That's right, it's draft time again -- that wonderful time of the year when some overeager fans may be fooled into thinking that the guys being chosen by their favorite teams will have any serious impact whatsoever before, oh, 2016 or so. Although in very specific cases, they will (there's always a couple college relievers like Los Angeles's Paco Rodriguez who go off the board in the first couple rounds and then show up on their team's major league roster either early the next spring or, in Rodriguez's case, a short few months later). But that aside, we've profiled ten of the most interesting draft prospects -- five pitchers and five position players -- who could go in the first 20 picks. This is not a mock draft, nor is it a comprehensive bible. It's just a primer to some of the names that will be thrown around during the first round of what's quickly overtaking the All-Star Game as baseball's biggest midseason spectacle.
Carlos Rodon (LHP, North Carolina State)
Many fans who follow draft news even casually will be familiar with Rodon's name. The Milwaukee Brewers selected him in the 16th round in 2011, but he decided to go to school instead of signing. Then, about 10 months ago, he was the prohibitive favorite for first overall pick. Things have changed since then. While Rodon looked like a nearly-MLB ready pitcher at the end of last year's college season and threw 6.2 scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts against Team Cuba while pitching for the U.S. Collegiate National Team last July, he's looked like a different pitcher so far in 2014 amid concerns about a very heavy workload. Rodon may no longer go first overall (though given that the Houston Astros have that pick, they may take Rodon there if they feel his value has dropped to the point that he'll agree to a deal below slot), but he should still go off the board somewhere in the top ten, if not the top five. Even if he falls like Mark Appel did in 2012 (Appel was eventually selected first overall last year), he'll still make out better than he would have signing with the Brewers -- there's a good reason some of these kids to go to school.
Tyler Beede (RHP, Vanderbilt)
The Blue Jays drafted Beede 21st overall in 2011 knowing that Beede's asking price was a signing bonus of $3.5 million, then proceeded to lowball him at $2 million and then $2.5 million the night of the signing deadline. Beede chose Vanderbilt over the money; the Blue Jays' pick eventually turned into Marcus Stroman the following year. Beede is now projected to go somewhere between 10th and 20th overall depending on whose mock you're looking at, but recent inconsistent performance for Vanderbilt could drop him down past the 20th overall pick -- and if Beede falls past pick 21 (slot value of $2,008,100), he could end up regretting turning down the Jays' offer three years ago.
Tyler Kolek (RHP, Shepherd HS, Texas)
There are two very highly-touted pitching prospects coming out of high school sitting at or near the top of everyone's draft boards right now -- Kolek's the one whose draft value hinges on throwing over 100 miles per hour with the body of an athlete who could play college football on the defensive line. His go-to secondary pitch? A plus slider with great movement. Kolek is only the second prep righty in recent memory to come into the draft consistently throwing triple digits, and while 2001 9th overall pick Colt Griffin never made it past AA for the Kansas City Royals, he also never demonstrated the sort of fastball command that Kolek's shown. If Kolek is taken first overall -- and there's certainly a chance that could happen -- then he'll be the first right-handed high school pitcher in history taken there; the previous guys, Brien Taylor (1991) and David Clyde (1973), were lefties.
Brady Aiken (LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS, California)
Aiken is the other of those top two aforementioned high-school arms, featuring a slightly slower fastball that touches the mid-90s. He complements that, though, with an advanced approach and two plus secondary offerings (curveball and changeup), as well as a slider that flashes plus. Whereas Kolek's bread and butter is his overwhelming fastball, the most attractive thing about Aiken is his curveball -- though it'll be hard to say how that curveball plays against pro competition until Aiken gets there, because realistically, any moderately competent curve is going to make most high school kids look foolish at the plate. While Aiken has a more comforting body type, fluid delivery and mechanics than Kolek for most scouts, that's never really saved anyone from arm injury (or any kind of injury, to be honest). Aiken and Kolek still stand a good chance of going 1st and 2nd overall, with Rodon not far behind.
