Baseball's NFL Draft
After spending hours on the couch yesterday watching the other sport's draft, I again must say Major League Baseball has a long way to go in perfecting their draft. While I am not as worried about the worldwide draft as some, I must say that the draft needs to be put on television, and teams must be able to trade picks. The NFL draft, while way, way too long, is as good a product as ESPN owns rights to. After watching the draft yesterday, I was inspired to do a piece on what we are looking at in the Majors come June.
Quiz: How many of the first-round draftees in yesterday's NFL draft were chosen in a MLB June Amateur draft?
This year's version of the NFL draft was unsurprisingly characterized by the three skill positions, a battle of two quarterbacks, three running backs and three wide receivers. While the parallel is hardly perfect, Major League Baseball has some internal debates on the merits of two high school players, three college pitchers, and three collegiate shortstops.
With the first choice in the draft, the San Francisco 49ers chose Alex Smith, a quarterback from the University of Utah. Smith edged out Aaron Rodgers on the San Francisco board, and while Rodgers then saw his stock drop considerably, the two were on equal footing in the past few weeks. High school baseball currently has two athletes that stand far, far away from the rest of the competition: Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin.
In Peter Gammons most recent column, he pens that, "...the D-Backs will take Justin Upton with the first pick in the draft." So, I guess that ends the real controversy, but the more important question is whether that is the right decision. As far as Upton goes, Patrick Ebert of brewerfan.net writes that he "profiles as the same kind of special, 5-tool talent" as his brother B.J., and his tools are "off the chart." Upton has better speed than his brother did at the same age, and his bat is just about as good. The problem, like B.J., is the defense.
In fact, Justin's defense could be worse than his brother, calling for an immediate move to the outfield. There have been rumors that Upton -- who possesses a very powerful arm -- has had Steve Blass issues at shortstop this year. A move to centerfield would be in order, where Upton's speed and arm would not be wasted. While moving from such a premium position would do a little to his total value, Upton still has fantastic potential.
Should the rumors be true about Upton's move, however, I'm not sure much separates Upton from Cameron Maybin. The two, who have been friends since playing against each other at age eleven, both seem to have fantastic hitting talent. To compare to an argument we made earlier this week, Upton seems to be like Hanley Ramirez in the fast, high average type player, as Maybin is similar to Joel Guzman with the better power potential. In fact, Maybin is so well thought of that he has garnered numerous comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr.
Where Maybin gets drafted remains to be seen, but don't be surprised to see him go second to Kansas City, third to Seattle, or later to the Milwaukee Brewers. Be shocked if he -- like the second QB drafted Aaron Rodgers -- suffers a draft-day freefall that has him picked later than sixth.
For the first time in the history of the NFL draft, Saturday's version had three running backs chosen in the top five. While MLB has certainly entertained three college pitchers in the top 7 before, it looks like that will happen again in 2005. The pitchers? Luke Hochevar, Mike Pelfrey and Ricky Romero. To compare them to their running back counterparts, Hochevar is like Ronnie Brown, Pelfrey to Cadillac Williams, and Romero like Cedric Benson.
Hochevar, currently Tennessee's Friday night pitcher, is like Brown in the sense that he might be the least polished (not by much) with the highest potential. He is the highest pitcher on Ebert's draft board, projected as the fourth best player available this June. He has been fantastic as a Volunteer, with a 1.67 ERA in 11 starts. Hochevar has struck out 87 batters in 80.2 innings, while allowing 24 walks, two home runs, and opposing batters to hit .194 off him.
Statistically speaking, Pelfrey has been better than Hochevar this season, and also has a two inch size advantage (6-7 to 6-5). Pelfrey has pitched fantastically in 13 starts with the Shockers this season, good for eight wins and a sparkling 1.51 ERA. Hitters are batting just .192 off him, and he needs just one more strikeout to reach triple digits for the season. Patrick Ebert says that Pelfrey already has MLB pitches in his mid-90s fastball and slider, and already has implemented his change up into his repertoire. Pelfrey has been mentioned as a possible top pick for more than a year, and has wonderfully handled the pressure.
The problems for the two players already mentioned: they are currently under the wing of mega-agent Scott Boras. I maybe should be avoiding that name around this site, as my partner is a little bitter that Jered Weaver is busier with Independent League GMs than the Angels. Ricky Romero, the southpaw from Cal State Fullerton does not have that problem. Despite being short and lacking the big fastball, Romero has proven he belongs in this argument after taking the Friday night pitcher role for the defending chapion Titans. While Romero's ERA (2.84) and opponents' batting average (.212) are also worse than the other two, Romero has had a harder schedule and still equals Pelfrey in strikeouts (99), and has the best K/BB of the three.
As far as the pitchers go, in this draft Cedric Benson will go last. Romero, probably the safest choice of the three, is a possibility to the Blue Jays, or could suffer a bit of a drop. Hochevar and Pelrey, unless their bonus demands get crazy, should be among the five five players chosen. I would have Pelfrey ranked ahead of Hochevar on my board, but that's just me.
We close with the wide receiver position, which may have been home to the most drama of the day. After Mel Kiper Jr. seemingly spent hours arguing that Mike Williams was the player of the draft, the former USC wideout was the third at his position drafted behind Braylon Edwards and Troy Williamson. Of the three big shortstops, need you guess who gets the Mike Williams label? That's right, Stephen Drew, likely entering the draft for the second time, this time as a Camden Rivershark. I would also say that Troy Tulowitzki is the Edwards of the draft, while Tyler Greene is the Williamson.
Troy has been hurt for much of the season, allowing him to only get 80 at-bats, so sample size caveats do apply. But the Dirtbag shortstop continually draws comparisons to Bobby Crosby, thanks to his size (6-3) up the middle. Troy is hitting .363/.469/.613 this year, so while he doesn't have Crosby's power, he should make a quick change to the next level. We thought the same of Stephen Drew last June, who has essentially lost a year by not signing with the Diamondbacks. We'll see if, like his brother, Stephen can feast on Indy League pitching before making a rapid ascent to the bigs.
The player with the least flaws of the three is Tyler Greene from Georgia Tech, who has really come on strong in the last year. Greene was fantastic in the Cape Cod League, showing the power potential that scouts did not believe he had. Greene comes with the most polished glove of the group, though Patrick Ebert says he can get erratic with his throws. Still the largest knock on Greene will be consistency at the plate, and Greene's season of .340/.421/.564 is not the caliber of Troy or Stephen. And I should mention since there were so many WRs drafted in the NFL's first round, Cliff Pennington from Texas A&M will also likely be among the first thirty players selected.
For fun, here is my quick and dirty top ten players available in the June draft, which is admittedly far different than what most people believe:
1. Alex Gordon, 3B, Nebraska
2. Mike Pelfrey, RHP, Wichita State
3. Cameron Maybin, CF, HS
4. Justin Upton, SS/CF, HS
5. Luke Hochevar, RHP, Tennessee
6. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Long Beach St.
7. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Virginia
8. Ricky Romero, LHP, Cal State Fullerton
9. Stephen Drew, SS/?, Boras' basement
10. Jered Weaver, SP, Boras' basement
Quiz answer: Two. Second overall choice Ronnie Brown was chosen by the Mariners in the 42nd round, while fourth overall pick Cedric Benson was a well thought of 12th round choice by the Dodgers. Benson was offered a decent amount of money to quit football, but instead decided to attend Texas. Before doing so, Benson had 25 at-bats in the Gulf Coast League, where he logged seven walks in the short span. Ahh, what could have been.