June 4, 2008
Mock Draft 2008
With 24 hours to go before the selections begin, the draft remains a muddled mess, making the process of doing a mock a series of hedged wagers. "This is easily one of the most unpredictable first rounds I've ever seen," said one team official. Basically, the draft pool has two clumps of players, one made up of the top ten, followed by a larger group of up to 40 players. With even the first overall pick still up in the air, any one last-minute flip could change the board dramatically.
This is not like last year, when the Rays had the first overall pick and everyone knew for months that the team would select Vanderbilt left-hander David Price. This is more like 2003, when Tampa had the first overall pick and waited until literally minutes before the draft to choose Delmon Young over Rickie Weeks. This time around, the choice is between Florida State catcher Buster Posey and Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham (with Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez still in the mix, but a long shot), but the circumstances are much different for the now-contending Rays. Posey is the safer pick, a player who could make it to The Show quickly while providing nearly Gold Glove-level defense and contributing at the plate by hitting .280-plus with 15-20 home runs and 70 walks. That's an All-Star at the position, and more importantly, he'd be ready to help over the next few years, when the rest of Tampa's embarrassing amount of talent is lined up to make a long-term run.
The Pirates are in a bit of a pickle with this selection. The Rays are good because they've done great things with their picks; the Pirates are faltering because they have failed with theirs. In 2006, they selected Brad Lincoln in front of Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum. In 2005, they nabbed Andrew McCutchen-a fine prospect in his own right-but one pick later the Reds selected Jay Bruce. In 2002, with the first overall pick, they decided on Bryan Bullington over B.J. Upton. Many of those decisions were based on money, and while new team president Frank Coonelly was previously charged with enforcing MLB's silly slotting system for the draft, the Pirates insist that they are playing it cheap no longer. That seemingly would make Alvarez the obvious pick here, but his price might be too high, even for the Pirates, who are concerned with some holes in his swing and his ability to stay at third base long-term. Tim Beckham is more risky, but should come at a more reasonable price, and many believe he's a superior prospect to Alvarez by any measurement.
The Royals' selection has come down to a series of if-then statements. However, at the top of the list is, "If Pedro Alvarez is there, take him," or more simply, "Vote for Pedro." They believe he's the top player in the draft, and they have no qualms about selecting Scott Boras clients, having nabbed Mike Moustakas and Luke Hochevar with their previous two first-round selections. Yes, Alvarez is a third baseman, and yes, the team already has Alex Gordon, but they're in love with Alvarez' offensive upside, see Billy Butler as a DH, and expect one of those two third basemen sliding over to first. Beyond Alvarez, there have been plenty of rumors of the Royals doling out the cash for another Boras client, Eric Hosmer, but that only comes into play if Alvarez is already off the board. Posey would also be tempting, especially in an organization that has little to speak of at either the big league or minor league level at catcher.
The Orioles are a club that tends to lock onto players early, and this year they locked onto the two top college pitchers, left-hander Brian Matusz of San Diego and Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow. Both were phenomenal in last weekend's regional play, throwing complete-game shutouts, but Matusz has been more consistently good and has been the Orioles' preference for some time. Late rumors have them also considering South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak, which would give them the top college power-hitting prospect in each of the last two drafts. For now, that's still a rumor, and for now, they still prefer the arm.
The Giants are one of the wild cards in the draft. Not only are they highly unpredictable in terms of who they might pick, they keep things as far as who they're considering pretty close to the vest. There have been almost-daily rumors about their taking a player who is nowhere close to the fifth pick overall in terms of value, including Arizona State's Ike Davis and Vanderbilt's Ryan Flaherty, but with the names involved changing every few hours, it's best to ignore those and focus on what San Francisco needs, and has seemingly been on all along-a college position player who could move through the minors quickly. Despite some late action on Crow and the temptation to take a power bat like Smoak, the Giants now seem to have their focus on the other Beckham shortstop-Gordon, from the University of Georgia (no relation to Tim). A Golden Spikes finalist who is batting a remarkable .397/.505/.781 going into super-regional play, Beckham is nowhere near the defensive wizard that Omar Vizquel is, but should provide a significant offensive upgrade.