Aaron Nola (RHP, Louisiana State)
One of the reasons Tyler Beede's stock has fallen among the second tier of college pitchers after Rodon is Louisiana State's Aaron Nola, who impressed scouts during a showdown with Beede and Vanderbilt this spring and has spent much of the 2014 collegiate season building his already formidable resume. Whereas Rodon's pitches have lost some life and Beede's command continues to worry scouts, Nola's fastball has picked up some velocity this spring and he's routinely able to miss bats in the strike zone. Jim Callis of MLB.com thinks Nola will go in the top 10 and could be the first starter taken in the draft to see regular action in the major leagues.
Alex Jackson (C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS, California)
Jackson is the consensus top high school position player available in the draft, with a classic power hitter's package of tools and an arm not only good enough for everyday play in right field or behind the plate at catcher, but that would undoubtedly have Jackson on the mound as a starting pitching prospect, if he were a lefty. Power hitting and catching don't always go well together, though when they do (Joe Mauer before his injuries, for example), the results can be remarkable -- if an organization wants him to catch, however, it'll be a major project and could slow down some of the development of his bat. Depending on who drafts him and what their needs are, third base could be an interesting compromise for Jackson.
Nick Gordon (SS, Olympia HS, Florida)
Son of Tom and brother of Dee, Nick Gordon was going to get drafted almost regardless of his performance just based on bloodlines alone -- baseball's a lot like horse-racing in that regard. But thanks to a somewhat weak year for middle infield prospects and Gordon's all-around athletic talent (as a pitcher he throws in the mid-90s and has a decent curve), great defense up the middle and intangibles (scouts love his makeup and on-field instincts), he's nearly a stone-cold lock to go in the top 10, though probably not before Jackson.
Michael Conforto (OF, Oregon State)
Conforto is probably the best current hitter available in the draft, for what that's worth -- to the college junior out of Oregon State, it'll likely be worth a couple million dollars, as he appears poised to go somewhere in the top 20. But there are a lot of concerns on everything about Conforto except for his bat. Descriptions of his outfield defense range from "below-average" to the dreaded "fringy" -- scouts like to say good things about players whenever they can, and if you force them to resort to "fringy," that part of your game is in trouble. Still, his bat should be more than good enough to carry a mediocre left fielder or decent first baseman's profile.
Max Pentecost (C, Kennesaw State)
Here's an interesting player: a collegiate catcher that scouts grade as an above-average baserunner. There are not many of those running around the college ranks -- or anywhere, really -- and that's part of the reason the Rangers drafted Pentecost in the 7th round in 2011. He chose Kennesaw State instead, and the move has paid off: Instead of a five or six-figure signing bonus, Pentecost is in line for seven figures in the middle to end of the first round. He doesn't have the power that Jackson projects to have, but should hit for average and is still seen overall as an offensive-minded catcher. Best-scenario comps to Jason Kendall have popped up here or there, mainly due to doubts that Pentecost will ever hit more than 10-15 home runs per season in his prime.
Trea Turner (SS, North Carolina State)
A teammate of Carlos Rodon's both with NC State and with the U.S. Collegiate National Team -- and yet another collegiate player in line for a seven-figure payday after declining to sign as a late round pick in 2011 -- Turner is one of the few middle infielders outside Nick Gordon likely to go in the top 20. That's not to say there aren't concerns about his game: Turner's primary value is in speed and defense, and there were worries about the future of both following an ankle injury last season. While he appears to have recovered fine, lower body injuries are always going to be scary. Other red flags: His swing is long, he doesn't have much power (despite spending most of this season trying to hit everything over the fences), and while he'll bat ahead of the pitcher, he probably won't be hitting in front of anyone else on a major league roster. The good news is that, if the bat does come around, the defense and speed are already so good he'll be one of the best complete-package shortstops in the game.