Twins' gamble on Revere pays early dividends
When the Twins selected Ben Revere with their first-round draft pick in June, 28th overall, they caused more than a few heads to turn.
Revere is an excellent athlete with well-above-average speed, but at 5-foot-9 he is the shortest first-rounder since 2001, when the Orioles drafted Mike Fontenot, a 5-foot-8 second baseman from Louisiana State.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
• Outfielder Greg Halman struggled at low Class A Wisconsin to start the year, hitting just .182/.234/.273 through 52 games. Since being sent down to short-season Everett when the Northwest League season began, however, the 19-year-old has been on fire, leading the league with a 1.069 OPS.
Halman was second in the league in batting (.352), fourth in on-base percentage (.428), first in slugging (.641) and had not committed an error while playing a premium defensive position in center field.
The Mariners signed the 6-foot-4 Halman out of the Netherlands in 2004, when scouts saw him as a long-limbed hitter who projected to hit for both power and average. Halman has done exactly that so far for Everett, and his 14 steals in 20 attempts also indicate that he should have the speed to remain in center field.
• Corey Brown has shown tremendous power at the plate and the ability to get on base via the walk. The problem for the Vancouver outfielder, however, has been his strikeout rate.
Brown, a supplemental first-round pick out of Oklahoma State, was batting .240/.356/.513 through his first 180 plate appearances. Of Brown’s 36 hits, 22 had gone for extra bases, including eight home runs. He had 57 strikeouts, however, meaning he struck out in about one-third of his plate appearances. He had 24 strikeouts in 54 plate appearances against lefthanders.
NEW YORK (PENN) STATE OF MIND
• Righthander Alex Cobb won’t blow his fastball by hitters, but his excellent curveball, above-average command and intelligence are two reasons for his excellent start for Hudson Valley. The 19-year-old had a 2.93 ERA through 46 innings, striking out 42 and walking 16.
Cobb, a fourth-round draft pick last year, throws a fastball with some sink that maxes out at 91 mph as well as a split-finger fastball, but his best pitch is his above-average curveball. Cobb was also a star quarterback at Vero Beach (Fla.) High who drew attention from Ivy League schools, though he was committed to Clemson if he hadn’t signed.
• The Brooklyn Cyclones feature more veteran minor leaguers than true prospects, but righthander Nick Carr is one to keep an eye on. The 20-year-old had 56 strikeouts in 42 innings, issuing 16 walks en route to a 3.25 ERA.
The Mets drafted Carr in the 41st round of the 2005 draft, and signed him as a draft-and-follow after he played at the Junior College of Southern Idaho. Carr threw in the low 90s a year ago, but this season he his fastball has been clocked in the mid- to high-90s, thanks in part to improved conditioning. He threw 48 innings in the Rookie-level Appalachian League last year, posting a 4.88 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 23 walks.
• A pair of Danville Braves prospects are showing the 2006 draft could be another productive one for the Braves. Six-foot-two lefthander Jeff Locke, a second-rounder a year ago, had 46 strikeouts and just six walks in 39 innings and a 3.20 ERA. Locke’s fastball is up a couple of ticks from the 93 mph it topped out at as a New Hampshire high schooler.
Locke’s teammate Cody Johnson, last year’s first-round pick, has been a force on the offensive end, particularly with his power. The 18-year-old outfielder was hitting .262/.310/.545 through 159 plate appearances, including a league-leading nine home runs. Johnson has played mostly left field and DH this season. A third Brave, righthander Cole Rohrbough, was promoted to low Class A Rome.
• Kingsport second baseman Greg Veloz started the year with Savannah in low Class A hitting just .170/.236/.237 in 63 games, but the 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic has turned things around since moving down to Kingsport. Through 43 games, Veloz was hitting .274/.358/.506, with a slugging average largely aided by his nine triples.
• Brewers fifth-rounder Caleb Gindl led the Pioneer League with an eye-popping 1.146 OPS, hitting .431/.463/.683 through 123 at-bats for Helena. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound outfielder out of Pace High in Florida projected to go a couple rounds later in the draft as a pitcher, but the Brewers thought highly enough of his bat to draft him as a hitter. Gindl has mostly played right field for Helena, showing good bat speed and surprising power for a hitter his size.
• One of the key pieces in the Eric Gagne trade between the Rangers and Red Sox was Engel Beltre, a toolsy outfielder whom the Red Sox signed out of the Dominican Republic for $600,000 in 2006. Beltre, 17, has struggled to make consistent contact in the Gulf Coast League this summer, but he has also shown glimpses of the power potential that makes him so intriguing.
Through 145 plate appearances, Beltre’s average was just .202, mostly a result of his 44 strikeouts. However, his on-base percentage (.310) and slugging (.400) show that he is willing to take a walk and that his power stroke is already there. Eleven of Beltre’s 26 hits have been for extra bases, including five home runs.
After his first month of professional baseball, Revere continued to catch people's attention. But now they are focused on how well he was hitting in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League: .328/.373/.481 through his first 144 plate appearances.
