A Roundtable with Three of the Country's Top Draft Experts
Baseball Analysts will devote the next two weeks to the draft, starting with today's roundtable discussion, followed by Q&A's with many of the top prospects, and culminating in live blogging the first day of the draft on June 7 for the third consecutive year. The draft will be televised for the first time with ESPN2 offering coverage from 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. ET.
Rich: The amateur draft is just over a week away. Are general managers and scouting directors excited about this year's crop of players?
Jim: It does seem like there's talk every year about how the talent is down, but I don't think that's because guys are trying to drive prices down. With slotting, we already know what the majority of guys are going to get before they get picked. I think that talk comes more because some of the veteran scouts think of the days of old, when football and basketball (and skateboarding and whatever other sports you want to throw out there) didn't siphon away as many athletes. Also, teams weren't as emphatic about signing as many of the top athletes and arms out of high school every year, so the college crops (particularly in the 1980s) were a lot stronger. These days, a lot of those kids sign out of high school, and the college crops don't seem as strong.
There are awesome power pitchers in the Northeast with Rick Porcello and Matt Harvey, as well as Indiana's Jarrod Parker and Canadian righthander Phillippe Aumont. Out West you have Mike Moustakas and Josh Vitters, a couple of polished hitters with power, and there is also some really interesting middle infield talent across the country. And don't forget, Robert Stock, who left high school a year early last fall and enrolled at Southern Cal, would have been a draft-eligible, power-hitting, switch-hitting catcher available in this class. Perhaps Robert was smarter than all of us, knew how stiff the competition was going to be in this year's class and opted to wait a few years before entering the draft.
John: I think Price should be, though I do think a case could be made for Matt Wieters. If "signability" weren't a factor, I'd really want to know, if I were running a club, if my scouts thought Wieters could catch and throw at the big league level. It sounds like he can, and it sounds like he can hit. A switch-hitting C, possible repeat all-star kind of talent, versus a front-of-the-rotation LHP. I'd actually consider organization need in that case, because to me both are legit 1/1 overall talents, and you're not selling yourself short on talent. In the end I'd still take Price, but it's pretty close on talent, for me. I don't think there's another true 1/1 talent in the draft; it's down to those two.
John: Scherzer is less of a starting pitcher; some scouts think he's best suited to relieve. You don't take a reliever No. 2 overall, or you shouldn't anyway unless it's Mariano Rivera. I see no reason why the Royals should pass on Wieters if they have no problem with Boras clients, but it sounds like they are leaning more toward Porcello, also a Boras client. They need pitching more than hitting so I can see why they are leaning Porcello, not a whole lot wrong with taking him here, but I'm not sure he's the best HS pitcher in this draft (he's the consensus choice, but Jarrod Parker has a more electric arm/stuff). Unless I was sure Porcello was the next-best pitcher available after Price, I'd go with Wieters, the best college bat and one who plays a premium position.
Jim: The Royals don't seem to be on Wieters or California high school third baseman Josh Vitters as much as other teams at the top of the draft, so I think that's a good indication they're looking for pitching. I agree with John in that Scherzer may well wind up being a reliever when all is said and done. If they're taking the top pitcher regardless of cost, I think it's probably Porcello. If they want to shy away from Boras guys, I think they lean to a homestate guy in Missouri State lefty Ross Detwiler. Clemson lefty Daniel Moskos would be another option.
Rich: Speaking of Vitters, it seems as if the Cubs, drafting third, have been the club most associated with him. I saw him take batting practice with a wood bat after a recent game in a "private" session for a certain GM, and, based on his performance, I can tell you that he's not going to get past the team with the sixth pick.
Alan: I don't think Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken could resist taking Vitters. Vitters is a high school hitter that has shown hittability beyond his years. His swing mechanics are outstanding, he has projection remaining and he has an agent that will keep things neat and tidy, making negotiations a non-factor.
Jim: Vitters will go very good, obviously. He and Mike Moustakas are the two best pure hitters in the draft. Even though they have Aramis Ramirez locked up for a while, we do keep hearing the Cubs on Vitters—which reinforces the notion that you take the best guy and don't draft for need in the first round. I've been hearing a lot of Jarrod Parker with the Cubs, too. He's the high school righthander from Indiana who has thrown consistently harder than any draft prospect this spring.
John: The Pirates really hope Vitters is there for them at No. 4 and that the Cubs look elsewhere, because Vitters fits well for them (though of course they also have Neil Walker, their 2004 first-round pick, in the minors at third base). He's a smooth hitter with significant power potential, and he was the best player on the summer showcase circuit in 2006; he rose to every occasion. The Pirates need hitters. More than anything they need to have a draft that goes more than one pick deep. I'm not a fan of their second-round picks the last few years, guys like Brad Corley and Mike Felix, and you build a good draft by having multiple players who end up reaching the big leagues.
