Posted by: bhyman | February 27, 2009

New Website!

Real Baseball Intelligence is proud to launch its brand new website on Sunday, March 1.  Our new website has a lot more content and some neat features that will give you even more insight to the draft.  As always, our web address is the same (withthefirstpick.net).

See you on Sunday!

Posted by: bhyman | December 29, 2008

What if: ’01 draft

We continue our occasional series of examining old drafts with 2001. The biggest question entering this draft was whether Southern California righthander Mark Prior would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer or merely enter Cooperstown on his second or third try. Since then, Prior has made one All-Star team and has not pitched in the big leagues in over two full seasons.

The creation of our TRUE rank system adds another dimension to the What if series. Not only will we show you which players the teams wish they had drafted, but also the players that we would have drafted at the time.

1. Minnesota Twins — 3B David Wright, Hickory HS (Virginia)
TRUE Rank selection: 1B Casey Kotchman, Seminole HS (Florida)
Actual selection: C Joe Mauer, Cretin HS (Minnesota)

The consensus top talent in this draft on draft day is not listed above. Some scouts considered Mark Prior to be the best college pitcher ever and a surefire big league star. However, the Twins weren’t interested in meeting Prior’s high contract demands and instead settled on Minnesotan Joe Mauer. Mauer was a two-sport star and had committed to Florida State to play quarterback. As an amateur, he was a natural hitter and scouts were encouraged by his arm strength and intangibles.

The Twins certainly aren’t complaining about their selection of Mauer, but the most successful player of this draft class is Mets’ third baseman David Wright. Wright wasn’t drafted until the 38th overall pick, although his bat merited consideration at the very top of the draft. Scouts were scared away by his slight 6-foot, 200 pound frame, but he has proved his doubters wrong.  He’s a three-time All Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner.  In five seasons, he has hit over .300 in all but his rookie season and has increased his homer and RBI production in every season.

Our top rated player entering the draft was Casey Kotchman, who scored a perfect 100 on our scale. The son of a minor league manager, Kotchman was perhaps the most polished hitter in the entire draft, blessed with pop and excellent plate discipline. Scouts also were impressed by his slick glove.

2. Chicago Cubs — 3B Mark Teixeira, Georgia Tech
TRUE Rank selection: C Joe Mauer, Cretin HS (Minnesota)
Actual selection: RHP Mark Prior, Southern California

The Cubs were thrilled to draft Prior in 2001, but wouldn’t draft him again. Prior had every possible skill a scout could want in a pitcher. Size? He was 6-foot-5, 220-pound. Fastball? Upper 90s with pinpoint command. He even had Texas-sized calves. He led the Pac-10 conference in every major stat and was as close to a sure thing as an amateur could be. Except that he wasn’t. He couldn’t stay off the Disabled List, injuring his hamstring, shoulder, Achilles, elbow and left oblique at various times. The Cubs didn’t offer him a contract before the 2008 season and he signed with the Padres.  He hasn’t pitched in a game since August 2006.

Instead of ponying up for Prior, they should have thrown that money at Mark Teixeira.  The Scott Boras client commanded nearly the same money (he signed for four years and $9.5 million), but that’s a bargain compared to the $180 million contract he recently signed with the New York Yankees.  Teixeira was a five-tool talent at Georgia Tech.  He offered power and average from both sides of the plate and convinced scouts that he could play third base in the majors.  He only played 15 games at the position in the big leagues (all in his rookie season), but he has won two Gold Gloves since at first base.  He hasn’t disappointed at the plate, either.  In six seasons, he has averaged a .290 batting average with 36 home runs and 121 RBI.  He’s only been named to one All-Star team, but he did receive some MVP consideration in 2008.

3. Tampa Bay Rays — C Joe Mauer, Cretin HS (Minnesota)
TRUE Rank selection: 3B Jake Gautreau, Tulane
Actual selection: RHP Dewon Brazelton, Middle Tennessee State

It is fashionable to commend the Rays organization for their ability to draft and develop young talent on a budget, which propelled them to the 2008 World Series.  However, they would have achieved this much sooner had they made smarter draft picks, including this one.  The Rays selected Brazelton, a tall righthander from Middle Tennessee State.  Brazelton’s assets included two above-average pitches: a mid-90s fastball and a deadly changeup.  The Rays pushed him quickly through the minor leagues, but he never had sustained success in the bigs.  Brazelton pitched for parts of four seasons with the Rays before being dealt to the Padres for another first-round bust, Sean Burroughs.

Our pick would have been a different college third baseman: Tulane’s Jake Gautreau.  Gautreau hit .355/.435/.659 with 21 home runs and 96 RBI — monster numbers for a 55-game college season.  The Padres drafted him with the 14th overall pick.  He struggled defensively when the Friars moved him to second base and he didn’t hit well in the high minor leagues.

4. Philadelphia Phillies — 3B Kevin Youkilis, Cincinnati
TRUE Rank selection: LF John-Ford Griffin, Florida State
Actual selection: RHP Gavin Floyd, Mount St. Joseph’s HS (Maryland)

In Moneyball, Oakland’s Assistant General Manager Paul DePodesta refers to Youkilis as the “Greek God of Walks”.  He received only passing interest from scouts, some of whom considered him to be only a “fat third baseman who couldn’t throw, run or field”.  The A’s passed on him and the Red Sox didn’t draft him until the eighth round.  Since he cracked the big league roster, Youkilis has averaged a .290 batting average, 19 home runs and 92 RBIs.  He has played Gold Glove defense at first base and, when Mike Lowell was injured in 2008, at third.

