Still Talent To Be Found
There's no such thing as a barren draft
CHICAGO—The prevailing vibe is that this draft is as appealing as the swine flu, that the talent pool pretty much starts and ends with San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg and is bereft of position players, especially on the college side.
Don't believe it.
There's plenty of talent behind Strasburg, the most hyped and arguably the best prospect since the draft era began in 1965. There might not be a clear-cut No. 2 prospect, but there's no shortage of candidates.
While the bats in this draft may pale in comparison to last year's, that's in part because 2008 featured an outstanding harvest. A year ago, 12 of the first 14 choices were position players.
Pitchers will carry the draft in 2009, but aren't teams always saying they never can find enough pitching? After Strasburg, Alex White and Kyle Gibson have lived up to lofty expectations, while Mike Leake has kept on winning and throwing strikes with three pitches. Lefties Rex Brothers and James Paxton and righties Eric Arnett, Chad Jenkins and Kyle Heckathorn have shot into the first round.
Those are just the college arms. The two best righthanders from last year's draft, Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers, are in the independent American Association, where they've shown early first-round stuff in exhibition games. Clubs always worry about injuries with high school pitchers, but they'll ignore those fears in this draft because they can't walk away from the upside of lefties Tyler Matzek and Matthew Purke or righties Jacob Turner, Shelby Miller and Zack Wheeler.
As for position players, perennial .400 hitter Dustin Ackley would have fit in nicely with last year's mashers. He'll be even more valuable if he can transition from first to center.
Grant Green hasn't had the year scouts hoped, but he's still close to a five-tool shortstop. There may not be a catcher who can rival Buster Posey from 2008, but there's an exceptionally deep group that starts with Tony Sanchez and Max Stassi and could produce nine picks in the first two rounds. Center fielders are another area of strength, ranging from high school toolboxes (Donavan Tate, Everett Williams, Michael Trout) to polished college hitters (Tim Wheeler, A.J. Pollock) to college athletes (Jared Mitchell, Brett Jackson).
Déjà Vu From 2006
This year's draft is reminiscent of 2006, which also suffered in comparison to a bumper crop of position players (including Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun) from the previous year.
"There's definitely quite a shortage," a National League scouting director told us for our 2006 Draft Preview. "It's particularly true among the everyday players, especially at the college level. Without Florida's talent, this would be just a rotten draft."
Wrong on all counts. None of the Sunshine State draftees has blossomed into an impact player, and most of the early Florida picks aren't close to doing so. That draft's top choice (Luke Hochevar) and consensus top prospect (Andrew Miller) have fallen far short of expectations, but it did produce arguably the best young hitter (Evan Longoria) and best young pitcher (Tim Lincecum) in the majors today.
Scouts expected Longoria to become a star, so that wasn't a surprise, but other position players are following his lead. The best high school hitter, Toronto's Travis Snider, lasted until the 14th pick, while Chris Davis (fifth round) and Daniel Murphy (13th) also have made their presence felt in the majors. The Marlins just promoted Chris Coghlan, and the wave of talent includes fellow supplemental first-rounder Adrian Cardenas and late-round steals Lars Anderson and Desmond Jennings.
Like Lincecum, Joba Chamberlain quickly graduated to dominating big league hitters. Trevor Cahill, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and others have shown flashes of doing the same. Brett Anderson, Kyle Drabek and Chris Tillman have huge ceilings.
Three years later, the 2006 draft looks like anything but a shortage.
Talent In Every Draft
Even the thinnest drafts have plenty of silver linings. The worst draft ever was 1975, which started with a classic bust in Danny Goodwin and followed with four players who never made it to the majors. The highlight of the first round was Rick Cerone.
Everyone but the Expos whiffed on the best talent in 1975, Andre Dawson, and Montreal was able to wait 11 rounds to pop him. Lou Whitaker, whose numbers compare favorably to the second basemen enshrined in Cooperstown, lasted five rounds.
Future batting champion Carney Lansford was a third-rounder, while 1989 World Series MVP and two-time AL Championship Series MVP Dave Stewart were there for the taking in the 16th round. Jason Thompson (fourth round) and Glenn Hubbard (20th) became all-stars, while Don Robinson (third), Willie Upshaw (fifth) and Keith Moreland (seventh) all had lengthy careers.
There's talent in every draft. It's the teams' job to find it.