Rich: If Vitters doesn't make it past the Cubs at No. 3, then who do you suppose the Pirates take at 4?
Alan: I wouldn't put it past Ed Creech to take the high school pitcher he thinks is the best on the board with this pick. If Porcello and Parker are both there, I wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs jumped up and nabbed one of them. They've had some success drafting high school players in the first round recently (Andrew McCutchen, Walker), and while they have fortified their rotation with some nice lefthanders like Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm, who had some college experience, I think Creech and his staff take ceiling over steadiness, and as attractive as Moskos and Detwiler would be (two other options with this pick).
Jim: I keep hearing Vitters is the guy the Pirates really want at No. 4. What Alan says is true, and most clubs will take the best guy available on their board regardless of any specific need, but I can't see Pittsburgh taking another college first-round pitcher when they've had trouble keeping them healthy (Bryan Bullington, John VanBenschoten, Brad Lincoln) and especially a lefty when they have Zach Duke, Gorzelanny and Maholm in their rotation. They need a hitter and I think they'll take one. The tough part is that there's no great fit. I don't see them spending for Wieters or a Boras guy, and who does that leave them? The best value then would be Georgia high school outfielder Jason Heyward, and while he'd make some sense, he'd be an overdraft. Lewis-Clark State slugger Beau Mills would be more of an overdraft, and a lot of guys view him as a DH. If Vitters is gone, it's tough to figure out Pittsburgh's pick.
Rich: If Wieters is still on the board at this point, does he become baseball's version of Brady Quinn where everyone begins to wonder just how far he might slide?
John: It sounds like the Pirates want to go hitter but not so badly that they want to draft a Boras client, so Wieters may be out of the mix there. The Orioles also apparently are backing off Boras clients, and it's hard to then find a match for Wieters. Jim had him going 18 to the Cardinals in our mock draft; the team that should take him, if he falls, is the Giants at 10. They have no homegrown catcher, could use a C and could really use an impact bat, and they certainly deal with Boras at the major league level (Barry Bonds in the past and Barry Zito). Plus they have extra picks, so why not roll the dice?
Jim: Wieters is the best college position player in the draft, but I think he could slide considerably. There's no definite home for him. MLB is putting a lot of pressure on clubs not to exceed slot recommendations, and there aren't many teams in the top half of the draft that will be willing to do that.
Alan: As far as Wieters slipping, I guess it's not inconceivable because he won't be accepting a couple mil and food stamps. But I can't find many people who don't like him—really like him—so general sentiment is that he's worth the price, so let's go get it. Kansas City doesn't pick again until No. 67. So theoretically money that they would have used to sign a player for second-round slot could trickle over to use with their first pick, or to go get someone over slot at 67. Maybe that's the surplus cash they need to get Wieters done.
Mind you, this is all such an arbitrary exercise. One pick can affect the next, and so on and so forth, and other than RJ Harrison telling us that he was down to three players, not a single GM or scouting director has told us or anyone else who they are going to take, so this is all hypothetical. Predicting the draft is fun, but let's not pretend like we have some top secret information here, or a scientific formula to figure it out. What Jim does the day before the draft, by stacking up the picks when teams are actually finally locked in on one or two players, carries plenty of weight. But it's awfully optimistic to think you can nail these picks any more than a day or two before the draft.
Rich: I agree, Alan. With that in mind, let's shift gears here a bit. Rather than discussing the draft pick-by-pick, let's talk about a number of players by groups. There are four high school third basemen—or at least players who project to play the hot corner at the professional level—who could be drafted in the top half of the first round. Three of them are from California. One of them is Vitters, who we have talked about. The other two Californians are Moustakas, who Jim mentioned, and his Chatsworth HS teammate Matt Dominguez. The fourth is Kevin Ahrens out of Memorial HS in Houston, Texas. How would you rank these players, why, and are there natural fits for any or all of them?
Jim: Vitters and Moustakas are the cream of that crop, and they're also the two best high school hitters in this draft. Vitters is going to go in the top 3-4 picks as we've discussed, while projecting Moustakas is more dicey because he's advised by Scott Boras. Sounds like the Brewers aren't afraid of spending money on this draft, and I had them taking Moustakas in our mock draft, but Boras may try to send him to a team with more money. Dominguez is a very good defender, the best third-base defender in the draft since Ryan Zimmerman. His bat isn't as good as the other two guys, and I think he'll fit in the middle of the first round to someone like the Reds or Blue Jays. Ahrens, who draws a lot of Chipper Jones comps because he's a switch-hitter with power, projects more as a late first-rounder, but the Reds apparently have a lot of interest in him at No. 15. Don't be surprised if another Texas high school third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, sneaks into the end of the first round.
