Is There Something in the Way it Moves?
Why do pitchers struggle in some starts? Without thinking too hard, I would guess poor starts are based on some combination of bad luck, bad location and bad stuff. Everyone can see when a pitcher is missing his spots and bad luck can be reasonably quantified with DIPs, but what about bad stuff? Frequently an announcer will say that a pitcher "didn't have his best stuff tonight" as a reason for his poor showing. What does that statement really mean, and is there any truth to it?
Roy Halladay has made 14 starts this season, posting a record of 9-2 and an ERA of 4.25. He began the season on fire, going 4-0 in his first six starts, racking up 33 strikeouts against only seven walks and allowing just three home runs in 47.1 innings. Opponents were hitting just .207 against him and he already had thrown two complete games. However, after April 30th, Halladay hit a rough patch. His next two starts were awful as he allowed 16 runs over 10.1 innings. His ERA rose by more than two runs because of those starts and after his start on May 10th against the Red Sox he was diagnosed with appendicitis. One reason he may struggled in those two starts was because he was hurt and unable to pitch effectively. This appeared to be the case when, upon his return, he held the White Sox scoreless for seven innings on May 31st (7 IP, 0 ER, 6 H, 7 SO, 0 BB). However, in his very next start, he got lit up by the Devil Rays in his shortest outing of the season (3.1 IP, 7 ER, 12 H, 1 SO, 1 BB) . Why did he pitch so well against the White Sox on May 31st but get destroyed by Tampa Bay five days later? While focusing on the bigger issue of what makes a pitcher struggle in certain starts, I'm going to examine these two starts closely and see if I can find an explanation for the differences.
There are a million possible reasons why Halladay could have dominated in one start and been dominated in the next. Although the White Sox and Devil Rays are both weak offensively, there may have been a subtle difference between them that allowed the Devil Rays to have success. The Blue Jays defense might have played extra hard against the White Sox and taken the night off vs. Tampa. The mound might even have been raked differently or the balls were shinier in one start. The point is it could have been anything. Probably though, it wasn't something as small as the dirt on the mound and perhaps Halladay, fresh off the DL and 20 days of rest when he made his start against the White Sox, wasn't ready to resume pitching on a normal four days rest. He might not have been able to locate his pitches where he wanted and if he did locate them, the pitches themselves might not move like he wanted.
Here are two charts showing the movement of his pitches in each start.
Date Type Speed Pfx_x Pfx_z Break Length Percent 4/13 Fastball 90.5 MPH -9.98" 5.46" 7.6" 0.32 4/30 Fastball 92.1 MPH -10.28" 3.23" 8.9" 0.49 5/31 Cutter 91.3 MPH -1.79" 5.67" 6.5" 0.35 6/5 Cutter 89.9 MPH -1.12" 3.90" 7.6" 0.31 5/31 Curveball 80.3 MPH 5.62" 0.80" 12.0" 0.30 6/5 Curveball 80.6 MPH 4.37" -1.57" 12.7" 0.15 5/31 Changeup 85.8 MPH -9.17" 7.11" 8.2" 0.03 6/5 Changeup 84.2 MPH -9.64" 5.69" 9.3" 0.05
There aren't many differences in how his pitches moved between starts. The PITCHf/x system has a margin of error of plus/minus an inch, and only two parameters have differences of more than two inches, so most of the differences could be just noise. (There's also the problem with having a small sample for each pitch) The difference in vertical movement between starts on his curveball and fastball was more than two inches, with both pitches having greater drops on June 5th. It would seem that more movement on a pitch would be preferable, but Halladay's added movement didn't help him on June 5th. One other difference between the starts was that Halladay threw a lower percentage of curveballs on June 5th than on May 31st. I don't know if the difference means anything just by looking at these two starts, but it's interesting to note that the difference in curves was made up by throwing more fastballs. For whatever reason, on June 5th Halladay got no swings-and-misses with his curveball, but on May 31st, he had six swings-and-misses with his curve. Perhaps Halladay realized he couldn't get the results he needed with his curve on June 5th and went to his fastball, or he might have focused on his fastball if he thought he was going to have trouble throwing his curve around the strike zone.
The consistency of Halladay's pitches, regardless of the quality of his start, is striking. The table below details three starts he made in Toronto prior to going on the DL. Just from looking at the movement data, can you tell the difference between Halladay's 10 inning performance against the Tigers, a nine inning complete game where he allowed five hits, and the game when he allowed seven earned runs in five innings of work, possibly with appendicitis? There are a couple of differences among pitches between starts, mostly with his fastball and curve again, but nothing earth shattering. In fact, in cases like the vertical movement of the fastball, the value for the bad start is in between the values of the good starts. The start on April 13 was the 10 inning complete game and April 30 was the five-hitter. The start on May 10 was the stinker and his last start before going on the DL.
Date Type Speed Pfx_x Pfx_z Break Length Percent 4/13 Fastball 90.5 MPH -10.85" 4.40" 9.0" 0.57 4/30 Fastball 92.7 MPH -11.08" 1.82" 9.3" 0.40 5/10 Fastball 91.9 MPH -10.81" 3.83" 8.8" 0.50 4/13 Cutter 89.6 MPH -3.46" 4.64" 7.6" 0.18 4/30 Cutter 91.7 MPH -3.92" 3.89" 7.4" 0.34 5/10 Cutter 90.5 MPH -3.65" 5.59" 7.0" 0.30 4/13 Curveball 79.7 MPH 3.05" -0.99" 12.6" 0.19 4/30 Curveball 80.3 MPH 5.83" -2.59" 13.4" 0.21 5/10 Curveball 80.9 MPH 4.99" -1.22" 12.6" 0.16 4/13 Changeup 83.1 MPH -10.38" 5.34" 9.5" 0.06 4/30 Changeup 84.8 MPH -9.94" 5.25" 9.3" 0.07 5/10 Changeup 84.0 MPH -10.46" 5.13" 9.6" 0.08
While his movement remains the same in good starts and bad, how effectively does Halladay locate the ball in both types of starts? Here are two charts, from the perspective of the catcher, that show the location of Halladay's pitches in his good starts (left) and bad starts (right).
There doesn't appear to be a lot of difference between the top groups of data. A higher percentage of the pitches are around the strike zone in his good starts and he throws a couple more pitches up in the strike zone and inside to right handed hitters in his bad starts, but the differences don't appear to be major. The location differs slightly depending on the quality of the start and that probably helps make a good start better or a bad start worse (although there is a chicken and egg question about whether location causes a start to be good or if location is good because a start is good).
The movement on Halladay's pitches stays very uniform from start to start. He might not have the same success each time, but it doesn't appear to be as a result of not having good stuff each time he takes the mound. However, while the small differences that I did see could be explained away because of the limitations of the technology, they might be real and contribute to his success or failure on any given start. More importantly, and something I didn't touch on at all is the interplay between the different possible movements for a pitch and how that impacts the rest of a pitcher's repertoire. If his fastball is moving in a particular fashion, does he throw certain percentages of curves and cutters? If his fastball is sinking more, how does that impact the horizontal movement on it? How much can he control the movement of a pitch? Can he tell how his pitches are moving to make those adjustments? Halladay has had success with a range of horizontal and vertical movements on his fastball, so perhaps his pitches all work in harmony to create the effect having a constant amount of movement on his fastball (or curve or any pitch).
I haven't looked at other pitchers besides Halladay to see if the pattern of consistent movement across starts is true in general. Obviously Halladay is a very good pitcher, so it makes sense that he is able to maintain his skills for many starts in a row, and is more likely to get shelled because of bad luck than because his pitches are suddenly flat. I would guess that a less skilled pitcher would experience more of a change in the movement of their pitches in a good start vs. a poor start.
Ready to Deal?
It is that time of year again. It's late June, teams are figuring what they have and what they need, with the bad teams looking to ship older, expensive talent for young, inexpensive promise. The biggest name that has been floating around for the last week or so is the Chicago White Sox's Mark Buehrle (although today's Chicago Sun Times reports he is on the cusp of signing an extension with the Pale Hose). No matter, I planned on profiling Buehrle and will forge on.
In that he does not strike out many batters year after year but manages to put up impressive numbers, Buehrle is somewhat anomalous. Still, it is impossible to argue with his productivity and in Buehrle's case, you might even contend that his propensity to pitch to contact - and consistently do so while getting outs - affords him his greatest attribute, the inning pitched. Buehrle racks them up with the best of them.
Since Buehrle's first full season in 2001, only Livan Hernandez has pitched more innings. Of the top-10 in innings pitched, only Tim Hudson and Randy Johnson boast more impressive ERA-plus figures. Nobody is younger. How do you argue with that record? Second in innings pitched, a 122 ERA-plus and younger than anyone else in the top-10 for innings pitched since 2001.
Line him up with Barry Zito, who was awarded a 7-year, $126 million dollar contract by the San Francisco Giants last off-season, and they are virtually indistinguishable from a statistical standpoint. Zito had a Cy Young Award to his credit, a few more strikeouts and some Oakland Athletics Moneyball cache. But Buehrle has a World Series ring, and if you were to toss out each player's best and worst season, Buehrle starts to look quite a bit better than Zito (I know, how convenient).
Hampering Buehrle's market value is his poor 2006 season. He had a career low 204 innings pitched, a career low 93 ERA+ and a career low 4.32 K/9. But take a look at where he ranks among MLB pitchers, season by season, according to Baseball Prospectus's VORP (Value Over Replacement Player).
That 2006 season is a clear outlier, and looks like little more than a World Series hangover to me. I have to admit, before digging through some of these numbers I had been lukewarm on Buehrle. To watch a Buehrle start is not to witness the artistry of Johan Santana or the power of The Big Unit, and so he has never left the impression on me that the other pitchers of his quality and stature have. The prospect of my beloved Boston Red Sox parting with one of their premier prospects seemed ludicrous to me. But upon further reflection, what more could you want out of the free agent market for a pitcher? If you are not going to pay up for a 28 year-old left-handed bulldog who takes the ball every fifth day, almost always gives you a shot to win and turns the ball over to the pen deep in the game, then what pitcher will you shell out dough for? A.J. Burnett?
Barry Zito serves as a nice counterpoint to the case I am making now and to that I would respond accordingly. First, $126 million was absurd from the outset. Nobody should give Buehrle or any other free agent pitcher that kind of money. Second, toss out Zito's 2002 season, which occurred five full seasons prior to the one before which he was awarded the enormous contract, and he looks a lot more pedestrian over his career.
Trading a promising prospect or two for three months of Buehrle, his post-season track record and experience, plus an exclusive negotiating window in which to offer him another five years and maybe $75 million or so would be an excellent deal for any contending team in 2007.
Maybe that's why Kenny Williams is reportedly about to extend him.
A-OK in Advanced A-Ball
The recent Advanced A-Ball All-Star games signaled the half-way point of the minor league season. In A-Ball, the season is cut into two halves with teams being declared winners of the first and second halves. Those winners then face off in the year-end playoffs. If the same team wins both halves, a club with the next best record also makes the playoffs.
The funny thing about the minor leagues is that the teams with the best records do not always have the best prospects. The San Jose Giants are a good example of this, which comes as no surprise given the parent club's lack of emphasis on the draft process (save perhaps for this year) and preference for drafting college players.
Other teams, like the Frederick Keys, just get lucky. The club finished in first place in the Carolina League's Northern Division, despite a losing record of 32-37 (.464). The club also featured a trio of 27-year-olds in a league that typically features prospects aged 20-22.
So just how good are the clubs that finished the first half in first place? Let's take a look:
East Division | Brevard County Manatees | 41-28 (.594) | Milwaukee
Best Pitcher: Again, a promotion robbed Brevard County of its best pitcher - Will Inman. Left-hander Derek Miller is left to lead the pitching staff in Inman's wake. Miller, 25, is no spring chicken but the University of Vermont alum has a 3.50 career ERA and he struck out 210 batters in 211 innings coming into 2007, which is not bad at all for a 47th round draft pick.
Best Prospect: As mentioned above, Salome takes the award, but the club also has some other intriguing prospects, such as pitchers Michael McClendon and Mark Rogers (will he ever get healthy?), as well as hitters Mat Gamel, Chris Errecart and Lorenzo Cain.
West Division | Sarasota Reds | 43-27 (.614) | Cincinnati
AVG OBA SLG R HR RBI BB-K SB Griffin .310 .340 .436 53 6 36 16-33 11 Tatum .311 .341 .512 26 9 37 9-38 0
Best Pitcher: The Reds have some good pitching in Sarasota. The best of the bunch, Johnny Cueto has been promoted but he was replaced by Sean Watson, who had a 1.88 ERA at Dayton. Ramon Ramirez, a soon-to-be 25-years-old, is a lesser prospect because of his age but his numbers were similar to Cueto's and he was also promoted to Double-A recently. Travis Wood and Daryl Thompson both have been inconsistent but are extremely talented.
Best Prospect: Of the players actually in Sarasota at the writing of this column (June 25), it would probably be Watson if you are considering both upside and current performance. Outfielder B.J. Szymanski, 24, is an outstanding athlete but he was one of those raw, toolsy guys that never figured it out (17 BB, 80 K in 235 AB).
Northern Division | Frederick Keys | 32-37 (.464) | Baltimore
Best Pitcher: The best pitcher award is a toss up between David Hernandez and Jason Berken. Many of the statistics are similar, but Hernandez had a better strikeout ratio with 81 in 75.2 innings (compared to 62 in 72.1) and Berken had a better ERA at 4.11 (compared to 4.88). Both pitchers had losing records. Closer Bob McCrory saved 14 games in 22 appearance and posted a 1.23 ERA, but he was recently promoted to Double-A.
Best Prospect: At only 19 years of age, Brandon Erbe is by far the brightest star on the Frederick Keys' roster. Last season at A-Ball (and at the age of 18), Erbe threw 114.2 innings and allowed only 88 hits, while walking 47 and striking out 133. His numbers have not been as good this year but the teenager has allowed only 62 hits in 69 innings and struck out 58. The only real negative on the season is the base-on-balls column at 38, but it is of no major concern at this point.
Southern Division | Kinston Indians | 45-24 (.652) | Cleveland
Best Pitcher: Pick your poison: unproven, enigmatic Taiwanese starter Sung-Wei Tseng or low-ceiling, polished college hurler David Huff. Tseng, 22, was signed this past off-season and challenged with an assignment to Advanced A-Ball. Despite a 1-6 record, he has held his own and sports a 3.84 ERA and has allowed 74 hits in 77.1 innings of work. He has also walked 25 and struck out 59. Huff, 22, is in his first full season after being taken in the first round last year out of UCLA. The lefty has a nifty 2.27 ERA and he has allowed 57 hits in 59.2 innings. His 15 walks are offset by 46 strikeouts.
Best Prospect: Both Hodges and Huff are solid prospects, albeit with modest ceilings. I think Hodges will ultimately be the better player, but some kudos should also be given to Jared Goedert, who was recently promoted to Kinston after absolutely tearing up (.364 AVG, 16 HR in 165 AB) A-Ball. He, like Hodges, plays third base and was taken seven rounds after his position-mate in 2006. To make room for both players Goedert has been playing some second base. Don't read too much into the A-Ball numbers, but Goedert is definitely a sleeper, much like former Indians' third base prospect and current Padre Kevin Kouzmanoff.
North Division | San Jose | 39-31 (.557) | San Francisco
Best Pitcher: The San Jose pitching staff has been torn up by recent promotions. In the first half, the two best pitchers were Dave McKae (1.93 ERA, 49 hits in 65.1 innings) and Taylor Wilding (1.52 ERA, 11 saves in 41.1 innings), but both have been promoted to Connecticut. The best pitcher - and prospect - would be Henry Sosa but he has pitched only two game for San Jose since his promotion from Augusta and has a 9.00 ERA. The winner by default, then, is Joseph Martinez, who has been durable (89 innings), is tied for the team lead with six wins and has a respectable 1.15 WHIP.
Best Prospect: As mentioned above, it would be Sosa if not for his lack of appearances. In Augusta, the 21-year-old posted a 0.73 ERA in 10 starts (62 innings) and held hitters to a .144 average. Brian Bocock has a chance to be a big league utility player and has hit .280/.340/.372 combined for both San Jose and Augusta. He has also stolen 30 bases in 41 attempts. Frankly, there aren't many true prospects to choose from.
South Division | Inland Empire | 39-31 (.557) | Los Angeles (NL)
Best Pitcher: Right-hander James McDonald has the size (6'5'' 195 lbs) to succeed in pro ball and his numbers are starting to get him noticed. The 22-year-old former 11th round pick out of junior college has been Inland Empire's best pitcher this year - as well as one of the Dodgers' best minor league pitchers. In 74 innings, he has allowed only 66 hits and 18 walks. McDonald's 97 strikeouts have helped him to post a 3.77 ERA. Javy Guerra is also starting to get noticed after moving slowly in his first three seasons in pro ball. The 21-year-old has struck out 71 batters in 67.1 innings and has an ERA of 4.28.
Best Prospect: The Dodgers are traditionally great developers of talent, but Advanced A-Ball is a little barren this season, especially for this organization. Only 21, third baseman Blake DeWitt is repeating Advanced A-Ball and offers less average than Denker but more power potential at the plate, although he hasn't really shown that this year with a line of .294/.334/.455. He was a first round draft pick in 2004 out of high school. With a little more polish, McDonald has a chance of overtaking DeWitt.
Daniels Gets More Jack
Last week, the Texas Rangers signed general manager Jon Daniels to a one-year extension through 2009 for approximately $650,000. The 29-year-old Daniels became the youngest GM in MLB history when he inked a three-year contract for $1.35 million in October 2005 after John Hart resigned.
Less than eight years ago, Daniels, fresh out of Cornell, was looking for an entry-level position at the winter meetings. He went to work for the parent of Dunkin' Donuts before landing an internship with the Colorado Rockies in 2001. Hart hired Daniels as assistant of baseball operations for the Rangers in 2002 and promoted him to director of baseball operations in 2003 and assistant GM in 2004 after Grady Fuson left the organization.
Daniels seemed like a curious choice when owner Tom Hicks made him the franchise's third GM since winning the American League West in 1999. But the extension is even harder to fathom given the current state of the Rangers. My first reaction to this news was none other than "why?" What has Daniels accomplished that warranted such an extension at this time? Was Hicks afraid that his boy wonder might get a better offer elsewhere?
I realize that Hicks is hopeful of creating a measure of stability within the ranks of management. But is Daniels the right guy to lead Texas out of its current depths of despair?
Let's take a look at the facts in this case. At 30-45, Texas has the third-worst record in baseball. The club is mired in last place in the AL West, 18 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Angels. No team is further behind in the standings than the Rangers.
TEAM W L PCT Red Sox 48 26 .649 Angels 49 27 .645 Tigers 45 29 .608 Indians 43 31 .581 Diamondbacks 44 32 .579 Brewers 43 32 .573 Padres 42 32 .568 Mets 41 32 .562 Dodgers 42 33 .560 Mariners 39 33 .542 A's 39 35 .527 Twins 38 35 .521 Phillies 39 36 .520 Rockies 38 37 .507 Braves 38 38 .500 Blue Jays 37 37 .500 Yankees 36 37 .493 Marlins 36 40 .474 Cubs 35 39 .473 Cardinals 33 39 .458 Devil Rays 33 40 .452 Giants 32 42 .432 Orioles 32 43 .427 Nationals 32 43 .427 Astros 32 43 .427 Pirates 31 44 .413 White Sox 29 42 .408 Rangers 30 45 .400 Royals 30 46 .395 Reds 29 47 .382
Daniels has made more than a dozen significant personnel decisions as the GM, including several free agent signings, six trades, and hiring Ron Washington as manager in November 2006.
12/12/05: Acq'd V. Padilla from PHI for a player to be named later. 12/13/05: Acq'd B. Wilkerson, T. Sledge and A. Galarraga from WAS for A. Soriano. 12/29/05: Signed free agent K. Millwood to a 5-yr contract for $60M. 01/04/06: Acq'd A. Eaton, A. Otsuka and B. Killian from SD for C. Young, A. Gonzalez and T. Sledge. 04/01/06: Acq'd R. Tejeda and J. Blalock from PHI for D. Dellucci. 07/28/06: Acq'd C. Lee and N. Cruz from MIL for F. Cordero, K. Mench, L. Nix and J. Cordero. 11/06/06: Hired R. Washington as manager. 11/21/06: Signed free agent F. Catalanotto to a 3-yr, $13M contract with a club option for 2010. 12/09/06: Signed V. Padilla to a 3-yr, $33.75M contract with a club option for 2010. 12/12/06: Signed free agent K. Lofton to a 1-yr, $6M contract. 12/19/06: Signed free agent E. Gagne to a 1-yr, $6M contract. 12/23/06: Acq'd B. McCarthy and D. Paisano from CWS for J. Danks, N. Masset and J. Rasner. 01/30/07: Signed free agent S. Sosa to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. 03/01/07: Signed M. Young to a 5-yr, $80M extension through 2013.
Some of those transactions have been worse than others, but I find it hard to categorize any of them as an unequivocal success. At this point, the best move appears to be signing Eric Gagne to a one-year deal for $6 million plus performance and award bonuses. However, Gagne (2-0, 1.29 ERA with 7 SV in 21 IP) has been on and off the disabled list during the first three months of the season. His value isn't necessarily as a closer for Texas as much as it might be as a bargaining chip in July. Nonetheless, Gagne has a no-trade clause that allows him to veto a deal to 12 teams.
Daniels has made three trades that have left a lot to be desired, most notably the one that sent RHP Chris Young, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, and OF Termel Sledge to San Diego in exchange for RHP Adam Eaton, RHP Akinori Otsuka and C Billy Killian. Eaton (7-4, 5.12 ERA in 65 IP in 2006) turned out to be a one-year rental while Young (18-8, 3.00 ERA in 270 IP in 2006-07) has become one of the top pitchers in the National League and Gonzalez (.298/.359/.504 with 38 HR in 867 AB in 2006-07) has developed into the premier hitter scouts expected of him when the Florida Marlins selected the San Diego native #1 overall in the June 2000 draft. Moreover, Young and Gonzalez are both young and cheap — the type of players Daniels and the Rangers should be building around rather than trading.
While Michael Young may be the face of the franchise, did it really make sense to give the 30-year-old shortstop an extension for his age 32-36 seasons at a cost of $16M per? Young wasn't eligible to test the free agent waters until after the 2008 campaign. Make no mistake about it, Young is a productive player but the majority of his value rests in his batting average and defensive position. Young will earn his new contract if he continues to hit .310-.330 while playing a decent shortstop, but how valuable will he be if his average slips to .275-.295 as his power declines, especially if he winds up at a less desirable position on the Defensive Spectrum?
