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June 2, 2008

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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It's draft week, so let's get away from the players getting paid and start the week with a different kind of Ten Pack. Here are ten players generating the longest and most heated discussions during the non-stop internal meetings that took place over the weekend.

Jason Castro, C, Stanford: The College Riser
It's not that Castro's suddenly appeared on draft boards as much as he's made a slow and steady climb up them throughout the year. He began the year pretty faint on most radars after hitting just .167 during an injury-riddled junior year, but he started to get some attention with a solid showing in the Cape Cod League over the summer, and from there, he's gone nowhere but up, entrenching himself in the middle of the Cardinal lineup while leading the team in batting. Combine a big body, good defense and plus power from the left side, and he's suddenly a first-round pick. Having nearly every team in baseball desperate for anything resembling a future everyday player behind the dish helps.

Gerrit Cole, RHP, Orange Lutheran HS (CA): Talent vs. Makeup
No pitcher is more difficult to project a home for than Cole. He has a big, projectable frame and the best arm of any teenager in the draft, consistently touching the mid-90s with his fastball and reportedly getting into the magic 100 mph range in one of his most recent outings. At the same time, he has the kind of arm action that makes some scouts tremble in fear, and more makeup questions than the late Tammy Faye Bakker. That makes things complicated enough, but to confuse matters further, he's being advised by Scott Boras. His stuff and through-the-roof ceiling will be enough for one team to get around all the negatives, but who that team exactly is remains one of the draft's great unknowns.

Anthony Hewitt, SS, Salisbury School (CT): Highest Risk, Highest Reward?
I have to confess, Anthony Hewitt is my favorite player in the draft. Not because he's the best player, mind you, as he's far from that. It's because you can't have a conversation with any scout, scouting director, or team official without Hewitt being proclaimed as quite possibly the messiah once again descending to earth... or an absolutely horrible baseball player. There's seemingly no in between with Hewitt. It started a couple of weeks ago, when a scout threw a Bo Jackson body comp on him. Just to be clear, there are some teams that don't even allow Bo Jackson body comps, as he was arguably the only player ever with 80 raw power, 80 speed, and an 80 arm. Then there's the Hanley Ramirez player comp, the tale of the 500-plus foot home runs, the 4.15 running time to first while slipping out of the box and I'm pretty sure something about him turning water into wine. Then there's the scouting director who, when I inquired as to his inability to hit the breaking ball, told me, "Breaking balls? Hell, he can't hit anything." Some say that no player has had a bigger gap between tools and skills in recent draft history, but there are a bunch of teams who can't find any player they love in the second half of the first round who are deciding to simply gamble on a great athlete with a ton of ceiling, and Hewitt fits that bill perfectly.

Brett Lawrie, SS, Brookswood HS (BC), The High School Riser
Scouting Canadians can involve trips to a whole lot of places other than Canada. Since he plays for multiple travel teams, seeing Lawrie of late has involved traveling to warm-weather spots like Florida and, recently, the Dominican Republic. Last week's trip with the junior national team was the biggest eye-opener, as the squarely-built Lawrie slammed eight home runs in eight games against professionals still in the Dominican, including five in a doubleheader that had scouts from plenty of teams with high first-round picks in attendance. Suddenly, he's lined up for a series of private workouts this week, including one with a team picking in the single digits. He could be the first selection on Thursday that raises some serious eyeballs.

Alex Meyer, RHP, Greenburg HS (IN): Can't Touch This
Meyer is a six-foot-seven teenage right-hander who lives in the low to mid-90s and features a low-80s slider that is already a wipeout offering. For all that, there's nevertheless a good chance that he won't be selected at all. Meyer is still a bit of a project mechanically, and teams just don't see him being worth the price tag that's been placed on him by advisor Scott Boras. The dollar sign on the muscle says he's a late first-round pick, but depending on who you talk to, he was three to four times that kind of money. That has left some teams not even driving out to the small town between Indianapolis and Cincinnati to file a report on him. If anything, he'll be a late-round insurance policy for a team at best, and we'll likely be talking about him again three years from now after he completes three years at the University of Kentucky.

