Moneyball influence? Partially

Originally Published: June 11, 2004
By John Sickels | Special to ESPN.com

Draft Edition

Lots of questions about the draft in the last few days. Let's answer a few.

Luke writes: Hi John, I've been following the Blue Jays draft and I was wondering, overall how would you rate the draft and what do you think of their top picks, David Purcey, Zach Jackson, and Curtis Thigpen? Any sleepers in the draft?

The Blue Jays have taken an almost completely college-oriented approach in the last couple of drafts. They only drafted a handful of high schoolers this year, none before the 16th round. They seemed to concentrate on the Big 12 this year; five of their first eight picks came out of that conference. I'm pretty familiar with the Big 12 and got to see most of these guys in action.

First-round pick David Purcey, from the University of Oklahoma, is a big 6-foot-5 lefty who can get his fastball to 94 mph. He's had some command problems in his career, but threw strikes more regularly with his breaking ball and changeup this year. He still needs to clean up his mechanics a little bit, but he has a very high ceiling, and is a solid first-round pick. I like him.

Texas A&M lefty Zach Jackson, picked in the supplemental round, doesn't throw quite as hard as Purcey, averaging 91 mph. His slider and changeup are effective, and he has superior command and control. His ceiling isn't quite as high as Purcey's, but he will probably advance more quickly.

Curtis Thigpen, a University of Texas catcher drafted in the second round, is a solid-all-around guy with a line drive bat and good plate discipline. He is athletic and can play just about any position except shortstop. I'm not sure how much power he's going to have, and some people think he was overdrafted at this point, but he fits into Toronto's philosophy perfectly.

The Jays drafted lots of solid college guys in the middle rounds. Two of my favorites are Texas A&M outfielder Cory Patton, a power/patience guy drafted in the sixth round, and The Citadel first baseman Chip Cannon, another power/patience player drafted in the eighth round. "Chip Cannon from the Citadel" ... if someone wrote that in a novel, the editor would reject the name as contrived. Pitchers Danny Hill (Missouri, third round) and Casey Janssen (UCLA, fourth round) both have live arms and above-average command. 10th-round pick Brian Hall, a utility guy out of Stanford, is a scrappy sleeper.

Overall, this looks like a fine draft to me.

David from Boone, North Carolina, asks: Mr. Sickels, I love your feature on ESPN.com and wait with bated breath for reports on my beloved Cubs. A couple of their picks in the most recent June draft intrigued me. Eric Patterson (376th) and Micah Owings (576th), both from Georgia Tech, seemed to go late considering the excellent numbers they put up in college. Is there some issue with their "projectability," or could they be unlikely to sign? What can you tell us about these two prospects? Also, it seems the Cubs took a Moneyball approach in this draft, taking a lot of college players with proven track records. Is it fair to characterize the Cubs' front office as progressive thinkers?

While the Cubs aren't usually mentioned in the "Moneyball" group, they have one of the very best farm systems in baseball, particularly in pitching, and have shown the clear ability to identify and develop good amateur players. They've taken quite a few college players over the last few drafts, but they will mix in high school kids as well. The '04 class lacks a first-round pick due to the signing of LaTroy Hawkins as a free agent, but they have enough depth to compensate.

Georgia Tech guys Eric Patterson and Micah Owings fell in the draft for different reasons. Patterson is an athletic second baseman, and the brother of Cubs outfielder Corey Patterson. Eric was mentioned as a possible second or third-round pick at the beginning of the season, but his college campaign was erratic, and he fell to the eighth round. He doesn't have his brother's power, but is very fast and will take a walk. His main problem is his approach: he tries too hard to hit for power, resulting in a lot of medium-depth fly balls, but few homers. Scouts want him to chop down on the ball and leg out hits, or drive liners over the heads of the infielders.

Owings, considered a second-round talent by most teams, fell to the 19th round because of concerns about his bonus demands. He reportedly wants at least $1 million to sign, and as a draft-eligible sophomore he has the leverage to hold out and wait until his junior year if he doesn't get what he wants money-wise. Owings is a fine two-way player, with a power bat and a power arm, though the Cubs listed him as a pitcher on draft day. I wouldn't be surprised if they take a serious run at trying to sign him, since they didn't have a first round pick and should have the money to do so.

J.T. from Mason City, Iowa, writes: What do you think of Minnesota's draft, considering their monetary limits? They have a strong farm system and I want to know if this draft class will contribute to that.

Like the Cubs, the Twins have an excellent farm system, but their approach is much more conventional than the Moneyball teams. One sabermetrically-oriented GM told me last year that the Twins "may be the most traditional club in the way they scout players, but they are damn good at it."

As you pointed out, the Twins have monetary limits, making their windfall of extra picks (five picks before the second round) a double-edged sword. The Twins picked California high school shortstop Trevor Plouffe with their first pick. He is an athletic infielder with a strong arm and a line-drive bat. Local guy Glen Perkins, from the University of Minnesota, also went in the first round. He is a college southpaw with good control, perhaps a slight overdraft but hard for the Twins to pass up. The third first-round pick, Tennessee high schooler Kyle Waldrop, is a power pitcher who signed very quickly. Most teams thought he was headed to Vanderbilt. I also like supplemental picks Matt Fox, a right-hander from Central Florida, and Jay Rainville, a high school power pitcher from Rhode Island. Fox in particular could move VERY quickly.

The rest of the draft leaned to the high school side, and it remains to be seen how many of these guys the Twins will sign. But I think they did a good job considering their budget limits and extra picks. Minnesota's ability to spot talent using traditional methods is outstanding, but they really need to get over their reluctance to let some of these kids play. Justin Morneau has no business in Triple-A.

Allen from Portland, Oregon, asks: So, how did the Dodgers do on Monday? Some people though they would take a "Moneyball" approach with DePodesta in charge, but on the surface it doesn't look that way.

There was a lot of speculation before the draft about how the philosophies of Logan White, the incumbent scouting director, and Paul DePodesta, the new GM, would mesh. DePodesta is one of the "new breed" sabermetrically-informed GMs, while White is a bit more of a traditionalist but has had major success rebuilding the Dodgers farm system, particularly on the pitching side, with a series of strong drafts. The interesting thing was that both DePodesta and White said their philosophies weren't really that different, and that they'd get along just fine.

Like most recent Dodger drafts, 2004 was high-school oriented, though with a few extra college guys mixed in. First-round picks Scott Elbert, a power lefty, and Blake DeWitt, a sweet-swinging third baseman, are from the usually-overlooked Missouri high school ranks. But both are considered reasonably polished considering their background. I know several teams, including some sabermetrically-oriented clubs, were hoping to sneak in on DeWitt as a sleeper in the second round.

Supplemental pick Justin Orenduff, a power right-hander out of Virginia Commonwealth, looks like a solid choice that makes both statheads ands traditionalist happy. The rest of the draft was a mixture of high-ceiling higher risk high school guys, with some polished college bats added in as leavening.

John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.