May 24, 2008
The Draft's Dirty Dozen
Even with just two weeks to go before the draft, and with plenty of college prospects seeing their season come to a close in the next few days, doing a mock draft is a bit of a silly exercise. Still doing a mock draft on the day before the selections are made can be a fruitless endeavor. Last year, the Royals did not decide to take Mike Moustakas over Josh Vitters with the second overall pick until the morning of the draft, while in 2003, the Devil Rays (and I can call them that, as that's what they were called then) decided on Delmon Young over Rickie Weeks somewhere around an hour before making the pick. So instead of attaching just one name to each team in the first dozen picks, let's be a little more loose and open and talk about philosophies are were teams are heading, as while selections are hardly etched in stone, some specific directions are starting to become much clearer.
1. Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa's net remains wide, and for their prize catch with the top overall pick, they might still be picking from as many as five players. Florida State catcher Buster Posey, the two Georgia shortstop Beckhams (high schooler Tim, and UGA's Gordon), as well as the top two college arms, San Diego's Brian Matusz and Missouri's Aaron Crow. At this point, both Matusz and Crow should be seen as extreme long shots to go first overall, as should Gordon Beckham--even though he has the numbers, he lacks the scouting reports to match them. That leaves it a two-man race between Posey and Tim Beckham as we head down the stretch. Wondering where Pedro Alvarez is? It's not that the Rays don't like him, it's that they don't like him for the price.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates. After years of doing the wrong thing in the draft, the new regime under team president Frank Coonelly--ironically the man who used to enforce MLB's poorly-designed slotting system--is insisting that money is no object with the second overall pick. That said, there is still a balance to be considered here, and while Pedro Alvarez would generally be seen as the best talent available, the question is would he be worth the $8-10 million that he'll command with the guidance of Scott Boras. The Pirates have legitimate questions about Alvarez's ultimate position, as he's no more than a decent third baseman, and while it's hard to argue with his offense, they also have some concerns over his tendency to swing and miss at times. He's great, but they're clearly not convinced the he's two to three times as great as Tim Beckham, based on a pure dollar figure, and the PR hit wouldn't be too hard to swallow, as there are some who see Beckham as the superior talent based on pure upside.
3. Kansas City Royals. Multiple sources indicate that the Royals, who have a positive relationship with Boras, will not let Alvarez get past them if he's available. He'll cost a lot, but they think he'll be worth it, and they might be right. As for where he fits into the Royals future position-wise, they're content to draft the player they see as the best offensive player available, and let the rest sort itself out down the road. If Alvarez is gone, the Royals will likely settle for who's remaining between Tim Beckham and Posey; like the Rays and Bucs, they like Matusz and Crow, but don't see them as potential No. 1 starters, and therefore aren't leaning on taking either pitcher this high.
4. Baltimore Orioles. The universal feeling here is that the Orioles have put all of their energy picking between the top two college arms, and that's been reflected in their frequent attendance in the two's recent appearances. So the decision will come down to taking the pitcher with the deeper arsenal and better command (Matusz), or the one with more pure power stuff (Crow). There is little belief they'll go in any other direction, but Alvarez somehow getting here would certainly prompt some heated internal discussions.
5. San Francisco Giants. The Giants are always a difficult team to project as they play their hand very close to the vest, both in their dealings with the media and with the scouting industry as a whole. They filled the system with young long-term talent in last year's draft, and might feel some pressure to find something that provides less risk and a quicker turnaround with such a high pick. The top college bat available at this point is likely South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak, but Gordon Beckham could find himself in the mix if the Giants are one of the teams that believe he can stay at shortstop; other teams are about 50/50 on that proposition. There are some wacky rumors about the Giants going totally off the board and taking an up-the-middle college player that is not Gordon Beckham, somebody that nobody else has in their first-round mix, but there are always a few wacky rumors around, and it's difficult to sort out the few that have basis in fact.
6. Florida Marlins. The Marlins are one of the few teams almost guaranteed to stick to slot no matter what at this point, and they'd prefer the player with the most upside who plays up the middle. That makes high school catcher Kyle Skipworth the obvious candidate, but with some of the top pitching possibly slipping, they'll definitely make some calls to either Matusz' little-known agent, Mark Agar, or to the Hendricks Brothers, who represent Crow, in order to gauge their signability prior to making the selection.
7. Cincinnati Reds. Sitting back in wait-and-see mode, the Reds could be either the victims or the beneficiaries of what is still a significant amount of uncertainty as far as the six picks above them. They're leaning college for sure, but that's based on available talent more than anything else. Their realistic preference looks to be Gordon Beckham, and they certainly need a long-term shortstop. Crow or Matusz falling this far would also by very tempting, especially with Walt Jocketty running the show, as he prefers the arms at this spot if they are available. They also have interest in slugging University of Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso.
8. Chicago White Sox. A recent embarrassing shake-up in the White Sox scouting department shouldn't have much of an effect on their drafting philosophy, but the talent available almost dictates a college bat at a non-premium position. The White Sox could generat the first real surprise of the draft by taking Arizona State's Brett Wallace. At six-foot-one and 245 pounds, he's not much in the tools department; some scouts have nicknamed him "The Walrus." Nonetheless, he might have the best chance of being a consistent .400+ on-base player in the big leagues, and he's shown enough of a power improvement this year to merit a mid-first-round selection. Even so, the word remains that the White Sox want him here, because as one scouting director joked, "If Wallace doesn't hit in the big leagues, I don't know who does."
9. Washington Nationals. The Nationals had been attached to Skipworth for some time, but that got less certain when a large contingent of the team's top brass, including general manager Jim Bowden, took a trip to California to see Skipworth, and he failed to impress. With a long-term plan focused on ceiling, Washington just might be the perfect landing spot for high school first baseman Eric Hosmer, a Boras client who will certainly be looking for above-slot money. The Nationals could be willing to pay the price, and nobody left should come close to matching Hosmer's ceiling.
10. Houston Astros. Things have become a touch muddled here, as both Texas-based teams, picking back-to-back, were hot and heavy in their mutual interest in Fresno State righty Tanner Scheppers, who has since dropped out of first-round contention due to a stress fracture in his shoulder. Suddenly, rumors abound that Houston is interested in some of the college relievers who could potentially sign quickly and get the big leagues in a hurry, like Georgia's Josh Fields, or Arizona's Daniel Schlereth. The latter is a stocky southpaw who opened many eyes last weekend when he came out sitting at 92-94 mph and touching 97; he's been rocketing up draft lists. Tenth overall might be too big a jump for him, but the rumor he's in the mix is there.
11. Texas Rangers. Also crossing Scheppers off their board, the Rangers still want a college arm, and of the pitchers moving up of late, Eastern Kentucky's Christian Freidrich leads the pack, followed by Tulane's Shooter Hunt. They've also been rumored to have interest in some of the top college relievers, including Texas Christian's Andrew Cashner, who has pitched well on numerous occasions in front of team president Nolan Ryan.
12. Oakland Athletics. This could be one of the more interesting picks in the first half of the round. University of Miami slugger Yonder Alonso fits well into the A's style of power and patience, but the system already has a fair number of first-base/designated hitter type, and Alonso's splits are currently really hurting his draft status, as he's struggled mightily against even mediocre college left-handers. The A's might be interested in one of the remaining top-flight college arms on the board, but don't be shocked if they go against what is expected of them and take a high-ceiling high school player, with Ethan Martin and Aaron Hicks sitting as the top candidates.
Coming soon: How the top hasn't changed, athletes find their way into the first, Scott Boras' high school clients, and more.