This will be the third straight year that the Astros will make the first selection and they've developed a reputation of keeping things close to the vest. That's made it difficult for everyone to get a handle on what's going to happen in the first round on June 5.
Heading into the spring, it seemed all but certain that North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon would be the No. 1 pick. But that's no longer a slam dunk. In this week's Pipeline Perspectives, Jim Callis and I are debating not who we believe will go 1-1, but rather who we would take if given the top choice.
Jim is going with a pitcher who has performed as well as anyone this spring in SoCal high school lefty Brady Aiken. Some might lobby for hard-throwing Texas high school right-hander Tyler Kolek. Maybe I don't like change, but I'm sticking with the horse we all thought we'd ride in: Rodon.
Yes, it's true that Rodon hasn't been the dominant force this spring that most expected, or at least hoped, to see. There were reports of his velocity being down, his stuff being not as sharp, his command being a bit off and perhaps his effort not being all there.
When evaluating candidates for the top pick, there's going to be some understandable hyper-criticism. The signing-bonus value for the No. 1 pick this year is just over $7.9 million, so a team is going to want to be sure when it makes its decision. But is it possible that Rodon's early "issues" will be much ado about nothing?
It's extremely possible. After a ridiculous freshman year, Rodon didn't break out of the gates all that well in 2013, either, but then turned it on as the season went on. The same appears to be happening now. In his most recent start, against Georgia Tech last Friday, Rodon struck out 15, including 10 of the first 11 batters he faced. The week prior, he beat Boston College by allowing just one run over eight innings. He struck out 12 over 7 2/3 innings in a loss on April 11.
That's a pretty good run. If he keeps that up -- and here's saying he will -- I beleive there's a very good chance that any talk of him not being the No. 1 pick will go the way of the dinosaur. Even with the struggling, Rodon has a 2.03 ERA, a .226 batting average against and a 10.57 strikeouts-per-nine ratio. He struck out 10.6 per nine back as a freshman and his ERA is lower than it was in 2013.
I'm well aware that evaluating Draft talent goes well beyond the numbers. How a player's stuff grades out and his makeup both figure largely into the equation. A team never wants to get a first-round pick wrong, but it's absolutely essential to get the top pick right.
The scouting industry has more than just this spring to go on from Rodon, though. He has about as expansive a resume as any amateur. Scouts told me he might have been the No. 1 pick in 2012 after his freshman year had he been eligible. He dominated that season and ended his sophomore year as once again arguably the best pitcher in college baseball. For two summers in a row, he's been virtually unhittable for USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team.
What more can you want? There's a reason Rodon is regarded as the best college lefty since David Price. Stuff-wise, he offers two plus pitches (and his changeup will be plenty good enough to give him three), all coming from a big, strong, workhorse-type body.
Yes, Rodon is advised by Scott Boras, which often makes people, and teams, pause. But whatever your opinion of Boras, the players he's advised who have been taken at the very top of the Draft have typically signed. Right-hander Mark Appel, the Astros' pick last year, actually signed for less than pick value as a college senior.
There has been some concern about his high pitch counts of late. But I'm not overly worried. It certainly isn't the first time a college pitcher has been used in such a fashion and it doesn't come close to abuse in my book. All it means is that he won't pitch a ton during this first summer.
Then he can hit the ground running in 2015 and I can't imagine it taking him too long to be ready to get big league hitters out. If the choice were mine, I'd fit Rodon for an Astros jersey.