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May 23, 2005

2005 Amateur Draft Preview

But First...A Look Back

by Boyd Nation

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For those of us who are on the fringes of the BP community, one of the admirable traits of the group is the constant demand for accountability. Based in large part on the belief of some of the original authors that this should be science, by gosh, and that it should therefore be held to the light, nobody picks apart a BP study like another BP author (or, frequently, the original author).

In that vein, I want to do something you'll never see Mel Kiper do. My main role around here is to show up this time of year with pithy pre- and post-draft comments about guys who will be famous for about two weeks in June and then will disappear from public view into a bus in upstate New York for three to five years. Before delving into the cream (and a bit of the froth) of the '05 college draft class, however, I want to take a look back at my comments from the last couple of years and compare them with the players' actual professional performance to date.

Now, any evaluation at this point in any given year is going to get a grade of incomplete. The hitters mostly got in a couple of months at short-season ball last year and are six weeks into this year, while many of the pitchers didn't throw at all professionally last year after going through the grinder that life as a college ace can be, so in their cases we're just looking at a handful of starts. This year, though, things are even more incomplete than usual, since, as a result of the ongoing game of chicken between the big league clubs and Scott Boras (which, as usual in labor matters, consists of a combination of bad behavior and good press control by the owners and their minions), the top pitching and position talents of last year's draft--Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew, respectively--are still unsigned and look likely to go back into this year's draft after spending some time in the independent leagues to keep sharp. In addition, Wade Townsend made the mistake of trying to continue his education without playing while negotiating, so he's draft-eligible again and hasn't played at all since last spring.

Nonetheless, let's take a look at the records on the guys I've talked about the last couple of years. If you're not interested in this as a determinant of whether I know what I'm talking about, you might still want to take a look from another point of view: how predictive of early minor-league success is a moderately well-informed analysis of college stats?

Let's start off with the guys I talked about two years ago, since they've had a little more time to build a record. For example...

"Rickie Weeks is an extremely risky pick, but he has a huge upside."

OK, so that's the sort of statement where you can declare yourself right no matter what happens; what's interesting is that it's still about as clear a statement about Weeks as you can make:


Year    Team        League         AVG   OBP   SLG
2003    Beloit      Midwest       .349  .494  .556
2004    Huntsville  Southern      .259  .366  .407
2005    Nashville   Pacific Coast .319  .428  .652
There are pressures that come with being the #1 overall pick, and some say those pressures got to Weeks last year. On the other hand, he's 11th in OBP and third in slugging in the PCL so far this year over his first 150 plate appearances, and this is his age-22 season. Add in that he's managed to stick at second base so far, and I think he's looking like a great pick.

One of the insights I'm taking away from from Rany Jazayerli's excellent series on analyzing past draft results is that, if you have the #1 draft pick, you might as well swing for the fences. Given that picks two through 90 seem to succeed about equally often, if you have that golden first opportunity and there's a clear best choice, take him and do what you have to to sign him. That's why Weeks is still, in retrospect, the best choice for the first 2003 pick; he's still the only one from that class with a chance to grow up to be Joe Morgan.

I pointed out at the time that Michael Aubrey and Jamie D'Antona had similar numbers against similar schedules but different park factors, but I didn't emphasize enough how much that favored Aubrey:


               2003                2004                 2005
              OBP/SLG             OBP/SLG              OBP/SLG
Aubrey      .409/.551 (Low A)   .438/.550 (High A)   .345/.471 (AA)
D'Antona    .356/.517 (SS)      .353/.531 (High A)   .342/.381 (AA)
That's an anecdotal point in favor of taking college park factors, as uncertain as they are, into account.

"Brad Snyder looks like a bad pick."


Year    Team            League           AVG   OBP   SLG
2003    Mahoning Valley New York-Penn   .284  .393  .467
2004    Lake County     South Atlantic  .280  .382  .461
2005    Kinston         Carolina        .313  .393  .451
He did hit well in 100 at-bats in Kinston at the end of last year, and he's managed to stay in center field so far for the most part, but he's 23 and still in high A, and there's nothing here that screams "major leaguer" at you. "Bad pick" may have overstated it, but there were certainly better players available when he went.

I called Anthony Gwynn a nepotism pick. So far:


Year    Team        League         AVG   OBP   SLG
2003    Beloit      Midwest       .280  .364  .326
2004    Huntsville  Southern      .243  .318  .311
2005    Huntsville  Southern      .316  .416  .354
If you have his father's skill set, you'd better hit .360 every year. Gwynn hasn't.

