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April 11, 2008

Future Shock

The 2005 Draft Clock is Ticking

by Kevin Goldstein

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In each of the last two years, I've identified first-round picks entering their third professional year who have stagnated a bit and need to take a step forward to regain their prospect status. The list of players from 2003 remains a depressing one. This spring No. 3 overall pick Kyle Sleeth announced his retirement, and remains someone who should always be in the back of your mind when somebody tells you that with modern medicine's advancements, Tommy John surgery isn't that big of a deal anymore. Beyond that, No. 4 pick Tim Stauffer continues to languish at Triple-A, and has started the year sidelined with shoulder problems. In fact, from that list, the only players to improve their stock are David Murphy and David Aardsma, both of whom find themselves on big league rosters, though not with the team that drafted them. The 2004 list fares somewhat better, as Chris Nelson finds himself back on the Top 100 Prospects list, Neil Walker is clearly the Pirates third baseman of the future, and a slew of injuries have Blake DeWitt suddenly in the big leagues.

Beginning a review of the 2005 draft, one fact quickly becomes obvious: that draft was a friggin' monster. Of the first seven picks, five players (Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki) are already stars in the major leagues, or well on their way to that status. The 10th overall pick was Cameron Maybin, and two picks later was Jay Bruce. Towards the end of the first we have Jacoby Ellsbury going 23rd to the Red Sox and Colby Rasmus going 28th to the Cardinals. Beyond that first round, one gets Travis Buck and Clay Buchholz in the sandwich round, Chase Headley in the second, and Micah Owings in the third. But there are still plenty of first round picks who are entering this year in the minors, so here are ten players from the first round of the 2005 draft for whom the clock is ticking.

Ricky Romero, LHP, Blue Jays (No. 6 overall, $2.4M bonus)
You've done it plenty of times in your fantasy league, but this time the Blue Jays did it in the real thing: got caught up by positional scarcity. Still focusing on college talent at the time, Romero was the only left-handed college prospect worthy of a high pick, but the Jays went too high on him, and passed up Troy Tulowitzki to ensure they could have him. Beset by arm troubles and control issues, Romero entered the year back in Double-A for the third year, with a career ERA of 4.19, more than a hit allowed per inning, and 100 walks against 208 strikeouts. Without overpowering stuff, Romero never projected as more than a No. 3 starter to begin with. He struggled again in his first start of the year, allowing four runs in 3.2 innings.

Wade Townsend, RHP, Devil Rays (No. 8 overall, $1.5M bonus)
This is one of the few times the Devil Rays have played it conservative and cheaply in the draft, and it didn't work out so well. Already off to a late start because he went unsigned in 2004, Townsend missed all of 2006 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and had an up-and-down season at Low-A last year, pitching in a full-season league for the first time three years after his college career ended. Now 25, he's relegated to a bullpen role at Double-A Montgomery, he's allowed three runs in 3.1 innings, and his stuff is a tick down across the board since he was a star at Rice.

Mike Pelfrey, RHP, Mets (No. 9 overall, $3.55M bonus)
Pelfrey might seem like a strange choice on the surface, as he reached the majors just over a year after his selection and is now in the rotation of one of the National League's favorites. At the same time, he hasn't lived up to the reputation of being the top college pitcher in the draft, entering the year with a big league ERA over five, an opponents' average of .300 and a strikeout to walk ratio of nearly one-to-one. He's still a big kid with a big league fastball, but the non-development (some think regression even) of his secondary arsenal has handcuffed him so far in the big leagues. His first outing for the Mets this year was solid, if unspectacular, but at this point, that's all the Mets need in the back of their rotation.

C.J. Henry, Yankees (No. 17 overall, $1.575M bonus)
Henry is just about ready for somebody to stick a fork in him. He never produced with the Yankees, and after going to Philadelphia in the Bobby Abreu deal, he hit just .184/.238/.322 last year at Low-A Lakewood and requested his release. The Yankees are giving him another shot this year, but the player who could have been playing basketball with the national champion Kansas Jayhawks had he not tried baseball is expected to give hoops another shot next year, joining his brother Xavier, who is generally seen as one of the top players in the country.

