WTNYMarch 08, 2004
My First Draft
By Bryan Smith

I’m going to second the All-Baseball excitement about the upcoming amateur Major League draft. Three times this season my colleague, Rich Lederer, has detailed reports on the starts of young phenom Jered Weaver. Jeff’s younger brother is one of many exciting players in this year’s draft, and a name you should expect to be hearing quite often in the coming months. First let me point you to this thread on Baseball Primer, where my thoughts started and a place I’ll quote from often.

The Major League draft is the least popular draft of the four major sports, and the number one example of Major League Baseball’s marketing problems. Bud Selig should sell the rights to the first five rounds of the draft to ESPN, gather all the GMs in one hotel, and make a scene of the event. Fans will recognize kids from the draft and are more apt to follow their performance in the minor leagues. Instead of this, Selig holds the draft over the phone, allowing fans to find out through Baseball America or Primer, sites which stall from the huge traffic they garner during those hours. Frustration.

In 2001, the Minnesota Twins had the top pick in the amateur draft after finishing with the worst AL record in 2000. Carl Pohlad being the cheap owner that he is, ordered Terry Ryan to draft local high school product Joe Mauer with the top choice, mainly for signability reasons. This was great for the Chicago Cubs, who had the second overall pick, who chose Mark Prior, the greatest college pitcher ever. Prior was far and away the best player in the draft, but the Twins simply could not afford the $10M bonus that Prior received. After Prior was Dewon Brazelton to the Devil Rays, Gavin Floyd to the Phillies, and Mark Teixeira, the draft’s #2 prospect, to the Texas Rangers.

Hypothetically, let’s say that trading picks had been allowed in the 2001 draft. The Texas Rangers, just off their ten-year deal with Alex Rodriguez, surely would have been interested in an arm like Prior. Tom Hicks would have ordered the team trade a fringe prospect, maybe Justin Duchscherer (hypothetically), and their #5 pick for the top choice. Texas would have chosen Prior first overall, leaving the Cubs to fill their long 3B void with Mark Teixeira. The pitching-crazed Devil Rays and Phillies still would have drafted Brazelton and Floyd, leaving Mauer to fall to the Twins in the fifth spot. Texas would have Prior and A-Rod, the two greatest young players in the Major Leagues, the Twins would still have Mauer, and the 2003 PCL Pitcher of the Year, Duchscherer. Rodriguez wouldn’t be a Yankee, the Rangers would be a contender, and Aramis Ramirez would be filling the new hole the Yankees have at third.

But by not allowing picks to be traded, the above situation is merely hypothetical. OK, we’ve dealt with the problems on the Major League draft, but let’s talk about 2004. Here’s the first round for this year, including the supplemental round, thanks to Baseball America:

1. Padres
2. Tigers
3. Mets
4. Devil Rays
5. Brewers
6. Indians
7. Reds
8. Orioles
9. Rockies
10. Rangers
11. Pirates
12. Angels
13. Expos
14. Royals
15. Diamondbacks
16. Blue Jays
17. Dodgers
18. White Sox
19. Cardinals
20. Twins
21. Phillies
22. Twins
23. Yankees
24. Athletics
25. Twins
26. Athletics
27. Marlins
28. Dodgers
29. Royals
30. Rangers
31. Athletics
32. White Sox
33. Yankees
34. Twins
35. Athletics
36. Twins
37. Royals
38. Dodgers
39. White Sox
40. Blue Jays

What jumps out here is that the Twins have five picks before the second round, the most since the Moneyball A’s of 2002. Speaking of Oakland, they are have four choices in the top 40, thanks to the Keith Foulke and Miguel Tejada signings. This is why offering free agents arbitration helps. We know Oakland, thanks to Michael Lewis, is college crazy, and are unlikely to draft a high schooler anywhere near the first round. With the A’s recent success, Beane’s friends and assistants are applying his theories in other places.