Running the Rangers is not an easy job. After finishing atop the AL West in 1998-1999, the Rangers fell to last place in 2000, winning 24 fewer games than the previous season. Hicks tried to buy success when he signed Alex Rodriguez and Chan Ho Park (and others) in 2001-02. Team payroll soared to over $100 million, yet the club remained in the cellar through 2003. Hicks then unloaded A-Rod's contract on the New York Yankees while agreeing to absorb about $7 million per year (out of $25M). The opening day payroll dropped to $55 million in 2004-05 and has rebounded to approximately $68 million the past two seasons.
One of Daniels' first orders of business is to decide what to do with Mark Teixeira, who will be become a free agent after the 2008 season. Teixeira is represented by Scott Boras and the agent rarely, if ever, allows teams to buy out free agent years. As a result, Daniels has two options: (1) keep Teixeira for one more year and either sign him to a longer-term deal or get a first-round draft pick as compensation when he becomes a free agent or (2) trade Teixeira before July 31, 2008. Teams that figure to have an interest in the 27-year-old slugging first baseman include the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Tigers, and perhaps his hometown Orioles.
Most importantly, Daniels needs to find a way to rebuild a starting rotation that is the worst in the majors. The aggregate ERA is 6.70, more than one run higher than any other rotation and over two runs above the league average. The starters may challenge the dubious record set by the Detroit Tigers in 1996, the worst in the Retrosheet era (1957-present). High-priced starters Kevin Millwood (3-8, 6.72 ERA in 65.1 IP) and Vicente Padilla (4-6, 6.78 ERA in 80.2 IP) have been major disappointments, spending time on the DL and pitching poorly when "healthy." Brandon McCarthy (4-4, 5.50 ERA in 54.2 IP) hasn't lived up to his promise and has spent time on the shelf as well. Kameron Loe (3-6, 6.37, 76.2) and Robinson Tejada (5-7, 6.60, 76.2) aren't long-term answers to the club's pitching woes.
Eric Hurley, 21, and Kasey Kiker, 19, provide some hope for the future. Hurley (7-2, 3.26 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 2.81 K/BB in AA) is a year away from reaching the bigs and Kiker (2-2, 3.09 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 2.88 K/BB in Low A) is more of a 2010 and beyond type prospect. In the meantime, the overhyped DVD combo of John Danks, Edinson Volquez, and Thomas Diamond has been dismantled with Danks now with the Chicago White Sox, Volquez trying to regain his form in High A and AA, and Diamond out of action following elbow-ligament replacement surgery in March.
Daniels, who has beefed up the scouting and development area, held the first organization-wide meeting of coaches, scouts and administrators in years shortly after he was hired. Daniels, scouting director Ron Hopkins, Scott Servais (farm director), and Thad Levine (baseball operations) made a statement by choosing teenage pitchers Blake Beavan, Michael Main, and Neil Ramirez in the first and supplemental rounds of the most recent draft. Main, Mr. Baseball in Florida for 2007 and the Gatorade Naional Player of the Year when he went 12-1 with a 1.02 ERA, signed last week. Coming to terms with Beavan, Main's teammate on the USA Baseball Junior National team at the IBAF World Junior Championships in Cuba last September, may be more problematic.
Although it remains to be seen whether Daniels is the right man for the job, his contract extension gives him job security through 2009 while empowering the youngest GM in the game to make more deals, perhaps as soon as next month. A turnaround won't take place overnight, and Daniels' success (or lack thereof) is unlikely to be measured in terms of wins and losses until after his current deal expires.
Tigers with Bite
The Detroit Tigers club is not a one-year wonder.
After 12 years of mediocrity and sub-.500 ball, one of baseball's oldest and proudest franchises is back on top. Despite a solid 95-67 record in 2006, there were still those who did not buy into the Tigers' success, especially with the likes of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox hanging around the American League Central.
I started my obsession with baseball in the midst of the Tigers' 11-year run of .500-plus baseball in the mid-to-late 1980s, so I vividly remember the last time the Tigers were good (and it was an embarrassment to admit you were an Atlanta Braves fan).
One of the last things my father told me before he passed away was to get to Detroit to see a game at old Tigers Stadium before it closed, because as he said, "It's the greatest place in the world to watch a baseball game." Unfortunately, I never made it... but one of these days I'm going to get to Comerica Park, where fellow scribe Al Doyle recently had the opportunity to visit.
Ah, Comerica Park. One of the reasons why the Tigers have gone from utter failures (43-119) to American League champs and improved every year since the fateful 2003 season is that the organization has done a better job of building the team around the stadium. When Comerica Park opened in 2000, the club was not built to succeed in its home park - it consisted of slow, one-dimensional sluggers. The team was on a modest upswing at the time of the opening, but the new, spacious park quickly put an end to that.
Old Tiger Stadium - especially the short porch in right field - was geared for the home run. But the outfield in Comerica Park - even more so before the fence was brought in in left-center - is where fly balls go to die. Don't get me wrong - the Tigers still have sluggers and more than one player who likes to swing for the fences - but they are much more balanced with the offence - as well as the entire club from top to bottom.
YEAR RECORD CHANGE 1998 | 65 - 97 (.401) | --- 1999 | 69 - 92 (.429) | plus 4 wins 2000 | 79 - 83 (.488) | plus 10 wins 2001 | 66 - 96 (.407) | minus 13 wins 2002 | 55-106 (.342) | minus 11 wins 2003 | 43-119 (.265) | minus 12 wins
The evolution of the Tigers:
Jeff Weaver was as good as it got in the starting rotation - and he threw more than 200 innings - but the motley crew behind him consisted of Hideo Nomo, Brian Moehler, Dave Mlicki, and Steve Sparks. Todd Jones (42 saves) and Matt Anderson were a pretty good one-two punch at the back of the bullpen.
When the fresh blood in your starting rotation includes Chris Holt, Jose Lima and Nate Cornejo, you should know you're in trouble. It also did not help that both Jones and Anderson regressed significantly.
For a team in a "pitcher's park" things just were not improving for the Tigers on the mound. Sparks, Weaver and Lima were still playing key roles and Mark Redman, Adam Bernero and Mike Maroth did not offer much upside or hope for the future. Journeyman Juan Acevado was brought in to act as a stopgap at the back of the bullpen after Jones and Anderson were jettisoned.
A funny thing happened on the way to the 2003 season for the Tigers. The organization committed highway robbery on the Oakland Athletics organization when it traded for 20-year-old phenom Jeremy Bonderman. He had a rough debut season, but it was clear to everyone who saw him pitch that he had a bright future. The usual collection of B-grade arms surrounded Bonderman in the rotation. Franklyn German, part of the Bonderman trade, fell flat on his face when the closer's role was gift-wrapped for him.
Bonderman showed signs of improvement but had a 4.89 ERA in 2004. Nate Robertson had a respectable season and showed that he had the potential to be a solid No. 4 starter. Slowly but surely, the rotation was taking shape. Ugueth Urbina was good, but not great, in the closer's role.
Injury-prone, but talented, outfielder Magglio Ordonez was the next player that Dombrowski was able to sign for a little extra moola and Tigers had a fairly decent nucleus of veteran players to work with. But the lineup still needed a spark plug and depth.
The best thing about 2005 pitching-wise was that Bonderman and Robertson continued to gain experience by taking the ball every fifth day. No one on the club saved more than nine games.
Catcher-turned-third baseman Brandon Inge had a career year in 2006, as did outfielders Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames, but it was the addition of Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson to the top of the order that helped to set the table for the run producers like Ordonez. The loss of Polanco to injury coincided with a late-season swoon by the club. Luckily, he was able to return for the playoffs.
Two very different pitchers made huge impacts on the rotation in 2006, sandwiched in between Bonderman and Robertson. Veteran Kenny Rogers proved to the amazement of most that he was not washed up. And top pitching prospect Justin Verlander showed he was not as raw as many thought, after being taken second overall in the 2004 draft. Both Rogers and Verlander won 17 games in 2006. Zach Miner performed adequately as the No. 5 man (which is pretty much all you can hope for in this day and age). Jones made a triumphant return to Detroit, saved 37 games (with smoke and mirrors) and proved to the baseball world that he, like Rogers, was not ready for retirment.
I guess the key philosophy in the resurgence of the Detroit Tigers is "Slow and steady wins the race." As we can see above, the Tigers did not improve over night - things really began to head in the right direction in 2004. Far too often, teams do a complete overhaul during the course of one off-season (the Rockies seem to do it every year) and it rarely works, because it takes time for players to become comfortable with each other and to learn teammates' strengths and weaknesses. The fact Dombrowski realized this, is just one more reason why he is one of the best general managers in the game today.
2007: The Hitters
1B - Sean Casey: With only one home run on the season, Casey is probably one of the weakest starting options at first base in the majors. But he still maintains a solid batting average and rarely strikes outs. That said, this is the one area on the club that needs upgrading but it will likely have to be done via a trade because the options on the farm are limited.
2B - Placido Polanco: He lacks power, but Polanco can handle the bat and does all the little things like the true professional that he is. Offensively, he is hitting more than .330 this season and has walked more than he has struck out. He uses the entire (spacious) field better than any other player on the team. Defensively, he offers a steady glove.
3B - Brandon Inge: Inge has regressed a bit this year, but he offers steady defence and some power. He also won't clog the bases.
SS - Carlos Guillen: He doesn't get as much press as other (over-hyped) shortstops in the game, but Guillen is the heart and sole of the club offensively and in the field. He has power, hits for average and plays steady defence. The only real question marks with Guillen are his health and how long he can remain at shortstop.
OF - Curtis Granderson: Granderson is the guy the Tigers front office was looking for when it was sifting through Cedeno, Sanchez and Nook Logan. Granderson strikes out too much but he has explosive speed and an always-improving bat. His power is really starting to develop (22 doubles, 12 triples, 9 homers this season) and he could soon develop a Carl Crawford-type of reputation. Granderson, like Polanco, is perfectly suited for the spacious outfield.
OF - Gary Sheffield: Sheffield was the Tigers' big off-season acquisition and they gave up three promising, young arms to bring him over from New York. He started off the season slowly, but has raised his average to .295, added 17 homers, and walked more than he has struck out.
OF - Magglio Ordonez: Ordonez is having an absolutely ridiculous season and anyone who criticized the seemingly inflated contract Dombrowski gave him as a free agent should bow down to the GM. Ordonez has a major league leading 34 doubles (two more than he hit all of last year), 12 homers and is second in the majors with 66 RBI. He has also walked more than he has struck out and he is leading the majors with a .377 average. Do you smell a MVP?
OF - Craig Monroe: Monroe is probably the weakest member of the starting nine. He doesn't walk enough, has a low batting average, strikes out too much and hasn't shown enough power this year. That said, this lineup can more than make up for one player having an off first half.
2007: The Pitchers
RHP - Justin Verlander: You'll have to look elsewhere for a sophomore slump. Almost all his numbers have improved this year - save perhaps for his walks per nine innings. Verlander has stepped up his game and been the No. 1 starter the Tigers needed. He leads the club in wins and innings pitched.
RHP - Jeremy Bonderman: Bonderman has yet to truly breakout and become the perennial CY Young candidate that everyone predicted for him. Even still, he is very, very good and a perfect No. 2 starter. If Rogers comes back at full strength and pitches like he did in 2006, Bonderman becomes the best No. 3 starter in the game.
LHP - Mike Maroth: Maroth has been bouncing around the Tigers' rotation for years, without ever seizing a permanent spot. Regardless, he has been invaluable to the club this year in terms of depth and could be a valuable chip and the trading deadline if Rogers is healthy. His stuff is probably better-suited for the National League.
RHP - Chad Durbin: The former Kansas City Royals' prospect finally found some consistency and has been better than anyone thought he would be. At this point, he doesn't really have much more upside than Maroth, but Durbin and his six wins in 14 starts (tied with Verlander for tops on the club) has helped to keep Detroit at the top of the AL Central.
LHP - Nate Robertson: The lefty has probably had the most disappointing season of any of the starters, not counting the injured Rogers. His ERA is above 5.00 and he has allowed 11.65 hits per nine innings, while striking out only 4.65 batters per nine innings.
Closer - Todd Jones: His season has been up-and-down. He has 17 saves in 21 opportunities, but his ERA is hovering near 6.00. He has allowed 35 hits in only 27.2 innings but he has only been taken out of the yard once all season. A late-season return to health by Joel Zumaya could give the bullpen a much-needed boost.
As mentioned above, the Tigers are now built to win in their home ball park. There are still holes on the club and areas that could be improved, but they are a much more well-rounded team than they were five or six years ago. They have steady defence up the middle, speed on the bases and in the field and some power from multi-dimensional hitters. The pitching, when healthy, is solid one-through-three and there is a proven, battle-tested closer in the bullpen. Zumaya, when healthy, offers hope for the future.
If the club can acquire another veteran starter by the trade deadline and a Scot Shields-type reliever, the club may be unstoppable in its quest to win the World Series this season. Even without significant upgrades, it has an outstanding shot at the title.
Before I delve into the Boston Red Sox and the current health of their organization, I should point out some of the great work Rich has done enhancing both the aesthetics and functionality of the site. By far my favorite new sidebar feature is Rich's listing of every club with a Baseball Reference link to their top-to-bottom organizational offensive and pitching statistics. Directly from Baseball Analysts, I was able to view how every hitter and hurler in Boston's organization was faring this year.
Let me tell you, I liked what I saw. As I see it, Boston currently boasts five top-flight prospects - guys one can reasonably expect to continue to progress and one day contribute meaningfully at the Major League level. Over and above these five, the Sox boast organizational pitching depth at AAA, something that ought to come in handy with Curt Schilling about to have an MRI on his shoulder, another 40 year-old in the rotation and Josh Beckett's blisters ready to flare at any moment. David Pauley, Kason Gabbard and Devern Hansack have combined for 205.2 innings and a 3.29 ERA thus far in 2007 with impressive peripherals as well (7.59 K/9, 3.09 K/BB). Jon Lester may well be ready to come back soon as well.
The rest of the piece will look at the aforementioned elite five. They span low-A to AAA, two pitchers and three position players. All entered professional baseball with high hopes and are now rounding into a form that makes it reasonable to portend future Major League Baseball success. My ranking follows:
1) Clay Buchholz, RHP, Portland Sea Dogs - 4-2, 69 IP, 1.96 ERA, 12.3 K/9, 5.53 K/BB, 0.87 WHIP
With Phil Hughes, Tim Lincecum and Yovani Gallardo all having graduated to the Bigs, if Buchholz is not the best pitching prospect in the Minors, he is certainly in the discussion. The 22-year old boasts tremendous, low-to-mid 90's fastball command, a snap-hook and a lights out change up. Opponents have posted a mere .512 OPS against him this year. I would say that a Boston call-up for Buchholz is unlikely in 2007 given the pitching depth the team boasts in AAA but I think you can more or less pencil him in the 2008 rotation - if not to start the year, soon thereafter.
2) Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Pawtucket Red Sox - .333/.412/.450, 27 SB / 4 CS (AA/AAA combined)
The former Oregon State Beaver has slowed down a bit since being called up to Pawtucket in the middle of May or so but you can't ignore his .452/.578/.644 start for the Portland Sea Dogs. He already plays gold glove caliber defense in center field and swipes bases with regularity and efficiency. Although his batting average and slugging have taken a hit since bumping up to the International League, he is still getting on base (.365). Given his defense and speed, there is no need to punish him for an otherwise underwhelming month in AAA.
3) Lars Anderson, 1B, Greenville Drive - .320/.407/.500
Anderson may turn some heads by ranking so high on this list but he is a 6'4", 215 pound left-handed hitting first baseman who is tearing up the South Atlantic League with no discernible holes in his swing (he hits LHP's and RHP's more or less the same). The Sox selected the California native in the 18th round of the 2006 Amateur draft thanks to their deep pockets. He had only slipped that far because he figured to have high bonus demands. At this point, it looks like the Sox may have a real gem on their hands.
4) Michael Bowden, RHP, Portland Sea Dogs - 5-2, 75.2 IP, 2.63 ERA, 8.62 K/9, 3.27 K/BB, 1.15 WHIP (A/AA)
At just 20 years old and pitching solidly in AA ball, Bowden has done little to dampen hopes after a ridiculous start to his season for the Lancaster JetHawks of the California League. Lancaster's notoriously friendly hitting confines make his start to the season even more ridiculous than it was on its face (he posted a 1.37 ERA in 8 starts for the JetHawks). While he has not been as lights out in the Northeast as he was in the Southwest, his peripherals still look solid enough (nearly a K per inning) and I expect that he will improve as he continues to adjust.
5) Brandon Moss, OF, Pawtucket Red Sox - .304/.402/.548
After consecutive disappointing, sub-.800 OPS seasons in 2005 and 2006 with Portland of the Eastern League, the bloom looked like it may be coming off of Moss's rose. Now at 23 and playing in Pawtucket, he is coming into his own. He plays plus defense and affords the Sox a number of options at the Big League level should he continue his quality play. The Sox can feel comfortable flipping Wily Mo Pena for a reliever without compromising outfield depth. The sting of losing Manny Ramirez in the near future could be eased by Moss's emergence. Merely a nice piece of organizational depth coming into 2007, Moss now figures prominently in any Big League plans the Sox might have.
With baseball's best record, ready pitching help at AAA and stars throughout the system, things haven't looked this good for the Boston Red Sox in quite some time. Of course, as any good Yankee fan would remind the overzealous Boston fan, prospects are just prospects and it is only June. Just like their promising Minor Leaguers, the Boston Red Sox have a long way to go.
Restocking the Cupboard
It is far too early to even begin to guestimate what teams made out the best in the 2007 Major League Baseball amateur draft. However, there are some teams that had impressive hauls and will immediately inject some life into the farm systems and provide hope for the future.
Not surprisingly, the teams with multiple picks in the early rounds made the most noise. For simplicity's sakes I am going to focus in, for the most part, on the first five rounds since that is where the majority of the future MLB players will come from and the further down in the draft you go, the less likely it is that the players will actually sign.
The eight minor systems that will likely get the biggest shot-in-the-arm include:
Club Scouting Director General Manager Pre-2007 BA system rank 1. Texas Rangers | Ron Hopkins | Jon Daniels | 28th 2. Toronto Blue Jays | Jon Lalonde | J.P. Ricciardi | 25th 3. Arizona Diamondbacks | Tom Allison | Josh Byrnes | 3rd 4. Cincinnati Reds | Chris Buckley | Wayne Krivsky | 12th 5. Washington Nationals | Dana Brown | Jim Bowden | 30th 6. San Francisco Giants | Matt Nerland | Brian Sabean | 20th 7. San Diego Padres | Bill Gayton | Kevin Towers | 29th 8. Atlanta Braves | Roy Clark | John Schuerholz | 16th
As shown by the numbers above, a number of mediocre minor league systems should really benefit from the 2007, if all goes according to plan.
Washington is arguably the worst system in the minors, but is beginning to show signs of life after years of control by Major League Baseball. But the question remains: Is Jim Bowden really the right man for the job? My personal opinion is no, but it's nothing personal against the general manager. He tends to prefer very raw, very toolsy players and with a system so seriously lacking in talent, I think you need to take some safer picks, along with some high-upside players (which he did nicely with the first three picks this year). That philosophy should go for trades and free agent signings as well. The only really great move Bowden has made as general manager was fleecing the Reds for Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns, although both have seriously under-performed in Washington.
But you have to like what Washington did with its first three picks in the 2007 draft by taking an excellent college left, a promising prep lefty and a raw, but toolsy high school outfielder. If the Nationals are able to sign the sixth round pick, Jack McGeary, to an over-slot deal, the club's draft will get significantly more impressive.
The Blue Jays have been significantly damaged by J.P. Ricciardi's insistence on taking college players and avoidance of prep prospects like the plague. Ricciardi, who ironically came to Toronto with an outstanding reputation for evaluating talent, has finally allowed scouting director Jon Lalonde the freedom to take some high school players. That said, Toronto did still take a plethora of college seniors this season to help off-set the expected costs associated with signing a large number of pre-third round picks. If Toronto can get its first seven picks signed, the club should have an excellent offensive base for the new Gulf Coast League team and the short-season squad in Auburn should have a formidable pitching staff.
With the first seven picks of the draft, the Rangers organization addressed its No. 1 weakness: pitching. On the downside, top picks Blake Beavan and Michael Main are four to five years away. Four other pitchers taken early - Neil Ramirez, Tommy Hunter, Evan Reed and Jon Gast - are intriguing. Reed could move quickly and be helping the club by mid-2008, if he can sharpen his command.
Of the eight teams that had the best draft, Arizona had the highest rated minor league system, according to Baseball America, and is a perfect example of the rich getting richer. However, a number of Arizona's top prospects from the pre-2007 have graduated to the major leagues including Chris Young, Carlos Quentin and Micah Owings. The Diamondbacks do as good a job as any club of drafting a solid mix of prep and college players.
The San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants both had more pre-second round picks than other clubs. But neither took full advantage of the opportunity as the Padres relied too heavily on low-ceiling college players and the Giants took two "signability" picks in the supplemental round, despite lacking second, third and fourth round picks due to free agent signings this past winter. Prep pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson have huge ceilings for San Francisco, along with infielder Nick Noonan, but you would still hope for more from a club with six picks before the second round.
The Padres took only one prep player with the first eight selections, and Drew Cumberland does not have a huge ceiling because he lacks power potential and scouts are split on where he should play in the field. None of the pitchers taken in the early rounds have more potential than that of a No. 3 starter, which not good value. The Padres' second pick was an outfielder, Kellen Kulbacki, whose value lies in his bat, but A) he played in an extreme hitter's park in college and B) San Diego's home park dampens power numbers (Brian Giles is Exhibit A).
The Atlanta Braves' draft philosophy changed slightly this year, as they relied more heavily on college players than they have in years. However, three of the first four picks were prep players. Outfielder Jason Heyward, a Georgia native, was coveted by a number of teams and the Braves organization was reportedly thrilled to get their No. 1 choice with its first pick. The Braves also took two college relievers who could move quite quickly: Josh Fields and Cory Gearrin.
Let's break down the first five rounds for the Top 5 drafts even further:
Texas Rangers (16th pick overall)
Beavan, Main and Ramirez immediately fit right in with last year's No. 1 draft pick and former prep star hurler Kasey Kiker, who has been outstanding in limited appearances this year after beginning the season in extended spring training.
Beavan has a plus-plus fastball that tops out around 96 mph and has proven himself on the international stage with Team USA. Main is a little rawer because he was a two-way player in high school, but he will take to the mound full-time in pro ball and could improve quickly as a result.
Gast is another promising prep pitching, but he had Tommy John surgery in May, which is why he fell out of the first two rounds. If Gast shows he is recovering nicely from the surgery before the Aug. 15 deadline to sign draft picks, expect the Rangers to pony up the over-slot cash to get a deal done.