Rich: I like Dominguez's upside, too. He hit two home runs at Dodger Stadium in championship high school games his sophomore and junior years, as well as one of four dingers with a wood bat in the Area Code Games at Blair Field last summer.
Alan: Yeah, it’s a buggy-whip swing, he really cocks the barrel and let’s it rip. He’s got the intangibles, as well. Another interesting aspect about he and Moustakas is that neither one of them showcased heavily as underclassmen. They weren’t overexposed, but made the right appearances at the right time to ensure that scouts could see them against good pitching (because they don’t see much in their high school league). Their makeup has been lauded by USA Baseball personnel, and they were two leaders for the junior national team that won a silver medal last fall in Cuba.
Alan: Porcello has reportedly also hit 98, but the difference in terms of fastball velocity between he and Parker is negligible, in my opinion. I have seen them both pitch, and Parker does it a little easier. His arm action is splendid, and just so easy and clean. If he was 6-foot-4, rather than 6-feet, he’d have to be in the mix with Price at No. 1, so that should tell you just how good Jarrod Parker is. I would say that Harvey and Main are right there with Parker and Porcello in terms of overall stuff. Harvey’s changeup is a plus pitch and he has shown great ability to spot it down and away from lefthanded hitters. Main’s breaking ball is outstanding, and he has such good command of it, along with Josh Smoker’s curveball, it’s among the best pitches in the class. Porcello’s slider has more power to it, and Parker’s breaking ball also is a power pitch, but again, we’re talking about a slight difference, and in many cases, just personal preference. Some scouts like curveballs and others are happy with sliders, so breaking down the stuff of these guys is like going to a BMW dealership and having your choice of models. For me, ceiling is Parker and surest thing is Porcello.
Kellen Kulbacki isn't in this class; he's closer to Cal Poly slugger Grant Desme, in the next tier of power hitters/college hitters. Matt LaPorta is the real wild card, as a Scott Boras client, as a guy who was hurt last year (strained oblique) and is now having as good a year as any college hitter in recent memory. Still, he's a righthanded-hitting, righthanded-throwing 1B who is limited defensively somewhat. He's improved on that front but you're buying the bat. How much are you going to pay for that bat, and if he doesn't hit 30 home runs, he's probably not worth it, he's not going to bring much more to the table. He's probably more Rob Deer than anyone in the draft, without Deer's RF defense. I'm just not a huge Matt LaPorta guy personally, but the guy can rake, you have to respect his performance.
Jim: The consensus is that Wieters is the best college position player in the draft, but there are at least a couple of scouting directors out there who would take Mills' bat over Wieters'. That's not the consensus, but it shows you what people think of Mills. And while Mills has posted crazy numbers against NAIA competition, don't forget that he's hit D-I pitching at Fresno State and in the Cape Cod League in the past. I'd take him over LaPorta, because he hits lefthanded (LaPorta hits righty) and has a small prayer of being more than a first baseman. Russell has obliterated the home run record at Texas, but the majority of clubs think his success won't carry over to pro ball. They just don't like his swing or his approach or his track record at the Area Code Games and Cape Cod League. He'll still go late first round or early sandwich round, though.
Rich: If it's going to take a million dollars to get Russell to sign as a draft-eligible sophomore, I guess I'm at a loss as to why teams would spend a late first or early sandwich round pick on him when nobody was willing to do the same on Tim Lincecum two years ago? Lincecum was passed over by every club for 41 rounds. Cleveland finally selected him but never offered the million dollars Lincecum was seeking--even in the aftermath of a fantastic Cape Cod summer when he led the league with a 0.69 ERA and struck out 68 batters in 39 innings.
Jim: Teams made a mistake on Lincecum, plain and simple. There were rumors he wanted $2 million before the draft, and I'm not sure what the official word from the Lincecum camp was, but with the concerns about his size and delivery, thrown in with the concerns about the signability, he plummeted. This happens to a lot of the best draft-eligible sophomores, where if they aren't perceived as very signable, they're perceived as very unsignable because of their extra leverage, if that makes any sense. The Indians did make a run at Lincecum after the Cape season, but it wasn't enough to sign him. Looking back now, I'd take him over any player in the 2006 draft at this point.
John: Who knows what will happen on the draft signing deadline; the law of unintended consequences may apply. I will say time is leverage in negotiations, and now agents have less time, so I'd say they have less leverage. But a lot of those guys are quite smart and know how to make rules work for them, so we'll see.
