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MLB’s amateur draft is a tricky devil. Unlike other, more TV-friendly drafts in basketball and football, there are no “household names” most years. Even then, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg were largely unknown commodities when they were taken first overall. College baseball grows more popular and receives more airtime on ESPN but, for most fans, the players their team will select on Thursday are blank slates.

Add the long and winding road currently standing between more draft picks and the Major Leagues and you have a largely bewildering process. To say nothing of the nebulous idea of “signability”. In 2012, signability is a different concept compared to years past, as the draft cap limits teams from blowing their brains out with every pick.

The vagaries of the draft are many, so read Wendy Thurms’ two part series on Fangraphs (here and here) to get up to speed. I know I will be. Hit this Baseball America link for the total draft pools for all 30 teams.

On to the players: there is no Bryce Harper in this draft. Mostly because there is no Bryce Harper in any draft other than the 2010 draft in which he was selected. There might be a Mike Trout, a cold-weather player lurking at the bottom of the first round, but there it remains highly unlikely there is another Mike Trout just lying around anywhere. This is the irresistible appeal of the baseball draft. They aren’t all diamonds but it is almost all rough.

What remains is a group of talented players who could foreseeably go in just about any order, if you believe mock drafts and industry whispers. Let’s try and figure out who is who.

  1. Mark Appel – Mark Appel is the name most familiar to most casual baseball fans. The Stanford product was one of the highest ranked prospects ahead of the draft last season, only to slip all the way to seventh due to concerns about his signability. No such concerns for 2013, unless Appel wants to spend the season in Indy ball.

    Appel is a horse with big stuff in the form of three plus pitches. As a polished college pitcher, he should move quickly and make an impact at the big league level sooner rather than later. He might be the best talent in the draft but this doesn’t mean the Astros, unsurprising owners of the first overall pick, will select Appel when it is turn on the clock. There is a sense they might zig and select a player with a slightly smaller price tag, opting to spread their money around a little bit more. SB Nation compiled all the mock drafts floating around and they have Appel going to the Cubs at number two.

  2. Colin Moran – Should the Astros chose to pick someone other than the most talented player available, it might be Colin Moran who benefits, as Michael Baumann details for Grantland. Moran is a University of North Carolina product with a great eye and projectable power.
  3. Jonathan Gray – If Moran doesn’t benefit from the Astros’ outside the box thinking, it might end up being Gray. The Oklahoma hurler brings the heat with his fastball and wipes batters out with his big slider. The reason Gray might “slip” to the number one spot relates to recently testing positive for Adderall. Perversely, this hit to draft stock might move him up some draft boards as he could come at a huge discount, as Keith Law explains at ESPN ($).
  4. Kris Bryant – Frequently attached to the Colorado Rockies, who own the third overall pick, Bryant is an ideal Rockies player. He is a big time power bat out of the University of San Diego. He plays some third base though looks more like a first baseman or perhaps a right fielder to some draft watchers.

    Power is always in season and even a player who might struggle to put the bat on the ball at the highest level will go high in the first round because power is such a valuable commodity.

  5. Kohl Stewart – A high school pitcher and quarterback with a commitment to Texas A&M, Stewart has the raw stuff to make scouts drool and teams throw their entire signing pool at him to try and get him off his football dreams. His fastball/slider combination might be enough for teams to throw money at him and figure the raw athlete out later. He’s all ceiling but that’s what the draft is about! (Note: that is not what the draft is all about)
  6. Austin Meadows – Another two-sport high school player with a football commitment and much to learn on a baseball diamond. But in today’s lowering scoring game with increased emphasis on defense, these tool sheds are worth their weight in gold. Meadows plays center field and has the big body and smooth swing to suggest power down the road, after some more seasoning and professional instruction.
  7. Trey Ball – A rare animal among 2013 prospective draftees in more ways than one. Not only is Ball a rare two-way prospect who could move forward as both an outfielder and a left-handed pitcher. On the mound, he is a long kid with a nice fastball and a feel for his breaking stuff. In the field, he is a raw outfielder with a strong throwing arm and upside in his bat. Most think a big body with a fastball in the mid-nineties is a pitcher until proven otherwise.

The draft is..a bit of a mystery. It these are just some of the names populating mock drafts and prospect ranking boards the world over. Few things in the rigid world of professional sports are as fluid as the MLB draft. Somebody could reach or one of these players could drop. Stewart might not even go in the first round at all.

With thanks to ESPN, Minor League Ball, Fangraphs, and Baseball Prospectus.