Three Teams Go Against The Flow With First-Round Picks
SECAUCUS, N.J. —The 2010 draft began as expected, with the Nationals, Pirates and Orioles making Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon and Manny Machado the first three selections. After that, the first round took more twists and turns than the "Lost" finale.
In the most stunning pick since the Mariners made an injured Michael Garciaparra a sandwich-rounder in 2001, the Cubs chose Southern Arkansas righthander Hayden Simpson 16th overall—175 spots higher than he ranked on BA's Top 200 Prospects list.
Obviously, teams don't use our draft board to make their selections. Just four years earlier, Chicago scouting director Tim Wilken used the No. 13 pick on BA's 170th-rated prospect, and Tyler Colvin has worked out just fine for the Cubs. But the Simpson choice wouldn't have caught teams much more off guard if Chicago had taken Homer.
If not for a gloomy weather forecast in mid-May, Simpson might not have become a first-rounder. Wilken had planned to scout three potential first-day picks in Texas, but when rain threatened to wash the weekend out, his wife talked him into coming home to Dunedin, Fla., to be part of their daughter's pre-prom festivities. He paired family time with a scouting trip to the NCAA Division II South Regional at Tampa.
Wilken says he saw Simpson throw 92-97 mph in Tampa on Friday, then come back and show the same velocity for four innings the following Monday.
"He's got big stuff," says Wilken, who helped build World Series clubs in Toronto and Tampa Bay. "He's been a winner, he's stronger than his size, very athletic. He has four average or plus-average pitches, and command, control and feel to match his stuff for the most part."
Ace Angels scout Tom Kotchman also saw Simpson at the regional, and Wilken feared Los Angels might use one of its five choices between Chicago's No. 16 and 65 picks to grab him. He's not worried about the public perception of Simpson, saying his stuff is bigger than his size (6 feet, 175 pounds) and that his track record (35-2, 2.39 in three seasons at Southern Arkansas) doesn't hurt.
"Is this guy better than the first 15 picks? I'm not going to tell you that," Wilken says. "We just felt good about it. We think it was the right spot. If things go right, he could advance very quickly."
Can Dodgers Sign Lee?
Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt are going through a bitter divorce, which has revealed how they've used their franchise as a glorified piggy bank. Los Angeles hasn't spent more than $4.4 million on any of the last three drafts, and figured to be the last team to take a high school pitcher with a reported $6 million price tag.
Yet the Dodgers did exactly that, drafting McKinney (Texas) High righthander Zach Lee 28th overall. With a 90-93 mph fastball, solid secondary pitches, athleticism and room for projection, he was an easy first-round talent. But he's also dead set on playing quarterback at Louisiana State, so there's plenty of cynicism that Los Angeles drafted him simply to pocket the savings from not signing him.
Assistant GM for scouting Logan White has heard that talk but insists it's not true.
"We figured he was the best talent on the board and approached it from that end," says White, whose scouts saw Lee throw 95-96 mph late in the spring. "We took him to sign him. Everyone knows he's a hard sign. Hopefully, he realizes his future in baseball and at the end of the day we'll be able to do something."
Lee already has enrolled in summer school at LSU, though that was expected. The Dodgers have a potential Plan B, as they can spend their money on tough signs such as Kevin Gausman (sixth round) and Joc Pederson (11th) if Lee doesn't take it.
Culver Riles Yankees Fans
Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer understands his team's fans are passionate. They want their club to flex their financial muscle and outspend everyone in terms of major league payroll, in the international market and in the draft. So when New York used the No. 32 overall choice on Irondequoit High (Rochester, N.Y.) shortstop Cito Culver, who was rated No. 168 by BA, he knew fans would be upset.
But he also took the player he wanted. He doesn't care about fan reaction or BA's Top 200. What matters more is the Yankees sent several veteran scouts to evaluate Culver, who played on their Area Code Games team, and they loved him.
"Our draft list was formulated by a group of scouts with 100 combined years of scouting experience," says Oppenheimer, who notes that another team told him it would have selected Culver before New York's second-round pick. "I'm running in guys there left and right, and every single guy came out of their liking him. He's a shortstop with a 65 arm (on the 20-80 scouting scale) and above-average speed, and we liked the way he swung the bat from both sides of the plate. He wasn't one of the 'names,' but he was one of ours."
Were the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees correct, or will bucking the consensus prove to be foolish? We won't know for a few years, though they don't care what anyone else thinks.