Alan: The deadline also will place some additional significance in the summers of players who were drafted but not considered a lock to sign right after the draft. They’ll be some players, especially college draft-eligible sophomores and a bevy of second-tier high school players, who fall out of the first three or four rounds because they were perceived as tough to sign for close-to-slot money there. They’ll be drafted in the later rounds, and followed over the course of the summer. That Aug. 15 deadline comes as summer leagues are wrapping up for college wood bat leagues, and right when the high school summer showcase and wood bat tournament circuit winds down. So they’ll be a lot of players under control over the course of the summer that teams will continue to scout right up to Aug. 15.
Alan: I think he’ll go unsigned, and with the lack of frontline college righthanders in this year’s draft, the numbers are in his favor to get more money than he can suck out of Arizona.
Alan: He has more upside than Samardzija, in my opinion, but I don’t think his mental approach matches his talent, and that might be one reason he hasn't been able to capture his potential quite yet.
Alan: Jim is right on, but you have to set a dollar amount on every player at the top of your board, and stick to it. If you think a player is worth $2 million and he falls to you, but you can get him for $2 million, who cares what MLB has recommended. I’m going after the player. If it’s Matt Latos, and you think he’s worth $1.5 million, you call the boy and ask him if he’ll sign for that, regardless of which round you get him in. If he says yes, you get him, but if he wants more than that, let him walk. Make it as black and white as possible, have conviction in your evaluations of the player, place a number on him, and if they want more money than that, take him off your board.
Rich: How about in reverse? You're the father of a potential first-round pick . . . take slot money or hire Boras?
Alan: Well, I’m hiring Boras, but I’m probably going to have a little more involvement in negotiations than he wants. I’ll let him do his job, but in the end, I’m calling the shots. It’s my son, his career, and Boras works for us. There have been plenty of Boras clients who have signed for slot money. The player just has to make sure that he’s the one with ultimate say in when, and for what, he signs.
Jim: Well, if he's an elite player, I'm not so sure he should have to take slot money. But as much respect as I have for the money Scott gets his players, I think you're better off having him as your agent if you're a big-time major league free agent. I wouldn't want him as a draft agent. Too many teams are going to pass on players just because they're represented by Scott.
John: I still say go to college. Unless my son's headed for the first five picks and a major league contract, he's going to college. In fact, I already have his college picked out for him . . . As for picking an agent, if you're just going to sign for slot—if you make the decision as a family, "I'm a first-rounder and I want to go out right now, I don't want to go to college," then either (a) hire Boras or (b) don't hire an agent at all. If you're going to hold out for top dollar, Boras is the best agent for that (though other agents certainly are good at what they do; I'm just answering how the question was asked). Boras' business plan is not dependent on your son's bonus. But if you are so motivated to sign, you don't need an agent—sign for slot and save the commission, and hire an agent after your son becomes a professional. It doesn't take an agent to sign for slot, there's no negotiation going on.
Rich: Should teams be allowed to trade picks?
Alan: Absolutely. Some teams might actually prefer to draft for need as opposed to upside, so if you’re in a position to get the player(s) you need the most later in the draft, take advantage of having lost those 85 games last summer and trade down for a minor league prospect and a later pick. Also, a team might feel like it has a projection nailed on a perceived later-round talent. Rather than risk letting him sit there for 29 more picks (or more than that, depending on how spread out the team’s picks are in the sandwich rounds), trade down to the area where you are comfortable the player will still be there. That way you pick up a prospect or major leaguer (though I don’t think there would be many teams willing to trade major leaguers for higher draft position) and you still get the guy you wanted, while rewarding your scouts for projecting a player that other teams were not on.
Alan: Well, I don’t think that should be as huge of a surprise as Jim suggests, simply because we’ve been saying that for 11 months now, but I guess people who have only followed the draft recently seem to have engrained in their mind that the first round is meant for college players mostly, but that has not been the case over the 40-year history of the draft. I think the surprise will be with the number of high school players that slide after the first and supplemental rounds. There are some egregious bonus demands out there with a lot of these high school players. A lot of agents are floating dollar figures that are not close to the amount of money their client warrants receiving as a bonus, and they’re going to be free-falling on draft day.
John: This draft will be full of them, with no draft-and-follows, a signing date; it has significant "different" potential. I think you'll see a huge number of holdouts as agents try to use the little leverage they have while MLB tries to drive signing bonuses further down. I don't anticipate a pleasant summer in terms of signings.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at the Baseball Think Factory/Baseball Primer Newsblog.]