Paul DePodesta, the computer-nerd, will likely be using his hard drive come draft day this year. Do not expect the Dodgers to draft a high schooler anytime soon. J.P. Riccardi has drafted college middle infielders Russ Adams and Aaron Hill in his two drafts, and would rather eat his money than spend it on a high school player. Grady Fuson, formerly the A’s scouting director, has a similar job with the Texas Rangers. Despite taking a high school pitcher last year, the team has stated their preference on college-heavy drafting. Theo Epstein and Mark Shapiro, another pair of young GMs will also choose collegiate players with their choices. Finally, in the last 3 drafts, both Pittsburgh and San Diego have chosen college players with each of their first round picks. Coincidence? Not likely.

Baltimore and San Francisco seem to have the most obscure philosophies on draft day. The Orioles drafted a Junior College player last year, a Canadian high school pitcher in 2002, and a Cumberland University utility player in 2001. San Francisco debuted an interesting technique this year, giving up their first round choice for Michael Tucker, when they could have waited only 24 hours to keep their pick. It seems Brian Sabean feels first-round picks are too volatile to spend millions of dollars on, by far the most interesting take on the draft among all 30 teams.

What about the teams who prefer high school players? In the last three years, Minnesota, Kansas City, Atlanta, Florida, and Seattle have chosen prep 18-year-olds with their first round pick each season. Atlanta has been drafting high school players, mostly from Georgia for years, and that seems to be going well. The Mets have chosen high school players with their last two choices, drafting Notre Dame right-hander Aaron Heilman in 2001. New York uses their dollars wisely, drafting players who drop for signability reasons each year. Why do players even sign with Boras as amateurs anymore?

Jim Duquette likely won’t have that problem this season, as the Mets disastrous 2003 performance has landed them the third choice in the draft. Sitting in front of them is Kevin Towers of San Diego, and the lowly Detroit Tigers in the second spot. In my opinion, twelve players have separated themselves from the pack, and with help from BA, here’s a synopsis on each:

- Nick Adenhart (RHP) Williamsport HS: This season’s Jeffrey Allison, Adenhart is far and away the best high school pitcher in the draft. If he doesn’t sign with Boras he’s guaranteed to be in the top ten, and a good year could get him in the top 5. He’ll likely post cartoon statistics like Allison did last year, and his commitment to North Carolina is laughable.

- Matt Bush (SS) Mission Bay HS: Will battle with Golson (below) for best high school hitter this season. Bush, sometimes a pitcher, has a great arm at shortstop and a power bat. Tony Gwynn is trying to tempt him to go to San Diego State, but a couple million dollars can change a kid’s mind.

- Stephen Drew (SS) Florida State University: He’s got some Major League pedigree, and if the season ended today, he’d be a lock for Hitter of the Year. The shortstop is hitting .398, with an insane 1.226OPS. His 19/7 BB/K ratio is sensational, and no other player on this list can match his four home runs. Drew reminds me of Nomar Garciaparra, who played at fellow ACC school Georgia Tech.

- Greg Golson (OF) John Connally HS: Golson, more than any other player on this list, will be touted as a five-tools player. He’s faster than any other player on this list, and Baseball America calls him a great defender in centerfield. It’s possible the power will never be more than gap power, but he could make one helluva leadoff hitter one day.

- Philip Humber (RHP) Rice University: Coming into this season, Humber was considered the worst prospect of the Rice trio. But so far in his first 14.1 innings, Humber has an ERA of zero, and twenty-three strikeouts. Humber was formerly the Texas High School Player of the Year, and an Olympic standout in 2002. His stock is climbing, and despite what I said in the Primer thread, he’s top ten material.

- Jeff Larish (1B) Arizona State University: Larish was a second team All-American after a sensational Sophomore year, and was Street and Smith’s Preseason Player of the Year. But, things have stalled for the powerful first basemen who was once said to have the best college bat since Teixeira. His .412SLG is fifth for ASU regulars, but projectability will keep Larish in the top 15.

