Now that we’re a month away from the 2006 Draft, we do have a better idea of who’s going to be picked at the top, but little idea of the order. Let’s start this week’s notebook with an update of where things stand with the first five picks.

  • 1. Kansas City: Word on the street is that the Royals will not take North Carolina lefthander Andrew Miller; it looks like a 50/50 proposition that Kansas City will go cheap instead. The good news is that if they do balk on paying Miller the expected asking price of a major league deal with a total value in the $6+ million range, we now have a good idea of who their backup choice is: Washington righty Tim Lincecum. However, while admitting that he’s not familiar with the economic factors surrounding the Royals decision, one scouting director thinks that the drop-off in talent between Miller and any other player is too significant for the Royals to pass up. “You look at those at other pitchers, and then you look at Miller and he’s a 6-foot-7 lefty with tremendous arm strength,” said the scouting director. “He’s a completely different animal and if there’s any way you could pull it [drafting Miller] off, you’d have to.”
  • 2. Colorado: If Miller falls, it won’t be very far, as the Rockies would likely scoop up the consensus top talent in the draft. If the Royals decide to take Miller, Colorado has backed off the other college pitching, and is now focused on Long Beach State infielder Evan Longoria, who they’d possibly move to second base.
  • 3. Tampa Bay: The Devil Rays are focusing heavily on college pitching, and most agree that the top three after Miller are Lincecum, California’s Brandon Morrow, and Houston’s Brad Lincoln.
  • 4. Pittsburgh: The Pirates seemingly love a scenario where the Royals skip on taking Miller, as it would give them the opportunity to draft Longoria, the one position player in this year’s class with the best chance to reach the majors quickly. If things go to form, it becomes a bit of a mystery, but most evaluators agree that there are no other position players worthy of a pick this high. The trio of college arms being considered by Tampa would enter the mix, but don’t rule out some of the fast-rising high school pitchers (see below).

  • 5. Seattle: The Mariners are high on Longoria, but it’s unlikely that he’ll drop to them. While they are also high on the Lincecum/Lincoln/Morrow triumvirate, they would prefer Lincoln or Morrow and pass on Lincecum, making them the first possible team to select a surprising name.

High School Arms Step Up

  • The Tigers and the Dodgers select six and seventh, respectively, and both teams are heavily scouting a pair of high school arms that have pitched very well in the second half of the season. Detroit is beginning to lean heavily towards Dallas-area lefthander Clayton Kershaw, who one scouting director compares to “Scott Kazmir with much more of a classic pitching frame.” The Dodgers have been out in full force to see the quickest riser in recent weeks, Virginia prep righthander Jeremy Jeffress. Two days ago, in front of a horde of scouts, Jeffress delivered 15 pitches that registered as 97 or 98 mph on one scout’s radar gun, and showed good command and a solid curveball.
  • Jeffress has passed by some other top prep arms, like Oklahoma high school lefty Brett Anderson, and 6-foot-7 Southern California righty Chris Tillman. Tillman has been especially disappointing of late, and left one scouting director who recently saw him trying to understand where the hype comes from. “He’s all about projection–he’s 86-90 mph so the fastball is projection, and the breaking ball is projection as well,” said the scouting director. “I like him as a second-round kind of guy because of what he can be and that he’s big, loose and athletic, but he’s all future and nothing now.”

Where They Go, Nobody Knows

Despite the fact that we are starting to get a much better feel for some of the names we’ll see early, a trio of college arms still have a chance to work their way into the mix for these early picks, depending on how they perform down the stretch.

  • RHP Luke Hochevar, Tennessee

    Hochevar was one of the top pitchers on talent alone in last year’s draft, but fell to the Dodgers in the supplemental first round because of the perceived bonus demands of his agent, Scott Boras. Negotiations with the Dodgers started off slowly, and then just got plain weird. Hochevar recently signed a contract to pitch in an independent league, and many teams towards the top will be watching him closely, but they will also be hampered by the fact that they cannot talk to Hochevar or conduct any private workouts. The Dodgers retain his draft rights until one week before the draft and any such act would constitute tampering. One scouting director think that if he pitches well, he could be considered as high as No. 5 to Seattle, while another identified a pair of negatives that need to be considered. “First off, people are scared because of what happened with [Wade] Townsend last year,” said the executive, referring to last year’s No. 8 overall pick who did not pitch for a year and then required Tommy John surgery soon after signing. “Secondly, the price tag will be a issue–I don’t know how the negotiations won’t start at $2.98 million,” he added, referring to the bonus Hochevar agreed to while being briefly advised by a different agent, Matt Sosnick, before returning to Boras.