Like the Orioles, the Marlins have been locked in on their player for some time now. The top high school catcher, Kyle Skipworth has had a record-breaking season and greatly impressed scouts both in games and during private workouts. He's a big left-handed hitter with excellent power and enough defense to stick behind the plate, and he would have a clear path to the majors in a catching-weak Marlins system. There are some inside the organization who would like to consider a college closer here, but the sixth pick is too high to employ that gambit. There's also a late push in favor of University of Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso; if he worked out, the Miami native and Cuban immigrant would be the face of the franchise, but the Marlins are a team that has always stuck to slot, and Alonso may have priced himself out of the opportunity.
The Reds are lining up to throw the first real curveball of the first round. They have been heavily scouting the top group of college sluggers, as well as Gordon Beckham, while also dreaming of a scenario that would drop either Matusz or Crow to them. However, a surprising new name has entered the mix-the Reds were in hard on Canadian prepster Brett Lawrie after he went off with eight home runs in eight games against professionals in the Dominican, and they came back with reports encouraging enough to prompt a quickly-scheduled private workout on Tuesday afternoon. As one scouting director put it, "If there's anyone who can improve his stock with a private workout, it's Lawrie." Assuming all went as expected, the surprises start at lucky number seven. If they decide to play it safe, Alonso is currently at the top of their board.
The White Sox would love to get a shortstop like Gordon Beckham into their system, but with him off of the board, they'll turn to one of the many slugging first basemen from the college ranks. The obvious candidates are Alonso and Smoak, with the longstanding rumor about Arizona State's Brett Wallace as a dark horse beginning to die out over the last week. Currently there is a split in house as to which is the superior prospect, Alonso or Smoak, but perhaps what is most telling is that during last weekend's conference tournaments, Kenny Williams went to the SEC games to see Smoak, and not the ACC to see Alonso. That could mean nothing, or it could mean everything, but the general consensus in the industry is that Smoak is the better talent.
The Nats have been attached to many prospects throughout the spring. They had a brief affinity for Skipworth, but it looks like he won't be available, and he didn't play especially well when Washington sent their top brass, including GM Jim Bowden, to see him. The Nationals have reportedly been hoping for Hosmer to fall to them for months, and they're willing to pay the price for his kind of power potential. If the price ends up too high however, they'll happily select Crow, although late rumors that he also wants an 'elite major league deal' aren't helping matters.
10. Houston Astros
Houston is looking to make up for last year's draft debacle, when they didn't pick until the third round, and then were unable to sign their first two picks, leaving fifth-round selection Collin DeLome as their torch-holder for the year. They'll have some excellent college players available to them, and while the system needs practically everything, they have no big-time power prospects in their system, and Alonso would change that. Signability could be an issue here, but it would be no different with selecting Crow.
11. Texas Rangers
The Rangers would be pleasantly surprised to see one of the elite college players fall to them. Barring such a plummet, there's been some talk of them selecting a college closer, as well as a late surge for high school pitcher Ethan Martin, one of the more athletic and projectable arms in the draft. In this scenario, Crow is just far too good a talent to let him slide any further, and as always seems to be the case, Texas needs pitching.
The A's are currently drooling at the numerous possibilities that might involve one of this year's elite college talents dropping to them. If Beckham or Smoak somehow fall this far, expect the A's to not only select the player, but to also perform a happy dance of joy while doing so. Unfortunately, chances are neither player will be around, leaving Oakland to opt for door number two. While he's certainly not what many A's fans would expect, the team is very high on two-way high school star Aaron Hicks, who has first-round talent as both a center fielder and as a pitcher. Teams prefer him on the mound, and of late he's seemingly softened on his stance that he'd like to begin his career as an everyday player. That might be enough for Oakland to take the risk, as the remaining players that would normally appeal to them here (college, polished) aren't good enough to justify a pick this high.
The Cardinals are notoriously tight-lipped under the stewardship of scouting director Jeff Lunhow, but it does look like they're aiming at arms, but the granularity ends there, as they have high schoolers like Hicks and local product Tim Melville on their short list, as well as the usual group of college closers, but with the second best college lefty starter still on the board, they'll be hard-pressed to go in another direction. Eastern Kentucky's Christian Friedrich has a big league-ready curveball right now, and could be in the middle of the Cardinals' rotation in short order. There is a rumor beginning to circulate that University of Arizona reliever Ryan Perry, who touched 100 mph on multiple occasions during last week's regional play, has entered the picture and has a sizable group of supporters inside the organization.
