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May 25, 2006

Future Shock

Draft Notebook, 5/25

by Kevin Goldstein

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With less than two weeks to go before the draft, those charged with covering the annual pick-fest have been busy with mock drafts. I was going to follow suit, but it's still too much of a guessing game. The first five picks have solidified to the consistency of Jello at best; after the first fifteen, you might as while get a monkey to throw darts, as any number of pre-draft deals could create chaos in the second half. So instead of projecting exact names, let's go through the first half of the draft and see what the rumors are and where each team stands. The glass half-empty guy would say I'm wussing out here, but the glass half-full guy--a personal friend of mine--would say I'm giving you far more information this way.

1. Kansas City Royals.

By all accounts, University of North Carolina lefthander Andrew Miller is once again the heavy favorite to go No. 1 overall, but it's still anything but carved in stone. Miller's performance in yesterday's ACC tournament opener, in which he gave up seven runs in six innings, didn't exactly help things, either. Rumors of the Royals going cheap and selecting University of Washington righty Tim Lincecum or even University of Houston righthander Brad Lincoln remain...

...and then there is this. Straight from the X-Files, and directed by Oliver Stone, it's the latest tidbit of gossip in the world of draft discussion: Luke Hochevar to the Royals with the first pick in the draft. It almost begins to makes sense if you think about it too long because of the spin-job that allows for both sides to sell this as a win-win situation. Assuming the Royals and Hochevar's agent, Scott Boras, could bang out the basics of a deal before the Royals selected (with the numbers being mentioned as around four million), here's how it works. For Kansas City, it means a seven-figure savings from what it would take to sign Miller. In addition the Royals would say that they selected the best pitcher from last year's draft, which is a much stronger class than the current one. Not only would being the top pick benefit Hochevar, but it would be a bit of redemption for Boras, who was highly criticized for his handling of the Tennessee star last year, but now would be able to boast that he turned his protégé into the No. 1 pick in the draft and signed him for far more than the $2.98 million bonus Hochevar agreed to with the Dodgers while temporarily advised by Matt Sosnick. Will this happen? Probably not. But in late May, talking about these scenarios is half the fun. Some people have the National Enquirer, we have the draft.

2. Colorado Rockies

Things get much easier here. It's a pretty basic if/then situation.

If royals.pick = "Andrew Miller"
   Then
   rockies.pick = "Evan Longoria"
   Else
   rockies.pick = "Andrew Miller"
End If

Pretty simple, huh?

3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

The Devil Rays have been focusing on college pitching all along, and there's no change here, other than the fact that they've added Hochevar to a mix that includes Lincoln, Lincecum and University of California power righthander Brandon Morrow. There are some mild indications that Lincoln is the leader as we come down to the final stretch, but Hochevar is a horse that shouldn't be counted out yet.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates

Before last Friday, it looked like Stanford righthander Greg Reynolds had worked his way all the way up to this pick, but then he gave up seven runs on ten hits in six innings against UCLA in front of practically the entire Pittsburgh front office. Reynolds is probably the draft version of the plexiglass principle, where the player gets hot, starts shooting up the draft boards...and then teams realize that he's good, but he's not that good. If Miller doesn't go to Kansas City, it looks like the Pirates would strongly prefer Longoria. With that situation unlikely, it's anyone's ballgame, with the Lincecum/Lincoln/Morrow trio in the picture along with Texas high school arms Clayton Kershaw, and Kyle Drabek, who still has support from the marketing department for sure, despite the makeup issues.

5. Seattle Mariners

Once again, we're looking at pitching here, with the usual suspects entering the fray. Seattle is also reportedly very high on Hochevar, with him now sitting as their preferred selection among players who could be available.

6. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers love Kershaw, who returned from an oblique strain this week to throw five perfect innings, recording 15 strikeouts (now that's perfect) while touching 96 mph. If Morrow is still around, it gives the Tigers a bit of a decision to make, as both he and Kershaw fit the mold for the type of arm Detroit prefers--big, and with plenty of velocity. These preferences would likely keep Lincecum or Lincoln out of the picture even if they're still around.

7. Los Angeles Dodgers

Despite all reports to the contrary, there are some indications that there have been some very early, very preliminary, very loose talks between the Dodgers and Scott Boras about signing Hochevar, for whom the Dodgers retain exclusive negotiating rights until next Tuesday. While the chances of something getting done there still seem minute, that's significantly more than the zero chance that seemed to be the case a couple of weeks ago. If the Dodgers do sign Hochevar, it puts them in a bit of pickle for this year's draft--with three selections in the first 31 picks, signing Hochevar and that trio would cost the team somewhere north of $8 million.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. It should be no surprise to hear that the Dodgers love Kershaw, and he's their top target here, but if he's gone, things get a little messy. Their second favorite high school arm looks like Virginia righthander Jeremy Jeffress, but he may lack the size and breaking ball to be selected this high. It's possible that Drabek and Reynolds could enter the picture, and the pick will almost definitely be a pitcher.

8. Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are high on Reynolds and University of Texas outfielder Drew Stubbs, but it's possible Stubbs could be too expensive. Enter Billy Rowell. The New Jersey high school shortstop will end up moving to third base or even further down the defensive spectrum, but he's drawing Troy Glaus comparisons for his size, approach, natural loft and incredible leverage. He's almost certainly going to be the first high school position player off the board, and while Rowell didn't even enter the year as a first-round pick, there are whispers that the three teams ahead of the Reds have him in the back of their minds as well.

9. Baltimore Orioles

According to one source, the Orioles are "absolutely enamored" with Rowell and will take him if he's there. Backup plans include Reynolds and any of the big name college arms who might drop. The fact that Peter Angelos will at some point stick his head into the war room and make a decree adds some unpredictability here.

10. San Francisco Giants

The Giants are basically stuck with this pick and they're not happy about it, and who knows? Maybe they're trying to figure out a loophole that allows them to forfeit the pick by signing Michael Tucker again. If one thing is clear, it's that the Giants don't like to spend money in the draft, and it looks like they could be the first organization to play a game of "Let's Make A Deal," looking to sign a player well-below the recommended slot bonus. One name coming up here is University of Texas ace Kyle McCulloch--which one scouting director referred to as "crazy at No. 10"--and California prep outfielder Chris Parmalee, which the same exec classified as "beyond crazy." Parmalee, a left-handed hitting outfielder with plus power and arm strength has had a disappointing spring and on talent alone projects more as a late-first/supplemental pick. Whoever the Giants select, it almost certainly won't upset the team drafting right behind them, which is ...

11. Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks have two things going for them. 1. Scouting director Mike Rizzo really knows how to draft. 2. Rizzo is not afraid in any way whatsoever of potential signability issues, and puts talent ahead of all other factors (which goes back to No. 1). Arizona is looking for pitching, and looking at college pitching. A Scott Boras client, resurgent University of Missouri righthander Max Scherzer, seems like a perfect fit here, with University of Nebraska righty Joba Chamberlain and inconsistent North Carolina righthander Daniel Bard also earning consideration.

12. Texas Rangers

The Rangers like staying local, so it's very fortunate that they are not the Vermont Rangers or something. Stubbs could be the ideal solution here, with Drabek also fitting in well; nobody denies that beyond the makeup issues, his talent alone puts him among the top high school players available.

13. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are usually in "best player available" mode, and that shouldn't change under new scouting director Tim Wilkin. One of the names I brought up among the first ten teams listed here is likely going to drop, and when he does, the Cubs are likely to nab him.

14. Toronto Blue Jays

About two weeks ago, this entry would have been two words: Matt Antonelli, as Toronto has been on the Wake Forest infielder for months and he fits with the team's recent history of drafting solid, safe, and unspectacular players. With very few college hitters worthy of being selected this high, even Antonelli seems like a bit of a reach, but so did lefthander Ricky Romero at No. 6 last year. Late word comes in that Toronto is not completely locked in on Antonelli and there is a chance that the Blue Jays could surprise this year and get away from their all-college ways. If that happens, Washington prep slugger Travis Snider could be the selection.

15. Washington Nationals

The Nationals pick again at No. 22, and while it looks like they'll make a money-saving deal with that pick, they're looking to do the right thing at 15, and leaning very heavily towards pitching, as they expect none of the available position players to be worth this high of a selection. They seem to be hoping Jeffress gets to them, which is a distinct possibility. Oklahoma high school southpaw Brett Anderson could be the backup plan.

Guys Who Could Make It Messy

With the weak pool of talent to choose from, teams see little difference between the 20th-best talent and the 50th. With that in mind, we could see a number of pre-draft deals among picks 16-30 for players signing under the recommended slot bonus. After identifying players like Bay Area high school slugger Lars Anderson, University of Miami closer Chris Perez, and Florida high school outfielder Derrick Robinson in previous notebooks as potential candidates for such a strategy, here are four additional names being thrown about as candidates for quick, budget-minded deals once the first round gets into the upper teens.

Brooks Brown, rhp, University of Georgia

Brown has been the best starter for the Bulldogs this year, but teams like him better as a reliever with closer potential, based on the 95-97 mph fastball and plus curve that he showed while pitching short stints in the Cape Cod League last year.

Stephen King, ss, Winter Park HS (Florida)

King has been a bit of an enigma because of a series of muscle pulls that have limited scouts from getting multiple views of him. He's big (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and athletic, has the tools to stay at shortstop and features plus speed and power potential. His game is still a little rough around the edges, but his projectability could make him an attractive option.

Jason Place, of, Wren HS (South Carolina)

Place is the perfect candidate for an early deal, as while he's a raw product today, his ceiling rates with nearly any other high school position player. Long, lean and muscular, Place is a true five-tool talent with his power, speed and arm strength all receiving high grades--as does his makeup. Scouts are mixed on his swing, however, which currently features a dramatic load and too many moving parts.

Max Sapp, c, Bishop Moore HS (Florida)

While California high school star Hank Conger should be the first catcher taken in the draft and go somewhere in the 15-25 range, Sapp could work his way into the first round for a team that thinks he can stay behind the plate, which right now looks like a 50/50 proposition. Sapp has a plus arm and little else defensively, but few question his power bat and catchers are often overdrafted because of positional scarcity.

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

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