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May 31, 2011

Future Shock

Draft Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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You having fun yet? Good, because teams certainly are not as they set up their respective war rooms for next week's draft. This IM conversation with one front-office official says it all.

FO: So who are we getting?
Me:
I don't even know who Pittsburgh is taking.
FO:
We don't have a clue either, and we're in here arguing about who will be there when we go.

The list of players the official’s team is considering is nearly double where the team is picking. The size of the list shows how the flattening of talent and the absence of no-brainer selections have left teams scrambling for one last look at players in high school tournaments, private workouts, and the first round of NCAA tournament play.

The last two years were much easier; everyone knew Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper would be the first picks in the draft, so you worked from there. Now, just one week away from the first selection, the Pirates are still considering a range of players, which complicates any flow chart of draft logic. Rumors of the Pirates being interested in the top high school pitcher (Dylan Bundy) and position player (Bubba Starling) have waned considerably, but there is a consensus that there is very little consensus within Pittsburgh in terms of taking Rice infielder Anthony Rendon, UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole, or University of Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen. If forced to do a mock draft today (you'll see one later in the week), I'd attach Hultzen to the Pirates, but based on numerous conversations with both teams and agents, this would be my level of confidence:

Danny Hultzen: 40%
Gerrit Cole:
30%
Anthony Rendon:
20%
The Field:
10%

That creates quite a conundrum for teams right below Pittsburgh, but here's how things are shaking out in the next four picks.

2. Seattle Mariners: They've been attached to Rendon all spring, and it has reached the point where if the Pirates nab Rendon at first overall, nobody has a good feel for just what Seattle would do with the pick.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona has been heavy on Hultzen all spring, but if he's gone, they'll likely stick with a college arm. One interesting rumor has them favoring UCLA right-hander Trevor Bauer over his teammate, Cole.

4. Baltimore Orioles: Baltimore is the first team thought to have heavy interest in Dylan Bundy, the top high school pitcher in the draft. He’s only tangentially in the mix for the first three picks, so he should be around for the Orioles. This could come down to getting a more realistic feel for Bundy's bonus demands toward the end of the week.

5. Kansas City Royals: The Royals could be in a similar pickle to last year: The players they really wanted were gone, so they settled for infielder Christian Colon, who signed quickly for the recommended slot. There are plenty of scenarios with the Royals spending Sunday night calling around to figure out which college pitcher would do the same this year, saving the extra cash for the international market or stowing it away to help lock up some young stars down the road.

The Annual Money Game Begins
Chances are good that you've already heard the crazy numbers being thrown around. Dylan Bundy wants $30 million, Archie Bradley wants $20 million, and Bubba Starling will need a record deal to buy him away from becoming the next quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over these figures on forums, Twitter, and other places where people gather to talk about baseball, but keep in mind that absolutely none of this is real. Remember the kind of numbers being thrown out for Strasburg and Harper. Remember Buster Posey scaring off the Rays with the first overall pick in 2008 with an eight-figure demand. In the end, all of those players signed huge deals, but they were for less than half of the numbers that were out there prior to the draft. This is just posturing; there is no need to get too worked up over anything you hear about money until Monday.

“Historic Draft My Ass”
That's how one front-office official summed up this year's class, whereas another was more diplomatic, insisting the historic quality of this year’s class an invention of the media and had little basis in reality. This is not a bad draft by any stretch, but it does have its weaknesses. It's remarkably pitching-heavy, and there are very few hitters that you can dream of being a middle-of-the-order run producer. There are plenty of scenarios where as many as eight of the first 10 picks could be pitchers, and even of those, how many have ace ceilings after Cole and Bundy? “There is a remarkable amount of good in this draft,” said one scouting director, “but we haven't seen the amount of great we were hoping for.” This draft could turn out to be better for teams picking late in the first round, or those with multiple compensations picks (hello, Rays), as there should be plenty of solid players available, and the talent gap between single- and double-digit selections won't be as wide.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Anthony Rendon,  Dylan Bundy

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