It's too early to say who will be the first player taken in the 2013 draft — could be University of Florida pitcher Karsten Whitson or another advanced college prospect or a high school stud like Austin Meadows, an outfielder from Georgia, or Clinton Hollon, a hard-throwing pitcher from Kentucky. Who knows?
Whoever does go first overall, five years from now there will be some team that either used the pick to help turn around a struggling franchise or kicking itself for screwing up the privilege of making the pick. Barring a huge surprise, we already should have a good idea which team will get the pick.
Cubs (.341), Twins (.341), Rockies (.372), Padres (.370) and Royals (.395).
At this time last year, the Twins, Astros, Padres, Nationals and Dodgers had the five worst records in the majors. They ended the season ranked, respectively, in this order among the 30 franchises: 29, 30, (tie) 26, 15 and 13. The Nationals and Dodgers were decent teams that just started horribly. The others finished about like they started.
This time around, the Rockies are probably the outliers. The bottom still could drop out for a few other teams, like the Brewers, Astros and maybe the Pirates (never count them out when discussing losing teams). But the "race'' for the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft shapes up as a four-team affair among the Cubs, Twins, Padres and Royals.
So how does the Little Four stack up?
• Ownership commitment: The Padres have funding issues, and it doesn't help their short-term results that $7 million of the $55.6 million roster goes to Carlos Quentin, who hasn't been on the field yet. The Royals' $64-million payroll is a big increase from 2011. The Twins have a bigger payroll than the Cubs when you factor in the $22.5 million the Cubs are paying Carlos Zambrano and Marlon Byrd to play elsewhere.
• Current performance: The Twins are the worst team in this group, allowing the most runs in the majors and outscoring only eight teams. It says a lot for the weakness of the pitching and defense that they are allowing the most runs, because Target Field is distinctly a pitchers' park.
The Cubs have been the next worst, ranked in the bottom seven in both runs scored and allowed.
The Padres can be tough to score on, especially at Petco Park, but they just lost lefty Cory Luebke for the season to elbow surgery.
The Royals should have a decent lineup to go with thin pitching, but Eric Hosmer's slow start has contributed to the lineup underachieving.
• White flag potential: Midseason trades that could strip the roster are a huge consideration in trying to figure how many games teams can win.
The Cubs could be huge sellers at the deadline, with starting pitchers Ryan Dempster (10/5 player with full no-trade rights) and Matt Garza, closer Carlos Marmol, first baseman Bryan LaHair, catcher Geo Soto (expected back from the disabled list in mid-June) and valuable bench players Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker available.
The Twins could move center fielder Denard Span but can't expect much return on pitchers Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano.
The Padres could deal Quentin (sidelined since spring training after knee surgery), closer Huston Street (on the DL with a strained shoulder) and third baseman Chase Headley.
The Royals don't have many veterans to trade but will get offers for their many power relievers.
• Reinforcements: There's almost no help coming in the second half for the Twins, which could help in sliding to the 30th spot.
The Cubs will promote Triple-A terror Anthony Rizzo by July, if not earlier, and could get a lift from center fielder Brett Jackson. The Padres are taking a patient approach with switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal, who recently was promoted from Double A to Triple A, but third baseman Jedd Gyorko makes Headley expendable. Right fielder Wil Myers is pushing for a spot with the Royals, and starters Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi could help this year.
• Strength of schedule: The Padres not only play tougher teams in the National League West than the Cubs, Twins and Royals face in their Central Divisions but also get the Rangers in interleague play. The NL Central is slightly weaker than the American League Central. The Royals get interleague series against the Astros and Pirates and figure to catch the Cardinals depleted by injuries.