This is it.
The clock is winding down and Draft day is now just a few days away. Teams are ensconced in their Draft rooms, trying to line up their boards and figure out who they're going to take.
In years past, the picture has been relatively clear by this time -- at least as clear as a Draft can be. This year does seem to be a bit different, with teams still unsure of what they're going to do or how the top of the Draft is going to unfold. That could lead to an extremely interesting final weekend, with teams scrambling to get final looks at some players, names moving up and down last minute as everyone jockeys for position.
All season, all Arizona State junior Mike Leake had done is perform, and at a high level. If it weren't for that Strasburg guy, there'd be plenty of talk of Leake being the top college pitcher, results-wise, in the Draft class. Among college starters, his 1.23 ERA is the best in the nation, even better than Strasburg's 1.32.
Strasburg easily led the country in strikeouts, but Leake was there in second place. He's held hitters to a .169 average (tops in the nation) and walked just 20. Fantasy players will enjoy noting his 0.73 WHIP.
The one thing that was holding him back, frankly, was his size. He falls into the "undersized right-hander" category that many scouts will tend to dismiss. All along, he fit into the first-round picture, but the combination of him continuing to dominate and other college arms faltering has him moving up. Even teams that wouldn't be as interested in a smaller righty are taking a closer look, meaning Leake could find his way into the top 10.
Lead balloon update
He hasn't completely fallen, but there's really only one team holding on to Donavan Tate's lead balloon. And it's not a performance-based drop, though there are those who do question his ability to hit in the long-term.
Here's the scenario. Tate, the toolsy high school outfielder out of Georgia who has a commitment to play football and baseball at the University of North Carolina, is still very much in the conversation with the San Diego Padres, who own the third pick in the Draft. If the Pads pass, however, Tate might have to wait quite some time before he has his name called.
Largely because of signability issues, Tate could tumble to the back end of the first round, where the usual bigger-market clubs are lurking, or even out of the round completely. In the most recent mock draft on MLB.com, he was not selected in the top 32 picks.
Wherever he goes, it still sounds like it's going to take a fairly large bonus to keep him from heading to Chapel Hill in the fall. Some have questioned all along how eager he is to play baseball, with him heading to college almost a certainty. That could be why, while his name is brought up from time to time, he's not being mentioned as often as the top high school position player -- signability issue or not -- would normally be talked about.
Something to prove
It would make some sense that last week's "lead balloon" player would slide into this category, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise to see North Carolina's Alex White here.
There's no question the Tar Heels right-hander has struggled lately, at the worst time possible for his draft stock. He couldn't make it out of the fifth inning in his regional start, giving up five runs on four hits and four walks, throwing an inefficient 104 pitches. He was even worse in the ACC tournament, giving up eight runs in two and a third.
There's been some word that he's been pitching with a hamstring problem which, if true, could explain the subpar postseason outings. But even with the recent struggles, his name is being mentioned with a couple of teams picking in the top 10. Normally by now, the decision-makers and national scouts are entrenched in war rooms. But don't be surprised to see a few of the bigger names make it to Chapel Hill on Saturday to see White make his Super Regional start against East Carolina.
On the shelf
Technically, he's not on the shelf because his season is finished and he did make his regional start, but Kyle Gibson's forearm has undoubtedly become a cause for concern in Draft rooms everywhere.
Over his past two starts, the results for the Missouri right-hander haven't been awful, by any means. He tossed eight shutout innings against Monmouth in his Regional start last Saturday, allowing six hits and striking out eight. In the Big 12 tournament, he went six scoreless, striking out seven. For those scoring at home, that's 13 shutout innings with 15 K's in two postseason starts. So what's the problem?
The one number not listed above is the reading on the radar gun. Not that that's the be-all, end-all, but when a guy who typically throws 91-93 mph is sitting in the 80s, people begin to wonder. In that Regional start against Monmouth, some reports had him down as low as 82-87 mph.
The reason has been downplayed, with Gibson plainly stating that he's been pitching with some forearm tightness for the past few starts. Nothing he couldn't handle, he said, by icing it and getting some extra rest between starts when possible. No big deal, right? Wrong. The second a pitcher mentions forearm tightness, warning bells and alarms go off in Draft rooms everywhere. It's possible it's nothing more than what he says it is, but forearm tightness is often a precursor to elbow trouble, which can lead to Tommy John surgery. Yes, it's a leap to make at this point from one to the other, but don't think it hasn't crossed the minds of scouting directors and GMs everywhere who had been considering Gibson as a top 10-type pick.
Where to be
Tempe, Ariz.: Super Regional
This final weekend before the Draft isn't always heavily scouted. More often than not, most evaluations are complete and the top guys in an organization don't necessarily head out for a Super Regional look, choosing to stay in the Draft room and try to line up the board.
This year could be different. With the picture still fairly unclear, you might see a few more people head out to Super Regionals or elsewhere (expect several to be in St. Paul on Saturday for Tanner Scheppers' last outing).
People will go out to specifically see one player at this juncture. For instance, don't be shocked to see an influx of scouts in Chapel Hill to watch that White outing. But if you want bang for your buck, the desert might be the place to be.
Arizona State hosts the Super Regional against Clemson and the big draw, of course, is Leake. With his name creeping up into the top 10, some teams might want to get one last look before deciding to make that plunge.
At the same time, Clemson's intriguing Draft-eligible freshman Chris Dwyer will try to repeat his Regional performance. In a win-or-go-home scenario on Sunday, Dwyer beat Oklahoma State by allowing just one run on six hits and a walk while striking out 13 over 8 2/3 innings. It was his most dominant start of the year. A strong start won't move him into the first round or anything drastic like that, but those who have liked his pure stuff in the past certainly might be interested in taking him earlier if he steps up under pressure again this weekend.
He'll have to do it while facing one of the steadier college hitters this season in Jason Kipnis. The ASU outfielder has hit .387 with 15 homers and 68 RBIs in 57 games, slugging .731 and posting a .500 OBP. His name has even cropped up in the second half of the first round, though a supplemental pick seems a little more likely at this point.