College outfielder Borbon was linked to the Rangers before the draft because he is the perfect solution, according to some analysts, for the club's impending hole in centerfield, once Kenny Lofton moves on or retires. Borbon won't be ready immediately but he should move fairly quickly.
Hunter was a draft-eligible college sophomore, who was a bit of an over-draft to help the club save a little money with big paydays expected for the first three or four draft picks. Reed is a college reliever who could move quickly.
West is another high school shortstop that will have to find a new position due to his size (6'2''). He is likely headed to third base but does not have the traditional power most teams look for from that position. Nash is a fleet-of-foot, raw prep player with a questionable bat.
The Rangers did a solid job of mixing high-ceiling prep players with some experienced college players, who could move quickly. The minor league depth receives a much-needed boost with this impressive haul.
Toronto Blue Jays (21st pick)
Initially, I was less than impressed with the Jays' first five rounds given the club's propensity for taking low-ceiling college seniors in the early rounds. And though Magnuson, Mills and Rzepczynski are in fact seniors, all three have shown significant improvements this year from a scouting perspective, which has helped to sway my early cynicism.
Magnuson was one of the top two senior options according to Baseball America and he has dominated this season for Louisville, who is playing in the College World Series. Mills was drafted last year as a junior by the Jays but wanted to finish his civil engineering degree. Rzepczynski has improved his repertoire and with the incredible sink he creates on all his pitches, he has the potential to top out as a No. 3 starter and could get to the majors fairly quickly, as could his fellow senior picks.
The Jays also nabbed a number of impressive high school athletes with high ceilings, including No. 1 pick Ahrens, as well as Jackson, Eiland and Tolisano. Everyone, save for Eiland, played shortstop in high school, so there will be some position changes and/or sharing in the Gulf Coast League this summer.
Jackson and Eiland, who committed to Texas A&M as a football player, are the rawest of the four players, especially in terms of offence, so they will likely move slowly through the system.
Both Cecil, from the left side, and Farina, from the right side, are hard-throwing college relievers who have improved their repertoires enough that they should receive starting assignments, although that might wait until 2008 due to college workloads this season.
If Arencibia's back problems are a thing of the past, he has the potential to be a Javy Lopez-type of offensive catcher.
Arizona Diamondbacks (9th pick)
There is nothing quite like starting an amateur draft off with a high-ceiling prospect that makes you drool at the thought of his eventual potential. That, ladies and gentleman, sums up Parker in a nutshell. With the prep player in the can, the Diamondbacks organization went back to its old (successful) was of taking potentially lower-ceiling, but promising, college players and nabbed three dandies with Roemer, Enright and Morgan.
All three have ceilings of a No. 3 or 4 starter, but all three are well-rounded and should move quickly. Of the three, Enright is most likely to end up in the bullpen. Although the club did not necessary draft for need, these three pitchers will fill a gapping hole in the organization, which has had much better success developing hitters.
Speaking of hitters, Easley should be a solid, albeit unspectacular, offensive-minded catcher. Navarro is a Puerto Rican, slick-fielding shortstop. His bat is raw but there is some dormant pop just waiting to awaken. Worthington is another young and extremely raw player, who had more success in high school on the football field.
Cincinnati Reds (15th pick)
The Reds addressed an obvious lack of hitting prospects with a number of excellent selections in the first five rounds. Mesoraco was being eyed by a lot of teams before he was snatched up with the 15th overall pick. He climbed the draft charts more than any other prospect this spring and is a well-rounded player with solid defence and a promising bat. He is also an excellent leader on the field.
Frazier is a solid college baseball player with two brothers who have played professional ball, and he is the most talented of the three. There are some questions about his power potential with wood bats but he also mixes in some intriguing speed.
Lotzkar, the most promising Canadian player this side of Phillippe Aumont, gives the Reds a high-ceiling prospect but his secondary pitches and control are lacking. He will need a significant amount of development time. He joins a number of other promising Canadian players in the organization, including Joey Votto and James Avery.
Soto, like Reynaldo Navarro who was taken by Arizona, is one of the most promising players to come out of Puerto Rico in the last few years. Along with Frazier, the Reds added a few college bats that will hopefully move fairly quick to allow the 2007 prep picks time to develop.
Cozart is a defensive-minded shortstop in the mold of Astros' shortstop Adam Everett. Cozart has a questionable bat at this point but should develop - at worst - into a fine utility player. Carroll has a promising fastball but his secondary stuff is lagging behind, mainly due to the fact he focused on football for much of his first three college seasons.
Stouffer is an athletic player who lacks a position. He doesn't have enough power for a corner spot in the outfield or infield so he could end up at second base or centerfield, if he has enough range. Bowman was a highly-regarded prep pitcher with signability concerns. He went to college and got hurt so scouts were unable to see as much of him as they had hoped over the last three years.
Washington Nationals (6th pick)
Many felt Detwiler was a better option for Pittsburgh at No. 4 than Daniel Moskos but Washington would not agree simply because they were thrilled to nab him with the sixth overall pick. Detwiler could move quickly through the National's system and he likely becomes the club's best overall prospect, with Ryan Zimmerman firmly entrenched as a major leaguer.
Smoker was thought by many to be a first round pick, but Washington was lucky to get him with the first pick of the supplemental round. The left-handed prep pitcher is fairly advanced for his age and has six pitches in his repertoire. He instantly becomes one of the Nationals top five prospects, if he signs.
Prep outfielder Burgess is extremely raw but is exactly the type of player that General Manager Jim Bowden loves to acquire. He comes from the same high school that produced Gary Sheffield, Doc Gooden and Elijah Dukes. Smolinski, Souza and Norris are other raw high school position players with solid potential, although all three may have been slightly over-drafted.
Zimmerman and Meyers are two college pitchers with average stuff, who could move quickly through Washington's barren system. Zimmerman has touched 95 mph and has good stuff but he pitched against Division III competition during his college career. Meyers has less pitchability than Diamondbacks' supplemental round pick Wes Roemer, but he has better stuff.
Despite the weaker crop of college prospects this season, a number of teams made out very well by mixing the post-secondary athletes with prep prospects. The Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals will no doubt climb up Baseball America's minor league system rankings this coming off-season, if they manage to sign their top 2007 draft picks... and those players perform as expected.
Book a Flight to Motown
The words "Detroit" and "vacation" may seem oxymoronic in the same sentence, but baseball fans could do worse than visiting Michigan's largest city.
For All the Marbles
It's an exciting time in college baseball with the College World Series in full swing. You can read all about the teams involved by checking out Rich's CWS preview.
This afternoon, Arizona State defeated UC Irvine 5-4 and will face Oregon State on Monday. ASU won despite the fact a couple of its top players were kept off the score sheet.
Sophomore first baseman Brett Wallace, who projects as a first round pick in 2008, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Despite the off-day, the Toronto Blue Jays are likely going to regret not signing the slugger after taking him in the 42nd round of the 2005 draft (he fell due to signability concerns), after he graduated high school.
Junior shortstop Andrew Romine, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Angels in 2007 and is the son of former big leaguer Kevin Romine, also went hitless and was 0-for-3.
Some other prospects picked up the slack, though, including Eric Sogard, who was drafted 81st overall by San Diego in the recent amateur draft and has been likened to Boston Red Sox' second sacker Dustin Pedroia.
Sogard had the best day at the plate for Arizona State, save perhaps for junior outfielder Matt Spencer (drafted in the third round by Philly), who went 2-for-3 and drove in three runs in the seventh spot in the lineup. Sogard went 3-for-4 on the day while batting in the third hole, but did not score a run, nor did he drive one in.
Sophomore Ike Davis went 2-for-3, scored two runs and drove one in on a solo homer. He also walked. Left-fielder Tim Smith, who was drafted in the seventh round by Texas, went 1-for-3.
Arizona received some outstanding pitching performances from freshman hurlers. Starter Mike Leake, who was 13-1 on the season, threw seven innings and allowed four runs to keep ASU in the game. He was picked up by Jason Jarvis, who tossed two innings of hitless ball and picked up the win. Leake was drafted in 2006 by the Athletics in the seventh round, while Jarvis was taken by the Angels in the 25th round.
The immediate and distant future looks bright for ASU.
The College World Series action continues today with Louisville vs Mississippi State, which is currently underway. Rice will face North Carolina this evening.
Last night, Oregon State defeated Cal State Fullerton by the score of 3-2. Freshman hurler Jorge Reyes went six innings for Oregon State and allowed only three hits and one run. He out-dueled 50th overall draft pick and future Arizona Diamondbacks' prospect Wes Roemer, who went eight innings and allowed seven hits and three runs, although one was unearned.
Junior outfielder Nick Mahin had the best offensive day for Cal State Fullerton and went 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBI. Oregon State had a couple of key offensive performances from senior outfielder Scott Santschi, who went 2-for-3 with a homer and two RBI, and junior catcher Mitch Canham, who went 2-for-4 with a stolen base. Canham was taken with the 57st overall pick of the recent draft by San Diego.
Freshman third baseman Chris Dominguez led the offence with three hits, including two homers and three RBI. Senior first baseman Daniel Burton also had three hits, a homer and drove in three runs.
Freshman Justin Marks received the start for Louisville and went 5.1 innings and allowed three earned runs, while walking five and striking out five.
Freshman Chad Crosswhite received the start for Mississippi but did not fair as well. He lasted only 2.1 innings and allowed five runs on seven hits.
Freshman centerfielder Jeffrey Rea led the Mississippi offence with three hits in the lead-off position but failed to come around to score. Freshman second baseman Brandon Turner had two hits and drove in three runs.
The World Series in June
The 2007 College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska got underway last night when Rice rallied to defeat Louisville 15-10 in the opener and North Carolina came from behind to beat Mississippi State 8-5 in the second game. 18,807
The Rice Owls, down 10-4 in the bottom of the fifth, scored 11 times over their final five innings in earning their sixth straight victory. The North Carolina Tar Heels, the 2006 CWS runner-up, fell behind 4-0 before rallying with four hits, two hit batters, a walk and an error to plate six runs in the sixth inning in registering their fifth come-from-behind victory in six NCAA tournament games. Rice and North Carolina will meet in the winner's round while Louisville and Mississippi State face-off in the elimination game.
Rice, North Carolina, and Arizona State are heavily favored to win it all. Of the eight teams in the World Series, only Rice, UNC, and ASU were No. 1 seeds in the Regionals two weeks ago. In addition, the Sun Devils, Tar Heels, and Owls were the only clubs to finish first in conference play.
Oregon State finished sixth in the Pac-10, Cal State Fullerton placed fifth in the Big West, Mississippi State had the fourth-best record in the two-division Southeastern Conference, Louisville ranked third in the Big East, and UC Irvine tied for second in the Big West.
Head Coach: Wayne Graham (684-270 in 15 seasons)
Top Draft Pick: Joe Savery, LHP-1B (1-19, PHI)
Note: The Owls had 14 players drafted, tied for the most ever.
Head Coach: Mike Fox (395-173-1 in 9 seasons)
Top Draft Pick: Josh Horton, SS (#90, OAK)
Note: Fox is one of only six men to play in and then coach his alma mater to the CWS.
Head Coach: Ron Polk (1,350-668-2)
Top Draft Pick: Ed Easley, C (#61, ARI)
Note: After a four-year absence, Polk is in his second tour as head baseball coach at Mississippi State.
Head Coach: Dan McDonnell
Top Draft Pick: Trystan Magnuson, RHP (#56, TOR)
Note: The 35-year-old McDonnell, considered one of the top recruiters in the country while serving as an assistant coach at Ole Miss, has taken the Cardinals to the CWS in his first season as head coach.
Head Coach: Pat Murphy (528-255-1 in 13 seasons)
Top Draft Pick: Eric Sogard, 2B (#81, SD)
Note: The Sun Devils are led by Brett Wallace (.423-16-78), one of the top-hitting sophomores in the country and a member of Team USA.
Head Coach: George Horton (490-200-1 in 11 seasons)
Top Draft Pick: Wes Roemer, RHP (#50, ARI)
Note: The Titans are making their 15th CWS appearance in only the 33rd year of its Div. I history. CSF has won four CWS titles (1979, 1984, 1995 and 2004) and had one runnerup finish (1992).
Head Coach: Pat Casey (13 seasons at OSU)
Top Draft Pick: Edward Kunz, RHP (#42, NYM)
Note: The Beavers are the defending champions, becoming the first-ever team from the Pacific Northwest to win the NCAA Division I College World Series.
Head Coach: Dave Serrano (third season)
Top Draft Pick: Bryan Petersen, RF (#136, FLA)
Note: Swept Texas in the Regionals and Wichita State in the Super Regionals despite playing on the road. After beating WSU, the Anteaters went directly from Kansas to Omaha.
Fri 6/15: Rice 15, Louisville 10
Sat 6/16, 2 PM: UC Irvine-Arizona State
Sat 6/23, 7 PM
You can stay abreast of all the live scoring and results at the official web site for NCAA Sports. Aaron Fitt and John Manuel will be covering the action at Baseball America via the site's College Blog. Baseball America also has a Game Tracker with game stories, box scores, and highlights.
Prediction: Arizona State over Rice in three games.
If there is a surprise, look for UCI to be the school that pulls it off.
Who do you like this year and why?
Commanding the Commodores
Derek Johnson has been the pitching coach at Vanderbilt University for the past 6 seasons. I first got the chance to meet him at a baseball clinic in 2005 where he graciously shared the ins and outs of Vandy's pitching program. That presentation first reflected his dedication to his players, but also showed his open-mindedness and courage to implement ideas that may not necessarily be common practice.
"DJ" recently took the time to chat with me and his in-depth answers cover a lot of ground: success at Vanderbilt, his philosophy as a pitching coach, the development of top-notch pitching prospects, throwing mechanics and even two cents on hitting.
Jeff: ESPN.com recently did an article on the rise of Vanderbilt baseball. What's your quick take on the success of the program?
DJ: I think the first thing you look at is the guy that runs the ship, Coach [Tim] Corbin. He's the guy that makes things go. He's a boundless energy guy and a guy that I really admire. I've seen first hand what he has been able to accomplish. And then secondly - you can't overlook this - is better recruiting. We've been able to get better players in here that have obviously helped us climb the ladder.
Jeff: Vanderbilt was ranked #1 for much of the year, but your season came to an end in the regionals with a loss to Michigan. Do you view the 2007 season as a success or failure?
DJ: To be honest with you, both, but in the end you look at what our team accomplished: 54 wins, a conference title (in arguably the best college baseball conference in the country), which we not only won outright but also the tournament. So I look at it more as a success than a failure or disappointment. At the same time, we feel like we are one of the best teams in the country and we just didn't get a chance to show that in Omaha at the right time.
Jeff: You were pitching coach of the year in 2004, and in 3 of the last 4 seasons your staff has lead the SEC in ERA as well as being in the national top 20. I want to ask about your approach to bringing pitchers along in your program.
DJ: Going back to what I said earlier, first and foremost is being able to get in quality guys. Recruiting goes well past my scope of being a pitching coach, but once they get here it is about development. It's a process that I take very seriously; it's meticulous, it's not a fly-by-night thing. I work hard at trying to understand what best suits each individual. I think a lot of coaches maybe pay lip service to that, but I take it very seriously because I think that in the end it's about the kid and it will always be about the kid. My job is to help him explore options to better himself, so I would say that is the most important feature of what we are trying to do here.
Jeff: You just had a great talent there, David Price. From a coaching standpoint, how might your approach differ with a player like that?
DJ: That's a good question and it's fair. It's a good question from the standpoint that you treat guys the same, and you do in a lot of ways, but you don't in some others. David was a talented kid from the beginning and he was a guy that had a ton of ability coming in. Bottom line is making sure that any adjustments we made were prudent decisions that would work in his favor. In terms of the way you treat him as a pitcher, you've got to treat him like another number in terms of your expectations for him and what he needs to do on and off the field. But that's a good question and I think it is fair to say you do have to treat those guys a little bit differently because they are a different breed. It's a completely different ball game, but still stay within the guidelines of what is fair and what is right.
Jeff: Not only has Vandy been winning games, but 9 pitchers have been drafted in the past 5 years plus 6 more this year. Is it part of your goal to not only win games, but to also prepare pitchers for the next level?
DJ: Absolutely. I don't know how other people think, but that's why we coach. We want to win a national championship, there's no doubt about that, but at the same time we want to be able to say to our recruits coming in and to be able to hang it on our shingle that we develop players, we keep them as healthy as we can and that they are going to the next level. I think that's fair to the kids because every kid that signs with us wants to play professional baseball. I don't think we've had one kid who could just take that or leave it. Every kid we've signed here, that's their goal, that's what they want to do. Yeah, it's about winning ball games - and we've been able to do both, which is nice - but at the same time I think both are equally important.
Jeff: Have to figure that if you can develop professional talent, that guy should be able to help you win games too.
DJ: Absolutely, they really do both go hand in hand.
Jeff: Former Commodore, Jeremy Sowers, went 6th overall in the 2004 draft but his stuff is quite different from Price. Do these fellow first rounders share anything in common?
DJ: Yeah they are both left-handed [laughing]. Their approaches are quite a bit different. Sowers is more of a 'pitch to contact' pitcher, where David is a 'miss your bat' type. In terms of physical, they are completely different animals. They do both have what I consider good arm action - arm action that can play at the next level, arm action that can be improved. David, I think, is a good example of a guy who got stronger and I thought his arm action improved as he was here. I know he went from being an 88-91, maybe 92 occasionally to a guy who was sitting more 93-96. Jeremy, same thing; good arm action and kind of had to understand tempo when he got here. I'm big on that. I'm big on trying to speed guys up and get them going. Jeremy was a guy we did that with and we did that with David, too. David was a little bit tougher because he is 6'6" and weighs more. So, I'd say those would be the two common things to get them to understand, and also to help their arm action to develop over time. Those were the important things for their development.
Jeff: You've told me that you've been criticized for Price's workload, but that you also feel he was ready for it and even refused to come out of many games. Does he do anything special to keep himself prepared physically?
DJ: What we try to do here is put stress on their arm in-between starts. What I mean by that is to target the elbow and shoulder area and try to create stress there. It's not throwing stress, per se, but it is stress on those areas with some medicine ball work, some weighted ball work. Once they throw a baseball, once they go out into a game, their arm is going to have "been there." I say "been there" meaning it's felt that stress and strain through their preparation. By doing that, I never felt that David was at a deficit. I never felt like David was that guy who you saw early in the game throwing 93-96 and then by the end of it was throwing 86-87. He maintained his velocity well. I kept very good track of what he did to prepare his arm, as I do with all of our guys. So, you know, I understand the criticism, but at the same time you have to understand where we were coming from and where we were at - where David's arm was at - when we were making those decisions.
Jeff: It seems common for coaches to baby their pitchers and not treat them like athletes, but that does not seem to be the case with you guys.
DJ: That's a great point because that's what they are. They are athletes. If you're doing your job as a coach you're making them a better athlete by the things that you prepare them with, so for me it was about an athlete going out and being athletic, pitching athletically and being able to take advantage of what God gave him. At the same time, people could criticize based on what a pitch count is or maybe what the popular theory today is on how to maintain an arm. What they didn't know was how he prepared his arm. I think that's the difference in what we're trying to do here and maybe what a lot of people are or aren't doing outside of us.
Jeff: You mentioned how Price improved his tempo and arm action. What is your opinion on what he may need to continue improving in order to succeed at the Major League level?
DJ: I think he uses the center of his body very well. I'm talking about his torso - from belly-button to mid-thigh. He does that very well and it is something he can continue to improve upon. Every pitcher could. Rotation is kind of the name of the game and it's being able to use that rotation and still get everything that you need to get behind the ball while still being able to throw a strike with it. I still think he can improve in those areas, but the thing that I hope for him is that they continue to let him work in those areas. I like where his tempo is. Could it be faster? Well, yeah it could be but at the same time I think it suits him. I think just being able to use the center of his body more is something that may help him take another step. From a pitchability standpoint, it's about refining the third pitch, the change-up and being able to refine command. Last year he had okay command, this year he had very good command, so I still think he has room to improve and grow.
Jeff: Tim Lincecum made the jump from college last year to MLB this year. Do you think Price is another guy who could make the transition that quickly?
DJ: Yeah, I do. You know, I obviously don't want to jinx him or anything and I don't want to speak out of line because I don't know exactly what the Devil Rays have or don't have. But I would find it hard to believe that David is that far away from being at that level. If you would have seen game in and game out with him, I'd say that you would agree. I just haven't seen a college pitcher dominate quite like I saw him and as consistently as he dominated, really this whole year. I just haven't seen that. Now it doesn't mean it hasn't happened, I just personally have not seen it.
Jeff: Your closer, Casey Weathers, also went in the first round. Tell me a little bit about him and what Rockies fans should expect.
DJ: An unbelievable story, really. He was basically a JUCO outfielder who bet that he could throw harder off the mound than his buddy. Long story short, he threw harder than his buddy and they turned him into a pitcher. Casey has legitimately pitched for about two-and-a-half years, and when he got to us I thought he was very raw, rough around the edges. Command wasn't quite as good as what it needed to be. He didn't factor for us until about midway through his junior year, his first with us. He factored in later in the year, had a good summer and kept developing or blossoming I guess would be a good way to word it. At times, he was unhittable this year. He gave up two or three [two] extra base hits all year...
DJ: ...gave up a HR in the second to last weekend in the SEC and that was actually the first extra base hit that he gave up.
Jeff: I saw that Price had a .199 BAA, but Weathers was even better at .154
DJ: Right, guys just did not get good looks off of him. This is a kid with an unbelievable arm and upside. He's still really learning what to do. In Casey's case it was confidence. It was a mental approach that needed to be honed and still does. The kid is a good worker, has a good attitude towards what he is doing and has found a new passion for something that had never really been there before. You talk about a guy with just pure arm strength, he's got a lot of it.
Jeff: Must be nice.
DJ: That's not something really that I had to talk about a whole lot with him. He came in 90-92 but couldn't harness it. Got stronger, some tempo changes, couple tweaks here and there and all of a sudden his command started to get there. His confidence got better and the 92 now turned into 95 and 96. In the conference tournament, and I can't say this for a fact, but on at least one other gun other than ours, I think he hit 100 four times.
Jeff: Another wow...
Jeff: Last pitching thing here - you mention arm action, tempo, using the center. These are all pitching mechanics terms that you use with your players, but there's that fine line between getting "too mechanical" versus getting outs. How do you walk the line between your players getting too mechanical as opposed to just throwing the heck out of the ball?