The Phillies made a smart choice in drafting Floyd, but are watching their pick win ballgames for a different team. Floyd had the size and arsenal fit for a big league ace.  He reached the big leagues as a 21-year old and impressed, but shuttled between the parent club and AAA for three years.  Finally, the Phils traded him and minor league pitcher Gio Gonzalez to the White Sox for pitcher Freddy Garcia.  Floyd came into his own in ’08, pitching 206.3 innings, striking out more than two batters per walk and posting 17 wins and a 3.84 ERA.

Our fourth-ranked player was one of the best hitters in college baseball history.  John-Ford Griffin hit .450/.542/.797 with 19 home runs and 75 RBI for the Seminoles.  However, a weak arm and below-average speed limited him to left field.  The Yankees drafted him 23rd overall.  He is a career .304 hitter in the big leagues, but has had only 23 at-bats at that level.

5. Texas Rangers — 1B Ryan Howard, Southwest Missouri State
TRUE Rank selection: LF Garrett Guzman, Green Valley HS (Nevada)
Actual selection: 3B Mark Teixeira, Georgia Tech

The Rangers made the smart choice by drafting Teixeira and succumbing to his extravagant bonus demands.  If they were looking for a less costly option, they could have settled on mid-major first baseman Ryan Howard.  Howard might have been a consideration for the Rangers prior to the 2001 season.  He opened eyes with a strong sophomore and summer campaigns but Howard’s batting average fell 100 points in his junior and he struck out 74 times in 58 games.  He fell to the Phillies in the fourth round.  Howard didn’t become a big league regular until he was 26 years old because of the Phils’ investment in Jim Thome.  However, he has made up for lost time.

Our choice would have been Guzman, a high school outfielder from Nevada.  He was undersized at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, but Baseball America glowed that “pound for pound, he’s the best high school hitter in the country.”  The Twins drafted him in the tenth round.  In seven minor league seasons, Guzman is a career .283/.336/.431 hitter.  He split last year between the Nationals AA and AAA affiliates.

6. Montreal Expos — RHP Dan Haren, Pepperdine
TRUE Rank selection: 2B Mike Fontenot, Louisiana State
Actual selection: RHP Josh Karp, UCLA

Once viewed as “a poor man’s Mark Prior or Josh Karp” by Baseball America, Haren has easily surpassed both of his former Southern Californian rivals.  In college, Haren had three above average pitches which he threw for strikes and a strong, 6-foot-4 frame.  The Cardinals drafted him in the second round.  He pitched in parts of two seasons with St. Louis before being traded to the Athletics with others for pitcher Mark Mulder in December 2004.  It was in Oakland where Haren blossomed.  He was a consistent presence in the A’s rotation, always throwing at least 200 innings.  His worst ERA since the trade was 4.12 and he has struck out 3.5 batters for every one he has walked in his career.  The A’s traded Haren to the D’Backs in December 2007 for five players.  In Arizona, he pitched well enough to be named to his second All-Star team.

Needless to say, Karp did not live up to his first-round potential.  He is the first player taken in this draft to have not reached the major leagues.  Despite three very good pitches and an ideal pitcher’s body, Karp was too passive in college and didn’t pitch a complete game among his 15 starts at UCLA in 2001.  However he never gained consistency in his repetoire and became too dependent on his secondary pitches.  Karp struggled in the high minor leagues, never posting an ERA below five in a full season at AA or AAA.  He was finally released in 2005 after finishing the season with a 5.75 ERA at AAA New Orleans.

We would have considered Mike Fontenot, a second baseman from LSU.  Like Guzman, Fontenot would have been selected higher if he was bigger than 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds.  Despite nagging wrist and hamstring injuries, Fontenot hit .353/.452/.592 as a sophomore.  He also was a steady fielder with above-average speed.  The Orioles drafted him with the 19th overall pick, but traded him with infielder Jerry Hairston and a prospect for Sammy Sosa.  He’s been a reliable second baseman for the Cubs.  In 2008, he started 82 games at the position, hitting .305/.395/.514 with nine homers and 40 RBI.

7. Baltimore Orioles — 2B Dan Uggla, Memphis
TRUE Rank selection: 1B David Burkholder, Grandview College
Actual selection: LHP Chris Smith, Cumberland Univ.

Every American player with dreams of making an All-Star team must be drafted once.  But its the rare player who is drafted twice before ever reaching the big leagues, let alone being selected for the All-Star Game.  The Diamondbacks selected Uggla, who set the single season doubles record at Memphis, in the 11th round of the amateur draft (also known as the Rule IV draft).  Five years later, Uggla had just finished a full season at AA where he hit .297 with 21 home runs.  But the D’Backs left him off their 40-man roster and the Marlins drafted him in 2005 Rule V minor league draft.  He was an immediate success, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting in ’06 and making the ’06 and ’08 All-Star teams.

Smith, like Uggla, was also a Tennessee prospect, but the similarities end there.  A strong-armed outfielder at Florida State, Smith transferred to Cumberland University for a chance to pitch.  Blessed with a mid 90s fastball, Smith was raw but intriguing.  His off-speed pitches were underdeveloped but promising.  The O’s bet that he would figure it out.  They were wrong.  In his first full season of pro ball, Smith struck out four and walked 21 in 11 innings in the Rookie league.  That awful season earned him an 11.54 ERA.  It didn’t get much better.  He was finally cut in 2005 after posting an 8.54 ERA after 13 appearances.

Our choice of David Burkholder hasn’t faired much better.  Burkholder was known as a strong hitter and the 2000 NAIA Player of the Year.  However, he wasn’t drafted until the 15th round.  He didn’t get much of a chance to succeed in the Rockies’ system.  In 41 at-bats in short-season, he hit .268/.318/.488 and was released.

