Fans that follow the draft closely are likely to see some distinct differences between this year's edition and drafts of the past. With MLB's Collective Bargaining Agreement nearing expiration, changes to the draft are a hot topic of discussion, and those changes could include a more formalized and tougher slotting system; possibly all but eliminating the ability for teams to sign players to six and seven figure bonuses in the late rounds.
"Teams are going to spend this year," said an area scout for an NL club. "It's the last year under the current system. Expect some club records to be broken in terms of money spent."
With a veritable spending spree potentially on the horizon, it's time to start looking at the talent available in this year's draft and where all that money could be heading.
The SEC is always full of baseball talent and plenty of that talent finds its way through the campus of Vanderbilt, including past draft stars such as David Price and Pedro Alvarez. This year the Commodores offer several draft-worthy prospects, but two stand out above the rest.
Right-hander Sonny Gray has been nothing short of exceptional so far in 2011, posting a 1.79 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings of work. Over his nine starts for Vandy, Gray I 7-2 as the team currently stands at 32-5 on the year.
Despite his impressive job as a weekend starter for the Commodores, most area scouts I've spoken with view him as a reliever long term in pro ball. His aggressive approach on the mound combined with his low- to mid-90s fastball and frequent bouts with command issues may lead to a better profile in the bullpen.
One scout suggested recently that he may creep into the top five of the draft for a budget minded team, but nearly all scouts that have seen him this spring believe he should be more of a 15-20 guy based on his talent.
Gray's teammate Jason Esposito is also putting up an impressive line this spring, ripping the ball to the tune of a .329/.411/.507 line with ten doubles and five home runs in 37 games.
Though many scouts are split on him, one experienced area scout noted "I love him. He needs some refinement with the bat, but the defense is already there. He's a big league regular for me."
Another SEC talent that has been shooting up draft boards has been Kentucky right-hander Alex Meyer. After passing up a huge bonus as a 20th round pick in 2008, the 6-foot-9 Meyer has had a bumpy ride as a collegiate athlete, with control problems and non-baseball related health issues holding him back at times.
His talent has begun to show through in 2011 as he has posted a 3.59 ERA in nine starts, including two complete games. Over 62 2/3 innings, Meyer has fanned 71 hitters and yielded only 54 hits, though he has still walked 32.
"He's come a long way," said the NL scout. "He's not all the way there yet though. I'm really high on him. His floor might be Daniel Bard, and I still think he could be more than that as a starter."
The SEC isn't the only baseball hot bed, as the ACC consistently churns out its fair share of prospects as well. This year, as is frequently the case, Clemson boasts several of those prospects.
Tigers shortstop Brad Miller might be one of the few college shortstops with a chance to stick there as a professional. He shows a plus arm with the ability to throw from any angle and his throws have zip even without having his feet set under him.
In a recent series against Boston College, Miller made just about every throw required of a shortstop. He is a live-bodied athlete with good actions in the field. His defense can be a bit erratic at times, but he flashes the ability to be a plus glove.
At the plate, Miller has a very upright stance with high hands and a late load in his swing. He has strength in his body and he can generate bat speed, but he doesn't get the bat to the hitting zone consistently, and that leaves many scouts questioning his ultimate offensive ceiling.
One scout in attendance last weekend felt that his athleticism should allow him to hit, but the team that drafts him "may want to consider dropping his hands and quieting everything down a bit."
Clemson had a few other players on the diamond that drew some attention, including third baseman and leadoff hitter John Hinson and center fielder Will Lamb. Both players showed good athleticism and some feel for the game, but likely aren't high round guys come June.
On the high school front, one player with an SEC (Georgia) commitment for college is Nicky Delmonico. An infielder in the process of converting to catcher, Delmonico has a lot for scouts to dream on.
"He's the best position player in the area for me," said one scout. "He has a sweet swing with pop at times. He's a good athlete. He's a flat out hitter. He's got potential for plus hit and power, average arm, above-average defense, and he has a pro body."
Delmonico is a potential first round pick for a team that believes in his conversion to catcher, and a sandwich or second round guy for a team that sees him as an infielder.
In next week's Draft Blog, we'll take a look at some kids from the Northwest and the unique situation surrounding on Ohio State commit from overseas.