WTNYNovember 22, 2004
The June 10
By Bryan Smith

As I slowly piece together a prospect list, one of the main questions I am encountered with is that of inclusion. Should I allow Casey Kotchman or Scott Kazmir, who were eerily close to the rookie cutoff? Yes. Should I allow Joe Mauer, who did not have enough official at-bats, but did have enough service time? No.

Should I include players that were drafted this past June?

This answer has changed in the last year, after putting both Rickie Weeks and Delmon Young in my preseason top twenty prospects. I have decided that no matter the hype, comparing 100 short-season at-bats to Jason Kubel's AA/AAA split is too difficult for a stat-driven prospector like myself. I applaud the geniuses over at Baseball America for being able to piece the two on one list, but that just ain't happening here.

But ignoring the presence, the results of these draftees would be foolish, and go against the "Future Comes First" mentality here at WTNY. So in what I hope will become an annual tradition, I will precede any prospect list with a look back at the finds of the draft. Today we will be looking solely at the first-round selections, while I will at a later date hit on the post-Round 1 steals.

Remember, Adam Miller and Chad Billingsley were late first-rounders in 2003, Matt Cain and Greg Miller in '02, and Bobby Crosby and Jeremy Bonderman in '01. There is always talent in the 20-40 section, and there is always someone to explode on the scene the next season. Some of this can be attributed to new pitches or new knowledge, but I like to think that we have a chance at seeing it coming.

In this draft - despite it being mid-November - a lot of the players have left us with no statistical results at all. Whether it be a continued holdout, a cautious front office or an unsigned player, nine of the first 41 choices have all of zero appearances as professional players. Furthermore, two pitchers (yes I am looking at you Bill Bray and Philip Hughes) don't even have ten innings under their wings. So for that - and because not including them brings the number to 30 - these 11 players have been left out.

Below is my account of the debuts of ten players, in the order of which they were drafted. The other twenty will be commented on in the coming days/weeks. Please drop your comments on any of these players, or those not spoken of, at the end of the article.

Matt Bush- San Diego Padres- The Arizona Diamondbacks have taken a lot of heat for their half-hire of Wally Backman, allowing Kevin Towers and staff to back away from the 'Spotlight of Embarassment'. After considering many different options with their record fifth different first overall selection, the Padres sided with their pocketbook and chose the local Bush. Shortly after his signing, Bush was arrested shortly after debuting in the organization.

But a bad head is not the only thing separating Bush from prospectdom, a bad bat is as well. Bush's season-line, split between the Arizona and Northwest Leagues, was .198/.304/.260. He shows solid range and a cannon arm up the middle, but that can only get you so far. Thirteen walks in 96 at-bats, good. Twenty-three strikeouts, bad. While Delmon Young and Joe Mauer have recently salvaged the first overall legacy, Bush looks like he belongs closer to the Brian Bullington/Josh Hamilton side.

Mark Rogers- Milwaukee Brewers- I criticized the Brewers for this pick after the draft, mostly because the words 'raw', 'New Englander' and 'high school' seldom belong in the same sentence. A few months later, I reserve the right to stick with my original thought process, Homer Bailey and Jeremy Sowers were just better choices. Despite the recent successes of Jack Zduriencik, I see a lot more bad in Rogers than good.

To clarify what I am looking at, it's a 4.72 ERA in the Arizona League. It's about a 10.12 H/9 in the least advanced league in professional baseball. Yes, I see the 0 HR allowed in 26.2 innings, and the 11.81 K/9, but if we're projecting relief for a player just drafted, he's in trouble.

Chris Nelson- Colorado Rockies- Time to give your scouting department a raise. With their third top ten selection in three years, the Rockies have what looks to be a third solid choice. Jeff Francis was a polished Canadian southpaw in 2002, and Ian Stewart a California-boy with a lot of raw power. And finally, we have Nelson, a Georgian shortstop with the whole package.

In the Pioneer League, Nelson hit .347 in just south of 150 at-bats. He also hit thirteen extra-base hits during that time, three of which were triples. I am in the belief that triples in the minors unfairly jack up slugging percentages across the board. But no matter how you look at it, Nelson has everything Bush does (minus the criminal record) and then some. Good choice by the Rockies, even if Nelson won't hit this good anytime soon.

Thomas Diamond- Texas Rangers- Grady Fuson may have been run out of Texas, but not before he could provide them with a good draft, and a great player at the top. While I am pretty skeptical of collegiate pitchers from not-known programs, like the Univesity of New Orleans, Diamond showed fantastic polish after signing with the Rangers. Diamond pitched extremely well in the Northwest League - twenty-six strikeouts in 15.1 innings - and then continued his dominance in the Midwest League.

Besides the college relievers, and the well-advanced Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew, I expect Diamond to be one of the first choices to hit the big leagues. He should be sent straight to high-A next season, as his 68/13 strikeout-walk ratio implies. With mid-90s gas and a solid breaking ball, Diamond could be joining a Ranger rotation that is becoming formidable...fast.

Neil Walker- Pittsburgh Pirates- Despite my dislike for players that are drafted in accordance to where they live (Walker is from Pennsylvania), I like the Walker selection. I have heard good things about Walker behind the plate, both from him calling a good game to having a rocket arm. Plus, though his .156 ISO wasn't too indicative, a power bat behind the plate always sounds exquisite. Dave Littlefield has been itching to get out of Jason Kendall's contract since he was hired, and in Walker, the Pirates have likely found his successor.

