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Finding gems in the draft bargain bin

By Jim Callis
June 6, 2002

CHICAGO–Bargains are had every year in the draft. Look no further than the starting lineups for last year’s All-Star Game.

Of the 18 players, four were foreign free agents. Six of the remaining 14 entered baseball as first-round picks, though John Olerud would have made that seven had he not told teams he wouldn’t sign after suffering an aneurysm in 1989. The Blue Jays stole him in the third round.

Purely on merit, Randy Johnson and Cal Ripken Jr. went in the second round. Luis Gonzalez waited until the fourth, Bret Boone until the fifth. That was lofty territory compared to draft afterthoughts Jeff Kent (20th), Rich Aurilia (24th) and Mike Piazza (62nd).

Here are the draftees who, down the road, are the best bets to leave us trying to figure out why they lasted so long in 2002. Players who dropped because of signability questions weren’t considered.

First round
At least one team considered lefthander Cole Hamels the single best pitcher in the draft. Yet because he broke the humerus bone in his pitching arm as a high school sophomore–evoking images of Tom Browning, Dave Dravecky and Tony Saunders–clubs were wary of the medical risk. Undeterred, the Phillies took Hamels 17th. Likewise, the consensus was that Jeremy Hermida was the purest hitter available and perhaps the best high school bat since Eric Chavez. At least four of the first eight teams seriously considered Hermida, but he somehow got to the Marlins at No. 11.

Supplemental first round
Matt Whitney is an athletic third baseman with Troy Glaus potential, and most teams thought he’d go to the Phillies at No. 17. That enabled the Indians, who had targeted a quality bat in the first round before jumping on advanced Stanford righthander Jeremy Guthrie, to pilfer Whitney at No. 33. One pick earlier, the Cubs landed imposing 6-foot-8 lefthander Luke Hagerty, who had figured to go 10 picks earlier.

Second round
After getting four quality arms in the first and sandwich rounds, the Cubs continued a banner draft with first baseman Brian Dopirak, who is a free swinger but has better raw power than any player available. The Red Sox got first-round talent in Jon Lester, one of the top power lefthanders in the draft.

Third round
Considered a fringe first-rounder before hitting a plateau down the stretch, Bill Murphy is a nice value for the Athletics, who had to go cheap in the sandwich and second rounds because of so many extra picks. As a 6-foot-9 righthander who was throwing 96 mph, Eric Thomas (Brewers) was a definite first-rounder until he missed two months with shoulder tendinitis.

Fourth round
Beyond No. 1 overall pick Bryan Bullington, the Pirates also got one of the best two-way players in Wardell Starling. He can throw 95 mph with life off the mound and has big-time power. The Tigers also locked onto a top athlete in Robbie Sovie, the fastest legitimate prospect in the draft. A Western Carolina football recruit, Sovie came out of nowhere after reconstructive knee surgery sidelined him in 2001.

Fifth round
Hank Blalock became baseball’s best hitting prospect after going in the third round in 1999. His little brother Jake, a high school teammate of Hamels, had been being mentioned as a possible sandwich pick. Jake gives the Phillies the third baseman they wanted before passing on Whitney. Sean Scobee (Cubs) is another blue-chip hitter who doesn’t offer a lot of other tools.

Sixth round
A three-sport star in high school, Brandon Jones emerged in baseball this spring. Whether he stays at shortstop or moves to third base or the outfield, Jones becomes one of the best bats in the Royals’ system as soon as he signs.

Seventh round
Righthander Tom Wilhelmsen is far from refined, but he offers the Brewers plenty of potential. He already works at 89-93 mph with his sinker, and there’s more velocity waiting as he strengthens his lanky 6-foot-6 frame.

Eighth round
Catchers usually get overdrafted because of position scarcity, but Tyler Parker got underdrafted by the Cardinals. He has as high an all-around ceiling as any backstop in the draft.

Ninth round
Shane Komine is a sub-6-foot righthander with a history of back, shoulder and elbow problems. But he’s a great late pick for the A’s if they can keep him in one piece.

10th round
Rice’s best prospect for 2002 is Eric Arnold, an offensive second baseman expected to go earlier than where the Blue Jays snagged him.

Jim Callis is executive editor for Baseball America. You can contact him by sending e-mail to jimcallis@baseballamerica.com .

  Copyright 2002 Baseball America. All rights reserved.
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