Ryan Perry, RHP, University of Arizona: The College Closer
In the comment on Anthony Hewitt, I talked about how some teams are throwing up their hands at the clump of players available to them and just deciding to take the most tools-laden kid they can find. Other teams facing the same issue are solving it with a solution that is its polar opposite--just take the college reliever who can help us quickly. Currently, that group includes Texas Christian's Andrew Cashner, Georgia's Josh Fields, and a pair of overpowering arms with the Wildcats: Perry and southpaw Daniel Schlereth. Here's a quick lesson for you college relievers looking to separate yourself from the pack. In the opening round of post-season play, in what is likely your last outing before the draft, hit 100 mph with your fastball. Want to make a little more money? Hit it again a couple of pitches later. Perry did just that over the weekend, and it probably made him a few hundred thousand dollars.

Buster Posey, C, Florida State: Ceiling vs. Certainty
As of Sunday night, the Rays are still basically in coin-flip mode to determine picking Posey or Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham, with Pedro Alvarez also in the picture there somewhere. The question remains as to the soundness of taking a sure thing with the top pick over a player with a massive ceiling. Posey continue to state his case by putting up huge numbers, including a two-homer game on Sunday, but evaluators continue to see him as a player who, although well above-average both offensively and defensively, falls short of being a true impact player. The biggest question right now is where he ends up if the Rays pass on him. The answer is probably as low as fifth overall, but he could fall even lower if he ends up wanting to be paid on his performance more than his projection.

Tanner Scheppers, RHP, Fresno State: The Unknown Injury
To put it bluntly, May has been a nightmare for Scheppers. It began with the power righty looking like a sure-fire top 12 pick. Then came the weekend where he was only used as a reliever, which was followed by a weekend in which he didn't pitch at all, due to what was initially explained as simply resting his arm for the postseason. That started the injury rumor mill, and those rumors turned out to be right (kind of), as it was revealed that Scheppers had a stress fracture in his shoulder--a rare injury that teams need much more information on to properly analyze. Last week, it turned out that he had no such fracture, and that Scheppers would visit Dr. Lewis Yocum to get a final diagnosis that would be shared with teams prior to the draft. While those results aren't out yet, the rumors are flying once again, and this time it's that Scheppers has a labrum injury--and you don't need Will Carroll to know that, if true, it would be an incredibly bad thing. With or without a confirmed diagnosis, where teams are willing to take and/or are willing to pay Scheppers remains a mystery, but the month of May has clearly cost him at least a million dollars, and likely much more.

Brett Wallace, 1B/3B, Arizona State: Getting Past The Body
You don't need a phone call with an experienced scout or some kind of degree in applied mathematics to know that Wallace can hit; it's right there in front of you. Playing for one of the best programs in the country in one of the top conferences, Wallace went into Sunday's game batting .415/.532/.768 in 224 at-bats with 21 home runs, 44 walks and just 31 strikeouts. He's basically an on-base and slugging machine, but there are still teams that just can't get past that first impression of Wallace on sight alone. Listed in the media guide as six-foot-one and 245 pounds, most believe he's actually much heavier than that, to the point that the nickname "The Walrus" is starting to be used by multiple teams. So you're really betting on one tool here, and you're betting it's good enough to make up for all of his other shortcomings and the fact that he'll be a first baseman at best in the big leagues. That's enough to kill off some of the rumors about him going in the top 10 picks, and drop him into the lower teens. Goo goo ga joob.

Jemile Weeks, 2B, University of Miami: The Rare College Athlete
It's a difficult thing to figure out with players like Weeks. College players are generally seen as a more polished product, yet Weeks is player many of whose accomplishments come from pure athleticism. He's a plus-plus runner with bat speed-based power who is the most exciting player on nearly any college field, but at the same time, he's still raw at the plate, in the field, and on the basepaths. That leaves teams with incredibly mixed feelings about Rickie's younger brother. In one camp, there are those who see a player who is a project and already 21 years old, and the other group wonders just how good he can be if he learns how to translate his tools into skills. As the scouting cliché goes, however, it just takes one team to like you, and one of those teams likely will use a late first-round pick on him.

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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