Clayton Kershaw wasn't overwhelmed at all in his major league debut on Sunday. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 draft showed a mid-90s fastball, his trademark curveball and a surprisingly effective changeup. After running into some first-inning trouble and giving up an RBI double to Albert Pujols, he cruised the rest of the way. Kershaw gave up five hits, two runs and a walk while striking out seven over six frames, receiving no decision as the Dodgers beat the Cardinals 4-3 in 10 innings.
The two biggest wild cards are a pair of Boras Corporation advisees—big shock there—first baseman Eric Hosmer (American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla.) and righthander Gerrit Cole (Orange, Calif., Lutheran HS).
No. 7 on our Top 200 Draft Prospects list, Hosmer is the most dangerous high school bat in this draft, and he also has enough athleticism and arm strength to try the outfield. It's believed that Hosmer may seek to match the record for a guaranteed contract for a prepster ($7 million by Josh Beckett and Rick Porcello), and that would scare a lot of clubs off. I don't believe Hosmer will get that much, but I do think some team will go well over MLB's slot recommendations to land Hosmer's bat.
No. 17 on the Top 200, Cole has thrown in the mid-90s all spring and also has shown a hard curveball, but there are a number of clubs who worry about his delivery, his command and his immaturity. There will be teams interested in his electric arm, but if he seeks a bonus well above slot, he could wind up at UCLA.
Beyond Hosmer and Cole, there are several high schoolers on the first half of the Top 200 who will be difficult to sign. They include:
Two-sport stars Casey Kelly (Sarasota, Fla., HS) and Xavier Avery (Cedar Grove HS, Ellenwood, Ga.). Kelly (No. 19) has first-round talent as both a righthander and a shortstop, and he'll also command a premium bonus because he has signed to play quarterback at Tennessee. Avery (No. 59) is an outstanding athlete with a raw bat, and he has a scholarship to play running back at Georgia.
Boras Corporation advisees Alex Meyer (Greenburg, Ind., HS), Nick Maronde (Lexington, Ky., Catholic HS) and Brett Mooneyham (Buhach Colony HS, Atwater, Calif.). Meyer (No. 25) is a righthander with late first-round ability but teams don't think he'll sign in that area. Maronde (No. 70) and Mooneyham (No. 78) are lefthanders who would draw interest if they'd take second- or third-round money, but clubs are skeptical that they would. Meyer has committed to Kentucky, Maronde to Florida and Mooneyham to Stanford.
Righthander Sonny Gray (Smyrna, Tenn., HS) and lefthander Dan Hultzen (St. Albans HS, Washington D.C.). They're considered as unsignable as the just-mentioned Boras Corporation trio. A fractured ankle, his size (6 feet, 185 pounds) and his Vanderbilt commitment have combined to kill Gray's (No. 52) chances of going in the late first round. Hultzen (No. 79) seems to have his heart set on attending Virginia.
Lefthanders Kyle Lobstein (Coconino HS, Flagstaff, Ariz.) and T.J. House (Picayune, Miss., Memorial HS) and righthanders Brett Marshall (Sterling HS, Houston) and Austin Dicharry (Klein Collins HS, Spring, Texas). Lobstein (No. 45, committed to Arizona) and House (No. 100, Tulane) may not sign for less than a seven-figure bonus, while Marshall (No. 87, on the verge of committing to Rice) and Dicharry (No. 95, Texas) aren't going to take less than second-round money. Lobstein has the best bet of having a club meet his asking price.
Scouts still hold Warren in high regard but they have been disappointed by Hermsen this spring. Both are expected to wind up at Oregon State rather than turn pro this summer.
Warren, who checked in at No. 130 on our Top 200 list, reminds a lot of people of former Iowa high school star Ryan Sweeney, and he's more athletic than Sweeney. Though he'll probably play both ways for the Beavers, pro teams like Warren more as an outfielder. He offers plus speed and center-field defense, and he has a good lefty stroke and bat speed. He needs to add a lot more strength to his 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame, which is why clubs are unlikely to buy him away from college at this point. But Warren, who already has overcome heart surgery, projects as a possible first-round pick in 2011.
Hermsen ranked ahead of Warren coming into 2008, but he has backed up significantly. Once projected as a sandwich- or second-round pick, he has let his conditioning lapse and seen his fastball drop to the mid-80s and his slider lapse into a mere spinner. He has thrown with more effort and lost a lot of his pitchability.
May 27 update: I had a reader e-mail to say that I wasn't being fair to Hermsen, who has thrown better recently. I hadn't realized that Hermsen had broken his collarbone playing football last fall, which did set him back. He did touch 92 mph at the Perfect Game Predraft Showcase, but he did so with a lot of effort in his delivery and scouts still weren't impressed by his slider. It still doesn't appear that Hermsen will be a high pick in the 2008 draft.
First, a history lesson:
In March 1999, the Reds signed the first player to go through the posting process with a Japanese club, Dominican outfielder Alejandro Diaz. Between his bonus ($1.175 million) and bidding for his rights, Cincinnati spent roughly $2 million. It turned out that Diaz was three years older than believed, and he never advanced past Double-A.
Worse yet, the Diaz signing took a toll on the Reds' budget for signing amateur players. They signed their 1999 first-rounder, Ty Howington, to a 2000 contract so his $1.75 million bonus wouldn't be paid until the following a year. As a result, when Cincinnati had three of the first 46 picks in the 2000 draft, it spent them on two players who agreed to take no upfront bonus (David Espinosa, Dane Sardinha) and another who signed a 2001 contract (Dustin Moseley). Pushing Moseley's $930,000 bonus forward a year led to the Reds' decision to use their 2001 first-rounder on Jeremy Sowers—who had no intention of foregoing a scholarship to Vanderbilt. Cincinnati even went cheap with the sandwich pick it got in 2002 for not signing Sowers, as it played hardball with college senior Mark Schramek.
So Greg may be fearing a repeat of what happened with Diaz. The good news is that there's been no talk of the Reds trying to go cheap with the No. 7 pick, even though that slot last year was worth $2.07 million, roughly what Duran received.
Kelly's father Pat manages the Reds' Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate, which is one reason Chris has been tied closely to Cincinnati. But other teams think the Reds legitimately are intrigued by Kelly's talent, and he has the type of athletic upside that scouting director Chris Buckley loves. As mentioned in the first Ask BA question above, Kelly's scholarship to play quarterback at Tennessee gives him extra leverage, and he wouldn't be a discount signing.
That said, Kelly would be a bit of a reach at No. 7. If Crow were to fall to the Reds, and there's a strong possibility that may happen, he'd be a perfect fit for them. As one of the top-tier college pitchers, he'd likely command a major league contract, but it still would be tough for Cincinnati to pass him up.