  • RHP Daniel Bard, North Carolina

    Bard’s inconsistency has been bothersome, but when he’s on, as he was last Sunday, his raw ability puts him among the top talents in the draft, with a fastball that touches 98 mph and a plus slider. If he can put together a string of good outings this month, he could find himself back among the top five picks, where he started the season. “We’re giving him every opportunity to make us like him,” joked one scouting director.

  • RHP Max Scherzer, Missouri

    Like Bard, Scherzer was considered a top five pick entering the season, and while Bard’s struggles have been mechanical, Scherzer’s have been health-related, as a nagging biceps injury has limited him roughly 40 innings. “When he’s healthy, his stuff is right there with anyone,” said one scouting director. “While I understand that he’s hurt, at some point we need to see it.”

Quick Deals

  • Early in the draft season, it looked like this draft would have a number of pre-draft deals, and teams looked to save money on bonuses with a flattened talent pool, seeing little difference between the 15th best talent, and the 30th. “With the way this draft is shaking out, that kind of move makes sense to me,” said one scouting director. “Why not save three or four hundred thousand and spend that later in the draft on a signability-problem guy or save it for Latin America.” That’s beginning to come to fruition, and here are four players who could be taken earlier than expected, and sign for less than the defined slot money.
  • OF Lars Anderson, Jesuit HS (California)

    A 6-foot-4 lefthander with plus power potential, Anderson recently had a two-home run game in front of a throng of scouts, improving his status. An excellent student who is committed to the University of California, Anderson will reportedly not sign for anything less than seven figures, but a team in the 15-30 range could be willing to give it to him.

  • INF Matt Antonelli, Wake Forest

    Antonelli could end up being among the first college players taken, and could go in the top 20 for a team looking for a safer college player to save cash on. Currently batting .345/.459/.649, Antonelli is a plus-plus runner who has played second or third, and might even be tried in center field. “He’s not Ryan Braun as a hitter,” said one team executive, “but he’s comparable in that he’s such a good athlete that you can try him at other places while still having a safe haven at a valuable position where he’s already proven himself.”

  • RHP Chris Perez, Miami

    The Hurricanes closer, Perez dials it up to 92-94, but also has a three pitch-mix and has started in the past, a role some teams in the middle of the draft are considering him for.

  • OF Derrick Robinson, P.K. Yonge HS (Florida)

    A switch-hitting athlete who is drawing comparisons to 2002 Minnesota first-round pick Denard Span, Robinson is attractive to teams not just for his baseball ability, but for his feats on the gridiron as well. As a highly-rated football player, Robinson has two-sport designation, allowing teams to spread out his bonus over multiple years.

The Rumor Mill

At this point in the pre-draft season, rumors are flying, and while they are just that, rumors, most exist with some basis in fact. Here’s some of the more recent ones.

  • In my last draft notebook, I talked about New Jersey prep infielder Billy Rowell starting to garner some first-round attention for his power bat. Rowell continues to rise on team’s draft boards, to the point where he could be the first high school hitter taken, as high as No. 8 to Cincinnati.
  • While many teams continue to love University of Texas outfielder Drew Stubbs‘ athleticism and borderline-phenomenal defensive skills, questions about his bat remain. However, as the draft cliché goes, it just takes one to fall in love with him, and that one might be the Rangers at No. 12 should he fall to them. Still, that would be quite a fall for the player who entered the season as the top position player on many boards. “He really had a chance to be the man this year,” said one team executive, “and instead he was, well, Drew Stubbs.”
  • It looks like the second half of the first round will be packed with high school talent, and prep catcher Hank Conger is moving up on many boards. This could be bad news for the Braves, who would love to nab him with the 24th pick. “He’s a switch-hitting catcher with power,” said one scout. “That’s a pretty rare commodity.”
  • The dearth of college lefthanders could be good news for UCLA southpaw David Huff, who has been consistent (a rarity in this draft) and could move into the 21-30 range despite less than ideal size and less than ideal stuff.
  • Few teams have any real feel for where Southern California righthander Ian Kennedy will go. Kennedy’s numbers are nowhere near what he accomplished in his first two years with the Trojans, and with fringy raw stuff and a smallish frame, Kennedy needs to prove himself nearly every time out. “If he was 14-0 with an ERA in the ones, it would be a different story,” said one scouting director, “but now we have a struggling pitcher, and he’s turned down money out of high school, he’s under six foot, and he has Boras–that’s the trifecta of doom for some teams.”

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