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June 6, 2007

Future Shock

Draft Preview Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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With just over 24 hours to go before the 2007 Amateur Draft, the top of Thursday's first round has turned into a minefield for a number of reasons, and just like clockwork this time of year, a few Oliver Stone-level rumors are flying about as well.

Even Numbers, Uneven Information

A significant number of decisions depend upon what the Royals (second overall), Pirates (fourth), and Nationals (sixth) do with their picks. The Royals have been keen on New Jersey high school righty Rick Porcello, generally considered the top high school arm in the draft, for some time now, but money considerations are clouding matters. Being advised by Scott Boras, one source indicates that the super-agent has informed teams that Porcello will require, "Josh Beckett's deal, adjusted for inflation" in order to sign.

While Beckett inked a four-year big league deal eight years ago for $7 million, scouts are unsure how Boras is defining inflation, while also pointing out that such a deal would accelerate the timetable for a pitcher who lacks the experience of those from warmer environments. "Well, what's the inflation exactly?" asked one scouting director. "If it's normal inflation, its $8-9 million, [and] if it's bonus inflation, it's more than that, and if it's inflation based on revenue, then that figure goes through the roof." It's the kind of money that would scare off the Royals and several other teams, causing Porcello to drop to a team that might pony up--which of course is exactly what Boras wants for his client. If the Royals pass on Porcello, their decision would then be between the top high school hitter in the draft, Josh Vitters, and local product Ross Detwiler of Missouri State.

The Pirates were one of the easier teams to project as late as last week, with all indications being that their short list consisted of those same two players, Vitters and Detwiler. Unable to convince ownership to allow them to spend the big bucks on a player like Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters (another Boras client), unconvinced that Detwiler is worth the pick, and assuming Vitters will be unavailable, the team is suddenly turning to a local product of their own--Devin Mesoraco, the catcher from Punxsutawney who has become the fastest-rising player in the draft. A mid-first-round pick a week ago, Mesoraco has been highly impressive in private workouts, showing better-than-expected hitting skills with wood bats to go with already top-notch defensive ability. "He's not the top hitter in the draft, nor the top defender," said one team executive. "But when you combine the two, he just might be the top offense/defense combination in the draft."

Picking sixth, there is much debate over what the Nationals will do, and it seems at times that not even the Nationals themselves know. With money to spend, multiple sources have heard that Washington will "make a big splash," without knowing exactly what that splash will be. Porcello and Wieters will both likely be available to tempt them, with Wieters making more sense as a player who could move quickly, as opposed to a high-ceiling/high-risk pitcher. But nobody is sure at this time whether Washington will make that big splash or instead make a more conventional selection, like Detwiler, California high school slugger Mike Moustakas, or Canadian Phillipe Aumont--who would make more sense if the team was still in Montreal.

Whither Andrew Brackman?

Beyond Porcello and Wieters, several other Scott Boras clients are the subjects of interesting rumors during the final week of preparations. No player draws stronger reactions than North Carolina State righthander Andrew Brackman, who hasn't pitched since May 12 because of what started off as "arm soreness," moved on to the untimely death of his ex-girlfriend, and then turned into "elbow tendonitis." One scouting director is not necessarily convinced. "My favorite rumor out there is that this is all manufactured by Boras in order to drop him to a team like the Red Sox and Yankees who will pay him," he said, laughing.

Another insider sees no conspiracy, but rather a not altogether honest reaction by his college team. "I really, really don't want to come off as insensitive here, but he misses a key late-season game because his ex-girlfriend died?" questioned the source. "I think it might be a nice way for the coaches to say that based on the way he's pitched lately, we don't think he gives us the best chance to win."

Sean Doolittle? Really? You're Kidding, Right?

Sean Doolittle is a two-way player at Virginia, a lefty in the weekend rotation who plays first base when not on the mound. He's a decent talent, one of the final cuts from yesterday's Top 50 prospects, but not the kind of name one would expect to come up multiple times in discussions about the top 10 picks. And yet, that's the rumor that's spread like wildfire since Monday.

It revolves around two teams with single-digit picks who are possibly being hamstrung by Major League Baseball in their decision-making process. According to one source, the Diamondbacks are considering Doolittle as a quick signability pick with the ninth overall choice after getting a beat-down from MLB in regards to Max Scherzer's recent $4 million-plus bonus. Add in that the D'backs are in line for an All-Star game in the next few years, the source was told that Arizona has agreed to "Play nice this year." Late yesterday afternoon, the rumor changed a bit, with Doolittle moving up six slots to the number three position to the Cubs. Like Arizona, the Cubs are under MLB's thumb, but for a different reason--with their ownership in limbo, sources have indicated that they have been told to not offer any large bonuses and absolutely no big league contracts with the number three overall pick, which rules out players like Wieters.

The good news is that nobody is buying these rumors. "It just makes no sense," said one source. "Even if you are going to go way cheap there, why Doolittle? There are plenty of players better than him who would be more than happy to go third or ninth," he added. "I'm not biting on that stuff at all," said a scouting director. "This is all manufactured--in reality, he's sliding because he's a first baseman without power." Another scouting director was also unimpressed. "If you take him, you are hoping for Mark Grace. In today's game, that's not worth what it once was, and if it doesn't work out, you're stuck with Orlando Palmiero."

Top Three Risers

  • Devin Mesaroco could be the second high school hitter off the board, thanks to outstanding private workouts.
  • Nick Schmidt's late-season performance combined with some easy projection (and an expected quick trip through the minors) make the big lefty with finesse stuff highly attractive to teams in the 8-12 range.
  • Jarrod Parker moves up a couple of notches seemingly each day, and seems a lock to go within the first seven picks.

Top Three Fallers

  • Andrew Brackman is seemingly out of the first round entirely, as no team will admit any interest at this time anywhere in the draft.
  • Philippe Aumont seems to be many teams' Plan B, but few teams' top target.
  • Matt LaPorta seems to suffer from the fact that teams in the first seem to prefer the high school arms and players with more defensive flexibility over the guy who is arguably college baseball's top hitter.

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:  The Who,  Sean Doolittle

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