- Jeff Niemann (RHP) Rice University: It seems like things are looking worse in every start. Niemann, who in this Lederer piece was in consideration for the top choice, has struggled coming off minor elbow surgery after the championship. Niemann is 6-9, and once threw in the high 90s, but Bill Meyn from the Primer thread sat behind scouts clocking him in the high 80s Saturday. After only one strikeout in six innings in his last outing, Niemann has just fourteen in 22.1 innings this year. There’s a chance he could be this year’s Marc Cornell or Bobby Brownlie, a rumored #1 who is forced to go to college his Senior year after arm troubles.

- Justin Orenduff (RHP) Virginia Commonwealth University: Named to Baseball America’s second team Preseason All-America team after a Sophomore season that he struck out 120 men in 95 innings. The 6-4 right-hander is 1-1, 2.35ERA this year, with 27Ks in 23IP. Teams are often intrigued by pitchers from small-town schools (see Brazelton), so Orenduff could be an inexpensive top ten choice.

- Jeremy Sowers (LHP) Vanderbilt University: Are you also hearing the Sowers at number one rumors? Don’t believe them, but the soft-throwing southpaw will definitely land in the top ten. At 6-1, Sowers may only seldomly touch 90, but he’s struck out 23 in 21 innings this year. Sowers has also only walked two, so the team that drafts him could see Jeremy by 2005. Sowers was chosen by the Reds out of high school, and it’s possible they’ll have the chance to draft him again.

- Wade Townsend (RHP) Rice University: The Rice workhorse, Townsend is second on any Player of the Year ballot behind Mr. Weaver. In 30 innings this year Wade has a WHIP under 1.00, a K/9 at 12, and an ERA south of 2.00. He’ll produce low to mid-90s heat, but is an injury concern after being worked in every game this year. Townsend should be drafted before his other Owl teammates, and will be in the Majors come 2006.

- Justin Verlander (RHP) Old Dominion University: Brent in the Primer thread said Verlander would win a radar gun contest, and he’s right. Baseball America says Verlander pitches at 94-96mph, and says on some boards he’s number one.

- Jered Weaver (RHP) Long Beach State University: Yes people, Rich has a reason to be obsessed. While Lederer has brought his BYU, Baylor and USC starts to life, Weaver’s dominance can’t be fully documented. Weaver is 5-0 this year, striking out 55 men in 35.2 innings, allowing only four runs. He’ll be pitching in the Padres new PETCO park this weekend, so Towers will be able to scout the 6-6 right-hander in his backyard. All-American, Player of the Year, first overall choice...book it.

I’ll close today with a mock top ten:

1. Padres- Jered Weaver
2. Tigers- Stephen Drew
3. Mets- Wade Townsend
4. Devil Rays- Justin Verlander
5. Brewers- Nick Adenhart
6. Indians- Jeremy Sowers
7. Reds- Justin Orenduff
8. Orioles- Matt Bush
9. Rockies- Greg Golson
10. Rangers- Philip Humber

If anyone has seen a college player worth noting, drop a scouting report in the comment box, we could get a Tangotiger-like project going...

Comments

Nice column.

Here is what Team One said of Sowers: Sowers throws a 12-6 curve ball that drops off the table. He threw the deuce from 71-76 most of the game. At times he even surprised the umpire with how good his breaking ball looked. His slider was in the 77-81 range and his four-seam fastball was 82-87 both effect secondary pitches.

T1 picked him as the number one college pitcher in the country and also thinks the Padres will select him due to signability and because reports are that he'll be in the majors no later than 2005.

It'll be interesting to see what happens. I'd love for the Padres to take him since that would mean Weaver is there for the taking at number 3. But Verlander or Townsend aren't too shabby.

Nice article, Bryan. I would be concerned about Townsend as well. As I said in the Primer thread, he threw 130 pitches on Friday night according to the Houston Chronicle. I watched him pitch last Saturday against Nebraska, and his velocity seemed down then. He was throwing the upper-80's for most of the games. However, in the 7th and 8th innings, he pumped it up into the lower-90's, but struggled with his command. I think he was tired and overthrowing. Anyway, that is two starts in a row where he has struggled with command at the end of a start. I am concerned that he is being left in games when he is clearly tiring.

Anyway, I'm going to try to watch Niemann, Townsend and Humber as much as I can this year.