With just a few days remaining until the 2014 MLB draft officially gets underway on Thursday night, the debate over nearly ever selection in the first round is on.

Even players at the top of the draft like left-handed pitchers Carlos Rodon and Brady Aiken have shifted around multiple boards. As for some of the top position players like Alex Jackson and Nick Gordon, both have remained in the top 10 and will likely remain there on draft day.

Teams like the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins need to add serious talent to improve in the coming seasons. Regardless of which name they call at the top of the draft, both will come away with players that look like can’t-miss prospects at the next level.

Before the draft gets underway, here’s a look at the first round and some of the biggest storylines heading into the MLB draft.


Scouting Report for Top Prospects

Carlos Rodon, LHP, N.C. State

When it comes to college arms, Rodon is far and away the most lethal one in the draft.

Jeff Hoffman of East Carolina came into the season looking to contend with the southpaw from N.C. State, but an injury during the season hindered his rise. Rodon, like he has been throughout his college career, was simply sensational during his final campaign with the Wolfpack.

While Rodon entered last summer as the No. 1 prospect, he still worked to improve. Working with Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, Rodon added a curveball and changeup, as he explained to me earlier in the season:

At first it didn’t help because you’re trying new stuff out and wondering, ‘Am I ever going to feel this pitch?’ And eventually those pitches came to me. Obviously I’m still working on them, but it helps with confidence… Adding it to the repertoire is obviously going to help.

It’s not always like riding a bike, sometimes you’ll lose those pitches. But I can wake up at four in the morning and throw the slider for a strike.

Despite the struggles of his team during the college season, Rodon still managed to maintain his standing at the top of most boards. Compiling a 6-7 record, the lefthander still had a 2.01 ERA, 117 strikeouts and just under 100 innings pitched.

Thanks to a ridiculous slider, a mid-90s fastball and a few other pitches in the repertoire, Rodon is the most polished player in the draft. Whether he’s the first-overall pick or not, expect to see Rodon light it up at the next level.


Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic

If Rodon is the best the college ranks have to offer, Aiken is his equal at the high school level.

Equipped with a left arm that can hurl the ball in the low-90s with breaking pitches that will make him a premier starter throughout his professional career. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com provides a scouting report on the lefty:

Aiken is the freshly minted No. 1 prospect on our Draft Top 100 list. The SoCal left-hander has probably done more than any other 2014 draft prospect in terms of separating himself from others in the class. We had Aiken ranked at No. 9 overall in the fall as the top high school southpaw in the class, on the cusp of being a top-10 pick.

Now, Aiken is atop the board, ahead of N.C. State’s Carlos Rodon as the best pitcher in the class, and ahead of Tyler Kolek in a comparison of prep arms. Some of that has to do with Aiken’s increased velocity, to go along with the plus pitchability that he has always been known for. His maturity has enabled him to dominate all spring and make him look much more like a front-line starter in the future than he did even last fall.

Even with names like Rodon and fellow high school prospect Tyler Kolek near the front of the class, Aiken has outshined both in some analysts’ minds.

Thanks to a huge season at Cathedral Catholic in San Diego, Aiken has risen from a top-10 pick to the potential No. 1 selection on Thursday night. If he can live up to the hype early on in his career, expect to see Aiken with an MLB club in the near future.


Storylines to Watch

Will Alex Jackson Play Catcher or Outfield?

One of the biggest questions leading up to the draft is where Alex Jackson will be slotted at the next level. The high school prospect has lit the world on fire with his bat, but he could play either catcher or outfield at the next level.

A few current projections—including my own—have Jackson going No. 2 overall to the Miami Marlins. While the Marlins currently have a good backstop with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, they might be looking to replace the 29-year-old when his three-year contract is up.

Darren Wolfson of KSTP in Minneapolis provides another possible landing spot:

Picture this: Alex Jackson’s bat in the same outfield with Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, or behind the plate to keep Marcell Ozuna in the—or maybe you’d prefer to see him with Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer and Byron Buxton.

Either way, Jackson’s pop makes a deadly combination with any MLB lineup. Regardless of where he winds up on the field, his dynamic bat will haunt big league pitchers’ dreams in the near future.


The Houston Astros Are on the Board

Yes, the intrigue will start right from the very beginning of the selection process.

While the NFL draft had a surefire No. 1 player with Jadeveon Clowney and Andrew Wiggins appears to be the top prospect in the NBA draft later this month, there’s still a heated debate over who will go first in the MLB draft.

Whether it’s Rodon, Aiken or a surprise selection by the Astros, there is certainly a lot of depth in pitching for the struggling team to choose from. Each lefty provides ace potential for Houston and could join last year’s first overall selection, Mark Appel, at the top of the rotation.

Houston is a team slowly on the rise thanks to its farm system, which it will continue to bolster with the No. 1 pick. Who they wind up taking, though, is still anyone’s guess.


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