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Friday, June 6, 2008
REPORTING FROM ... THE MLB DRAFT


"You have no idea what you're missing, Rays."

Count me in the (severe) minority, but the MLB draft is my favorite of all the major sports drafts. It wasn't always this way, but I had the privilege of working in the offices of Baseball America for the 2005 and 2006 drafts, and that experience completely changed my perspective. Picture an eight-year-old on Christmas morning who just downed six Mountain Dews laced with Pixi-Stix and you get a sense of how the average Baseball America staffer behaves on draft day.

This year I was lucky enough to work on ESPN The Magazine's draft preview, so it only seemed appropriate to offer my informed, semi-insider insight into this year's first round.

1. Tampa Bay Rays PICK: Tim Beckham, SS, HS—Griffin, Ga. Their were murmurs that the Rays were going to buck baseball's mantra of picking the best talent available and look to shore up their biggest organizational weakness by taking Buster Posey, a catcher from Florida State. But then rumors started flying that Posey wanted a $12 million bonus, and all of a sudden the Rays decided that Beckham was the man.

When you consider that Beckham is arguably the top talent in the draft, then it becomes a no-brainer. The only drama here was seeing a befuddled Don Zimmer getting the pick over the phone from the Tampa Bay brass. Since there was another top prospect with the last name of Beckham who plays shortstop, I was mildly concerned he might turn in the wrong name. No such luck.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates PICK: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt And our first Scott Boras client is off the board. The Pirates have long been known for going for affordability over talent in the draft (Bryan Bullington over B.J. Upton in 2002, oof), but apparently this is a new era of Bucs baseball.

Alvarez was recently quoted as saying he would be "honored" to be drafted by the Pirates, which begs the question, does Alvarez know what that means? Being drafted by the Pirates in the first round has proven to be more of a curse than an honor. On the other hand, maybe Alvarez has been playing too much baseball the last few years to actually follow the National League and see just how awful the Pirates have been. By all accounts, Alvarez should go a long way towards making them somewhat less awful.

Take note that the last time the Pirates picked second overall was 1987, and they selected a guy named Mark Merchant, one pick after the Mariners nabbed Ken Griffey Jr. You can probably guess how that worked out.

3. Kansas City Royals PICK: Eric Hosmer, 1B, HS—Plantation, Fla. Two years ago, the Royals selected first overall. Last year it was second overall. This year they picked third. At this rate, they'll win the World Series in 27 years. Way to go!

KC is proving to be unafraid of Big Bad Boras, as this is the third straight year they have taken one of his guys in the first round. Who says small-market clubs won't play ball with Scottie B.?

On a side note, good job by Bud Selig botching the pronunciation of Hosmer's name. (He pronounced it "Homser".) He's clearly having a tough time with the teleprompter.

4. Baltimore Orioles PICK: Brian Matusz, LHP, San Diego It's been somewhat under the radar, but the O's are in the midst of a major rebuilding. The trades of Bedard and Tejada have reloaded their farm system, and last year they drafted Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, No. 6 overall and he was considered the best bat in the draft. This appears to be a smart pick, and there really isn't a glib comment to be made.

5. San Francisco Giants PICK: Buster Posey, C, Florida State If his walk-up music isn't Busta Rhymes' "Busta, What it is Right Now," than something is terribly wrong. No one had a better college season than Posey, which included playing all nine positions in one game, and it appears the Giants weren't scared off by his reported salary demands.

Steve Phillips mentions the trouble the Giants have had developing hitters. That might be the understatement of the century. The last time the Giants took a hitter in the first round that turned out to be a solid big league regular was Royce Clayton … in 1988.

The big loser in all of this is our own Buster Olney, because if Posey is as good as advertised, Olney will now be relegated to the status of second-tier Busters, along with Poindexter and Brown. But don't worry, Buster, we still love you.

6. Florida Marlins PICK: Kyle Skipworth, C, HS—Riverside, Calif. Uh oh, we've got a run on catchers. This is probably the worst-kept secret in the draft, as the Marlins have been linked to Skipworth for months.

I'm not a scout, but Skipworth looked smooth taking BP. Kind of like a mix of John Olerud and Rich Gedman. I'm sold.

7. Cincinnati Reds PICK: Yonder Alonso, 1B, Miami Cool story about Alonso: He spotted A-Rod working out at Miami's gym this winter and challenged him to a race. A-Rod liked his moxie and invited Alonso to work out with him for a couple of weeks. So as it turns out, A-Rod isn't pure evil.

The knock on Alonso is that he can't hit lefties, but neither can Carlos Delgado, and he's getting paid a lot of money to play first base in the majors.

8. Chicago White Sox PICK: Gordon Beckham, SS, Georgia And history is made. I bet you didn't know that this is the first time in MLB draft history that two shortstop-playing Beckhams have been drafted in the first eight picks of the draft.