DJ: Intent is another word that is very prevalent in our vocabulary here. It's not a word that I made up or thought of in terms of pitching, it's Paul Nyman from SETPRO. But intent is a big factor. Intent happens with really everything that we do physically on the field. Whether it's playing catch, med ball routines, or running, there is an intent there to have effort. Easy effort - not effort that is out of control, but effort that works for you. There's a huge fine line and I think where you cross it is, you know, you have times when you have to work on the mechanics and you have to work on the tweaks or the adjustments. And then there has to be a barrier; there has to be a mental focus, a shift in your approach. That's real easy - as soon as you step on the mound and as soon as there is a hitter who is trying to beat you, you've got to switch gears. That's why, really, pitching is ever-evolving in my estimation because you've got guys who are 18 and 19 whose mechanics are not completely repeatable yet. They may show you what you want to see one week, they may somehow or for some reason adjust a little bit to the next to not quite what you want to see or what you think you should see. The bottom line is being able to have those barriers when it's appropriate to tweak and when it's appropriate to compete. Those two things really can't interlace a lot, they really are separate. Easier said than done - I have a lot of guys in the fall doing both.
Jeff: That's a good lesson for me, especially as I get into coaching.
DJ: It is because there is a time and there is a place. The thing is patience. You hear that patience is a virture, well, in pitching it's especially a virtue. I've had to learn that over time because what happens is that kids shuffle back and forth between what they think you want to see and reality. So your job is to keep pushing them. It's a gentle push, but it's pushing them in the direction that you think they need to go in. Sometimes it's frustrating, but you also see the rewards of it, like in a guy like Casey Weathers.
Jeff: I know you're the pitching coach, but I've got to ask at least one hitting question here. I saw Pedro Alvarez's swing from his 2005 draft video and then I saw it again this year, which looks much better. I just wanted to ask your observations on his progress at Vanderbilt.
DJ: Like a lot of kids coming into college, the first thing you see is a strength deficit. They're not nearly as strong as they need to be to support some of the movement patterns that are going on. But Pedro has always had good power and Pedro's swing is kind of a work in progress. I would say that the main thing for him is to be able to hit the ball with power to all fields. Not many guys at this level can do that. Most have pull power, some will have straight-away power, very few have opposite field power. Pedro is one of those guys who does have that ability and can show it frequently. For me, with him it's about taking what the pitcher gives him instead of yanking things that will produce outs at this level. That's something he has had to learn, and sometimes the hard way, but when Pedro Alvarez comes to the plate, pitchers go on red alert and they are trying to give their best stuff. What he has to be able to do is take what the pitcher gives him and wait him out - he is going to keep getting better at that.
Jeff: OK that about wraps it up. Thank you so much for your time.
Cole Hamels is 100 feet tall, sky dives without a parachute and stars in movies about gladiators. He invented the Internet, knocked over the Berlin Wall with a changeup and struck out Andruw Jones three weeks before their first meeting this season. NASA has asked him to throw a probe to Mars, which he would do, except he already destroyed Mars (he used a fastball this time) after some Martians questioned his pitching ability. In his spare time Hamels pitches for the Phillies, and this season is leading the NL in wins and strikeouts. He is also among the league leaders in WHIP, walks/9 and strikeout/walk ratio. Hamels features one of the best changeups in the majors as his out pitch, but what makes this pitch so effective? How does his changeup continue to baffle hitters?
Hamels has had two starts tracked by Gameday this season, both of which were in Atlanta. Additionally, the starts both took place in May, once the system had been operational for several weeks, so any differences in positioning of the camera systems should be minimal. Looking at a chart showing Hamels' pitches, there are two possible reasons why his changeup is so nasty. The first is the speed difference. His median velocity on his fastball is 92 MPH compared with his 82 MPH changeup. That 10 MPH difference means that his changeup takes (very) roughly an extra .05 seconds to reach home. .05 seconds obviously isn't much time, but when the reaction times for hitters are in the range of .4 to .5 seconds, maybe .05 seconds means more. It could be the difference between just fouling off a pitch and hitting it squarely. However, without looking at other changeups, its impossible to say whether a 10 MPH difference between his fastball and changeup means anything.
The other feature of Hamels' changeup that jumps out at me is the movement. His fastball has about four inches of movement in to a left-handed hitter (positive horizontal values on these images represent movement toward a left-handed hitter, while negative means movement in the opposite direction). However, his changeup doesn't move in exactly the same way as his fastball. The changeup breaks in on left-handers more than his fastball does, and looking at the vertical movement relative to the fastball, you can see it has some sink on it as well. One way to pick out changeups when reading these graphs for most pitchers is to look for pitches that break similarly to the fastball, but are slower.
Here's an extreme example of a changeup that moves almost the same as a fastball. This chart for Josh Beckett is remarkable for the fact that there is absolutely no overlap in speeds between any of his pitches, but it also shows the similarity of his changeup to his fastball. (For a couple more examples of changeups that move the same as fastballs, check out the article I wrote on sinkerballers. One correction though, on the graphs for Lowe, Cook and Webb I mislabeled changeups as sliders, so the black dots are changeups, not sliders.)
Beckett and others have succeeded with changeups that mirror the movement of their fastballs, but that little extra movement that Hamels gets might make his pitch that much harder to hit. The difference between Beckett's fastball and changeup was seven MPH, which is close to Hamels'.
I wanted to compare Hamels to other pitchers with great changeups and the first name I thought of was Trevor Hoffman, the inspiration behind Hamels' changeup. Despite a fastball that tops out around 90 MPH, Hoffman is still fooling hitters. How is he doing it? Here's a chart showing Hoffman's pitches in his 17 appearances at Gameday equipped stadiums. All but two of the appearances were in San Diego, so the inter-park effects should be small here as well.
Hoffman and Hamels have never won a Cy Young (although in the future Hamels will win one Cy Young…and 11 Cole Hamels'.) but Johan Santana has ridden his changeup to two awards. Santana is similar to Hamels in that they are both left-handed, strike out a lot of hitters and don't walk many. How do their changeups compare though?
Here's a chart from Santana's starts on April 8 at Comiskey Park and May 22 at Texas. I looked at both starts separately before combining them and the pitch regions were similar in both ballparks. Santana's fastball is thrown around 93 MPH while his changeup is thrown at 83 MPH, giving him a difference of 10 MPH, the same as Hamels achieved in his starts. Santana also gets different movement on his changeup compared to his fastball, although the magnitude is smaller than the four inches that Hamels and Hoffman were able to achieve.
Name # thrown Speed Horizontal Break Vertical Break Hamels-FB 96 91.90 MPH 4.00" 12.69" Hamels-CH 83 82.20 MPH 7.81" 8.63" Hoffman-FB 119 87.90 MPH -0.20" 14.96" Hoffman-CH 70 76.00 MPH -3.84" 10.79" Santana-FB 116 93.35 MPH 6.02" 11.74" Santana-CH 58 83.30 MPH 8.47" 7.36"
This table shows the differences between the changeups and each pitcher’s fastball. Both types of pitches moved to the arm-side of a pitcher, but the for the same pitcher, changeups moved more than the fastballs did and also had less vertical break. Greg Maddux and James Shields both have good changeups and the table below shows the differences between them. There are very different ways to have effective changeups. Maddux has a five MPH difference between his fastball and changeup, but his changeup has less movement toward his arm-side than his fastball does. Without comparing any more pitchers, I’d venture to guess that Maddux’s movement is unique and has contributed to his success. Shields has been successful so far this season using a changeup. His changeup moves like Hamels’, Hoffman’s and Santana’s, but has less of a speed difference, so maybe the ideal speed difference between pitches is around 7-10 MPH.
Name # thrown Speed Horizontal Break Vertical Break Beckett-FB 48 96.10 MPH -8.19" 10.09" Beckett-CH 12 88.70 MPH -8.80" 6.40" Maddux-FB 194 86.60 MPH -10.01" 6.72" Maddux-CH 61 81.60 MPH -5.26" 6.87" Shields-FB 154 91.20 MPH -6.53" 10.31" Shields-CH 80 83.35 MPH -9.29" 4.78"
The changeup can be a very effective pitch if used properly. It seems that changeups tend to move more toward the arm-side of a pitcher and have less vertical break than that same pitcher’s fastball. This movement is one way to pick out changeups from the Gameday data. Pitcher’s with good changeups have different amounts of movement and velocity, so there are obviously multiple ways to be effective with the pitch and I think the most important factor in determining the success of a pitch is how it relates to the other pitches in a pitcher’s arsenal. However, Cole Hamels doesn't even need his changeup; he once struck a man out looking. Literally. Cole just gazed at him and the batter was retired on strikes.
I did all my research for this article at ColeHamelsFacts.com.
Byrning Up in the Desert
This title really does not bear a lot of truth here but I could not resist the double-entendre. When I went to take a look at how Eric Byrnes had gotten off to such a hot start, I thought it would be a simple "inflated numbers at Chase Field" and I would be done with it. But have a look at these 2007 home/road splits for Byrnes:
AVG OBP SLG Home .276 .336 .433 Road .363 .423 .605
Hmmm. Everyone knows the D-Backs play in a tremendously favorable hitter's park. And yet, Byrnes has been nothing short of mediocre there. It's been on the road where Byrnes has gotten it done. So why has he spiked this season?
Byrnes sports a career 102 OPS+ by virtue of being farther above average as a slugger (.456 career number) than he has been below average as an on-base man (.328). His good advanced defensive metrics and hustling style of on-field play give him a boost to a point where he has probably been about a dead-average player over the course of his career. There's considerable value in that, but the former UCLA Bruin has been so much more thus far in 2007.
Byrnes is crushing first pitches this year, faring well when getting up 1-0 in the count, and just mashing after being down a strike:
AVG OBP SLG Count 0-0 .481 .491 .889 Count 1-0 .391 .391 .478 Count 0-1 .615 .643 .686
All of these figures are up considerably from past campaigns for Byrnes. His aggressiveness has suited him well. Inflated batting averages in partial seasons tend to be screaming foreshadowers of impending regression and Byrnes may not be an exception. He is a career .267 hitter (including this season) who has posted a .319 AVG thus far in 2007 (including a ridiculous .352 BABIP). The smart money says that will come down, but in all likelihood not too far. Eric's ability to elevate the ball (he consistently ranks among the league leaders in FB%) combined with his early-count aggressiveness may mean he maintains the uptick in average and slugging while enjoying a slight upgrade this season in his walk rate.
This would not be without precedent and, in fact, some of Byrnes's closest Baseball-Reference comps have full seasons of batting average inflation to thank for their best campaigns. Glenallen Hill and Leon Roberts each enjoyed their best years when they were able to muster batting averages over and above their previous highs. Isolated power and walk rate don't tend to fluctuate all that greatly but, in a given season, batting average sure can. Basically, Byrnes is hitting singles more frequently than he has in the past. In other words, balls that once found mitts are finding holes.
Will it continue? There is no way to know. I am inclined to guess "no" but then a look at Byrnes's comps shows that he is bound to have at least one all-star caliber year predicated upon an inflated batting average. And as I mentioned before, it just may be his aggressive early-count approach that keeps him hanging around National League leaderboards. I don't think it is far-fetched to chalk the 31-year-old outfielder's early-count mashing to a stylistic approach change and not simply dumb luck. If pitchers do not come around to the fact that Byrnes will try to get on them early and often, he will continue to make square contact early in counts and his batting average will in all likelihood stay north of .300. If pitchers wise up, it's back to the average ballplayer he always has been.
In my fantasy league, now in its 6th season of existence with more or less the same cast of characters, the trading dynamics have worked like this; at the outset, smart GMs fleeced dumb GMs by getting them to undervalue a slow starter or overvalue a mediocrity that blows out of the gates. Now, GMs are so protective of their slow starters for fear of not getting fair value and so panic-stricken by the prospect of giving up real value for a surprisingly hot early-season player that nobody trades with one another anymore for fear of embarassingly losing the deal. Maybe the next frontier will be to idenitfy those players who just may sustain surprisingly over-achieving performance over the duration of a full season and target them. Eric Byrnes may fit that category in 2007.
Memories... of Former Draft Darlings
The 2007 MLB Amateur Draft has come and gone and more than 1,400 baseball players from all over the globe have the potential to become professional athletes.
As we all know, amateur drafts - especially in Major League Baseball - are unpredictable and even the most highly-sought-after prospect on draft day is not guaranteed anything in this game. A quick glance at the top three players in the homer run leader board in the Double-A Eastern League quickly brings back memories of drafts past and the faint whiff of unfulfilled potential.
As of June 11, Toronto Blue Jays' shortstop prospect Sergio Santos lead the Eastern League, which is the most pitcher-friendly of the three Double-A divisions, with 12 homers. Unfortunately, he also has a .233 batting average and has walked only 22 times in 202 at-bats, good for a .313 on-base average. Santos began the year in Double-A after spending the last two seasons in Triple-A.
He bottomed out in 2006 when he hit .216/.254/.299 (shudder) in Triple-A Syracuse. However, Santos was only 23 when the 2007 began and he hit more than .300 for a good portion of April before ending the month at .277/.333/.692 (which incidentally had fans screaming for a promotion to Toronto, believe it or not). Since that time though, the batting average has plummeted and the homers have been harder to come by (he hit six in April, five in May and has only one so far this month).
The average is a definite concern, especially given his two years of experience in Triple-A, but one can maintain some hope that Santos has rediscovered the power stroke, which made him an intriguing option going into the 2002 draft, according to our good friends at Baseball America.
Santos has prodigious power, which he displayed by driving balls to all parts of the park in a private workout at Bank One Ballpark prior to the 2002 draft... Santos has enough power for any position and will be a middle-of-the-order hitter in the majors, perhaps as early as 2005.
The Arizona Diamondbacks took Santos 27th overall after he struggled down the homestretch before the draft. Some called Santos' first-round selection a signability pick, while others called it the ultimate boom-or-bust risk. Undeterred by the critics, Santos signed and began his career in Rookie Ball and hit .272/.367/.520.
He then followed that up by being jumped over A-Ball and was placed in hitters' heaven, also known as Lancaster. Over 93 games, Santos hit .287/.368/.408, which are good but not great numbers for the environment. Regardless, the Arizona organization had a bee in its bonnet and promoted Santos to Double-A, at the age of 20, to finish out his first full year of pro ball. He hit .255/.293/.365 in 37 games.
In 2004, Santos returned to Double-A El Paso (not a bad hitter's park in its own right) and he spent an injury-interrupted year there and hit .282/.332/.461 in 89 games. He then spent 2005 in Triple-A Tucson and really struggled, hitting .239/.288/.367. By the end of the season Santos' prospect status had dimmed significantly and he was a throw-in to the Troy Glaus deal with Toronto, where his offensive contributions continue to belie his tools.
Does this story have a happy ending? Only time - and continued patience - will tell.
The Los Angeles Dodgers 2004 draft had the potential to be an awesome draft - with hindsight. Not only did the organization, which is one of the top clubs at recognizing amateur talent, actually sign prep lefty Scott Elbert, shortstop Blake DeWitt, and college right-hander Justin Orenduff before the second round, but it also took - and failed to sign - two prep right-handers by the name of David Price and Joe Savery. Both those picks went on to be 2007 first round picks.
The third talented player the Dodgers took that year, but failed to sign, was a first baseman out of Arizona State University named Jeff Larish. Fast-forward three years to 2007 and Larish is currently best known for A) being second in the Eastern League in homers (11) and B) being Boston's Rookie of the Year candidate Dustin Pedroia's former college teammate.
But in 2004 - and certainly at the beginning of his junior season of college, Larish was by far the the superior prospect to Pedroia and very well possibly all five of the names above. In fact, when the year began, Baseball America called him the best college prospect in all of baseball. So why did he fall to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 13th round?
Larish's slide began after he hit under .300 for a good portion of his junior season, before he finally settled at .308/.396/.468, which was a far cry from the .372/.528/.697 he managed during his sophomore season. Oh, and Larish was also represented by Scott Boras.
Turning down a reported $660,000 - which still far exceeded slot money for the 13th round - Larish returned for his senior year of college. Things improved somewhat for him and he was drafted in the fifth round by the Detroit Tigers after hitting .324/.457/.680 in his final year of school. However, he received a signing bonus of "only" $220,000.
Baseball America wrote this in a scouting report before the 2005 draft:
Scouts have scrutinized his swing as much as any player in the draft, and among the theories regarding his problems are a suspect trigger and the way he blocks off his swing. Some now question whether he'll ever hit with wood. A third baseman as a freshman, a first baseman as a sophomore and a left fielder as a junior, Larish returned to first base this year. But he may not have enough raw power to play there as a pro. Scouts either love or hate Larish, and having Scott Boras as his adviser only adds to the mystery about where he'll be picked.
Not surprisingly for a Boras client, Larish held out after the draft but managed two eek out 24 games in the 2005 minor league season. He began with a quick six-game refresher in the Gulf Coast League where he hit .222/.375/.278 and then jumped up to the New York Penn League to finish the year and managed a line of .297/.430/.625.
The Tigers were no doubt impressed by his patience and power output at Oneonta, so he began the 2006 season in the Advanced A-Ball Florida State League. He spent the entire season there and struggled to hit for average with wood: .258/.379/.460. He walked 81 times but also struck out 101 times against younger competition, as he was old for the league at 23.
In 2007, Larish began the year at Double-A Erie. The batting average continues to be an issue and he had a line of .231/.349/.462 through 59 games. He has walked 39 times with 56 strikeouts. Detroit currently lacks a long-term solution at first base, but it's hard to envision the former No. 1 college prospect in the nation taking a strangle hold on the position with the kind of numbers he has produced in professional baseball.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh on former Phillies' No. 1 draft pick Mike Costanzo. After all, it is only his second full season in professional baseball and he was a two-way player at Coastal Carolina, so he was naturally rawer than most college juniors. According to Baseball America, some teams were split on whether Costanzo would make a better hitter or pitcher.
Costanzo's two-way prowess was a major reason why Coastal Carolina worked its way into Baseball America's Top 25 for the first time in the program's history... Because he has left-handed power and enough arm to profile for third base, most clubs like Costanzo better at the plate. If he's drafted as a pitcher, it will be because of his closer's demeanor, durable arm, fastball in the low 90s and power slider in the 80-83 mph range that can be a plus pitch. At the plate, Costanzo has shown raw and usable power.
Regardless of what could have been, the Phillies made the popular decision and Constanzo had a solid, albeit unspectacular, beginning to his pro career in the New York Penn League in 2005. In 73 games, he hit .274/.356/.473. The 89 strikeouts in 281 at-bats were probably the biggest red flag.
In his first full season, strikeouts were Costanzo's nemesis once again, this time in Advanced A-Ball in the Florida State League. He managed a line of only .258/.364/.411 and struck out 133 times in 504 at-bats, but he did off-set that somewhat with 74 walks.
This season, despite the pedestrian High A-Ball numbers, the Phillies promoted Costanzo to Double-A and he, like Larish, has struggled. The former No. 1 pick has a line of .247/.319/.449 in 227 at-bats. He has also struck out 81 times, which is second in the league to New Hampshire's Chip Cannon, who is the embodiment of the all-or-nothing slugger.
At the age of only 23, Costanzo is hardly washed up, but it would likely be in his best interest to begin making some adjustments to his approach at the plate.
With the 2007 MLB Amateur draft less than a week old, it may be in poor taste to already begin discussing potential busts, but it is inevitable. What former draft darlings have tired your patience in the last few years? What 2007 picks are you most disappointed in when it comes to your favorite club? Let us know by posting a comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Good is an 83-MPH Fastball?
The middle-aged man stated the obvious.
2007 Draft: Picks and Pans
The first televised draft in the history of baseball is now behind us. ESPN2 did a commendable job in bringing us the first round but failed miserably beyond that. The draft show basically turned into Baseball Tonight, focusing more on highlights from the early games on Thursday than providing its viewers with coverage of the supplemental round (as previously promised).
Jim Callis, Keith Law, and David Rawnsley added draft expertise that was missing inside the studio at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. While Peter Gammons always offers interesting tidbits here and there, I found myself wanting to hear from Callis, Law, and Rawnsley more than the little time that each was allotted.
ESPN analyst Steve Phillips lost all credibility with me when he compared Josh Vitters to Bobby Crosby. Vitters and Crosby both hail from nearby high schools. I've seen both of them play at the amateur level—Vitters at Cypress High School and Crosby at Long Beach State. The former is a much better hitter and the latter is a much better fielder. Vitters could never play shortstop and Crosby doesn't hit enough to man third base. Now I know why Phillips is a former GM. I'm just not sure why he is a current analyst.
Here's hoping next year's coverage is longer and that ESPN puts its vast resources to better use.
After using their first pick (ninth overall) to take high-ceiling, prep pitcher Jarrod Parker, the club added three polished and promising college pitchers in the next four rounds: Barry Enright (Pepperdine), Sean Morgan (Tulane) and Wes Roemer (Cal State Fullerton). Any person who has followed the D-Backs even from afar knows that the team's biggest weakness has been pitching (aside from groundball machine Brandon Webb and a couple others). Those three college pitchers - if signed - should move very quickly and could be helping Arizona in a wide-open division within two or three years.
The club also addressed an organizational weakness with the addition of college catcher Ed Easley (Mississippi State) with a pick in the supplemental round. With a few "safe picks" in the bag, Arizona then took another high ceiling player who oozes tools: shortstop Reynaldo Navarro (Puerto Rico).
D-Back fans should be absolutely thrilled with their clubs' first six picks - and those players taken in rounds five through seven were not too shabby either. General manager Josh Byrnes and scouting director Tom Allison have this team headed in an exciting direction, especially when you consider the talent already on the field in Arizona.
Moskos pitched superbly in the closer role for Team USA last summer. He recorded an ERA of 0.86 with six saves in 21 innings pitched over 18 relief appearances, allowing just eight hits and four walks with 35 strikeouts. A power pitcher, maybe Moskos can become a B.J. Ryan-type lefty closer. However, his last start vs. Mississippi State on Friday night left a lot to be desired.
IP H R ER BB SO 5.0 9 6 5 0 4
You can have the relief pitcher at No. 4. Give me the big bat, especially a switch-hitting catcher with a rocket arm. Oh, and if it is all about not wanting to deal with Scott Boras and saving money, then there were still plenty of other choices out there, including Jason Heyward, a 6-4, 220-pound, power-hitting outfielder with a mature approach at the plate despite not turning 18 until August. I like his ceiling and apparently so do the Atlanta Braves.
Incumbent first baseman Prince Fielder is only eight months older than LaPorta. With the Prince of Milwaukee leading the league in HR (22), SLG (.645), and TB (149), and second in OPS (1.026) and OPS+ (169), the Brew Crew seems as set at 1B as can be for at least the next 4 1/2 years. Maybe LaPorta can pull a Frank Howard or Greg Luzinski or even a Pat Burrell or Carlos Lee and hit enough to overcome his weak fielding in left field. Perhaps Melvin thinks he can flip LaPorta to another team at some point. Or is it possible that Bud Selig winked and told the team that he would put them back in the AL so Fielder or LaPorta could DH?