14. Minnesota Twins
The Twins like athleticism and youth, and both Hicks and Lawrie are very high on their board. If the Reds decide to go in another direction, Lawrie might still be available at 14, and the Twins would be awfully tempted to take him. Their third option here is Ethan Martin, another two-way talent who started the year as a better third baseman, but goes into June more highly regarded for his work on the mound. He's a bit on the raw side, but some feel that his ceiling matches up with that of any high school pitcher on the board.
It's no secret that the Dodgers are also very high on Hicks, who plays in their back yard. With Hicks likely already gone by the time they pick, there has been a lot of speculation about the Dodgers going the college closer route, and their scouting department has been seen in attendance of Texas Christian closer Andrew Cashner's late-season games. The problem is that kind of safety selection just doesn't fit with the Dodgers' philosophy. High-ceiling high school players do, and the best one on the board at this point could be two-way Florida prep star Casey Kelly, the son of a big leaguer who has first-round talent as an infielder and as a pitcher, while also having a scholarship to play quarterback at the University of Tennessee clouding his signability, a factor which contributes to people having him going anywhere from seventh to 30th
The Brewers have a reputation for focusing on athletes and ceiling, but that isn't always the case, as evidenced by last year's selection of the top college slugger in the draft, Matt LaPorta. The Brewers do have some athletes in mind for this year's selection, but everyone's top two-Hicks and Martin-are likely off the board, and outfielder Zach Collier failed to impress in a private workout. Cashner might fit well here, and the Brewers are desperate for relief help at the big league level. At the same time, Stanford's Jason Castro is the third best catcher in the draft, and the gap between him and whoever teams think is the fourth best on the board is wider than the Grand Canyon. You can't have a catcher who bats ninth on your team forever, folks.
The Blue Jays broke with their college-favoring ways by focusing on high-ceiling high school players last year, but this year's talent crop falls more in line with their usual philosophy. They're hoping that Wallace falls to them, and chances are looking good for that happening. The two-time Pac-10 Triple Crown winner turns off scouts with his doughy build and lack of athleticism, but his performance is almost too much to ignore for a more performance-oriented outfit like Toronto.
18. New York Mets
An already bad system made downright barren by the Johan Santana deal needs help. The Mets are hardly complaining, because they got one of the best pitchers in the game, but with three picks between 18 and 33, the pressure is on for them to re-stock the system. They're very high on University of Miami second baseman Jemile Weeks, and they might pop Rickie's brother here if they don't think he'll be there when they select again at 22. On the other hand, Tim Melville began the season as one of the top high school pitchers available, but he disappointed observers throughout much of the season before returning to form down the stretch. He wants to be paid the way his pre-season status dictated, and the Mets have deep pockets.
19. Chicago Cubs
Scouting director Tim Wilken loves athletes, but many of the Cubs' top targets are looking like they'll be unavailable when the draft reaches them. So they may instead go with someone who has been a slow and steady riser, as the Cubs have been in on hard and heavy to see the last few starts by Illinois high school star Jake Odorizzi. He has the kind of velocity, command, and clean mechanics rarely seen from the cold-weather states. Odorizzi has been even better than ever down the stretch, consistently touching 95 mph with his fastball while showing a much-improved breaking ball. He's not a hometown pick per se; Highland is actually only 35 miles from St. Louis. The Cubs passed on the best Midwest high school arm last year when they opted to take Josh Vitters over Jarrod Parker; they won't let him go by this time.
20. Seattle Mariners
Seattle has been attached to a number of players at the 20th pick, and many of them, including Texas Tech outfielder Roger Kieschnick and Cal righty Tyson Ross, are the types of players that most teams see as falling just outside of the first round on a pure talent level. They're also high on a number of college relievers, especially Cashner. If he's there, the Mariners bite on it with the hope that they've found their next closer.
21. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have established a track record for taking players that slip due to signability concerns, especially power pitchers. Once again, one should be available to them: California high school star Gerrit Cole has a violent delivery, some major questions about his maturity, and Scott Boras as an agent. At the same time, Cole also has the best arm strength of any high school pitcher in the draft, having touched triple digits on the radar gun in a late-season playoff start. If there is one thing scouting director David Chadd loves, it's big guys who throw hard, and Cole fits that description, giving the Tigers yet again another talent far superior to the time he's selected.