What I love about the MLB draft is that they always announce the player's full given name (in this case "James Gordon Beckham). It can be a little confusing sometimes, like in 2004 when Reds P Homer Bailey was announced as "David Bailey," his given name, leaving a lot of people wondering who the heck David Bailey was.

9. Washington Nationals PICK: Aaron Crow, RHP, Missouri The Nationals haven't been afraid to spend the last couple of years, and Crow's asking price could be as high as eight figures. Let the negotiations begin.

Fun fact about Crow: He had a 42.2 scoreless inning streak earlier this year, which is the second longest in NCAA history. The longest streak belongs to Todd Helton (yes, that Todd Helton). He had a 47.2 scoreless innings streak for Tennessee in 1994.

10. Houston Astros PICK: Jason Castro, C, Stanford The Astros have not been known for their draft acumen in recent years, and this pick is a bit of a reach. There is supposedly a shortage of catchers this year, and they didn't want to miss out on Castro. But this isn't fantasy baseball. You don't need to draft a catcher every year.

Houston drafted a catcher in the first round two years ago named Max Sapp. But he's currently hitting .224 (and slugging .337) at low Class A, so he doesn't appear to be in the Astros long-term plans.

11. Texas Rangers PICK: Justin Smoak, 1B, U. of South Carolina Like the Orioles, the Rangers have been slowly overhauling their farm system, and if all goes well, they'll be relevant within five years. As a switch-hitter, Smoak's college stats are amazing. But keep in mind that there are Wiffle Ball fields larger than the Gamecocks' home park, so take his numbers with a grain of salt.

Also, Smoak is a great baseball name, and headline writers throughout the greater-Dallas area are brimming with excitement at the pun potential.

12. Oakland A's PICK: Jemile Weeks, 2B, Miami We have our first sibling, and our second Hurricane, off the board. While I don't have Keith Law's scouting contacts, here is what one I know had to say about Rickie Weeks' baby brother:

"Surprising to me that he goes in the top half of the first round. Great kid with nice intangibles, but he had a power-hitter's approach in a small frame, and he's not nearly as physical as his brother."

That quote is how I justify calling myself a "semi-insider."

13. St. Louis Cardinals PICK: Brett Wallace, "3B", Arizona State I put 3B in quotes because there is no way this guy will be a major-league regular at the hot corner. There's a famous line in Moneyball in which Billy Beane says, "We're not selling jeans here," meaning that great baseball players don't always look like great athletes. The Cardinals must be buying into Beane's mantra.

Listed at 6-1, 245 pounds, Wallace is seen by some as the best pure hitter in the draft, but he might best be described as "voluptuous."

14. Minnesota Twins PICK: Aaron Hicks, OF, Long Beach, Calif. This is a classic Twins pick. Not only do they love athletes, but they also aren't afraid to take chances. Most clubs preferred Hicks as a pitcher, but he made it clear he didn't want to pitch in the pros. As it turned out, the Twins were one of the few clubs that preferred him in the outfield, so it was a match made in heaven.

And if all else fails, he can always try the mound. Maybe he's the anti-Ankiel.

15. Los Angeles Dodgers PICK: Ethan Martin, RHP, HS—Toccoa, Ga. Like Hicks, Martin goes both ways. (Ha!) Dodgers scouting director Logan White might be the best in the business, so I will assume this was a good pick. Hey, so I don't have inside info on EVERY guy in the draft. Sue me.



16. Milwaukee Brewers PICK: Brett Lawrie, C/3B, HS—Langley, B.C. We have our first Canadian off the board! I'm always skeptical of guys who have late helium (scout speak for risers), and Lawrie came on late thanks to some great performances for Canada's junior national team. I know what you're thinking: Canada has a baseball team?


17. Toronto Blue Jays PICK: David Cooper, 1B, California Though the A's are famous for drafting college players, the Jays (and Cardinals) are even more aggressive when it comes to drafting collegians. Usually, this leads to safe (i.e. unexciting) selections. Cooper fits that bill, but when your team leader in home runs is Matt Stairs with six, taking a guy who's projected to hit 25-30 homers is not a bad idea.

18. New York Mets PICK: Ike Davis, 1B, Arizona State This was originally the Braves' pick, but they forfeited it to the Mets as compensation for signing Tom Glavine. Suckers.

As a Mets fan, I was concerned they were going to take a college reliever here because there were three good candidates on the board. They seem to have a thing for college relievers after drafting three of them in the first three rounds last year.

Technically, they did draft a college reliever here (Davis is the Sun Devils' closer) but the Mets will have him play first base or outfield.

19. Chicago Cubs PICK: Andrew Cashner, RHP, Texas Christian The Cubs typically prefer feast or famine players, and Cashner is the opposite of that. Teams that take college relievers in the first round expect them to move quickly. With the Cubs in first place, you have to think they're hoping the TCU closer can help as early as this year.

That means a century of losing could be riding on this college boy's shoulders this fall. No pressure, kid.

