Stephen Strasburg was the headliner in last June's draft. And the focus this year has been on just exactly when the right-hander will get promoted to the big leagues and make his debut with the Washington Nationals.
Lost in the shuffle was Mike Leake, the eighth player selected last June, who became the 10th American-born pitcher to go directly to the big leagues since the advent of the draft in 1965. Leake has been a key figure in the strong start of the Cincinnati Reds; he goes into his Sunday start against Houston with a 4-0 record and 2.70 ERA, and in his five no-decisions he has allowed only 10 runs, seven of which have been earned.
Surprised? Don't be. Scouts aren't. While Strasburg was the impact name in last year's draft, Leake was considered the safe pick. He already had command of four pitches -- fastball, changeup, slider and cut fastball. And he already understands the art of pitching. He didn't overpower. He works at 88 to 92 miles per hour, backing off higher velocity because he gets better movement, and he pounds the strike zone.
"He is what he is," one scouting director said. "Is he going to be a No. 1 starter? No. But he is going to be a successful big-league pitcher and he has shown that he is mentally ready for the challenge."
There are no players this year that are considered capable of immediately stepping into a big-league roll. By this time next year, though, after a little seasoning, here are 10 who could be making their mark in the majors:
1. LHP Drew Pomeranz, University of Mississippi
Pomeranz's junior year was hampered by a pectoral strain, which dropped his fastball into the upper 80s at one point. But that is not a concern of scouts. Pomeranz won't overpower big-league hitters, but he throws consistently in the low 90s and has the ability to pitch to both sides of the plate and keep the ball down. He has a 12-to-6 curveball that is unhittable when he throws it for strikes and already commands a changeup, giving him the three-pitch mix necessary to be successful in the big leagues. Control issues were answered by an adjustment in how he breaks his hand and glove in his delivery.
2. RHP Deck McGuire, Georgia Tech
McGuire has been Tech's Friday night starter the last two years. He is seen as a potential No. 3 or No.4 starter and could slip into a fifth slot by season's end given the command he has of his fastball that will sit 90 to 92 and is hard to elevate because of his downhill angle in delivery. His changeup is average to fringe, but he can throw strikes with a hard slider/curveball combo. He has shown durability and an ability to get tougher in challenging situations.
3. RHP Chance Ruffin, Texas
The son of former big-league pitcher Bruce Ruffin made the move into the bullpen on a full-time basis this spring, which will accelerate his move to the big leagues. Working more often and in shorter periods, Ruffin has seen his fastball jump from the upper-80s to low-to-mid-90s. His best pitch is a slider that will run 78 to 82 miles per hour, which he can use to negate right-handed hitters. He will use the curveball against left-handed hitters. The changeup is ordinary, but not necessary if he steps in to a bullpen role.
4. LHP Chris Sale, Florida Gulf Coast
A lower arm angle after his freshman year in college allowed Sale to jump his fastball into the low 90s, and helped him get the attention of scouts when he was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer. He has had brilliant command of his changeup since he came out of high school. He has the makings of a decent slider, but his low arm angle will get him under the ball at times and makes him vulnerable, especially against right-handed hitters. If he refines the slider he can be a middle rotation starter. Right now he has the fastball-change mix that would allow him to fill a left-handed bullpen need.
5. C Micah Gibbs, Louisiana State
Most likely a low-second or third-round pick, Gibbs is the most polished receiver among this year's catching prospects. Scouts compare his work behind the plate to Boston catcher Jason Varitek. His arm strength is average, but given his quick release and accuracy the arm plays above average. A switch-hitter, Gibbs hit for a surprising average this year, but doesn't come close to the offensive impact potential of a Bryce Harper or Yasmani Grandal. There is a definite shortage of catchers in pro ball so his defensive skills will allow him to move quickly.
6. RHP Brandon Workman, Texas
He's only the third starter on the Longhorn staff, but that speaks more for the talent at Texas. He has a curveball that is an out pitch and big-league ready, which makes his low-90s fastball seem even better. Challenged at first by left-handed hitters, he now cuts the fastball on them and no longer has a problem. He has a feel for the changeup and strong command of all his pitches. Most of all, he has shown an ability to maintain his velocity in his area of success and does not overthrow in challenge times, which adds to the feeling he will handle a quick promotion.
7. C Yasmani Grandal, University of Miami
The Cuban native, who moved to Miami at the age of 11, developed enough that he has been Miami's starting catcher since his freshman season. He will need to work on being more consistent on his throws to second, but plays with an energy that scouts like and has shown to be an above average receiver. He has good natural power, and blossomed this year when he gave up attempting to pull everything and began using all fields.
8. RHP Alex Wimmers, Ohio State
Wimmers won his first nine starts this year and then was sidelined with a hamstring injury. He was considered the most polished pitcher in the Cape Cod League last summer and has done nothing to change the opinion of scouts. The fastball hits around 92 miles per hour, and is complemented by a changeup that is easily the best of anyone in this draft class, and is a big reason why he has the potential to make a quick trip to the big leagues. His breaking pitch is a curveball that he throws for strikes. He is a good enough athlete to hold the career batting average record at Cincinnati's Moeller High, the alma matter of Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin and Buddy Bell.
9. 3B Zack Cox, Arkansas
Cox has a very mature bat, and the type of plate awareness that will make him a better hitter at higher levels where he has more consistent ball-strike umpires. A sophomore-eligible, he began using all fields in the Cape Cod League last summer. It has paid dividends in his hitting ability this season. In addition to the command of the strike zone he has a short, left-handed stroke that leads to solid contact, and allows him to drive the ball the opposite way. Like most quality left-handed batters out of college, his home run totals will increase as he learns to loft the ball. He has the arm strength to play third, but there are some questions if he has quick enough reaction times, which could necessitate a move to first or right field.
10. LHP James Paxton, Independent Grand Prairie, Texas
After declining to sign with Toronto last year and then having his eligibility at Kentucky challenged because of the involvement of agent Scott Boras, Paxton has worked with an independent league team in Grand Prairie, Texas, and indications are he will go around the same place in the draft this year as last -- the 37th pick overall. He has the size (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) and fastball (touching 97 at times) that could allow him to be effective in the bullpen and teams could be gentle in their use in light of the sore elbow he had in high school, back issues that bothered him 2008 and left knee tendinitis that was an issue last spring.