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Big budget leads to more draft risks

by Jim Callis
June 18, 2004

CHICAGO--A year after I conducted my first draft for Baseball America, a big league club has yet to offer me a job as scouting director.

I can't say that I'm overly impressed with my initial crop of selections either.

Last year, I made picks at what would have been the end of each of the first 10 rounds. I didn't peek and see where the players actually were selected, and I didn't allow myself to load up on players with questionable signability. I assumed a reasonable signing budget of $3.75 million.

I was elated with my first-round pick, outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who tore up big league camp with the White Sox this spring before settling into a so-so season in high Class A. My fourth-rounder, Blue Jays righthander Justin James, is pitching promisingly well in low Class A.

The rest of my draftees have mostly stagnated: Cubs catcher Tony Richie (second round), Astros righty Cliff Davis (third), Padres righty Clark Girardeau (fifth), Clemson first baseman Andy D'Alessio (sixth; I came up with $500,000 to sign him), Devil Rays shortstop Matt Maniscalco (seventh), Red Sox outfielder Chris Durbin (eighth) and Tigers outfielder Michael Brown (ninth). I wasn't able to sign infielder Myron Leslie (10th), who returned to South Florida for his senior year.

Undaunted, I'll take another shot with the 2004 draft, hopefully benefiting from lessons learned. I was too conservative, as my nine signees would have cost a little more than $2.9 million. And picking 31st is no fun, so this time I chose a random mid-round draft slot and wound up with No. 21.

Zeal For Zeringue

As the draft approached, I started to get intrigued by Florida high school third baseman Billy Butler, who's not much of an athlete but is a masher who can produce for power and average. I thought he'd make a tremendous second-round choice and even toyed with the idea of trying to make a statement by popping him at No. 21--and then the Royals cut a predraft deal with him seven picks ahead of me.

That made my decision easier. I never understood why Louisiana State outfielder Jon Zeringue didn't merit much first-round discussion, especially in a draft short on position-player talent, so I'll put my money where my mouth is by selecting him.

He hits for power, he hits for average, runs well for his size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and has a strong right-field arm. The Diamondbacks stole him in the real draft's second round at No. 56 overall.

Thanks to the compensation choices in the sandwich round, my second pick doesn't arrive until No. 62. That's just in time, because my target, Wisconsin high school righthander Erik Cordier, went 63rd to the Royals. A projectable 6-foot-3, 197-pounder Cordier was lights out in his first outing this spring, showing an 89-95 mph fastball and two other plus big league pitches in 43-degree weather.

I also nab my third-rounder, Virginia lefthander Andrew Dobies, just in time at No. 92, three picks ahead of where he went to the Red Sox. Dobies has a clean delivery and keeps hitters off balance with a combination of 85-88 mph fastballs, cutters and changeups. He should reach the majors as fast as any of my draftees.

Gamble In The 10th

My next two picks are college bats, James Madison outfielder Mike Butia (Indians, fifth round) and Clemson third baseman Brad McCann (Marlins, sixth). Butia is similar to Zeringue, and while not as athletic may possess more raw power. McCann, the older brother of Braves catching prospect Brian McCann, also has a potent bat and I'm betting that he'll be able to stay at the hot corner.

I usually like my prospects to have more of a track record than 21 innings for a Southwestern Athletic Conference club, but Southern righty Jason Quarles (Pirates, seventh) has stuff too good to ignore in the sixth. An outfielder who hit .397 at Glen Oak (Mich.) CC in 2003, Quarles hit the mid-90s regularly and flashed a devastating curveball after moving to the mound for the Jaguars.

Looking for some up-the-middle talent, I tab Oral Roberts shortstop Grant Plumley (Yankees, ninth) and Arizona catcher Richard Mercado (Diamondbacks, 12th) as my seventh- and eighth-rounders. Plumley made just four errors in 61 games and should be able to hit after some minor mechanical adjustments. Mercado has good all-around defensive skills and a nice approach at the plate.

I'll save a little money in the ninth round with Montclair State senior lefty Jeff Gogal (Marlins, 12th), who oozes pitchability and nearly went through the entire Cape Cod League season without allowing an earned run last summer. At this point, my first nine picks should cost me roughly $3.2 million.

Given that I was so under budget in 2003, I'm going to take a high-price gamble in the 10th round: Georgia Tech righthander/DH Micah Owings (Cubs, 19th). Owings' hard sinker and power bat make him a second-round talent as a pitcher and hitter, and he might be able to play third base if not the outfield. He fell because of signability, but I'll do my best to sign him for second-round money by the end of the summer.

We'll check back at Draft Report Card time in the fall to see if how I fared with Owings and the rest of my selections. I took nine collegians and just one high schooler, though that's just the way my draft board fell and not reflective of a pronounced preference for college players.

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