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.