Eight of the 10 Major League playoff spots have been locked up, and another important clinching took place this week as well. On Sunday, the Astros dropped a 9-2 decision to the Indians and wrapped up the No. 1 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft for the third year in a row.
No team ever has had the top choice in three straight Drafts, though it wouldn't have been possible until the last few years anyway. From the start of the Draft in 1965 through 2006, the two leagues alternated picks. Since then, the Rays (2007-08), Nationals (2009-10) and Astros (2012-13) all have had consecutive No. 1 overall selections.
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Even if the current rules had existed from the start, no club in the Draft era would have had the top pick three years in a row. The last team to finish with the worst record in baseball for three years running was the Mets, who accomplished that dubious distinction in the first four years of their existence (1962-65).
It seems clear that North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon is the consensus top prospect for the 2014 Draft. If he were in the Astros' system today, where would he rank?
-- Eduardo M., Houston
Rodon is the clear favorite to go No. 1 overall next June. He claimed that status during his 2012 freshman season with North Carolina State. He solidified it last spring, when he led NCAA Division I with 184 strikeouts in 132 1/3 innings and carried the Wolfpack to its first College World Series berth since 1968, and strengthened his case during a banner summer with Team USA.
If Rodon already were an Astro, he'd face some stiff competition in what I consider baseball's best farm system (more on that in a second). Nevertheless, he'd fit somewhere between the last two No. 1 overall picks at the top of our Houston list, behind shortstop Carlos Correa and ahead of right-hander Mark Appel.
I'm not saying that Correa will become the next Alex Rodriguez, but he's equipped with the tools to do so. I'd take Rodon over Appel because he has the advantage of being left-handed, and his stuff is a little more electric. Though Appel has a bit more polish and a higher floor, I'll take Rodon's higher ceiling.
Can the Pirates make a legitimate claim as having the best farm system in baseball?
-- Scott W., Charlotte, N.C.
Jonathan Mayo and I will debate who has the most loaded farm system in an upcoming Pipeline Perspective. For now, my short answer is that the Pirates can make a case for having one of the top systems, but they don't have the very best.
When I evaluate systems, the most important thing I look for is future star power. Depth matters, too, as does a balance between hitting and pitching and upper-level and lower-level talent. I'd rank the top five in this order: Astros, Red Sox, Pirates, Cubs, Twins.
If you were given control over an expansion team and you could fill your organization out with only players from the 2009, 2010 or 2011 Draft, which would you choose?
-- Nick V., Washington, D.C.
I thought this was going to be an easy answer, because the 2011 Draft featured a once-in-a-decade crop of talent, the best since the 2005 Draft. Then I put together what the projected starting lineups and rotations would look like for each of those three years (counting only players who signed):
2009: Tony Sanchez, C; Paul Goldschmidt, 1B; Jason Kipnis, 2B; Nolan Arenado, 3B; Nick Franklin, SS (yes, I know he has barely played there in Seattle); Dustin Ackley, LF; Mike Trout, CF; Wil Myers, RF; Stephen Strasburg, Shelby Miller, Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor, Kyle Gibson in the rotation.
2010: Yasmani Grandal, C; Kyle Parker, 1B; Jedd Gyorko, 2B; Manny Machado, 3B; Andrelton Simmons, SS; Nick Castellanos, LF; Christian Yelich, CF; Bryce Harper, RF; Chris Sale, Matt Harvey, Taijuan Walker, Jameson Taillon, Noah Syndergaard in the rotation.
2011: Austin Hedges, C; Dan Vogelbach, 1B; Anthony Rendon, 2B; Javier Baez, 3B (he'll probably move there); Francisco Lindor, SS; George Springer, LF; Jackie Bradley, CF; Bubba Starling, RF; Jose Fernandez, Gerrit Cole, Archie Bradley, Dylan Bundy, Sonny Gray in the rotation.
Looking at those three groups, I'd give a slight edge to 2010 over 2011. The 2010 has a better balance of hitting and pitching than 2009 and 2011 do, and 2010 clearly has the best lineup of the three.
What are your thoughts on Nationals third-rounder Drew Ward? What's his floor and ceiling?
-- Tyler T., Edmond, Okla.
Ward entered the 2013 Draft after his third year of high school, and scouts had a tough time evaluating him for two reasons. They didn't bear down on him the previous summer because they didn't think he'd be eligible until 2014, and his level of competition at the Oklahoma Class B high school level was poor. Some scouts thought his left-handed power warranted a second-round selection, while others thought he beat up on inferior pitching with strength more than bat speed.
Though Ward was the last pick in the third round (105th overall), he received the third-highest bonus ($850,000) in his round. He had a solid pro debut, batting .292/.402/.387 with one homer in 49 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Because he's just 18 and so far from the Majors, there's a huge gap between his ceiling and floor. If you like Ward, you see a guy with well above-average left-handed power, some feel for hitting, plenty of arm strength and a chance to stay at third base. That's a potential All-Star.
If you're a skeptic, you question how well the power will play and how much he'll hit, and you peg him as someone who'll have to be a first baseman or DH. The floor, really, is that he never makes it to the big leagues.
How does the 2014 MLB Draft look in its early stages in comparison to the 2013 MLB Draft?
-- Sadiq R., Elmhurst, N.Y.
As I mentioned above, the 2011 Draft was a special crop that genuinely had scouts excited. The next two years paled in comparison, as almost any talent pool would, but the 2012 and 2013 Drafts would have been considered mediocre even if they hadn't had a difficult act to follow.
The 2014 Draft is a solid group that impresses scouts more than the 2012 and 2013 talent pools. College pitching is always a prized commodity, and there's plenty behind Rodon, starting with right-handers Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina) and Tyler Beede (Vanderbilt). There's more velocity this year in the high school ranks, with righty Tyler Kolek (Shepherd, Texas, HS) leading the way with a consistent upper-90s fastball.
The pitchers stand out more than the position players, though there are plenty of intriguing bats. Catcher/outfielder Alex Jackson (Rancho Bernardo HS, San Diego) and shortstop Jacob Gatewood (Clovis, Calif., HS) offer plenty of power, while Trea Turner (North Carolina State) has uncommon speed and is a rare collegian who should be able to play shortstop in the Majors.
How do ties get broken to determine 10 worst records for protected-Draft-pick status?
-- Shawn G., Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Teams' current-year records determine the next year's Draft order. In the case of ties, the previous season's records are used.
With three games left to play, the Astros (51-108), Marlins (59-100) and White Sox (62-97) have clinched the first three picks, in that order, in the 2014 Draft. Even if Chicago and Miami finish the season tied with 62 victories, the Marlins would get the No. 2 overall choice by virtue of their inferior 2012 record (69-93 vs. 85-77).
The Cubs (66-93) and Twins (66-93) will select fourth and fifth, with Chicago holding the tiebreaker edge. The first 10 Draft picks are exempt from free-agent compensation, and which clubs will wind up with the other five protected spots is very much in the air.
The Mariners (70-89), Rockies (72-87), Blue Jays (72-87), Brewers (72-87), Phillies (72-87), Mets (73-86), Giants (74-85) and Padres (75-84) all could wind up on either side of the protected line. If it comes down to tiebreakers, the pecking order among those clubs is this: Rockies, Blue Jays, Mets, Mariners, Padres, Phillies, Brewers, Giants.