The 2009 MLB Draft is (Finally) Upon Us
The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft begins today at 6 p.m. ET. The MLB Network will broadcast the first round from its Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J. with MLB.com providing on-air coverage of the remainder of the draft, including the supplemental through fourth round action this evening.
Baseball Analysts will be live blogging the first and supplemental rounds today for the fifth consecutive year. You can access the previous coverage by clicking on the links to the years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005. We will be on hand to bring you all the picks in real time, including player profiles complete with name, position, school, height, weight, date of birth, stats, and comments from our staff of writers/analysts. Be sure to refresh your browser or check back throughout the opening two rounds to stay abreast of the latest news as we live blog the draft later today.
In the meantime, we would like to preview the draft in a quick-hitting, back-and-forth discussion between the two of us.
Rich: Well, Marc, today's the big day. Or, with the draft being moved to the evening, should I say tonight's the big night?
Marc: I am so excited. I look forward to this day all year... It's kind of cool that they're "dragging it out" over three days this year.
Rich: There's really no question as to what the Washington Nationals are going to do with the first overall pick in the draft. The only intrigue is how much the ownership is willing to offer Mr. Strasburg. Given his status as perhaps the greatest college pitcher ever and arguably the most obvious No. 1 since the inception of the draft in 1965, the San Diego State junior deserves to be well compensated for what he brings to the table. I would offer him $15 million, a nearly 50 percent premium to the previous high bestowed upon Mark Prior in 2001. What say you?
Marc: I am definitely concerned because Mr. Boras has his hands all over this... It's probably going to get a little ugly between the two sides - and in the media. From the sounds of it, players in MLB baseball (and the Washington Nationals) aren't really fond of the idea of Strasburg getting a huge contract having never proven himself in The Show. I read an interesting article with Ben McDonald - one of the best college pitchers of all time - recently and he said he received a lot of hostility in the Baltimore clubhouse over his ground-breaking contract (Boras was also his advisor at the time). Regardless of how it plays out, Strasburg is going to have a lot of pressure to be the player who turns the franchise around. Going back to the original question, though, I agree that $15 million would be more than fair.
Rich: Once Strasburg is off the board, Seattle is expected to draft North Carolina first baseman Dustin Ackley with the No. 2 selection. Ackley is undoubtedly the best bat among the college class of prospects and should return to center field after his arm has fully bounced back from Tommy John surgery last summer. Like Strasburg, the only concern is whether the Scott Boras client's asking price (rumored to approach eight figures) is unrealistically high.
Marc: I like Ackley a lot, although I was concerned earlier in the season that he would be stuck at first base. For me, that swing is not going to produce power at the MLB level. I think a lot of people are overrating his power. He's going to be an excellent average hitter and he's going to steal some bases and possibly play Gold Glove defense in center during his career. For me, he's not a $10 million player.
Rich: Switching gears here, the Diamondbacks and Angels each have five of the first 48 picks in this year's draft (see the adjoining Picks By Team, courtesy of Baseball America). Due to big league promotions and trades in the case of Arizona, each club's once highly regarded farm system has been depleted of late. How do you see the D-Backs and Angels handling the multitude of draft choices today?
Marc: I wanted to love the Diamondbacks organization because I love the state so much. But, I just don't have a lot of faith in the organization as a whole. I have a strong feeling that they're going to "go cheap" with their picks. If they take the best available player at 16 and 17 then I'll eat my words. Unfortunately, with so much up in the air with the draft, I can't even fathom who might be there... Bobby Borchering, Matt Purke? I could see them being one of the teams on Mike Minor, if he "slips." As for the Angels, you pretty much know the organization is going to go heavy on the prep players. I keep hearing that the club is big on Puerto Rican outfielder Reymond Fuentes. The organization needs some pitching depth too, though.
Rich: I don't see the D-Backs popping for Purke, especially if you're concerned that the organization is going to go cheap. Signability and injuries always play a factor in each year's draft. Kyle Gibson (stress fracture in his right forearm) and Baseball Analysts Draft Spotlight Tanner Scheppers (recovering from a shoulder injury last year) are the biggest risks health-wise this year. As to signability, Strasburg and Ackley pose some risk but are likely to sign right before the deadline. However, I'm not so sure you can count on a handful of high schoolers rumored to be seeking out-of-the-box signing bonuses, such as Purke, Donavan Tate, and Jacob Turner, to sign unless they get exactly what they want. It says here that if you draft any of these players, you had better be willing to pay (close to) the anticipated freight.
