Jim Callis is still making his list and checking it twice for his final mock draft prior to the beginning Thursday of the 2008 Draft. We still are pinching ourselves at BA World Headquarters that the draft is on TV and happy to be part of ESPN’s show., and we’ll dispatch Matt Blood to Orlando to cover the proceedings at the Milk House, where the draft’s first round and the TV show will be staged.
Here are some hints of what we’re hearing will happen at the top of that exciting television program:
• Sorry, Vanderbilt. All indications are the Commodores will not become the first college team to produce back-to-back No. 1 overall picks. While Vandy third baseman Pedro Alvarez ranked first on BA’s draft board, he’s about third on Tampa’s board, according to industry sources. The top spot remains undecided. According to BA’s sources, the Rays’ scouting department prefers Georgia prep shortstop Tim Beckham, the kind of toolsy, middle-of-the-diamond athlete the Rays have drafted repeatedly—the kind of athletes that have put the Rays in first place in the American League East as the draft approaches. Others in the organization, such as de facto GM Andrew Friedman, are said to prefer Florida State catcher Buster Posey as the perfect complement to the organization’s impressive current stockpile of talent. Of course Posey also can stake his claim as this draft class’ top talent based on his offensive and defensive prowess at such a premium position.
• Alvarez appears tp be the first, second and third choice of the Pirates in the No. 2 hole. At the very least, taking Alvarez would signal to skeptical Bucs fans that the new bosses, team president Frank Coonelly and GM Neal Huntington, aren’t the same as the old bosses. The Alvarez-to-Pittsburgh talk is so strong, most sources don’t really know what Pittsburgh’s backup plan could be, other than Cliff Stoudt.
• The rest of the top 10 could play off what happens at No. 3, where the Royals select. Florida prep first baseman Eric Hosmer appears to be the favorite here, though Alvarez would be the first choice if available. Posey also is a strong possibility for the Royals, though Hosmer (and Alvarez) would fit the organization’s recent pattern of drafting Scott Boras Corporations clients with its top pick. Kansas City also took Boras Corp. clients with top picks in 2006 (Luke Hochevar) and ’07 (Mike Moustakas).
• This just isn’t shaping up as a good draft for college pitchers. Fresno State’s Tanner Scheppers is out of the first-round mix with his shoulder injury, and Tulane’s Shooter Hunt, as indicated in last week’s Draft Tracker, has seen his stock slip of late. Now, even the two top college starters on the board, San Diego’s Brian Matusz and Missouri’s Aaron Crow, could be losing a little steam. It’s through nothing they did or didn’t do, but sources indicate the relative strength of the bats available toward the top of the draft was pushing Matusz and Crow down draft boards. Indications are now that Crow could slip all the way out of the Top 10 in some scenarios. Matusz could find a landing place as high as No. 4 with the Orioles, though Baltimore could opt for Beckham if he doesn’t go No. 1, or South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak.
• The Giants and first-year scouting director John Barr could have a pleasant surprise at five. They’re said to have Hosmer at the top of their board but he may not get that far. However, Beckham or Posey might, which would give the Giants the chance to draft a premium middle-of-the-diamond player.
• The White Sox have been linked to Arizona State’s two-time Pac-10 triple crown winner, Brett Wallace, at the No. 8 spot, but the Sox may be more interested in another Pac-10 lefthanded hitter. Chicago farm director Alan Regier was given extensive scouting duties in the wake of Dave Wilder’s firing. Regier, a former assistant coach at California, is the godfather of Stanford catcher Jason Castro. Regier’s recent promotion to the scouting side has fueled speculation that Castro, whose profile is similar to Chicago’s current catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, could be the Sox’ pick.
• Club personnel and agents contacted regarding the bonus slots for the 2008 draft will speak only in generalities, but sources indicate the commissioner’s office’s recommendations for signing bonuses are higher than they were in 2007. Slots appear to be up roughly 10 percent in the first round, restoring them to their 2007 levels, and roughly 7 percent in the second through fifth rounds. With that increase and fewer compensation picks this year, the ceiling for bonuses after the fifth round (pegged to the last bonus in the fifth round) has risen from $123,300 in 2007 to roughly $150,000.