Midseason Top 50 Prospects
Click above to listen the Midseason Top 50 Prospects Podcast This list bears little resemblance to the Top 100 Prospects ranking we published before the season, and that’s because so […]
2003 Draft Notebook
Edited by Will Lingo
The first round produced few surprises, most notably the Expos selecting Cal State Fullerton closer Chad Cordero 20th overall in a move motivated more by budget than talent. But there were plenty of picks in the following rounds that raised eyebrows.
The Giants stayed with their tradition and went against the grain with their two picks in the second round, making Long Beach State's Todd Jennings the fifth catcher drafted even though he spent much of the season at third base, and sending people scrambling for their draft lists by taking third baseman Nate Schierholtz out of Chabot (Calif.) Junior College.
Not listed among the 142 players Baseball America ranked in California, Schierholtz earned juco all-America honors by hitting .400-18-60 as a freshman this spring. Most teams were impressed with his size and raw power but considered him a tough sign.
"We liked him because we thought he had a chance to have pretty good power," Marlins scouting director Stan Meek said. "The question is what kind of defender he is going to be."
Diamondbacks scouting director Mike Rizzo said, "We had a split camp on him. He has strength and raw power."
A common denominator among early-round sleepers is the extra homework done by area scouts. Not only are they responsible for evaluating the player's tools and signability, but the scouts also have to be aware of other teams' interest so their team doesn't overdraft him or wait too long. Going with a player who isn't a consensus premium pick is a risky proposition, but it can give the organization a distinct advantage on draft day.
In the third round, the Royals pulled another juco shocker by taking Brian McFall, a slugging first baseman from Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) JC, thanks in large part to area scout Mike Brown. "Brown is our hardest worker," Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier said. "We drafted (McFall) and within minutes (Brown) hopped in his car to go and sign him."
McFall also was not listed among the draft prospects in the state, but scouts were well aware of him. "They are obviously betting on the power," Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff said. "He also pitched, and a lot of people had interest in him as pitcher."
McFall's bat, which he showcased in a predraft workout for the Royals, persuaded Ladnier not to risk letting him fall to another team.
"That's a chess game," Ladnier said. "You have to judge the level of interest and you have to listen to the area scout. We had worked him out at first base and in right field; he's an average runner with a plus arm. We like his athletic ability, his approach, power and leverage in his swing."
Cosumnes River (Calif.) JC first baseman Johnny Woodard was a surprise third-round selection by the Twins. "We do realize we were a little out there on that one," Radcliff said. "He wasn't scouted as well by most teams, but if you recall we got Justin Morneau in the third round, too."
Woodard has more in common with Morneau than the third round if Radcliff and scouts Kevin Bootay and Deron Johnson are right. "We got a real special feeling about his bat," Radcliff said "He's got a chance to be a real big bat.
The Marlins made back-to-back selections in the fourth- and fifth-rounds that had people scratching their heads. While other teams were aware of outfielder Jai Miller and third baseman Cole Seifrig, it was again a case of area scouts doing extra work after most teams assumed the two were unsignable.
Miller and Seifrig both have college football scholarships, but Dave Dangler and Scot Engler discovered both players have more interest in pursuing a professional baseball career, which leads Meek to believe they will sign.
"That's the question, when do you draft them?" Meek said. "Sooner than later, I guess. When you think they fit up there at the top of the draft, you don't wait too long, because we know people in this industry are very smart."
Miller, who has signed with Stanford, has an intriguing combination of power and speed. "We really liked his skills, his bat speed, strength and athleticism," Meek said. Seifrig, who signed with Purdue to play wide receiver and ran the fastest 60-yard dash at an Alabama football camp, has impressive potential at the plate to go with his natural athleticism.
"Our guys went the extra mile on these guys," Meek said. "It was an outstanding job of scouting."
Expensive Prep Players Plummet
The most significant development of this year's draft wasn't the number of college players drafted in the early rounds, but the number of top high school players who priced themselves out of the early rounds as teams hold fast to Major League Baseball's mandate to drive down bonuses.
Lefthander Andrew Miller and righthander Jared Hughes, who ranked as the nation's top two high school pitchers entering the year, were both drafted by the Devil Rays--in the third and 16th rounds. Miller was expected to go in the middle of the first round, but his reported $3 million price tag scared off everyone--particularly the Marlins, who were prepared to use the No. 16 pick on him. Hughes was a possible late-round pick.
