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2005 Draft Notebook: Talks With Upton Start Slowly

Compiled By Allan Simpson
June 30, 2005

A MATTER OF TIME

The Diamondbacks hoped to have No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton in the fold within a month of this years draft, which would represent a change from recent years, when the first pick in the draft has often held out for several months.

Following is the signing date for the drafts top pick over the last 20 years:

Year
Player, Pos., Team
Bonus
Date

2004

Matt Bush, ss, Padres

$3,150,000

June 16

2003

Delmon Young, of, Devil Rays

3,700,000

Sept. 8

2002

Bryan Bullington, rhp, Pirates

4,000,000

Oct. 30

2001

Joe Mauer, c, Twins

5,150,000

July 17

2000

Adrian Gonzalez, 1b, Marlins

3,000,000

June 6

1999

Josh Hamilton, of, Devil Rays

3,960,000

June 3

1998

Pat Burrell, 3b, Phillies

3,150,000

July 24

1997

Matt Anderson, rhp, Tigers

2,505,000

Dec. 23

1996

Kris Benson, rhp, Pirates

2,000,000

Aug. 11

1995

Darin Erstad, of, Angels

1,575,000

July 26

1994

Paul Wilson, rhp, Mets

1,550,000

June 18

1993

Alex Rodriguez, ss, Mariners

1,000,000

Aug. 30

1992

Phil Nevin, 3b, Astros

700,000

June 18

1991

Brien Taylor, lhp, Yankees

1,550,000

Aug. 28

1990

Chipper Jones, ss, Braves

275,000

June 4

1989

Ben McDonald, rhp, Orioles

350,000

Aug. 19

1988

Andy Benes, rhp, Padres

235,000

June 20

1987

Ken Griffey Jr., of, Mariners

160,000

June 2

1986

Jeff King, 3b, Pirates

180,000

July 10

1985

B.J. Surhoff, c, Brewers

150,000

June 3

With 20 of 30 first-round picks from this years draft signed by the end of June, the pace of player signings has been quicker than in recent years. Still, the top three picks had not signed, including shortstop Justin Upton, selected No. 1 overall by the Diamondbacks.

Id characterize negotiations as being in the preliminary stages, D-backs scouting director Mike Rizzo said.

Rizzo and Diamondbacks general partner Jeff Moorad had talked twice since the draft with Larry Reynolds, Uptons adviser. No deal is imminent, according to Rizzo.

There hasnt been much movement on their side to get a deal done quickly, Rizzo said. We hoped things would move a little faster. Wed like him to get at least two months of pro ball under his belt, to get 200 at-bats this summer. There are some things he needs to work on, especially defensively.

Reynolds, who attended the College World Series in Omaha, commented only that negotiations were moving slowly.

While a number of clubs indicated they would move Upton immediately to center field, where scouts say he has Gold Glove potential, Rizzo said the Diamondbacks have no intention of having Upton play anywhere but at shortstop. He struggled defensively there this spring, especially with his throwing accuracy, the only obvious flaw in his game. He spent part of his season at Great Bridge High in Chesapeake, Va., playing third base.

Rizzo was emphatic that Upton would sign a standard minor league contract, unlike the major league deal that shortstop Stephen Drew, the teams first-round pick in 2004, signed just prior to this years draft. Drew agreed to a contract that guarantees him $5.25 million, including a $4 million bonus.

Drew began his career at high Class A Lancaster of the Diamondbacks system. Rizzo indicated Upton would start his at Missoula of the Rookie-level Pioneer Leagueif and when he signs.

The Royals also had not signed Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon, the second overall pick, and the Mariners had not come to terms with Southern California catcher Jeff Clement, the third pick.

D-backs Assemble Power Arms

While Rizzo was anxious to get Upton under contract, he was enthusiastic about some of the power arms his team had signed. The D-backs drafted pitchers with 16 of their next 22 picks after Upton, including four with fastballs that have been clocked in excess of 95 mph. Two of the pitchers, righthanders Jason Neighborgall and Maels Rodriguez, have hit 100 mph.

Rodriguez, 25, once was one of the premier pitchers in Cuba. He starred in international competition for Cubas national teamhitting 100 mph on the radar gun during the 2000 Olympics in Australia--and set strikeout records in Cubas domestic league. He defected to Costa Rica two years ago with the intent of striking it rich on the open market, but his stuff diminished significantly due to back problems that sapped him of his velocity. He never topped even 90 mph in various tryouts camps for major league clubs and never signed as a free agent. He kept a low profile until this year but was forced to enter the draft when it was determined that he had been living in Florida for the last year.

The Diamondbacks took a flier on Rodriguez in the 22nd round and quickly signed him, sending him to Rookie-level Missoula.

He needs some mechanical adjustments to get back to where he was, Rizzo said, but weve already got him in the low 90s again. We felt it was worth the gamble.

