Thursday, June 5, 2008

Draft Day!

RT STaff Note: This article is by Dayn Perry. Dayn is a frequent contributor to and author of the new book, "Winners: How Good Baseball Teams Become Great One. Enjoy and good luck to anyone who may have a son in the draft.

Plenty of reasons to feel this MLB draft

Among the major professional sports drafts, the MLB variant seems to get short shrift. This is so for a number of reasons. One, college and high school baseball players are far less familiar to the sporting public than, say, those eligible to be drafted in the NBA and the NFL. Two, the MLB Draft is burdened by the "crap shoot" reputation, and, three, MLB draftees have far less immediate impact than those playing hoops or football.

As for the first point, not much can be done about that one — college football and college basketball are and probably always will be more popular than college baseball (and certainly high school baseball). As for the second point, well, it's a myth. Take a gander at the top 10 picks in a given year for all of the three major sports, and, generally speaking, you'll find similar levels of success or failure.
MLB has its Brien Taylors, but the NFL and NBA have their Ryan Leafs and Chris Washburns, respectively.

The third point? Certainly, the existence of the minor leagues means that MLB draftees have a longer wait than their NFL and NBA counterparts. However, it's not quite as long as you might think. Consider that as recently as 2005 we had these names called early on: Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Travis Buck, and Clay Buchholz. Needless to say, that's an impressive first-round haul — and one that's already making a serious impact in the majors.

The next year's draft, 2006, has already produced names like Luke Hochevar, Evan Longoria, Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain, with more certainly to come.

In other words, the MLB Draft is certainly worth your while. So to get you in the spirit of things and to prep you just a bit for Thursday's action, let's run down the top-10 talents available this year ...

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt
Coming into this season, Alvarez was the consensus No. 1 guy. However, an early-season wrist injury hurt his stock just a bit. With that said, the track record is exceptional, and he's come back reasonably strong from the injury. When healthy, he's got excellent plate coverage, the best bat speed in the draft, and power to all fields. He's hit well with wooden bats in the summer leagues, and his defense is good enough to allow him to stay at third. Alvarez is a Scott Boras client, which may turn the Rays off at No. 1. However, it's been rumored that the Pirates like him quite a bit at No. 2 and may be willing to meet his bonus/contract demands. He looks like a future star.

2. Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin HS — Griffin, GA
Beckham may have the most upside of anyone in the draft. His glove at short is excellent, and he'll stick at the position. While the raw power isn't there, everything else is. He's got a quick bat through the zone and a knack for squaring up on the ball. With proper coaching, he could be a consistent .300 hitter at the highest level. The question is how much power he'll have.

3. Buster Posey, C, Florida State
Posey boasts versatility (he's also a reliever, and he's played every position on the diamond), quality defense skills, and good power at the plate. He's a safe bet, but the knock on him is that none of his tools grades out at a "superstar" level. Posey figures to be a productive major-league regular, but he lacks the ceiling of some other position players in the 2008 draft. Still, he could go to the Rays at No. 1, and no one could argue against their thinking.

4. Justin Smoak, 1B, South Carolina
The switch-hitting Smoak is probably the best pure hitter in the draft not named Pedro Alvarez. Controls the strike zone, takes his walks, ridiculous power. And he's done it all against SEC competition. His defense at first is acceptable, but it's his bat that makes him a potential star. He's the surest bet available.

5. Brian Matusz, LHP, U. of San Diego
Could be the best arm in the draft. Good size, excellent (if inconsistent) velocity for a lefty, pounds the strike zone, plus curve, plus-plus change. He's got the most upside of any pitcher in the draft, and he'll advance quickly. Mechanically, he needs work with his stride foot, but otherwise he's the total package.

6. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Miami (Fla.)
Alonso is another polished college hitter. He doesn't quite have Smoak's power, but he has everything else. He's strong defensively, has quick wrists through the zone and a perfect left-handed swing. Scouts praise his makeup as well and his plate discipline is perhaps the best in the draft. He won't spend much time in the minors.

7. Kyle Skipworth, C, Patriot HS (Riverside, CA)
High school catchers are tricky things, but Skipworth appears to be worth the risk. Strong arm, good left-handed pop, will be able to stick at catcher. Comparisons to Joe Mauer are inevitable, and they may be justified.

8. Aaron Crow, RHP, Missouri
Crow, the best right-handed pitcher available, throws three pitches for strikes, including a mid-90s fastball with good sink, and he's got exceptional command. Crow's put up great numbers against strong Big 12 competition. The only drawback is some concern about his mechanics. Still, he figures to advance quickly.

9. Gordon Beckham, SS, Georgia
Doesn't quite have the defense of Tim Beckham (no relation), but he's got more power. As well, Beckham has speed on the bases and should be able to stay at short. His swing tends to get a little long at times, and that's something that can be exploited in the majors. It's correctable, but it's a concern.

10. Bret Wallace, 1B, Arizona State
Thanks to a body type that's decidedly unathletic, Wallace is probably bound for a future as a major-league DH. With the bat, however, his skills are unassailable. Lots of power and exceptional plate discipline. He'll move quickly through the system, and any team in need of production at first/DH should be looking at him.
What teams should you keep an eye on? Well, here are handful of clubs that have particularly interesting decisions to make on Thursday ...

Team under the Gun: Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates, as mentioned, have the second overall pick, and they badly need to hit the jackpot. Pittsburgh has enjoyed a glut of high picks in recent years, and the only five-star prospect they have to show for it is outfielder Andrew McCutchen. If Alvarez falls to them, then the new front office will need to show a commitment to change and pay the going rates. That's not to say Alvarez is the only choice for them. However, if the Pirates continue their recent history of drafting low-ceiling college arms, then things aren't going to get better for them.

The Rich get Richer: Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays already have the best collection of 25-and-under talent in baseball, and it's not a particularly close call. Since they have the top overall pick, they're poised to add yet another elite talent to the fold. Do they take the "best player" available route and go with Alvarez, or do signability concerns force them to take Posey or Tim Beckham? In any case, Tampa's hold on the future of the American League is about to get stronger.

Big Day: Milwaukee Brewers
Because the Brewers last winter offered salary arbitration to a pair of outgoing, highly rated free agents (Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink), they received a total of four compensatory draft picks in return. That means the Brewers have the busiest day ahead of them. Within the first two rounds, they'll pick 16th, 32nd, 35th, 53rd, 54th, and 62nd. As you can see, that's six picks within the first 62 overall, and that makes for quite an influx of young talent (one would hope, anyway). For a system that's been depleted in recent years by the "graduation" of prospects like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks, and Yovani Gallardo, this is welcome news. Now the objective is to stock the system with some talent to go alongside top prospect Matt LaPorta.

And that's your quick-and-dirty rundown of what to look for on Thursday, when this year's First-Year Player Draft goes down.

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