The 2014 MLB first year player draft is less than three weeks away. For the third straight year, the Houston Astros have the first overall pick. Who will Jeff Luhnow and company choose with that selection?
Going into the 2014 season, North Carolina State University left-hander Carlos Rodon was the heavy favorite to have his name called first on June 5th. And, although Rodon has done nothing that would make his stock drop, a few other candidates have emerged. In a draft class that is rich in pitching prospects, high schoolers Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek are considered (along with Rodon) to be the cream of the crop.
Aiken is a 6-foot 4-inch, 205 pound lefty from Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego. His stock has risen recently to the point that Keith Law has tabbed him as the Astros choice in his latest mock draft. Aiken could have a higher ceiling than Rodon, but the risk factor could also be greater. The last time a high school LHP was selected first overall was when the Yankees picked Brien Taylor in 1991. Taylor never made it to the big leagues.
Aiken is consistently throwing his fastball in the mid-nineties and has excellent command of his arsenal that includes a curveball and changeup. Aiken has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 80/7 in 43 & 2/3 innings this season and is considered to be one of the most polished high school starters in a generation.
While Aiken has not faced hitters as skilled as the ones Rodon routinely dominates, the 17-year old also has a lot less mileage on his arm. Rodon has been piling up some high pitch counts in college. But Aiken, unlike some other high schoolers, has chosen not to pitch in elite leagues during the offseason. Aiken has a verbal commitment to attend UCLA, but a $7 million offer from the Astros could persuade the youngster to change his mind.
The Astros have also been keeping close tabs on Tyler Kolek. The 6-foot 5-inch, 250 pound Texan (Shepherd H.S.) has a fastball that sits in the upper nineties and has hit triple digits on occasion. In addition, both his slider and curveball have the potential to be plus pitches. Kolek struck out 100 batters in 46 & 1/3 innings this year while posting a 0.45 ERA. The big right-hander has a verbal agreement to pitch for Texas Christian University.
With position players being at more of a premium this year, the Astros could decide to go for a bat with the first pick and still pick up a big arm with their second selection.
At the top of the list of potential impact hitters, we find another San Diego area prep star. Rancho Bernardo High School C/OF Alex Jackson has been tabbed by scouts as perhaps the best power hitting prospect in the draft. Jackson is likely to make it as a rightfielder, given his strong arm and his offensive ability. If the Astros decide to go with Jackson, who has committed to Oregon, more money could be available for the later rounds.
The top college hitters in this year’s class are SS Trea Turner (N.C. State) and OF Brad Zimmer (San Francisco). Turner is a speedster who has shown the ability to hit for a high average with a little pop. Carlos Rodon’s teammate is also an outstanding defender at shortstop.
Zimmer is viewed by many as the best combination of power and speed in this year’s draft class. The toolsy left-handed hitter is the brother of Kyle Zimmer, the Royals first round pick in 2012.
While a case can be made for each of these players as the top pick, I suspect the Astros are still leaning towards Rodon. But we aren’t going to to know for sure until the commissioner steps up to the podium on June 5th and calls someone’s name.