If Milwaukee took him for trade purposes, then count me as someone who believes management made a huge mistake in taking LaPorta. Only time will tell.
There could be a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the Braves felt their system is beginning to thin out so they wanted some players that could move quickly, or perhaps they simply took the best players available with each pick and it is simply a coincidence. Regardless, the prep players that they took are intriguing and offer plenty of upside.
With their first pick (14th overall), the Braves grabbed Georgia high school outfielder Jason Heyward, who simply oozes tools and is (obviously) a local boy. Baseball America stated in a recent scouting report that Heyward has more potential than almost any player in the draft, aside from a healthy Andrew Brackman. With raw plus-plus power, Heyward could be challenging another Georgia high schooler - Jeff Francoeur - for playing time in four to five years.
Iowa high school infielder Jon Gilmore was the Braves' second choice with the 33rd pick in the supplemental round. Gilmore struggled through injuries this season, but was excellent on the showcase circuit last summer. He was expected to last until the second or third round but by popping him early, Atlanta will probably keep him away from Wichita State. One knock on Gilmore is that he spends all his energies on hitting and neglects his defense.
The Braves third prep pick was California two-way player Freddie Freeman, who is relatively inexperienced on the mound but throws 90-93 mph with a solid slider. I'm not 100 percent sure if Atlanta plans to have him pitch or play first base. My guess is that they plan to first try him as a hitter, as he is a 6-5, left-handed batter with plus power potential. If all else fails, it is easy to convert a player back to a pitcher, rather than the other way around (unless your name is Rick Ankiel). Freeman is a Cal State Fullerton recruit.
I'm not sure what scouting director Mike Radcliff's marching orders were, but I would have preferred Ryan Dent out of Long Beach Wilson HS (CA) over Revere. Although not quite as fast as Revere, Dent, who was selected by the Boston Red Sox with the No. 62 pick in the draft, has a stronger arm and a much more advanced bat. I believe Dent, a shortstop in high school, would make a better all-round CF than Revere.
Other than the two college seniors—Matt LaPorta (MIL/#7) and Casey Weathers (COL/#8)—with little or no leverage, if anybody taken in the first round signs for less than slot, I would imagine that it would be Revere.
Here is the scouting report I wrote, but was not able to post, on Davis when he fell:
Kentrail Davis, OF, Theodore High School (AL)
Interestingly, I like Davis as a No. 1 pick far better than I like the Rockies' actual first round pick... with all apologies to Vanderbilt closer Casey Weathers. I just absolutely hate to waste a first round pick on a future closer or set-up man. Weathers is a great player and a great second round pick.
Davis is extremely raw, as pointed out in the above profile, but if he reaches his ceiling he will have a much bigger impact as an everyday player than Weathers ever will pitching two or three times a week. But I rate their chances of signing him as 30/70.
2007 MLB Draft: The Morning After
The MLB Draft is set to resume this morning with five rounds in the books after day one. We live blogged the first through second rounds yesterday, including pick-by-pick coverage with commentary on every player selected. Thanks to the baseball blogosphere and our readers, Baseball Analysts obliterated its previous record for traffic, exceeding 2,500 per hour at the peak and settling in at nearly 15,000 for the entire day.
Although we will not be live blogging day two, we will provide highlights throughout the day while taking a look back at Thursday's developments. College lefthanders and high school players dominated the proceedings yesterday. Six collegiate southpaws—David Price (Vanderbilt/TB #1), Daniel Moskos (Clemson/PIT #4), Ross Detwiler (Missouri State/WAS #6), Joe Savery (Rice/PHI #17), Nick Schmidt (Arkansas/SD #23), and Aaron Poreda (USF/CWS #25)—were selected before a single righthander (James Simmons, UC Riverside/OAK #26) was plucked.
By the same token, 17 first rounders (vs. just 13 last year) and 20 of the top 33 draftees came from the high school ranks, including the number two (Mike Moustakas, Chatsworth HS/KC) and three (Josh Vitters, Cypress HS/CHC) choices as well as seven RHP—Jarrod Parker (Norwell HS/ARI #9), Phillippe Aumont (Ecole du Versant HS/SEA #11), Blake Beavan (Irving HS/TEX #17), Chris Withrow (Midland Christian HS/LAD #20), Tim Alderson (Horizon HS/SF #22), Michael Main (DeLand HS/TEX #24), and Rick Porcello (Seton Hall Prep/DET #27).
You will have to excuse Scott Carroll and Danny Carroll if they were a little confused on draft day. The two amateur prospects were taken back-to-back with overall picks 104 (Cincinnati) and 105 (Seattle). That is where the similarities end, though. Scott is a college right hander from Missouri State, while Danny is a prep outfielder from Moreno Valley, California.
The Rays made Nicholas Barnese - a right-handed prep pitcher from Simi Valley, California - the first pick of the round. According to Baseball America, Barnese missed his entire junior year of high school due to a team-imposed suspension, so there are perhaps some make-up issues. If he doesn't sign, Barnese is headed to a very good baseball program at Cal State Fullerton.
The Rays organization has had pretty good luck with choosing talent in the third round, but have only signed one player in the last four years in that round: Wade Davis. Other third rounders who did not sign include some kid named Andrew Miller in 2003 (who had fallen due to signability issues) and Bryan Morris in 2005, who was then taken in the first round by the Dodgers the very next year.
The Cubs made an interesting choice with the third pick of the round in college second baseman Tony Thomas. His numbers were seriously lacking until this season, when something clicked. In 2005, as a freshman starter at Florida State, Thomas struck out 75 times in 215 at-bats (the second most in Division I) and 66 times in 235 at-bats as a sophomore. In his junior year, however, his average raised to .430 (from .289 the year previous) and his strikeouts plummeted to 39. BA attributed the improvements to a new stance. I'm still nervous that this could be similar to the 'career season in the free agent year phenomenon.' And the Cubs don't exactly have a solid track record when it comes to developing in-house second basemen.
One of the biggest names in the draft lasted until the third round when the Angels finally took prep pitcher Matt Harvey with the 118th overall pick. The Angels are obviously looking to work some magic with Harvey, who will be a tough sign and will surely not enter pro ball for slot money. His stuff was inconsistent this spring - but still very good - and he is also a Scott Boras client who is committed to North Carolina. Will the Angels have another Nick Adenhart - who was also committed to North Carolina - steal on their hands? It will be interesting to see.
The MLB was obviously having a blue light special on Puerto Rican players in the third round, as teams grabbed the top three ranked players - about two or three rounds higher than predicted. Arizona acted first by nabbing shortstop Reynaldo Navarro with the ninth pick, followed by Cincinnati taking third baseman Neftali Sota at 15 (a fav of mine) and MInnesota with outfielder Angel Morales at 28. They will all require a lot of patience but their upsides are hugh.
With the 18th pick of the round (and 142nd overall) the college-loving Cardinals nabbed slugging U of Texas outfielder Kyle Russell. Most pre-draft mocks had him being taken in the late first round or in the supplemental. As a draft-eligible sophomore, Russell will not be an easy sign, especially after he obliterated Texas' home run record and led Division I with 28 homers. That said, many scouts question whether he will be able to hit for average or not. Our very own Rich Lederer profiled Russell last month and was skeptical of his first-round projection after seeing him play, talking to a talent evaluator, as well as speaking with Russell:
Make no mistake about it, Russell has a powerful stroke, but his swing is not without its holes. Kyle's high strikeout rate and poor showing in the Cape Cod League last summer make one wonder how he will perform with a wood rather than aluminum bat once he turns pro... I liked Russell when I saw him play but am of the opinion that he would be somewhat of a gamble in the first round...
The Toronto Blue Jays did what they do "best" in the draft, which is A) take a lot of college left handers and B) draft a lot of college seniors. With the fourth round pick, they nabbed Arizona's Brad Mills, who fits both bills. It was also the Jays who took Mills in the 2006 draft (22nd round) despite the fact he told teams he wanted to finish his civil engineering degree. Mills told Insidethedome.com that he was not surprised to be drafted by the Jays again and he has every intention of signing this year.
With the final pick of the round, the New York Yankees chose Texas third baseman Brad Suttle. It was not a great draft for the Yankees (so far) and Suttle invokes a luke-warm response from me. Kyle Russell's teammate is also a draft-eligible sophomore, who wants $1 million to sign... which shouldn't be an issue for New York. Suttle is quite slow and has below-average power for a third baseman. Although he may hit for average, his speed will limit him in terms of stretching singles into doubles and beating out infield hits.
With the 16th pick of the round, Texas nabbed prep pitcher John Gast out of a Florida area high school. The left hander was concerned a top talent before succumbing to Tommy John surgery recently. Gast was projected to be a first to third round pick. Interestingly, he didn't fall too far and Texas is obviously hoping for a result similar to what the Angels had when they took top pitching prospect Nick Adenhart with their 14th round pick in 2004 despite a similar injury. Adenhart signed for above-slot at $710,000 and the rest is history.
With the 20th pick in the round, Boston took high school two-way player Will Middlebrooks and announced him as a pitcher (according to MLB.com's draft tracker), even though most scouts projected him to be a better hitter at this point. He was considered a late round or supplemental round option so it will be interesting to see if Texas A&M loses both of its third base recruits (the Jays' first pick Kevin Ahrens is the other).
The Dodgers may have gotten an absolute steal in the fifth round... if he signs. Prep pitcher Kyle Blair has outstanding make-up and is extremely projectable. BA reported that his fastball jumped up to 94-95 as the draft neared. He also has a curveball that is rated a 60 on scouts' 20-80 scale. He is committed to the University of San Diego and could be a tough sign, but may very well be worth it.
Word inside the Red Sox camp is that Middlebrooks was drafted as a shortstop.
I was all set to discuss how Jack McGeary of Boston's Roxbury Latin School had not gone off the board yet but he has now been selected at pick 190 by the Washington Nationals. It's probably about 125 picks after he anticipated being taken off the board but McGeary went to bed last night a non-draftee because of "signability," a non-word that has crept its way into almost every die-hard baseball fan's vocabulary. Sign of the times, I guess.
McGeary, a Stanford commit, is a smart guy with a bright future with or without baseball and I think it was well known around Major League Baseball circles that it would take a lot of money to get a deal done. And so, he slipped. Alan Matthews of Baseball America did a nice job reviewing the other candidates who slipped due to "signability" issues.
Now this I am psyched about. My beloved Boston Red Sox selected our guy Adam Mills of UNC Charlotte in the 8th round. I spoke with Mills about an hour ago and he sounded almost as enthusiastic as I was! When I congratulated him, Mills exclaimed "I'm excited to be heading your way, man." In all likelihood, Mills will start the year in Lowell of the New York - Penn League.
Once the draft is over, attention will certainly turn toward signing bonuses. Courtesy of the Baseball America 2007 Prospect Handbook, I have created a table showing the bonuses for the past two years for all players drafted in the first round, followed by every fifth pick through 50 and every tenth pick thereafter (up to and including 100).
2005 2006 1. $6.100M $3.500M 2. 4.000 3.250 3. 3.400 3.000 4. 2.975 2.750 5. 2.450 2.450 6. 2.400 3.550 7. 2.300 2.300 8. 1.500 2.000 9. 3.550 2.100 10. 2.650 2.025 11. 1.900 3.000 12. 1.800 1.600 13. 1.700 1.475 14. 1.695 1.700 15. 1.570 1.625 16. 1.600 1.550 17. 1.575 1.575 18. 1.550 1.550 19. 1.525 1.525 20. 1.750 1.500 21. 1.475 2.250 22. 1.225 1.425 23. 1.400 1.400 24. 1.375 1.375 25. 1.350 1.350 26. 1.325 1.325 27. 1.300 1.300 28. 1.000 1.550 29. 1.000 1.050 30. 1.100 0.950 35. 0.950 0.950 40. N/A 0.950 45. 0.762 0.762 50. 0.690 0.690 60. 0.600 0.600 70. 0.515 0.515 80. 0.475 0.450 90. 0.422 0.422 100. 0.385 0.385
The above table allows you to see how much "slot money" is for each of the draft picks. A handful of players in each of the past two drafts were deemed "special cases" and received bonuses above slot. A few players were even willing to take less than slot.
How much the No. 1 pick gets is usually the toughest of 'em all. Justin Upton signed for $6.1M in 2005 while Luke Hochevar re-entered the draft in 2006 and signed for $3.5M. Look for David Price to get a bit more than Hochevar but not nearly as much as Upton, who had the option of not signing and going to college. Price, of course, could return for his senior year but that is highly unlikely unless Tampa Bay low balls him. The two sides obviously talked before the draft and are apparently discussing numbers that are palatable to both.
Going down the list in 2005, you can see that Wade Townsend agreed to a deal with TB for well below slot money at No. 8. Mike Pelfrey, on the other hand, held out for about an extra $1.5M when he negotiated his deal at No. 9 with the New York Mets. Cameron Maybin was a tough sign at No. 10 but the Detroit Tigers, who have shown a willingness to pay what it takes to get the players they want, stepped up and gave him a bonus of $500,000-$600,000 over slot.
Mark Pawelek (No. 20 in 2005) and his agent Scott Boras worked out a deal with the Chicago Cubs before the draft for a quarter of a million over slot. Aaron Thompson (No. 22) accepted a signing bonus from the Florida Marlins that was $200,000 below slot.
In 2006, Detroit found Andrew Miller, the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft, still on the board at No. 6 so they grabbed him and gave the former Tar Heel $3.55M, the highest signing bonus last year. Max Scherzer (No. 11) held out until almost literally the last minute, finally inking a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks that included a bonus of $3M. A third pitcher—Ian Kennedy of USC—signed with the New York Yankees for $750,000 over slot money at No. 21. Kennedy, by the way, is pitching for the club's High-A affiliate in Tampa and is leading the Florida State League in wins (6), ERA (1.29), and WHIP (0.97). It just shows that you have to be willing to think—and pay—outside the box.
Tyler Colvin (No. 13) was drafted higher than expected because he showed a willingness to accept a bonus that was below slot from the Chicago Cubs, who were looking to save money in the first round to justify Jeff Samardzija's whopping bonus in a later round.
And that's the ins and outs of signing bonuses and slot money.
Live Blogging the 2007 MLB Draft
The Major League Baseball Draft is less than 12 hours away and Baseball Analysts will be here bringing you all the picks with capsules on every player selected in the first and supplemental rounds. Be sure to refresh your browser or check back throughout the day to stay abreast of the latest news as we live blog the draft.
For those of you at home or with a TV at the office, you can also catch the proceedings on ESPN2 from 2:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. ET. Karl Ravech, Peter Gammons, and Steve Phillips will be in the studio at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (just outside of Orlando), while Jim Callis of Baseball America will provide analysis from the ESPN Zone in Chicago.
With a five-minute maximum for each of the top 30 picks, the first round is expected to take about 2 1/2 hours. Following a 15-minute break, the draft will proceed with a record 34 selections in the supplemental round. The first day of the draft is scheduled to last until approximately 8:30 p.m. ET with the expectation of completing no more than five or six rounds due to television coverage, a far cry from the past when the opening day covered upwards of 20 rounds. The draft will resume on Friday morning and end after every team has either passed or made a selection in the 50th round.
The most significant rule change with this year's draft involves a universal signing date. All draft picks must now sign by Aug. 15, or they go back into the draft pool. In previous years, players who went to junior college or simply did not return to school were eligible to sign with the team that drafted them until a week before the next year's draft.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays own the first pick of the draft, followed by the Kansas City Royals and the Chicago Cubs. The San Francisco Giants are the only team with three selections in the first round (10, 22, and 29). The Giants also have three more in the supplemental round (32, 43, and 51). As a result, SF will draft four of the top 32 picks and six of the top 51.
The Toronto Blue Jays (16, 21, 38, 45, and 56) and Texas Rangers (17, 24, 35, 44, and 54) have two choices in the first round plus three more in the supplemental round. The San Diego Padres have one slot in the first round (23) and five more in the supplemental (40, 46, 57, 63, and 64).
- Rich Lederer, 6/7/07, 12:05 a.m. PT
Draft day is finally here! As Rich said yesterday, "It's Christmas in June." While the scouting directors for each club are probably tossing in their sleep right now - desperate for a couple hours of shut-eye after a long night - writers, bloggers and fans everywhere are madly trying to deduce exactly which player is being drafted by what club with which pick. The perennial draft experts Baseball America, and more specifically Jim Callis, usually come very, very close to predicting the actual first round - about 12 hours before the draft occurs.
This year is no different. Among the surprises, consensus top prep pitcher Rick Porcello could fall all the way to the Texas Rangers at 24 (rather than Kansas City with the second pick). The Yankees are also rumored to be hot after Porcello, much to adviser Scott Boras' delight.
The Royals, instead, are planning to pop arguably the top prep hitter - Josh Vitters. The first prep pitcher off the board could be Jarrod Parker to the Cubs at No. 3. I guess I should also mention that college left-hander David Price will be the overall No. 1 pick by Tampa Bay, but that has pretty much been a foregone conclusion for months.
One of the biggest movers in the draft in the past three or four weeks has been Pennsylvania high school catcher Devin Mesoraco. Baseball America has him being taken by Milwaukee at No. 7, although they are also considering Canadian right-hander Phillippe Aumont and college outfielder Julio Borbon.
Matt Wieters, considered to be the top hitting prospect in the draft, is predicted to fall to the San Francisco Giants at pick No. 10, which is the club's first of three choices in the round. They are also considering U of San Francisco hurler Aaron Poreda and prep pitcher Josh Smoker with the other two picks.
Over at MLB.com, Jonathan Mayo has the same first three picks predicted, although he sees some deviation at No. 4 and No. 5. He has Pittsburgh taking college lefty Daniel Moskos and Baltimore taking college lefty Ross Detwiler. Callis has Pittsburgh taking Detwiler and Baltimore taking the risk on the raw Canadian talent Aumont.
No doubt to the delight of Yankee fans everywhere, Mayo has Porcello dropping to the 30th pick. I really hope that doesn't happen because, if it does, it's a sign that the amateur draft still isn't working if the best players are not available to the clubs that need them the most.
- Marc Hulet, 6/7/07, 9:25 a.m. ET
According to Jim Callis at Baseball America, the Royals have switched gears at the last minute and will go ahead and grab Boras' client Mike Moustakas with the second overall pick. That moves Vitters to Chicago and drops Parker to Arizona, San Francisco or Florida. Isn't this fun?!
- Marc Hulet, 6/7/07, 1:24 p.m. ET
1. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
David Price, LHP, Vanderbilt University
Price was the best pitcher on the best (regular season) team in the country and is pretty much the consensus best player in the draft. He struck out 194 batters in 133 innings against some of the best competition in the country this season. He has a polished repertoire, and figures to be fast-tracked into The Bigs as many think he is already very close to being ready to contribute at that level.
2. Kansas City Royals
Mike Moustakas, SS, Chatsworth HS (CA)
A high school teammate of 3B Matt Dominguez, Moustakas will most likely be tried at the hot corner as a pro. He possesses a strong arm as evidenced by the fact that he played quarterback on the football team and was also used as a pitcher this spring. Some scouts think his best position may be as a catcher. A left-handed hitter, his bat is good enough to play anywhere on the field. Moustakas holds the California high school record for homers in a single season (24) and career (52). He was selected state sophomore player of the year in 2005, state junior player of the year in 2006, and is expected to earn the same honor for his senior year—and could very well be named Baseball America's High School Player of the Year for 2007.
3. Chicago Cubs
Josh Vitters, 3B, Cypress HS (CA)
Vitters can flat out hit, especially with a wood bat as evidenced by his outstanding performances in the Cape Cod Classic in Wareham (MA), Area Code games in Long Beach (CA), and the Aflac All-American Classic in San Diego last summer. He has quick hands and a smooth, compact stroke that produces line drives and "lots of pop" as a former major leaguer and current scout told me. Baseball America lists Vitters as the "best pure hitter" and the "closest to majors" among all high school players. His defense and foot speed are no better than average although both could improve with additional work over time. Although Vitters has committed to Arizona State, he is expected to sign a pro contract and report to his new team well in advance of the August 15 deadline.
For more on Josh, be sure to check out last Monday's exclusive Q&A with him.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Daniel Moskos, LHP, Clemson University
I can't believe that the Pirates selected another college pitcher with their first pick - and a lefthander at that. Most of the RHP have failed to date while the club currently has three southpaws (Gorzelanny, Maholm, and Duke) firmly planted in its rotation.
5. Baltimore Orioles
Matt Wieters, C, Georgia Tech
Wieters will be the first test for owner Peter Angelos and agent Scott Boras to work out a contract. Stay tuned for the fireworks.
6. Washington Nationals
Ross Detwiler, LHP, Missouri State University
7. Milwaukee Brewers
Matt LaPorta, 1B, University of Florida
Wow. There is a shock. Great news for a really nice guy. But how does he fit in with a club A) with Prince Fielder and B) with no DH???
I'm sorry, this pick makes NO sense. Fielder and LaPorta? On a NL club? Neither Fielder and LaPorta can play any other position except 1B. Not a good fit. Bad choice.
8. Colorado Rockies
Casey Weathers, RHP, Vanderbilt University
How do you spell r-e-a-c-h?
As a Jays fan, thank goodness Weathers isn't there to tempt J.P. Ricciardi.
9. Arizona Diamondbacks
Jarrod Parker, RHP, Norwell HS (IN)
Parker throws three pitches but relies primarily on his powerful fastball. He throws his fastball in the 94-97 MPH range and is able to spot it effectively to both sides of the plate, which is rare for right handed pitchers in high school. His change-up and curveball have the potential to be good pitches, but he was able to get by with just his fastball in high school, so he didn't develop his other pitches. While his height is a possible concern for teams, Parker has drawn comparisons to Roy Oswalt, the patron saint of small, hard-throwing right-handers. Parker went 10-0 on the season, posting a 0.13 ERA with four complete games. In 52 innings he allowed 15 hits, 96 strikeouts and eight walks.
Parker was universally considered the best high school pitcher in the draft not represented by Scott Boras. That is a valuable combination and one that many teams were hopeful of gaining.
10. San Francisco Giants
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, South Caldwell HS (NC)
Bumgarner, a North Carolina commit, is tall, athletic and has an advanced physique for his age, which helps evaluators feel more strongly about his projectability. He can get it up to 95 with great command and boasts two quality off-speed pitches - a snap-hook curveball and a change-up. The most common critique that I have heard is that he can have problems controlling and commanding his deuce.
