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August 29, 2006

Future Shock

Checking In On the 2006 First Round

by Kevin Goldstein

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The 2006 Draft was generally seen as a week one going into June, as only the group of college pitchers really garnered any excitement from the scouting community.

However, the performances of this year's first-round selections have many people already wondering if the talent level was underrated, particularly among the offensive players. Let's take a look at this year's picks and how they are doing as we enter the final week of the minor league regular season. For the most part, we're looking at a lot of surprisingly good performances.

Here are the basic statistics for each talent quadrant; EXP means expectations, with a plus-sign for those that have performed better than expected, a minus-sign for those that have disappointed and the column is left blank for those that have been par for the course.

High School Hitters

Pick, Player, Team              LVL  AVG  OBP  SLG  AB  BB  SO  EXP
-------------------------------------------------------------------
9. Billy Rowell, Orioles         R  .329 .422 .507 152  25  47   +
14. Travis Snider, Blue Jays     R  .325 .412 .567 194  30  47   +
15. Chris Marrero, Nationals     R  .309 .374 .420  81   8  19       -
20. Chris Parmelee, Twins      R/A- .277 .365 .518 166  24  52   +
23. Max Sapp, Astros            SS  .237 .322 .314 156  20  34   -
24. Cody Johnson, Braves         R  .184 .260 .281 114  12  49   -
25. Hank Conger, Angels          R  .319 .382 .522  69   7  11   +
27. Jason Place, Red Sox         R  .292 .386 .442 113  17  35   +

The prep hitting class pales in comparison to last year's bounty of tools-laden outfielders, but for the most part, they've well outperformed expectations, and we've definitely found some real prospects in unexpected places. Both Rowell and Snider were all but unanimously seen as the top two high school hitters in the draft, but many saw them as raw talents from non-baseball hotbeds that would need some time to adjust to pro pitching. Instead, Rowell has hit .375/.462/.625 in 24 August games, while Snider was making a run at the Appy League Triple Crown before being shelved with tendonitis in his wrist. Like Snider, Conger was off to a torrid pace in the Arizona League before breaking a bone in his hand, while Place was seen as another raw talent who could struggle early. Instead, he showed a surprisingly mature approach in the Gulf Coast League. Sapp's numbers are tempered by an assignment to the New York-Penn League instead of the club's Appy League affiliate, and playing against mostly college players has proven a little bit too challenging. The only really bad performance here belongs to Johnson, who going into the draft had a love-him-or-hate-him reputation, with some teams seeing him as a first-round talent, and others having him completely off their board. While it's far too early to write him off (just look at the GCL debuts of future stars like Derek Jeter or Chipper Jones), the biggest concern for Johnson was contact, and with a strikeout for every 2.3 at-bats, significant improvements will need to be made. The real steal here might be Parmelee, who earned tabs as the best high school hitter in California based on his approach and power. He's limited defensively, but his bat is looking to be plenty enough so far.

Final Tally

Above Expectations: 5
Below Expectations: 2
Push: 1

High School Pitchers

Pick, Player, Team            LVL   ERA   IP    H   BB   SO   EXP
-----------------------------------------------------------------
7. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers    R   1.95  37.0  28    5   54    +
12. Kasey Kiker, Rangers      SS   4.15  43.1  35   32   41
16. Jeremy Jeffress, Brewers   R   5.68  31.2  28   24   33    -
18. Kyle Drabek, Phillies      R   7.71  23.1  33   11   14    -
22. Colton Willems, Nationals  R   3.38  16    23    3    8    -
26. Bryan Morris, Dodgers      R   4.76  56.2  61   34   74

This group is the only disappointment so far, but there are two mitigating factors. First off, Clayton Kershaw, according to those who have seen him, has enough potential to makes up for any failures otherwise. Secondly, the rest of these guys are power arms (finesse high school pitchers don't go in the first round) with the ability to turn things around. As you can see by the numbers, Kershaw has been outstanding by any measurement, and the stuff matches the performance. Kiker gets the same mulligan Sapp gets for pitching in the Northwest League--other than the walks, he's held his own against players mostly two-to-three years older than he is. If you remove Kershaw from the equation, the one thing the group has in common is control problems, except for Willems who has also given up many hits with few strikeouts in a small sample. Few walks and few strikeouts are a much less attractive indicator than a high total of both, although it is a small sample and he was shut down with shoulder fatigue. I include Morris here because while he was drafted out of a junior college, he's just 19, so he's closer to a high school pick than a college one. His statistical profile is more unique and more difficult to assess as he's allowed a high number of base runners while striking out nearly 12 per nine innings.

