Here is a quick analysis of the first round of the 2001 draft.
1. Minnesota -- Joe Mauer, C, Cretin-Derham Hall HS, St. Paul, Minn.
The Twins avoid Mark Prior's bonus demands and go for a hometown connection: slugger Joe Mauer. He is an excellent athlete with a strong arm, but also has plus power from the left side and is very polished for a high school hitter from a northern cold-weather state. They should be able to buy him away from Florida State, where he has a football scholarship. Historically, high school catching is quite risky; prep backstops drafted in the first round have failure rates even higher than high school pitchers. Mauer may be an exception, or at least the Twins hope so. He makes superb contact to go with his power, a good sign for the future.
2. Chicago (NL) -- Mark Prior, RHP, Southern California
Prior may be the best college pitcher in history. He throws very hard, but also knows how to change speeds and attack hitters, both inside and on the corners. He has the intellect, polish, and overall stuff to step right into a major-league rotation according to many scouts. His numbers at USC are ridiculous: 14-1, 1.50 ERA, 189/17 K/BB ratio in 132 innings. The last college pitcher with this combination of stuff and command was Paul Wilson, whose career was waylaid by injuries. If Prior stays healthy, it's hard to see how he will fail. His mechanics are clean and he keeps himself in top physical condition, so the odds are in his favor. He has a huge price tag, but the Cubs will pay.
3. Tampa Bay -- Dewon Brazelton, RHP, Middle Tennessee State
There was pre-draft speculation that the D-Rays would select a "cheaper" player than Brazelton, but in the end they went for talent rather than just signability. Brazelton has as much physical talent as Prior, but isn't quite as polished. He throws 94-96 mph, usually throws strikes, and has a very good changeup. His breaking pitch is somewhere between a curve and a slider, and is the main thing he needs to improve right now. Brazelton won't arrive as quickly as Prior, but has a terrific ceiling and gives the D-Rays system an instant boost.
4. Philadelphia -- Gavin Floyd, RHP, Mt. St. Joseph HS, Severna Park, Md.
Unwilling to take a risk with Scott Boras client Mark Teixeira, the Phillies make Maryland high school right-hander Gavin Floyd the first prep pitcher selected this year. The 2001 draft is very strong in high school pitching, and Floyd could be the best in the bunch. He comes in at a consistent 93 mph, has a great curve, and good mechanics that promise durability. He knows how to pitch, and projects to add even more velocity as he finishes growing. The odds are against him simply because he is a high school pitcher, but he compares favorably with Adam Eaton at the same age.
5. Texas -- Mark Teixeira, 3B, Georgia Tech
The consensus best hitter in the draft, Teixeira falls to fifth overall due to his injury-plagued college season and his perceived bonus demands. This guy is the perfect power hitter; scouts compare him to a switch-hitting version of Troy Glaus. His plate discipline is excellent, and he improved his defense this year as well. He could be in the starting lineup for the Rangers as soon as next spring, if he signs quickly enough.
6. Montreal -- Josh Karp, RHP, UCLA
This is the first surprise in the draft. Karp was projected as an early first-round pick this spring, but his season for UCLA was erratic, hurting his stock. He has a 93-mph fastball and a fine changeup/curveball arsenal, but didn't dominate at the college level on a consistent basis. Most observers believed he would fall to later in the first round, but this should not be seen as just a signability selection by the Expos. Karp has considerable upside, and the Expos have traditionally placed a greater emphasis on projection than many clubs. Still, Karp carries a higher risk than some of the guys selected after him.
7. Baltimore -- Chris Smith, LHP, Cumberland (Tenn.) University
Smith is another surprise. He played outfield for Florida State in 2000, but transferred to small Cumberland University after the Seminoles refused to let him pitch. While Smith is a very good hitter, he does have higher upside on the mound, with a 94-mph fastball and a good curve. It will be interesting to see how he develops; most experts pegged him as going in the second half of the first round or perhaps the second. This pick is something of a risk, but Smith is not some obscure NAIA prospect; he does have high-level experience, albeit as a hitter.
8. Pittsburgh -- John VanBenschoten, 1B-OF, Kent State
The Pirates usually go for high school players, but couldn't pass up VanBenschoten's booming bat. A 6-5 lefty with a fine power stroke, he is also a good athlete with a strong arm, and will move to the outfield as a pro, despite playing mostly first base in college. His physical tools are all above average, and he has more polish than the standard Pirates raw athlete prospect.
He ranks only behind Teixeira among college hitters.