11. Seattle Mariners
Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Ecole du Versant High School (CAN)
The top amateur pitcher in Canada, Aumont had the opportunity to become the highest Canadian ever drafted (Adam Loewen was taken fourth overall by Baltimore in 2004) after surging up draft boards this spring. The 6'7'' French Canadian - who speaks solid English - has a 95-98 mph four-seam fastball, as well as a two-seamer, slurve and developing change-up. Aumont has a solid understanding of pitching and believes control and movement is more important than power. He has international experience and is a former member of the Canadian Junior National Team. Amazingly, Aumont has only been pitching since the age of 14 and took up baseball at age 11 as a centerfielder. He is raw and will be a project, but he intelligent, mature and should be a quick learner. I had a chance to talk to Aumont recently about his pitching career and what the future holds. I came away suitably impressed as Aumont was the most composed high school athlete I have every interviewed.
Interesting pick by Seattle, who was projected to take a polished college arm by just about every draft expert. Having interviewed him recently, I am thrilled for this very mature kid.
12. Florida Marlins
Matt Dominguez, 3B, Chatsworth High School (CA)
Dominguez is unlikely to fulfill his commitment to Cal State Fullerton as a highly-regarded draft prospect. He has a solid bat with power potential. Dominguez is expected to be solid defensively at third base with several scouts comparing his potential to that of Washington's Ryan Zimmerman. Dominguez is athletic and has an average arm. He has also played some shortstop in high school but does not project to have the range needed in pro ball. Dominguez has struggled with his approach at the plate this year and some adjustments need to be made.
I'm a big fan of this pick. Dominguez can field at a MLB level now and has a power bat (including two HR at Dodger Stadium in championship high school games plus another one at Blair Field with a wood bat in the Area Code games last summer).
The Marlins just stole the Jays' preferred choice. I'm sure general manager J.P. Ricciardi had some choice words...
13. Cleveland Indians
Beau Mills, 3B, Lewis-Clark State College
Mills made an unusual move from NCAA Division I Fresno State to NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark due to academic problems. But the move has paid off for him and he has rocketed into the first round in his junior season. He is now considered as one of the top three college bats in the draft along with Georgia Tech's Matt Wieters and U of Florida's Matt LaPorta. All three players possess above-average power potential and Mills' comes more from bat speed than raw strength. Mills has been exposed to professional baseball most of his life as his father Brad is a former Major League player and is currently the bench coach with the Boston Red Sox. Although not a speedster on the base paths, Mills is a smart runner who won't clog the bases. Defensively, his range is average but he handles everything he reaches. He may move to first base in pro ball. Mills is a solid leader who plays the game the right way.
Another shock as everyone predicted Cleveland was all over prep pitcher Blake Beavan.
Well, the Indians are known to favor college players. The fact that CLE can play him at 1B or DH makes him more valuable to them than LaPorta to MIL.
14. Atlanta Braves
Jason Heyward, OF, Henry County High School (GA)
Heyward has tremendous plus-plus, left-handed power and also has the potential to hit for a high average. As a result, he was never expected to make it out of the first 10 or 14 picks. Heyward is an average fielder who plays center field in high school but will likely move to either left or right field in pro ball. Some scouts say he can be too patient at the plate at times, but he possesses solid pitch recognition. He has committed to UCLA but is expected to display his excellent baseball instincts in pro ball instead.
Nice pick. The Braves sure love prospects from Georgia.
15. Cincinnati Reds
Devin Mesoraco, C, Punxsatawney High School (PA)
Mesoraco has four-tool potential, with his speed being his lone weak spot. Offensively, he doesn't chase bad pitches and he has plus power. Defensively, Mesoraco has a plus arm, plus hands and makes accurate throws. He has recovered from 2006 Tommy John surgery with no ill effects. Mesoraco is outstanding at blocking balls in the dirt. He also has excellent make-up and is a natural leader. His overall package is hard to ignore and he rose up the draft charts more than any other player in the last few weeks.
The Jays just lost their back-up option after first losing Dominguez. If they take a low-ceiling college pitcher, I may be sick...
Kevin Ahrens, SS-3B, Memorial HS (TX)
Ahrens is one of a number of outstanding prep third basemen in this year's draft. I saw Ahrens play in the Area Code games in Long Beach last summer. The switch-hitting prep shortstop has good size, power, and arm strength—and almost assuredly will be moved to the hot corner before reaching the majors. The comparison to Chipper Jones is understandable but a bit generous given the fact that Ahrens doesn't move nearly as well at the same age as the former No. 1 pick. Baseball America ranks Ahrens as the third "best pure hitter" among high school prospects.
I know Marc is happy!
Much better than a low-ceiling college pick... But there was almost no talk of Ahrens to Toronto in the Canadian media before this pick occurred. A bit of a surprise, but he was the best available prep player that wasn't a pitcher. And JP was not going to take a high school hurler with his first pick.
17. Texas Rangers (from Houston for Carlos Lee)
Blake Beavan, RHP, Irving HS (TX)
Beavan's season ended nearly a month ago when his Irving High team fell in the opening round of the Texas 5A postseason tournament. Beavan finished the season with a 9-2 record, a 0.19 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 73 innings. The biggest reason for Beavan's dominance was his mid-90s fastball. Beavan threw mostly fastballs in high school, while locating it on both sides of the plate. He also features a slider and change-up, although they aren't as impressive as his fastball. In the summer of 2006 Beavan pitched for the US junior national team and shut out Cuba in the quarterfinals of the IBAF World Junior Championships. His competitive nature was on display during that game when he threw a pitch over the head of Cuba's Dayan Viciedo in retaliation for Cuba's pitcher hitting Beavan's teammate Victor Sanchez. That competitive nature appeared as cockiness/showboating in the past, although it appears he has worked past that and now only shows loads of confidence on the mound.
More than a hometown pick, Beavan is tall, throws hard, and has a proven track record of success.
18. St. Louis Cardinals
Peter Kozma, SS, Owasso High School (OK)
Kozma is a solid player who does not project to be a star, but an average major leaguer. He is a hard worker who gets the most out of his abilities. Kozma has excellent hitting skills and developing power. He also has above-average speed and is a solid base runner. Defensively, Kozma has an average arm and range at shortstop. He is comparable to Mark Loretta, albeit with more athleticism. Kozma is a relatively advanced high school player and he has committed to play college ball at Wichita State University.
Joe Savery, LHP, Rice University
Savery was considered a bit of a wild card in the early rounds. He had the potential to be a first round draft pick and pitch near the top of a major league rotation but labrum surgery clouded his draft status. It also didn't help that recent Rice University high draft picks (Jeff Niemann, Phil Humber, Wade Townsend, Josh Baker) have a poor track record due to health concerns. However, Baseball America suggested Savery's injury may help him long-term, as Rice has been reluctant to use him as frequently. Savery's fastball is not as good as it used to be, but it's still pretty solid and has been between 85-94 mph this season. His curveball is still developing but he has flashed a plus change-up. Savery, a two-way player, is a good athlete.
If he's healthy, this could be a great pick. Former top-of-the-first-round type of talent. As a two-way player, he could make a minor impact with the bat.
20. Los Angeles Dodgers (from Boston for Julio Lugo)
Chris Withrow, RHP, Midland Christian High School, (TX)
Withrow throws in the 89-94 mph range with his fastball, which also has good sink to it. Both his curve and change have the potential to be above-average pitches but they are not there yet. He has solid command of all his pitches, particularly his fastball and change. Withrow is projectable and athletic, so his game should improve significantly with professional coaching. He has excellent mechanics and repeats his delivery consistently. His father pitched in the White Sox organization, as well as at the University of Texas.
Rick Porcello is still available, as is Matt Harvey. Both prep pitchers are Scott Boras clients. Look for the New York Yankees to grab Porcello if he is available and perhaps Harvey if he is not. Among non-Boras clients, Michael Main and Josh Smoker are probably at or near the top of most draft boards right now.
21. Toronto Blue Jays
J.P. Arencibia, C, University of Tennessee
Knew this one was coming... I have liked him since last year... I just hope the back problem is a thing of the past. His defence is suspect but his bat is good enough for first base.
22. San Francisco Giants (from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jason Schmidt)
Tim Alderson, RHP, Horizon High School (AZ)
Despite his size, Alderson's fastball currently sits in the 89-93 mph range. He has also flashed a curveball that can be a plus pitch, as well as a solid change-up that he doesn't use much against high school competition. His biggest strength right now is his plus-plus command. Not surprisingly, he has a solid mound presence and is extremely aggressive. He is athletic but has an unorthodox delivery that worries some scouts. Alderson pitches exclusively from the stretch.
Alderson struck out 111 batters and only walked 4. Yes, 111 to 4 K/BB. Not too shabby. The Giants have now taken two power arms from the high school ranks and still have four of the next 29 picks. Alderson's family can watch him train in Scottsdale next spring.
23. San Diego Padres
Nick Schmidt, LHP, University of Arkansas
As evidenced by his 111/51 K/BB ratio in 2007, Schmidt is not blessed with overwhelming stuff and slots more into the low-risk category. He sits high 80s to low 90s and really knows how to pitch. Scouts figure he will be able to consistently get outs and eat innings due to his size as he advances to the higher levels of professional ball.
I think the Padres were pleasantly surprised that Schmidt was still available at this pick. The big lefty has been Arkansas' Friday Night starter since the middle of his freshman season. He doesn't possess as much polish as SD normally likes, but they have always shown a preference for proven college pitchers.
24. Texas Rangers (from the Los Angeles Angels for Gary Matthews, Jr.)
Michael Main, RHP/OF, DeLand HS (FL)
Main is a two-way player, throwing heat from the mound and spending the rest of his time in the outfield. As a pitcher, Main has one of the strongest fastballs in the draft and mixes in an effective change-up and curveball as well. He has a quick delivery, which could have led to the tendonitis in his rotator cuff he suffered from over parts of the last two seasons. He appears to have fully recovered from the injury, as evidenced by striking out 121 hitters in 82 innings this spring. However, it could still cause a Major League team to think twice about using him as a pitcher because Main is very good as an outfielder as well. A five-tool player, Main hit almost .500 this season and runs like a deer. As a testament to his blazing speed, he was timed going from home-to-first in 4.07 seconds from the right-handed batters box. His swing is smooth and he projects to have power at the Major League level. Main's value is as a pitcher, but if a team gets gun shy about his injury history, his athletic ability is a nice thing to fall back on.
Beavan and Main? Nice. Very nice. A great athlete, Peter Gammons just compared Main to Boston uber prospect Clay Buchholz.
25. Chicago White Sox
Aaron Poreda, LHP, University of San Francisco
Poreda does not strike batters out the way you would like to see a flame-throwing lefty of his size mow 'em down (66 K's in 99 IP) but given his size and live arm, he may be well worth a flier. A good pitching coach and a quality player development system could easily mold Poreda into a quality Major League pitcher one day.
With Poreda, the White Sox do not make a big-name splash. Looks like the Yankees (pick No. 30) may have a shot at Porcello, Brackman and Harvey but keep an eye on the Tigers at 27.
26. Oakland Athletics
James Simmons, RHP, UC Riverside
Simmons is one of the most polished pitchers in the draft. He struck out 116 batters and walked only 15 in 123.2 IP this spring. Baseball America ranks him third as the "closest to the majors" among all college players (behind only Vanderbilt's David Price and Casey Weathers). After posting a 1.18 ERA over 53.1 IP in the Cape Cod League last summer, Simmons went 11-3 with a 2.40 ERA in his junior season at UC Riverside. His ERA might be a bit misleading as he gave up 15 unearned runs (out of a total of 48) in 123.2 IP, giving the strike-throwing artist a RA of 3.49.
I had the chance to see Simmons in action vs. Long Beach State on 5/18/07. His fastball sat at 90-92 in the early innings (with one pitch touching 93), then fell to 88-91 later in the game (with a high of 92). He possesses a plus change-up and no better than an average breaking ball. Simmons tends to throw a lot of pitches for someone with his command (127 over six innings in the game I saw and 133 in 7.1 IP against Nebraska in the Regionals last week). His upside will be a function of how many bats he misses at the big league level. (Photo)
Oakland has now taken 13 college players out of their last 14 first-round picks in the Billy Beane era.
27. Detroit Tigers
Rich Porcello, RHP, Seton Hall Prep (NJ)
The 2006-2007 Gatorade national baseball player of the year was the top high school pitching prospect in the draft. With a four-seam fastball that sits in the 95 MPH range and a two-seam fastball with movement, Porcello dominated high school hitters this spring. On the season he went 9-0 with a 1.44 ERA with 103 strikeouts and 13 walks in 63 innings. His easy delivery and good mechanics don't lend themselves to injuries and he has a projectable body. One of the knocks on Porcello heading into this season was his control, but he showed excellent command this spring, allaying that fear. Signability is the big issue with Porcello now, as he is advised by Scott Boras and has a commitment to North Carolina. However, with new rules in place that will compensate teams for unsigned picks in the first three rounds with essentially the same pick in the 2008 draft, perhaps teams will be less concerned about signability than they were in the past.
Take that Yankees. The Tigers LOVE to make big splashes when players fall due to signability issues. He could be a major steal, along the lines of Andrew Miller.
Sully just IM'd me and, as a Red Sox fan, is one very happy man.
28. Minnesota Twins
Ben Revere, OF, Lexington Catholic HS (KY)
Baseball America ranks Revere as the "fastest baserunner" (6.28 in the 60) among all high school prospects. He also projects to be a plus defensive outfielder in terms of range but has a below-average arm. Makes excellent contact at the plate with occasional pop. A wide receiver and kick returner in football, Revere is considered to be a great athlete with strong makeup and a first-rate work ethic.
Revere sounds like a better fantasy pool selection (especially in a 4x4 league) than baseball player.
29. San Francisco Giants (from the New York Mets for Moises Alou)
Wendell Fairley, OF, George County-Lucedale High School (MS)
Fairley's game is all about speed and athletic ability as he is a raw baseball player. He also spent time playing football in high school. He has shown the ability to hit for both average and power with a projectable left-handed stroke. Fairly projects as a centerfielder and has enough arm to stay there in the future. There are some questions about his make-up as he faced charges this year, stemming from a school prank, and is also a father, despite still being in high school.
30. New York Yankees
Andrew Brackman, RHP, North Carolina State
Many teams still do not know what to think about 6'10'' Brackman, whose season ended early due to fatigue after fewer than 80 innings of work. But with a 92-97 mph fastball, which reportedly hit 100 mph in the summer Cape Cod League, he is desirable baseball talent. Brackman is raw for a college pitcher and he is represented by super agent Scott Boras. Along with his fastball, Brackman possesses a 78-81 mph knuckle curve and an 82-84 mph change-up. He struggles with his balance and release point, which leads to spotty control at times. The former high school and college basketball player has good athleticism. As the draft neared, there were rumors flying that all the talk of injuries (as well as some impending Tommy John whispers) were orchestrated by Boras to help Brackman fall to a big market club.
You can have him.
We're in the midst of a 15-minute break between the first round and the supplemental round. Stay tuned as we will continue to bring all the coverage to you right here.
As a recap, 13 college players and 17 high schoolers were chosen in the first round with 17 pitchers and 13 position players taken. Seven top HS pitchers are now unlikely to go to college, diluting the collegiate ranks for the next few years.
According to ESPN2's coverage, Mike Moustakas and Matt Dominguez (Chatsworth HS, which won the Los Angeles Section City title) are the highest pair of high school teammates ever drafted.
31. Washington Nationals (from the Chicago Cubs for Alfonso Soriano)
Josh Smoker, LHP, Calhoun HS (GA)
Another classy looking high school southpaw, Smoker has a smooth delivery, a low-90s fastball, a very good change-up and an improving breaking ball. He can get it up into the mid-90s but sits high 80s to low 90s and is known for intelligently mixing up his pitches to get outs. He has committed to Clemson.
The Nats get great value in the supplemental round, with a player everyone expected to be gone by the end of the first round.
32. San Francisco Giants (for Alou)
Nick Noonan, SS/2B, Parker High School (CA)
Noonan projects as a No. 2 hitter at the major league level, but he still has a long way to go to reach that potential. He has excellent bat control and the ability to hit for average. Noonan doesn't have much power but he could eventually hit 10-15 homers per year. His speed is average but he has solid baseball instincts that allow him to get the most out of his abilities. Noonan, who profiles as a second baseman, has average arm strength at best and decent range at shortstop, which is where he played in high school. He has been compared to Philadelphia's Chase Utley with less power. Noonan has committed to Clemson University.
33. Atlanta Braves (from Baltimore for Danys Baez)
Jon Gilmore, 3B, City High School (IA)
Gilmore is still in the projection stages. He has projectable power and has recently shown the ability to make adjustments with breaking pitches. Gilmore lacks quickness and range at third base. He also does not run well. Gilmore puts more effort into his hitting than his defense. Regardless, his raw power and the huge strides he has made in his hitting abilities are intriguing. Gilmore is committed to Wichita State University and is the brother-in-law of Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist.
34. Cincinnati Reds (from San Francisco for Rich Aurilia)
Todd Frazier, SS/3B, Rutgers University
Frazier has good bloodlines as his brother Charles played in the minors with Florida and brother Jeff is currently at Double-A with the Cubs. The Rockies drafted Frazier out of high school in the 37th round in 2004, but he chose to attend Rutgers. Frazier has good bat speed with an unorthodox swing. He displays plus raw power but must avoid becoming too pull happy. Frazier is athletic and a fringe-average base runner. Frazier flashes a plus arm at third base and lacks the range to remain at shortstop long-term.
With Encarnacion struggling for Cincy, he now has Frazier to worry about in a couple years.
35. Texas Rangers (for Lee)
Julio Borbon, CF, University of Tennessee
Borbon is a solid center-fielder who has excellent hitting abilities, including bat control and bunting. He has flashed occasional power but he is better when he focuses on "small ball." He does not walk enough for a top-of-the-order hitter. Borbon missed a good portion of the 2007 season with a fractured ankle but he still has plus speed and great range. The only negative is Borbon's arm, which is fringe-average for center. He has been likened to New York's Johnny Damon and Texas' Kenny Lofton.
The Rangers really considered Borbon in the first round and must have been thrilled to nab him in the supplemental round.
36. St. Louis Cardinals (from Milwaukee for Jeff Suppan)
Clay Mortensen, RHP, Gonzaga University
Mortensen throws three pitches: a "heavy" fastball that sits at 89-92 and has reportedly touched 94, a hard slider, and a changeup. He was named the Western Conference Pitcher of the Year and a Louisville Slugger third-team All-America. A senior who was drafted in the 25th round in 2005 out of Treasure Valley Community College (OR), Mortensen stepped it up in conference play, posting a perfect 6-0 record in seven starts and a 1.60 ERA with a league-best 63 strikeouts. The late bloomer possesses a good frame for a pitcher and may have additional upside beyond what he has shown to date.
37. Philadelphia Phillies (from Cleveland for David Dellucci)
Travis D'Arnaud, C, Lakewood High School (CA)
D'Arnaud was considered one of the top catching options in the draft for his combined hitting and catching skills. He has shown promise with the bat, but is still inconsistent at this point. He doesn't have a naturally gifted swing and tends to get a little swing-from-the-heels happy. D'Arnaud is mostly a doubles hitter right now but projects to be a 10-15 home run hitter in his prime. He does all the little things well and is a smart base runner, even though he has below-average speed. Defensively, he has a great arm, both in terms of strength and accuracy. He also has soft hands and moves well behind the plate. D'Arnaud is poised to join his brother at Pepperdine University, unless he is drafted in the first few rounds.
Although known more for his defense, D'Arnaud led the prestigious Moore League in home runs this spring and went deep numerous times in a wood bat session at Dodger Stadium last week.
38. Toronto Blue Jays (from the Los Angeles Angels for Justin Speier)
Brett Cecil, LHP, University of Maryland
Cecil's 81-86 mph slider should guarantee him a spot in a big league bullpen. If he can sharpen his secondary pitches and find a tool for combating righties, he could become a closer in pro ball. Cecil's fastball is 89-92 mph and his repertoire also includes a curveball, change-up and split-finger fastball. He likes to challenge hitters and throw strikes. Cecil occasionally displays immaturity on the mound.
39. Los Angeles Dodgers (for Lugo)
James Adkins, LHP, U of Tennessee
Adkins is a big left-hander but throws his fastball at 88-92 mph. His slider is his out-pitch and it flashes plus-plus ability at times. For the most part he relies on command and control to get batters out and he lacks a reliable change-up. Adkins carried a no-hitter into an SEC tournament start but probably won't see similar success in pro ball as a starter with only two pitches. If he doesn't quickly pick up an off-speed pitch, he is likely headed to the bullpen as a set-up man.
40. San Diego Padres (from Houston for Woody Williams)
Kellen Kulbacki, OF, James Madison University
Kulbacki has put up some stellar numbers in his college career, although some caution must be used due to the fact he plays in an excellent hitter's park. He is an above-average hitter, though, with a chance to hit for a high average. He has plus raw power, as well. He has average speed at best, but is not a base-clogger. He is an average fielder with an arm that is suited to leftfield. His range is nothing special. Body-wise, Kulbacki is similar to Brian Giles.
I guess San Diego saw the Giles comparisons too? I am a little worried about the power numbers not translating to A) wood and B) a pitcher's environment.
41. Oakland Athletics (from San Francisco for Barry Zito)
Sean Doolittle, LHP/1B, University of Virginia
Doolittle is a two-way player who profiles better as a first baseman. He projects to be a Mark Grace style of player, rather than a hulking slugger. However, Virginia's spacious park can sometimes mask power potential. Doolittle is more athletic than most first basemen and he has an above average arm. He can throw 87-90 mph on the mound. His stock was on the rise as the draft neared and some had expected him to be taken in the first round.
42. New York Mets (from Cleveland for Roberto Hernandez)
Eddie Kunz, RHP, Oregon State
Kunz throws a sinking fastball that can touch 94 mph. His second pitch is a slider, with good late, hard break to it. He has average command and throws from a three-quarters arm slot out of the bullpen. He lacks a true weapon against good left-handed batters but his sinker will induce a lot of ground balls and chew up bats in pro ball. Because of his struggles against lefties, he projects more as a set-up man in pro ball, rather than a dominating closer.
43. San Francisco Giants (for Schmidt)
Jackson Williams, C, Oklahoma
A three-year starter, Williams hit .344/.426/.525 with 4 HR, 18 BB, and 33 SO in 183 AB in his junior season this spring. He played for the Hyannis Mets of the Cape Cod League last summer. An intense competitor and student of the game, Williams was the captain of the Sooners baseball team. He projects as a solid but "low ceiling" backstop.
44. Texas Rangers (for Matthews)
Neil Ramirez, RHP, Kempsville High School (VA)
Ramirez can dial his fastball up to 96 mph. He also has a curveball with potential and a developing change-up. He has above-average command of his fastball, but the command of his secondary stuff is below-average. He has a projectable body and good mound demeanor.
