Two of the players selected in the NFL draft over the weekend had been drafted previously—by major league teams. Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, who could be a steal for the Green Bay Packers as a second-rounder, went in the 49th round to the Rockies as an outfielder in 2004. Colorado has a penchant for drafting quarterbacks, having also taken Michael Vick (Virginia Tech), Seth Smith (Mississippi) and Josh Sullivan (Auburn) this decade and striking it rich with Todd Helton (Tennessee) as the eighth overall pick in 2005. Brohm's brother Jeff played briefly in the minors and in the NFL as an outfielder/quarterback.
Oregon's Dennis Dixon, another potential steal as a fifth-rounder by the Pittsburgh Steelers, went in the 20th round to the Reds out of high school in 2003 and was a surprise fifth-rounder by the Braves in 2007. Another quarterback/outfielder, he signed and hit .176/.322/.216 in Rookie ball last summer.
Tim also asked about Ankiel and Hamilton in a July 2006 Ask BA, and I wasn't much more sanguine about their chances at that point either. Now they're two of the most impressive comeback stories since I started following baseball in the mid-1970s. Ankiel, who was on his way to stardom as a pitcher before he suddenly and shockingly lost his control and command, has reinvented himself as a slugging outfielder. Hamilton has overcome serious injuries and drug problems to show why he went No. 1 overall in the 1999 draft.
Ankiel ranked No. 1 on our Top 100 Prospects list in 2000, though of course he was still pitching at that point. Our first detailed scouting report on him as an outfielder appeared in our 2006 Prospect Handbook, after he had hit 21 homers in 85 games in his first season as a full-time outfielder. Some highlights:
Ankiel was a terrific hitter as an amateur, and he starred as a two-way player for the U.S. junior national team for two summers. Teammates and scouts who saw him take batting practice even when he was pitching said he could have been one of the best hitting prospects in the minors. Once he committed to hitting full-time again in 2005, it didn't take him long to knock off the rust. He showed the same smooth swing and power potential he had as an amateur . . . His speed is close to average and he's still learning the nuances of outfield play, but he clearly has an outstanding arm. Scouts who saw him last year said he had a chance to become a platoon outfielder in the majors.
That report still holds up well, though Ankiel, a lefthanded hitter, actually has handled southpaws better than righties in the big leagues. He has 15 homers in 71 games since resurfacing with the Cardinals in 2007, though he's going to have to make more consistent contact (61 strikeouts in 259 at-bats) to be a quality regular, let alone a star.
Hamilton followed Ankiel as the No. 1 prospect on our Top 100 list in 2001, and his scouting report at the time understandably glowed:
Hamilton is a rare breed. He's one of the few players with five legitimate plus tools that continue to improve every time he takes the field. His power is increasing as his 19-year-old body matures. Anyone who saw his over-the-head catch, a la Willie Mays, in the South Atlantic League all-star game knows how much ground he covers in center field. His arm, which produced a mid-90s fastball while in high school, is one of the strongest among minor league outfielders. For all his tools, Hamilton's most important trait may be his baseball savvy. His knowledge of how to play the game far exceeds his experience. It's hard to find any aspect of Hamilton's game that could be deemed a weakness. He's sometimes too aggressive at the plate, resulting in 72 strikeouts against 26 walks in 2000.
Hamilton played in just 98 pro games over the next six seasons. It's a tribute to his natural ability that he was able to jump from 15 games in short-season ball in 2006 to the majors and hit .303/.373/.561 with 24 homers and 74 RBIs in 116 big league games the last two years. He has maintained his huge power and good feel at the plate, and he has tightened his strike zone. He's also a solid center fielder with one of the game's strongest arms at his position.
I can buy an argument that the gap between 2007 first-round picks Porcello (No. 21 on our 2008 Top 100 Prospects list) and Alderson (No. 84) isn't as great as we presumed. Porcello had yet to make his pro debut with the Tigers, while Alderson had all of five innings under his belt, and Alderson may prove even better than expected. But no, I don't think Alderson is in Porcello's class.
Porcello's mid-90s fastball with riding life is superior to Alderson's low-90s heater. Porcello also can operate with a low-90s two-seamer that features good sink. Both pitchers have good curveballs, but Porcello also owns a hard slider. His changeup has been a revelation in his first month as a pro, and it's more advanced than Alderson's.
Alderson's calling card is his control and command, as he had a 111-4 K-BB ratio in 73 innings as a high school senior. Porcello, excels in both areas as well, however, as he has an easy delivery that he repeats well. Alderson pitched exclusively out of the stretch position as an amateur, and the Giants now have him using a windup. Both pitchers have had little trouble adjusting to high Class A as teenagers.
Alderson projects as a quality No. 3 starter, maybe as a No. 2. Porcello has legitimate No. 1 stuff.
Houston has enough problems—a 73-89 record in 2007, a less-than-inspiring 12-14 start in 2008 and the game's 29th-best farm system —that it should just take the best available player at No. 10.
The Astros have a greater need for pitching, but if a hitter is on the top of their draft board when their pick comes up, they should pop him. Houston hasn't scored with a first-rounder since taking Brad Lidge in 1998, though it did well with its top picks in 2003 (Jason Hirsh) and 2004 (Hunter Pence), both second-rounders.
It's unlikely that owner Drayton McLane will authorize new scouting director Bobby Heck to exceeded MLB's slotting guidelines and take a costly player who slides because of signability. But the Astros, who haven't picked this high since choosing Chris Burke with the 10th overall choice in 2001, still will have the chance to get a quality prospect.
They could address their pitching shortcomings by getting one of the second-tier college arms (Fresno State righty Tanner Scheppers, Tulane righty Shooter Hunt or Eastern Kentucky lefty Christian Friedrich) or one of the top high school hurlers (starting with righty Tim Melville out of Missouri). Houston also could deal with an aging infield by taking Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham, or find Lance Berkman's eventual successor among this draft's deep crop of first basemen. Miami's Yonder Alonso could be available if the Astros choose the latter direction.