Five storylines to watch as two-way stars take center stage at the MLB draft

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MLB draft prospect Brendan McKay is a duel threat as both a position player and pitcher.
USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball’s draft is a three-day event focused on teenagers and collegians who will not impact the major leagues, by and large, for several years. That doesn’t mean tonight’s event – which starts at 7 ET, with a pre-draft show at 6 on MLB Network – doesn’t want for intrigue.

Here are five things to watch as the Minnesota Twins prepare to go on the clock:

Who’s No. 1?

There’s far more excitement around the top pick than many years, for several reasons. There is no consensus, slam-dunk 1-1 selection. Who goes No. 1 will also have a more significant ripple effect for the next several picks than usual. And the candidates for the top slot already have a significantly higher profile than usual thanks to their significant amateur accomplishments.

With all that said, industry consensus is leaning toward the Twins taking Louisville two-way star Brendan McKay No. 1. It’s a return from a brief dalliance with Vanderbilt right-hander Kyle Wright, who’s certain to go in the top five, nonetheless. In McKay, the Twins get one of the top collegiate players of all time, a power-hitting first baseman whose mound dominance helped the Cardinals to the College World Series. McKay told USA TODAY Sports that the Twins informed him they prefer he pitch, although he may keep his bat through this summer.

Either way, the Twins are expected to reel in this most intriguing talent.

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Hunter Greene’s turn in the spotlight

The L.A.-area high schooler with more than five tools – add violin and philanthropist to the usual skill set – is expected to go second overall, to the Cincinnati Reds. And thus begins a pro career with perhaps the most anticipation since Bryce Harper landed with the Washington Nationals first overall in 2010.

Greene, like McKay, is a dazzling two-way player whose future – thanks to a 100-mph fastball – is expected to be on the mound. He’s also willing to accept a baseball ambassadorship of sorts:  As a young, charismatic, multi-talented African American pitcher in a sport hoping to reach a wider audience, Greene has more than a few people within the game rooting that he pans out.

Greene will be one of just four potential draftees who agreed to attend the event at MLB Network studios, the culmination of a whirlwind weekend in and around New York City.

After that, he’ll disappear for an apprenticeship in the low minors. It won’t be just the Reds hoping that this special talent reemerges soon in the big league spotlight.

How high will Bubba Thompson fly?

Thompson will join Greene at the draft and cap a whirlwind year with a likely first-round selection. Like Greene, Thompson has had lots of options.

He originally committed to Auburn to play baseball, but stellar senior years on both the gridiron – he’s a quarterback – and diamond caught Alabama’s attention. After rumblings he’d try both sports at Alabama, he’s – more or less – firmly committed to baseball. And after batting .404 with nine homers, 19 steals in as many tries and stellar defensive play in center field, Thompson’s name continues to rise on draft boards.

While the Los Angeles Dodgers – who pick 23rd – have been most linked to Thompson, it’s very likely a club drafting higher will aim to cut a below-slot deal with Thompson and save a few bucks of pool money for later picks. Regardless, Thompson’s arrow has been going nowhere but up and that should continue on national TV.

Teammate tandems

For area scouts accustomed to accruing miles, this spring provided some relief – two blue-chip prospects for the price of one trip. No fewer than three sets of teammates have a strong chance to go in the first round or shortly thereafter, led by the University of Virginia’s outstanding hitting tandem of Pavin Smith and Adam Haseley. Smith, a first baseman, has been called “the best pure hitter in college baseball” by draft analyst Frankie Piliere. It’s possible he and Haseley go back-to-back somewhere in the first 10 to 15 picks.

Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has a pair of slam dunks in Wright and outfielder Jeren Kendall. Wright won’t sneak out of the top five picks if the Twins pass on him. With a polished three-pitch mix, he’s likely closest to the majors of the top pitching prospects available. Kendall, a center fielder, is a bit less polished but has elite hitting ability, speed and developing power. He shouldn’t last long past the top 10.

Then there’s Huntington Beach High School, which has two more elite two-way guys in Nick Pratto and Hagen Danner. Teammates on a Little League World Series championship team, both are dominant pitchers who figure to hit as pros. Pratto, according to draft expert John Sickels, may be the best pure hitter among amateurs, with the only question being how much the first baseman’s power develops. Danner, a UCLA commit, is a power-hitting catcher whose pedigree – prep catchers are a risky lot – may compel teams to pass until the supplemental or second round.

What now for Luke Heimlich?

The Oregon State pitcher sexually assaulted a 6-year-old girl when he was 15, a revelation that emerged only in the last week when Heimlich missed a deadline to register as a sex offender in Corvallis. Heimlich removed himself from Oregon State’s roster for their super regional against Vanderbilt last week, and it’s not yet known if he will pitch in the College World Series.

Now, the next 72 hours – the draft runs until Wednesday – will determine his toxicity to major league clubs. Heimlich – expected to be a top 50 choice – likely won’t hear his name called as both teams, league and player continue to process an almost unprecedented situation.

PHOTOS: MLB’s top prospects

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