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Gator could be top pick in MLB draft

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On Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred will stroll to the podium to announce the first pick of the 2016 draft. After that, little is certain.

The state of Florida is often good for as many as five or six first round selections. This year perhaps only two players will be top 25 selections and perhaps only two more will be taken in the first round.

A consensus does not yet exist for the top pick, but multiple experts are pointing toward Gainesville. Hard-throwing left hander A.J. Puk is becoming the favorite to hear his name called first by Manfred on Thursday evening.

Miami catcher Zack Collins is also high on the list of many teams. Lake Minneola high school shortstop Drew Mendoza also has a shot to be a first round selection.

Puk might appear to be an unlikely top selection. In 15 starts he had only five decisions and holds a 2-3 record. No Gator pitcher lost more.

If scouts only looked at those kinds of numbers Puk would wait quite some time before his name was called. What is important are things such as 95 strikeouts in only 70 innings pitched, allowing only 50 hits and holding opponents to a .195 batting average.

Collins is a powerful, but patient hitter. He is not a top-rated defensive catcher, which moves him down the draft board.

Mendoza is said to have a strong arm and a quick bat, which appeals to major league scouts. He could go as a mid-first round pick.

Florida State Coach Mike Martin will anxiously await the results from Thursday. Mendoza is committed to attend FSU if he does not sign a pro contract. Two other potential first round picks, Joshua Lowe from Marietta, Ga. and Forrest Whitley from San Antonio, Texas have also committed to Florida State.

Another Gator who could become a late first round choice is pitcher Logan Shore. Shore is 11-0 this season with a 2.44 earned run average, but does not have the velocity as that possessed by Puk.

The Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays could have an opportunity to select what many believe to be the best overall prospect. New Jersey high school pitcher Jason Groome, with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, could make a quick rise to the major leagues.

Groome’s stock is falling somewhat due to concerns with his maturity and decision making. Some say he could fall out of the top 10 despite having unquestioned talent. The Marlins pick seventh while the Rays have the 13th pick.

If Groome falls as far as seventh, Miami may take the plunge. Why not? The Dolphins rolled the dice on a troubled, but highly talented offensive lineman in Laremy Tunsil in April’s NFL draft.

It will be an interesting first round.


Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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