A number of other top high school players--notably pitchers--also went into freefall, almost dropping out of the draft in some cases. Among the most significant players to slide were righthanders Daniel Bard (Yankees, 20th), Jimmy Barthmaier (Astros, 13th), Dallas Buck (Pirates, 19th), Mike Crotta (Phillies, 47th), Aaron Jensen (Mariners, 19th), Kyle McCulloch (Mets, 18th) and Greg Reynolds (Phillies, 41st); and lefthanders Scott Maine (Mariners, 15th), Greg Moviel (White Sox, 15th) and Michael Rogers (Twins, 16th). All had been expected to be picked in the first two or three rounds.
"What's really happened is that college players who would normally be taken in the third or fourth round are going in the second round, which pushes high school players down," Dodgers scouting director Logan White said. "What's going to happen is premium players are falling ridiculously low and it may force them to go to school."
The commissioner's office has told clubs to take steps to roll back bonuses, and clubs have followed those orders. High school players, who generally have commanded the largest bonuses, were passed over if their bonus demands were deemed too high. College players filled the void.
"The bottom line is teams are less willing than three or four years ago to take a guy in the third round who wants second-round money and give it to him," one agent said. "They are less likely to do it for two reasons: one, the risk factor, and two, the slotting. The draft is not what it was; now you fight for spots."
Indians Still Do Well With Plan B
The Indians targeted three players they realistically believed they had a chance to get with the 11th pick in the draft. They got none of them.
And yet the Indians may be the leaders in the clubhouse when assessing which team had the most productive draft. With two extra picks as compensation for the loss of Jim Thome to free agency, the Indians nabbed four players in the first two rounds who they had thought would be gone before they had a chance to draft them, including first baseman Michael Aubrey, their top pick.
Aubrey, possibly the best pure hitter in the draft, was projected to go to the Cubs with the sixth pick. But when the Royals, drafting fifth, switched from one high school outfielder (Ryan Harvey) to another (Chris Lubanski), the Cubs decided to take Harvey, causing Aubrey to fall. The Indians also got Ball State outfielder Brad Snyder at No. 18, Texas high school righthander Adam Miller at No. 31 and Tennessee catcher Javi Herrera at No. 44. An expected run by the Indians at an above-average Ohio crop did not materialize.
Cleveland had targeted Lubanski and high school pitchers Jeff Allison and John Danks with the 11th pick. Danks and Lubanski went before the Indians picked, and with Allison still on the board they jumped on Aubrey.
The Indians didn't see it as a compromise pick but passed on Allison because they didn't want to deal with the Massachusetts' righthander's reported $3 million bonus demands, particularly in a year that bonuses across the board are expected to drop 10-12 percent in the first round.
Several other clubs also passed on Allison, who had yet to allow a run in his first 51 innings this year. Allison, a strong candidate to go to Baltimore at No. 7 or Pittsburgh at No. 8, was finally taken by the Marlins at No. 16.
Heels Happy To See Players Fall
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--North Carolina assistant coach Chad Holbrook was trying to sort out his feelings during an emotional week. First, the Tar Heels won a regional for the first time since 1989; then they had success on draft day when many of their top recruits went lower than expected.
"We've had a few pretty good days in a row," Holbrook said. "We went into the draft saying we could either get hammered or be somewhere in the middle. I didn't honestly think that what happened could have happened."
But it did. Every prominent Tar Heels recruit fell in the draft, giving them a chance to have one of the nation's top recruiting hauls when classes begin in August.
The jewel of the class is lefthander Andrew Miller of Gainesville, Fla., who at midseason rated as the draft's top high school player. Miller tired as the year went on, affecting his performance and lowering his draft stock. Combined with his bonus demands, Miller wasn't picked until the third round by the Devils Rays--after reportedly turning down a predraft deal for $2 million from the same organization a round earlier.
Miller was interested in North Carolina's business school, and the combination of academics and a track record of developing pitchers lured the Florida Gators fan to leave home. "He knew we have had success with some Florida pitchers like Ryan Snare, Kyle Snyder and Mike Bynum, and that intrigued him," Holbrook said.
