The 2007 Draft: Filling in the Gaps
Back in mid-June, or about a month ago, I took a look at the eight Major League teams that I felt helped themselves the most depth-wise during the June amateur baseball draft. Those teams were: Texas, Toronto, Arizona, Cincinnati, Washington, San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta.
Most of those teams mentioned above were in dire need of a shot-in-the-arm for their minor league systems. Only Cincinnati, Arizona and Atlanta had systems ranked among the top 16 in baseball, according to a pre-season ranking by Baseball America.
One of the key ingredients to restocking the system, though, is to actually sign the top picks. Let's take a look at how the top five teams are doing at rounding up their picks and also take a quick peek to see how those signed players are adjusting to life in pro baseball.
1. Texas Rangers
The organization had five picks before the second round, but it has signed only four of its first nine picks. The Rangers are by far the slowest team at locking up their new prospects, for whatever reasons.
Only pitchers Michael Main and Tommy Hunter have signed from the first and supplemental first rounds. Main, a two-way player in high school, was drafted as a pitcher but has made only one start so far this season in the rookie level Arizona League. However, he has received 30 at-bats as a designated hitter and has eight hits (.267/.324/.300), as well as three walks and six strikeouts. Main has also stolen three bases in four attempts.
Hunter, a draft-eligible sophomore out of Alabama, has not appeared in a minor league game as of yet. Third round pick Matt West was taken out of high school and has been tearing up the Arizona League to the tune of .333/.448/.417 in 17 games.
The Rangers have a long way to go before they can claim to have had a successful draft. With the talent they chose, it would be a shame to see them miss out of signing the likes of Blake Beavan, Julio Borbon and Neil Ramirez.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays had a much different philosophy in 2007 than during other drafts under General Manager J.P. Ricciardi. For once, the club focused on raw, toolsy high school talent, rather than older college players (although the organization still took more than its fair share of college seniors in later rounds).
With seven picks in the first, supplemental first and second rounds - Toronto took four high school players, two college juniors and one college senior. As always, the Blue Jays were one of the first clubs to sign up all of its key draft picks.
High schoolers Kevin Ahrens, Justin Jackson, John Tolisano, and Eric Eiland were all assigned to the Jays' new rookie club in the Gulf Coast League. Not surprisingly, all four have struggled to adapt to life in professional baseball.
Considered the most raw of the four players, Eiland has actually had the most success so far with a line of .253/.356/.333 in 23 games. He has also stolen 10 bases (second in the league) in 10 attempts. Hopefully the Jays will not stifle the young players' running games as they advanced through the majors, as the organization has in the past with other prospects.
Tolisano's batting average sits at .207 and he has struck out 24 times in 87 at-bats, but there are a number of positives in his statistics. The offensive-minded second baseman has five homers and has also walked 18 times, both of which rank third in the league.
Left-hander Brett Cecil is having a great start to his career in the short-season New York Penn League, after signing out of Maryland. Cecil has a 1.46 ERA in six games, including five starts. In 24.2 innings, he has allowed 22 hits, three walks and has 26 strikeouts. Cecil is also almost averaging three groundballs for every flyball.
The Toronto Blue Jays' minor league system should leap up Baseball America's rankings this coming off-season, even with the struggles by the high school draft picks.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
Unlike the Jays, the Diamondbacks organization stuck to a college-heavy approach with its draft, although a high school pitcher was selected with the first pick.
Jarrod Parker, who has been likened to Scott Kazmir and Tim Lincecum, has yet to sign, though. Arizona's next pick, Wes Roemer, has also been tardy with signing his contract. He was selected 50th overall out of Cal State Fullerton.
The next four picks, three of whom were drafted out of college, have signed. The fourth player to sign was Reynaldo Navarro and he was drafted out of Puerto Rico. In the rookie Pioneer League, Navarro has appeared in 24 games and is hitting .238/.261/.274. The 17-year-old switch hitter is batting only .054 against left handers so far this season.
