big ones, then there's a big separation," one scouting director said. "To me, Appel is better than Gray, but there's a big separation after those two. People knew Appel would be good, but I don't think anyone thought Gray would be as good as he's been."
Heading into the spring, college pitching seemed to be a big strength in the class, and while any one of the five hurlers highlighted below could still reasonably be taken in the top 10 picks, there have been more question marks surrounding the pitchers after Appel and Gray. Indiana State lefty Sean Manaea, for instance, looked like a serious candidate to join that dynamic duo in the No. 1 pick conversation, but a hip issue has led to some less-than-stellar performances.
"I think the guy who's throwing the monkey wrench into this, that everyone wanted to do well, is Manaea," the scouting director said. "He's had the dinged up hip and he hasn't done that well. You go in to see a 6-foot-6 lefty with good stuff, you expect to have a happy ending."
Many of the same expectations were put on big right-handers like Ryne Stanek of Arkansas and Florida's Jonathon Crawford. Stanek has been a bit up and down, but there's a general feeling that he will go near the top of the first round thanks to his track record, particularly over the summers with Team USA.
But all of it has allowed a guy like Nevada's Braden Shipley to rise up Draft boards. Shipley most recently threw seven shutout innings against Fresno State and potential first-rounder Aaron Judge. Shipley's stuff and his relative consistency this season, compared to some of the other potential high picks, has certainly helped his stock.
"I think it's because he has such big stuff," the scouting director said. "He doesn't pitch as well as the first two guys, but the stuff is similar. They're more advanced with their secondary stuff and fastball command, but he has the same type of arsenal. He pitches in a tough part of the country, too, those are launching pads out there. He elevated himself and the other guys stubbed their toes.
grading the top college pitchers
"Stanek might be selected before Shipley. He has a little better body of work there. He may be the third college pitcher selected. I still expect him to be in the top 10."
There's still time for many of these college pitchers to make a last impression. Conference tournaments are coming up, a great opportunity to see these arms in a pressure situation. Some will even provide a final pre-Draft look in a Regional start. In life, first impressions might be the key, but with college pitching, the last impression could help immeasurably. Case in point: Crawford, who threw well in his most recent start for the University of Georgia. If he follows up on that with a strong showing in tournament play, he has a chance to move up.
"I think there will be a lot of people at the SEC tournament to see him," the scouting director said. "He and a guy like [Louisiana State right-hander] Ryan Eades."
To find out how the Draft plays out, tune in to all of the coverage, starting on Thursday, June 6. It all begins at 7 p.m. ET, with the top 73 picks being broadcast live on MLB Network and streamed on MLB.com. Rounds 2-40 will be also streamed live on MLB.com on June 7-8. MLB.com's coverage will include the Top 100 Draft Prospects list; Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player, and the Draft itself. You also can keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. Get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.