Marc: I agree, but I like to think that pretty much any player drafted in the first round is going to sign... There are not that many Gerrit Coles in the world, who would turn down millions of dollars to play college baseball. With that kind of money, you can set yourself up for life and go to college later, if that's really what you want to do. It also sounds like a lot of teams are saying to heck with the slot so I think we're going to see everyone sign, despite some long drawn-out negotiations. Teams have really shifted to emphasizing in-house development. It's still far cheaper to give $3 million to an amateur as a signing bonus than $50M to a 30-year-old free agent coming out of his prime.
Rich: Last year's draft was dominated by college prospects, particularly position players. Aside from Strasburg and Ackley, this year's draft seems more geared to high school arms. There's Purke and Turner, as well as Tyler Matzek, who just may be the best prep pitcher of them all, Baseball Analysts Draft Spotlight Zack Wheeler, Shelby Miller, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Hopgood, who was named the 2009 Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year on Monday. That's seven right there as compared to just three last year (Ethan Martin, Casey Kelly, and Gerrit Cole). In this regard, the draft feels a lot more to me like 2007 than 2008.
Marc: Last year, though, you have too keep in mind that signability played into things as well as possible first-round talents like prep pitchers Tim Melville and Ross Seaton slid past the third round but still signed for first-round money.
Rich: Well, that could always happen again this year, but I think most, if not all, of those high school arms will be drafted in the first round.
Marc: One thing I am curious about, though, is if teams are going to start straying from the all-college approach that teams like St. Louis, Toronto, and San Diego have been using for a few years now... Those teams really haven't had great drafts as of late, although Toronto has scored a few good players by looking to the prep ranks a little more often.
Rich: I've always been attracted to taking the best player available, irrespective of his status as a high school or college prospect. If you end up with a good mix of both, all the better, as it helps balance out the age of players in your farm system (and eventually at the major league level as well).
Marc: Rich, I know you've seen Grant Green play a fair bit... Where do you think he ends up when all is said and done. And what kind of impact do you see him having? Is his 2009 season the real Grant Green?
Rich: Although Green didn't live up to expectations as a junior, he is still a first-round talent. Heck, he's the best shortstop in the entire draft. Premium up-the-middle players are still hard to find so I'm confident that he won't slide much beyond the middle of the first round unless teams get spooked by his above-slot asking price. Kansas City could be the best fit. The Royals haven't backed away from Boras clients in the recent past (Luke Hochevar in 2006, Mike Moustakas in 2007, and Eric Hosmer in 2008). If KC passes at No. 12, then I would look for Oakland (13th) or St. Louis (19th) to step up and take Green. As to impact, I can see him hitting between .270 and .300 with 15-20 HR during his age 25-30 seasons. Those numbers will work just fine as long as he sticks at shortstop.
OK, Marc. Washington is on the clock...
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Update: Jim Callis, in his Mock Draft 4.0 posted this morning, says bonus demands are adding more confusion to a wide-open draft.
According to multiple team sources, several of the draft's best high school players blew them away when they revealed their price tags. California lefthander Tyler Matzek, the best prep prospect in the draft, wants "precedent-setting money," which is interpreted to mean that he wants to surpass the record $7 million guarantee for a high schooler given to Josh Beckett and Rick Porcello. Texas righthander Shelby Miller, previously believed to be signable for around MLB's bonus recommendations, is asking for $4 million.
New Jersey outfielder Mike Trout (upwards of $2.5 million), Texas outfielder Slade Heathcott (upwards of $2 million), Florida third baseman Bobby Borchering ($2 million), North Carolina catcher Wil Myers ($2 million) and California outfielder Jake Marisnick ($2 million) all want top-10 pick money. Oklahoma southpaw Chad James seeks $1.75 million. Previously, Missouri righty Jacob Turner and Texas lefty Matt Purke alluded to Porcello money, while Georgia outfielder Donavan Tate will cost $6 million or more.
Teams are indignant about what they believe to be unrealistic expectations. Two different scouting directors remarked last night that they were getting seven-figure signability estimates for players their clubs hadn't even planned to draft. On the other side, agents are just as upset about commissioner Bud Selig's unilateral 10 percent reduction in the slot recommendations.