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Crazy eights compelling in own right

by Jim Callis
July 29, 2005

CHICAGOčThe first round of the baseball draft hogs most of the attention. The most talented players go in the top 30 picks and command the largest bonuses.

But when the first round is completed, there still are 49 rounds and nearly 1,500 picks remaining. And some of those rounds can be just as enthralling.

Take the eighth round, for instance. The best-ever eighth-rounder was the stunningly gifted Eric Davis, followed by Charlie Hough. There must be something about the eighth round and knuckleballers, because Tim Wakefield (selected as a first baseman) went there as well.

Among current big leaguers, the club includes Ron Belliard, A.J. Burnett, Eric Byrnes, Derek Lowe, Mike Matheny, Craig Monroe, Brad Radke and Jason Schmidt. The 2000 draft had so many busts in the first round, that crop (led by Rocco Baldelli and Chase Utley at the moment) may not measure up to the eighth round (featuring Dontrelle Willis and Brandon Webb).

Focus on your Justin Uptons and Alex Gordons all you want. But if you don't check out the eighth round this year, you're missing out.

Big Names, Big Bucks

The biggest name in the eighth round this year belongs to Koby Clemens, whose father Roger can lay claim to being the best righthanded pitcher ever. Shortly after the Astros--who just happen to be Roger's current employer--took Koby, word spread that Koby would become a catcher and possibly his dad's big league batterymate in a couple of years.

Though Clemens hit .523 with 10 homers as a third baseman at Houston's Memorial High this spring, most clubs though he was better suited to play at Texas than in pro ball at this point. The chances that he'll switch to a much more demanding position and rocket to the majors before his dad retires are remote.

However, the idea of pitching to Koby in spring training could entice Roger to return for at least another year. The benefit of another season with Roger far exceeds the cost of the $380,000 bonus paid to Koby, making him far more valuable to the Astros than any other club.

While Houston gave Clemens four times the typical bonus for the round, Austin Jackson blew that figure away. The Yankees handed Jackson $800,000, breaking the eighth-round record of $432,000 established by Kyle Bono and the Red Sox in 2004.

A standout outfielder at Ryan High in Denton, Texas, Jackson also had a full scholarship to play basketball at Georgia Tech. He drew Kenny Lofton and Marquis Grissom comparisons, but most clubs believed Jackson wouldn't give up basketball.

Though he was in line to become the Yellow Jackets' starting point guard as a freshman, he decided to sign with New York almost immediately. It was a rare bold stroke for the Yankees, who rarely have flexed their financial muscle in recent drafts.

The Next Weeks

Clemens isn't the only eighth-rounder with a big league connection. The Brewers, who took Rickie Weeks with the No. 2 overall pick in 2003, grabbed his little brother Jemile, a shortstop from Lake Brantley High in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Jemile, who has yet to sign, has been impressive on the summer showcase circuit.

Likewise, Jackson isn't the only two-sport standout. Clayton Richard intrigued scouts as an athletic 6-foot-4 lefthander coming out of high school, but he couldn't be diverted from the opportunity to play quarterback at Michigan. After serving as a Wolverines backup last fall, he switched his allegiance to baseball in the spring and threw in the low-90s, attracting the White Sox.

Azusa Pacific (Calif.) righthander Jason Ray (Athletics) is a more unusual two-sport star. A former New Mexico state sharpshooting champion, he throws 93-96 mph bullets off the mound.

Cal State Fullerton righthander Ryan Schreppel (Diamondbacks) and Georgia Tech outfielder Jeremy Slayden (Phillies) projected as first-round picks early in their college careers before injuries struck. If Schreppel can recover from knee problems and regain his velocity and command, and if Slayden can put shoulder and foot woes behind him, Arizona and Philadelphia could have steals.

One of my favorite mid-round sleepers in the draft is Central Missouri State righty Danny Powers (Twins). A sinker-slider specialist with lots of life on his pitches, Powers led NCAA Division II in wins (15-1, 1.91) and strikeouts (129 in 118 innings). He has dominated in Rookie ball, with an 0.78 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 23 innings.

San Jacinto (Texas) catcher Sean McCraw (Mets) and Everett (Wash.) righthander J.T. Zink (Red Sox) are a pair of interesting junior college prospects. Nevada outfielder Jacob Butler (Blue Jays), College of Charleston righthander Ryan Edell (Indians) and North Carolina State catcher Jake Muyco (Cubs) all are enjoying promising debuts.

None of these guys has a first-round pedigree. But these crazy eights are no less compelling.


You can reach Jim Callis by sending e-mail to jimcallis@baseballamerica.com.

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