The First-Year Player Draft is still six weeks away, yet it's beginning to dominate my thoughts as it always does this time of year. We're on the verge of expanding the MLBPipeline.com Draft Prospects list from 50 to 100, and we'll have several additional Draft-related features when we do.
The Draft is the primary focus of today's Pipeline Inbox as well, though we do manage to sneak in a question about a talented young Mariner. Let's get to the mailbag.
Whom do you see going to the Astros with the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft?
-- Michael V., Beaumont, Texas
I've been covering the Draft for more than two decades, and the Astros may be the most secretive team I've encountered in terms of tipping their hand with the top choice. They had the No. 1 selection in 2012 and 2013, and even the team picking second didn't find out who Houston was taking until Commissioner Bud Selig announced his name.
So my answer to this question is more educated guesswork than any premium scoop. I could see four players as potential No. 1 overall choices for the Astros: California high school left-hander Brady Aiken, East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman, North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon and Texas prep righty Tyler Kolek. That's not necessarily the order in which we'll rank them when we unveil the updated Draft Top 100 list, but that's the order in which I imagine Houston would prioritize them if the Draft were today.
Though he's a high schooler, Aiken has been more consistent than the college arms and combines stuff and polish better than Kolek. If the Astros pick the best available player and don't consider demographics or try to save money for later picks, Aiken would be their man.
What are your thoughts on the Mariners' callup of Nick Franklin? Do you think he'll stay up?
-- Keith F., Brambleton, Va.
Franklin may have been sadder than Yankees fans were when Robinson Cano signed his $240 million contract with the Mariners. Seattle is committed to Brad Miller at shortstop -- a position that's a stretch for Franklin anyway -- and now second base is locked up for the next decade.
The 27th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Franklin had a respectable .225/.303/.382 rookie season in 2013 and hit 12 homers in 106 games. He has more pop than most middle infielders, and his batting average and OBP figure to improve as he gets more experience. He's just 23 and will remain under team control through 2020.
The Mariners continue to struggle to score runs, so they've tried to inject Franklin into their lineup by giving him starts at second base, shortstop, right field and DH, and also by using him at third base. He tripled in his first at-bat off Yu Darvish but has gone 1-for-15 since.
Franklin has nothing left to prove in Triple-A, a notion he reinforced by batting .395/.469/.744 in 11 games there to start the season. Yet Seattle sent him back to Tacoma Wednesday night anyway. If he can't crack the Mariners lineup, he'd be an attractive piece of trade bait.
Are there any college or high school bats the Cubs might consider with the fourth overall pick in the Draft?
-- Jeff B., Madison, Wis.
If the Cubs drafted purely on need, they'd take a pitcher at No. 4. Their system may have more high-ceiling position players than any other, starting with shortstop Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. Chicago did place two arms on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list in C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson, but it will need more help on the mound.
However, teams almost never draft purely on need at the top of the Draft. The Cubs certainly didn't in 2013 when they used the second overall choice on Bryant rather than flame-throwing right-hander Jon Gray.
In all likelihood, Chicago will take a pitcher with the fourth selection because that's the strength of this year's Draft. It's possible that seven of the first eight picks will be pitchers. The only hitter I could see the Cubs considering would be California high school catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson, but I bet they wind up with Aiken, Hoffman, Kolek or Rodon instead.
Where do you think Florida high school right-hander Touki Toussaint will go in the Draft? I haven't heard his name in a while.
-- Patrick H., Tuscaloosa, Ala.
There hasn't been a lot of buzz about Toussaint this spring, mainly because Aiken and Kolek have hogged the spotlight among high school arms. Toussaint, who ranked No. 9 on MLBPipeline.com's initial Draft Top 50 list, still figures to be the third or fourth prep pitcher drafted. He'll probably go in the 11-20 range, behind Aiken, Kolek and maybe South Carolina righty Grant Holmes.
Toussaint has one of the more electric arms and best fastball/curveball combos in the 2014 Draft. He's still figuring out how to repeat his delivery so he can have better control and command of his pitches. If he does so, he'll be a frontline starter.