9. Kansas City -- Colt Griffin, RHP, Marshall HS, Marshall, Texas
In a draft class loaded with fastballs, Colt Griffin has the best of them all: a blistering heater clocked as high as 100 mph; some guns have allegedly caught him at 101. That's the best velocity shown by a high school right-hander since the invention of the radar gun. His other skills are less polished: his control is somewhat erratic, and he needs work on his breaking pitches and general approach, which is why he lasted until the ninth slot. Velocity isn't everything, but if Griffin stays healthy and shows even moderate command, look out.
10. Houston -- Chris Burke, SS, Tennessee
The SEC Player of the Year, Burke is a polished college player with power, strike zone judgment, and good speed. He may end up at second base if coaches decide that his arm strength is marginal for shortstop, but even if that happens he'll be a good successor to Craig Biggio. Burke doesn't have the supreme physical tools of some guys, but he is no slouch as an athlete, and knows how to play the game. He should advance quickly.
11. Detroit -- Kenny Baugh, RHP, Rice
Baugh is sort of a pitching version of Burke: he isn't the most physically talented player available, but has plenty of natural ability to go with lots of polish and experience. He throws strikes as high as 94 mph, with a terrific changeup and good curveball. His control is top-notch, and he should be able to adjust rapidly to pro conditions. Although Baugh is a college senior, he isn't just a signability pick and must be regarded as a genuine first-round talent.
12. Milwaukee -- Mike Jones, RHP, Thunderbird HS, Phoenix
Jones was the hottest high school prospect going into the spring campaign, but was passed by Griffin, Floyd, and Mauer. He remains a fine talent, a big strong kid with a fastball that hits 96 mph on its best days. He was bothered by some minor arm trouble this year, which hurt his stock. Scouts like his mechanics and size (6-4, 200) and also praise his work ethic. Like all high school pitchers, he's risky but potentially excellent.
13. Anaheim -- Casey Kotchman, 1B, Seminole HS, Seminole, Fla.
This is the guy the Angels wanted, since his dad Tom works for the organization. Kotchman was second only to Mauer among high school hitters in this draft class. He is polished, shows power to all fields with a pure stroke, and has above-average talents in everything except running speed. He should sign quickly and could get to the majors faster than any of the other high schoolers on this list.
14. San Diego -- Jake Gautreau, 3b, Tulane
Gautreau is an interesting and possibly questionable choice for the Padres. He has a strong bat with above-average power to all fields, and should adjust quickly to pro pitching. But his defensive skills are marginal at third base, and the Pads already have Sean Burroughs and Xavier Nady in the system. Still, if he hits as expected the Padres will find room for Gautreau, and "drafting for need" is something that most teams try to avoid.
15. Toronto -- Gabe Gross, OF, Auburn
After using their 2000 and 1999 draft picks on raw Puerto Rican high schoolers, the Blue Jays change course this year and go with a college hitter. A left-handed hitter with both power and speed, Gross spent some time as a quarterback for Auburn before turning to baseball full-time, a testament to his overall athletic ability. He has considerable polish to go with his physical skills, and could end up as a better player than several of the guys drafted ahead of him.
16. Chicago (AL) (from Florida) -- Kris Honel, RHP, Providence Catholic HS, New
The White Sox make a nice move by picking up a home-state high school pitcher. Honel can hit 95 mph, although he is often around 90-91. His curveball is excellent, and he throws strikes and knows how to pitch. He was projected as a top-10 pick before the season began, but his stock dropped slightly after a minor non arm-related injury (a sore wrist). He should be brought along relatively slowly to avoid an excessive workload, but adds to the stable of young pitching collected by the White Sox in recent years.
17. Cleveland (from Boston) -- Dan Denham, RHP, Deer Valley HS, Antioch, Calif.
Another hard-throwing high school pitcher, Denham throws a 95-mph fastball and a fine curve. He has more experience than many kids his age due to his warm-weather background, but also appears to be durable and has good mechanics. Like all these guys, he's risky but has a strong upside.
18. New York (NL) (from Colorado) -- Aaron Heilman, RHP, Notre Dame
A supplemental pick by the Twins last year, Heilman went back to college to increase his draft standing. It worked. He throws a hard 92-94 mph sinker, and a good changeup/splitter combination. He throws strikes, knows how to pitch, and is expected to advance quickly up the ladder. Heilman doesn't have the upside of these high school guys, but has a better chance to actually contribute.
19. Baltimore (from New York - AL) -- Mike Fontenot, 2B, LSU
After going for a pitcher with their first selection, the Orioles grab an experienced college hitter. Fontenot is just 5-8, but has fine power due to great bat speed and strike zone judgment. His defense is sound at the keystone, and he's a good baserunner as well. He'll be pressing Jerry Hairston Jr. at second base within two years.
