Baseball is in the air. Players are beginning to report to spring training. The Padres appear to be nearly set with only a couple 25 man spots up for grabs. Although the 2012 draft is not until June, the Padres surely have scouts getting ready for the high school and college baseball season about to begin. With the seventhoverall pick in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, the Padres will be keeping an eye on a handful of players. Here I will introduce you to 10 names that the Padres scouts will likely be following over the next few months. All are potential top half of the first round picks. I have selected with the Padres organizational needs in mind to a large degree.

Not likely to be available:

1) Devin Marrero (SS) – The Padres would be ecstatic to find Marerro at number seven. It is very unlikely that he falls to the Padres, but the Padres would be foolish to not scout him anyway. Marrero is one of the better college shortstops to come out in years. He does not possess Manny Machado upside, IMO. However, he does have a high floor and may move fast. Marrero is a good bet to be an average to slightly above average major league shortstop within two years of drafting. The Padres should be salivating.

2) Lucas Giolito (RHP) – My personal favorite of the 2012 draft. Giolito has arguably the highest upside of any pitcher in the 2012 draft. He routinely hits the mid- to-upper 90’s with the radar gun and has a projectable frame. At 6’6” and 200lbs, he is a potential ace. Giolito could go #1 overall and most likely will not be available when the Padres draft.

3) Mark Appel (RHP) – Many believe Appel will be the first player selected. With this being a shallow college player draft, Appel stands out amongst the rest. Appel is 6’5” 190 lb projectable workhorse. Appel, IMO, does not project to be an ace. Although, some will argue that he has the upside of an ace. I think Appel will be viewed by most scouts as #2 that eats up solid innings. Appel represents the best floor/ceiling combination of any pitcher in the 2012 draft. There are enough teams in need of advanced pitching ahead of the Padres that Appel is highly unlikely to be available to the Padres.

4) Mike Zunino (C) – The Padres may no longer have an organizational need at catcher. However, catching is such a valuable commodity that should Zunino be available at number seven, the Padres would consider drafting him as the best player available. Make no mistake, the Padres would not draft Zunino ahead of Giolito, Marrero, or Appel. Zunino projects to be major league ready fairly quickly. Most of the scouting reports I have read suggest Zunino’s floor is an above average backup catcher with his ceiling as an above average major league starting catcher. He is a solid bet to play regularly at the catching position in the Majors, which makes him valuable.

Players that might be available to the Padres:

5) Kevin Gausman (RHP) – Gausman is a power pitcher for LSU. Gausman has more upside, IMO, than Appel. However, Gausman has a high bust factor as he has not shown the same consistency as Appel. If Gausman pitches exceptionally this spring, he may be picked ahead of the Padres at #7. Gausman has the potential to be a top of the rotation elite starter if he puts everything together. The Padres, lacking in elite prospect talent, should be scouting Gausman heavily this spring.

6) Carlos Correa (SS) – With Marrero likely gone by the #6 overall pick, the Padres could draft Correa. Correa will be a project for whoever drafts him. He is not a sure bet for staying at SS, but has the athleticism that will entice teams to try him there early in his pro career. The Padres should be scouting Correa quite a bit since SS is very weak. Personally, I would pass on Correa should a very good pitching prospect like Gausman be available. Correa, IMO, does not represent a significant upside improvement over Jace Peterson and would be slightly behind Peterson in development.

7) Byron Buxton (OF) – Many believe Buxton to be the best overall high school position talent available in terms of ceiling. I have heard comparisons to Donovan Tate. Buxton, for the Padres, would represent drafting an elite upside talent. Buxton has the potential to be a five-tool outfielder. Given the only elite upside outfielder in the Padres system is Tate, the Padres would likely consider taking Buxton should he be available.

8 ) Max Fried (LHP) – High school lefties with fastballs sitting in the low 90’s and occasionally reaching 95 are sure to get the attention of scouts. At 6’3” and 170 lbs, Fried has the frame to go along with his pitching repertoire. Fried is a personal favorite of mine and would love to see the Padres draft him if he is the best available left at #7.

Likely to be available:

9) Chris Beck (RHP) – Beck is one of the safer college pitching picks. At 6’3” 190lbs, he certainly has the projectable frame. Beck should be available to the Padres should they decide to go with a safe pick with minimal sign-ability risk. Beck projects as a middle of the rotation starter with #2 upside if his secondary pitches continue to improve.

10) Lance McCullers (RHP) — McCullers is in a similar boat as Gausman. Both need a big spring to solidify their status as a top 10 draft pick. McCullers routinely hits the upper 90’s with the radar gun. However, McCullers is even more raw than Giolito and doesn’t have the same frame. At 6’2’ 195 lbs, McCullers still has some frame projectability but coupled with his raw potential makes McCullers a project. McCullers could be a top 5 pick if he shows improvement in command and secondary pitches this spring.

Additional names that the Padres would likely be scouting: Trey Williams, Victor Roache, Walker Weichel, Mike Wacha, Jake Barrett, Nick Williams, and Lucas Sims.

Overall, there should be plenty of players for the Padres to choose from in the 2012 draft. If I were putting together a “big” board for the Padres and the draft were held tomorrow, here is how I would have it:

1) Marrero
2) Giolito
3) Appel
4) Gausman
5) Fried
6) Buxton
7) Zunino

Gausman, Fried, and Buxton are the most likely to be available and all would represent high upside picks for the Padres.