22. New York Mets
As stated earlier, the Mets want Weeks, one of the top college athletes available, with one of their two first-round picks, and they might take him at 18 if they have reason to believe he won't be around four picks later. However, if Weeks goes off the board with the first pick, plummeting Tulane righty Shooter Hunt might finally find a home.
23. San Diego Padres
Teams picking below the Padres are having trouble figuring out what they're doing, and the rumor seems to change every 12 hours or so. The top two stories that seem to be gaining currency during draft week couldn't be more different. The first is South Carolina shortstop Reese Havens, a fundamentally sound college grinder; the much more strange rumor has the Padres doing some late homework on Connecticut prep school phenom Anthony Hewitt, who might offer more tools and less refinement than any player in recent memory. That kind of player seems like the anti-definition of a Grady Fuson selection. They might also be intrigued by Hunt at this point. Early in the season, the Tulane ace looked like he might be one the first ten selections, but he ran out of gas by the end of the year, and rarely more than ordinary. If the Padres believe in the early-season showings, Shooter would be a steal here.
The Phillies tend to favor young, toolsy players with their top picks, but they went against the grain last year when Rice southpaw Joe Savery fell into their lap. There's not going to be a player like that for them this year, and based on where it looked like he would go as recently as a week ago, Collier is a nice find here. Once seen as a top 15 pick, Collier's game is a bit on the crude side, but his tools all grade out well, and many think his potential ranks with any high school position player out there.
25. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies are enamored with Odorizzi, and would snatch him up quickly if he fell to them, but their backup plan is a bit of an unknown at this point. After taking college closer Casey Weathers last year, they're not going to go that route again, so they might go in a totally opposite direction and go for Hewitt. Some think he's the next Bo Jackson, and some think he'll never get out of A-ball, but he offers more to dream on than anyone in a draft that offers few players with elite-level upside.
The Diamondbacks aren't especially high on anyone it seems, and they might take a power reliever who they hope could move into the closer role quickly. With Cashner off the board and Georgia's Josh Fields suffering from a late-season drop off, the quick-rising Perry could be the perfect fit while providing a nice PR boost as well. He has more velocity than any of the other college bullpen arms, but some scouts are concerned about the straightness of his pitch, and his overall numbers are hardly dominating.
27. Minnesota Twins
The Twins go against the grain quite often, as evidenced by last year's selection of center fielder Ben Revere, who was in nobody else's mix as a first-round selection. They're in need of position players and not afraid of projects, seeming to almost prefer them at times. An interesting selection here might be California high school star Ike Galloway. Many thought he'd be a sure-fire pick in the first 15 by now, but his unquestionably great tools didn't play as well as the should have this year, so now he's more of a risk than he was thought to be three months ago. Other options include some of the top remaining high school arms, notably Florida lefty Brett DeVall.
28. New York Yankees
The Yankees are usually in the position to take players with signability problems who fall into their deep pockets. The only problem is that no such player exists here. So what do they do? They could make a total upside bet if a player like Hewitt is still available but the organization is lacking in advanced power hitters, and two players-Arizona State's Ike Davis and Cal's David Cooper-fit the bill perfectly. Most scouts give the slight edge to Davis, and the fact that his father Ron wore the pinstripes as a reliever in the late '70s and early '80s helps the cause. Going by the book here makes it even more likely that the Bombers will spend huge money next month on righty Micheal Inoa, the 16-year-old Dominican wunderkind who will likely command a record bonus for an international free agent.
The Indians don't have a good fit as far as the players still available, as they prefer their high school position players more polished, see their top high school arms off the board, and don't necessarily believe in the philosophy of talking college relievers early. That could make Havens, one of the few up-the-middle college players with even borderline first-round talent, an interesting name for them, and maybe the only player left that they'd be happy with.
30. Boston Red Sox
Another team who wants to swing with a player who falls but can't find a dance partner. When that occurs, the Red Sox tend to save their high-risk picks until after the first round, and play it safe early. Even though they have a good left-handed bullpen arm in Hideki Okajima, Arizona's Ryan Schlereth would be the best college reliever still on the board, and his power stuff makes him possibly closer-worthy and anything but a one-sided specialist. The son of former NFL player and television analyst Mark Schlereth, he's built like a bulldog and brings a gridiron mentality to the mound. More importantly, his velocity was up to 97 mph, and his slider was a true wipeout offering.