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August 9, 2008

Future Shock

Signing Status for the 2008 First-Rounders

by Kevin Goldstein

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Last year's draft was the first with the newly-implemented August 15th signing deadline, and it also introduced a new version of the game "chicken," as numerous players waited until the final 24 hours to finalize their deals. The sad truth for the teams in this situation is that those players who waited tended to get the most money, so as we enter the final week of this year's signing window, 11 of the 30 first-round selections remain unsigned. Here's a look at each of the first-round picks, discussing either their performance so far, or the status of their negotiations.

1. Tampa Bay Rays: Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin HS (GA)
Status: Signed, $6.15 million
Performance: He's hitting .229/.289/.294 at Rookie-level Princeton, so he's off to a slow start in the Appy League, but his hitting has heated up of late, as he's gone 13-for-40 (.325) in his last ten games with six doubles. No worries Rays fans, because the tools are awesome, and they'll play.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt
Status: Unsigned
Agent: Scott Boras Corporation
Negotiations: You didn't really think the top-selected Scott Boras client would sign early, did you? Scott Boras invented this particular brand of playing chicken, so he's understandably the grand master of the process. That said, the Alvarez negotiations have a number of interesting angles, including the fact that Boras is negotiating directly with team president Frank Coonelly, who previously was in charge of enforcing Major League Baseball's slotting system. Coonnelly doesn't want to break the bank here, and won't meet Boras' demands of an eight-figure deal, but he can't afford not to sign him since the team has worked so hard this year to prove that the new administration is committed to winning.
Prediction: A $6-8 million package that includes a major league deal.

3. Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer, 1B, American Heritage HS (FL)
Status: Unsigned
Agent: Scott Boras Corporation
Negotiations: This one isn't nearly as dramatic as the Alvarez talks, as the Royals and Scott Boras have a good relationship, as well as an understanding of each other's tactics. Boras wants to break the high-school bank with Hosmer, but a more likely scenario has the Royals matching the money they paid for last year's second overall pick, Mike Moustakas (also a Boras client).
Prediction: A $4 million bonus.

4. Baltimore Orioles: Brian Matusz, LHP, University of San Diego
Status: Unsigned
Agent: Marc Agar
Negotiations: This is one of those interconnected deals. The Orioles and Matusz have had few productive discussions, because the Matusz side has been watching the talks involving the ninth overall pick, Aaron Crow. They know that Crow wants a massive deal, and Matusz, as the top pitcher selected, won't settle for a penny less... but what if there's no deal to compare to? OK, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Prediction: A $4-6 million package that includes a major league deal.

5. San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey, C, Florida State
Status: Unsigned
Agent: Creative Artists Agency
Negotiations: Going nowhere fast. There has been no progress, as it seems that Posey is sticking to his pre-draft demands of an eight-figure deal—the demand that dropped him this far in the first place. He's not going to get that, but he is going to get a lot of money. Despite being one of the deals least close to being done, there's no way Posey will not sign, as it would be nearly impossible for him to become worth any more than he is now.
Prediction: A $5-6 million package that includes a major league deal.

6. Florida Marlins: Kyle Skipworth, C, Patriot HS (CA)
Status: Signed, $2.3 million
Performance: Another rough introduction, as he's hitting .207/.264/.324 for the Rookie-level GCL Marlins. Make no mistake about it, the Marlins were very high on Skipworth, but the fact that he'd sign quickly and not cost an over-slot bonus definitely influenced their selecting him. Like Beckham, Skipworth is off to a slow start, but any number of factors can play into poor debuts that have little to do with talent, so there's no big concern here.

7. Cincinnati Reds: Yonder Alonso, 1B, University of Miami
Status: Unsigned
Agent: Legacy Sports
Negotiations: Everyone knew about Alonso's high price tag going into the draft, so it should be no surprise that he's unsigned. He's not going to get his asking price of nearly $7 million, but he could end up very close.
Prediction: A $4-6 million package that includes a major league deal.

8. Chicago White Sox: Gordon Beckham, SS, University of Georgia
Status: Unsigned
Agent: SFX
Negotiations: The fact that Beckham is unsigned going into the final days is a mild surprise. What has likely happened here, is that his advisors accurately evaluated the market for top-flight college players as inflating significantly, and they decided to hold Beckham back in order to ride the coattails of the situation and reap the rewards.
Prediction: Something around $3-$4.5 million, with a 50/50 shot at a major league deal.

9. Washington Nationals: Aaron Crow, RHP, Missouri
Status: Unsigned
Agent: Hendricks Brothers
Negotiations Other than San Diego first-round pick Allan Dykstra and his unique circumstances, Crow is the most likely first-round pick not to sign. That said, there's still a 50 percent chance that he will. Washington has taken a hard line with Crow and made their frustrations public, as they're not willing to go two or three times over slot for a player who threw out an $8-10 million price tag before the selections even began. Like Posey, he has little leverage, and the last thing he should want to do is re-enter a 2009 draft that will have better elite arms in the college ranks than this year's class.
Prediction: A package for $5-6 million, and likely a major league deal.