The Tar Heels also might keep their top in-state pick. Charlotte (N.C.) Christian School righthander Daniel Bard, rated as the top prep prospect in the state, lasted until the 20th round, where the Yankees drafted him as insurance in case other players don't sign. And West York (Pa.) catcher Trent Kline, a 5-foot-10, 160-pounder rated as the No. 3 prospect in that state, was not drafted until the 39th round.
Other prominent prospects in the Tar Heels' class include lefthander Brody Taylor of Louisburg (N.C.) Junior College and Tampa prep shortstop Craig Corrado.
"Kline and Corrado are the kind of position players we feel could really step in as freshmen and contribute," Holbrook said. "Those are the kinds of players we generally go after, guys who can go in rounds four to 10 of the draft, where we feel we have a good chance to bring them to school.
"Coming in, out of Miller, Bard and Taylor, we thought we had a chance to maybe get one of them. Now, I'd say that's a pretty safe bet, and we've got a chance to get all three of them, plus Kline and Corrado, so we're pretty excited."
No Respect, But Plenty Of Talent
Arizona State had more players drafted than any college, even though it wasn't deemed strong enough to earn one of the eight national seeds in the NCAA tournament with a 53-12 record. Only No. 1 seed Florida State (54) had more wins.
In this weekend's super-regionals, the Sun Devils will travel to Cal State Fullerton, which had the second-most players drafted (11). The winner of that series will move on to the College World Series.
Miami, which was awarded one of the top eight seeds and will play North Carolina State in a super-regional, had only one player drafted: first baseman Jim Burt in the 35th round to the Blue Jays.
Miami's Brito Private High, with an enrollment of just over 100, had six players drafted, tying a record set in 2001 by Seminole (Fla.) High. Seminole was the 2001 national high school champion, while Brito Private, which went 30-6, will finish the season unranked.
This year's No. 1 team, Round Rock (Texas) High, had four players drafted, including three in the first five rounds: lefthander John Danks (first), shortstop/righthander Travis Schlichting (fourth) and righthander Matt Nachreiner (fifth).
Padres Get Double Draft Haul
SAN DIEGO--Before they went into the draft room to pick their 2003 crop, the Padres capped what they think is a strong 2002 draft, signing second-round pick Michael Johnson just 45 minutes before they would have lost his rights.
The Padres added Johnson to a bumper crop of eight players from last year's draft that they signed leading up to this year's draft. The group included six junior college draft-and-follows and two fifth-year seniors.
When negotiations with the Padres bogged down last summer, Johnson decided to return to Clemson. Because he was a fifth-year senior and his team advanced to NCAA regional play, San Diego had until midnight the day before the draft to sign him, or he would have gone back into the pool for this year's draft. Johnson signed for a $500,000 bonus and was to report to high Class A Lake Elsinore right away.
"We believe we brought a real good player into the organization," Padres scouting director Bill Gayton said. "Clemson's season just ended, so the kid's game ready. The California League should be a real good fit for him."
Johnson, a slugging first baseman, hit .338-12-51 in 198 at-bats this spring for Clemson and walked 63 times, compiling a .498 on-base percentage. He hit .384-25-81 as a junior, but opposing pitchers were able to work around him this season with Khalil Greene and Jeff Baker, who combined for 52 homers, gone to pro ball after Clemson's College World Series run in 2002.
Gayton said Johnson would have gone in the top three rounds had he not signed.
"Losing a second-round pick is never good," Gayton said. "That's why I'm so relieved to get the Johnson deal done. But we believe we have what he wants. He has an opportunity to move quickly here. If he tears it up at Lake Elsinore we wouldn't be afraid to move him up."
The best junior college prospect the Padres inked is righthander Jared Wells, a 31st-round pick last year. "We think Wells was the No. 1 pitcher on the No. 1 junior college team in the country," Gayton said.
Wells, taken out of Tyler (Texas) Junior College last year, transferred to San Jacinto (Texas) JC this season and led the Gators into the Junior College World Series title game against Southern Nevada. His fastball was clocked at 97 mph this season.
Other junior college players the Padres signed were lefthander Danny de la O (30th round), righthander Jesse Estrada (32nd), outfielder Chad Etheridge (45th), catcher George Kottaras (20th) and outfielder Drew Macias (35th).
