Early Draft Preview

2007 Early Draft Preview: Overview

Scouting directors optimistic about this year's draft class

In most years, scouts downplay the talent available in the draft, focusing on the crop's shortcomings rather than its strengths.

But scouts can't help but sound excited about the 2007 draft class. It appears to be one of most talented and balanced this decade.

This year's draft pool offers a little of everything. There's a deep group of well-decorated college pitchers (especially lefthanders), an intriguing collection of projectable high school position players as well as some polished, top-shelf prep pitchers. Even among a subpar collection of college bats, there is some depth in catching, always a coveted commodity.

"I'm anxious to see how it unfolds," a scouting director with an American League club said. "After all the work we've done in the summer, you'd have to say the top is pretty good, especially with those big college guns.
"There are some very nice high school arms as well, and the high school hitters out West and there's a group of college pitching. There seem to be some options to choose from."

Price Is Right

The heavy college artillery begins with a pair of powerful players from the Southeast. Vanderbilt lefthander David Price and Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters enter the spring as the top two players in the draft. They possess the tools as well as track records that warrant consideration for the No. 1 overall pick.

There are several changes with the draft this year. Among them:
• Instead of being held on a Tuesday and Wednesday, the draft will be conducted on a Thursday and Friday, June 7-8.
• Major League Baseball will provide a live television broadcast of a portion of the draft for the first time. The latest plan is to broadcast the first and supplemental first rounds live on June 7, and draft through the fifth round that day. The remaining 45 rounds of picks will come on June 8.
• There's a universal signing date for the first time, as all draft picks have until Aug. 15 to come to terms. This rule change also eliminates the draft-and-follow process where teams would control the rights to players attending junior college until the following spring.
• Free-agent compensation has changed, most notably for Type B players (among the best 31-50 percent at their position). In the past, Type B free agents yielded a draft choice directly from the team that signed them. Now they command a supplemental first-round selection, which is why that round stands at a record 33 picks and counting.
• Teams will get better compensation for failing to sign premium choices. A club that fails to sign a pick in the first two rounds will get the selection following that choice the next year. For example, a team that didn't sign the No. 8 overall pick one year would get the No. 9 overall selection the next. In addition, a club that can't land a third-round choice will get a supplemental third-round pick the next year. Previously, only unsigned first-round picks merited compensation, and then only a pick at the end of the supplemental first round.
Price throws hard and has a competitive demeanor. His fastball sits near 93 mph and touches 97, and he has an above-average secondary pitch in his power slider. He also has a loose, quick arm and a solid all-around feel for pitching.

Wieters offers a potential middle-of-the-order bat and as a bonus, he's a switch-hitter. He has an outstanding approach, plus raw power and playable catch-and-throw skills, including a plus arm. Most scouts believe he has a chance to make it to the big leagues as a catcher.

The two biggest wild cards in the college ranks are North Carolina State righthander Andrew Brackman and Rice lefthander Joe Savery, both of whom could push toward the top of the draft by the end of the spring.

Because Brackman played basketball as well as baseball in his first two years with the Wolfpack, and because he missed time with a stress fracture in his left hip in 2006, he hasn't logged the innings to quell questions about his ability and durability. But he has the stuff--an upper-90s fastball to go with a filthy if inconsistent slider and splitter--to surpass Price if he improves his command and maintains his health.

Savery made just 11 starts last year because of shoulder issues, but if he's healthy, it's easy to envision his athleticism and effortless delivery serving as the foundation of a frontline big league starter. As with Brackman, Savery's draft status depends largely on how he performs between now and June.
Price and Savery are just two of several college lefthanders with a change to go in the first round. Clemson's Daniel Moskos and Missouri State's Ross Detwiler should be top-15 picks, while Rice's Cole St. Clair, Arkansas' Nick Schmidt, Virginia's Sean Doolittle (though some clubs like him more as a first baseman) and Maryland's Brett Cecil will factor in the bottom half of the round.

"It’s about as strong as you'll ever see for lefthanded pitching," a NL scouting director said. "You see all the lefthanded pitchers who might go in the first round, you have to go back four or five years to find anything like that.”

After Brackman, the top college righthanders are Texas Christian ace Jake Arrieta and Georgia closer Joshua Fields.

Preps Plus

This draft could be the first since 2002 in which collegians don't outnumber high schoolers in the first round. Because this year's prep class as a whole has significantly more upside--Price, Wieters and Brackman notwithstanding--scouting directors who have traditionally preferred collegians might be compelled to go against their instincts.