8. Pittsburgh Pirates — RHP Mark Prior, Southern California
TRUE Rank selection: Prior
Actual selection: RHP John Van Benschoten, Kent State

Given the opportunity, the Pirates would have been thrilled to draft Prior. Prior’s career must be considered a disappointment given the lofty expectations.  However, he has achieved enough to be considered a top ten player in this draft (for now, at least).  In 2002, Prior received a few Rookie of the Year votes and in ’03, he made the All-Star roster and finished third in Cy Young balloting.

The Pirates opted for another college pitcher instead.  Van Benschoten was a two-way star for the Golden Flashes.  Scouts praised him as a five-tool outfielder, but the Pirates were one of the few teams to see his future on the mound.  His 93 mph fastball was an asset and he developed three other average or better pitches in the minors.  But shaky command and several arm surgeries derailed his career.  In parts of three big league seasons, he has more walks (68) than strikeouts (65).

9. Kansas City Royals — RHP Jeremy Bonderman, Pasco HS (Washington)
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Kirk Saarloos, Cal State Fullerton
Actual selection: RHP Colt Griffin, Marshall HS (Texas)

Griffin was a top-ten pick for one reason, his fastball.  It was an extraordinary pitch, which was consistently 98 mph.  He set a high school record by reaching 101 mph on occasion.  He also had a good pitcher’s build.  He lacked other skills, however, like a working second pitch or any semblance of command.  Once in the minors, Griffin took a little off his fastball to throw more strikes and improved his slider. But he never really figured out the command issue; over his five minor league seasons he walked more than he struck out.  He was released in 2005.

Bonderman’s arsenal compared favorably to Griffin — or any other high school pitcher in this class.  He threw a mid 90s fastball and a power curve.  Although undersized at 6-foot and 195 pounds, Bonderman had a track record of pitching for the US junior national team which comforted scouts.  But when A’s scouting director Grady Fuson drafted Bonderman towards the end of the first round, general manager Billy Beane had a fit: “When Grady leaned into the phone to take Bonderman, Billy, in a single motion, erupted from his chair, grabbed it and hurled it right through the wall,” writes Michael Lewis in Moneyball.  Bonderman has had the last laugh, however.  In six big league seasons, he has been a horse for the Tigers (who acquired him as a minor leaguer from Oakland).  He has made at least 28 starts in all but one big league season and has a lifetime 4.74 ERA.

Kirk Saarloos is the antithesis of Griffin or Bonderman.  A senior righthander at Cal State Fullerton, Saarloos had a dominating season by any measure.  He went 15-2 in 18 starts, earning a 2.18 ERA.  He struck out more than 6.5 batters for every one he walked and pitched in the tough Big West conference.  The only thing that wasn’t awe-inspiring about Saarloos’ resume was his stuff.  Unlike Griffin and Bonderman, Saarloos threw his fastball in the high 80s, but the pitch darted and danced and he paired it with good off-speed offerings.  He threw all of his pitches with precision.  The Astros drafted him with their third-round pick and he reached the big leagues in 2002.  While he hasn’t displayed the same control as he did in college, he’s been good enough to pitch in seven big league seasons and to amass over 500 career innings pitched.

10. Houston Astros — SS J.J. Hardy, Sabino HS (Arizona)
TRUE Rank selection: SS Jeff Keppinger, Georgia
Actual selection: 2B Chris Burke, Tennessee

It’s a bit odd that the tenth overall pick, the best player available in hindsight and our choice are all middle infielders.  Hardy has had the best career so far.  He caught the athletic gene from his father (former pro tennis player) and mother (former pro golfer).  Like many high schoolers, Hardy split time on the mound and in the field.  He was a legitimate prospect as a pitcher, possessing a 90 mph fastball.  He wasn’t overwhelming as a pitcher or a position player, where his tools projected as average to slightly above.  The Brewers drafted him in the second round as a shortstop.  His defensive skills developed before his bat.  His athleticism was a bonus at shortstop and he made easy and great plays with ease.  His bat came around in the high minor leagues and he reached the big leagues at age 22.  His career batting line of .270/.329/.446 isn’t special, but he’s been a steady presence in the field and made the 2007 All-Star team.  Hardy is an important part of a young Brewers nucleus.

The ‘Stros opted for Burke, the University of Tennessee’s shorstop.  Burke put up big numbers for the Vols, using his on-base prowess and speed to drive opposing managers crazy.  Scouts thought that he might be able to add some power.  He moved quickly through Houston’s system, but his speed and plate patience weren’t as impressive in pro ball.  He moved to second base in the high minors because of a fringy arm.  Burke has had a solid — if not spectacular — big league career.  He hasn’t hit well enough to play everyday, so he has moved into a superutility role.  Burke has seen significant time at second base, shortstop and all three outfield positions in five big league seasons.

Keppinger had a similar profile in college as Burke: strong hitter, good plate discipline, college shortstop destined for second base.  The Pirates drafted him in the fourth round.  He put up big numbers in the Pirates system but was dealt to the Mets.  He’s played for three teams in four big league seasons and has a career line of .287/.338/.390.  He has seen time at shortstop, second base and third base in the majors.

