The Major League Baseball Draft is about a month away, and the Twins pick fourth overall following the Astros, Cubs and Rockies. We can speculate on whether they'll go pitcher or simply best player available, but we can do that in the comments section rather than have me ramble on about it here. For the time being, I thought it'd be worth taking a crash course on the names at the top of the draft boards so that come Draft Day, there's a point of reference.
I get a little too excited about the draft every season, and I know not everyone shares that enthusiasm, but it's a lot easier to get interested when only three teams pick ahead of you. Names to know and get excited about...
- Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford -- Appel's name is the most familiar, as he was expected to go first or second overall in 2012 but fell to the Pirates at No. 8. A lot of people speculated that being advised by Scott Boras and asking too much money steered teams away -- and I'm sure that's true for some teams -- but following the draft a few GMs stated that Appel just wasn't the top pitcher on their board; both Kevin Gausman and Kyle Zimmer were the preferred options to some clubs. Based on reports from the folks at Baseball America, Keith Law at ESPN and Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com, it's less likely for that to be the case this time around. Appel's maintained his velocity but improved his secondary offerings. One knock on him last season was that he didn't dominate opposing lineups like he should given his size and velocity, but he's remedied that situation. Appel's K/9 is up significantly from last season, and as one of the consensus Top 2 talents in the draft, it'll be interesting to see if signability causes him to drop again. I doubt it will, but if he's there at No. 4 (which strikes me as highly unlikely), I would be elated.
- Jonathan Gray, RHP, Oklahoma -- Gray was my original hope for the Twins back when I started researching the draft prospects closely a couple months ago, but his stock has soared to the point where Law wrote recently that Gray now challenges Appel for the title of best talent in the draft. He's a big, big guy (6'4", 245 pounds) with a fastball that sits in the high 90s and touches 100 mph with a wipeout slider. Mayo feels that he can throw a "solid" changeup as well, and flashes an occasional curveball to complete his four-pitch mix. Gray was drafted by the Yankees out of high school but honored his commitment to Oklahoma.
- Kohl Stewart, RHP, H.S. (Tex.) -- Stewart is the best high school arm in the country and also one of the best quarterbacks in the country, with a commitment to Texas A&M to backup Johnny Football in place. Law compares him to a young Josh Beckett (the good version, not present-day), and BA's Jim Callis noted in a chat last week that he thinks Stewart is the No. 3 arm in the draft. Mayo and Law have the 6'3", 190-pounder as their No. 4 pitcher. Reports have Stewart's fastball up to 95 to go along with a slider/changeup package of secondary offerings. Mayo notes that he's a Type-1 Diabetic, so he does have a health issue. That didn't stop Brandon Morrow from going fifth overall in 2006.
- Sean Manaea, LHP, Indiana State -- Manaea and Stewart have settled in as the consensus No. 3 and 4 pitchers (not players) in the draft. Manaea's fastball has hit 96 mph in the past but is more in the 90-94 range this Spring, writes Law. It still misses plenty of bats, but from most reports Manaea doesn't have the polish of the top arms in the draft. Still, he's a 6'5", 215-pound lefty who can reach the mid-90s with a solid-to-plus slider/slurve.
- Ryne Stanek, RHP, Arkansas -- Reports have Stanek as a mid-90s velocity guy with a sharp slider but no true third pitch. That, of course, leads to the speculation that he ends up in a bullpen role, but he's being ranked right around the Top 10 nonetheless. Mayo notes there's a bit too much effort in his delivery and that he lacks pristine command. Law writes that he's been used poorly, being asked to throw his slider more often and having his pitching days switched throughout the season. He's 6'4", 180 pounds and sits 92-94 mph with a fastball that can touch 97.
- Braden Shipley, RHP, Nevada -- Shipley can also hit 97 with his fastball, and reports state that his out-pitch is a changeup. He uses a curveball for his third offering that Law writes looks flat at times, but Mayo feels it can become an average pitch. Like Stanek, Shipley ranks toward the back-end of the Top 10 on most boards at this time.
The Top 4 names on this list seem to be the consensus best arms in this year's draft class, so if the Twins are going to go with pitching it's likely to be one of them. I'll do another brief write-up of the top position players available in the draft class as well, and that list will be headlined by Kris Bryant, Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier.