WTNYMay 25, 2005
Pressure Picks
By Bryan Smith

From the summer leagues all the way up to the College World Series, scouting directors have one job: haul in some solid talent each June. This puts a bit of pressure on them, as could be expected, since the product of drafts are their lone barometer of success. Good drafts yields a long tenure, bad drafts could have them advance scouting again in no time.

While this pressure holds true across the league, it is centralized on the shoulders of the bad organization's scouting directors. Since good teams draft late in the first round, unearthing talent could just be viewed a blessing. That's overstating, of course, but scouting directors that consistently pick in the top ten are expected to bring in better crops. Just as the men running NBC has more pressure than your local cable station's head, Mike Rizzo has a whole lot more pressure on him this year than Logan White.

Many options and considerations need to be weighed when making one of the earlier selections in the draft. While it is a nice idea to say "always draft the top player," ETAs and organizaitonal strengths often make that impossible. Spending more than seven figures on a position that will not be needed any time soon is foolish, especially in a draft with as many blue chippers as this one is offering.

As push slowly comes to shove with the Major League draft, here is a look at the five most pressure-filled picks, and what direction it looks like the team is going. Also is what I would do in the situation, as I slowly type here from my armchair. Oh, what an easy job this is...

1. Arizona Diamondbacks

Baseball America recently reported that the Diamondbacks have narrowed their selection choices to four: Justin Upton, Luke Hochevar, Mike Pelfrey and Craig Hansen. On the other hand, Peter Gammons has long been reporting that the choice will be Upton, who Rizzo fell in love with the second he realized the Diamondbacks would have the draft's first choice. As Stephen Drew remains unsigned going into the last week, Rizzo will need to make this year's first-rounder count should he want to stay in charge.

Upton has been heralded as a good player since his brother was making headlines, and scouts whispered that Justin might be better than B.J. While throwing issues at shortstop will likely force Upton to move down the road, his jaw-dropping speed will be more than enough for the centerfield spot. Upton has the combination of arm strength, speed and sweet stroke to be a future superstar.

Projected Pick: Justin Upton

If I was choosing the list would have been three names: Upton, Troy Tulowitzki and Mike Pelfrey. While I believe Alex Gordon is probably the top player in the draft, choosing yet another corner position player is just not feasible for a franchise filled with them. The Diamondbacks' weaknesses lay up the middle, where it appears Sergio Santos and Scott Hairston will just not be the double play combo that people envisioned.

Upton would also be my choice if I was running the draft, and I would suggest that he immediately be moved to center. While B.J. was constantly thrown with the "everything but defense" criticisms, it would be best to get that out of the way now for Justin. Troy Tulowitzki makes sense here as well, but concerns about his range aren't all that different from what Arizona is currently going through with Santos.

The other gaping hole in the Arizona farm system is in the pitching department, so going in that direction would make sense. But considering the poor relations between Jeff Moorad and Scott Boras -- not to mention the Drew situation -- drafting another Boras client like Mike Pelfrey could be devastating. Arizona also has a farm system filled with hitter's parks, which certainly destroy a pitcher's ego as he attempts to break into the Majors.

My pick: Justin Upton

2. Kansas City Royals

It's all up to Daniel Glass. While the Royals have been bad for the entire last decade, it has been awhile since the club has this much direct pressure on a draft choice. Chris Lubanski allowed the team to dodge out of choice the last time they had a high selection, and the club is still shaking their heads at those results. Drafting cheap would be a huge mistake for a team that is headed in the right direction like the Royals.

And if you listen to what is happening in Kansas City, they agree with me. The Royals denied the Cliff Pennington rumors, saying that they have little economic concerns about their second choice. In fact, the team seems rarely set on a somewhat-nearby player, the NCAA's best hitter: Alex Gordon. Even though the Royals have both spent a first-round pick and a high-profile trade acquiring third basemen in the last 12 months, letting a bat like Gordon's pass would be a sin.

Projected Pick: Alex Gordon

I have long said that Gordon is atop my draft board, and I think he fits in Kansas City. He won't fit in at third base, mind you, but they will have a spot for him. The best idea is to move Gordon to left, while pushing Billy Butler to first, continuing the Jim Thome comparisons.

The Lubanski selection from 2003 pretty much derailed the likelihood of drafting Cameron Maybin, despite the Royals fearless nature in the past. It would be hard to convince Royals fans that Maybin is not just another all ceiling type, because he pretty much is. Sure his chance of succeeding is better than Lubanski's out of high school, but drafting him would simply be a public relations nightmare. The two logical choices are Gordon and Mike Pelfrey, both from schools near Missouri.

My pick: Alex Gordon

3. Seattle Mariners

Dave Cameron has said over at U.S.S. Mariner that Seattle is really praying that Glass tightens his purse strings, so that Gordon will drop one spot. Or maybe the rumors of Boras forcing the Diamondbacks to sign a two-for-one, agreeing to terms with Stephen Drew and another Boras client, like Mike Pelfrey. In that scenario, the Mariners would be more than happy to draft Justin Upton. I mean he's the next Alex Rodriguez, right?

But, it is more than likely that Seattle's top two players will be gone when Bill Bavasi heads to the conference call. So, the team will be forced to pick from the top of the second tier. Money is also of little concern to the team that did not have a choice before the third round last year, even if they spent record money in the round.

