Tools Vs. Performance – MWF, 8:00
It’s not often you find a good tools-versus-performance debate among the fraternity paddle crowd (i.e., college draftees)–usually this forms the parameters of the prep-collegiate arguments that have become old hat by now–but there’s one to be found this year in Seth Smith against Dustin Pedroia. Smith, an outfielder for Ole Miss, went at number 50 to the Rockies, while Pedroia, Arizona State’s starting shortstop, was the Red Sox’s first pick at number 65.
Smith finished the year batting .284/.364/.422, which is a modest step down from his 2003 numbers. The Rebels play in a notable pitcher’s park and toiled against the 34th-toughest schedule in the country, so his numbers are being dragged down a bit by atmospherics and a fairly demanding slate of opponents. Still, those are patently unimpressive numbers for a college hitter taken in the second round. His plate discipline was marginal and his Isolated Slugging Percentage of .138 forecasts little raw power.
What gained him traction in the draft is that he’s a football player by birth and inclination–serving as Eli Manning’s backup in recent seasons–so his focus on baseball development has been at best healthily divided. The idea is that once he abandons football for good, those tools will turn into skills. Smith had a good summer with Team USA, when he was using the wooden bat for the first time. He’s fleet of foot and makes good contact, but he doesn’t project as a center fielder at the highest level. If he is a case of arrested development waiting to blossom, he still has furlongs to go before he’ll resemble an adequate corner hitter at the major league level.
And then there’s Pedroia. ASU plays in a hitter’s park, but against one of the most grueling college schedules in the country. He’s not a big guy (5’9”, 180), and his diminutive stature, dirty-uniformed approach and position afield often lead to comparisons to David Eckstein. He’s considered maxed out from a physical standpoint, which leads some to wonder how much power he’ll be able to wield at the higher levels. Still, scouts like his defense, and, unlike countless other college shortstops, he should be able to stick at the position.
Since becoming a Sun Devil, Pedroia has made alarmingly consistent progress with the bat. From his freshman to sophomore and sophomore to junior seasons, he improved his OBP, walk rate, SLG, Isolated Slugging, and BB/K ratio. He makes excellent contact and this season drew walks at an impressive clip. Overall his numbers for 2004 were among the nation’s best: .393/.502/.611, with 48 walks and only 15 strikeouts. Maybe his physical limitations will prevent him from hitting with authority, or maybe those numbers are what they are: the makings of a premium middle-infield prospect.
From a numbers standpoint, there’s no way to justify taking Smith 15 spots ahead of Pedroia. From a developmental standpoint, it remains to be seen. How they fare will be an interesting, if isolated, test case of tools vs. performance in collegians.
Tommy Used To Work on the Docks: A Return to High School
There’s an old joke (somewhat funny if you’re from the South) that goes something like this:
Q: What are a redneck’s most common last words?
A: Watch this s**t!
The idea being that these are the sort of folk who, by dint of a dare or desire to impress assembled fellow travelers, are prone to try something unspeakably stupid–swallow a buck knife, see if the bees come out, try that long-unused rope swing, do pull-ups from the bridge railing, brawl with federal agents–and wind up offing themselves. There’s a point to my telling you this…
We at BP aren’t wont to meander into the wilder shores of analyzing high school talent (park factors and levels of competition vary frantically from team to team and region to region, and the troublingly unadjusted numbers that are available are usually the wrong ones). But sometimes Jonah levels his steely editorial gaze at you, and you know you’ve drawn the short straw. So I’m going to do my best to rank the top five high school players taken in this year’s draft. Without further hedging, I invite you to watch this s**t:
Neil Walker, C, Pine Richland HS-Gibsonia, PA
Pirates, 11th overall
Walker batted .580 for the brief, cold-weather season, with 14 of his 22 hits going for extra bases. He also has excellent plate discipline and good speed for a catcher. Throw in some strong bloodlines (his father played for the Expos and older brother was in the Tigers’ system for a while) and good catcher’s build, and you’ve got a fine prep prospect. Walker’s also a switch-hitter with especially good power from the right side. On the downside, high school-trained catchers have a less than inspiring track record, and the competition in Pennsylvania is less than premium.