The rest of the first round …

11. Detroit Tigers — SS Bobby Crosby, Long Beach State
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Gavin Floyd, Mount St. Joseph’s HS (Maryland)
Actual selection: RHP Kenny Baugh, Rice

12. Milwaukee Brewers — LF Luke Scott, Oklahoma State
TRUE Rank selection: 3B Kevin Youkilis, Cincinnati
Actual selection: RHP Mike Jones, Thunderbird HS

13. Anaheim Angels — 1B Casey Kotchman, Seminole HS (Florida)
TRUE Rank selection: 1B Brad Nelson, Bishop Garrigan HS (Iowa)
Actual selection: RHP Mike Jones, Thunderbird HS (Arizona)

14. San Diego Padres — 3B Chad Tracy, East Carolina
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Douglas Brubaker, New Mexico Junior College
Actual selection: 3B Jake Gautreau, Tulane

15. Toronto Blue Jays — LHP Noah Lowry, Pepperdine
TRUE Rank selection: SS Ryan Theriot, Louisiana State
Actual selection: OF Gabe Gross, Auburn

16. Chicago White Sox — OF Gabe Gross, Auburn
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Danny Tamayo, Notre Dame
Actual selection: RHP Kris Honel, Providence Catholic HS (Illinois)

17. Cleveland Indians — C Kelly Shoppach, Baylor
TRUE Rank selection: CF Skip Schumaker, UC Santa Barbara
Actual selection: RHP Daniel Denham, Deer Valley HS (California)

18. New York Mets — 1B Dan Johnson, Nebraska
TRUE Rank selection: RF Mike Conroy, Boston College HS (Massachusetts)
Actual selection: RHP Aaron Heilman, Notre Dame

19. Baltimore Orioles — RHP Aaron Heilman, Notre Dame
TRUE Rank selection: Heilman
Actual selection: 2B Mike Fontenot, Louisiana State

20. Cincinnati Reds — RHP Ricky Nolasco, Rialto HS (California)
TRUE Rank selection: OF Gabe Gross, Auburn
Actual selection: LHP Jeremy Sowers, Ballard HS (Kentucky)

21. San Francisco Giants — SS Brendan Harris, William and Mary
TRUE Rank selection: CF Mike Rodriguez, Miami (Florida)
Actual selection: RHP Brad Hennessey, Youngstown State

22. Arizona Diamondbacks — 2B Scott Hairston, Central Arizona College
TRUE Rank selection: 1B Bryan Moore, Louisiana State
Actual selection: RHP Jason Bulger, Valdosta State

23. New York Yankees — CF Skip Schumaker, UC Santa Barbara
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Ricky Nolasco, Rialto HS (California)
Actual selection: LF John-Ford Griffin, Florida State

24. Atlanta Braves — RHP Brad Hennesssey, Youngstown State
TRUE Rank selection: RHP David Crouthers, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville
Actual selection: LHP Macay McBride, Screven County HS (Georgia)

25. Oakland Athletics — 2B Chris Burke, Tennessee
TRUE Rank selection: C Kelly Shoppach, Baylor
Actual selection: SS Bobby Crosby, Long Beach State

26. Oakland Athletics — SS Jeff Keppinger, Georgia
TRUE Rank selection: RHP Daniel Denham, Deer Valley HS (California)
Actual selection: RHP Jeremy Bonderman, Pasco HS (Washington)

27. Cleveland Indians — RHP Kirk Saarloos, Cal State Fullerton
TRUE Rank selection: LHP Mike Gosling, Stanford
Actual selection: RHP Alan Horne, Marianna HS (Florida)

28. St. Louis Cardinals — 2B Mike Fontenot, Louisiana State
TRUE Rank selection: CF Cory Sullivan, Wake Forest
Actual selection: RHP Justin Pope, Central Florida

29. Atlanta Braves — RHP Gavin Floyd, Mount St. Joseph’s HS (Maryland)
TRUE Rank selection: LHP Macay McBride, Screven County HS (Georgia)
Actual selection: SS Josh Burrus, Wheeler HS (Georgia)

30. San Francisco Giants — CF Cory Sullivan, Wake Forest
TRUE Rank selection: CF Tony Miller, Toledo
Actual selection: LHP Noah Lowry, Pepperdine

Reviewing the ’01 draft is a good measure by which to evaluate the TRUE Rank system.  The TRUE Rank system only uses scouting reports and statistics from before the amateur draft, so it’s unfair to compare it to the players in bold (who are ranked after their big league success is known).  Instead, compare the TRUE Rank selections to the actual selections and you’ll see that our system is significantly better than the teams’ draft picks.

Posted by: bhyman | December 1, 2008

TRUE Rank … the most accurate rankings system

In preparation for the 2009 MLB Draft, we’ll be rolling out new features and a new look to give you the best coverage that you can find anywhere.  Today, we’re pleased to announce one of those features: TRUE Rank.  TRUE Rank is a revolutionary new way to evaluate and rank amateur baseball players.  Using scouting reports and statistics, we’ve identified certain traits that are especially relevant to big league success.  We’ve synthesized that data into a new algorithm that is 60% better at ranking amateur prospects than the scouts.  TRUE Rank ranks all types of players, from Division I, II and III, high school, junior college, NAIA, etc and produces one, easy to understand number that summarizes the player’s value.  The best possible score is 100.

Over the course of the coming weeks, we’ll look back to previous drafts and show you how TRUE Rank is different.  Stay tuned as we roll out more features for the ’09 draft.

Posted by: bhyman | November 28, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

From all of us at Real Baseball Intelligence, we’d like to wish you and yours a happy Thanksgiving.  Although the weather is cold in most of the country, we’re working hard preparing our 2009 coverage.  We’ll be announcing some exciting new features in the coming weeks.

On Saturday, I will be appearing on the Athletes Parents radio show on WNSR 560 AM in Nashville and streaming online at the link above.  The show airs at 12 pm ET/11 am CT.   I’ll be taking your calls throughout the hour; call 888-702-5494 to get on the air.

– Ben

Posted by: bhyman | October 9, 2008

Moving out our ’08s to get ready for ’09!

You’ll notice a few changes on our site as we prepare for the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft.  All of our prospect profiles from the 2008 draft can now be accessed by clicking on “2008 Draft” then “Prospect Profiles”.  By clicking on our “2008 Draft”, you can also view our rankings for the top 465 draft-eligible prospects, content that Handbook owners have had since early June.

