Florida, our preseason No. 1 team, continues to hold onto the top spot in our College Top 25, improving to 18-2 after sweeping then-No. 8 Louisiana State in Baton Rouge. The Gators will be good for a while, as their entire weekend rotation (Brian Johnson, Hudson Randall, Karsten Whitson) and four of their seven lineup regulars (Nolan Fontana, Johnson, Austin Maddox, Michael Zunino) aren’t draft-eligible this year.
Preseason No. 2 UCLA hasn’t fared nearly as well, dropping to No. 24 after winning just eight of its first 15 games. Co-aces Gerrit Cole (1.67 ERA, 40-5 K-BB ratio in 32 innings) and Trevor Bauer (1.71, 46-14 K-BB in 32 innings) have dominated as expected, but the Bruins are averaging less than four runs per game. They haven’t won a game in which they’re allowed more than two runs, and they’re just 2-5 in games decided by one or two runs.
- With hindsight, how would you redo the top 12 picks of the 2005 draft, using only players taken in the first or supplemental first round?
The 2005 draft was the best of the previous decade, and could rank as one of the best ever by the time its players have finished their careers. Twenty-six of the 30 first-rounders and nine of its 18 sandwich picks have reached the majors, and several of those players are stars, as you’ll see by the list below. I listed the team that had each selection and the player it chose in parentheses:
1. Troy Tulowitzki (Diamondbacks: Justin Upton)
Mariners targeted him as No. 3 choice before switching to Jeff Clement on final weekend.
2. Justin Upton (Royals: Alex Gordon)
His $6.1 million bonus set a record that has been broken six times since.
3. Ryan Zimmerman (Mariners: Jeff Clement)
His glove has been as good as advertised, and his bat has been better than expected.
4. Ryan Braun (Nationals: Zimmerman)
Wasn’t able to stick at third base, but Brewers have no regrets about taking him at No. 5.
5. Jay Bruce (Brewers: Braun)
The Nationals loved his power so much, they nearly took him over Zimmerman.
6. Colby Rasmus (Blue Jays: Ricky Romero)
Overshadowed in a deep prep outfield class, went 28th overall to the Cardinals.
7. Andrew McCutchen (Rockies: Tulowitzki)
Management wanted a college product but Pirates scouts fought for McCutchen at No. 11.
8. Clay Buchholz (Devil Rays: Wade Townsend)
An arrest in college contributed to him dropping to the Red Sox with the 42nd pick.
9. Matt Garza (Mets: Mike Pelfrey)
One of first round’s bigger surprises (No. 25, Twins) reached the majors 14 months later.
10. Jacoby Ellsbury (Tigers: Cameron Maybin)
The first of five Red Sox big leaguers in the first/sandwich rounds, he went 23rd overall.
11. Ricky Romero (Pirates: McCutchen)
After a slow start to his career, he has won 27 games in the last two seasons.
12. Mike Pelfrey (Reds: Bruce)
A candidate to go No. 1, he got a $5.25 million big league deal as the No. 9 pick.
The next two guys on the list would be Gordon and Jed Lowrie, whom the Red Sox drafted 45th overall. Gordon was an elite college hitting prospect but has batted just .244/.328/.405 in parts of four big league seasons. I still think he has a chance to be a solid regular. Lowrie can become one as well, provided he stays healthy.
If we extended this question to include the entire 2005 draft, 22nd-round draft-and-follow Tommy Hanson would be the first pitcher on the list. Braves second-rounder Yunel Escobar has been the best position player drafted after the first and sandwich rounds.
- Which model carries more risk for building your franchise, international amateur signings or the draft? How much do teams vary their strategy in this regard from year to year, based solely on their position and picks in the draft?
The international amateur market is much riskier than the draft, for a variety of reasons. The best international players sign at age 16 and thus require much more projection than the top high school players (ages 18-19) and the top collegians (age 21). The international amateurs are signed based on how they fare in showcase/tryout settings, where it’s easier to stand out than it is in games. International prospects also face next to nothing resembling pro competition.
In addition to having to adjust to pro ball, international amateurs have to adapt to an entirely new culture in the United States. A number of them have questions surrounding their age and/or identity, something that isn’t an issue with the draft. There’s much more uncertainty and guesswork involved with international signees compared to drafted players.
Last year, the average team spent $6.5 million on draft bonuses and $2.5 million on international bonuses (excluding established professionals in their nation, such as Cuba or Japan). Clubs may vary how much they invest in one area from year to year, depending on the relative strengths of the draft and international talent pools, and also how many early-round or early-first-round picks they may have. It doesn’t make sense to downplay either market, and it would be nearly impossible to develop enough homegrown talent by emphasizing the international market over the draft, as the Mets did for a while under former GM Omar Minaya.
- What would a Top 10 Prospects list of recent signees from the Far East look like? Do any of them have the potential to be regular big leaguers?
Two Far East signees since 2008 stand out among the rest as potential big league regulars: Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, No. 92 on our Top 100 Prospects list, and Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who won the batting title in Japan’s Pacific League last year by hitting .346. The other players on the list below either project as relievers or are too far away from the major leagues at this point.
1. Hak-Ju Lee, ss, Rays
Has classic shortstop tools, was one of the headliners in the Matt Garza trade.
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2b/ss, Twins
Minnesota gave him a $9.25 million contract so it could add up-the-middle athleticism.
3. Chen Lee, rhp, Indians
His 92-93 mph fastball peaks at 96, has helped him average 10.3 K/9 in pro ball.
4. Junichi Tazawa, rhp, Red Sox
Went from Japan’s industrial leagues in 2008 to majors in 2009 to TJ surgery in 2010.
5. Ji-Man Choi, 1b/c, Mariners
Won Arizona League batting title (.378) and MVP award in 2010 pro debut.
6. Jae-Hoon Ha, of, Cubs
Signed as a catcher but more comfortable in right, he hit .317 in low Class A last year.
7. Jin-Young Kim, rhp, Cubs
Shows precocious feel for a solid four-pitch mix as an 18-year-old.
8. Seong-Min Kim, c, Athletics
Has plus power potential, as well as good arm strength and athleticism for a catcher.
9. Chia-Jen Lo, rhp, Astros
Touched 96 mph with his fastball before tearing an elbow ligament in 2010.
10. Min-Sih Chen, rhp, Mariners
Converted outfielder flashes a mid-90s fastball, low-80s slider.