Chris Nelson, SS, Redan HS-Decatur, GA
Rockies, ninth overall
Suburban Atlanta, as the Braves have known for years now, is a bit of prep hotbed in terms of baseball talent (Nelson went to the same high school as Brandon Phillips). So while Nelson isn’t playing against Florida, Central Texas or Southern California competition, he’s by no means sliding by against an undemanding peer group. He’s athletic around the bag with good range, so he’ll have every chance to stick at short. Nelson has a line-drive swing, and he’s already adept at using the whole field. This past season, he batted .582, slugged 1.119 and swiped 25 bags. Scouts think he’ll show solid gap-power numbers in the majors. He’s not rated as having exceptional plate discipline, but unfortunately the numbers aren’t there to evaluate him further from that vital standpoint.
Homer Bailey, RHP, LaGrange HS-LaGrange, TX
Reds, seventh overall
Bailey hails from LaGrange, which is about halfway between Austin and Houston and smack dab in the middle of the fertile crescent for fire-balling prep right-handers. The competition there is tough, and Bailey destroyed all comers: 66 innings, 157 strikeouts, nine walks, 17 hits, 0.21 ERA. For those counting, that’s a comedic K/BB ratio of 17.4. His fastball ranges from 92 to 96, and his sharp curve is also a devastating pitch. Like all other young, raw power pitchers, he’ll need to stay healthy and refine his change-up. There’s lots to like from a scouting as well as a performance standpoint–as far as high school numbers will take you, that is. The odds against high school pitchers mean his road will likely be a long and treacherous one.
Matt Bush, SS, Mission Bay HS-El Cajon, CA
Padres, first overall
The ballyhooed top overall pick was regarded as the second-best prep shortstop available in most quarters. On the plus side, he’s an excellent defender who should only get better as he matures and refines his instincts. Bush has great footwork and can adroitly turn the double play. Bush also sports a mid-90s fastball, so you know he’s got the arm for short. His offensive numbers aren’t overwhelming at first blush (.400 AVG, .738 SLG), but he was playing against premium SoCal competition. He’s a contact hitter who handles fastballs with aplomb, but his ability to handle breaking pitches is somewhat suspect at this point. His plate discipline needs some improvement, but he’s in an organization that stresses it. As a high-school talent, Bush will have plenty of developmental time to tailor his approach at the plate.
Billy Killian, C, Chippewa Hills HS-Stanwood, MI
Padres, 72nd overall
If there’s such thing as a third-round sleeper, it may be Killian. Widely hailed as the best player in Michigan, Killian had first-round abilities but dropped to the third mostly because scouts didn’t care for his thin build (6’1”, 185). He has outstanding plate discipline and batted a ridiculous .766 this season while slugging 1.367 (small sample size alert! Only 30 ABs). He’s also a switch-hitter. On the defensive side, he’s very athletic for a backstop and boasts a strong arm. Killian needs some polish behind the plate, but the ingredients of a fine defensive catcher are there. Credit the Padres for looking past his size concerns and getting themselves a promising catching talent. He should’ve been drafted much, much higher.
Sleepytime: Not Just a Delightful Herbal Tea You Drink in Secret
My choice for sleeper pick of the draft goes to the Astros, who nabbed Texas A&M-Kingsville right-hander Garrett Murdy with the 484th overall pick. Murdy has a deep repertoire, easy arm action and clean mechanics. Scouts like his big frame, and the performance, even accounting for the drop to Division II competition, has been impressive: 115 innings, 158 strikeouts, 37 walks, two home runs, 1.88 ERA. He’s one to keep an eye on, especially within an organization that’s had a reasonably deft touch in developing overlooked arms.