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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.