45. Toronto Blue Jays (for Catalanotto)
Justin Jackson, SS, T.C. Roberson High School (NC)
Jackson has slid down draft boards this spring despite solid, albeit unspectacular, play. It was fairly common knowledge that it would be difficult for teams to buy him away from his commitment to attended college at Arizona State if he was not take in the first couple of rounds. Jackson has solid bat speed with 15-20 home run potential and needs to get stronger overall. He doesn't have great stolen base speed, as he has a slow first step. Jackson has plus arm strength and can hit 93 mph off the mound. At shortstop, he has average range. Jackson has been on scouts' radars for a number of years and he attended the same high school as Detroit's 2005 first round pick Cameron Maybin.
A very exciting pick for the Jays... A talented but somewhat raw prep shortstop that can actually stay at the position! Jackson and John Tolisano (taken in the second round) will make an exciting, flashy doubleplay combo with the new Gulf Coast League team.
46. San Diego Padres (from San Francisco for Dave Roberts)
Drew Cumberland, SS, Pace High School (FL)
Cumberland is a contact, line-drive hitter with below average power. he is a plus-plus runner on the base paths and he knows how to get the most out of his speed. Defensively, he has a below-average arm at shortstop and poor footwork. He could face a move to second base or centerfield. He does have plus range, though, because of his speed. He is athletic and fits the mold of a top-of-the-order hitter. He also has excellent make-up. Cumberland's brother Shaun plays in the Rays' organization.
47. New York Mets (from Baltimore for Chad Bradford)
Nathan Vineyard, LHP, Woodland High School (GA)
Vineyard has an average 88-91 mph fastball and slider. His change-up is currently below-average. Vineyard has a solid delivery but his command is below average at this point in his career. He is athletic and likes to aggressively attack hitters.
48. Chicago Cubs (from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Juan Pierre)
Josh Donaldson, C, Auburn University
Donaldson is a strong, athletic catcher with excellent instincts. However, his arm is lacking behind the plate and he may face a move to second base in the near future. He has also played shortstop and third base in high school and college. Donaldson is a below-average runner. He falls into bad habits at the plate and some scouts question his bat speed. A strong Cape Cod League in 2006 helped to raise his profile. Donaldson has a hitch in his swing and has a habit of chasing breaking balls out of the strike zone.
49. Washington Nationals (from Seattle for Jose Guillen)
Michael Burgess, OF, Hillsborough High School (FL)
Burgess showcases above-average power potential, he has excellent hand-eye coordination and his bat speed is outstanding. That said, his game is still raw and he is the perfect example of a "boom or bust" prospect. Burgess' arm strength is also a plus tool and he can exceed 90 mph when throwing from the mound. He has OK range in center but would likely move to rightfield in pro ball. His swing is inconsistent and it makes some scouts worry that he won't hit for average.
50. Arizona Diamondbacks (from Milwaukee for Craig Counsell)
Wes Roemer, RHP, Cal State Fullerton
Roemer was projected all over the first and supplemental rounds leading up to the draft. As a smallish right-handed pitcher with an average fastball (89-91 mph), command, control and make-up are his biggest strengths. He has solid command of his slider, which he can back-door against lefties, and his change-up. Roemer is a competitor, who likes to go right after batters. He could head to the bullpen as a pro, but is likely to get a chance to start.
Roemer regressed this year but still put up solid numbers (10-6, 3.33 ERA, with 136 SO and 22 BB in 127 IP). As a sophomore, the Titan was a unanimous first-team All-American and Collegiate Baseball's Co-National Player of the Year. He started the 2006 season pitching 65.2 innings without issuing a walk and finished the campaign with a 21:1 K/BB ratio on 145 whiffs and only 7 walks. Roemer was invited to play for the U.S. National Team last summer, going 2-0 with a 2.01 ERA in 22.1 innings pitched.
I have seen him pitch in person and believe his bulldog approach will serve him well in the pros—quite possibly as someone who will eventually be asked to get outs in the eighth or ninth innings.
51. San Francisco Giants (from Cincinnati for Mike Stanton)
Charles Culberson, SS, Calhoun HS (GA)
Calhoun High School produced two picks in the supplemental round: Culberson and teammate Josh Smoker, who was selected by the Washington Nationals at 32. The duo led their team to the Class AA state baseball finals. Culberson was the No. 2 pitcher and played shortstop when not on the mound. He hit a ton this spring, batting over .500 with 16 HR, including 6 in the postseason.
52. Seattle Mariners (from Kansas City for Gil Meche)
Matt Mangini, 3B, Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State's Mangini could be the best true college third baseman available, although some scouts prefer Rutgers University's Todd Frazier (currently a shortstop). He doesn't possess the power one might expect from a 6'4'' 220 lbs baseball player, which separates him from Lewis-Clark's Beau Mills. That said, Mangini should hit for a solid average and he won the 2006 Cape Cod League batting title while using wood bats. Defensively, he has an above-average arm and good range for his size.
53. Cincinnati Reds (from the New York Mets for Scott Schoeneweis)
Kyle Lotzkar, RHP, South Delta High School (CAN)
The 6'3'' 185 pound Canadian pitcher can touch 95 mph but has been overshadowed by fellow countryman Phillippe Aumont. Lotzkar's fastball currently has only fringe-average movement. His slurve could develop into a strikeout pitch but it is a work-in-progress at this point. He lacks a third pitch, but has flashed a change-up in limited action. Lotzkar could lack the command to pitch in the starting rotation in pro ball. He has committed to play college ball at Gonzaga University.
54. Texas Rangers (from the Chicago Cubs for Mark DeRosa)
Raymond Hunter, RHP, University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
Known in the scouting circles as Tommy Hunter, Raymond's fastball ranges from 88-94 mph but sits most comfortable around 88-91. Both his slider and change project to be average pitches in the future. He has a bulldog mentality but below-average command, which should improve over time. Hunter has a similar build to the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton. He is a draft-eligible sophomore, so he has some signing leverage.
Nick Hagadone, LHP, University of Washington
Hagadone's stock has been sizzling. At the start of the year he projected somewhere in the 8-12 round range according to the more reputable amateur baseball publications. But given his size, stellar season out of the Huskies bullpen (72/17 K/BB in 68 IP) and increased velocity this season, Major League clubs have taken notice and he figures to go much sooner than 8-12.
Trystan Magnuson, RHP, University of Louisville
The Magnuson name is well known to Canadian hockey fans, as Trystan's European father played for a number of years in the National Hockey League. Magnuson was probably a signability pick as he was a fifth year senior in college and could have signed with any team before the draft (likely for little money) had his team finished its playoffs sooner. He has a low-90s fastball and his out-pitch is a slider, but it is still inconsistent. He was a closer for Louisville but projects to be a set-up man in pro ball.
57. San Diego Padres (from the New York Mets for Chan Ho Park)
Mitch Canham, C, Oregon State University
Canham is a 6'2'' catcher who bats left and possesses solid skills at the plate. He has the potential to hit for both average and power. The athletic Canham is only in his third year of catching and his defence is a work in progress. If his skills behind the dish do not improve, he should hit well enough to play a corner infield or corner outfield position. Canham is a confident player who takes charge on the field. He was taken by the Cardinals in the 41st round last year as a draft-eligible sophomore but did not sign. Canham significantly improved his game in the Cape Cod League last summer. Some scouts are concerned about his past, as his mother died from a drug overdose.
58. Los Angeles Angels (from St. Louis for Adam Kennedy)
Jonathan Bachanov, RHP, University HS (FL)
Bachnov's fastball ranges from 89-96 mph but he has some make-up questions surrounding him. His breaking ball is a plus pitch when it's on and he also has a cutter and a developing change. He is big and strong but doesn't alway remember how good he is, while he is on the mound. With better mound presence and maturity, Bachnov could improve significantly.
59. Oakland Athletics (from Toronto for Frank Thomas)
Corey Brown, OF, Oklahoma State University
Brown is more well-rounded than teammate Matt Mangini. Brown displays both solid power and speed. He also has a quick bat and is more than willing to take a walk. Defensively, he has the range for center but probably also has enough arm for rightfield. On the negative side, he hit below .200 in the Cape Cod League last summer and faced fairly serious criminal charges in high school.
Brandon Hamilton, RHP, Stanhope Elmore HS (AL)
Hamilton's power arm can overpower hitters at times, but he is far from a finished product. He failed to handle adversity well while recording a 2-7 record with a 1.83 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 49.2 IP. Hamilton committed to Troy but is expected to sign a pro contract as soon as one is offered him. "I just want to go out and play," Hamilton said. "If worse comes to worst, I'll go to college, but I'll probably sign. I'm open to anything."
61. Arizona Diamondbacks (from Seattle for Miguel Batista)
Edward Easley, C, Mississippi State
Easley was a second-team All-American coming out of high school. He has also played third base, but lacks the power to remain there long term, so his value lies in remaining behind the plate. He has a reputation as a solid hitter but his defence behind the dish is average at best.
62. Boston Red Sox (from Cleveland for Keith Foulke)
Ryan Dent, SS, Wilson High School (CA)
Dent led his high school team, ranked No. 1 in the country by Baseball America, to the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section (CIF-SS) Division I championship. The UCLA recruit profiles as a future lead-off hitter with solid hitting abilities and plus speed. Dent flashes occasional power, but it is not a key part of his game. Although he is athletic and speedy, some scouts question his ability to stick at shortstop longer term. A move to the outfield is not out of the question, but he presently lacks the necessary power to be a regular corner outfielder. Look for Dent to play one of the up-the-middle positions, be it SS, 2B, or CF.
63. San Diego Padres (from Oakland for Alan Embree)
Cory Luebke, LHP, Ohio State University
Luebke led the Big 10 Conference in ERA during the regular season. He had a solid Cape Cod League last summer but has underwhelming stuff for a big kid with a fastball that ranges between 88-91 mph. His slider is solid but his change is nothing special. At worst, he could be a LOOGY.
64. San Diego Padres (from San Francisco for Ryan Klesko)
Danny Payne, OF, Georgia Tech
Payne has above-average hitting skills, but below average power. He is average on the base paths but can steal bases when needed. He has a pretty good arm and threw some relief in college. He has average range in the outfield but gets good jumps. Payne has good baseball instincts and will do whatever necessary to get on base. To be an everyday player, Payne is going to have to show the ability to stick in centerfield.
SUMMARY OF SECOND ROUND
The first five selections (William Kline, Sam Runion, Jordan Zimmerman, Matt Welker, and Josh Fields) are righthanded pitchers—all but Runion from the college ranks. Fields slipped in the draft from the early-season projections based on his outstanding Cape Cod performance last summer. An undersized RHP, he had trouble commanding his fastball and throwing his breaking ball this spring, but the Braves once again pulled the trigger on a Georgia prospect.
Brian Rike, who we featured last Friday, was taken by the Colorado Rockies with the 72nd pick. Jeff Albert, a graduate student at Louisiana Tech, interviewed the power-hitting outfielder and analyzed his swing in a video scouting report attached to that Q&A.
Greg Desme (OAK, 74th) was the Big West Conference Player of the Year despite missing the last couple of weeks of the season with a broken wrist. He led the league in batting average (.405), home runs (15), RBI (53), SLG (.733), OBP (.494) and total bases (143). His size, position, and power reminded me of Jonny Gomes when I saw the Mustangs get swept by Long Beach State in a three-game series in early May. He struck out in his first two at-bats on Friday night as Manny McElroy threw him almost nothing but curveballs, a pitch Desme has had a tough time handling. He will need to make adjustments at the pro level to succeed.
Zachary Cozart (CIN, 79th), Josh Horton (OAK, 90th), and Danny Worth (DET, 91st) are three polished college shortstops who were taken in the second round. Cozart, Horton, and Worth are sure-handed fielders but their lack of plus speed and range will limit them defensively at the highest level. All three profile as low-end starting SS or backups/utility players on championship teams.
2007 Draft Spotlight: Adam Mills
"He's barely six feet tall, sits in the high 80's and only commands two pitches at an elite level." "He has funny arm action." "He played his college ball against weak competition." "We're taking you in this round or that round."
Adam Mills of UNC Charlotte (or just Charlotte as the athletic department chooses to go by) has heard it all from the scouts. But now, at this point, after Mills has so dominated in his senior season, it sounds like they're grasping at straws. Mills, who is a candidate for several player and pitcher of the year awards, set the career record for wins at Charlotte (a school that also produced John Maine) while leading the nation in ERA. Here are his final stats in 2007:
W-L ERA GS CG IP H R ER BB SO Adam Mills 14-2 1.01 18 8 142.2 93 27 16 27 141
I am sensitive to the fact that Mills did not compete against elite lineups all season, but what would you like the kid to have done? What performance level would you like him to have achieved in order to convince you he might be able to play at the next level? A 0.25 ERA? Two K's per inning? When the big boys don't come knocking with scholarship offers, all you can do is go to the school that gives you an offer and then pitch your butt off. And besides, as we will get into in a little bit, Mills has shown that he can get it done against better competition.
As far as how his 49ers team fared, they cruised to an Atlantic 10 championship and advanced all the way to the Columbia, South Carolina regional final before falling to the host Gamecocks to end their season on Monday night. Charlotte easily led the nation in ERA with an incredible 2.31 figure. It was one of the most memorable baseball seasons in the school's history.
I had an opportunity to chat with Adam yesterday to recap his season and talk about his future. The interview follows.
Patrick: Even though your season ended disappointingly yesterday, you must be happy with it. You led your team to the regional championship and led the nation in ERA. Talk about this season a little bit and what it has meant for you.
PS: Your performance has been phenomenal this season and yet most predict you will not be going until the 4th or 5th round at the earliest. Why the discrepancy between your performance, which would suggest you are at least a first 100-pick, and the perception that you are not a top tier talent?
PS: Is your stock being excessively punished for playing in a weaker conference?
AM: The way I look at it is this. I have four pitches and hit spots. If you spot two pitches on a given day, you'll get outs. If you spot three or four, you'll have a lot of fun getting outs. I can't do anything about who is in the batters box.
PS: Fair enough. Given the "competition" criticism, how satisfying was it to beat NC State in the first game of the regionals?
AM: Oh it felt real good. There had been a lot of talk of weak competition and it was like "well you guys dog me because of the level of competition, well here is what I can do against an ACC team." So it felt great but then, that's how I pitch; in a way that translates to tougher competition.
PS: Here is what Wolfpack Manager Elliot Avent had to say about you after the outing:
"Adam Mills was everything he was billed to be. He is what the word 'pitcher' means. He commands both sides of the plate and keeps the ball down...He didn't give us anything to hit. I thought Mills was pretty much everything he's cracked up to be. He took care of things and got it done today."If the scouts don’t, it sure sounds to me like the manager of a power conference program certainly thinks you are one of the best.
AM: To hear that means a lot. Anytime you hear that from a guy like him means a lot. I may not be 6'5' and I may not throw 98 but I can pitch and it means a lot to hear someone like Coach Avent recognize that.
PS: Sounds like you really enjoyed your time in the Northwoods League. How is the competition there? Does it stack up to the Cape League ?
AM: Erik Walker (who tragically died last fall) was my Charlotte teammate and he started in the Cape one summer before coming out to the Northwoods League and he said that the Northwoods League was a better all-around experience. You play in nice stadiums in front of a big crowd every game. As far as competition, I understand the hitting is comparable but the pitching is deeper in the Cape League.
PS: How many pitches do you throw and which is your most effective?
AM: I throw four pitches. A fastball (four and two seam) that I can really spot. I also throw a knuckle-curve, a 12-6 pitch that I throw in any count. My slider is my out pitch, which I use to punch hitters out. And then I have a change-up that is good as well.
PS: Scouts I have spoken with indicate you are a two-pitch guy (fastball and slider) in pro ball. Do you think you have a broad enough repertoire to succeed at the highest levels of professional baseball?
AM: Yes, I would like to think I do. I was throwing four pitches early on this year and striking a lot of batters out. But then as the year went on, Coach emphasized pitching to contact more and so I would go with whatever I knew I could get guys out with. I was able to get guys out with just two pitches and so quite often, I did.
AM: For the most part. If I can get guys out throwing fewer pitches, I will.
PS: Have you ever competed against fellow Maryland native and Angels farmhand Nick Adenhart? Rich Lederer is a Southern California native (and something of an Angels fan though he would not admit it) and needs to know such things.
AM: We played on the same legion team and competed against one another in high school.
PS: Whom do you pattern your delivery and approach after? Is there a pro pitcher that readers could think of as being a good comp for you in terms of style?
AM: I have always liked the way the following three guys pitch, but would never compare myself to them.
Adam Mills had an ERA barely over 1 this year, has pitched consistently against all levels of competition, has no signability issues whatsoever and fantastic makeup. He commands multiple pitches, knows how to pitch and maintains his poise in tough situations. Given the low success rate of MLB draft picks anyway, I just don't see how there is much risk in taking Mills well before the experts have him slotted to go.
You go ahead and reach on the tall guy with the ultra-live arm and not much else. I'll reach on the kid that can pitch.
2007 Draft Spotlight: Phillippe Aumont
Canada's top junior pitcher, Phillippe Aumont, sat down with Baseball Analysts three days before traveling to the Dominican Republic with Baseball Canada's Junior National Team for the annual Dominican Summer League tour. The junior team will play eight games on its tour against major league Dominican Summer League teams. Included in the schedule are games against affiliates of the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Seattle Mariners.
Upon returning to North America, the French Canadian from the City of Gatineau, Quebec has the potential to be one of the top 10 picks in the 2007 Major League Baseball amateur draft on June 7. According to Baseball America, Aumont really began to make a name for himself when he appeared in a high school all-star game in Cape Cod and in the East Coast Showcase last summer.
Aumont said his career highlight to this point was winning a bronze medal with Team Canada at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Cuba, with a 6-2 win over Mexico.
Baseball Analysts: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me; I know you're really busy.
Phillippe Aumont: That's all right.
Baseball Analysts: So, what are some of the things you have been doing in preparation of the upcoming draft?
Phillippe Aumont: I went to Florida in March and then I went to Florida again in April with the [Canadian] Junior National Team... I also threw at the [Triple-A] Ottawa Lynx' stadium. And I'm going to the Dominican Republic this Wednesday with the national team... We'll be playing against the Dominicans down there.
Baseball Analysts: What has been the most challenging competition you've faced recently?
Phillippe Aumont: In April, I faced players in [Major League Baseball] extended spring training.
Baseball Analysts: Which club's extended spring training did you attend?
Phillippe Aumont: Me, I faced the [Atlanta] Braves and Detroit Tigers.
Baseball Analysts: Do you remember any particularly difficult batters that you faced?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, I don't remember the names but there was one Detroit Tiger - the lead-off hitter. He was so comfortable at the plate and for a pitcher, when you throw hard, most batters are not comfortable and you can see that. But he went to the plate and was really comfortable. He wasn't swinging at the two-seamer outside or the pitch inside. He was patient and looking for a specific pitch.
Baseball Analysts: And what was the outcome of the at-bat?
Phillippe Aumont: He got a hit against me - the only hit of the game.
Baseball Analysts: How many innings did you throw?
Phillippe Aumont: Three.
Baseball Analysts: Of this past month, what was your favorite part?
Phillippe Aumont: My favorite part was in Florida. That was a nice trip and there were a lot of people there. You know if you can dominate there, you can be one of the best players.
Baseball Analysts: How has your life changed in the last year? Your draft stock has improved significantly and you're pretty much guaranteed to go in the first 10 picks of the draft.
Phillippe Aumont: I don't know, really. I just continue to work hard and never give up... But I try not to do too much.
Baseball Analysts: Are surprised at how much you've improved in the last year?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, I am very surprised. I didn't expect that, but I learn quick so I think that's helped me to improve myself.
Baseball Analysts: What do you think is the thing you've improved upon the most in the last year?
Phillippe Aumont: I think it's controlling everything: my emotions, controlling the game and controlling my pitches and being able to throw my curveball for strikes. I've been working on my change-up. When you get to the higher levels, you need one. You can't win, really, with just a fastball and a curveball. You need three pitches, maybe four and good fastball movement. That's what I've been working on.
Baseball Analysts: So, what pitches do you have in your repertoire right now?
Phillippe Aumont: I have a fastball - two kinds of fastballs: a four-seamer and a two-seamer. The two-seamer is 92-93 [mph] with movement. The four-seamer goes up to 98 [mph]... I have a slider, that's kind of a slurve and goes up to 80-81 [mph]. And a change-up, 82-83 [mph].
Baseball Analysts: Are you working on any other pitches or are you just looking to improve the ones you have?
Phillippe Aumont: The priority is to work on these pitches. But I am working on an off-speed pitch. It's a splitter that I used as my change-up before. But I stopped that because I have a normal change-up now, a circle change-up. But I'm still working on the split-finger.
Baseball Analysts: How does the level of competition compare between Canada and the U.S.? Have you seen enough competition in the U.S. to tell the difference?
Phillippe Aumont: In Canada we have a... how do I say in English... different view of baseball. We have a lot of training on routine plays and stuff like that. And when you see American guys, they have all this stuff and they're all so cool. They want to look like [Derek] Jeter and all that. They're not the same guys, you know. I went to [amateur] showcases and it's a different world.
Baseball Analysts: They have more confidence or they're more cocky?
Phillippe Aumont: Well, I don't want to say cocky. Some of the guys are, but most are not. They're really, like, uh...
Baseball Analysts: Flashy?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah.
Baseball Analysts: And in Canada it's more laid back?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah... We don't have big stars... no big star shortstops or big star third basemen. It's just normal guys who can play baseball and compete against everybody.
Baseball Analysts: Have you played baseball your whole life, or did you grow up playing hockey or other sports?
Phillippe Aumont: I started to play [baseball] at the age of 11. And I was not a pitcher at that time. I started to throw the ball on the mound at 14.
Baseball Analysts: You've only been doing it for four years, then?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, it's just my fourth year as a pitcher. Before that I was a center-fielder.
Baseball Analysts: Really? Do you still enjoying going up to the plate to hit?
Phillippe Aumont: Not now, you know, because the draft is coming. People don't want me getting injured, especially my adviser and my coach on the national team.
Baseball Analysts: Did you have a favorite team growing up?
Phillippe Aumont: No, not really.
Baseball Analysts: Did you have a favorite player or a pitcher that you modeled yourself after?
Phillippe Aumont: Randy Johnson, a little bit. Because he's tall and at that point I was a little bit wild.
Baseball Analysts: Did you ever get a chance to see him pitch in person?
Phillippe Aumont: No, never.
Baseball Analysts: Do you think you have the ability to throw harder some day or are you comfortable with the level you're at right now?
Phillippe Aumont: I know I need to work on a lot of things and for sure it's one of my goals. Once in my life I would like to top 100 [mph]. I'm comfortable with where I am; hitters don't hit me.