Cesar Carrillo, RHP, Padres (No. 18 overall, $1.55M bonus)
Unlike most players on a list like this, Carrillo was actually shooting through the minor leagues and looked to be even better than his draft position before elbow problems dragged him down. After pitching just 69 innings over the last three seasons, Carillo had Tommy John surgery during the 2007 seaosn, and is now pitching from a mound and close to returning to action. Still one of the few pure power pitchers in the system, if he can make a successful return, his future should remain bright.

Mark Pawelek, LHP, Cubs (No. 20 overall, $1,75M bonus)
Pawelek was the rare Scott Boras high school client who wanted to sign, and while some teams backed away because of perceived bonus demands, he signed quickly with the Cubs for a slightly over-slot budget. Seen as a highly-polished product with excellent command of a full arsenal who could move very quickly, Pawalek allowed just 25 hits over 43 innings in his Arizona Complex League debut while striking out 56. Since then, it's been a comedy of self-inflicted errors. In each of the last two years, he showed up to camp out of shape and had to be held back, and last year he was limited to just 17.2 innings when he injured himself tripping over his Playstation. All but off the radar at this point, Pawelek is healthy, but once again being kept in extended spring training without a full-season assignment.

Brian Bogusevic, LHP, Astros (No. 24 overall, $1.375M bonus)
Bogusevic was a two-way star at Tulane, and many preferred him as an outfielder, but a hamstring injury limited him to primarily pitching duties as a Junior. He had an off year in 2005, but was a first-round pick anyway with the hope that he would recover his stuff. That hasn't happened. He's still a big, physical left-hander, but his fastball is no more than average and his secondary stuff is highly inconsistent. With a minor league career ERA of 4.89, the 24-year-old is in the rotation at Double-A Corpus Christi in what is very much a make-or-break season.

Craig Hansen, RHP, Red Sox (No. 26 overall, $1.325M)
When the Red Sox selected Hansen, the general consensus was that he'd be the team's closer by the following year, if not sooner. Instead, he's been nowhere close to the pitcher scout's saw at St. John's, and nobody has a real good explanation as to why. He still features excellent velocity (although his mid-90s heater is a bit straight), but his slider, who some scouts put a pure 80 on in college, is nowhere near the pitch it once was, and Hansen has clearly lost his confidence and swagger as well. Back in Triple-A this year, he's off to a great start after a strong finish in 2007, allowing just one hit over his first six innings. Nonetheless, he's gone from closer of the future, to a guy the Red Sox simply hope will fit somewhere in a bullpen soon.

Jacob Marceaux, RHP, Marlins (No. 29 overall, $1M bonus)
With five picks in the first 44 in 2005, the Marlins took five pitchers, and none of them have exceeded expectations, with righthander Chris Volstad being arguably the only one to even meet them. Like many college players, the more intense workload of professional baseball has sapped him of some velocity, taking him from plus to merely average, and he doesn't have the secondary stuff or command to make up for this loss and now finds himself as a middle reliever at Double-A with a career ERA of 5.27.

Tyler Greene, SS, Cardinals (No. 30 overall, $1.1 million)
After a stellar career at Georgia Tech, Greene had a mediocre pro debut, and was hitting just .224/.308/.325 in the Florida State League in his full-season debut when he got sent down to the Midwest League and exploded with a .552 slugging and 15 home runs in 59 games. That showing is looking an awful lot like a combination of a mirage and a 23-year-old college product dominating younger competition. Limited to just 65 games last year because of knee troubles, Greene hit just .244/.309/.448 at Double-A, and while he has good athleticism and above-average power for a middle-infielder, his lack of contact is beginning to wash away his prospect status. Back in the Texas League this year, he's 2-for-19 with seven strikeouts.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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