Final Tally

Above Expectations: 1
Below Expectations: 3
Push: 2

College Hitters
Pick, Player, Team             LVL      AVG  OBP  SLG  AB  BB  SO  EXP
----------------------------------------------------------------------
3. Evan Longoria, Devil Rays  SS/A+/AA .320 .369 .617 222  19  40   +
8. Drew Stubbs, Reds            R      .255 .367 .402 184  26  56
13. Tyler Colvin, Cubs         SS      .278 .323 .453 234  15  48
17. Matt Antonelli, Padres     SS      .286 .426 .360 189  46  31   +

Easily the weakest link in this year's draft, but while Longoria was the third pick in the draft, nobody expected him to reach Double-A in just 36 games and slug 17 home runs in 222 at-bats. The performance has created a sudden logjam in the system at third base now that B.J. Upton has moved there as well. I gave Stubbs neither a plus nor a minus as his scouting reports were so mixed; there are many who thought he'd dominate the Pioneer League, and many who thought he'd immediately crash and burn as a pro. A strikeout for roughly every three at-bats is a concern, but he's showing all sorts of secondary skills. Nobody, not even the Cubs, thought Colvin was the 13th best player in the draft, but he was a solid talent who was part of a much larger draft strategy who has had a decent debut. While Antonelli has shown virtually no power, his extreme on-base skills give hope that if even just the gap power he had at Wake Forest shows up, he could have plus value as a defensive stalwart at third base.

Final Tally

Above Expectations: 2
Below Expectations: 0
Push: 2

College Pitchers
Pick, Player, Team            LVL   ERA   IP   H  BB  SO   EXP
--------------------------------------------------------------
1. Luke Hochevar, Royals       A-  0.00   9.1   4  2  10    +
2. Greg Reynolds, Rockies      A+  3.09  43.2  47 14  27    -
4. Brad Lincoln, Pirates      R/A- 4.54  23.2  31  7  19    -
5. Brandon Morrow, Mariners    R   2.45  11.0   8  8  11
6. Andrew Miller, Tigers       A+  0.00   5.0   2  1   9    +
10. Tim Lincecum, Giants     SS/A+ 2.02  26.2  13  9  49    +
11. Max Scherzer, D'backs             Has Not Signed
19. Brent Sinkbeil, Marlins  SS/A- 3.27  57.2  51 21  51
21. Ian Kennedy, Yankees         Signed - Has Not Pitched
28. Daniel Bard, Red Sox              Has Not Signed
29. Kyle McCulloch, White Sox R/A+ 3.30  51.2  51 21  45
30. Adam Ottavino, Cardinals SS/A- 3.61  57.1  47 28  55

Here's where the bulk of the top talent was, as five of the first six picks were college arms, and there have been some impressive performances. Hochevar has looked surprisingly strong after sitting out a year, and I give Miller a plus because while five dominant innings in the Florida State League doesn't shock anybody, he's been impressive enough for the Tigers to call him up to the big leagues, and the club is insisting that he'll get more than junk innings. The three other picks among those top five have been unimpressive. I give Morrow a pass because of elbow soreness, and while Reynolds has done a fine job of preventing runs from crossing the plate, his peripherals are poor. Lincoln has also pitched poorly, adding fuel to the argument that you don't give nearly three million dollars to sub-six-foot pitchers unless they have stuff like Tim Lincecum. This brings us of course to the guy known by the scouting community as "Seabiscuit." I don't think anyone is surprised to see Lincecum pitching well, but he's struck out 49 of the 103 batters he's faced, and I don't think anyone expected that level of domination. Sinkbiel, McCulloch and Ottavino are all solid college arms who have pitched well, and then there are the three incompletes. Kennedy didn't officially sign until earlier this month, and Bard is expected to sign soon, within the next five days according to some. That leaves Scherzer, where negotiations between Arizona and agent Scott Boras are moving at a snail's pace, with former scouting director Mike Rizzo's departure to accept an Assistant General Manager position with the Nationals possibly complicating matters.

Final Tally

Above Expectations: 2
Below Expectations: 2
Push: 8

Adding It Up

Above Expectations: 10
Below Expectations: 7
Push: 13

While on the surface, a 10-7 advantage doesn't look like much, the fact that many of those playing above expectations have greatly exceeded them increases the gap. This group is nowhere near the 2005 parade of future stars, but it's also far from the 2000 nightmare that some projected going in.

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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