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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 7, 2012 at 11:09 AM

2012 MLB draft jolted by elbow injury to top prospect

After drafting second overall in both 2009 and 2011, the Mariners once again are picking near the top of the MLB draft in 2012 — another manifestation of how poorly things have gone for them of late. They will be selecting third this June, the fifth time in eight years they will have a top five pick. Those picks have netted them Jeff Clement (oops), Brandon Morrow (who turned into Brandon League; I promise to not even mention Tim Lincecum), Dustin Ackley (so far, so good) and Danny Hultzen (ditto).

Here is the draft order for the first five picks in 2012:

1, Astros

2, Twins

3, Mariners

4, Orioles

5, Royals.

Well, the draft world received quite a jolt this week with news out of Southern California that RHP Lucas Giolito, the consensus top high school pitching prospect in the draft, sprained the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on Tuesday. He’ll be sidelined for six to 10 weeks, and his coach at Harvard-Westlake HS in Studio City, Calif., told the Los Angeles Times, “He’s probably done for the season.”

Giolito is 6-foot-6, 230 pounds and has signed with UCLA, but he stood to be a very high draft pick. In fact, Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law both ranked him as the No. 2 prospect in the draft (behind Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, in Baseball America’s case). There has even been some talk that he is a special enough talent to go No. 1 overall. Giolito had caused a great deal of excitement last week, in his season debut, by hitting 100 mph on the radar gun, which prep pitchers almost never do this early in the season*. (Harvard-Westlake had quite a staff — senior left-hander Max Fried is a top 15 prospect himself).

*I’m no expert in kinesiology, but I’ve got to wonder how much of a strain it is on a teen-aged arm to throw with that kind of velocity. The repeated injuries to Joel Zumaya, who was clocked at 104 mph and routinely exceeded 100 mph in his prime, and fireballer Stephen Strasburg’s Tommy John surgery last year are other reminders that there can be a heavy price to pay for lighting up the radar gun in triple digits. Although, granted, pitchers of lesser velocity get sore arms, too — but I don’t think most arms are built to throw 100 on a consistent basis.

The injury will obviously affect Giolito’s stock in the draft, which is about 12 weeks away. No surgery is necessary, but whether or not teams will now be willing to go for him in the top of the draft will be hotly debated.

Baseball America’s top 5 prospects are Appel, Giolito, high school outfielder Byron Buxton (Baxley, Georgia), Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero, and Florida catcher Mike Zunino. Law goes Buxton, Giolito, Appel, Marrero and LSU right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman, with Zunino seventh.

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