Billy Butler- Kansas City Royals- After reading this chat over at BA, defending Butler's selection as the Royals top prospect, I am pretty sold on this kid. In 260 at-bats in short-season baseball, Butler hit .373/.488/.596, one of the few minor leaguers to top a 1.000 OPS. His power is sensational...already...and according to Baseball America, has drawn comparisons to Zack Greinke of all people from Royals brass. Why Greinke? For his "cerebral approach" to each at-bat, which of course includes the willingness to watch four balls.

David Purcey (Toronto) and Chris Lambert (St. Louis)- Forgive me while I break the "in the order of which they were drafted" methodology, so I can properly judge the Jays decision. With these two, it was J.P.'s choice between: a big, hard-throwing southpaw with solid control and no second pitch or a Big East rightie with good pitches but some control/mechanical problems. In the end, Riccardi went with the former, a move that is still a bit too early to criticize.

Purcey pitched well in his twelve-inning debut, allowing six hits and one walk while striking out thirteen. But he went to a Big 12 school, so we can only hope short-season baseball was not too much of a test. Lambert had a bit less of what we'd call a sample size, getting in 38.1 solid innings. The knack on Lambert was proven true by his pitching, as he allowed 31 hits, struck out 46, but walked 24. How these players react to high-A ball, likely their next stop, will prove if J.P. made the right decision after all.

Scott Elbert- Los Angeles Dodgers- Many people are treating the Paul DePodesta-Logan White relationship, one that they inherited, as a time bomb. Surely the "computer nerd" can't deal with such an impulse-buyer as White, right? Wrong. Logan White is one of the three best in the game in his position, and DePo will be willing to coexist wiht Logan as long as his farm system remains stacked.

Elbert, I'm afraid, may not add to the stacked column. I think this draft will turn out fine for the Dodgers - you'll see later how much I like Blake DeWitt - but I just think Elbert could be a flopper. It's not really the 5.26 ERA that convinced me, it was more the low 1.50 K/BB and mediocre other peripherals across the board. Logan struck gold with Miller and Billingsley in back-to-back years, you couldn't honestly expect three out of three.

Josh Fields- Chicago White Sox- I don't really know what to make out of Fields. Is he raw because he has spent so much time focusing on football? Is he polished because the White Sox sent him to the Carolina League upon his arrival in professional baseball? Ken Williams' new ideology of challenging his prospects, also seen in his placement of Sweeney and promotion of Anderson, often leaves us unsure of where these players stand, and Fields is not unique in that regard.

With that being said, I can tell you that Fields is a very good hitter. Hitting .285, with a .160 ISO at this level, is awful impressive. And you better believe this kid has an arm...he's an ex-quarterback for God's sake!

OK, ok, I'll bite. Here is your ranking of these ten players: Billy Butler, Chris Nelson, Thomas Diamond, Josh Fields, Neil Walker, Chris Lambert, David Purcey, Matt Bush, Mark Rogers and Scott Elbert.


Bryan, thanks for the great piece. I love Chris Nelson. If Ian Stewart can stay at third, the Rockies future left side of the infield is going to be a joy to watch, especially at the plate.

...Perhaps Cory Dunlap makes up for Elbert?

I was curious who you (Bryan) think are the best scouting directors and why. Perhaps you can devote an entry or two to this subject, down the line.

Also, who do you see manning the Red Sox draft, since Chadd left for Detroit?

Bryan, I think one of the Baseball America writers was on the money this year when he said that judging recent draftees by their short-season ball stats is completely wrong-headed. The college guys beat up on high school guys, and unless high school guys are in the GCL or Arizona League, they are playing against players as much as four or five years older than themselves for the first time. Heck, Jeremy Hermida was a .224 hitter in the GCL out of high school, and Baseball America really did not care about that when they evaluated him as a prospect. They knew he had the tools to be a great hitter.

And you might be able to guess what I, a Dodger fan, think of your evaluation of Scott Elbert. Elbert was a guy I wanted Logan White to get ever since the 2003 Area Code Games. A prep lefty with a 90-94 MPH fastball, a good slider, and an average change-up -- all thrown with a loose, effortless delivery and advanced command. That's Baseball America's scouting report on Elbert as a high school pitcher. It was obvious to me more than a year ago that Elbert was a prototypical Logan White player. His numbers pitching half his games in the best hitter's park in the best hitter's league in pro baseball against college hitters are completely irrelevent. Another Dodger teenage southpaw acquired this year, David Pheiffer, started 2004 short-season ball in the GCL, and put up the following record: 22.1 IP, 17 H's, 0 HR's, 2 BB's, 20 K's, 0.40 ERA. Great numbers, I think you will agree. That performance got Pheiffer quickly promoted to Ogden in the Pioneer League, where Elbert was. How did Pheiffer do there? 40.2 IP, 50 H's, 4 HR's, 22 BB's, 33 K's, 6.20 ERA. Ogden was a nightmare for pitchers this year, even of the college variety, and pitchers from other teams in the league too seemed to get worse when they came to Ogden. Considering this, I actually have more confidence in Elbert going into next season than I do Blake DeWitt, because DeWitt's batting average was one of the worst batting averages on DeWitt's team (DeWitt hit .284/.350/.488). In 2003, Dodger 4th round prep outfielder Xavier Paul hit .307/.384/.489 in the Pioneer League. Moving up to low A Columbus in the South Atlantic League this year, Paul's numbers declined significantly in the less hitter-friendly environment: .265/.342/.407. And I think it is rather odd that DeWitt hit 11 of his 12 HR's at home, too.

I was really high on Mark Rogers, small sample size could be the problem with his era and starting in A ball for a high school kid still can't be easy, no matter how low the league is. But you mentioned that you thought it was bad during the draft, what am I missing?