From One Draft to the Next
Corner Houston Texans owner Bob McNair today, and I have a hunch that he would validate the beliefs of many college football fans: Reggie Bush is a special, the special, talent. From a strict football standpoint, most talent evaluators could (and would) tell you that Bush is far superior to Saturday's top pick, Mario Williams.
But as McNair can now attest, professional sports are not just about on-the-field ability. Sports are a blend of talent and money; the bottom line overrides all else.
In 2003, baseball scouts were divided on which Golden Spikes finalist was the draft's best talent - Stephen Drew or Jered Weaver. Both were thought to be fantastic prospects, but a red flag on each resume caused draft day drops. Scott Boras. Swerving away from the Boras route, San Diego Padre ownership ordered GM Kevin Towers to find a cheaper alternative with the top pick. Towers signed a pre-draft deal with high school SS Matt Bush.
We can only hope that the Houston Texans avoid the fate of the Padres, who endured a .555 OPS from their $3 million bonus baby in his first professional season. No matter how Williams fares, pundits will always point to (and criticize) the Texans decision to value the accounting department over their scouts.
Baseball's upcoming June draft offers no special prospect like Reggie Bush. You've already heard that this crop isn't quite up to par. A player Bush's caliber, generational, was taken first in 2005. Justin Upton, a player that succeeds in all aspects of the game, is similar to the 2005 Heisman Trophy Winner.
But while no player in the 2006 baseball crop compares to Bush, other examples can be found that are similar. After sitting through two days of NFL draft coverage, I came up with a dozen similar options between the two drafts. Powered by the hope that baseball's draft coverage starts to head in the direction of the pigskin...
From Big Time Success to Big Time Volatility
Football - Vince Young; Baseball - Tim Lincecum
Wonderlic. Release. Motion. Reading defenses. All these flaws and more have been associated with Vince Young since he heroically led the Texas Longhorns to a Rose Bowl upset. Having nothing left to prove at the college level, Young will enter the NFL forced to reverse the beliefs of many that say his style can't succeed at the pro level. While so much has been criticized, the Titans did not reach by choosing Young, who packs a pretty fantastic punch given his athletic ability and deep ball skills. If his flaws can be corrected, he has All-Star potential.
In many ways, Tim Lincecum is more similar to Matt Leinart than Young. Like Leinart, Lincecum chose to return to college to prove people wrong. Like Leinart, he has done it, and may top the USC southpaw by winning Player of the Year. But Lincecum's similarities to Young are evident by the evaluations associated with the Huskie right-hander. Too short. Violent delivery. Overworked. No one doubts his fastball-curve combination -- much like no one questions Vince's ability to scramble -- but there is more to success than two good pitches.
Steady and Solid from the Leadership Position
Football - A.J. Hawk; Baseball - Evan Longoria
Many people wonder what the Packers would have done if Mario Williams had slipped to the fifth pick. Could they pass up a freakish athlete like Williams for the player they had targeted all along, Hawk? The former Buckeye hardly offers the size, strength and speed of many of his first round counterparts, but makes up for it in results. He was truly the nation's best linebacker and the leader of the Ohio State defense. He is a sure player that works hard, one that will step into Green Bay right away, but doesn't have the spectacular ceiling that some top ten picks possess.
Just as the linebacking core is expected to lead the defense, Evan Longoria's pro position (shortstop) commands respect. After years at other infield positions, Longoria will move to short in the pros to maximize his output versus his peers. Widely considered the top position prospect in the draft, Longoria will likely never hit more than 20-25 home runs, or has little chance to win a batting title. But like fellow Dirtbag Troy Tulowitzki, Longoria will be able to get to AA quickly, and should produce in the minor leagues.
Sears Tower Ceiling with a High Basement
Football - Vernon Davis; Baseball - Brandon Morrow
Davis is a big tight end with a huge body, good hands, and a 4.38 time in the 40. Morrow is a good-sized pitcher with a 99 mph fastball and devastating splitter. Davis has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler at the tight end position, Morrow is a third pitch away from being an innings-eating ace. If all else fails, Morrow will become a reliever -- and likely a good one -- while Davis should never be worse than a mid-level starter.
The two fit well, but if truth be told, Davis projects better in the NFL than Morrow does in the Majors. Davis has the total package, while Morrow might project to. He still doesn't have a third pitch, and his control is erratic at best. While Davis will be favored by many to win Rookie of the Year and help turn Alex Smith's career around, Morrow will have a lot of work to do to validate his selection.
What a Difference Two Months Can Make in Millions
Football - Donte Whitner; Baseball - Clayton Kershaw
Many are already claiming that the Buffalo Bills selection of Donte Whitner is the draft's biggest reach. Why not trade down and draft Whitner in a lower slot, where many projected him to go? Criticize all you'd like, but at the end of the day, no one helped their draft stock since the Rose Bowl more than Whitner, once considered a fringe first rounder. A good athlete from a big program, Whitner rose to the top of the safety class, depending upon what position you project Michael Huff to. He now will spend the next few years of his life trying to prove he warranted the selection.