We’ve already started posting content about the 2009 draft.  Our first few prospect profiles have already been posted.  You can view them by clicking on “Draft Prospects” at the top of the page.  The top prospect right now is Stephen Strasburg, a right-handed pitcher from San Diego State.  Keep checking back as we continue to post profiles.

Here is the draft order for the first-round:

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Seattle Mariners
  3. San Diego Padres
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates
  5. Baltimore Orioles
  6. San Francisco Giants
  7. Atlanta Braves
  8. Cincinnati Reds
  9. Detroit Tigers
  10. Washington Nationals
  11. Colorado Rockies
  12. Kansas City Royals
  13. Oakland Athletics
  14. Texas Rangers
  15. Cleveland Indians
  16. Arizona Diamondbacks
  17. Los Angeles Dodgers
  18. Florida Marlins
  19. St. Louis Cardinals
  20. Toronto Blue Jays
  21. Houston Astros
  22. Minnesota Twins
  23. Chicago White Sox
  24. New York Mets
  25. New York Yankees
  26. Milwaukee Brewers
  27. Philadelphia Phillies
  28. Boston Red Sox
  29. Tampa Bay Rays
  30. New York Yankees
  31. Chicago Cubs
  32. Los Angeles Angels

Washington, you’re on the clock!

Posted by: bhyman | October 6, 2008

What if: ’00 draft

Looking back eight years, scouting directors might choose to bet on the lottery or play the slots instead of making the same picks that they made in 2000.  Of the 18 best players taken in this draft, only two were taken in the first round.  There were more players in the top 18 taken after the 20th round than there were in the first.  Even the teams that drafted the best talent purged it before realizing the gold they had amassed.  To the picks!

1. Florida Marlins — RHP Brandon Webb, Kentucky
Actual selection: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Eastlake HS (California)

The Marlins wrung their hands about which player to take with the first overall pick.  They consider pitcher Matt Harrington and catcher Scott Heard before settling on Gonzalez.  Of those options, Gonzalez is easily the best choice.  He’s been an everyday first baseman since 2006.  He can be counted on for a .280 batting average with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.  He even earned some MVP votes in 2007.  Unfortunately, Gonzalez never produced those numbers for the Marlins.  They shipped him with two others to the Texas Rangers for reliever Ugueth Urbina in 2003.  Harrington and Heard, however, never made it to The Show.

Then-scouting director Al Avila wouldn’t blink if faced with the same opportunity.  Brandon Webb, an eighth-round choice by the Arizona Diamondbacks, has clearly outperformed everyone in the draft class.  Despite rewriting Kentucky’s single-season strikeout record, Baseball America didn’t even consider him the top prospect in the state of Kentucky.  As a pro, he beefed up his fastball to the mid 90s and started showing the exceptional sinker for which he is now famous.  He pairs it with a nasty slider.  Command, which was once a concern, is no longer an issue.  He has struck out more than two batters for every one he’s walked in his major league career.  Webb was the NL Cy Young award in 2006 and is under serious consideration for winning his second award this season.

2. Minnesota Twins — LHP Dontrelle Willis, Encinal HS (California)
Actual selection: RHP Adam Johnson, Cal State Fullerton

After two disappointing seasons, Willis might not seem like the right pick now but there’s no doubt that he’s better than Adam Johnson.  The Twins’ selection made sense at the time.  Johnson was a steady if not spectacular college pitcher with an arsenal of quality pitches including a late-breaking slider.  His wild mechanics eventually did him in and his slider didn’t show the same bite in the big leagues.  He had no more than a cup of coffee in the majors.  Willis was an eighth round pick by the Cubs but didn’t show his potential until he was traded with three others to the Marlins for pitchers Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement.  His patented leg kick added deception to his pitches: a heavy 93 mph fastball, slurve and changeup.  He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2003 and was runner-up to Chris Carpenter in Cy Young balloting in 2005.  Although he’s had two poor seasons, Willis has exceeded expectations for such a late-round pick.

3. Chicago Cubs — OF Jason Bay, Gonzaga
Actual selection: SS Luis Montanez, Miami Coral Park HS (Florida)

The Montreal Expos had a wonderful 2000 draft, but traded all of their best players before they reached the big leagues.  Bay is the best example of this, a late round gem who was selected in the 22nd round.  The British Columbia native would have been selected higher, but he didn’t show a plus tool in college.  He was traded twice (by the Expos and Mets) before winning the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year award with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  As a Pirate, he showed an ability to do everything well, hitting for power and average, stealing bases and making the plays in the outfield.  He’s been the best player for the perennially disappointing Pirates and was traded at the 2008 trade deadline in a three-team deal to the Boston Red Sox.  Montanez, on the other hand, made his big league debut five years later — with the Baltimore Orioles.  He didn’t display the plate discipline or the quickness in the middle infield to progress through the minor leagues and eventually moved to the outfield.

4. Kansas City Royals — LHP Cliff Lee, Arkansas
Actual selection: LHP Mike Stodolka, Centennial HS (California)

The best pitcher in baseball in 2008 could have been had by the Royals with this pick.  Instead, they drafted a pitcher who never reached the big leagues.  Cliff Lee was a fourth-round selection by the Montreal Expos.  He was considered one of the top college lefthanded pitchers in the country when he was in command of his mid 90s fastball, breaking balls and changeup.  However, he wasn’t in command often and was pushed to the Razorbacks bullpen because of his lack of stamina.  The Expos traded him 13 months after drafting him, with Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens to the Indians for pitchers Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.  Since 2004, he has made at least 30 starts in all but one season and was in consideration for the American League Cy Young award in 2005.  He’s a lock to win that award this year.

