Draft rich in intrigue and talent
and his million-dollar gamble. Cole grew up a New York Yankees fan. They chose him with the 28th overall pick in the 2008 draft in hopes of convincing him not to attend UCLA. They failed. While a firm offer never materialized, the Yankees were willing to pay upwards of $4 million to sign Cole.
He’s going to get more this year as the player with the draft’s best stuff. Cole is Strasburg Lite, which is to say he’s an excellent version of the highest-touted prospect in the draft’s history. Like Strasburg, Cole regularly hits 100 mph on scouts’ radar guns. Like Strasburg, he’s got a ruthless breaking ball. Unlike Strasburg, the stats don’t match the scouting reports.
Four UCLA pitchers have started eight or more games this season. Cole’s 3.28 ERA ranks last among them. While his walk rate is down significantly, so is his strikeout rate – 108 in 107 innings, a good number, yes, but for someone who throws 101 mph not so much.
Early in the season, Cole had, at very least, drawn even with …
as the top candidate to go No. 1 overall, though his struggles this season have damaged the perception that he’s a no-doubt star. The skills remain, particularly a .523 on-base percentage . A shoulder injury sapped his power, however, and limited him to DH duties nearly all season. Rendon dropped from 26 home runs last year to six this year. Even more, the injury threw into question his ultimate position.
A third baseman during his first two years at Rice, Rendon played second base last week. Whether it was to compensate for his shoulder issues – the extent of which remain unclear – or simply showcase versatility, it nevertheless interested one scouting director, who opined: “Is he trying to tell us something is wrong?”
He doesn’t have to say it. Scouts smell it, like when …
started throwing in the high 80s this spring. The TCU left-hander joined Rendon and Cole in the first-pick discussion before the college season after going 16-0 last year, and he just as quickly dropped – and dropped and dropped and dropped – almost certainly out of the first round.
Like Rendon, Purke is suffering from an uncertain shoulder ailment. The difference: shoulder injuries devastate pitchers’ careers, and any questions about a pitcher’s health raises flags red and white – stay away from the kid, who ought to surrender any idea of a big bonus coming his way.
Already Purke has seen one come and go. The Texas Rangers drafted him 14th overall two years ago and offered him $6 million. He agreed. MLB vetoed the bonus, saying it was too much. The Rangers lowered the deal to $4 million. Purke rejected it, a move that looked smart before this year.
Purke does have options, even if clubs are balking at his 1.51 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings. A draft-eligible sophomore, he can pitch in a summer league to build his value before the mid-August signing date. Or he can just return to TCU and hope the new collective-bargaining agreement doesn’t include mandatory slots that would drive down bonuses.
Wherever he goes, it’s not going to be where he thought, leaving a left-handed-starting vacuum that …
was happy to fill. Hultzen, in fact, was a lot like Purke his sophomore season. His stock dropped alongside his velocity, and while his numbers at Virginia remained strong, his hype disappeared.
The mph returned to his fastball this spring, and Pittsburgh is now considering Hultzen with the top pick. His stats certainly play the part: 10-3, 1.59 ERA, 136 strikeouts and 16 walks in 96 1/3 innings. His handedness (left), his intelligence (high), his polish (like a freshly shined shoe) and his path to the major leagues (short) only increase the attractiveness.
Hultzen is not as much low-ceilinged as he is a finished product, and he comes with leather seats and the Bose stereo. He doesn’t include the V8 engine that …
brings to every start. Bauer draws the greatest differences of opinion in the draft. At least one team doesn’t have him on its board, fearful of the injury risk. Another has him No. 1. The rest are trying to figure out whether he’s really Tim Lincecum 2.0 or Dr. Thunder to Lincecum’s Dr. Pepper.
Bauer looks the part. He stands a lithe 6-foot-1. He patterns his delivery after Lincecum’s, and it’s a mighty good imitation, long stride, limbs flying all over the place, everything. His fastball tickles mid-90s regularly, his curveball is slow and angry, and he’s also got a slider and changeup he throws for strikes.
He’s one of the three starters at UCLA whose numbers dwarf Cole’s. Actually, they’re better than anyone else’s in the country. In 127 2/3 innings, Bauer has struck out 189 and allowed 107 baserunners. Opponents are hitting a silly .152 off him. His ERA is 1.27.
Bauer is Mr. Upside, a title regularly reserved for the best high school pitcher in each draft and one that mistakenly gets assigned to …
and his high-level repertoire. Bundy, out of Owasso, Okla., is the best high school pitcher in the draft, and not just because he has hit 100 mph this spring. He also resembles older players in stuff, body and work ethic.
Trained by his diligent father, Denver, since he expressed an interest in working out at 13, Dylan grew into a 6-foot-1, 200-pound machine who looks more running back than pitcher. He comes with a ready-made cut fastball – a pitch almost always learned on the cusp of the major leagues or once in them – and an arm that through years of long toss, his advisers believe, is conditioned to handle heavy workloads.
Bundy has been described as a college pitcher in a high schooler’s body, while his friend …
is a high school pitcher in a college quarterback’s body. Yes, Bradley is one of the annual two-sport stars who must choose between millions of baseball dollars and the hundreds of thousands college football teams offer.
(Kidding. But not really.)
Bradley committed to Oklahoma, where Bob Stoops recruited him as perhaps Landry Jones’ successor. For an Oklahoma kid, there is no better job, and it’s why Bradley’s name comes with a $20 million price tag. Absurd? Sure, especially considering Strasburg received $15.1 million. An indication that they expect well over the recommended slot? No doubt.
Even if Bradley gets one-third of what Strasburg did, it’s going to be nothing compared to what …
can ask. Starling – the third of the Great Plains’ Great Trio, out of suburban Kansas City – is a Nebraska commitment as a dual-threat quarterback. He’s also a 6-foot-5, 200-pound center fielder who Brian McRae, a coach of Starling’s this summer, called “the best high school player I’ve ever seen.”
Just how high Starling goes depends on a team’s willingness to play chicken. One plus: Clubs can spread out dual-sport athletes’ bonuses over five years. Another: Once players enter the realm of multiple millions of dollars – Starling would demand upwards of $7 million, a record for a high school player – it’s almost impossible to turn down, especially if the NFL institutes a rookie salary cap and neuters the salaries of young players.