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September 28, 2009

Future Shock

Buyer's Remorse

by Kevin Goldstein

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I say it pretty much any time I'm talking about a recent draft-one really needs somewhere between three and five years to properly measure a draft, but that doesn't mean we can't at least make some assumptions. Now that we've had a full year to evaluate the players from the class of 2008, here are ten teams that might be suffering from some form of buyer's remorse.

Tim Beckham, SS, Rays (First overall)
Look, is Beckham really a bust already? Of course he isn't. At the same time, go down a list of the other 29 first-round picks and ask yourself how many you'd take over Beckham. If you're especially down on him, you could easily get into the double digits with that list, and for a guy who went first overall and received a $6.15 million bonus, that's not a good thing. He's still an impressive athlete with plenty of upside, and definitely a Top 100 prospect, but his .275/.328/.389 line at Low-A Bowling Green with 43 errors in the field generated a lot of questions.

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals (Third overall)
Hosmer's season was a long-form disaster that never ended. He hit .220 without a home run in his first 24 games for Low-A Burlington, but for many, it was reminiscent of how 2007 first-round pick Mike Moustakas struggled mightily at Burlington in 2008 before making adjustments and becoming the league's most dangerous hitter during the second half of the season. But those adjustments never happened for Hosmer; he showed a quick swing with plenty of leverage, but just never made hard contact in games, as he struggled to hit breaking balls and his set-up far from the plate left him lunging at pitches. Things got no better following a mysterious and undeserved promotion to High-A Wilmington, and he took time off at the end of the year for Lasik surgery to correct some vision problems. He did hit a walk-off home run in the Carolina League playoffs, but one at-bat is not enough to write off what happened in the 400+ PAs that came before.

Kyle Skipworth, C, Marlins (Sixth overall)
Sure, they kind of had to go cheap, but that doesn't mean that they had to go wrong. Picking Skipworth here was certainly excusable at the time-even if he was a budget-minded selection, Skipworth was the best high school catcher on the board. Seen as an offense-first type of player, that offense has yet to show up as a pro; in 113 games, he has career averages of .208/.263/.345. There are still some positives here, as scouts do see tools and upside in him, but 2010 will be a critical year for him to save his prospect status.

Yonder Alonso, 1B, Reds (Seventh overall)
Like the Beckham comment, this isn't necessarily a bad pick, as Alonso had a solid but unspectacular full-season debut, this is more about what could have been: in the hours leading up to the draft, the Reds were torn between Alonso and University of Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham. Alonso looks like he might be a power/on-base first baseman with problems hitting against left-handers, while Beckham looks like a future star with a chance to be a "face of the franchise"-type of player. So there are no big complaints about what they have, as long as you don't think about what could have been.

Jason Castro, C, Astros (10th overall)
This selection was nearly universally panned when it was made, but those screams turned to whispers when Castro hit .309/.399/.517 at High-A Lancaster in the early going this year, and then hit a home run in the Futures Game. Numbers at Lancaster always need to be taken with a spoonful of salt, and while Castro flirted with .300 at Double-A, his power disappeared, and he finished with a line of .293/.362/.385 in 63 Texas League games. He's not a bad prospect, and he's very nearly a sure-fire big leaguer. But scouts see no tools to project him as any more than average at best, and that's not what anyone is looking for with the tenth overall pick.

Joshua Fields, RHP, Mariners (20th overall)
Fields was that college closer that everyone thought could move up through an organization quickly. As a college senior, he wasn't held to the August 15th signing deadline, so he didn't agree to a bonus until February, and then, instead of moving quickly, he moved backwards. Starting the year at Double-A West Tenn, Fields walked four of the six batters he faced in his debut, and control problems plagued him throughout the year while the mid- to upper-90s heat he showed in college dropped down to 90-92 mph. Already 24 and with only one ineffective and injury-plagued year under his belt, he is no longer expected to move quickly, but he almost has to.

Allan Dykstra, 1B, Padres (23rd overall)
For a long time after he was selected, it looked like the Padres might not even sign Dykstra due to disagreements between the club and Scott Boras over the seriousness of a pre-existing hip condition. He finally agreed to a below-slot deal for $1.15 million, and was one of the biggest disappointments in the Midwest League, batting just .226/.397/.375. If there's any good news here, it's that he drew 103 walks and hit .324 in his final 30 games of the year, but overall, scouts described everything about his game-his swing, his baserunning, his fielding acumen-as painfully slow.

Anthony Hewitt, 3B, Phillies (24th overall)
Nobody could argue with the tools, as Hewitt's were arguably the best in the draft, but many nevertheless had overwhelming concerns about his ability to translate those tools into baseball skills. So far the concerns seem well-grounded; while scouts saw considerable progress during the course of his 2009 performance with Williamsport in the short-season New York-Penn League (especially as his power and speed began to show up in games), he hit just .223/.255/.395 overall. In 350 professional at-bats, Hewitt now has 16 walks and 132 strikeouts, and it's going to require a Brobdingnagian turnaround for him to show up as a future top prospect.

Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees (28th overall)
This one is certainly just more frustrating than anything else for the Yankees; they certainly didn't do anything wrong in selecting Cole. The organization had every intention of giving him a bonus well over slot, but Cole had a change of heart after the selection and decided to attend UCLA. Pitching in one of the toughest conferences in college baseball, Cole became a Friday starter (the college equivalent of an ace) as a freshman for the Bruins, finishing the year with a 3.49 ERA, 104 strikeouts in 85 innings and just 57 hits allowed. He's a early possibility for the top pick in the 2011 draft, and whatever the Yankees were willing to pay Cole (and it was a lot), it surely would have been worth it.

Shooter Hunt, RHP, Twins (31st overall)
About six weeks into the 2008 college baseball season, Hunt was one of the hottest pitchers in the country for Tulane, and there were whispers that he might even slide into the first 12 picks. Then his command slipped a bit in the second half of the year, but many felt just the same that the Twins got a steal when he fell all the way to the initial selection of the supplemental first round. Then his command slipped a bit more after he signed, as Hunt walked 27 in 31 1/3 innings for Low-A Beloit, and this year the wheels fell completely off, as Hunt lasted just seven games for the Snappers, walking 33, hitting four, and delivering seven wild pitches in just 17 2/3 IP before going back to extended spring training in an attempt to work out the kinks. Eased back to the rookie-level Gulf Coast Leagues, Hunt was no better, walking 25 and striking out eight in 15 frames. For now, he's as lost in the tall weeds as one can be.

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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