The Royals liked Stodolka because he was a polished high school lefthanded pitcher with three above-average pitches and clean mechanics.  As important was his willingness to sign cheaply; he agreed to a $2.5 million signing bonus before the draft.  However, he got rocked in the minor leagues and never made it out of AA.  Frustrated, the Royals moved him to first base in 2005 but he has yet to reach the big leagues and, at 26, is no longer considered a prospect.

5. Montreal Expos — OF Grady Sizemore, Cascade HS (Washington)
Actual selection: RHP Justin Wayne, Stanford

Sizemore is yet another example of the Expos’ stellar 2000 draft and their poor ability to identify their good fortune.  He might have been a first round pick on merit, but he fell to the third round because of his intent to play baseball and football at the University of Washington.  Sizemore was regarded as a five-tool athlete whose athleticism was only enhanced by his two-sport potential.  The Expos traded him in 2002 to the Indians with Cliff Lee and others for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.  Since then, Sizemore has become a productive big leaguer.  He’s been a cornerstone for the Indians, playing centerfield and receiving MVP votes in three different seasons.  He’s only 26 and will only get better.

The Expos instead opted to take Justin Wayne in the first round.  Wayne was a certifiably experienced college starting pitcher, having set pitching records at Stanford and earning All-American status.  His four solid-to-plus pitches served him well until 2002, when he was traded to the Florida Marlins in an eight-player deal.  The Marlins called him up by the end of the season and he struggled in his three big league seasons with the Fish, only logging 61.3 career innings.

6. Tampa Bay Devil Rays — 2B Chase Utley, UCLA
Actual selection: OF Rocco Baldelli, Bishop Hendricken HS (Rhode Island)

Despite being the best college hitter in the draft, Utley slipped to the second round because of his unusual profile as a second baseman.  The archetypal second-basemen is a slick fielder and contact hitter, but Utley was a power hitting pull-hitter who was regarded as a below-average defender.  He changed his approach in pro ball, using the whole field at the plate, and proved to be a capable second-baseman.  In his six seasons in the majors so far, Utley has receiving MVP votes three times, is a three-time NL All-Star and a two-time Silver Slugger.

Rocco Baldelli’s career had a promising start, but he has been sidetracked with injuries since.  He was a toolsy outfielder coming out of a Rhode Island high school, showing above-average speed, hitting acumen and range.  Prognosticators expected him to fall to the second half of the first-round, but the Devil Rays grabbed him with the fifth overall pick.  He suffered an oblique pull before the draft and that injury proved fateful for the rest of his career.  Since 2004, he has been sidelined with a quadriceps injury, a torn ACL, a torn UCL in his right elbow and two hamstring injuries.  The fragile outfielder hasn’t played a full season’s worth of games since his second big league season.  If he can reclaim his early success (when he was a finalist for the AL Rookie of the Year award), he will justify his high draft pick.

7. Colorado Rockies — RHP Rich Harden, Central Arizona Junior College
Actual selection: RHP Matt Harrington, Palmdale HS (California)

Credit A’s scout John Kuehl with finding Rich Harden, a British Columbia native with a limited baseball background.  Oakland drafted Harden in the 17th round and let him return to Central Arizona Junior College for his sophomore season before signing him in May 2001.  His excellent 95 mph fastball and plus changeup dominated minor league hitters and he added a slider and splitter to keep them off balance.  Harden was expected to step in when Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson were traded in 2004, but he only met the challenge halfway.  Although he’s been dominant at times, Harden couldn’t stay healthy enough to become the A’s ace.  He was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2008.

Harden’s somewhat frustrating career pales in comparison to Matt Harrington’s odyssey.  Harrington might have been the top pitcher prospect in the draft, if not the best prospect overall.  As a senior at Palmdale High School, Harrington wowed scouts with a mid 90s fastball that touched 98 mph, excellent command and a projectable, pitcher’s body.  However he and his agent, Tommy Tanzer, rejected the Rockies’ multimillion dollar offer.  Instead of honoring his commitment to Arizona State, Harrington elected to pitch for the independent St. Paul Saints.  His skills regressed yet he was drafted every year following until 2004.  He never signed.

8. Detroit Tigers — RHP Chris Young, Princeton
Actual selection: RHP Matt Wheatland, Rancho Bernardo HS (California)

A baseball and basketball star at Princeton, the six-foot-eleven Chris Young has become a sold big league starting pitcher.  In college, scouts liked his size and athleticism and his ability to command three solid pitches, including a low 90s fastball.  The biggest negative in his resume was his lack of pitching experience, but that may have sheltered him from overuse pitching injuries.  The Pirates snapped him up in the third round but quickly dealt him to the Montreal Expos for pitcher Matt Herges in 2002.  The Expos traded away another 2000 draft talent in 2004 when they shipped him to the Rangers for catcher Einar Diaz.

The Tigers saw something in Wheatland that few other teams did.  Projected as a mid to late first round pick, Detroit selected him eighth overall.  Wheatland had height (6-foot-5) and a dominant sinker.  Early comparisons were to Kevin Brown.  But Wheatland fizzled quickly.  He pitched well in Rookie ball immediately after getting drafted, but experienced pain in the index and middle fingers of his right hand when he was promoted.  He only pitched 23 innings in 2001 and never was promoted beyond A ball.  He retired in 2004.

