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In the center of it all

By Josh Boyd
June 12, 2002

boras
Scott Boras
Photo: Bill Nichols
IRVINE, Calif.–Scouting directors have plenty of factors to consider leading up to draft day. In recent years, the Scott Boras factor has ranked at or near the top.

The 2002 draft, at first blush, didn’t appear to be a good one for the game’s most prominent agent. Scott Boras Corp. was stocked with 12 high-profile eligible clients; most were at one time since last June considered potential first-rounders.

But when draft day rolled around, only Rutgers’ Bobby Brownlie and Stanford’s Jeremy Guthrie, a pair of college righthanders, were counted among the top 30 picks.

This year, though, signability wasn’t the only concern for the teams making the picks, as several of Boras’ players struggled on the field.

"I don’t think they dropped initially because of signability," one scouting director said. "I don’t think they fell because of who they had. You see a guy who commands a certain dollar figure, but his ability doesn’t match up. Then once you get out of the first round, the money each team has allotted decreases (with) each round, and it becomes an absolute free-fall."

Two Hits, Many Slips

brownlie
Bobby Brownlie
Photo: Ken Babbitt
Brownlie, who entered his junior season as the consensus best college player in the nation, was the first Boras client to slip. Once regarded as the odds-on choice to go first overall, Brownlie slid to the Cubs at No. 21. (See accompanying story.)

The Indians chose Guthrie with the next pick. Several teams in the top 15 were interested in Guthrie, who was picked in the third round by the Pirates last year as a draft-eligible sophomore. He turned down a reported $1.7 million offer to return to Stanford and enhanced his status by going 11-1, 2.34.

Righthander Jason Neighborgall of Riverside High in Durham, N.C., was rated the draft’s No. 5 overall prospect, but he didn’t hear his name called until the Red Sox drafted him in the seventh. While some clubs had concerns over his medical history (he missed a year and a half with back and arm problems), it was the price tag that kept teams away.

"He’s got the three strikes you don’t want to see in a first-rounder," a National League scouting director said. "First, he’s a high school righthander. Second, he didn’t pitch all summer, so he missed over a year and a half with arm problems. And third you’re talking about a (Josh) Beckett price tag (at least $4 million). It all leads to looking for a different alternative."

Two more power prep arms, Mark McCormick and Mike Pelfrey, fell to the 11th and 15th rounds. The Orioles drafted McCormick, whose fastball has reached 98 mph, but it wasn’t clear how much of an effort they would make to sign him. McCormick apparently was expecting to be paid like 2001 first-rounders Mike Jones and Colt Griffin. As one scout said, "(Orioles owner Peter) Angelos is not going to mess around with that type of bonus there."

Pelfrey’s nosedive was a combination of a disappointing spring and uncertain bonus demands. The Devil Rays, the least likely franchise to get involved in a contract squabble, selected him as well as another Boras client, righthander Matt Harrington, in the 13th round.

Harrington’s draft saga has been well documented. This was his third straight year in the draft, and he has fallen from the seventh overall pick to the second round to the 13th. He is currently playing in the independent Western League (see Page 47).

The most disappointing result may have come for Clemson third baseman Jeff Baker, who was regarded as the best college position player available in the preseason and a possible fit for the Rockies with the ninth overall pick. While the Rockies did pick Baker, it wasn’t until the fourth round. Colorado drafted British Columbia lefthander Jeff Francis instead in the first and had already agreed to a $1.85 million bonus with him.

It’s doubtful Baker will still get the dollar figure he was looking for, but will he be willing to return to school for his senior season?

Familiar Territory

This is not the first time Boras clients have gone lower than expected. Boras maintains that where his clients go in the draft doesn’t matter–who picks them does.

In 2000, potential first-round picks such as Xavier Nady, Jason Young, Dane Sardinha and Bobby Hill lasted until the second round and still got top bonuses. The quartet signed for a combined $5.275 million in signing bonuses, and that number has a chance to soar due to the incentives in the major league contracts Nady and Sardinha landed.

"We advise our clients that it doesn’t matter where they’re drafted," Boras said. "Their ability is what matters, and that the team knows the player and drafts accordingly."

Not only do they get to the team that wanted them, but they also go to the only teams that can afford them.

"It eliminates a good pool of talent for the smaller market teams," one scouting director said. "It disrupts the balance of the draft. Some of those teams already can’t sign many free agents. There’s not a lot of avenues they can turn to."

Boras doesn’t disagree, but blames the clubs. "Every year I hear that ‘Boras is manipulating the draft.’ But it is a unilaterally imposed system by the owners," he said. "There is no interplay or any representation from the players. I think the teams should understand until they change the system, and can trade draft picks, it’s not the fault of the system, it’s the choice of the system."

Some Boras clients fell further than others. Miami righthander Kiki Bengochea was a preseason All-American but had a disappointing season and lasted until the Rangers selected him in the 11th round.

The story was similar for Baylor’s Steven White, an 18th-round pick of the Brewers, and Southern California’s Anthony Reyes, like Bengochea a two-time Team USA alumnus and preseason All-American. The Tigers picked him in the 13th round.

Purdue’s Chadd Blasko and California’s Trevor Hutchinson maintained their stock on draft day, going in the supplemental first round and the third round.

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