I didn't really do much projection that year with the pitchers, other than pointing out that most of the first round guys had good records. They're all still on track, although an unfortunate injury from a line drive to the face cost Paul Maholm most of last year (he looks OK but not world-beating so far this year). I did point out that second-rounder Daniel Moore was a strange pick by the Padres--he put up a career 6.35 ERA over the 2003 and 2004 seasons and isn't on a roster this year. I then called Abe Alvarez the best pick of the draft for Boston in the second round--he put up a 3.66 ERA in Double-A last year and is at 3.86 there through his first eight starts this year. That's obviously not the best pick so far; it's still a solid start for a second-rounder, but I oversold him.

As I said, the 2004 guys haven't really had time to establish much of a professional track record. Nonetheless, here are the highlights and lowlights, followed by links to all the relevant articles:

  • I was pessimistic about Josh Fields, since players whose pedigrees are partly based on football success don't have a great track record. The White Sox oddly threw him into high A last year, where he hit .285/.333/.445, and then into Double-A this year, where he's hitting .241/.327/.343. I don't know if they're trying to fast-track him to keep him away from the NFL or what, but he's not getting enough time to develop for me to state for sure that I was right that he was picked too high.

  • I was cautiously optimistic about Jon Zeringue, and he's been cautiously good. Thrown into high A last year, he hit .335/.374/.552, albeit in the offense-heavy California League. So far this year in Double-A, he's struggled a bit, going .262/.289/.410. As I said last year, he's going to have to walk more to survive.

  • The A's catching duo of Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell have taken separate paths so far, with Suzuki going .294/.388/.441 in Vancouver last year and .287/.384/.478 in Stockton this year (decent enough performance given his defense and the tendency of catchers to develop late). Powell went .250/.374/.373 last year in Vancouver and will miss at least a good chunk of the 2005 season due to injury. Health is a skill, and it's one that's hard to project for 22-year-olds.

  • Eddy Martinez-Esteve had a weird year last year, playing briefly at four different levels and hitting well at three of them. This year he's been at high-A San Jose all year and has hit .359/.462/.634, which suggests that he may face another address change soon.

  • In the end, the system is still a system, and singularities may not go through it well. Ryan Jones had the best hitting season in the nation last year, one that was completely out of line with the rest of his career. He drew almost no attention from the scouts, was finally drafted in the 26th round by the A's (let's put it this way--he was their third Ryan of the draft), and gave up after one day in camp. File this one under might-have-been, but it's definitely a miss for my system for now.

  • The only one of my hidden-value picks to be taken in last year's draft, Chip Cannon, has acquitted himself well professionally, going .258/.331/.500 in low A this year.

  • From a quick look at my postdraft comments, I was right about Dustin Pedroia, who may be in Boston before the year's out if he keeps pounding the ball; right about Erick San Pedro, who hasn't played much this year and has hit less; and probably right about Curtis Thigpen, who hasn't hit all that much in low A this year.

  • On the pitching side, I was optimistic about Rice's Philip Humber and Jeff Niemann (along with the aforementioned Townsend). Neither pitched professionally last year. This year, Humber is at 3.77 in the pitching-friendly Florida State League, while Niemann is at 3.98 in the offense-laden California League, so file them both under "too soon to tell."

  • I can also claim that it's soon to tell for him, but Justin Verlander is doing his best to prove me wrong. I had thought that Verlander's heavy college workload and increasing ERAs were bad portents, but he's at 1.38 through his first eight professional starts in the FSL.

  • Jeremy Sowers is another pitcher who--and I'm sensing a pattern here--skipped 2004 and reported directly to high-A ball, this time in the Carolina League. He's turned in a 2.05 ERA so far this year, which I would claim as a victory if I hadn't spent the last couple of paragraphs saying it was too soon to tell. Thomas Diamond, on the other hand, despite my lack of faith in his track record, has put up a 2.53 ERA in the California League this year.

  • Finally, I underestimated Huston Street's apparently considerable value as a closer.

  • From the post-draft list, Chris Lambert has been better than I expected so far (note the sample-size comments on all the pitchers above), and so has Glen Perkins.

The links to last year's series:

A Look at the 1A Prospects
Looking at the Relievers
A Look at the Overlooked
A Look at the Top College Picks

All told, there's a lot of incomplete data out there, but the records that are there match my draft-time notions often enough that I'm not going to go hide my keyboard in shame, so next time we'll start looking at this year's draft crop.

Boyd Nation is the sole author and Webmaster of Boyd's World, a Web site devoted to college baseball rankings, analysis and opinions. In real life, he's an information security analyst with an energy company. He can be reached here.

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