The other fifth-year senior was outfielder Brian Wahlbrink, a 42nd-round pick last year who had a big season at UC Riverside, hitting .358-12-41. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder is a leadoff hitter and legitimate defensive center fielder who has been clocked in 6.35 seconds over 60 yards.
The Angels eclipsed even the Padres by signing a record nine draft-and-follows from last year's picks. Their group was led by two catchers: Brett Martinez, a 24th-round pick who attended Riverside (Calif.) CC this year and is a defensive standout; and Bobby Wilson, a 48th-round pick who attended St. Petersburg (Fla.) CC and was a high school teammate of Angels prospect Casey Kotchman for Seminole (Fla.) High, the 2001 national champion.
Foster Moves Full Steam Ahead
The baseball future of Navy lefthander Matt Foster took several big steps forward in recent weeks, culminating in him getting drafted by the Blue Jays in the 11th round.
Foster touched 93 mph in the All-American Amateur Baseball Association World Series last summer and drew plenty of interest from scouts, who said he could go as high as the third round in the draft.
There was one significant catch: All Naval Academy students must serve at least three years of active duty after graduation, a prospect that would have meant this prospect wouldn't have been able to play baseball again until age 26.
In the month before the draft, however, Foster found out he could attend nuclear power school for a year, beginning in July, and then be able to fulfill the remainder of his commitment in reserve years.
After intense scouting scrutiny from the Mets and the Angels, Foster was surprised when the Blue Jays selected him in the 11th round. He said he hoped to agree to terms and play until he reports to power school on July 23. When he gets out next July, Foster plans to head to extended spring training for the remainder of the year and resume his career in 2005.
"It's been really exciting," Foster said. "I'm just glad I got the opportunity."
Before the recent turn of events, Foster, who graduated on May 23 and earned the classification of ensign, thought he'd have to come up with at least $100,000 to pay back his Navy scholarship, a large portion of which would have come from his signing bonus. Now with that out of the way, Foster figures to sign quickly.
"I just want to play baseball and don't care about the money," he said.
• Lefthander Matt Chico turned down a $700,000 offer as the Red Sox' second-round pick in 2001 and went on to become Southern California's Opening Day starter in 2002 before flunking out of USC after his freshman year. He transferred to Palomar (Calif.) Junior College but remained ineligible, so he was pitching in adult league games on the weekends this spring. While he didn't get to the 92-93 mph range he had shown in the past, Chico showed enough for the Diamondbacks to pick him in the third round.
"We had a good background on him and we had a lot of interest out of high school," Arizona scouting director Mike Rizzo said. "After he turned down the money, we thought we'd get another shot after three years at USC. We had him in our predraft workout, and I like the kid's makeup; his stuff is good. He reminds me so much of Mike Hampton--good stuff, good arms from small, compact bodies."
Chico, 20, hasn't been as consistent or fluid as he was last spring at USC, when he went 6-4, 5.45 with 69 strikeouts in 69 innings, but because of his situation he is considered an easy sign.
• The short breaks between picks in the first five rounds of the draft was suggested by scouting directors in their meetings this spring, but many of them were carping about the breaks after the draft. The breaks were a boon to those listening to the draft, as the first five rounds didn't move at a breakneck pace as in previous years (and allowed people to listen to Baseball America's insightful commentary). But they also made the first rounds last about four hours instead of the usual one. Expect the breaks between picks in the first round to come back next year, but for the rest of the draft to return to normal speed. "That was horrendous," one American League scouting director said. "I can see doing that for the first round, but we've got to change that for next year. We could have been drafting until Sunday."
• When Dodgers ambassador Tommy Lasorda, who called out off of the team's picks during the draft, announced 26th-rounder Tommy Piazza, a catcher out of Palm Beach Atlantic College and Mike Piazza's younger brother, he said it was a privilege to draft his godson. In a comical moment during the otherwise monotonous conference call that is the baseball draft, an unidentified voice came on saying, "Hey Tommy, I thought I was your godson." The next couple of teams also joked, "I thought I was your godson," until draft moderator Roy Krasik asked everyone to settle down. It wasn't until later that the Dodgers discovered the first voice was none other than George Steinbrenner.