Pitching has been hailed as the 2006 draft's strength for almost an entire year now. We always knew the college crop was loaded, but people also loved some of the talent that a few high school arms offered - Colten Williams or Jordan Walden. But while many of the high school arms have been just OK this spring, Clayton Kershaw has worked his way up draft boards, and could be the first prep pitcher selected. Scouts love the southpaw's size, his arsenal, his consistency. But once he is drafted in the first round come June, people will question whether Kershaw's spring warrants seven figures.
When Size Matters Most
Football - Haloti Ngata; Baseball - Dellin Betances
Ray Lewis has been calling for Ngata's selection all spring, salivating at the possibility of having a big body in front of him for the first time since the Sam Adams / Tony Siragusa duo. Ngata will surely command double teams at times thanks to his giant, 338-pound frame. He can thank his weight for his high selection, just as Betances will be able to thank his height in June. Betances, a Brooklyn right-hander with plus velocity, is loved by scouts. They have all seen the three pitch arsenal before, but Betances stands out because of a 6-9 frame that offers room to fill out. You can bet that on draft day, some scouting director will be salivating just as Lewis did a month and a half before.
With Injury Come Doubts
Football - LenDale White; Baseball - Dallas Buck
Once nearly guaranteed of becoming a first round pick, a horrible spring led to LenDale White's drop to the middle of the second round. Character issues were raised, and questions about his hamstring and work ethic surfaced to lead to White's freefall down draft boards. Still, the Tennessee Titans were confident in their selection of White, holding the belief that at full strength, they found a bargain in the second. Dallas Buck was once named by Peter Gammons as a possible top pick, but decreased velocity and a strained shoulder ligament see his stock falling. Buck, like White, has produced on the field, but it likely won't be enough for him to salvage a good selection.
Bringing the Punch, On and Off
Football - Ernie Sims; Baseball - Kyle Drabek
Receivers going across the middle of the field feared their lives in Tallahassee this past fall, just as Texas hitters currently are intimidated by Drabek. Sims is a sure tackler with great ability on the football field. Drabek has the pedigree and stuff to be seen by many as the top prep prospect in the draft. But in both cases, character issues come as red flags. Sims' stock wasn't effected by his character issues, which are like Drabek's, generally considered minor. Kyle will be considered as high as fourth overall, so for 45 more days, he'll have to continue to invoke fear in those that attempt to hit against him.
The Safe, Strong Route
Football - D'Brickashaw Ferguson; Baseball - Matt LaPorta
Many Jets fans are wondering why their team passed on former Heisman winner Matt Leinart for an offensive lineman. And certainly, in June, the idea of drafting a college first baseman won't be universally loved. But in both instances, it's a safe pick. Ferguson will likely be starting in the first week of the season, his college career prepped him. It's likely that he will be the Jets best lineman. LaPorta will also rise quickly, as even a midseason injury has not hindered his fantastic power output. Pancake blocks aren't quite as sexy as the home run, but in both instances, power is the important factor in these prospects.
When You Thought He Couldn't Budge
Football - Matt Leinart; Baseball - Max Scherzer
After returning to USC, Leinart was favored to repeat as college football's Heisman Trophy winner. Many college baseball fans preferred Scherzer to Andrew Miller in January to win the Golden Spikes Award. While Leinart did little to hurt his stock during the year, Scherzer's injury plagued spring has allowed multiple collegiate pitchers to pass him. Leinart's criticized for his lack of mobility and strength, Scherzer for his third pitch and inconsistency. Leinart, once considered a lack for the top three, fell to tenth on draft day. And when I thought it impossible for Scherzer to slip out of the top two, it appears his spring coupled with his ties to Scott Boras could lead to a worse slip than Leinart.
Toss-Up, All-Star or Bust
Football - Jay Cutler; Baseball - Drew Stubbs
People will never criticize Stubbs for not playing a hard enough schedule as a Texas Longhorn. Cutler has endured such criticism, apparently not earning enough wins for people in a subpar program. Stubbs has played through a national championship, and his flaws include contact issues that could forever plague his batting average. In both instances, the player's athletic ability will win out and warrant a high selection. Cutler is relatively mobile in the pocket with a fantastic arm, Stubbs plays better defense than most big league centerfielders. Both players could cause a lot of money to be flushed down the toilet, but in both instances, the potential is too good to pass up on.
Going Beyond Guns and Watches
Football - Chad Jackson; Baseball - Jordan Walden
No one ran a faster 40 at the combine than Chad Jackson. In the winter, Walden often threw the fastest pitch at a showcase. However, neither number can overshadow flaws. Jackson, considered by some the top WR in the draft, fell from the first round despite his speed-size combination. Walden, once considered a better bet than Kershaw or Drabek, could see control issues push him to the first round's back end. Scouts understand that track and velocity abilities don't always translate to success, and few players are hurt more by this principle than Jackson and Walden.
Making Coach Proud - A Team Effort
Football - N.C. State Defensive Line; Baseball - UNC Pitching Staff
Not many football programs can watch three lineman drafted in the first round following a disappointing season. After spending a season hovering around .500, the Wolfpack had Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo all taken in the first round. North Carolina won't have the luck to have all three of their aces taken so high, but Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard are both first round talents. Miller, like Williams, offers a potential that validates a first overall selection. Bard and Lawson are both inconsistent, and both flash All-Star skills. McCargo is undoubtedly a better prospect than the likes of Robert Woodard or Jonathan Hovis, but at least the latter two can boast a successful collegiate career.