2011 MLB Draft is just hours away (it’s at 4pm PST) and we still don’t know who the Mariners are going to pick. We have narrowed it down to three possibilities: Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor, and Bubba Starling. Each of these players are significantly different and they will all be the #1 prospect in the M’s system the moment they sign.
The Case for Francisco Lindor:
Francisco Lindor is the top shortstop in a draft that doesn’t have very many shortstops (or middle infielders in general). He’s known for his defensive prowess, but he’s got a very good bat too. Scouts have raved about his switch hitting ability (a tad better from the right side) and his plus contact skills. The knock on Lindor has always been his power; however he won the 2010 Aflac All-American Home Run Derby held at Petco Park. Considering he was the youngest contestant, a short stop, and that the contest was held at one of the toughest park for home runs in all MLB, one might say this was just a good day, then I heard about what he did at Safeco on his visit.
Francisco Lindor visited the Mariners on Thursday and worked out in front of Scouting Director Tom McNamara, General Manager Jack Zduriencik and various scouts. Needless to say, he did not disappoint. McNamara is a big believer on wanting a player that loves/lives/breathes/dreams baseball, and Lindor is definitely that kind of kid. He apparently blew everyone away in the interview process, but I’d say that’s secondary to what he did on the diamond. Apparently while he was taking some swings he hit several home runs and hit the scoreboard in left-center field. Now that only gets hit a couple times a month by major leaguers, Lindor is only 17. I think teams are under rating his power.
Lindor will play short stop in the majors, there is no question about that. He’s a small notch below Andrus in terms of defense and has a much higher ceiling for offense. He has good reactions, quick feet and very good arm strength. He doesn’t have any quarks in turning double plays.
Lindor is a player worth the #2 pick and worth getting excited about. He has average to above average tools across the board with a good potential batting average and I believe good power. That with a plus-plus glove and I think he’s more major league ready than we think. People are projecting him to be ready around 2014, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were sooner than that. The comparable I hear most is Jose Reyes, but I think Jimmy Rollins with better D is better. No one thought Rollins would hit for power then he busted out a 30/30 year. Lindor doesn’t have Reyes’ quickness or base stealing ability.
The Case for Bubba Starling
Bubba Starling is 6’5 and a freak athlete. There’s an article called: “The Legend of Bubba Starling” in an Omaha paper that will give some background on Bubba’s freakish athleticism. He’s a legitimate three-sport prospect in football, basketball and baseball; this will inevitably make him a tough sign. He has a college commitment to Nebraska to be the quarterback of the football team and play for the baseball team. Jason Churchill wrote that “Starling profiles as a power-hitting centerfielder who has drawn some comparisons to defending American League MVP Josh Hamilton for his athleticism, advanced approach and raw power.“
Starling’s athleticism makes him the definition of a 5-tool player. His arm strength is incredible as he’s been clocked as throwing as fast as 97 on the radar gun (which is why some teams love him as a pitcher). He’s very fast as I’ve heard he’s between a 65-70 on the 20-80 scouting speed scale. However where he’s truly special is with his bat. Scouts say his pitch recognition is very advanced, and that he’s truly a 75 power 70 contact type hitter.
Starling is the definition of a high-risk high-reward prospect. We forget that he’s only 18 years old and it’s very hard to project what he will do if he focuses all of his attention towards baseball. We can fantasize about all this untapped potential, but who knows if he’ll ever actually get there.
The Case for Anthony Rendon
Rendon was the favorite for #1 coming into this season with some experts going as far as to say they would have taken him #1 last year. Then injuries struck. Rendon has broken his ankle twice the last two years (both apparently flukish injuries) and now he has shoulder problems. Teams have now seen his medicals and Keith Law reported (paraphrasing here) “that there was no apparent structural damage” whereas others are reporting that teams are scared from them. The only way to know for sure is to see where he drops.
I wrote about Rendon’s achievements last year here. All of that is still true, however teams are concerned about Rendon’s lack of power this year as he only hit: 327/520/523 with 6 HR and 20 doubles in 214 at bats. Now those are great numbers, but no one has ever doubted his OBP ability. Rendon will be able to hit at the major league level, but it’s a question of whether he’s a solid 3b or if he can regain his power and become Evan Longoria with better D. If you’re optimistic about his shoulder then you think he’ll hit 20-25 homeruns at Safeco with gold glove quality defense and walk a ton while hitting for a good average. If you think the shoulder problems are real then reduce all of those numbers by a 20% and move him to second base where there will be less strain on his shoulder.
I’m hearing differing things so that’s usually when you don’t say anything. What I think I know: Tom McNamara has Francisco Lindor #1 on his board. Jack Zduriencik has Bubba Starling #1 on his board. They both have Rendon #2 on their board. I don’t know who will get the pick but whatever happens I think Jack Zduriencik and Tom McNamara have earned our trust in the draft. Here are Zduriencik’s first round picks of the past ten years: Prince Fielder, Richie Weeks, Mark Rogers, Ryan Braun, Matt Laporta, Jeremy Jeffries, Brett Lawrie, Dustin Ackley & Nick Franklin, Taijuan Walker (sandwich pick).
There’s a great reason to be excited about any of these players and I don’t think any of them are “reaches”. If it were up to me I’d want Starling-Rendon-Lindor, but any of the 3 and I’m going to be super excited.