Though it may be to less fanfare than its football and basketball counterparts, the 2012 MLB Draft officially begins Monday night at 7 p.m. live on MLB Network. One year after the Florida Gators saw a school-record 11 team members selected, Florida may have more players picked in the first round than ever have been previously in a single draft.
The MLB’s first-year player draft consists of 40 rounds and is open to both high school players and juniors and seniors in college. Round one (including compensatory selections) will take place Monday with rounds 2-15 occurring Tuesday beginning at noon and Rounds 16-40 concluding the draft on Wednesday beginning at noon. High school players and juniors in college have the opportunity to decline their rookie contracts and continue playing amateur baseball should they choose to do so.
Thirteen members of the Gators baseball team (five seniors, eight juniors) are eligible to be selected this year including some of the most talented players in the program. OGGOA, with some help from baseball columnist and New York Mets scout Teddy Foster, takes a look at where they might wind up and what their future holds.
Junior catcher Mike Zunino
Projection: First round, pick 1-10
Rankings: No. 3 overall by MLB, No. 6 overall by ESPN
Lowdown: The consensus best catcher in the draft of any age, Zunino has proven he can do it all at any level by playing stellar defense (.994 fielding) and hammering home runs on offense. Originally selected in the 30th round of the 2009 draft, Zunino instead decided to attend Florida and became just the second Gators baseball player to be named SEC Player of the Year, earning the honor in 2011. He was a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award in 2011 and also named an All-American that year, garnering first-team honors by three of five voting bodies. Still not having completed his third year with the team, Zunino already holds the UF career record for sacrifice flies (17) and is having a solid junior campaign with team-highs of 18 homers and 60 RBIs along with 50 runs scored, 28 walks, a .316 batting average and a .667 slugging percentage. There is no questioning Zunino’s potential; the only thing left to figure out is his draft slot.
Junior left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson
Projection: First round, pick 20-supplemental
Rankings: No. 36 overall by MLB, No. 28 overall by ESPN
Lowdown: Though he will get looks as a batter, Johnson’s true value (both in the draft and long-term in pro baseball) will likely come from his work on the mound. He will likely wind up a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher as he can throw four pitches for strikes and has good breaking pitches in addition to a fastball around 90 mph. “Johnson is just too good on the mound and has too much potential to not focus on pitching,” Foster wrote in April. “He is not the first and certainly will not be the last two-way player to end up on the mound. Johnson knows his destiny is as a pitcher.” A 27th round selection in the 2009 draft, Johnson was unanimous Freshman All-American who made the SEC All-Freshman Team as both a pitcher and designated hitter. During his sophomore season he was a semifinalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award and Dick Howser Trophy and earned a first-team All-SEC nod for his work at the plate. This season he is 8-4 on the mound with a 3.56 ERA and a 68/15 K/BB ratio while pitching a team-high 86.0 innings. Johnson is also hitting .310 with five homers, 40 RBIs and 10 walks.
Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana
Projection: Rounds 1-3
Rankings: No. 61 overall by MLB, No. 44 overall by ESPN
Lowdown: A true shortstop who should remain at that position but could also be moved over to second base as he also projects well there defensively, Fontana does a lot of things extremely well but nothing particularly great even though his stellar defense has been a bright spot for Florida throughout his career. He has a keen eye for the ball both in the field and at the plate, a strong arm to get the ball over to first and solid instincts both on defense and while running the bases. Despite the fact that he has flashed some power and makes good contact, he does not hit consistently enough to warrant a top pick even though he is a player a lot of teams are high on. Undrafted coming out of high school, Fontana has improved his average each year and is hitting .294 as a junior with nine homers, 30 RBIs, and team-highs of 56 runs, 46 walks and 13 stolen bases.
