Major League Baseball's owner-imposed lockout is now more than two months old and beginning to threaten the regular season's integrity, but that doesn't mean the future of the sport is shut down. Many high schools and junior colleges across the country have already started their seasons, and the NCAA will join them on Friday.
To honor the occasion, CBS Sports recently revealed this year's preseason ranking of the top 50 prospects in this summer's draft. In the space below, we've decided to tackle the draft class from a different perspective, focusing on four storylines worth monitoring between now and whenever the Baltimore Orioles announce the No. 1 pick.
Let's get to it.
1. The early field for the No. 1 pick
The Orioles "earned" the third No. 1 pick in their franchise history in unusual fashion: by virtue of a tiebreaker. Baltimore and the Arizona Diamondbacks had the same record in both 2021 and 2020, necessitating the league go off 2019 results to dictate the draft order. Whereas the Diamondbacks were a respectable 85-77 back in 2019, the Orioles were a dismal 54-108; ergo, Baltimore will get its choice of the field come July.
Who might join Ben McDonald and Adley Rutschman as the Orioles' No. 1 picks? Georgia prep infielder Termarr Johnson would seem to be the favorite based on his offensive ceiling, but it's too early to know for certain. Industry sources who spoke with CBS Sports suggested it's within the realm of possibility that the Orioles become enamored with either James Madison outfielder Chase DeLauter or Cal Poly infielder Brooks Lee, ranked No. 2 and No. 3 on the preseason top 50, by decision time.
There's also the likelihood that Mike Elias turns to his old portfolio playbook, and drafts the most talented player who will accept the lowest signing bonus as a means of freeing up money for the rest of his class. It's anyone's guess at this point as to whether any of the three names above would fit that billing.
2. Where's Rocker?
Kumar Rocker was one the highest profile players on the board entering last year's draft, when he was selected 10th overall by the New York Mets. He'll serve a similar function this year after the Mets shied away from signing him following the results of his physical.
The difference between then and now is that Rocker opted against returning to Vanderbilt, meaning he won't be pitching every week for one of the premier teams in college baseball. Where, precisely, he'll be pitching is to be determined. Ditto for when. The expectation is that he'll make a proof-of-life appearance or two later this summer, ahead of draft day, as part of an independent league team.
You can click here to read more about Rocker's situation, but for the time being it seems reasonable to view him as a late first-round pick, at best.
3. College pitching class devastated by injuries
The collegiate pitching class took a hit when Rocker made his decision, but that was nothing compared to the toll injuries have taken on the group.
Coming into Opening Day, the following pitchers who cracked the top 50 are dealing with some malady or another:
No. 15 Connor Prielipp, LHP, Alabama: He's out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
No. 26 Blade Tidwell, RHP, Tennessee: He's expected to miss at least the start of the season because of shoulder soreness.
No. 28 Peyton Pallette, RHP, Arkansas: He's out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
No. 37 Reggie Crawford, LHP, UConn: He may not pitch this season because of an elbow injury he suffered last year.
That's four notable injuries, including three that threaten seasons. Those players should still be selected over the first couple rounds, albeit lower than they might've been had they stayed healthy. It's not the ideal outcome, but it could be worse.
What are risk-averse teams seeking arms to do in the early stages of the draft? They could turn to ECU left-hander Carson Whisenhunt or Mississippi State right-hander Landon Sims, the top college arms who remain healthy, or they could even dip their toes into what looks like a strong prep pitching class. Some names to know there include Brandon Barreira, Dylan Lesko, and Brock Porter.
4. Bloodlines galore
We'll conclude by noting that this is a tremendous class for legacy players, or those players who have big-league bloodlines. In the top 50 alone, we have the following:
No. 4 Druw Jones: The son of former MLB outfielder Andruw Jones;
No. 13 Robert Moore: The son of Royals executive Dayton Moore;
No. 24 Daniel Susac: The brother of veteran MLB catcher Andrew Susac;
No. 27 Cam Collier: The son of former MLB infielder Lou Collier;
No. 40 Justin Crawford: The son of former MLB outfielder Carl Crawford;
and No. 41 Jackson Holliday: The son of former MLB outfielder Matt Holliday.
That's seven players, or 14 percent of the top 50, that boast a direct tie to a big-league player or executive. And that doesn't include more distant relationships, or someone like Brooks Lee, who plays for his father at Cal Poly. We'll see if those players can maintain their positions heading into the summer. If so, this draft could be more of a family affair than usual.