LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.–Two days ago, a scout from a National League club alluded to Josh Hamilton as a possible Rule 5 pick.
But even he didn’™t sound serious.
“I could see it maybe . . . the tools are still there for the most part,” he said. “But that’™s a major gamble–we’™re talking serious risk assessment.”
The Reds took that gamble Thursday, as the Cubs chose Hamilton with the third pick in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft and traded the first overall pick in 1999 to Cincinnati for cash considerations.
“We felt like he had the best tools in the draft and he was worth the gamble,” Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said. “There are certain obstacles, obviously. But we wouldn’™t have taken him if we felt he couldn’™t overcome them, and the upside is still there at his age.”
Hamilton played just 15 games at short-season Hudson Valley last season and was shut down in late July due to knee surgery to remove scar tissue. That surgery was the latest in a litany of injuries that have plagued Hamilton over his career.
But the substance abuse problems were even more glaring. Prior to this season, Hamilton spent all of 2003 on the restricted list, then missed the next two years after being suspended by Major League Baseball for multiple violations of the game’™s substance abuse policy.
Hamiton was cleared by MLB to play again in late June, declaring he had been clean since October 2005. When he made his return to the Renegades this past summer, it was the first time Hamilton took the field since 2002.
The Reds did not see Hamilton in the New York-Penn League, but senior director of scouting Chris Buckley followed him through instructional league, and the organization took a shot on him based on the fact that he seemingly has cleaned up his life and–of course–the raw tools.
“Hopefully we can keep him and get him as many at-bats in winter ball as possible,” Krivsky said. “He has some catching up to do and we’™re going to do everything we can as an organization to support him. Being the athlete that he is, those guys tend to make better adjustments faster than your average player.
“We hope he looks at this as a fresh start and feels good about himself–which he should–and his career could take off and get headed in the right direction. I know I’™m getting ahead of myself a little bit, but we’™re just very excited about having him as part of the Cincinnati Reds organization.”
Another excited front office official is Marlins vice president of player personnel Dan Jennings, who scouted and ultimately drafted Hamilton in 1999.
“I like where he is now, and I love what he could still become,” Jennings said. “The upside has always been there, and I know I’™ll be rooting for him with this change of scenery and really, the chance to finally prove he can be a major league player.”
Hamilton, who spoke to reporters in a telephone interview, sounded eager for a change of scenery and an opportunity. “I’m not really concerned. Baseball has never been the problem . . .
” he said. “I’ve been working out, and I can guarantee I will be in the best shape
of my life when spring training comes.”
Goleski Goes West
The Athletics paid the Devil Rays $100,000 to control the first overall pick, taking outfielder Ryan Goleski from the Indians. They also sent the Devil Rays lefthander Jay Marshall, whom the A’s drafted from the White Sox as the major league phase’s 14th player selected.
Goleski, a 24th-round pick in 2003 out of Eastern Michigan, broke out at low Class A Lake County in 2004, but had an abysmal season in 2005 at high Class A Kinston where he struggled to make adjustments and failed to recognize quality breaking balls.
But 2006 was a different story, as Goleski came out of the gate hard in a return trip to the Carolina League, then continued to hit at the Double-A level, batting .296/.370/.528 at Akron. He hit 27 homers overall on the season.
For the Athletics, the consensus wasn’™t clear late into the evening before the draft, as the club was split on taking either Goleski or Tigers infielder Ryan Raburn, but liked Goleski’™s power much better.
“We’™ll see what happens,” a scout from an American League club said. “They’™re already carrying six outfielders, and (Goleski) is a guy with a lot of question marks. The track record is good, but (2005) still bothers me a little bit. We’™re basically talking about a good half a year in Double-A. What happens when this guy faces real breaking balls?”
Marshall, 23, had an outstanding season at high Class A Winston-Salem, posting a 1.02 ERA over 62 innings, and using a lower sidearm slot, he gets tremendous sink on a high-80s fastball. Lefthanded hitters batted just .096 with no walks and two extra-base hits in 104 at-bats against Marshall in 2006.
So Long, Soria
The Royals took righthander Joakim Soria from the Padres with the second pick, adding what they feel could be an impact piece coming out of the pen in 2007 if everything clicks.
The 22-year-old pitched in relief for Mexico City during the first half of 2006, where he went 0-0, 3.89 in 37 innings and recorded 15 saves. Soria then went to the low Class A Fort Wayne bullpen, where he put up 1-0, 2.31 numbers in just 12 innings.
Soria, who was originally signed by the Dodgers in 2001, was released by Los Angeles in 2004 and the Padres signed him a year later. Soria had the biggest buzz heading into the draft after going 8-0, 2.02 in 62 innings with Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League this winter.
“Our scouts just saw him recently and he also had an outstanding summer,” Royals farm director J.J. Picollo said. “He’™s a young pitcher with a lot of poise, great command and has matured beyond his years. He’™s not the typical Rule 5 with the kind of arm where you’™re just trying to get him innings, but we feel like he’™s the type of guy who could go in and pitch for us.”
Soria has good life on his fastball, which consistently sits in the low 90s, throws strikes and commands the zone. His breaking ball had been a question mark, but Picollo said it’™s come along nicely through the time the Royals followed him this past season.
“We’™ve seen his breaking ball above average and that’™s something we’™d like to be a little more consistent,” Piccollo said. “But we’™ve seen the rotation and what we look for out of a quality breaking ball and we think it’™s on the come.”
While rules changes to the Rule 5 process were expected to keep the number of players selected low, the opposite happened, and more players were selected in the major league phase this year than in recent proceedings. The 19 players picked in the major league phase eclipsed the 2005 total by seven. Seven of the 19 players picked in the major league phase were traded. The Triple-A phase saw 24 players selected, and three more players were picked in the Double-A phase of the draft.
• At least three other trades came to light within hours of the draft’s completion. The Tigers acquired lefthander Edward Campusano from the Brewers, who had picked him with the seventh overall pick out of the Cubs system.
• The Orioles drafted hard-throwing righthander Alfredo Simon (Rangers, though he never pitched in the organization) with the fifth overall pick, then traded him to the Phillies for catcher Adam Donochie (Royals) and cash. Donachie, 22, split the 2006 season between the
Royals’™ high Class A High Desert and Double-A Wichita affiliates, batting a
combined .247/.352/.382 with 8 home runs and 31 RBIs in 91 games. Simon, signed last month as a six-year free agent by the Rangers, split last
season between Triple-A Fresno and high Class A San Jose in the Giants
organization and went 2-10, 6.62.
• The Nationals drafted Mets catcher Jesus Flores in the major league phase with the sixth overall pick, but they lost one of their own catching prospects in the Triple-A phase when the Rockies drafted Salomon Manriquez. The Rockies then traded Manriquez’ rights to Texas for cash.
Contributing: John Manuel.