2007 Draft Will Be One Worth Watching
So, the draft is on TV, you say?
It's about time, Baseball
America answers. And as our readers know, it should be great theater to
listen and watch this most inexact, unpredictable practice of 30
international businesses investing millions of dollars into stock in
which past performance really isn't a guarantee of future value.
there's a good reason why Major League Baseball's draft hasn't had
significant mainstream exposure. Sure, it's the source of approximately
70 percent of major league players on active rosters today, but given
the enormity of the pool of players available and the hurdles in their
path to the big leagues, the draft doesn't come with a script and isn't
exactly made-for-television stuff.
It's where No. 1 picks injure
their pitching arms in fights before graduating from the minor leagues,
and 1,390th picks become Hall of Famers. For every Brien Taylor tragedy
there's a tale of Mike Piazza. It's all part of the draft, and if you
like a good mystery, pull up a chair for the 2007 proceedings.
each draft has winners and losers, it seems appropriate that a year
that is marked by the first-ever live TV broadcast of the event offers
one of the best selections of players in recent memory.Abundance Of Options
2007 draft will have historical significance because of the TV
coverage, but in the future it's likely this draft will be remembered
most for its diversity and depth of talent. There are dozens of
impact-potential players available this year.
talent comes in all shapes and sizes: power-hitting outfielders, pure
middle infielders, high school pitchers with eye-popping arm strength,
and an intriguing crop of college lefthanders. The pool of college
position players is thinner than it has been in most years, though the
plethora of high school players supplements any shortcomings. The
talent in this year's draft will drip deep throughout the oversized
supplemental and second rounds.
"If you want a good college
pitcher, you're going to have to take him early," said a national
crosschecker with an American League organization. "There is much more
depth in the high school players. After you get past the first wave of
college players—the top five or six guys—there's just so much dropoff
from there. The difference in the high school talent isn't as great.
There's better distribution throughout."
There is a consensus on
two things in this year's draft: First, the top eight or nine players
have separated themselves. Second, after that group there's no
consensus at all. The song almost every scout was singing was one of
optimism underscored by uncertainty.
"It's a weird year because
in the past you had 30 or 35 guys that have a chance to go in the first
round," the crosschecker said. "This year I'd say there are easily 45
guys that could go in the first round."
"After you get past
those top seven or eight, who knows who's going next," said a scouting
director with an AL team. "The same guy that you might expect to go 15
could go 40 and vice versa."
Vanderbilt lefthander David Price;
Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters; California prep corner infielders
Josh Vitters and Mike Moustakas; Georgia prep outfielder Jason Heyward;
college pitchers Ross Detwiler, Andrew Brackman and Daniel Moskos; and
high school pitchers Rick Porcello, Jarrod Parker and Matt Harvey can
probably be found at or near the top of almost every team's draft
board. Of the elite company, only Parker is a newcomer, as the nation's
top players have all basically remained in the same spots, with some
shuffling over the course of the spring.
But for the teams
picking in the middle and end of the first round, their choices will
come down to personal preference, and there is no certainty which of
the second-tier group of players will fly off the board first.
unlike the 2005 draft, when there was a consensus on the top 10 or 12
players and mediocrity after that, no one's complaining about picking
15th or 25th this year. They might not be exactly sure who is going to
be there when their pick comes around, but there will be plenty of
players worthy of the choice.
Part of the uncertainty of the
first round lies in the distribution of talent. Many teams have leaned
on choosing players with four-year college experience with their early
picks in recent years. But this draft could be the first since 2002 in
which collegians don't outnumber high schoolers in the first round.
Make no mistake, the cream of this year's crop lies in the high school
class. From the projectable power pitchers from the Northeast to the
West Coast sluggers and an interesting collection of talent dispersed
between, this class has promise. The challenge teams face is figuring
out which ones will fulfill their potential and which ones will not.
the other hand, no category of players is thinner than righthanded
college starters. In that vein, perhaps it's a blessing to some teams
that have adopted the philosophy of taking the "safe" college pitcher
instead of the "risky" high school player early in the draft. There are
always going to be first-round busts, but because high school players
are so clearly ahead of their college counterparts this year, a
scenario could unfold where conservative teams opt to roll the dice and
pop a high schooler.