Our first look at the top college and high school prospects for next year's draft
1.Pedro Alvarez, 3b, Vanderbilt
2.Justin Smoak, 1b, South Carolina
3.Aaron Shafer, rhp, Wichita State
4.Jemile Weeks, 2b, Miami
5.Brandon Crawford, ss, UCLA
6.Jordan Danks, of, Texas
7.Cody Satterwhite, rhp, Mississippi
8.Brian Matusz, lhp, San Diego
9.Shooter Hunt, rhp, Tulane
10.Roger Kieschnick, of, Texas Tech
1.Isaac Galloway, of, Los Osos HS (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.)
2.Aaron Hicks, of, Wilson HS (Long Beach)
3.Eric Hosmer, 1b, American Heritage HS (Plantation, Fla.)
4.Ethan Martin, 3b/rhp, Stephens County HS (Toccoa, Ga.)
5.Jordan Cooper, rhp, Shawnee Heights HS (Tecumseh, Kan.)
6.Casey Kelly, ss/of, Sarasota (Fla.) HS
7.Michael Palazzone, rhp, Lassiter HS (Marietta, Ga.)
8.Anthony Ferrara, lhp, Riverview (Fla.) HS
9.Daniel Webb, rhp/1b, Heath HS (West Paducah, Ky.)
10.Mark Ginther, ss, Jenks HS (Tulsa)
The two best high school prospects are righthanders from the Northeast, Matt Harvey (Fitch HS, Groton, Conn.) and Rick Porcello (Seton Hall Prep, West Orange, N.J.), both of whom are committed to North Carolina. They have both flashed well above-average velocity to go along with plus secondary stuff. Porcello's long, lean frame offers slightly more projection than Harvey's, but both pitchers have immense upside.

Another Northeast product, lefty Jack McGeary (Roxbury Latin HS, West Roxbury, Mass.) is the most advanced of the high school pitchers. He plays his high school ball about six miles from Fenway Park, and at times last summer pitched like he belonged there. His curveball is well above-average, he spots his four-pitch mix to both sides of the plate and pitches with poise and feel that belie his age.

Other high school arms with first-round aspirations include lefthanders Madison Bumgarner (South Caldwell HS, Hudson, N.C.) and Josh Smoker (Calhoun, Ga., HS) and righties Blake Beavan (Irving, Texas, HS), Michael Main (Deland, Fla., HS), Neil Ramirez (Kempsville, Va., HS) and Greg Peavey (Hudson's Bay HS, Vancouver, Wash.). How high they go may depend as much on the showings of their college counterparts as their own.

"If the college arms all come out and perform like they're supposed to, the high school arms will drop," a NL scouting director said. "But if not, the high school arms will take over."

For Once, Catchers Abound

Two objectives every organization's scouting department hopes to accomplish in the draft are acquiring pure hitters and potential major league catchers. Clubs have a good chance to do both this year.

Many of the top high school position players in the country hail from southern California, led by third basemen Josh Vitters (Cypress HS) and Matt Dominguez (Chatsworth HS) and middle infielder Ryan Dent (Wilson HS, Los Angeles). All three have advanced approaches and bat speed, with Vitters and Dominguez offering power and Dent providing plenty of speed.

The Southeast offers a trio of athletic, lefthanded-hitting outfielders in Michael Burgess (Hillsborough HS, Tampa), Jason Heyward (Henry County HS, McDonough, Ga.) and Kentrail Davis (Theodore, Ala., HS). Main, who hits righthanded, otherwise fits that profile and some teams prefer him as a five-tool position player to a hard-throwing pitcher. Another Southeast prospect, Justin Jackson (Roberson HS, Asheville, N.C.), ranks as the draft's top shortstop prospect entering the season.

"High school position players are very good this year," an AL crosschecker said. "We've gone a couple of years without a really strong selection of position guys, but that's not the case this year.

"And the other thing is the catching. I'm not going to call it the year of the catcher, but there are eight or 10 catchers that are very good and could deserve to go very high."

Wieters and Tennessee's J.P. Arencibia would have to stumble considerably to fall out of the first round. Oregon State's Mitch Canham, Auburn's Josh Donaldson and Yasmani Grandal (Miami Springs, Fla., HS) all could be taken in the supplemental first round.

Outside of catchers, the college position player crop is thin. Tennessee outfielder Julio Borbon is the only other sure first-rounder, and he'll be out until at least mid-March after fracturing his left ankle in practice.

But even the lack of college bats can't dim the optimism surrounding the 2007 draft class.

"If ever there were a year to try to supplement your system," a veteran scout from an AL club said, "it looks like this might be your chance."