When push comes to shove, the players on the Mariner list will be Maybin, Tulowitzki, Pelfrey and Ryan Zimmerman. With Maybin the club will get the pressure associated with drafting the next Griffey. With Pelfrey, an arm injury will add yet another blemish on the Mariner medical staff's tarnished resume. So, the team is likely torn between Tulo and Zimmerman, who many have speculated could play better short than Troy if he was moved. Still, don't expect the Mariners to think that outside the box, and instead look for Bavasi to go back to the California roots to take who would have been a local choice a couple years ago.

Projected Pick: Troy Tulowitzki

I don't like it. This is an organization with Jose Lopez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Tuiasasopo and Adam Jones. There is a lot of money tied up in those players, all of whom belong (currently) at the shortstop position. Yes, Bill James argues a farm system should be built from the top of the defensive spectrum down, but this is going a bit too far.

Cameron Maybin, Baseball America's top high school player last year, seems to be getting overlooked by the Mariners. While the Griffey comparisons have been blown out of proportion as a result of their friendship, Maybin is definitely a special five-tool talent. While Seattle has Shin-Soo Choo and Jeremy Reed at the top of their system, neither plays center the way that Maybin profiles to.

My pick: Cameron Maybin

4. Washington Nationals

This one has to count for the Nationals, as Jim Bowden's inexcusable offseason signings have limited the Nats number of choices in the top 100 this year. Major League Baseball is willing to allow Bowden to spend the majority of his draft budget in the top spot, so money is of little importance here.

There is really very little drama heading into this choice. The Nats need a face of the franchise as they continue to try and sell themselves (not the park) to DC fans, and Brad Wilkerson is just not doing the job. While Vinny Castilla is the short-term answer at the hot corner, the long-term pick comes from nearby Virginia. Ryan Zimmerman has some questions surrounding his bat, yes, but he has Cal Ripken-like instincts on the left side. In a town forced to pay attention to the Orioles for the last thirty years, very few praises could be higher than that.

Projected Pick: Ryan Zimmerman

While I certainly understand the logic behind taking Zimmerman, I just disagree with the selection. The club has no intentions to move Ryan to short, where power concerns will be deemed less important. Even with wilkerson and Nick JOhnson, this is not an organization that profiles to slug in the future, and wasting a corner spot on a defensive specialist is not a good idea.

I still believe that besides Zimmerman, there is an answer for a future franchise player in this spot. My partner, Rich Lederer, has thrown out comparisons Bobby Crosby and Miguel Tejada. For a town still immersed in the Orioles, that is high praise as well. Also, Troy Tulowitzki profiles to hit for power better than Zimmerman, at a much more demanding defensive position. Simply put, Cristian Guzman is just not the long-term answer up the middle.

My pick: Troy Tulowitzki

5. Milwaukee Brewers

With pardon to the right side, there are very few positions that the Brewers should not be considering in this year's draft. True to their scouting director's ideology, this is the perfect team to use the "Best Player Available" mantra when drafting. Milwaukee's payroll is still very low, so Doug Melvin shouldn't have to do too much convincing in forcing the new owner to raise the draft budget.

If dollars and cents are not worried about, the top players on the board hail from the mound. This probably also fits the organization best, as many of their one-time pitching prospects have reached struggles in the upper levels. The best pitcher on the board is surely Mike Pelfrey, who also currently pitches not too far from Milwaukee at Wichita State University. With three solid pitches in his arsenal, Pelfrey could likely be contributing by the time this team is ready to make a legitimate run.

But, the Brewers will also be considering some offense with the pick. If Cameron Maybin is still around, it would be hard for the club to pass on a future superstar like him. Also, the Brewers likely fondly remember Jeff Clement's days of catching as a high schooler in Iowa, where he broke the national record for career home runs. Clement has since kept the power and increased his defensive prowess, making him a much more attractive pick.

Projected Pick: Mike Pelfrey

Pelfrey is, at least, who the team should be drafting. With Jose Capellan likely on the move and the likelihood of the team keeping Doug Davis small, the Brewers are going to need someone to back up Ben Sheets. Pelfrey has ace-caliber stuff, and is a horse, not to mention should be ready by the 2007 season. The only minus is the bonus demands that will come with his selection, likely around $5-7 million. He's worth it, no question, but those type of dollars given to an amateur tends to make owners go gun-shy under pressure.

My pick: Mike Pelfrey

That's all for today, and I would love to hear your 1-5 projections in the comments. I'll have a 1-15 projection at some point in the next couple weeks, with much more thought-out reviews of all the players available.


1. Upton
2. Gordon
3. Tulo
4. Zimmerman
5. Weaver (or Maybin)

Bryan, should Weaver and Drew re-enter the draft, would you see them going in the top 5 or later?

Why do you Troy Tulowitzki is a bad idea for the M's?

Of the players you listed (Jose Lopez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Tuiasasopo and Adam Jones), only one may end up playing SS in the majors. Lopez was being moved to 2B, scouts see Tuiasasopo at RF and Jones at CF.

Is your reasoning for picking Maybin over Tulowitzki because the latter would be "blocked" or because Maybin would be a better pick?

Sounds like Omar's got a crush on Pelfrey now. And for the Mets, the money's not much of an object.

Pedro, Benson, Pelfrey, Humber, Heilman, Kazm ... oh, never mind.