"There have been a lot of comments on him being an overdraft, but I guarantee you that when we were picking, he was our next guy on the board," Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff said. "Essentially it was our belief in his bat. Most people coming into the year thought he was a nice prospect, but not a guy you draft in the first round."
Since Revere went much higher than most teams expected, the Twins were able to sign the 19-year-old quickly for $750,000, not only a below-slot deal and the lowest signing bonus of any 2007 first-round pick, but the lowest based purely on market value since 1998. In that draft, the Giants signed Penn State righthander Nate Bump for $750,000 as the 25th overall selection, and even then Bump was a college senior (who thus had little bargaining power) and agreed to a predraft deal.
There are a few equal or lower bonuses since then, but all involved extenuating circumstances. In the 2000 draft, the Mets had the 16th overall selection and had agreed in principle on a $1.7 million bonus with Loyola Marymount lefthander Billy Traber, when an MRI revealed a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his elbow. Traber eventually signed for $400,000. In the same draft, the Reds signed infielder David Espinosa to a deal with no bonus, but it was strictly to make the deal fit in their budget. They guaranteed $2.95 million to Espinosa in an eight-year major league contract.
The only other bonus that low came in 2003, when the Padres signed righthander Tim Stauffer for $750,000 after he and his agent revealed that he had weakness in his shoulder. The Padres had initially offered $2.6 million to Stauffer, but reduced the offer after the shoulder problems came to light.
Speed To Burn
But while the pick undoubtedly saved the Twins some cash, there is no doubting the speed and athleticism that Revere possesses. The pick involves a strong belief in the teams' scouts rather than a determined eye on the bottom line.
Ranked as the fastest runner in this year's prep class by Baseball America, Revere's speed is evident from the 6.28-second 60-yard-dash time he posted last summer at the East Coast Showcase, where he first emerged as an intriguing sleeper prospect.
Or a quick glance at Revere's early statistics could also provide a good gauge of his speed; in addition to his 14 steals in 18 attempts, eight of Revere's 12 extra-base hits have been triples.
"He can really, really run," Radcliff said. "He showed it offensively in the spring. That's a tangible, visible skill that anyone can see. I'm not sure anyone doubted his athletic ability, but I'm sure some teams were unwilling to draft someone his size in the first round. But it was our belief in his bat that convinced us to take him there. He has the ability to be a catalyst, run-scoring, exciting type of player down the road."
Revere showcased his athleticism in high school on both the diamond and the gridiron, leading Lexington Catholic's football team to the 3-A state championship his junior year as a defensive back, wide receiver and kick returner. The following spring, Revere won a state title with the baseball team, and he returned his senior year to finish his high school baseball career with 27 triples, a Kentucky state record.
That athleticism and running ability are two of the reasons the Twins have moved Revere from second base to center field, where Radcliff said Revere is still learning the nuances of the position.
"He's still learning how to take good routes to the ball," Radcliff said. "Right now speed covers up a lot of that, but there's no reason not to believe with his makeup and aggressiveness that he won't be a good center fielder down the road. Most great center fielders have that one great tool—speed—and he has plenty of that."
One scout who has seen Revere play said that Revere's speed and intensity should help him compensate for his stature.
"He's one of those players you hate playing against because he's 100 mph all the time," he said. "He looks like he's a kid trying to make a team out there because he's always going hard. He's a pesky hitter, and I'm not sure how you get him out. If you throw it low, he'll hit it on the ground and beat it out. If you throw it up, it's a line drive.
"He's definitely one of the most athletic guys out there, and he can cover a lot of ground out there in center. Everyone looks at him as a small guy, but he can do everything a big kid can do. His size is going to be a non-factor. I haven't seen many guys like him."
More Than Just Tools
Transforming from an aggressive speedster with good contact-hitting ability to a more complete, mature player is a process Revere is now beginning. He had drawn just six walks so far this summer, but an impatient approach at the plate is not uncommon for a player like Revere, who dominated inferior high school pitching.
"His greatest tool is his speed, and his ability to apply that on the field and on the bases will be key," Radcliff said. "Right now he's an aggressive hitter more than a take a walk, on-base guy. That's something he'll have to learn and develop over time. He has the ability to hit the ball hard into the gaps with extra-base potential. We want him to be aggressive, but you also have to have on-base percentage and you have to have that patience as a leadoff hitter.
"He's just like every other guy at that level trying to figure it out, learning how to be a pro, learning about quality at-bats, learning that it isn't just pure speed on how to steal a base. There are a lot of skills you have to develop to make use of those tools."
Revere's makeup is one of the characteristics that makes Radcliff think he will learn how to be a leadoff hitter, and it's one of the most important reasons the Twins were willing to invest a first-round pick in him.
"We have two scouts who live in the same town as Ben, so we got to know him very well," Radcliff said. "One of the big separators is where your scouts stand on (a player's) makeup.
"Professional baseball is a long journey, so he's got to have the perseverance and work ethic to get through it. Ben has the traits not only to survive but to succeed. He has an engaging personality, he's got energy and he has a great presence about him."