Much of the baseball world's attention is on the Hot Stove scuttlebutt -- who is going where via trade or free agency. In the world of amateur scouting, however, the focus is on the Draft class of 2013.
Sure, the First-Year Player Draft is still more than six months away (June 6-8, 2013), but after a summer filled with showcases, elite leagues and All-American games, the class has started to take some shape. And with the final 2012 Major League standings set in stone, the 2013 Draft order has been established, too.
With scouts adding to their summer reports with fall baseball viewings, it's a good time to unveil MLB.com's Top 50 Draft Prospects list.
It's a fairly consistent ritual that the scouting industry reports at the end of the summer indicate that the upcoming Draft class won't be very special. Maybe it's a case of maintaining expectations, perhaps it's the harshly keen eye of the scouts, but once again, some scouts did not rave about the level of talent in this class
2013 Draft order
Below is the 2013 First-Year Player Draft order as it currently stands. If a team signs a free agent who was given a qualifying offer, it will lose its first-round pick (unless the club has a top-10 selection). Former teams receive a compensation-round pick, following the reverse order of standings, for losing one of those free agents.
* Compensation for not signing 2012 first-round pick Mark Appel
+ If team doesn't re-sign free agent in question
For the second year in a row, Stanford right-hander Mark Appel sits atop the rankings. Appel was taken No. 8 in last year's Draft by the Pirates but returned to Stanford instead of signing with Pittsburgh. While one scout did say that Appel is again a pitcher worthy of a selection at the top of the first round, a scouting director wondered if Appel's placement at the top of most rankings has led many to consider this class as less than extraordinary.
"The issue is, people look at this Draft, and there's no stand-out, absolute top-of-the-Draft guys," the scouting director said. "It's to be determined. Most say the guy who didn't sign last year is at the top of the Draft, and that puts a damper on things. I'm not ready to hand that [ranking ]over to [Appel]. I think there are a lot of candidates for what could be the top pick in the Draft. It'll play out in the spring."
This fall's Top 50 is split down the middle between college and high school players, who are evenly spread throughout the list. The top two players are college arms, in Appel and Arkansas righty Ryne Stanek, but they are followed up by a pair of Georgia high school outfielders, Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier. There are even two college bats -- considered to be the weakest part of the class -- in the top 10: San Diego's Kris Bryant and Stanford's Austin Wilson. There are six high school catchers in the Top 50 as well, an unusually high number, though it remains to be seen how many will remain behind the plate for the long term.
"I think there are enough position players," the scouting director said. "We'd all like to see the college position players as a more defined group [at the top], but there will be a few guys who'll push their way in there."
There are 26 pitchers in the Top 50 -- 15 from the college ranks and 11 prepsters. Scouts like the potential upside of the crop of high school pitchers, with Kohl Stewart leading the way at No. 6. There are a fair amount of young lefties -- six prep southpaws in the Top 50, to be exact -- who will get a lot of attention in the spring.
That depth in young arms is another reason evaluators are hesitant to hand out too good of a grade to this class just yet. Many of the high school pitchers may have shown glimpses during the summer showcase tour, enough to make scouts excited to see more. They are the young arms filling in the back half of the Top 50, pitchers like Brett Morales and Dustin Driver. That crop annually tends to be a mercurial group, and the kind of leaps forward those in it take might greatly define how strong this class ultimately is.
"How many actually take that step in the spring, that's what makes the Draft or doesn't make the Draft," the scouting director said. "They often populate the bottom of the first round, down through the sandwich round. I think there are a lot of those guys. A lot of times it [depends on their] velocity. If the fastball clicks up a little bit, that pushes them up top."
Even if some of those young pitchers don't take a step forward, there is talent to be had in 2013. If it's lacking in elite, sure-fire prospects at the top, it might make up for it in depth. Reports this fall, largely from college campuses, have been encouraging, meaning even those who were skeptical might be singing a different tune by the time June rolls around.
"The depth of the Draft will be solid," the scouting director said. "I'm getting stuff from this fall -- guys who were discouraged coming into the fall are saying their area is shaping up now.
"I'm not discouraged at all from the crop we have to choose from. It's not heavy with big names, but there is plenty of depth and, as always, there will be plenty of big leaguers in this Draft."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.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.