Having ranked his top 100 MLB draft prospects last week, Keith Law published his first mock draft at ESPN.com. He's nothing if not consistent, because he has the White Sox landing his No. 3 prospect, Tyler Kolek, with the No. 3 pick:
Analysis: The White Sox want one of the big three arms, so even though early favorite Jeff Hoffman is on the shelf after Tommy John surgery, they'll still get someone they really like. The bet here is that they'd do better financially with Kolek than with Carlos Rodon, but I wouldn't rule out the latter. Everything I'm projecting here is about probabilities, or possibilities, not certainties.
That said, there's one position player who might be able to break up the pitcher troika -- San Diego area prep catching prospect Alex Jackson. Law actually has the Marlins taking Jackson ahead of the Sox (with the Astros taking Brady Aiken instead of Rodon).
The reason? The Astros and Marlins both have massive draft allotments thanks to extra picks early in the draft.
- Marlins, $14.199,300
- Astros, $13,362,200
- White Sox, $9,509,700
- Blue Jays, $9,458,500
The Marlins have the second, 36th and 39th picks, while the Astros have the 37th before starting the second round at No. 42. Therefore, both teams might have the incentive to shave a couple million off their top pick, and reallocate it to a hefty above-slot bonus to a later pick (or picks).
That puts the White Sox in an interesting position. They, too, could follow that strategy, but it's harder to pull off without extra bullets. Plus, they could have their first choice fall to them if they play it straight, so they might not want to get too clever.
For those who are unfamiliar, Jackson is a catcher-outfielder out of Rancho Bernardo High School in Escondido, Calif. He's the No. 4 prospect on Baseball America's Top 100, and No. 6 on Law's list. He's got massive right-handed power, great bat speed and a big arm. BA says his bat can be fast-tracked, but his defense behind the plate needs a lot of work, which makes a shift to the outfield a tempting possibility for whichever team picks him.
In the BA chat, John Manuel said the White Sox are cross-checking him, as well as Orlando prep shortstop Nick Gordon (No. 6 BA; No. 4 Law). He's the son of former Sox reliever Tom Gordon (and brother of Dee Gordon), so he has the family ties the Sox love so very well:
Mike (Iowa): Who do you see the White Sox talking, Aiken, Kolek, Rodon or someone else?
John Manuel: They’re crosschecking hitters such as Nick Gordon and Alex Jackson, but I believe Kolek is the perfect fit at 3 for the White Sox. I’m a fan of their pitching development program and believe Kolek and the White Sox are a great match. That said, 4-5 years ago, they would never have considered Alex Jackson because of who’s advising him, but I think he’s in play for the White Sox as well.
Manuel also offered additional info about Jackson while answering a question about Houston's situation:
Jackson is the best power hitter in this draft; his 47th homer the other day tied the San Diego section record, and he did it in a dead-bat era. SD has had some fair players over the years as well. If you thought Jackson could remain a catcher and would not lag behind defensively, I think the Astros would seriously consider it. I will say historically, position players at the top of drafts have out-performed pitchers at the top. If the Astros do take a hitter No. 1, I think it would be Jackson.
While Jackson is the new name, Kolek seems to have more staying power. Not only did Manuel call the big Texas prep righty with triple-digit heat a "perfect fit" and "great match" for the Sox, but Law said in his chat, "I'd heard they'd love to get Kolek."
Going back to the BA chat, its staff fielded some questions about Kolek:
Joel (KCK): Do Tyler Kolek's secondary offerings have above average to plus potential?
Clint Longenecker: Absolutely. His curveball shows at least plus potential. His secondary stuff will likely improve significantly under pro instruction.
Eminor3rd (NYC): Is Kolek a ticking time bomb for injury? Is the risk of throwing that hard that young enough that you'd let him slip past say pick 3?
John Manuel: That’s the approximately $5 million question. The snarky answer would be, of course he is. He’s a pitcher. The better answer, I hope, would be: He’s coordinated; nothing in his delivery screams out red flag according to the scouts I have talked to. He’s certainly got his man strength, and he goes to a personal trainer three times a week and has really improved his body over the course of the past year. If you think he just throws too hard (and I frankly sympathize with that opinion) then yeah, he’s going to get hurt. But he certainly has a body and arm action that scouts believe to be up to the task of throwing this hard for a long time. He’s a big boy. I think he’s going to go out really high. Don’t think he’s going to slip at this time.
Kolek was the subject of the latest BA cover story (paywall), and here's the article's windup:
[Kolek is] a mammoth young man who stands 6-foot-5 and checks in at 250 pounds. As one crosschecker put it, "Power comes from a combination of arm speed and arm strength. This is a big guy with a quick arm.
"Big pitchers can fool you, because they’re so big sometimes you don’t pick up on it as much as you do with a little guy with a quick arm. But you can’t throw 102 mph without arm speed."
In a draft defined by velocity, Kolek is the hardest of the hard throwers. According to scouts we talked to, he is the hardest-throwing high schooler of the draft era.