Three teams have multiple first-round picks
Baseball's arcane and often nonsensical rules on draft pick compensation for lost free agents produced some unusual results this year, especially in the "sandwich" or supplemental round that comes between the first and second rounds of the draft. San Diego earned five sandwich picks, plus an extra second-rounder, for losing five free agents, including Ryan Klesko, who had all of four at bats in 2006. Several other teams earned extra picks simply because their players scored highly in the esoteric formula used to rank free agents for compensation purposes.
The four teams with the most picks in the top two rounds (including the supplemental round) all ended up in the bottom seven when I ranked the 30 MLB farm systems back in January, so in one sense, the teams that need the most help in the minors will get opportunities to get that help next week. Here's a look at those teams and how they have prepared for having those extra selections.
First-round picks: No. 23.
Sandwich picks: Nos. 40, 46, 57, 63, 64
Second-round picks: Nos. 81, 87
I rated the Padres' farm system as the worst in baseball, and that was before Cesar Carrillo went down for the year when he had elbow surgery and Kevin Kouzmanoff graduated to the big leagues. There is no area where the Padres don't need help. They have no impact prospects remaining in the system, and while a number of their 2006 draftees are doing well in Lake Elsinore, the real test for those college products will come when they reach Double-A.
The Padres have more picks in the supplemental round than any other team, and they'll approach them the same way they typically approach the draft. "I look at this draft, like I try to do every year," said Grady Fuson, who oversees scouting and player development for San Diego. "I say, 'What does this draft bring to where we're at in the organization, where is the depth of the draft, where are the holes in the draft, where are we at as a system, what are things we want to use in this draft and try to plug in' -- that part will be continually evolving until draft day."
After focusing on bats in 2006, look for the Padres to lean a little more towards pitching. "Last year, we passed on some pitchers we really liked, to build an offensive base in our system," said Fuson. With Carrillo down for the count, the Pads don't have a starting pitching prospect who projects as more than a fifth guy, but even if they stay college-focused, they'll have opportunities to add middle-of-the-rotation depth with guys like Tennessee lefty James Adkins, Cal State Fullerton righty Wes Roemer, UC Riverside righty James Simmons and Arkansas righty Jess Todd, who jumped up a number of boards after punching out 17 in his start at the SEC tournament.
First-round picks: Nos. 16, 21
Sandwich picks: Nos. 38, 45, 56
Second-round picks: Nos. 85, 88
The Blue Jays' system is also in bad shape, the result of some conservative drafts followed by the losses of their last two second-round picks and their third-round pick last year. Their first-rounder from 2006, left fielder Travis Snider, looks like a middle-of-the-order bat in the making, but after him there's no hitting, and their pitching prospects project as middle relievers or fifth starters.
The Blue Jays' draft approach the last five years has been extremely college-centric -- more so than any other team in baseball from 2004-06 -- but they've indicated they'll consider high school position players this year. Snider's excellent performances since he signed have only reinforced that decision. Given the fact that they're excluding high school arms, this would be an excellent draft for them to focus on adding some top-end high school bats, mixing in a college arm or two outside of the first round.
Toronto's scouting director Jon Lalonde told me that their preparation for this year's draft was "really different, because we've gone the last couple of years with a significant gap between our first pick and the next one. With multiple picks very early, you want to concentrate the coverage of your senior staff, on those top 100 players give or take, knowing that they could be factors for you anywhere within that realm of picks they have."
Lalonde said their draft strategy will be the same as it always is: "Let's line up the best players, and let's take the best player. If there happen to be multiples at a position, let's take them both and let it sort itself in the minor leagues."
The Jays have some definite positional needs, with no shortstop prospects in the system, just one catching prospect in Curtis Thigpen (who gets very mixed reviews on his defense), and little starting pitching. High school shortstops are plentiful in this draft; the Jays like Nick Noonan, and they've been linked to Peter Kozma and (further down) Ryan Dent. They'll have a few shots at the better college arms and are likely to be on the same group of guys that the Padres are on.
First-round picks: Nos. 10, 22, 29
Sandwich picks: Nos. 32, 43, 51
Second-round picks: none
The Giants willingly have surrendered their high draft picks for years, but last year ended up picking 10th (a pick they couldn't surrender) and nabbed Tim Lincecum, who is already whiffing batters in the majors. The Giants pick 10th again this year and twice more in the first round, and while Lincecum has worked out well, San Francisco's system could still use a boost in almost every department.
"Coming from a situation where we didn't pick until the fourth round a few years ago, we're trying to be more thorough, trying to get multiple looks at each player so we can have more intelligent conversations," said Doug Mapson, a national cross-checker for San Francisco who might be best known for being the area scout who originally signed Greg Maddux for the Cubs. "Best available athlete -- that's the mode we've been in all spring. We're just trying to ascertain who the best players are at each position." As for the idea of drafting for specific needs, Mapson said, "In baseball it's difficult to say we need one of these or we need one of those. It's not like the NFL or the NBA."
The Giants' lineup is old and expensive, and their system has nobody who projects as an average everyday big leaguer currently on any full-season minor-league roster, so they could stand to mix in a high-ceiling bat at any position. They're also not deep in pitching, even though Lincecum and Matt Cain are a pretty good start, and Jonathan Sanchez still has promise. They're expected to start with polished high school pitcher Jarrod Parker at No. 10, and with two more picks in the first round have a chance to add three above-average prospects to their system.
First-round picks: Nos. 17, 24
Sandwich picks: Nos. 35, 44, 54
Second-round picks: No. 80
The Rangers are happy with the progress of their prospects in A-ball, with Eric Hurley, Taylor Teagarden, and John Whittleman leading the way. However, their upper levels are thin, and the pitching trio that was coming to save the day in Arlington -- John Danks, Edison Volquez, and Thomas Diamond -- isn't coming after all.
General Manager Jon Daniels said their process in preparing for having extra picks has been to have the area scouts simply identify and evaluate the players and to have the national guys take care of winnowing the pool. "When you give a scout a narrow focus, they almost make it even more narrow in the field, thinking 'this is not the kind of player they want,' " said Daniels. "So we tried to keep it open and encourage our scouts not to eliminate anybody. Bring everyone in and we'll let the medical folks take care of the medicals, let the national guys worry about signability, et cetera."
Like the three teams above, the Rangers can't go wrong by just taking the best players available, but given their home park and their awful rotation performance this year, they can't be blamed for leaning more towards arms than bats. "All things being equal, we'll lean pitcher over position player," said Daniels, "but we haven't given our area guys that direction, and we haven't gone high school versus college. We'll evaluate all the risks, but I didn't want the draft pool narrowed before we had to."
Texas' willingness to sign Scott Boras clients could give them a big leg up in this draft, where Boras has seven or eight first-round talents, but many teams drafting ahead of Texas won't exceed MLB's "recommended" slot bonuses. That could mean a Matt Wieters or a Matt Harvey falls to Texas, and I don't see them passing.
Keith Law, formerly the special assistant to the general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, is the senior baseball analyst for Scouts Inc.