When the spring began the top two talents in the class of 2011 were Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon and UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole. A month out that is still the case. But as Keith Law wrote in February, the top pick is not nearly the slam dunk it's been the past two seasons.
Based on discussions with a handful of senior talent evaluators, there are a couple of other names in the conversation, including Virginia southpaw Danny Hultzen, UCLA's Trevor Bauer and Bubba Starling, the top prep bat in the draft out of Gardner-Edgerton High School in Kansas. One assistant GM even suggested that Owasso HS (Okla.) right-hander Dylan Bundy was the best talent in the entire class and should be the No. 1 pick.
When I polled the group of eight personnel executives and upper-level scouts about who the No. 1 pick would be if the draft were today, here were the results:
Cole, 3 votes; Rendon, 2; Bundy, 1; Starling, 1; Hultzen, 1
Here are results of a similar poll, but as the same evaluators would select if they had the No. 1 pick. It's worth noting that none of the eight selected with 100 percent confidence:
Cole, 2; Rendon, 2; Bauer, 1; Hultzen, 1; Starling, 1; Bundy, 1
Bauer's name was tossed in the hat by a club not selecting in the top 5.
Chances are, Cole and Rendon are still likely to end up going 1-2 to Pittsburgh and Seattle, respectively, but there's still enough time for that to change. Bauer, Hultzen and Bundy are outperforming the rest of the field and Starling may have more upside than any player.
"I imagine it's not out of the question," one special assistant said this week of the Pirates taking someone other than the top two talents. "They may have another player graded higher, and if I were them I'd look for the upside first and foremost."
The Pirates are a club that could use some high impact pitching, and getting an arm that could help as early as 2012 or 2013 might be too desirable to pass up considering the state of the organization. With three young bats -- Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez -- in place, Pittsburgh needs pitching and the sooner they add it to the system and get it to the big leagues, the better chance they have of climbing out of the cellar in the National League Central in the coming years.
Seattle, however, is a whole different story, but it just might work out in their favor, too. The Mariners boast the reigning Cy Young Award winner in 25-year-old Felix Hernandez, top rookie Michael Pineda and a slew of live arms in climbing their way through the minors. What they sorely lack, and have for years, is impact offensive talent. Enter Rendon, who happens to play a position at which the Mariners have no internal answer, and despite a bit of an off year is believed to be the safest choice among college hitters.
If the Pirates were to choose Rendon, Cole likely fits nicely into the plans for the Mariners, who could build a formidable rotation for years to come in the American League West.
•Vanderbilt and right-hander Sonny Gray will face Kentucky flamethrower Alex Meyer Friday in Lexington. Both pitchers are considered locks for the first round -- Gray firmly in the top 10 and Meyer with a chance to land in the same range with a strong month of May. Commodores third baseman Jason Esposito will have his hands full against the right-handed Meyer, whose out pitch is a wicked slider, perhaps the best in the draft when it's at its best.
• Cole will toe the rubber in Eugene against the Oregon Ducks and lefty Tyler Anderson, another matchup of top pitching prospects. Cole is trying to shake off a three-start slump while Anderson is looking to show his best stuff and stay among the top 30 or so picks in order to maintain first-round status.
• Bundy and Broken Arrow HS (Okla.) right-hander Archie Bradley have both begun their postseason quests with Bradley fanning 16 -- including 12 of the final 14 batters he faced. Bundy, who tossed a 3-hitter with 14 strikeouts in his last start and fanned five of the last seven in relief Wednesday, is scheduled to start Owasso's next round.