The 2008 Prospect Handbook is set to arrive at our Durham, N.C., headquarters at the end of this week, so if you ordered directly from us, you should have your copy within the next two weeks. And if you haven't, what's wrong with you?
We have 903 detailed scouting reports (counting the three Japanese imports we shoehorned into an appendix in the back), projected 2011 lineups, personal Top 50 Prospects lists from four different editors, farm system rankings and a Top 100 listing for both college and high school prospects for the 2008 draft.
Speaking of the draft, the Brewers have reached a preliminary agreement with Type B free agent Mike Cameron. Once that's finalized, the Padres will pick up a supplemental first-round choice (No. 43 overall) in the 2008 draft.
When I put together our original Astros Top 10 in November, I believed that the Astros had the worst farm system in the game. Since then, they've traded Patton (our No. 3 prospect), Gutierrez (No. 4) and Costanzo (No. 6) in a misguided attempt to contend in 2008, though through deals of their own the White Sox have surpassed them as having the leanest crop of prospects.
With young pitching as prized as it is in today's game, it's stunning to realize that in the last year, Houston GMs Tim Purpura and Ed Wade have dealt away Matt Albers, Taylor Buchholz, Gutierrez, Jason Hirsh, Brad Lidge, Patton, Chad Qualls, Dennis Sarfate, Dan Wheeler—all of whom were 30 or younger at the time. In their various deals the only arms the Astros got back who will be on their 2008 staff are Geoff Geary, Jose Valverde and Oscar Villareal, so that's a huge pitching deficit in the long run. They don't have one proven and effective starter to back up Roy Oswalt, and the bullpen isn't deep either.
As for the Top 10, here's what it would look like today:
1. J.R. Towles, c
His all-around talents will push Brad Ausmus to a reserve role.
2. Felipe Paulino, rhp
His fastball can reach triple digits on radar guns.
3. Michael Bourn, of
Has the speed and defense to take over in center, though not much pop.
4. Bud Norris, rhp
Boosted his stock with a strong winter in Hawaii, but may be a reliever.
5. Brad James, rhp
Groundball machine tore up high Class A, hit the wall in Double-A.
6. Chad Reineke, rhp
Could be the next Chad Qualls if the Astros made him a full-time reliever.
7. Eli Iorg, of
System's best five-tool prospect missed much of 2007 with an elbow injury.
8. Josh Flores, of
Has more tools than Bourn but isn't as polished.
9. Mitch Einertson, of
Rebounded from two lost years to win high Class A Carolina League MVP award.
10. Collin DeLome, of
Highest pick among Houston's 2007 draft signees—as a fifth-rounder.
With Costanzo now an Oriole, Chris Johnson replaces him as Houston's best power prospect and third baseman of the future. The son of Red Sox Triple-A manager Ron Johnson, Chris was a fourth-round pick in 2006 after setting a Stetson record with a career .379 batting average. He hit 14 homers between two Class A teams last year, and the Astros believe he could be on the verge of a breakout.
In terms of their first-round picks and supplemental first-rounders, the A's haven't done bad at all. When I last did a detailed study of the draft five years ago, I found that roughly 25 percent of those choices from 1990-97 became solid or better big leaguers, while another 20 percent became fringe major leaguers. Oakland got Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton among their seven first-rounders, and Travis Buck, Huston Street and Mark Teahen among their nine sandwich picks. Considering most of the A's selections were at the low end of the first round/sandwich round range, going 5-for-16 (31 percent) is definitely better than average. It's not an unbelievable haul, but it's better than average.
But that wasn't my point. My point was that the A's farm system has fallen into disrepair. Since Grady Fuson left Oakland after the 2001 draft, they've done next to nothing after the first round. I'll do my best to resist making a snide comment about "Moneyball" but in that 2002 draft in which the A's cracked the secret code of college statistics, they had seven first-round and sandwich choices and hit on three guys (Swisher, Blanton, Teahen) who were consensus top prospects—and got nothing else of value.
After the first and sandwich rounds in the 2003-05 drafts, the A's found only two players with any real value: 2003 second-rounder Andre Ethier and 2004 second-rounder Kurt Suzuki, both of whom are decent regulars and nothing more. It's still early to know anything definitive about 2006, when Oakland didn't pick until the second round, but the best players from that crop (second-round righthander Trevor Cahill, fifth-round outfielder Jermaine Mitchell, sixth-round righty Andrew Bailey) don't look like cornerstones at this point.
Haren and Swisher were two of the best young cornerstones the A's had, and as a bonus they were signed to favorable long-term contracts. Oakland decided they had to be sacrificed to rebuild the farm system, which begs the question of what happened to the system in the first place. The A's haven't been very effective on the international market either.
When the draft began in 1965, teams were allowed to trade draftees whenever they wanted. That didn't change until 1985. Oklahoma State outfielder Pete Incaviglia rewrote the NCAA record books that spring, setting marks for single-season homers (48), RBIs (143), total bases (285) and slugging percentage (1.140), not to mention career homers (100) and slugging percentage (.915). All those records still stand except for the last one, which was surpassed by Rickie Weeks (.927).
The Expos wanted a power hitter, so they popped Incaviglia with the eighth overall pick in arguably the richest draft crop ever. The seven players taken ahead of Incaviglia were B.J. Surhoff (Brewers), Will Clark (Giants), Bobby Witt (Rangers), Barry Larkin (Reds), Kurt Brown (White Sox), Barry Bonds (Pirates) and Mike Campbell (Mariners).
However, Incaviglia wanted no part of playing in the cold climate of Montreal. He held out all summer and didn't sign until November—on the contingency that the Expos immediately trade him to the Rangers. Montreal had little leverage, because back then clubs that didn't sign their first-round pick received no compensation. All it got in the trade was righthander Bob Sebra, who won 15 games in six big league seasons, and infielder Jim Anderson, who never played in the majors again.
After the Incaviglia imbroglio, MLB made two changes to the draft rules. Starting in 1986, teams were prohibited from trading a player until one year after he signed his first pro contract, and they also received a supplemental first-round choice in the next draft if they failed to land their first-rounder. (Beginning with the 2007 draft, teams that didn't sign a pick in the first two rounds got the choice after the corresponding selection in the next draft; clubs that didn't land a third-rounder got a supplemental third-rounder.)
MLB forgot its own rule on at least one occasion. Tim Costo signed with the Indians as a first-round pick on June 20, 1990, then went to the Reds in a trade for Reggie Jefferson on June 14, 1991.
Teams can work around the rule thanks to the six-month window for identifying a player to be named, which means anyone who has been under contract for at least six months can be dealt. One example of this came when the Athletics signed first-round pick Jeremy Bonderman on Aug. 22, 2001 and included him as a PTBN in the three-team Jeff Weaver trade on July 5, 2002.