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May 27, 2007

Wait 'Til Next Year

The Scouting Directors, NL Central

by Bryan Smith

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This series is my attempt to identify the drafting tendencies of Major League scouting directors. In looking at the scouting directors, I'm hoping that the past might tell us something about the future. I'm analyzing them in multiple categories: Best Player Produced, Best Prospect in Minors, Notable Steals (any notable player that was drafted after round five), Five-Round Strategy (total picks in first round divided by college and high school selections), and Strategy in a Nutshell (subjective look at the scouting director's choices). Finally, I use this information to look into the 2007 Draft Crystal Ball and determine if we can forecast choices merely based upon previous tendencies. Today, we move to the NL Central. You can find the AL West here, the NL West here, and the AL Central here.

Chicago Cubs
Scouting Director: Tim Wilken (Drafts run: 2006, Devil Rays 2005, Blue Jays 1996-2000)

Best Player Produced: Vernon Wells (1st round, 1997) or Michael Young (5th round, 1997)
Best Prospect in Minors: Jeremy Hellickson (3rd round, 2005)
Notable Steals: Reed Johnson (17th round, 1999), Jay Gibbons (14th round, 1998), Orlando Hudson (43rd round, 1997), Mark Hendrickson (20th round, 1997)
Five-Round Strategy: 34 total picks. 44.1% college, 44.1% high school, 5.9% Latin, 2.9% junior college.
Strategy in a Nutshell: Landing Wilken as scouting director was a coup for the Cubs, as he's long been considered one of the best talent evaluators in the business. Hitter or pitcher, college or high school, Puerto Rican or American, it's hard to spot biases in the way Wilken drafts. Whoever he has evaluated as the best player available, he will take. Wilken does evaluate differently, as he's made as many scratch their heads in the past over a pick like Alex Rios as they do now with Jeff Samardzija. But look for Wilken's legacy to grow with the Cubs, as a bigger pocketbook should lend to more late-round steals.
2007 Draft Crystal Ball: While I have not used inside info in this section before, our own Kevin Goldstein has called Wilken's affinity for Josh Vitters the "draft's worst-kept secret." This doesn't necessarily defy his previous selections, so barring a late interest in Matt Wieters if he drops to the Cubs, we'll project Vitters here.

Cincinnati Reds
Scouting Director: Chris Buckley (Drafts Run: 2006, Toronto Blue Jays 2001-2003)

Best Player Produced: Dave Bush (2nd round, 2002)
Best Prospect in Minors: Sean Watson (2nd round, 2006)
Notable Steals: Justin Turner (7th round, 2006), Tom Mastny (11th round, 2003)
Five-Round Strategy: 20 total picks. 85% college, 15% high school.
Strategy in a Nutshell: Buckley's responsibility for running Blue Jays drafts predated with J.P. Ricciardi's arrival in Toronto, but Buckley was retained, perhaps because his first draft showed a semblance of the Moneyball approach Ricciardi hoped to bring up north. Case in point, although Buckley drafted Brandon League out of high school in the second round of his first draft in 2001, he didn't select another prep player in the first five rounds until he took Justin Reed for the Reds in the fourth round last June. Buckley has chosen a college position player in the first round of all of his drafts, and while some of his second-round pitchers have been more successful, Aaron Hill, Russ Adams, and Gabe Gross represent decent value.
2007 Draft Crystal Ball: It's possible Buckley continues his trend of college position players in the first round; if so, pick 15 will be a choice between Julio Borbon and Matt LaPorta. If not, Buckley could go with one of the high school pitchers in the second tier and get his college hitter (perhaps Matt Mangini) at pick 34.

Houston Astros
Scouting Director: Paul Ricciarni (Drafts Run: 2005-2006)

Best Player Produced: Eli Iorg (1st round, 2005)
Next Best Prospect in Minors: Max Sapp (1st round, 2006)
Notable Steals: Tip Fairchild (12th round, 2005)
Five-Round Strategy: 12 total picks. 66.7% college, 25% high school, 8.3% junior college.
Strategy in a Nutshell: In both of his drafts, Ricciarni has not been afraid to choose high schoolers at the top, as he nabbed two prep catchers with high picks--Ralph Henriquez in the second round of 2005 and Max Sapp first last year. Other than that, Ricciarni has loaded up on college players in the first eight rounds, though some choices have included Division II schools or junior colleges. Given the selection of players like Iorg and Brian Bogusevic, I think Ricciarni likes toolsy prospects who are also proven.
2007 Draft Crystal Ball: The Astros' offseason spending will make this an unexciting draft for Ricciarni's crew; they don't choose until pick 112. Houston would be the perfect home for Cole St. Clair, but assuming he does not drop that far, two shortstops out of Texas colleges make sense: Texas A&M's Brandon Hicks and/or Rice's Brian Friday.