Think Sinatra forced to sing a duet with Gwen Stefani. Three To Make One
Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison has been a member of the Tampa Bay
scouting department since the franchise's inception. He's a part of a
staff that picks No. 1 for the third time in nine years. After taking
Josh Hamilton in 1999 and Delmon Young in 2003, it's a process he has
become comfortable with, and he and his staff have systematically
narrowed their options over the last four months.
his staff discussed its strategy at the outset of the season, arranged
their follow lists and set out to trim the field. Paring the potential
picks wasn't simple, but by May 1 the pool of contenders for No. 1 had
been cut to three.
"We've tried to keep the thing wide open as
long as we could all spring," Harrison said. "If you look back at
drafts, there are a lot of good players that wind up not being the
first pick. We've kept a real open mind, did our work, met in April and
broke it down. We had sizable list at that point, so we went back out
and have whittled it down a little bit.
"We're at three guys."
asked if the Devil Rays' three were the same players regarded as having
the best overall package of tools, upside and performance—Price,
Wieters and Vitters—Harrison just chuckled and acknowledged, "Those are
three pretty good players there on the top of your list . . . I don't
think there are a lot of secrets this year."
Though Vitters has
shown remarkable consistency and an approach at the plate that has
prompted some scouts to proclaim him the draft's best pure hitter,
discussion in the Devil Rays' draft room will likely come down to Price
Price, Vandy's 6-foot-4 lefty with three plus
pitches, command and an easy delivery, has held the pole position in
BA's rankings since winning Summer Player of the Year honors in 2006.
Wieters has remained at No. 2 almost as long. Ultimately the Devil
Rays' decision will come down to which player they determine has the
best long-term value, which is a compelling debate.
"If Price is
a No. 2 starter and Wieters is an all-star catcher, which one is more
valuable?" said another crosschecker with an AL club, who went on to
say that Wieters was the best amateur catcher he'd seen other than Joe
Mauer. "I would make a case for Wieters over Price at one. With the
switch-hitting, the power and he catches so easy . . . If you think
it's tougher to find an all-star catcher than a No. 2 starter, you can
make a case for the all-star catcher, though most teams might go with
the No. 2 starter, especially if he's a lefty.
"And if you think Price is a No. 1 (starter), I don't think you can pass him up."Extra Helpings
debate over No. 1 isn't the only intriguing aspect worth following in
the '07 draft. Changes made to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement
last year created a supplemental first round that could reach 35 picks
if Max Scherzer doesn't sign with the Diamondbacks.
teams have a gaggle of extra picks, including the Giants, with six
picks in the first 51, including three first-rounders. The Rangers have
five choices in the first 54 slots, the Blue Jays have five of the
first 56 and the Padres have six of the first 64. (Conversely, the
Astros' first pick doesn't come until No. 112 overall.)
these teams choose to spend their picks will have a ripple effect on
the rest of the draft. Rangers scouting director Ron Hopkins
acknowledged that he watched the free-agent market with a new sense of
interest, knowing how it could potentially affect the draft.
the summer unfolded it became obvious that the Rangers had a chance to
possibly pick up some extra picks, so we definitely took no shortcuts
last summer," Hopkins said. "We didn't leave any stones unturned,
knowing that we might have some extra picks. We hit all the showcases,
Cape Cod, the Alaska League.
"If we're going to have five of 54, I'm glad we're doing it this year."
course, in order to take full advantage of the extra picks, teams will
have to be willing to spend the money to sign all those players.
Hopkins declined to discuss how Rangers ownership structured his
budget, but don't be surprised if a handful of college players are
drafted higher than their value would suggest. This could provide teams
with extra picks an opportunity to stretch their budgets.
position players are going to be by far the most inflated guys in this
draft," a second AL scouting director said. "You're going to see guys
like (Oklahoma State's ) Corey Brown and (Georgia Tech's ) Danny Payne
going way higher than people actually have them on their boards."
It should make for great theater, and this year, for the first time, we can all watch.