10. Houston Astros: Jason Castro, C, Stanford
Status: Signed, $2.07 million
Performance: He's at .218/.317/.309 with Short-season Tri-City. Castro was a first-rounder based on talent and positional scarcity, but nobody expected him to go this high, so it's no surprise that he signed quickly for slot money. His performance in two-plus weeks of New York-Penn League action is surprisingly uninspiring; on paper, he's the type of player who should do quite well there.

11. Texas Rangers: Justin Smoak, 1B, University of South Carolina
Agent: Dustin Bledsoe
Negotiations: This is another dependency-type of deal, as the Smoak camp will keep a close eye on what happens with Alonso before accurately comparing Smoak's talent to his.
Prediction: He'll get a $4-5 million bonus.

12. Oakland Athletics: Jemile Weeks, 2B, University of Miami
Status: Signed, $1.91 million
Performance: He's already hitting well, at a .297/.422/.405 clip with Low-A Kane County. Weeks is another player who went a touch higher than anticipated, and he signed quickly. Weeks has been even more impressive than his numbers show, going 19-for-46 (.413) in his last ten games before injuring a hip flexor that has kept him out of the lineup since the end of the month.

13. St. Louis Cardinals: Brett Wallace, 3B, Arizona State
Status: Signed, $1.84 million
Performance: By hitting .353/.432/.569 at Low-A, Wallace has been every bit as good as expected with the bat, if not better, but scouts are still wondering what he's doing at third base, where he has soft hands but a below-average arm, and way below-average range.

14. Minnesota Twins: Aaron Hicks, OF, Wilson HS (CA)
Status: Signed, $1.78 million
Performance: He's hitting .320/.422/.500 for the Rookie-level GCL Twins. Hicks may have gone a little higher if he was willing to pitch, but his heart was in being an everyday player, and on pure tools, this was anything but a reach. Seen as somewhat raw coming in, he's been surprisingly polished in his pro debut, already increasing his stock.

15. Los Angeles Dodgers: Ethan Martin, RHP, Stephens County HS (GA)
Status: Signed, $1.7325 million
Performance: Like Hicks, Martin had first-round talent as both a pitcher and a hitter, but the Dodgers preferred his potential on the mound. His debut has been delayed due to a knee injury suffered during fielding drills which required minor surgery. He's expected to be ready for the instructional league.

16. Milwaukee Brewers: Brett Lawrie, 3B, Brookswood SS (Canada)
Status: Signed, $1.7 million
Performance: Agent Dan Lawson consistently gets the top Canadian talent, and he likes to play the waiting game, but Lawrie's commitment to Team Canada's Olympic squad created leverage on both sides; he couldn't wait until the deadline to sign because he had to be in China before then. Once he returns, he'll go straight to instructional league so that the Brewers can convert him to catcher, a move he's not only open to, but excited about.

17. Toronto Blue Jays: David Cooper, 1B, University of California
Status: Signed, $1.5 million
Performance: He's already earned promotions, starting out by going .341/.411/.553 at Short-season Auburn, then .354/.415/.521 at Low-A Lansing, and now .400/.400/.600 at High-A Dunedin. With only four home runs, Cooper's power hasn't shown as expected, but every other aspect of his offensive game has been outstanding, and it's not as if much has been expected of him defensively. With Travis Snider moving up to Triple-A and Brian Dopirak taking his place on the Double-A roster, there was suddenly an opening for Cooper in the Florida State League, and his expected cruise through the minors is in progress as he went 2-for-5 with a double in his first Florida State League game.

18. New York Mets: Ike Davis, 1B, Arizona State
Status: Signed, $1.575 million
Performance: Hitting only .248/.297/.321 at Short-season Brooklyn, Davis has yet to come close to matching the performance of other college sluggers. He's been homerless in his first 35 games, although he does have 10 doubles in 137 at-bats. Nonetheless, he's been a disappointment.

19. Chicago Cubs: Andrew Cashner, RHP, Texas Christian
Status: Signed, $1.54 million
Performance: He followed a 0.00 ERA at Rookie-level AZL Cubs with a 13.50 ERA at Short-season Boise. The Cubs want to turn Cashner back into a starter, but since signing, he's had a disturbing case of the yips; of the 21 batters he's faced in two Northwest League starts, nine have walked and one has been hit by a pitch. It's just two starts, so no need to hit the panic button or anything.

20. Seattle Mariners: Josh Fields, RHP, University of Georgia
Status: Unsigned
Agent: Scott Boras Corporation
Negotiations: Fields went unsigned as a junior last year after being selected by the Braves in the second round, so as a senior, his leverage is limited. Rumors among scouting circles have Fields and the Mariners having already come to terms, but because it's slightly above-slot, they've agreed to delay the announcement.
Prediction: A $1.8 million bonus.

