Breaking Down The First Round
By Allan Simpson
May 26, 2001
With 10 days remaining before the June 5-6 draft, here's how Baseball America sees the first round unfolding. Complete analysis follows, as well as predictions for those teams that don't pick until after the first round. We'll update the list in another week after clubs hold their predraft meetings.
1. Twins. Southern California righthander Mark Prior is the consensus No. 1 prospect and perhaps the best college pitcher ever. He could give the contending Twins a pennant-race boost in the second half of the season. But his price tag, reported to be in eight figures, is too rich for a club that has one of the wealthiest yet most frugal owners in the game. The compromise pick is high school catcher Joe Mauer, one of the nation's premier two-sport athletes and a popular selection locally because of his St. Paul roots. Mauer has indicated a willingness to play baseball only--for the right price, of course--and his selection would have added appeal to the Twins because his bonus could be spread out over five years because of this dual-sport prowess. Projected Pick: Joe Mauer.
2. Cubs. Chicago has been in an enviable situation from day one, knowing that Prior and/or Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira would be available to them. With Prior's dominance this year and Teixeira's ankle injury that disabled him for three months, the decision was made for the Cubs. They won't be scared off by Prior's bonus demands. Projected Pick: Mark Prior.
3. Devil Rays. Because of the franchise's precarious financial position, the Devil Rays won't take Teixeira--or any of a handful of other players they prefer. They may be forced to take a significant step down in talent and overdraft the best player they can sign. The most frequently mentioned name is Louisiana State second baseman Mike Fontenot, a projected late first-rounder who turned down a $250,000 offer from the Rays out of high school. The Rays have a history of going after high school athletes with excellent tools, but the better fit for a struggling big league team may be Middle Tennessee State righthander Dewon Brazelton, a premium talent at a reasonable price who should arrive quickly. Projected Pick: Dewon Brazelton.
4. Phillies. Philadelphia prefers a college pitcher and was locked in on UCLA righthander Josh Karp until he fell from favor in early May. Every important member of the team's front office saw him make his final start of the season, and Karp did nothing to reverse his late-season slide. If Brazelton gets by Tampa Bay, he has marginal appeal to the Phillies because they believe he has a below-average breaking ball. They'll take the best arm available, which will be high school righthander Gavin Floyd. Teixiera is a candidate here but is advised by Scott Boras, who notably tangled with Phillies over J.D. Drew in 1997. They are determined to get this pick right because they don't pick again until the fourth round. Projected Pick: Gavin Floyd.
5. Rangers. Texas is desperate for pitching but won't pass on a talent of Teixeira's magnitude if he falls to them. Karp and Arizona high school righthander Mike Jones ranked with Prior as the top three pitching prospects at the start of the year. They were on the Rangers' short list most of the spring but didn't pitch to expectations. If they take Teixeira, the Rangers won't have another chance to address their critical pitching needs with a premium player because they don't pick again until the fourth round. Projected Pick: Mark Teixeira.
6. Expos. A grim situation in Montreal didn't keep the club from paying out two of the largest bonuses in the first and third rounds a year ago. If money doesn't matter, then the Expos' hot pursuit of Kent State outfielder John VanBenschoten has been genuine. Mauer and Jones also have been closely watched. If money dictates the decision as it did in 1998 and '99, then Montreal will reach deeper into the draft. The name mentioned most frequently is Texas high school righthander Donald Levinski, who isn't a consensus first-round talent. Projected Pick: John VanBenschoten.
7/19. Orioles. Baltimore had its sights set on Floyd and Teixeira, both products of local Mount St. Joseph High, for months. But reality has set in and the Orioles have turned their attention to VanBenschoten and high school pitchers such as Jones, righthander Alan Horne and lefthander Jeremy Sowers. Horne pitched consistently better than Jones this spring, and his signability is much less of an issue than Sowers'. The Orioles also pick 19th and 31st--compensation for the loss of Mike Mussina--and the players they take in those spots will depend on what they get with their first pick. A long association with Stanford players such as Mussina may lead them to Mike Gosling, one of the premium lefthanders available. Projected Picks: Alan Horne (7)/Mike Gosling (19).
8. Pirates. Pittsburgh has taken high school pitching with its first pick in each of scouting director Mickey White's two drafts with the club. It looks like they'll go that route again, with Horne, Jones and Texas fireballer Colt Griffin the most frequently mentioned names. Projected Pick: Mike Jones.
9. Royals. The best athlete in the draft is South Carolina high school outfielder Roscoe Crosby. He also might be one of the riskiest picks because of his NFL potential as a wide receiver. That might make him too risky for Kansas City and first-year scouting director Deric Ladnier. If the Royals get cold feet, they probably will turn their attention to Griffin and his 100 mph fastball. Projected Pick: Roscoe Crosby.
