Florida made a great decision in the 2000 draft.
The Marlins held the No. 1 overall pick that year and used it to select Adrian Gonzalez out of Eastlake High in California. Gonzalez ranked ninth on Baseball America’s Top 100 draft prospects list entering the draft, with BA noting that Gonzalez was "seen as a Mark Grace clone with a little more power" and "an accomplished defensive first baseman who’s agile around the bag."
As Jim Callis wrote before the draft that year, teams had difficulties lining up their draft boards due to the lack of a distinct spread in talent among the top handful of potential draft picks:
This year, the consensus is that there’s no consensus. Scouts say that the gap in talent between the eventual top pick and a mid-first-rounder will be as small as it has ever been.
"It’s the most confusing top group in the 13 years I’ve been scouting," says Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff, who will make the second overall pick on June 5. "That’s not to say there won’t be a bounty of major leaguers down the line, but it’s a rather chaotic, confused mix of talent."
Radcliff was right. The first round of the 2000 draft yielded little talent beyond Gonzalez, and some of the best players available signed in the later rounds. Tampa Bay selected Rocco Baldelli with the sixth pick out of Bishop Hendrickson High in Rhode Island, Philadelphia scored UCLA’s Chase Utley 15th overall and the Braves drafted Adam Wainwright 29th from Glynn Academy in Georgia. Five of the other top 10 picks have never even reached the big leagues, and the other three—Adam Johnson, Lou Montanez and Mike Stodolka—have had minimal big league impact.
Amidst all the uncertainty, two of the best players from the entire draft went in the eighth round: Dontrelle Willis to the Cubs and Brandon Webb to the Diamondbacks. One year later, the Red Sox drafted University of Cincinnati senior Kevin Youkilis in the eighth round.
An eighth- or a ninth-round pick doesn’t typically return that caliber of player—in fact, it usually doesn’t provide a big leaguer at all. Mostly the eighth and ninth rounds tend to look like this, with perhaps a regular or two and maybe even a star, a couple of role players with short careers and a long list of players who never reach the majors.
So let’s take a peek at some eighth- and ninth-round picks who have developed into more intriguing prospects. Just like yesterday and Tuesday, we’re excluding draft-and-follows, signability slides and 2008 draft picks.
David Freese, 3b, Cardinals: Freese has always been old for his level, but that’s because he was a fifth-year senior from South Alabama when the Padres drafted him in the ninth round in 2006. After Freese hit .302/.400/.489 at age 24 in the high Class A California League in 2007, the Padres traded him to the Cardinals that offseason for Jim Edmonds. The Cardinals decided Freese could handle skipping Double-A and pushed him up to Triple-A Memphis, where Freese rewarded the Cardinals with a .306/.361/.550 season in 131 games in 2008. He also showed good defense at third base. With Troy Glaus succumbing to shoulder surgery, Freese could get a chance to finally break through in St. Louis this year.
Allen Craig, 3b, Cardinals: Craig mashed all year for Double-A Springfield, hitting .304/.373/.494 in 129 games a year after batting .312/.370/.530 in 112 games in the high Class A Florida State League. Craig lasted until the eighth round in 2006 out of California—where he ranked as the state’s No. 96 draft prospect—as injuries and questionable defense caused him to slide. Craig’s defense at third base is still problematic, and he spent some time in the outfield and at first base last year. But he has good bat speed, above-average power and an .861 career OPS. He’s not in a good situation with Freese ahead of him and 2008 first-rounder Brett Wallace steamrolling through the system. On offense, Craig could be Freese’s equal, but the gap in fielding might make Freese at least one win better than Craig. But Craig should be able to carve out a major league role in some capacity.
John Raynor, of, Marlins: Raynor signed in 2006 after his senior season as a ninth-round pick from UNC Wilmington. Though he was already 23, the Marlins started Raynor in low Class A, where he batted .333/.429/.519 for hitter-friendly Greensboro. Raynor skipped over high Class A and continued his success last year for Double-A Carolina, hitting .312/.402/.489 in 126 games. Raynor’s best tool is his speed—he’s an 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale who stole 48 bases in 59 attempts (81 percent) last year. Despite his speed and his production, many scouts are still skeptical. Though he’s an 80 runner, Raynor is better suited for left field because his outfield instincts aren’t good and his arm strength is below-average. He has some holes in his swing and in his strike zone—low and away and then against elevated or inside fastballs—that led to 122 strikeouts in 534 plate appearances, but those strikeouts don’t come with the acceptable tradeoff of plus power.
Daryl Thompson, rhp, Reds: Thompson looked untouchable through his first six starts with Double-A Chattanooga last year. In that stretch, Thompson allowed just three earned runs in 37 1/3 innings (and never more than one earned run in a start), posting a 0.72 ERA with a 42-5 K-BB mark. After four more starts, Thompson moved up to Triple-A Louisville (2.76 ERA, 33-9 K-BB in 45 2/3 innings) and then to the big league club for three starts. Thompson reached the big leagues five years after the Montreal Expos drafted him out of high school in 2003 and two years after the franchise traded him to the Reds. Thompson has an explosive 91-94 mph fastball, an athletic delivery, a solid (though inconsistent) changeup and he mixes his pitch sequences well, but he doesn’t have a true out pitch and carries an extensive history of shoulder problems. If he doesn’t have the durability or the effectiveness to be a starter, he could fit into a bullpen role, where his fastball might even play up a tick or two.
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