Catcher Ed Easley is batting .282/.356/.513 for short-season Yakima. Three of his 11 hits have been homers. Pitcher Sean Morgan has struggled for Yakima and has a 9.00 ERA in five relief appearances. In six innings of work, Morgan has allowed nine hits and seven walks, while striking out seven. Fellow college pitcher Barry Enright has yet to make an appearance for Yakima.
It is far too early to rate Arizona's returns as the club's highly-drafted college players have appeared in very few games so far. Regardless, the advanced pitchers taken at the top of the draft should help fill the pitching void in the system.
4. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds organization made the most of its six picks in the first three rounds of the 2007 draft and it has already inked all of those players to contracts.
Catcher Devin Mesoraco was one of the hottest commodities on draft day and zoomed up draft boards. He was nabbed with the 15th pick and signed for $1.4 million. So far in the Gulf Coast League, Mesoraco is holding his own with a line of .260/.373/.280. Obviously, he will need to get stronger as he has only one extra base hit (a double). However, he has shown a good eye for a teenager and has walked seven times in 50 at-bats, while striking out only six times.
College shortstop Todd Frazier has two older brothers who have played pro baseball and he is considered the best of the three. Taken in the supplemental first round, Frazier is making a slow adjustment to pro ball and is batting .256/.275/.256 in nine games. He has yet to hit an extra base hit or take a walk.
Despite being perhaps the most raw of the first six picks, Neftali Soto has thrived in pro ball so far. In 22 Gulf Coast League games, Soto is hitting .345/.389/.529. He has 30 hits, including 10 extra base hits (and two homers). He has walked six times and struck out 14.
Kyle Lotzkar, a 17-year-old Canadian pitcher, has yet to make an appearance for the Gulf Coast League team. Missouri State right-hander Scott Carroll has also not appeared in a game.
5. Washington Nationals
Ranked as the worst minor league system in baseball (after a number of years of control by Major League Baseball) by Baseball America, the Nationals should improve this off-season after having five picks in the first, supplemental first and second rounds.
According to General Manager Jim Bowden, the club was absolutely thrilled to have the option of selecting Missouri State hurler Ross Detwiler. They recently locked up the pitcher with a contract worth more than $2 million. In one rookie league appearance, Detwiler allowed two hits and no walks in two innings of work. He also struck out three batters.
Prep outfielder Michael Burgess had "Bowden" written all over him as a raw, but toolsy, prospect. The Nationals snapped him up and signed him to a $630,000 contract. Burgess has made the Nationals look good so far, as he is hitting .333/.418/.583 in 14 Gulf Coast League games. He has offset his 15 strikeouts, somewhat, with seven walks. Burgess has slugged two homers and two triples.
Prep shortstop Jason Smolinski was not ranked as highly by other teams, but the Nationals obviously saw something promising. So far, Smolinski has dominated the Gulf Coast League with a line of .337/.404/.427. He has 30 hits in 24 games, albeit with modest power (eight extra base hits, all doubles). In 89 at-bats, Smolinski has walked 10 times and struck out 19. He has six stolen bases in eight attempts.
You may not have heard of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, but the Nationals have and they drafted pitcher Jordan Zimmerman out of there during the second round. In five New York Penn League games, he has a 2.87 ERA. In 15.2 innings, Zimmerman has allowed only 10 hits and eight walks. He has struck out an impressive 25 batters.
Prep pitcher Josh Smoker was taken 31st overall, but has yet to sign a pro contract.
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I think I would stick with my June rankings of these five teams, assuming all of the top-ranked players sign pro contracts by the Aug. 15 deadline. However, currently the Jays stand as having the best draft simply due to the fact they have the most players under contract. Cincinnati would be ranked second for the same reason. Of all the clubs, Texas makes me the most nervous, especially given the garbage being spewed by top pick Beavan, which leads to questions about maturity. He appears more concerned with the dollar figure on his contract, than with actually getting to play ball.
Regardless of what happens with contract negotiations, the final month of the minor league season should be a blast.