10. Astros. Houston has stayed close to home, focusing almost all of its attention on Griffin and Rice senior righthander Kenny Baugh. At this point, Griffin's fastball will be too tantalizing to pass up. Projected Pick: Colt Griffin.
11. Tigers. VanBenschoten, the NCAA Division I home run leader entering regional play, has been targeted by Detroit, but the chances he'll fall out of the top 10 are slim. If they are forced to go to plan B, the Tigers will target the second tier of college pitching. Baugh, Notre Dame senior righthander Aaron Heilman and Gosling would all be candidates. Detroit considered Heilman for its first-round pick a year ago before he slid out of the first round and wasn't signed. The Tigers do have a golden chance to pursue pitching later, with two extra picks they got as compensation for the loss of slugger Juan Gonzalez. Projected Pick: Aaron Heilman.
12. Brewers. Milwaukee has many needs and could go in several directions. The Brewers want the best bat they can find and have pursued VanBenschoten, Southern second baseman Michael Woods and Florida high school first baseman Casey Kotchman. They're also looking at the best high school arm available, which would include Horne, Jones and Illinois righthander Kris Honel. Woods may come the cheapest of those six players, and Levinski is also an option if signability becomes an issue. Projected Pick: Michael Woods.
13. Angels. Anaheim is keeping its fingers crossed that Kotchman will be available. He's a solid fit for them because he's the most advanced high school talent in the draft and because of his father Tom's long association with the club as a scout and minor league manager. The organization remains low on quality pitching, however, and upper management may dictate that pitching is a higher priority than a high school first baseman. Projected Pick: Casey Kotchman.
14. Padres. San Diego has followed VanBenschoten, Auburn outfielder Gabe Gross and Tulane third baseman Jake Gautreau in its pursuit of a college hitter. The Padres also kept close tabs on high school arms like Horne, Jones and the fast-rising Honel, who has returned to his 2000 form after a slow start. Projected Pick: Kris Honel.
15. Blue Jays. The Jays overdrafted Puerto Rican outfielders in the first round the last two years, signing each for relative bargain bonuses. First-year scouting director Chris Buckley likes college players and reportedly has narrowed his choices to Gautreau, Gross and Woods, and possibly Fontenot. All are premium hitters and safe picks. If he's available, Woods would be the frontrunner. Projected Pick: Gabe Gross.
16. White Sox. Chicago has a strong interest in Kentucky high school lefthander Jeremy Sowers but has concerns about his signability. If the White Sox decide to look elsewhere, Cumberland (Tenn.) lefthander Chris Smith and Honel are strong possibilities. They got this pick for the loss of Charles Johnson, and gave up the 27th overall choice for signing Sandy Alomar to replace him. Projected Pick: Chris Smith.
17/27. Indians. With its own selection and a second first-round pick from the White Sox, Cleveland hopes to land a quality college hitter first and then take one of the large number of high school arms that will start coming into play toward the end of the first round. Among the hitters they'll consider are Gautreau and two Louisiana State bombers, Fontenot and outfielder Todd Linden. California righthander J.D. Martin, who has improved his stock as much as any high school pitcher this spring, is a candidate for the second pick. So is Sowers, if the Indians get a positive reading on his signability. With three extra picks, Cleveland has a chance for a windfall draft. Projected Picks: Jake Gautreau (17)/J.D. Martin (27).
18. Mets. New York has been tight-lipped about its plans, though the club is known to prefer college pitching. Heilman's name has come up, as has Baugh's. But no one left on the board at this point has a higher upside than Karp, who's fast becoming the forgotten man in this year's draft. Projected Pick: Josh Karp.
20. Reds. Cash-strapped Cincinnati had to be creative with its top three picks last year--signing two to major league contracts that had no bonuses and a third in November so his deal counted against the team's 2002 budget. The Reds will have to be every bit as creative this year and may cut a deal before the draft with one of the large number of college seniors projected to go in the first round. Baugh and Heilman are legitimate first-round talents, though, so the Reds may not get an advantage there. Central Florida righthander Arnold, a 16th-round pick of Cincinnati a year ago, may be a different story. The Reds could have had him for as little as $60,000 in 2000, but he'll cost them a little more this time. Projected Pick: Jason Arnold.
21/30. Giants. San Francisco has an extra first-round pick for the loss of Ellis Burks. The Giants would like to use one pick on a high school pitcher such as northern California righthander Dan Denham and the other on a college hitter. Tennessee shortstop Chris Burke, Fontenot, Gross and Linden are the top candidates. Projected Picks: Dan Denham (21)/Mike Fontenot (30).