Arizona also signed supplemental first-rounder Matt Torra and 20th-rounder Pete Duda, both of whom have topped 95. Duda pitched all of four innings in his Stanford career.

The Diamondbacks added to their pitching stockpile by taking a flier on 7-foot-1 righthander Ryan Doherty, the tallest player in college baseball history. They signed Doherty as a nondrafted free agent after his disappointing junior season at Notre Dame. Like Rodriguez, Doherty was assigned to Missoula, where with minor tinkering in his delivery he had already elevated his fastball to 90-91 mph and his slider to the mid-80s.

Change Of Tactics

The Athletics, who inspired the Moneyball craze earlier in this decade by drafting almost exclusively college players, reversed course this year and took high school players with six of their first nine selections. From 2000-04, Oakland selected a total of five high school players in the first 10 rounds.

The change wasnt necessarily by design, As scouting director Eric Kubota indicated.

We may have relaxed our philosophy or broadened our horizons a bit, Kubota said, but it was more a situation this year where he we liked high school kids a little more in the spots where they were picked. Generally, if we like players equally, well draft the college player.

Five of the six high school players the As drafted were pitchers. Three had yet to sign: second-rounders Craig Italiano and Jared Lansford, and third-rounder Vince Mazzaro, all righthanders.

Two of the other staunchest supporters of the college-oriented approach to scouting, the Cardinals and Red Sox, also went in a different direction, with St. Louis taking six high school players in the first six rounds and Boston four in the first five rounds. A year ago, the Cardinals drafted just four high school players overall and didnt sign any. The Red Sox drafted one high school player in the first 16 rounds in both 2003 and 2004.

San Diego made a pronounced shift in the other direction, waiting until the 29th round to select its first domestic high school player. A year ago, the Padres took high school players with their first three picks, including shortstop Matt Bush with the first overall selection.

In the first 10 rounds this year, 68 percent of the selections came from college or junior collegedown slightly from last years draft record of 70 percent.

Braves Emphasize Downsizing

The Braves had signed only one player after the 13th round this year, but scouting director Roy Clark said its not to be construed that the club was having difficulty signing its mid- to low-round picks. It was more by design.

We didnt want to sign anyone if we didnt have a place for them to play, Clark said. With all the players we had in extended spring training and the (six) draft-and-follows we signed before the draft, we simply didnt have any room on our short-season rosters for more players. We dont want to be signing players if they dont have a chance to play regularly.

The Braves still plan to monitor their unsigned picks closely this summer, much like they would a conventional draft-and-follow.

If someone jumps out, Clark said, well make an aggressive effort to sign him. But we would probably sign him to a 2006 contract. Well still follow our normal draft-and-follows like we normally do, but for now weve signed all the players we intended to sign.

Every Braves drafted through the first 13 rounds had signed with the exception of 10th-rounder Colin Carter, a Texas junior college product. The Braves initially planned to sign Carter immediately but relented. He will remain under control to the Braves until a week before next years draft. The only other player the Braves had signed was righthander David Williams, a 37th rounder.

The Indians are following much the same approach to signing players as the Braves. With the exception of a quartet of four-year college players drafted after the 24th round, the Indians had little intention of immediately signing any of their picks between rounds 14-24.

Its definitely by design, Indians scouting director John Mirabelli said. Theres always room for pitchers to get enough work, but theres no point signing position players if you dont have a place for them to play.

DRAFT NOTES

With few exceptions, teams have signed players to date to bonuses in accordance with slotting guidelines established by Major League Baseball. One noteworthy exception is the $2.975 million bonus the Nationals gave third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the fourth overall pick. Its interesting, one scouting director said, that the team thats owned by Major League Baseball was allowed to go about $400,000 over slot. Generally, MLB admonishes teams if they dont abide by predetermined signing parameters.

The most noteworthy signing after the first round came in the eighth round, when the Yankees, as expected, went significantly over slot to sign Texas high school outfielder Austin Jackson to an $800,000 bonus. Jackson had committed to Georgia Tech as a point guard and the Yankees were forced to offer the equivalent of sandwich-round money to steer him away from his basketball commitment. The Yankees were in position to spread his bonus out over five years because of his status as a dual-sport athlete.

The Marlins had coughed up the most money to sign their early-round picks, some $6.6 million to seven players drafted before the start of the third round. In order, the Marlins gave $1.6 million to Florida high school righthander Chris Volstad; $1.225 million to Texas high school lefthander Aaron Thompson; $1 million to McNeese State righthander Jacob Marceaux; $975,000 to California high school righthander Ryan Tucker; $775,000 to Louisiana high school lefthander Sean West; $575,000 to Clemson outfielder Kris Harvey; and $450,000 to Nevada catcher Brett Hayes.

The Blue Jays had made the most intensive effort to sign their draft picks, nabbing their first 15. The Pirates signed their first 14, while the Braves, Orioles and White Sox had all signed 14 of their first 15 selections.

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