Pitching is both the riskiest and most prized commodity in the Major Leagues. It's difficult to make the playoffs or advance deep in the postseason without quality arms, yet pitchers seem to be headed to the disabled list and the operating room more than ever before.
Pitching is both the riskiest and most prized commodity in the First-Year Player Draft as well. Compared to their college counterparts, high school arms are even more perilous because they're younger and offer less certainty when it comes to staying healthy once they begin working every fifth day in pro ball. Yet they also can have tantalizingly high ceilings, as Jose Fernandez, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright can attest.
With the need for arms as acute as ever in the big leagues and the high schoolers available in 2014, teams may be more willing than usual to opt for prep pitchers. Of the three players who have separated themselves from the rest of the field with less than three weeks remaining before the Draft, two are high school arms.
Cathedral Catholic High's (San Diego) Brady Aiken, currently MLBPipeline.com's top-rated Draft prospect, could become just the third prep left-hander drafted No. 1, following David Clyde (1973) and Brien Taylor ('91). Shepherd (Texas) High's Tyler Kolek, our No. 3-rated Draft prospect, could make history as the first high school righty ever taken first overall. While North Carolina State lefty Carlos Rodon still might go ahead of them both, at this point it would be an upset if either Aiken or Kolek got past the top three selections.
Aiken has the makings of three above-average pitches and is one of the more polished pitchers in this Draft class, high school or college. Kolek throws harder more consistently than any prep pitcher ever, reaching triple digits on radar guns game after game.
Longtime scouts can't remember ever seeing two high school pitchers in one Draft class who could rival them. Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley created a stir when they came out of Oklahoma in 2011, but the consensus is that Aiken and Kolek are better.
"I've seen two college pitchers but not two high school pitchers like this in the same year," a club executive said. "With Josh Beckett, there wasn't another high school guy that year. You've got a lefty with velocity and all of the other stuff, present body and command and secondary pitches, and the other guy averages 100 mph it seems. Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley were maybe the closest a couple of years ago, but these guys are special."
The good news for pitching-needy teams is that the pool of talented high school arms runs deep. After Aiken and Kolek get picked at or near the top of the Draft, three prep right-handers -- Conway (S.C.) High's Grant Holmes, Coral Springs (Fla.) Christian Academy's Touki Toussaint, Sandalwood High's (Jacksonville, Fla.) Sean Reid-Foley -- could sneak into the first 10 choices and should go in the middle of the first round.
Holmes and Toussaint have two of the more dynamic fastball/curveball combinations available in this Draft. Reid-Foley throws four solid or better pitches for strikes. Holmes and Reid-Foley also have been two of the most consistently outstanding high school performers this spring.
"In the middle of the first round, there will be a ton of these high school pitchers, and even more in the second or third round," a scouting director said. "There's a ton of them.
"One of the things I have to navigate through is I don't think my team will tell me I can't take a high school pitcher in the first round, though I think they prefer it's college. I'm not sure they're going to want me taking a high school pitcher again in the second round if I do in the first, even if that's the best guy on our board. It will be interesting."
That dilemma may present itself to several clubs, because the high school pitching crop is so bountiful. Beyond Aiken, Kolek, Holmes, Toussaint and Reid-Foley, several others could find their way into the first round.
White County High (Cleveland, Ga.) right-hander Spencer Adams, Sanger (Calif.) High righty Luis Ortiz and Waiakea High (Hilo, Hawaii) lefty Kodi Medeiros all are good bets to get taken among the top 34 selections. Others generating some decent first-round buzz include southpaws Justus Sheffield (Tullahoma, Tenn., High), Foster Griffin (The First Academy, Orlando, Fla.) and Carson Sands (North Florida Christian High, Tallahasee, Fla.); and righties Michael Kopech (Mount Pleasant, Texas, High), Cameron Varga (Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Cincinnati) and Joe Gatto (St. Augustine Prep, Richland, N.J.).
"There will be a heavy run on pitching, both college and high school," the executive said. "It is deep. If an organization is able and willing to handle high school guys, there's usually a lot of pitching talent. I know people are getting skittish with all these pitchers going down for every reason in the big leagues, but that's all the more reason to take these high school guys. Right now, starting pitching is the gold standard. It's the separator."
The 2014 Draft will take place on June 5-7, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 5, at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on June 6.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.