9. San Diego Padres — RHP James Shields, Hart HS (California)
Actual selection: LHP Mark Phillips, Hanover HS (Pennsylvania)

The Padres turned down a chance to take a pitcher in their own backyard for a flop from the other side of the country.  James Shields pitched at Hart High School in Newhall, California, a mere 2 1/2 hours by car from San Diego.  A back injury kept him out for most of the spring and teams were resigned to letting him honor his college commitment to LSU.  The Tampa Bay Devil Rays took him in the 16th round and signed him two months later.  He took his time progressing through the minor leagues and eventually made his big league debut in 2006.  Shields has been one of the primary reasons that the Rays are leading the American League East.  He and Scott Kazmir have been a formidable one-two punch at the top of the rotation.  Shields has thrown more than 200 innings for the second consecutive season.  His deadly changeup and excellent command has contributed to his 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio in ’08.

The Padres were probably thrilled to draft Mark Phillips with the ninth overall pick.  The Marlins considered the 6-foot-3 lefthander for the first overall pick until he ran out of gas at the end of the high school season.  Still, the Hanover High lefty paired a mid 90s fastball and a nasty curve.  He signed quickly to a $2.2 million contract negotiated before the draft, but never advanced out of A ball.  Like many high school pitchers, Phillips’ approach was unrefined and he struggled with command and his mechanics.  He hasn’t pitched in the affiliated minor leagues since 2003.

10. Anaheim Angels — RHP Bobby Jenks, Inglemoor HS (Idaho)
Actual selection: LHP Joe Torres, Gateway HS (Florida)

Bobby Jenks is one of the most unlikely players to ever make the big leagues.  Growing up, Jenks’ family lived in a log cabin in the remote town of Spirit Lake, Idaho.  He quit high school after his sophomore year.  Despite these challenges, Jenks showed off a 93 mph fastball and a hammer curve in workouts.  The Angels took a gamble on him in the 5th round and he’s turned out better than any of their other draft picks, including first-rounder Joe Torres.  The structure of pro ball enabled Jenks to boost his fastball velocity to 100 mph or better.  However, erratic command and a penchant for breaking team rules led to the Angels putting him on waivers.  The White Sox were the beneficiaries.  Jenks has been to two All-Star games and posted consecutive 40-save seasons in 2006 and 2007.  His command has improved, but he occasionally suffers from command problems.

Joe Torres was much more of a conventional draft prospect.  A left-handed pitcher from Florida, Torres impressed scouts with a three-pitch mix including a heavy low 90s fastball and dominant curve.  Scouts liked his tall and wiry frame, which lent itself to a velocity boost.  That boost came — briefly — when Torres first entered pro ball but deserted him thereafter.  He couldn’t perfect his mechanics and his fastball velocity dropped into the high 80s.

11. Milwaukee Brewers — 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Eastlake HS (California)
Actual selection: OF Dave Krynzel, Green Valley HS (Nevada)

12. Chicago White Sox — RHP Ian Snell, Caeser Rodney HS (Delaware)
Actual selection: OF Joe Borchard, Stanford

13. St. Louis Cardinals — 1B Adam LaRoche, Seminole State College
Actual selection: OF Shaun Boyd, Vista HS (California)

14. Baltimore Orioles — RHP Chad Qualls, Nevada-Reno
Actual selection: RHP Beau Hale, Texas

15. Philadelphia Phillies — 1B Garrett Atkins, UC Irvine
Actual selection: 2B Chase Utley, UCLA

16. New York Mets — OF David DeJesus, Rutgers
Actual selection: LHP Billy Traber, Loyola Marymount

17. Los Angeles Dodgers — 1B Brad Hawpe, LSU
Actual selection: RHP Ben Diggins, Arizona

18. Toronto Blue Jays — 3B Xavier Nady, California
Actual selection: OF Miguel Negron, Manuela Toro HS (Puerto Rico)

19. Pittsburgh Pirates — RHP Adam Wainwright, Glynn Academy HS (Georgia)
Actual selection: OF Dave Krynzel, Green Valley HS (Nevada)

20. Anaheim Angels — SS Josh Willingham, North Alabama
Actual selection: RHP Chris Bootcheck, Auburn

21. San Francisco Giants — OF Ryan Church, Nevada-Reno
Actual selection: RHP Boof Bonser, Gibbs HS (Florida)

22. Boston Red Sox — SS Freddy Sanchez, Oklahoma City
Actual selection: LHP Phil Dumatrait, Bakersfield Junior College

23. Cincinnati Reds — 3B Edwin Encarnacion, Manuela Toro HS (Puerto Rico)
Actual selection: SS David Espinosa, Gulliver Prep HS (Florida)

24. St. Louis Cardinals — OF Rocco Baldelli, Bishop Hendrickson HS (Rhode Island)
Actual selection: RHP Blake Williams, Southwest Texas State

25. Texas Rangers — OF Corey Hart, Greenwood HS (Kentucky)
Actual selection: C Scott Heard, Rancho Bernardo HS (California)

26. Cleveland Indians — RHP Taylor Buchholz, Springfield HS (Pennsylvania)
Actual selection: SS Corey Smith, Piscataway HS (New Jersey)

27. Houston Astros — RHP Dustin McGowan, Long County HS (Georgia)
Actual selection: RHP Robert Stiehl, El Camino College

28. New York Yankees — RHP Todd Wellemeyer, Bellarmine College
Actual selection: C David Parrish, Michigan

29. Atlanta Braves — RHP Zach Miner, Palm Beach Gardens HS (Florida)
Actual selection: RHP Adam Wainwright, Glynn Academy HS (Georgia)

30. Atlanta Braves — RHP Vinnie Chulk, St. Thomas University
Actual selection: 3B Scott Thorman, Preston HS (Ontario)

The tragedy of this draft is how much talent the Expos amassed and how quickly they got rid of it.  Former Expos scouting director Jim Fleming selected three of the top five talents of this draft.  The Nationals could easily be contenders in the NL East if they had retained outfielders Jason Bay and Grady Sizemore and left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee.  Instead, they were all traded away for Bartolo Colon, Tim Drew and Lou Collier.  The Braves and scouting director Roy Clark also did well in 2000, drafting three of the top 30 athletes.  The best of that crop, first baseman Adam LaRoche, was drafted in the 29th round.  Although each of the players has since been traded, Atlanta was able to net quality players in return.

