Wrappin' Up the Draft
The 2008 draft deadline has come and gone, and when the dust settled almost all the big-name amateur draft picks had signed on the dotted line - save for three. A trio of pitchers chose not to begin chasing their Major League Baseball dream right away, including Aaron Crow (Washington), Joshua Fields (Seattle) and Gerrit Cole (New York AL).
Both Crow and Fields are considering playing for independent baseball leagues, while Cole - a prep right-hander - is headed off to pitch for UCLA. Crow will have to wait to sign with a new club until next year. Fields, though, as a senior without the option of returning to school, did not have to sign at the deadline like everyone else. He has until the week before the 2009 draft to sign with Seattle, but what is he waiting for? He turned 23 years old yesterday and needs significant work on his control before becoming an effective Major League reliever (He has averaged more than five walks per nine innings in his last two college seasons). The market seems pretty simple to me, as Fields was taken sandwiched between two other college relievers who signed for $1.54 million (Andrew Cashner) and $1.48 million (Ryan Perry).
Cole will have to wait a full three years, which is a big risk considering the fragility of pitchers and the amount of money he turned down from the Yankees (more than $2 million). I can understand wanting to get a good education, but $2 million is a pretty good cushion if the Major League career does not turn out - and you are never too old to go back to school.
It came down to the wire but the top eight picks in the draft all came to terms. Top pick Tim Beckham and sixth round Kyle Skipworth both signed more than a month ago and have been able to benefit from valuable development time in the minors. Negotiations between Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick, and Pittsburgh came down to the wire but he signed for $6 million. The Pirates needs to make the move after last year's debacle (Daniel Moskos). Kansas City threw out another $6 million to high school slugger Eric Hosmer, who is considered a very advanced offensive player. The club also gave seven figures to fourth round selection Tim Melville, a talented right-handed pitcher whom many thought was headed to college (which is why he fell out of first-round consideration). Interestingly enough, the small-market Royals spent more on the draft ($10-plus million) than any other club, according to Baseball America.
Baltimore signed top college pitcher Brian Matusz to a Major League contract with a signing bonus of $3.2 million, and with more than $6 million guaranteed over the life of his career. Catcher Buster Posey settled with San Francisco for a whopping $6.2 million, which might have been the biggest overpayment in the top eight. He's talented, but his bat may not be superstar quality, which is what I'd hope for from an amateur being handed that much money up front.
Yonder Alonso, on the other hand, could be the biggest steal of the draft for "only" $2 million. That said, he did receive a Major League contract and a guarantee of $4.55 million. Although he doesn't really fit in with Cincinnati's current 25-man roster (thanks to the presence of top rookie Joey Votto), teams always find a way to make room for players with star power. Alonso has been a consistent performer for three college seasons, and he has excellent plate discipline to go along with his 30 home run power potential. Gordon Beckham agreed to terms with the White Sox for $2.2 million and could move quickly through the club's minor league system.
The Rangers wrapped up Justin Smoak, the 11th overall selection in the draft, for $3.5 million. Smoak has 25-30 home run potential, as well as Gold Glove promise in the field. Despite concerns about his hip, San Diego gave Allan Dykstra $1.15 million to forgo his senior college season. Boston gave 30th pick and high school two-way player Casey Kelly $3 million to turn a blind eye to a college career. The organization also threw out seven-figure contracts to two other draft picks (Ryan Westmoreland and Pete Hissey).
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Let's take a quick look now at the race for American League and National League Rookies of the Year, although I will go into more detail next week. On the offensive side of things, Geovany Soto (Chicago NL) and David Murphy (Texas) are tied for the lead in hits with 114. Evan Longoria is leading the pack with 22 homers (and slugging at .533), while Soto is just four behind. Murphy has driven in 74 runs for Texas, while Longoria is just three runs short. Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury's 38 steals are 27 more than his closest competition. Soto's .286 batting average is good for first overall, while Cincinnati's Joey Votto is second at .281. Atlanta's Gregor Blanco leads all rookies with a .371 on-base average.
As for the pitchers, Nick Blackburn (Minnesota) and Jair Jurrjens (Atlanta) are leading the way with 152.2 and 151.1 innings, respectively. Blackburn has given up 170 hits (the most of any rookie pitcher) but he also has the lowest BB/9 ratio, having allowed just 26 free passes. Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati) leads the rookie hurlers with 136 strikeouts, which is 24 more than second-place Jurrjens. Armando Galarraga (Detroit) and Jurrjens are tied for the most rookie wins with 11. Galarraga also leads rookies with a 3.11 ERA. The most saves by a rookie goes to Cleveland's Masa Kobayashi.