20. Seattle Mariners PICK: Josh Fields, RHP, Georgia You're the most disappointing team in the big leagues and old at every position. So what do you do with your first-round pick? If you guessed, "draft a relief pitcher," you win!

In fairness, Fields has sick stuff, and he's allowed just 12 hits in 31.2 innings this year. That's impressive, particularly when you consider the high level of competition in the SEC.

21. Detroit Tigers PICK: Ryan Perry, RHP, Arizona We've got a run on college relievers and the Mets aren't involved. Hard to believe, but it's true. This guy supposedly touched 100 mph with his fastball last week.



22. New York Mets PICK: Reese Havens, SS, South Carolina If you're Havens, you have to be a little torn. You're excited about being a first-rounder, but since you're an elite college player, you're hoping to be in the big leagues within a couple of years. But if it is going to happen, it's not going to be as a shortstop with the Mets, who currently have a young man at that spot whose name roughly translates in English as "Joe Kings."

The Mets are bucking a trend with their two first round picks. They haven't taken a collegiate position player in the first round since Jason Tyner in 1998, and that worked out great. Supposedly, the Red Sox loved Havens, and the Sox are typically much better at drafting than the Mets so I'm psyched.

23. San Diego Padres PICK: Allan Dykstra, 1B, Wake Forest Read the comment above about the Blue Jays, it applies here.

But unlike a guy like Havens, who could move from shortstop, Dykstra isn't going anywhere. The Padres best player is a young first baseman, so I wonder where they're expecting Dykstra to go if he moves as fast as they hope he can. Since Padres prospects rarely pan out, it likely won't be a problem.

24. Philadelphia Phillies PICK: Anthony Hewitt, HS—Salisbury, CT It's amazing how predictable some teams are. While you can typically bank on the Padres and Cardinals taking college players, the Phillies will almost always take the best athlete available.

This can be an effective strategy, but it also leads to taking guys like Reggie Taylor (he of the robust .274 career OBP) in the first round, like they did in 1997.

25. Colorado Rockies PICK: Christian Friedrich, LHP, Eastern Kentucky I don't trust pitchers that wear eye black—they're just not supposed to. The only pitcher I can ever remember doing it is Rogers Clemens, and we know not to trust him. He did it during the 1990 ALCS on the same day he wore Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shoelaces and was ejected in the second inning for arguing balls and strikes.

So when they showed highlights of Friedrich donning the eye black, I immediately became skeptical, best curveball in the draft be damned.

26. Arizona Diamondbacks PICK: Daniel Schlereth, LHP, Arizona The son of former NFL offensive lineman, and current ESPN analyst, Mark Schlereth, Daniel throws hard. I met Mark at one of Daniel's games last season, and asked him how Daniel ended up playing baseball, and not football. Mark's explanation was basically that Daniel was a QB, but since he is about 6 feet tall, he was going to have a tough time playing Division I football or in the NFL. Mark reasoned that since hard-throwing lefties are rare, Daniel should play baseball.

What I found most remarkable about this conversation was that Mark seemed to see his son playing pro sports as some sort of foregone conclusion. It must be nice to have choices—and genes—like that.

27. Minnesota Twins PICK: Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, Miami Our first true surprise pick, and our fifth (yes, fifth) college reliever of the draft. Once again, the Twins prove they're not afraid to take chances. After all, this is the same club that gave the aforementioned Jason Tyner and his career .323 slugging percentage 69 plate appearances as a DH in 2007. Now that's living dangerously.

28. New York Yankees PICK: Gerrit Cole, RHP, HS—Orange, Calif. Like the Tigers, the Yankees have made a habit of waiting for Boras clients with big bonus demands to fall to them and then pay them the big bucks. Lo and behold, it's happened again.

Cole isn't considered a sure thing by any means. His fastball touches the high 90s, but he has what scouts refer to as "severe makeup questions." That translates loosely as, "he's a punk."

29. Cleveland Indians PICK: Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Pitt (N.C.) Community College We have a run on players with severe makeup questions! Chisenhall was at South Carolina with Havens and Smoak last year, but he was kicked off the team when he was charged with stealing some household electronics.

Last year the Indians drafted Beau Mills, a third baseman who transferred to an NAIA school after having some academic problems at Fresno State. It appears the organization is trying to corner the market on "troubled" prospects. Good plan.

30. Boston Red Sox PICK: Casey Kelly, RHP/SS, HS—Sarasota, Fla. You have to hate a kid like this. He's the son of a former big leaguer (Pat Kelly), he's good enough to have been drafted as a pitcher or an infielder, but he also has a scholarship to play QB at Tennessee. Seriously, spread the athletic gifts around.

Because of his football options, he's got plenty of negotiating leverage, and the Red Sox have plenty of cash. Add it all up, and my guess is that it's going to take more than MLB's bonus recommendation at this slot to get him signed. But what else is new?

Hey, that's the last pick of the first round! If you've made it this far, you either know me, are related to me or love the draft as much as me.

All are fine in my book.