Ten teams failed to draft a single first-round talent in this draft.  The Baltimore Orioles had another awful draft.  The most successful big leaguer from their group is probably lefty reliever Kurt Birkins.  The Tigers had the eighth overall pick and the only notable player they selected is centerfielder Nook Logan.

Posted by: bhyman | August 23, 2008

Inside Baseball interview

I appeared on Marty Lurie’s Inside Baseball radio show on August 14.  Marty’s show is broadcast before Oakland A’s baseball games and can be heard on KYCY in the Bay Area and on XM satellite radio.  The archived edition can now be heard online by clicking here.

Posted by: bhyman | August 16, 2008

Crow, Cole fail to sign; more time for Fields

For the first time since 2004, a first-round pick failed to sign.  Aaron Crow, a right-handed pitcher from Missouri, could not reach an agreement with the Washington Nationals.  The New York Yankees did not sign their first round pick, high school pitcher Gerrit Cole.

Crow initially asked for a bonus of at least $8 million before halving that request in the final hours before the signing deadline, according to Baseball America. The two sides were $700,000 apart at the deadline, according to Baseball America. Crow has agreed to pitch for the Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association if he could not reach an agreement with the Nats.  The Nats will receive next year’s #9 pick and are in line to receive the first overall selection in the 2009 draft if they maintain the worst record in baseball.  Crow was #2 on our pre-draft rankings.

Cole meets nearly every criteria scouts look for in high school pitchers.  Plus fastball?  Cole’s reaches 98 mph.  Nasty breaking ball?  Cole has a dirty curveball that is already a plus pitch.  Projectable body?  Cole’s 6-foot-3 frame is ideal for a developing pitcher.  Cole has had command issues and mechanical concerns.  He fell to the end of the first round because of those concerns and because his agent — Scott Boras — has been known to extract top dollar for his clients.  In the end, Cole walked away from the money to fulfill his commitment to UCLA.  The Yankees will receive the 28th pick in the 2009 draft.  We ranked Cole 56th in our pre-draft rankings.

The signing deadline did not apply to one first-rounder, Georgia relief pitcher Joshua Fields.  Because Fields exhausted his college eligibility this spring, he has until the end of May to reach an agreement with the Seattle Mariners.

Posted by: bhyman | August 16, 2008

Alvarez and Hosmer each get $6 million

The top two remaining picks who had yet to sign, Vanderbilt’s Pedro Alvarez and Eric Hosmer of American Heritage High School, have agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals, respectively. Alvarez and Hosmer both agreed to minor league contract with $6 million bonuses.  Those contracts tie for the third highest bonus ever awarded behind Buster Posey (fourth overall) and Tim Beckham (first overall). 2007 fourth-overall pick Matt Wieters also signed a minor league contract worth $6 million.

Alvarez was in line to be the second consecutive top pick from Vanderbilt (left-handed pitcher David Price was picked first overall last year by the Tampa Bay Rays) when a wrist injury sidelined him for the first six weeks of the season. When he came back, he played well but not to the level of his freshman and sophomore campaigns. When he’s right, his power and plate discipline are strengths and he’s a capable defender at third base. Some believe that Alvarez would move to first base and he fills out and moves through the minor leagues. We ranked him eighth overall in our pre-draft rankings.

Hosmer has drawn comparisons to fellow Floridian and Atlanta Braves first baseman Casey Kotchman for his huge power and bat speed. Hosmer needs some refinement at the plate and more in the field, where he has the ability to be a capable defender but has not realized his potential. His arm speed is another plus: he threw 95 mph as American Heritage’s closer. We ranked him 13th overall in our pre-draft rankings.

Posted by: bhyman | August 16, 2008

Posey, Smoak, Dykstra sign at deadline

With seconds to spare, the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres came to terms with their first round draft picks: Florida State catcher Buster Posey (Giants), South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak (Rangers) and Wake Forest first baseman Allan Dykstra (Padres).  Posey signed a minor league contract with a draft record $6.2 million bonus, $500,000 more than 2008 first-overall pick Tim Beckham.  Smoak signed a minor league contract with a $3.5 million bonus, $1.5 million more than the MLB recommended slot bonus.  Dykstra signed a minor league contract with a $1.15 million bonus.  He initially agreed to a $1.4 million bonus with the Padres last month, but San Diego backed out when his physical revealed a degenerative hip condition.

Posey won the Golden Spikes Award as the top college baseball player. The Florida State catcher rewrote the Division I leaderboards, leading the nation in on-base percentage (.566), slugging percentage (.879), batting average (.463), hits (119), RBI (93) and total bases (226). Posey is extremely athletic; he was recruited to Florida State as a pitcher and moved to shortstop before catching as a sophomore.  He ranked seventh in our pre-draft rankings.

Smoak was arguably the best combination of offense and defense in a deep first base class (seven first basemen were drafted in the first round).  He was the third first baseman drafted, but he was our favorite.  His switch-hitting abilities and excellent defense draw comparisons to Los Angeles first baseman Mark Teixeira.  We ranked him sixth in our pre-draft rankings.

Although Dykstra was the last first baseman drafted in the first round, he may have the best power potential.  He hit 16 home runs and finished third in Division I with 62 walks.  The combination of power and plate discipline appealed to the Padres, who drafted him with the 23rd overall selection.  He ranked 16th in our pre-draft rankings.

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