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June 4, 2009

Future Shock

Draft Rumor Mill

by Kevin Goldstein

Now that we've moved into the final week before the draft, things have not really become any clearer-if anything, there's more confusion than ever, with many teams going silent as they enter all-day meetings in preparation for their picks. If there is any good news for those trying to prognosticate the selections, it's that after the slam dunk of Stephen Strasburg going first to the Nationals, the overwhelming consensus is that Seattle will take North Carolina's Dustin Ackley with the second pick. After that, it is, as they say, anybody's ballgame.

Plenty of Rumors at Three

The Padres are the first true wild card with the third overall pick, and to understand the range of rumors surrounding their selection, the two stories with the most buzz involve players who could not be on more opposite ends of the spectrum. The splashiest suggestion has the team selecting Donavan Tate, who offers as much upside as any player in the draft, but he also comes with questions about both his bat and his effort level. Making things more muddled, there is a rumored $6 million price tag that would require the blessing of those above management. On the other end is Vanderbilt lefty Mike Minor; on a pure talent level, he belongs at the end of the first round at best, but teams will look to avoid a tough decision and simply take a player who could arrive quickly and provide some certainty, so Minor could get popped early.

Even More Rumors at Four

Almost more confusing than San Diego's intention is the pick that follows theirs, with the Pirates selecting fourth overall. Rumor number one involves them taking a 'budget-conscious' selection, and then spending big on Dominican uber-shortstop Miguel Sano. The second has them making a splash and taking Tate or Texas prep southpaw Matt Purke, who is looking to break the bank despite not really having the talent to merit the Rick Porcello-level deal that he's looking for (a $7 million big-league package). What might make the most sense is for them to simply take the player they like there, but there is more and more smoke coming from the first rumor, and the Pirates are said by some to have already entered into discussions with a few players seen more as late first-round picks.

Three Players Moving Up
  • Tony Sanchez, C, Boston College
    Sanchez is the best catcher in this draft, though on pure talent, he's considered more of a late first-round type by consensus. But as the old draft cliché goes, it takes only one team to push a guy up, and in this case, there are several teams doing so with Sanchez, who some project as a Molina-like defender with a power bat. Kansas City has him in their mix at 12th overall, and there are wild stories of his going even higher than that. A lot of late-spring buzz is generated by who sees who and when, and San Diego brass were paying close attention to Boston College at last weekend's regional at North Carolina, but they were nowhere to be found for the Tar Heels' final game, leading to even further wild speculation.

  • Mike Leake, RHP, Arizona State
    He just never stopped dominating. You can ding him a little for his size, but he's hardly tiny, and he's a fantastic athlete. Beyond all of the scouting tidbits, take in this quick statistical curiosity: Leake pitches in a very friendly hitters' park, he pitches in one of the toughest conferences in the game, and he had a brutal schedule. None of those three qualities apply to Steven Strasburg, yet Leake beats the top talent in the draft in ERA, with a 1.23 mark entering super-regional play versus Strasburg's 1.32. Teams unable to decide among the available high school arms, or turned off by their bonus demands (or both) could be turning to Leake with a single-digit selection.

  • Mike Trout, OF, Millville HS (NJ)
    Trout has been the high school player attracting the most heat in private workouts, showing plus-plus speed, surprising strength in his bat, and very good outfield skills. None of that is a big surprise to anyone, but for a guy that has a reputation for being raw, he's looking very polished in front of decision-makers. In a draft with little separation among the top 30 talents, the recent workouts and off-the-charts makeup should move Trout up.

Three Players Falling Down

  • Alex White, RHP, University of North Carolina
    After looking like one of the top college pitchers on the board, White has faltered mightily down the stretch, lasting only seven innings total in his last two starts while giving up 13 runs. One scout who saw his regional game against Coastal Carolina claimed, "He really just looked like your standard arm-strength righty," while also questioning his aggressiveness. "Beyond the varying velocity at 86-94 mph and the fringy secondary stuff, I just didn't see a sense of urgency from him," said the scout. "After he gave up his second home run, he looked at the dugout like he wanted to come out of the game." There is some talk of his having hamstring and blister issues, but scouts aren't sure if those are real reasons or just excuses.

  • Kyle Gibson, RHP, University of Missouri
    One of the more consistent performers this spring, Gibson put up good numbers in his final start of the year, tossing eight shutout innings in a regional start, but that was against a non-threatening Monmouth lineup. More importantly, his fastball was suddenly sitting at just 84-87 mph, and he's been struggling with what has been classified as forearm tightness, though it has many worried that it could be, or end up being, more serious than that. "We all know what the forearm is connected to," quipped one scouting director.

  • Grant Green, SS, University of Southern California
    Or, is he? After falling out of the top ten on some boards, Green is suddenly looking very much like he'll go in the five-to-eight range, and there is some talk that he could be back in the mix with the Padres and Pirates. "It just made no sense to me," said one scout. "The guy enters the year as the consensus number two pick, and all he does is have a really good season that didn't live up to expectations that were too high in the first place," he added. "If he's suddenly a mid-first-round pick, then we're all really bad at our jobs."

Ending On a Comical Note

Late draft coverage involves time filled with a lot of phone calls, which involves a lot of story swapping, few of which are for public consumption. Here's one of the better ones from this week, with the team and player names remaining anonymous.

During one club's private workouts this week, they had three very athletic players line up for a 60-yard dash. The slowest of them was a 50-55 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, the second was a 60 runner, and the third was even faster than that. The first guy runs a 7.2, which leads to confusion all around, as that would be a well below-average time. The second player runs seven flat, while the third, in true Roger Bannister style, breaks the magic seven-second barrier, which is still barely average, and it looked like he was burning. With both players and officials standing around with a combination of bewilderment and disappointment, somebody decided to check the course and realized that they were running a 70-yard dash.

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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