Junior left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez
Projection: Rounds 2-4
Rankings: Unranked by MLB, No. 71 overall by ESPN
Lowdown: A dominant reliever for the Gators throughout his career, Rodriguez seems to keep getting better and better. Originally a 48th round pick in 2009, he made a mark his freshman season with Florida by earning a Super Regional win over Miami to send UF to the College World Series and followed up that effort with a terrific outing against Vanderbilt during the 2011 CWS to help send his team to the championship series. Now in his third season, Rodriguez boasts a 2.08 ERA (second lowest on the team despite throwing the most innings of any reliever) with a 79/13 K/BB ratio in 60.2 innings. Despite the fact that at least two of his teammates will be drafted ahead of him, Rodriguez may have the quickest path to the majors as a lefty reliever with his power and control is highly desired by all clubs.
Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall
Projection: Rounds 2-5
Rankings: Unranked by MLB and ESPN
Lowdown: Florida’s ace at the front of their weekend rotation his season, Randall is an immensely talented thrower who has been on teams’ radars since he was picked in the 46th round of the 2009 draft. Though he may not flash as much potential as Johnson, Randall throws strikes, induces groundballs and gets the job done on the mound. His stellar sophomore campaign (11-3, 2.17 ERA) was slightly more impressive than his junior totals up to this point (8-2, 2.83 ERA), but he also wasn’t pitching as early on the weekend last season. After joining the Gators, Randall was named a unanimous Freshman All-American and also picked up a second-team All-SEC nod as a sophomore. His lack of top-end velocity limits his upside in the eyes of many scouts, but Randall possesses so many other positive qualities that many believe he could be a diamond in the rough on draft day.
Junior right-handed pitcher Austin Maddox
Projection: Rounds 3-5
Rankings: No. 94 overall by MLB, unranked by ESPN
Lowdown: Maddox began his career at UF as a two-way player but has settled into the closer’s role. Though he will likely be relegated to short relief should he make it up to the majors, Maddox can still make a positive impact at the next level. He has a solid fast ball that can hit the mid-90s, a nice sinker and a decent breaking ball but will have to work on his off-speed pitches in order to move up the ranks. Originally a 37th round pick in the 2009 draft, Maddox succeeded right away at Florida. He was named the 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year and a third-team All-American as a rookie while also picking up nearly unanimous Freshman All-America honors. He has succeeded in a big way for the Gators as the team’s primary closer in 2012, notching 12 saves in 30 appearances while registering a 55/10 K/BB ratio and 2.24 ERA.
Senior right fielder Preston Tucker
Projection: Rounds 5-10
Rankings: No. 88 overall by MLB, unranked by ESPN
Lowdown: Tucker has not been ignored by teams but felt a year ago that he was worth more than the 16th round pick that Colorado used on him in the 2011 draft. Undrafted out of high school, he has done nothing but produce while wearing orange and blue. The Gators’ all-time hits leader, Tucker was named the Freshman Hitter of the Year by the NCBWA in 2009 and was also honored as Co-SEC Freshman of the Year that season. He was an All-SEC second team and SEC All-Defensive team member in 2010, and Tucker improved on those honors with a second-team All-America nod and first-team All-SEC selection during his junior campaign. His biggest asset is his pure power; Tucker has hit 56 homers and driven in 254 runs over his Florida career. Scouts are impressed with this attribute but want to see him become more of an all-around hitter. Another issue is Tucker’s position. He is a solid right fielder with a decent arm but does not have enough speed to cover the type of ground that would make teams feel completely comfortable with him out there. Tucker was supposed to see more time at first base, a position he might be suited for at the next level, in 2012 but team injuries forced him to stay in the outfield permanently.
Senior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson
Projection: Rounds 20-30
Rankings: Unranked by MLB and ESPN
Lowdown: Just like Tucker, Larson has done nothing but good things over his four years in Gainesville, FL and finally found his groove over the last two years as a reliever and spot starter. He has significantly reduced his ERA over the course of his career, going from a 3.45 as a freshman to a 5.70 as a sophomore, 2.09 as a junior and now a 1.31 over 48.0 innings as a senior. Despite the steady improvement, Larson does not project as well as he would hope at the next level for a variety of reasons. However, his height (6’8”) and sink make him an intriguing prospect that should lead a few teams to have him on their draft boards.
Other players eligible to be drafted: senior OF Daniel Pigott, junior INF/OF Vickash Ramjit, senior OF Tyler Thompson (46th-round pick in 2011), senior INF Jeff Moyer, junior INF Cody Dent