Baseball Analysts: So it's not about throwing harder for you?
Phillippe Aumont: No. In the major leagues, not everybody can throw 96-97 [mph] and they still get guys out.
Baseball Analysts: Right now, what do you think is your best pitch? Is it your two-seamer?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, my two-seamer.
Baseball Analysts: And that's because you command it the best?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, and there is a lot of movement on it.
Baseball Analysts: Do you think you still have room to grow or fill out? You're about 6'7'' right now?
Phillippe Aumont: I don't think I'll get taller, but I'm 228 lbs right now, or something like that, and I want to get up to 240, 245.
Baseball Analysts: You seem to have a lot of intelligence from a pitching standpoint for your age. A lot of young pitchers think they just have to throw really hard all the time to succeed. Where does that pitching philosophy come from?
Phillippe Aumont: In my first year with the national team I was just trying to throw the ball really hard and I wanted to make the team. [Head coach] Greg Hamilton took me aside and said, "Phillippe, just throw the ball. You're 6'7'' and you don't need to throw that hard. You have good movement on the fastball. When you're on the mound, be aggressive, don't be intimidated and try to intimidate the batters and you will be a success." That's when I started to think like that. And day after day, I just try to focus on that.
Baseball Analysts: When you're standing on the mound, what's the most challenging part of pitching?
Phillippe Aumont: That's a good question. The hardest thing to do is to not think. You need to be clear in your head. You need to stay focused and not think about your mechanics or think about getting your fastball over and stuff like that. You want to have nothing, nothing, nothing in your head. The second you have something and you start to think about other things you'll start throwing balls, balls in the dirt, wild pitches, then they get a hit and you'll start to be mad. That's a hard thing to do - not think - but if you can do it, you can be successful.
Baseball Analysts: Do you have a preference where you would like to be drafted? Do you want to go in the top five or the top 10, or does that matter?
Phillippe Aumont: For me, it doesn't matter where I go. Baseball is baseball for me. Every team plays baseball, every team has coaches. The biggest difference, I think, is the uniform. But I would like to go to Washington.
Baseball Analysts: You'd like to be picked by the Washington Nationals?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, I'd like to go there. I don't know why.
Baseball Analysts: Are they one of the teams that have shown a lot of interest in you?
Phillippe Aumont: I don't know, really... Some teams do their jobs behind the scenes and you don't see them. They don't talk to you or to anybody and you don't know they're there. And some of the teams are right in front of you.
Baseball Analysts: Have you had any private workouts with teams?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, I did twice. One with Cleveland and one with the New York Yankees.
Baseball Analysts: Was that exciting?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, it was nice. You can visit and see how everything works. You see the fields and there are players everywhere.
Baseball Analysts: Do you have any plans for draft day?
Phillippe Aumont: We have two options. We could go to Orlando or we can stay in Gatineau [Quebec, Canada] and have a big party and celebrate with friends and family.
Baseball Analysts: Are you leaning towards one in particular?
Phillippe Aumont: For now, I haven't been invited to Florida. Nobody has yet, not even David Price. I don't know why it's late like that... I'm waiting but I expect to be here. It's more fun when you're with your family. But if I go to Florida, I'll be with my adviser [Dan Lawson], my girlfriend and my tutor.
Baseball Analysts: Have you had a chance to see any of the other high school pitchers expected to go early in the draft?
Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, I played with Rick Porcello, Matt Harvey; I played with - well he's not a pitcher - Josh Vitters. All those high schools guys are in the top 10 or 15. Jarrod Parker was another one. I saw them in the East Coast Showcase, in the Cape Cod [High School Classic] and the World Junior Championship.
Baseball Analysts: How do you feel you compare with some of those other high school pitchers?
Phillippe Aumont: Well, now I don't know. Last year I was comfortable to be there. I wasn't embarrassed because I was performing and they were performing well too. We were all on the same level. It's been a year and things change.
Baseball Analysts: What goals do you have long-term in professional baseball?
Phillippe Aumont: It's not something I'm really thinking about now. For sure I want to be drafted as high as possible and I want to play in the big leagues, for sure. But I want to go step by step and be ready for the next level. I don't want to go places when I'm not ready. For me, there is no rush.
Baseball Analysts: What do you think is going to be the most challenging part about playing professional baseball full-time?
Phillippe Aumont: Just the routine. It's hard taking the bus, being away from home and staying at the hotel. I'm tall and I don't fit in the bus very comfortably.
Baseball Analysts: Thank you very much for your time.
Phillippe Aumont: No problem.
Baseball Analysts: Best of luck with the draft.
Phillippe Aumont: Thank you.
A special thank you to Dan Lawson, Bob Elliott and Jim Callis for their assistance in arranging this interview.
2007 Draft Spotlight: Josh Vitters
Josh Vitters is the best high school hitter in the draft this year. He has a short, compact stroke with outstanding bat speed that produces plus-plus power for someone who has yet to turn 18 years old. At 6-3 and 195 pounds, Vitters has the frame that should lead to even more power as he matures physically. He is almost a lock to be drafted with one of the top four picks in the draft on Thursday.
Although not as gifted as Ryan Braun athletically, Vitters reminds me of the Milwaukee Brewers rookie when it comes to his position, body type, and hitting prowess. I've seen Vitters play three times: once last year and twice this season. I was also fortunate to witness Josh take a "private" batting practice session for Jim Bowden of the Washington Nationals after one of the games a month or so ago. His coach stood in front of the mound and threw about 30 pitches. Fourteen of them left the yard by my count. The dimensions at Cypress High School are 320 feet down the lines and 380 feet to straightaway center field. After a loose and easy warm-up swing on the first pitch, Josh hit the next five offerings over the fence. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. He pumped another nine out. Bowden had seen enough and walked away, probably wishing he could trade up in the draft.
Josh's Cypress HS team won four Empire League titles plus a California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section (CIF-SS) Division II championship during his sophomore year. He was pulled up to the varsity halfway through his freshman season and played third base all four years, winning a multitude of honors and even more praise from scouts. His team recently lost a second-round playoff game. In an exclusive interview with Baseball Analysts, I asked Josh about his finale, high school career, college/pro ambitions, and a lot more.
Rich: Your high school team lost a playoff game recently.
Josh: We played Vista Murrieta at their field and lost 5-4.
Rich: That sounds like a heartbreaking loss.
Josh: Yeah, we were up 4-2 in the last inning and they came back and scored three to win.
Rich: How did you do in that game?
Josh: I went 2-for-3 with a home run.
Rich: Good for you.
Josh: Well, at least I did well in my last game.
Rich: You had a bout with pneumonia earlier in the year. How much time did you miss?
Josh: I missed about three weeks and six games. It was pretty hard to watch my team play while I was sick. I lost 15 pounds and a little bit of muscle, and it took at least three more weeks on top of that to get everything back. I'm finally starting to feel close to 100% now.
Rich: How long did it take to get your batting stroke back?
Josh: My batting stroke came back pretty fast, but my power was lagging a little bit when I came back.
Rich: If the "private" batting practice you gave to Jim Bowden a few weeks ago was any indication of power, I'd say you're all the way back now.
Josh: (bashfully) Yeah, I was feeling pretty good.
Rich: Did you get a chance to talk to Mr. Bowden that day?
Josh: Yes, he introduced himself and talked about the Nationals.
Rich: Washington, of course, has Ryan Zimmerman firmly implanted at third base. I can't help but think the Nationals might eventually move you to a different position if they drafted and signed you.
Josh: I actually asked him where I'd be going if they picked me, and he said I would probably start out at third base for the first year and then just see what happens from there.
Rich: How many teams have you worked out for?
Josh: About 20 teams.
Rich: Have most of them been one-on-one sessions like you did for Bowden?
Josh: Earlier in the year I was doing a lot more but lately it's been pretty much those private things. I did it for the Nationals when you were there. I did one for the Pirates, the Cubs, and a couple of others.
Rich: Was it mostly taking batting practice or did they work you out in the field as well?
Josh: They hit me some groundballs, too, but nothing too much.
Rich: Most mock drafts have you going third to the Cubs or fourth to the Pirates. Do you have any preference as to which team drafts you?
Josh: No, it's not a big deal because the Cubs and Pirates are both great clubs. It doesn't make any difference to me.
Rich: How long have you been swinging a wood bat?
Josh: Since after my freshman year. I played on the ABD Bulldogs [a travel team] and in a lot of wood bat tournaments. That's where I learned to use the wood bat.
Rich: When did you start playing games on a national level?
Josh: My first time was when I played for the Youth National Team as a 16-year-old after my sophomore year. We went to Monterrey, Mexico and finished in second place in that tournament.
Rich: I saw you play last summer in the Area Code Games in Long Beach. You had a good tournament.
Josh: Yeah, I did pretty good. I only got to play in about half the games because I had to leave early for the Aflac game in San Diego.
Rich: ...where you acquitted yourself quite well, going 3-for-4 with three doubles and a walk while facing four pitchers (Matt Harvey, Michael Main, Madison Bumgarner, and Rick Porcello) who are projected to go in the first round in this week's draft. Tell us a little bit about each of those at-bats and pitchers.
Josh: I knew I was going to face some pretty good pitching, probably like low- to-mid-90s for every guy who went out there. I faced Michael Main first. He was like the Big Dog, the number one pitcher in the nation for high school baseball so I knew he was going to be bringing it pretty good. I was looking fastball from him because I thought he was going to try and blow the fastball by me. He threw me some fastballs, and I fouled a few pitches back. He then threw a few curveballs. It was my longest at-bat of the game. I fouled off about seven balls before I hit a double off the fence.
Rich: That was a good at-bat.
(Chuckles on both sides.)
Josh: Yeah. My second at-bat was against Madison Bumgarner. He just threw me a low curveball on the first pitch, and I hit it for a double. I wasn't really looking for any pitch that at-bat. Instead, I was just looking for something in my zone that I knew I could handle.
Rich: See pitch, hit pitch, right?
Josh: (Smiling) Yeah.
Rich: How did you do against Harvey and Porcello?
Josh: I walked against Matt Harvey. I can't remember if I hit any foul balls off him. I just remember that I walked. Porcello . . . I hit the first pitch off him, too. It was a low-hanging curveball and I just pulled it down the left-field line for a double.
Rich: Which of those pitchers did you make an out against?
Josh: I made an out against Josh Smoker.
Rich: He might also get drafted in the first round. That's a pretty good fivesome you faced. What did you do against Smoker?
Josh: I popped out to second base in the last inning.
Rich: Did you play in any other competitions like that last summer?
Josh: I played in the Cape Cod High School Classic before the Aflac game. I did pretty good in that, too. I got the MVP Award for the game. It was televised on ESPN. . .ESPNU, I think. I went 4-for-5 with two doubles and two singles.
Rich: You signed a letter of intent to Arizona State. How many colleges recruited you, which ones did you narrow the choice down to, and why did you select ASU?
Josh: Pretty much every west coast school contacted me. There were a couple of out-of-state schools, like Miami and Oregon State. Almost all of the Pac-10 teams. I narrowed it down to UCLA, USD, Oregon State, and Arizona State. I visited ASU, loved the coaching staff and the facilities, and I knew it was the right fit.
Rich: Do you have a preference between college and professional ball?
Josh: I really want to go out and play pro ball but college wouldn't be a bad thing either.
Rich: Nez Balelo of CAA is your adviser. How did you go about choosing an adviser and what made you select Nez?
Josh: We interviewed about 10-15 different firms and Nez was just the one that really stuck out, the guy that we liked the most. Most of the firms came in with two or three or four guys. Nez came by himself and was just really professional. He's hands on with his job, which I really like.
Rich: Your brother Christian played shortstop at Cypress HS and third base for Fresno State before being drafted by the Oakland A's last June. He is now playing for the Kane County Cougars in the Midwest League (Low-A). How often do you talk?
Josh: We're really close. We talk on the phone nearly every day.
Rich: Has Christian offered any words of wisdom about college or pro ball?
Josh: He just tells me how it is in pro ball, all the things that are different from high school. It's just a lot different practicing and playing every day and not going to school.
Rich: Who is your favorite player?
Josh: Mickey Mantle. Christian and I are both pretty big Mantle fans.
Rich: Who has had the biggest influence on developing your baseball skills?
Josh: My Dad. He's really intelligent about picking up things with my swing. He pitches batting practice to me at the local park or with wiffle balls in the front yard.
Rich: Do you find hitting wiffle balls good practice?
Josh: Yeah, it's pretty good practice. Definitely not as good as live BP, but it's probably the second best thing.
Rich: Do you use a wood bat?
Josh: It all depends. Now, I probably would because I'm only going to be hitting with the wood bat.
Rich: What do you think is the biggest difference between a wood bat and aluminum?
Josh: The weight is distributed differently throughout the bat. I actually like it better than the metal bat.
Rich: What approach do you take to the plate with you? Do you guess type of pitch or location?
Josh: I look for a pitch that I can drive, not necessarily any certain type of pitch. I'm just looking for a pitch in my zone that I know I can hit.
Rich: Do you prefer fastballs or curveballs?
Josh: I just like the ball in certain locations. I don't really care what type of pitch it is.
Rich: Inside or outside?
Josh: I just like hitting the ball wherever it is pitched. If you try to pull an outside pitch, it's not going to go as far as if you just try to go with it.
Rich: What are you going to be doing between now and the draft? Are you planning on going to your prom and graduation?
Josh: Yeah, I'm going to the prom on June 2 and my graduation on June 18.
Rich: What will you be doing to stay in shape?
Josh: Working out, doing agility stuff, speed training, jump roping, and a little bit of BP to stay fresh when I hit for teams.
Rich: Well, Josh. It was nice talking to you. I appreciate your time. Good luck with the draft.
Josh: Alright. Thanks.
For more on Josh Vitters, be sure to check out his player profile at the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic, his draft report at MinorLeagueBaseball.com (which includes a scouting video), and an article at MLB.com. Premium subscribers at Baseball America can also access numerous articles and reports on Vitters.
Senior lefthander and UConn signee Elliott Glynn pitched a complete game to win his ninth game of the season. Glynn also contributed to the victory with a run-scoring double that nearly left the yard in the top of the seventh.
The Bruins and Comanches featured two of the nation's top prep shortstops in Ryan Dent (who went 1-for-1 with three walks, an RBI and two runs scored) and Christian Colon. Both players are special talents and expected to be selected in one of the early rounds in the MLB draft on Thursday. Wilson's Dent and Anaheim Canyon's Colon have committed to UCLA and Cal State Fullerton, respectively. However, the most gifted player on the field may have been Wilson center fielder Aaron Hicks, who is only a junior. Look for Hicks, who played in the Area Code Games last summer after his sophomore season, to be one of the most highly sought high school players in next year's draft.
Elsewhere, Michigan upset Vanderbilt, the #1 overall seed, 4-3 to advance in the winner's bracket in Nashville. UC Irvine surprised Texas 3-1 and is the lone undefeated team in the Round Rock Regional. Oklahoma State (14-3 over Arkansas in the Fayetteville Regional) and Mississippi State (3-0 over Florida State in Tallahassee) were the other upset victors over seeded clubs.
Rice (Houston), North Carolina (Chapel Hill), and Arizona State (Tempe) are the only seeded teams without a loss. Virginia (Charlottesville), Mississippi (Oxford), Arizona (Wichita), Missouri (Columbia, MO), and Louisiana Lafayette (College Station) are sitting pretty in their respective Regionals.
The Myrtle Beach and Columbia, SC Regionals were rained out on Saturday. Clemson-Coastal Carolina and South Carolina-UNC Charlotte will face off in second round action on Sunday.
- Rich Lederer, 6/3/07, 12:25 a.m. PST
2007 Draft Spotlight: Brian Rike
Entering Louisiana Tech as a graduate student last fall, I quickly realized that there were a number of very good athletes on the baseball team. One in particular, Brian Rike, had a tremendous fall season and I expected to see good things from him this spring. I can't say that I would have predicted 20 HRs, but he has enjoyed one of the best seasons in LA Tech baseball history (.346 BA, 20 HR, 66 RBI).
Baseball America did a recent write up on Rike, pointing out his transformation from walk-on to draft prospect, and BA has also projected him as a top-5 round pick.
On May 21st, I had a chance to sit down and chat with Brian before Tech left for the WAC conference tournament...
Jeff: You've been in Ruston now for 3 years. Tell me about your overall experience coming here and playing for Louisiana Tech.
Brian: Overall, it has been a great experience for me. I came here as a walk-on, but for me, working hard has shown that you can just keep moving up with your game one step at a time. Going off last summer [to the Jayhawk league] helped a lot, and then coming back this year I am putting up some pretty good numbers. What I've been doing in the past has kind of worked so I am just going to try to stick with it.
Jeff: All right, you mentioned walking-on to the team here. I know I've had my own experience with that situation, so I know what it's like. At any point did you doubt your ability at all or did you just always feel like you could come in here and compete at this level?
Brian: I never really doubted my ability. I just didn't know as a walk-on if I'd get the same opportunity as some guys with scholarships. But Coach Sim [Head Coach, Wade Simoneaux] is fair; he doesn't really care about who is on scholarship or who isn't. It's more about who performs and whoever does the job is going to go out there and play.
Jeff: Once you started seeing that you fit in here, when did you start envisioning yourself at the next level and seeing an opportunity to really move yourself up in the draft?
Brian: The middle of my freshman year we had some injuries and there were about 4 or 5 guys on the bench. I was the youngest one, but he [Simoneaux] chose me to go out there and be an everyday starter, so I think my confidence really started to go up. Then I came back and started as a sophomore and it just progressed from there.
Jeff: Right, you had around 80 at-bats as a freshman and returned with a mini-breakout (.320 BA, 8 HR, 34 RBI) season in 2006. That carried over into a solid summer in the Jayhawk league, where you got familar with wooden bats (.373/.475/.626). How helpful was that experience?
Brian: Summer ball last year in the Jayhawk league definitely helped because it made you hit the ball square every time. You don't get away with it, like a metal bat, when you hit it off the end or get jammed, you know getting little base hits or possibly getting one out. With the wood, you gotta hit it square every time, right on the sweet spot. If you don't....it hurts.
Jeff: We'll get to the swing in a minute, but going back to improving ability, I see you guys in the weight room most of the time and I know you guys complain about doing squats and things like that, but it seems like it has paid off for you.
Brian: Everybody hates going in there at 5:30 in the morning to lift, but everyone knows that it helps, so we try to keep the complaining to a minimum. Overall, it does help tremendously.
Jeff: Nothing like doing squats and getting competitive with your buddies at 6 a.m....
Brian: Dude, if you can get motivated at 6 a.m. to do squats...you can do a lot of things.
Jeff: So, it's not too bad?
Jeff: I've taped a lot of your at-bats and looking at the video more and more, your swing looks very consistent. How does this contribute to your approach as a hitter?
Brian: For me, watching the video is a lot of help because something might not feel right now, so I can go back and look when I was hitting well to see and compare to what I am doing now. It might be the littlest thing like stepping in too much or your hands are a little bit different, but if you can just change that it always seems to work out.
Jeff: Does keeping that swing consistent make it easier for you to just focus on the pitcher?
Brian: Keeping it consistent definitely helps for me. That's just one less thing I have to worry about. If I know I am confident in my swing I don't have to think about anything and then I can work on picking up something from the pitcher that he might give away to help me get that hit.
Jeff: So hopefully, that translates into professional baseball. You'll be seeing consistently better pitching, so you'll be able to focus on learning the pitchers.
Brian: Yeah, I'll have to learn how to wait longer and make adjustments, but hopefully keeping my swing consistent won't be too big of a change.
Jeff: You were leading the country in home runs early in the season. Had you tried to prepare yourself at all for that? How do you deal with all of the extra attention you're getting this year?
Brian: Well, it really doesn't bother me. I just go out there and have fun anyways. It was fun to have a nice year and have people notice the hard work paying off, but I'm just coming out here and having fun with my buddies on the field.
Jeff: It looks that way to me - in the weight room and on the field. I guess that's a good thing to be having fun with your buddies.
Brian: We have fun, but there is also a point where you have to get your stuff done.
Jeff: You've got some individual attention, but there is a team atmosphere here.
Brian: Yeah, it makes it much more enjoyable here to come out to the field when everyone is having a good time, but when we need to be serious, we can.
Jeff: Along those lines, it seems like you've been the guy on the team this year that comes through when it is expected. Do you take on more responsibility in those situations, or is the approach to each at-bat the same?
Brian: I like to take the same approach, but I take pride in that when I'm in the pressure situation I'll have good numbers. Some of the younger guys, and even some upper-classmen, kind of look at me as a leader - not necessarily through talking or yelling, but more just showing people my actions. So I take a lot of pride there and it adds that extra confidence when these guys know I can do it. It helps me perform up there in the pressure situations.
Jeff: I still haven't told you this, but after a home run and a single, I overheard one of the Sacramento State players say: "This guy is good."
Brian: That always makes you feel good to get respect from the guys you're playing against. They're still rivals, but it's nice to get those compliments at the end of the series and then go on your way.
Jeff: The flip side is that other teams start to pitch you a little more carefully.
Brian: At the beginning of the season, they would come in and out, but now basically they just stay soft away. We saw one scouting report that just said: "limit the damage" - better to give up a single to left field on a change-up than give up something hard to the pull side. So they are really trying to limit what I can do.
Jeff: But that has to prepare you for the future.
Brian: Definitely. It helps me - the change-ups and curveballs - to wait back and also know that my hands are quick enough to turn on the fastball. Plus, whenever I can get on base, that is just one more baserunner for them to have to worry about.
Jeff: You were able to show some power early, so does developing patience at the plate add another item in the plus column for you?
Brian: Now they are saying that I am a power hitter as well as an average guy, so that's tremendous to have strikeouts less than walks. As long as I can keep that up through the years, that would be awesome.
Jeff: OK, you've done all these interviews - is there anything you haven't been asked or something you just need to tell people about?
Brian: Not really. But when I started getting close to Soto's [former LA Tech player TJ Soto] home run record everybody was like....it didn't really bother me....but they jinxed me. That's my theory, they jinxed me.
Jeff: I didn't want to mention...
Brian: It's all good and fun. TJ is out here giving me a hard time about it and it is all in good fun. Hopefully, in the future, I will get to come back and give someone a hard time.
Jeff: Well Brian, thanks for your time. Good luck in the conference tournament.
Brian: Any time.
With that, I'll leave with my "video scouting report". I have had a unique opportunity to assist in a research study that looks at the year-round conditioning of an NCAA Division I baseball team. From what I understand, this is the first study that has tested players in the off-season, pre-season, mid-season and post-season. So we've amassed all types of variables from strength, agility, speed, and velocity - all the physical attributes you'd want to know about a player. Combine that with game video and here is what you get:
FYI, a version of above video with navigation tabs can be found here.