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Jonathan Mayo

Who's No. 1? Handicapping the Draft field

Lefties Aiken, Rodon look like top choices for Astros, but four others are candidates

Who's No. 1? Handicapping the Draft field

When the 2014 Draft season started, it appeared that the answer to "Who will be the No. 1 pick in the Draft?" was a no-brainer, slam dunk.

North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon was all but given an Astros jersey. But as they say, that's why they play the games. A bit of a slow start, coupled with perhaps unfair expectations, has moved Rodon back to the pack, while others have stepped forward into the competition to be the top selection.

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The First-Year Player Draft will take place this week, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday.

MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

As has been the case each the past two years, the Astros, who will pick first on Thursday, have been kicking the tires on a number of candidates. Some seem to be more serious possibilities than others. Some might be a Plan B type or a dark horse. That doesn't mean that candidate won't be the selection. Who saw Carlos Correa coming in 2012? He was listed as a "dark horse" in this story two years ago.

The Astros have said they have narrowed the field to six. So here they are, from the front-runners to candidates to dark horses.

FRONT-RUNNERS

Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS (Calif.)
Rank in Top 200: 1

Aiken has performed his way to this spot by being more consistent than anyone, drawing comparisons to Clayton Kershaw along the way.
Why he should go No. 1: Three above-average to plus pitches, all with outstanding command, coming from an ideal pitcher's body and a smooth delivery. He's consistently performed even as the attention and pressure grew.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: The Astros could decide they need someone who will get to the Major Leagues faster than a high school pitcher. The history of prep southpaws going No. 1 overall -- David Clyde and Brien Taylor -- isn't great.

Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State:
Rank in Top 200: 2

Rodon didn't run away and hide as the presumptive No. 1 pick. He's still pretty good, possessing perhaps the nastiest slider in the class.
Why he should go No. 1: Even with the slow start, he put up some serious numbers in a strong college conference. He has a long track record of success in college and for USA Baseball against tough competition.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: His command has eluded him at times. His slow start, with stuff that seemed to regress for a time, might concern the Astros.

STRONG CANDIDATES

Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS (Calif.)
Rank in Top 200: 4

Considered by most to be the best hitter in the Draft, with the ability to hit for average and a ton of power. The only question is if a team wants to slow down the bat to let him develop as a catcher.
Why he should go No. 1: See above about being the best hitter in the class. The power and hit tools are legitimate. He has an outstanding arm and could develop into a tremendous offensive-minded catcher, while having the bat to profile as a corner outfielder as well.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: Can he catch? If he can, is a team willing to wait for that part of his game to develop? If he can't, is his bat special enough to be No. 1 as an outfielder, a la Bryce Harper?

Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd HS (Texas)
Rank in Top 200: 3

Kolek is a beast of a young man, one who consistently hits 100 mph. While he might not be as polished as Aiken, he has more of a feel for pitching, complete with outstanding breaking stuff, than one might think for a power-armed guy his size.
Why he should go No. 1: He might have the most upside of anyone on this list of candidates. His size, arm strength and pure stuff all point to being a top-of-the-rotation type starter when all is said and done.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: His command needs to be refined, though that's not uncommon for a high school power pitcher. No one has seen a high school pitcher throw this hard so consistently, and it's difficult to know what to make of that. A high school right-hander has never been taken with the No. 1 overall pick.

DARK HORSES

Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia HS (Fla.)
Rank in Top 200: 5

Son of Flash and brother of Dee, Gordon is a rarity on the amateur scene in that he will absolutely be able to stay a shortstop. Adding strength this spring ended concerns about his ability to do so and helped his offensive profile.
Why he should go No. 1: Guys who won't just stick but excel at a premium position such as shortstop are always valued highly and Gordon has the chance to be a very good all-around player up the middle, the kind around which winning teams are built.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: While he is a tremendous prospect, he isn't the best player available. This would be a deal to save money and spend more aggressively later on, like the Astros did in 2012 with Correa -- though Gordon doesn't have Correa's offensive profile.

Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
Rank in Top 200: 6

A finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, Nola has dominated in the tough Southeastern Conference with a combination of good stuff and a tremendous feel for pitching.
Why he should go No. 1: He might have the highest floor of anyone in the class. He also might be the quickest to get to the big leagues, with the chance of being a very successful starting pitcher for a very long time.
Why he shouldn't go No. 1: With that high floor comes a limited ceiling. Nola might be low-risk, but do you want to take a potential No. 3 starter with the top pick, which is typically reserved for elite-level, impact talent?

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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