Milwaukee Brewers
Scouting Director: Jack Zduriencik (Drafts Run: 2000-2006)

Best Player Produced: Prince Fielder (1st round, 2002)
Best Prospect in Minors: Yovani Gallardo (2nd round, 2004)
Notable Steals: Corey Hart (11th round, 2000), Dan Kolb (24th round, 2001), Dana Eveland (16th round, 2002), Lorenzo Cain (17th round, 2004)
Five-Round Strategy: 33 total picks. 51.5% high school, 36.4% college, 9.1% junior college, 3% Latin.
Strategy in a Nutshell: Zduriencik is one of the best scouting directors in baseball, but also one whose reputation has been aided by having high selections every year. That promises to change in 2008, but this season, he's got another top ten pick to make. Finding a trend in Zduriencik's picks is difficult; he's basically a "best player available" type. He likes big velocities, he likes big power, and he likes up-the-middle players.
2007 Draft Crystal Ball: The Brewers will have to make the seventh overall selection count, because after that they'll wait 95 picks to strike again. The draft is set up to give Zduriencik his choice of pitcher, from Ross Detwiler to Jarrod Parker to Phillipe Aumont. Given the Brewers' success this season and presumably for the foreseeable future, even a quick-mover like Daniel Moskos makes sense in this slot.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Scouting Director: Ed Creech (Drafts Run: 2002-2006, Dodgers 1999-2001, Cardinals 1998, Expos 1994-1997)

Best Player Produced: J.D. Drew (1st round, 1998)
Best Prospect in Minors: Andrew McCutchen (1st round, 2005)
Notable Steals: Geoff Blum (7th round, 1994), Jamey Carroll (14th round, 1996), Jack Wilson (9th round, 1998), Shane Victorino (6th round, 1999), Matt Capps (7th round, 2002)
Five-Round Strategy: 75 total picks. 49.3% high school, 44% college, 4% Latin, 2.7% junior college.
Strategy in a Nutshell: Creech has been around the block--the Pirates are his fourth organization as scouting director, and the 2007 draft his 14th consecutive on the job. Creech's drafts have heavily favored pitching and up-the-middle players--shortstops, catchers, and rangy outfielders. While his drafts with the Pirates have a couple of collegians turned high-profile injury cases (Bryan Bullington, Brad Lincoln), Creech actually has a preference for high school players. I've also had a source tell me the Pirates realized they should attack the draft looking for players that best suit their ballpark: left-handed pitchers, left-handed power, and, again, rangy outfielders.
2007 Draft Crystal Ball: Creech's tenure has coincided with a lot of bad teams, and as a result he has chosen a lot in the top ten picks. This draft is no exception, as the Pirates will pick fourth in each round. If the top three go in expected order, Price-Porcello-Vitters, Creech will be left with a collegiate conundrum with his first pick. Matt Wieters represents what the Pirates hoped to get from Neil Walker--a switch-hitting catcher with plus power. If his bonus demands are too large, southpaw Ross Detwiler is a good fit with organizational strategies.

St. Louis Cardinals
Scouting Director: Jeff Luhnow (Drafts Run: 2005-2006)

Best Player Produced: Colby Rasmus (1st round, 2005)
Next Best Prospect in Minors: Bryan Anderson (4th round, 2005)
Notable Steals: Shaun Garceau (20th round, 2005), Kenny Maiques (37th round, 2005), Tommy Pham (16th round, 2006)
Five-Round Strategy: 17 total picks. 70.6% college, 29.4% high school.
Strategy in a Nutshell: Before Luhnow, the Cardinals had become a Moneyball team in a big way--John Mozeliak's draft in 2004 had the Cardinals take college players in the first 41 rounds. In 2005, Luhnow made a statement by going heavy on high school talent in a draft where he had six of the first 78 picks. Last season, it was back to the college ranks in the first eight rounds. It should also be mentioned that Luhnow might have the most difficult job of any scouting director, as he is the only person in the industry charged with running both the scouting and player development departments of his team.
2007 Draft Crystal Ball: The Cardinals choose 18th, and I think the Cards could use a pitcher that could move quickly. This could be where Vanderbilt closer Casey Weathers lands, or if Luhnow wants a starting pitcher, Brett Cecil and James Simmons both promise to move up quickly.

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

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