21. Detroit Tigers: Ryan Perry, RHP, University of Arizona
Status: Signed, $1.48 million
Performance: He debuted with a 0.00 ERA at Rookie-level GCL Tigers, and has followed that with a 4.15 ERA at High-A Lakeland. Despite being able to touch triple digits with his fastball, Perry didn't miss as many bats as one would expect in college, and that trend is continuing as a pro; he has just one strikeout in four Florida State League games. His heater tends to be straight and elevated, and one or both of those things will need to change.

22. New York Mets: Reese Havens, SS, South Carolina
Status: Signed, $1.419 million
Performance: Already cruising at .261/.370/.493 with Short-season Brooklyn, Havens' nice numbers are made all the more impressive by an elbow injury limiting him to a DH-only role before a groin injury put him on the disabled list, possibly ending his year. There are still rumors that the Mets would like to see if he can convert to catcher.

23. San Diego Padres: Allan Dykstra, 1B, Wake Forest
Status: Unsigned
Agent: Scott Boras Corporation
Negotiations: This has become one of the most complicated negotiations, because Dykstra had significant hip surgery in high school, but he's had a healthy and productive amateur career while reporting no further issues with the joint. The Padres had all but agreed to a deal that included a $1.4 million bonus, but when they took x-rays of Dykstra's hip, they did not like what they saw, and re-opened negotiations with a significantly lower figure. That's likely not going to work with Boras, who is known for putting his own medical clauses into contracts beyond the standard language. At this point, the two sides are stalemated, and Dykstra could very well opt for returning to school with the hopes of a big senior year and finding a team in 2009 that does not share San Diego's concerns. The upshot for Padres fans is that San Diego might still end up signing a first-round talent by re-routing Dykstra's money to 15th-round pick Brett Mooneyham, an elite high school lefty (and also a Scott Boras client) who is looking for big money to buy him away from a commitment to Stanford.
Prediction: He does not sign.

24. Philadelphia Phillies: Anthony Hewitt, SS, Salisbury School (CT)
Status: Signed, $1.38 million
Performance: He's hitting .270/.313/.432 for Rookie-level GCL Phillies. Nearly at the top of the scale as far as his tools, and at the bottom on polish, Hewitt's numbers might seem impressive on first glance, but a closer look finds a BABIP at nearly .500, as he's struck out 33 times (while walking only twice) in 74 at-bats. He is still very much a project.

25. Colorado Rockies: Christian Friedrich, LHP, Eastern Kentucky University
Status: Signed, $1.35 million
Performance: Despite a 4.26 ERA at Short-season Tri-City, Friedrich has pitched much better than his ERA, allowing less than a hit per inning while punching out 32 in 25 1/3 frames and walking just seven. He was a steal at pick 25, and could be pitching as high as the California League next year.

26. Arizona Diamondbacks: Daniel Schlereth, LHP, University of Arizona
Status: Signed, $1.33 million
Performance: He's got a 0.00 ERA at Rookie-level Missoula in just two appearances so far, but he's struck out four in a pair of scoreless innings. Many people preferred him over Ryan Perry when it came to Wildcat relievers, as his pure stuff is just a tick below Detroit's selection, but his left-handedness more than makes up for it.

27. Minnesota Twins: Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, University of Miami
Status: Signed, $1.29 million
Performance: He's posting a 2.92 ERA at High-A Fort Myers. A surprise first-round selection, Gutierrez has been solid but unspectacular in the Miracle bullpen, generating plenty of ground balls, but striking out just seven batters in 12 1/3 innings. Everyone believed he was a college reliever who could move quickly, but many felt that his ceiling was just what it has been so far—solid but unspectacular.

28. New York Yankees: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Orange Lutheran HS (CA)
Agent: Scott Boras Corporation
Negotiations: Boras would like to see Cole get a Porcello-like package of $7 million and a big-league deal, but while he arguably has better stuff than any high school arm, he doesn't come close to matching Porcello's clean mechanics or feel for his craft. Expectations could be lowered at the deadline to match Porcello's bonus alone (around $3.5 million), but even that might be steep.
Prediction: $2.75 million bonus

29. Cleveland Indians: Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Pitt CC (NC)
Status: Signed, $1.1 million
Performance: Already cranking out .280/.337/.441 averages at Short-season Mahoning Valley, he's playing shortstop for now, but Chisenhall will likely slide to the left or right as he moves up. The bat has been especially impressive of late, as he's hit .400 in his last ten games with five doubles and three home runs.

30. Boston Red Sox: Casey Kelly, SS, Sarasota HS (FL)
Status: Signed, $3 million
Performance: He's struggling at .155/.177/.241 with the Rookie-level GCL Red Sox. Most teams preferred Kelly as a prospect on the mound, and the Red Sox will keep that option in their back pocket, but Kelly wanted to stay at short, and the Red Sox had to pay a premium to steer him away from playing football at Tennessee. He's been awful so far offensively, but it's too early to make a real judgment call.

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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