22. Diamondbacks. Arizona will take a college player all the way, likely a pitcher such as Baugh, Gosling or Heilman. Though they've targeted college seniors, the Diamondbacks' primary consideration is a player close to the big leagues. Projected Pick: Kenny Baugh.
23. Yankees. For all their spending elsewhere, the Yankees traditionally have been conservative in the draft. They are in a better position to gamble this year because they have four extra picks as compensation for the loss of Denny Neagle and Jeff Nelson. They've been the most active team in the Matt Harrington sweepstakes. The Yankees believe they'd get the best righthander and lefthander from the 2000 draft if they draft Harrington and sign McLennan (Texas) CC Sean Henn, a draft-and-follow who emerged this spring as a first-round talent. Both have high price tags. Harrington will have to improve on his performance from his two exhibition outings at independent St. Paul (Northern) to warrant going in the first round. His velocity was well down from his 2000 norm of 95-97 mph. If Harrington doesn't regain his form, Arizona State lefthander Jon Switzer may be a target. And if Crosby, Gross or Mauer slide to them for any reason, the Yankees might be tempted to go that route. George Steinbrenner has always been fascinated by players with major football ability. Projected Pick: Matt Harrington.
24/29. Braves. One of five clubs to have two picks in the bottom half of the first round, Atlanta may have to be more judicious in spending bonus money under the new ownership of AOL Time Warner. The Braves have gone for high-risk, high-reward high school talent in the past, and that approach may have to change. Sowers is the kind of player Atlanta would have pursued, but he may be the most unsignable first-round talent in the draft. The Braves have four of the first 52 picks and will launch an assault on their home turf, as Georgia is the most prospect-rich state in the country. Two high schoolers, lefthander Macay McBride and shortstop Josh Burrus, are prime targets. Virginia high school third baseman David Wright is also a Braves favorite. Projected Pick: Jeremy Sowers (24)/Macay McBride (29).
25/26. Athletics. Oakland has back-to-back picks and chooses again at 37, a mixed blessing for the organization. With a modest signing budget, the A's may not be in position to pay market value for three premium picks. They prefer college players and will go after Burke or Fontenot, both offensive middle infielders, with one of the picks, and a big college bat like Florida State outfielder John-Ford Griffin with another. Yale righthander Jon Steitz is a possibility if they go after pitching. Among bargain picks they'd consider is Washington high school righthander Jeremy Bonderman, who has entered the draft as a junior. Projected Pick: Chris Burke (25)/John-Ford Griffin (26).
28. Cardinals. Marty Maier has returned to St. Louis as scouting director and made it clear college players are his priority. His short list of candidates includes Linden and Long Beach State shortstop Bobby Crosby. It's possible the Cardinals would consider Arizona outfielder Shelley Duncan, whose father Dave and younger brother Chris are in the organization, but he probably can be had in the second round. Projected Pick: Todd Linden.
36. Mariners. Seattle forfeited its first-round pick for signing Jeff Nelson and won't select until 36th, the first of two compensation picks for the loss of Alex Rodriguez. They'll target two home-state high school pitchers--Bonderman and 6-foot-9 Andy Sisco, who would join Randy Johnson and Ryan Anderson in the Mariners' legacy of huge lefthanders. Projected Pick: Jeremy Bonderman.
44. Rockies. The Rockies will get the last pick in the sandwich round for not signing Harrington, the seventh overall pick in 2000. They'll just see who falls to them, hoping that a player of the quality of Jason Young--their second-round pick (47th overall) in 2000--is available in this spot again. They would like a pitcher, and Hawaii high school righthander Brandon League could be the best option. Projected Pick: Brandon League.
48. Red Sox. Boston would surrender its first-round pick every year if it meant signing a player like Manny Ramirez. With a preference for New England products, the Red Sox will take a close look at Steitz and Harvard righthander Ben Crockett. They also aren't averse to drafting smooth-fielding shortstops like Matt Macri or Ryan Theriot, even with Nomar Garciaparra entrenched there. Projected Pick: Matt Macri.
60. Marlins. Florida picked second and first in the last two drafts, so starting this late is a radical departure. The Marlins will take a stab at a first-round talent who falls into the second round for signability reasons. High school outfielder Michael Wilson, an Oklahoma football recruit with a seven-figure price tag, might be such a player. Projected Pick: Michael Wilson.
68. Dodgers. Los Angeles will be the last team to begin drafting, hardly the way to make up for the thin talent in the organization. The Dodgers will go after players with first-round ability who have slipped. They'll also consider high-profile talents like Nevada high school first baseman Billy Paganetti and California high school lefthander J.P. Howell, who didn't live up to expectations this spring. Project Pick: Billy Paganetti.
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