20. Cincinnati -- Jeremy Sowers, LHP, Ballard HS, Louisville, Kent.
The Reds showed they weren't afraid to go after tough signs in 2000, and have done that again this year. Sowers throws 93 mph despite standing just 6-0. His curveball and changeup are both outstanding pitches, and he understands the craft of mound work very well. His problem is signability: he is very intelligent, comes from a wealthy family, and has a scholarship to Vanderbilt. I doubt the Reds would have picked him if they didn't think they could get him to sign, but it will cost a pretty penny.
21. San Francisco (from Cleveland) -- Brad Hennessey, RHP, Youngstown State
This looks like a signability pick; Hennessey was projected as a second or third-round selection by Baseball America, and doesn't have the overall package of many of the other first-rounders. Not that he isn't valuable; he can hit 95 mph and has a good slider. But Hennessey is less polished than most college pitchers in this class, and was not an outstanding performer in college.
22. Arizona -- Jason Bulger, RHP, Valdosta State
Another signability choice, Bulger has a hot 96-mph fastball and is very strong physically. But he has limited pitching experience, needs to work on his breaking stuff, and was expected to be picked two or three rounds later. The D-Backs will likely deny that money had anything to do with this selection, but they have made many questionable draft choices in recent years, and this could be another.
23. New York (AL) (from Seattle) -- John-Ford Griffin, OF, Florida State
I think this could be a steal. Griffin is a terrific hitter for batting average, but also has above-average power and strike zone judgment. He isn't awesome in other aspects of the game, but should advance quickly and will fit in well in a Yankee system that emphasizes plate discipline more than most clubs. This is the guy I would have picked if I were the Diamondbacks.
24. Atlanta (from Los Angeles) -- Macay McBride, LHP, Screven County HS, Sylvania, Ga.
The Braves love drafting high school pitchers from the Confederacy, and McBride fits right in with their philosophy. A short lefty with a 93-mph sinker, McBride is polished and intelligent. His breaking pitches are also strong. The Braves have a better record than most teams with guys like McBride.
25. Oakland -- Bobby Crosby, SS, Long Beach State
A solid fielder with an above-average bat, Crosby fits nicely into the Oakland farm system, which tends to emphasize baseball skills rather than just athletic ability. He has very good power, and if he remains at shortstop (as expected), he'll emerge quickly as a very valuable player. He is another guy that I would have picked ahead of Bulger for Arizona in the 22nd slot.
26. Oakland (from New York - NL) -- Jeremy Bonderman, RHP, Pasco HS, Pasco, Wash.
The Athletics generally prefer college pitchers, but Bonderman's 95-mph fastball was too much to pass up, especially after picking the polished Crosby a slot above. He also has a nasty slider, but his stock fell a bit this year after some nagging injuries and inconsistent performances. Don't expect Oakland to rush him.
27. Cleveland (from Chicago - AL) -- Alan Horne, RHP, Marianna HS, Marianna, Fla.
Horne was expected to go in the top half of the first round, but some questions about his signability (he has an academic scholarship to Mississippi) may have hurt his standing. He throws in the low-to-mid 90s (like a million other guys this year), and also has a nice curveball and good control. He's bright, and is expected to make quick progress for a high school pitcher if he signs.
28. St. Louis -- Justin Pope, RHP, Central Florida
The Cardinals liked to draft college pitching throughout the 1990s, and did it again this year with Central Florida ace Pope. Working with a moving 90-mph fastball and a good arsenal of secondary pitches, Pope threw 38 scoreless innings this year, setting a college record. He knows what he is doing; while he doesn't project as an ace starter in the majors, he should be a useful innings eater.
29. Atlanta -- Josh Burrus, SS, Wheeler HS, Marietta, Ga.
As they did with McBride at 24, the Braves stay close to home again, selecting Georgia prep infielder Josh Burrus. A flashy shortstop with excellent raw athletic skills, Barrus is toolsy but played against good competition in high school. He is a cousin of major-league outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, so he's got the bloodlines for success as well.
30. San Francisco -- Noah Lowery, LHP, Pepperdine
A finesse lefty, Lowery hits 90 mph on his best days, but usually works in the mid-to-upper 80s. His secondary pitches are very strong, and like most successful college southpaws, he knows how to set hitters up and trick them into getting themselves out. He may be a bit of a reach as a first-round pick, but he is signable and should advance quickly.
John Sickels writes on the minor leagues for ESPN.com. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com, or you can visit his homepage at hometown.aol.com/jasickels/page1.html.