First Day Impressions
Picking winners and win-me overs
It's too early to grade the baseball draft, as none of these players has even signed a contract, not to mention played a pro game. Most baseball drafts require at least three years to really read, if not five years when high school players are factored in.
But that doesn't mean we can't have some instant analysis. We're breaking this down into teams and players that can be considered winners after Tuesday's first day of the 2009 draft, and those that will have to win us over.
• The Nationals. Hey, they can bask in the Stephen Strasburg glow for at least one night. Drew Storen at 10 makes all kinds of sense, and Jeff Kobernus in the second round is a versatile, athletic college bat who can stay in the infield, a rarity this year.
• The Rockies. If they sign Tyler Matzek, this draft could be one the Rockies look back on as a turning point in a franchise that hasn't capitalized on its 2007 pennant. Matzek was No. 3 on the BA draft board, and Colorado gets him 11th overall. Moreover, they got two mid-first-round talents, outfielder Tim Wheeler and lefthander Rex Brothers, at picks 32 and 34, then rounded out their day with two solid bats in Nolan Arenado and Ben Paulsen. For an organization that has drafted conservatively in recent years, this was a welcome departure.
• The Twins. Minnesota has drafted a hitter with its first pick every year since 2001, with the exception of 2005 (Matt Garza). Not this year. Second-year scouting director Deron Johnson and Co. went heavily after pitching, and it's hard not to be impressed with the haul. Righthander Kyle Gibson dropped to No. 22 overall due to his forearm stress fracture, but if he's healthy, he's a steal at that spot, after ranking as high as fourth on BA's initial Top 200 draft prospects list. At various points from last summer through this spring, the Twins' other picks—Indiana lefty Matt Bashore, Florida closer Billy Bullock and Jacksonville State righty Ben Tootle—all were first-round possibilities. Bullock and Tootle were two of the hardest throwers in the college crop, as well.
WIN US OVER
• The Pirates. Tony Sanchez might have been the safest pick in the '09 draft class after elite players Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley. He's a premium defensive catcher with good makeup, a self-made player who should at worst be a big league backup. But even his advocates in scouting circles grade his hit tool as below-average or fringe-average; they project him to hit .250 or .260 in the major leagues. He has average power, projecting to 15-20 home runs annually. That would be good production at catcher, but it's not the kind of ceiling teams tend to look for in a No. 4 overall pick. Pittsburgh's other picks—righthanders Victor Black and Brooks Pounders, and juco outfielder Evan Chambers—all seem to have been taken about a round too high.
• The Reds. We love Mike Leake. He's a winner, a college stud who helped pitch Arizona State to the College World Series for the second time in three seasons. Scouts love his makeup. Still, it's surprising that he was the second college righthander taken, and not Alex White. The guess here is that money was a factor, because White has a bigger, better body; is athletic, though perhaps not quite at Leake's level; and has great makeup, having been North Carolina's ace the last two years on CWS teams. White is the more typical selection in terms of throwing harder and having bigger stuff, and it's surprising that he went seven picks later. The Reds also may have reached a bit on supplemental first-rounder Brad Boxberger of Southern California, another 6-foot righthander who may profile better in the bullpen. He went one spot ahead of Tanner Scheppers, who has much bigger stuff.
• The Yankees. New York clearly has strong conviction about Slade Heathcott, a very toolsy, physical Texas outfielder. But they were one of the few teams in on him in the first round, as his makeup seemed to scare many other teams out of him in first-round consideration. Heathcott seems like very much of a boom or bust pick, and the Yankees took yet another catcher in the second round in J.R. Murphy. Scouts that we have talked to were mixed on his catching ability, and even if he can, why would the Yankees take yet another catcher? The Yanks signed Kyle Higashioka last year ($500,000), as well as Austin Romine ($500,000) and Chase Weems ($450,000) in 2007 plus of course Jesus Montero, already advanced to Double-A. If Murphy can't catch, he's a third baseman in a best-case scenario, or in a worst-case scenario he's a corner outfielder.