By Jim Callis
CHICAGOConsidering that veteran scouts called the 2000 draft the most unpredictable they had ever encountered, it unfolded exactly as expected. Several highly regarded players fell much farther than predicted as money drove the early selections.
This much was certain on draft day: The Marlins would choose San Diego high school first baseman Adrian Gonzalez with the No. 1 pick. They agreed on a $3 million signing bonus four days earlier, though predraft deals are prohibited by baseball rules.
If anything, though, Major League Baseball will congratulate the Marlins rather than punish them. The commissioners office held a negotiating seminar on May 15, and teams were urged to toe the line on bonuses. Gonzalez became the first No. 1 pick in eight years to receive less than his counterpart the year before. Outfielder Josh Hamilton got a record $3.96 million bonus from the Devil Rays in 1999.
When asked if economics was a factor in his clubs selection, Marlins scouting director Al Avila offered a succinct answer: "None."
"We felt he was the most complete player we could select in that No. 1 slot," Avila said. "He comes from a great family. He has the skills and the leadership qualities. We felt he was our guy, based on that."
Several clubs, however, wouldnt agree with Floridas assessment. Though he came on strong this spring, Gonzalez projected toward the middle of the first round instead of the top of it. Joining Ron Blomberg (Yankees, 1967) as the only first basemen ever to go No. 1, Gonzalez may not develop top-of-the-line power, a prerequisite for a star first baseman in todays era of offensive fireworks.
Florida wanted to lock up a player before the draft and avoid spending the money it lavished on last years No. 2 pick. Texas high school righthander Josh Beckett held out for most of the summer before landing a $3.625 million bonus in a four-year, $7 million big league deal. The Marlins stressed they wouldnt pay a player Hamilton or Beckett money because no member of this years crop deserved it.
They achieved their goal. "That was a big thing, getting everything done quickly," Gonzalez said. "That takes a lot of pressure off your back. Now all I have to do is play ball."
Top Talent Falls To No. 7
After the Gonzalez choice, no one knew how the draft would play out. The consensus best prospect was California high school righthander Matt Harrington, who consistently threw 94-95 mph this spring and topped out at 98.
It was a sign of the times that the Marlins never approached Harrington about going No. 1. The Twins were interested in taking him with the second choice, but Harrington wouldnt commit to a dollar amount the night before the draft, and he lasted until the Rockies took him at No. 7.
"We didnt think he was going to be on the board," said Bill Schmidt, who ran his first draft as Colorados scouting director. "Needless to say, we were delighted when he was."
Though Harringtons asking price is believed to be in Hamilton territory, the Rockies dont expect to have any trouble signing him. Harrington likely will receive more money than any other 2000 draftee because he was the only one of the first eight choices who didnt agree to contract parameters before the draft.
The Twins wound up picking polished Cal State Fullerton righthander Adam Johnson. The Cubs took Miami high school shortstop Luis Montanez with the No. 3 selection, then announced his signing during the third round of the draft conference call. Montanez received a $2.75 million bonus, well below the $3.5 million last years third choice, Southern California catcher Eric Munson, received as part of a four-year, $6.75 million major league contract from the Tigers.
At No. 4, the Royals took California high school lefthander Mike Stodolka, who signed on the second day of the draft for a bonus thought to be just over $2.5 million. That would top the $2 million that 1999s surprise No. 4 selection, Phoenix high school shortstop Corey Myers, got from the Diamondbacks.
The Expos followed by taking Stanford righthander Justin Wayne, who became the highest-drafted native Hawaiian ever, surpassing Derek Tatsuno, who went 40th overall to the Padres in 1979.
Of the top five picks, Montanez is the only one who likely would have gone that early if talent were the sole criteria. The others likely would have lasted until the 10th choice or later. But in a draft in which clubs didnt see top-end talent that stacked up to previous years, they believed they could target signability without compromising much, if any, ability.
"Theres going to be some all-stars out of this draft. There just arent superstars, as we project them to be at this point," Royals scouting director Terry Wetzel said. "There just isnt the kind of guy who has all of the tools, the package where you give the contract to the Josh Beckett or the Josh Hamilton type of kids. They were superior talents to what was in this years draft."
Baldelli Makes Late Surge
The first player for whom signability wasnt a major factor was Rhode Island high school outfielder Rocco Baldelli, who went to the Devil Rays at No. 6. The best high school athlete in the draft, Baldelli missed much of his senior season with a ribcage injury but saw his stock soar when he returned shortly before the draft. Still, Tampa Bay made sure it established the framework for a contract with Baldelli before selecting him. Hes expected to receive a bonus in the $2 million to $2.5 million range.
The Tigers selected San Diego high school righthander Matt Wheatland at No. 8, after both sides came to a ballpark agreement before the draft. Hell reportedly receive less than the $2.25 million Florida high school righthander Bobby Bradley got from the Pirates as the eighth choice in 1999.
For the second straight year, the Blue Jays spent their first pick on a Puerto Rican outfielder not universally considered of first-round caliber, and signed him for less than $1 million. In 1999 they chose Alexis Rios and signed him for $845,000. This time they took Miguel Negron at No. 18 and came to terms for $950,000.
Negron was far from the lone surprise of the first round. Among the others was Bakersfield (Calif.) Junior College lefthander Phil Dumatrait, who went 22nd overall to the Red Sox. Red Sox scouting director Wayne Britton admitted that money factored into the selection of Dumatrait, who was undrafted in 1999 and saw his fastball jump from 83-84 mph to 89-92 mph this year. The Red Sox were interested in Texas high school first baseman Jason Stokes but were scared off by his price tag.
Boston talked to Stokes, the top high school power prospect, on the morning of the draft. He indicated that he wanted a $2.5 million bonus, which was too much for the Sox, who gave $1.725 million to Massachusetts high school outfielder Rick Asadoorian as the No. 17 choice a year ago.
If ability mattered as much as signability, Stokes could have gone in the first five picks. The same is true of Auburn righthander Chris Bootcheck, Miami high school shortstop David Espinosa and San Diego high school catcher Scott Heard. Bootcheck was the first of the foursome to be selected, 20th overall by the Angels. Espinosa lasted until the Reds chose him at No. 23. Though he was the Marlins second choice for the No. 1 pick, Heard had to wait until the Rangers took him at No. 25. Even so, Rancho Bernardo High products Wheatland and Heard became the third set of high school teammates to be taken in the first round of the same draft.
Stokes fell all the way to the first pick of the second round, No. 41, where Florida grabbed him. Two other projected top 10 picks joined Stokes in round two. Pepperdine catcher Dane Sardinha went 46th overall to the Reds, while California third baseman Xavier Nady lasted until the Padres chose him at No. 49. Rumors that Nady would pursue a major league contract didnt help his cause.
Bootcheck, Espinosa, Sardinha and Nady all share one thing in common: adviser Scott Boras. Usually a major player in the draft, Boras didnt have a client among the 30 first-round picks in 1999. He bounced back with nine prominent prospects this year. Boras said the reason his players slipped was that they refused to participate in what he called price-fixing.
"The draft does not represent the order of talent anymore," Boras said. "It represents a fit between your player and a team, the economic considerations of you and a team that drafts you."
Then again, if players had gone where they were projected, this wouldnt have been the 2000 draft.
"We were picking 26th, and we didnt know who was going to fall and who wasnt," Indians scouting director John Mirabelli said. "It was muddled. I think anybody who was wise expected the unexpected. You had to be prepared for any scenario."
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