Since the baseball draft began in 1965, big league clubs have had a fascination with quarterbacks. In the first draft, the Cardinals spent a 22nd-round pick on Columbia shortstop Archie Roberts, who had led the NCAA in RBIs per game as a senior. But he was also a quarterback who chose instead to sign with the NFL's Cleveland Browns, who allowed him to attend medical school and put football on the back burner. Roberts eventually would play one game for the Miami Dolphins before becoming a heart surgeon.
The best quarterback ever to sign with a big league club was John Elway, a Yankees second-rounder as an outfielder in 1981. He used the leverage of a potential baseball career to force the Baltimore Colts to trade him to the Denver Broncos after Baltimore took him No. 1 overall in the 1983 NFL draft. Elway ranks third all-time in NFL career passing yardage, right behind Dan Marino, whom the Royals drafted in the fourth round as a righthanded pitcher in 1979.
Two of the quarterbacks who started on the NFL's opening weekend of 2009 were drafted by baseball teams. Kerry Collins (Tennessee Titans) went to the Tigers twice as a shortstop (26th round in 1990, 60th round in 1991) and to the Blue Jays as a righthander in the 48th round in 1994. Tom Brady (New England Patriots) turned down the Expos as an 18th-round catcher in 1995 to attend Michigan, where he eventually beat out future big leaguer and NFLer Drew Henson for the starting quarterback job.
Three other starting NFL quarterbacks have baseball draft connections. Neither Eli (New York Giants) nor Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts) ever got picked by a baseball club, but their father Archie (no slouch as a quarterback) was selected four times as a shortstop between 1967 and 1971. Joe Flacco's (Baltimore Ravens) younger brother Mike signed with the Orioles as a 31st-round third baseman this summer.
The Yankees have spent heavily to amass the best catching depth in the minors. Only Cervelli, who signed for $65,000 out of Venezuela in 2003, came cheaply. Montero got $1.65 million when he turned pro out of Venezuela three years later. Romine (second round, 2007) and Higashioka (seventh round, 2008) both received $500,000 bonuses. New York invested even more heavily this summer, giving Murphy $1.25 million as a second-rounder (the second-highest bonus in that round this year) and Sanchez $3 million (the second-highest bonus on the international market in 2009). The Yankees also spent $450,000 on 2007 seventh-rounder Chase Weems, whom they traded to the Reds this summer for Jerry Hairston Jr.
Montero is clearly the best prospect of that group and might have won our Minor League Player of the Year award if he hadn't broken his left middle finger. He's the best power-hitting prospect in the minors, but he lacks agility and quickness behind the plate, which may dictate a move to another position. In 59 games as a catcher this year, he committed 11 passed balls and threw out just 20 percent of basestealers. He does have some arm strength but it takes him too long to get rid of the ball.
Romine has the best all-around tools of the Yankees catching prospects. He should hit for a decent average with some power, and he has the strong arm and athleticism to take care of business behind the plate. Cervelli is the top defender in the group, though his below-average hitting ability and power make him more of a future backup.
Murphy could wind up as the second-best hitter of the bunch behind Montero, and he has made a nice transition to catching after playing outfield and third base for much of his amateur career. Higashioka is still a raw 19-year-old, but he's similar to Romine, albeit with less athleticism. Sanchez is even less refined, but his bat speed, power potential and arm strength are all plus tools. He's athletic for a catcher and could develop similarly to Romine, but his receiving and footwork are iffy enough (and his bat tantalizing enough) that he could go down the Montero path.
As overall prospects, I'd stack them up in this order: Montero, Romine, Murphy, Sanchez, Cervelli, Higashioka.
Though the Cubs are pleased with all three of the players they got for DeRosa, I bet they wish they never had traded him. He was dealt to clear payroll after the free-agent signing of Milton Bradley, an even more regrettable move. And while the Indians dumped DeRosa's salary after they fell out of contention, they didn't do too badly because they came out ahead in the two transactions.
The highest ceiling of all the pitchers belongs to Perez, the lone potential closer in the bunch. He has done a better job of throwing strikes since moving to the tougher American League, and both his mid-90s sinker and high-80s slider are out pitches.
Todd has been torched in his first taste of the big leagues this year, but he still could be the second-best pitcher in the two deals. He has shown good command of a solid three-pitch repertoire (fastball, slider, cutter) in the minors, but he hasn't located his pitches nearly as well with St. Louis or Cleveland.
I do like all three of the Cubs' arms, however. Though Archer went 6-4, 2.81 with 119 strikeouts in 109 innings as a starter in low Class A this year, he probably will wind up as a reliever, just like the other four pitchers in the two trades. He has a low-90s fastball but his secondary pitches, control and command have lacked consistency throughout his pro career.
Stevens has stuff similar (with a bit more velocity) to Todd's, and has had the same difficulty establishing himself in the majors. Gaub can't reach 96 mph like he could before having shoulder surgery while at the University of Minnesota, but his fastball and slider are solid pitches that are enhanced by his deceptive delivery.
Don't say never—Ely came in at No. 9 and No. 11 in our White Sox rankings lists in the last two Prospect Handbooks. A third-round pick out of Miami (Ohio) in 2007, he led the Southern League in victories and strikeouts (125 in 156 innings) and finished second in ERA. Not that wins are the most telling stat for a pitcher, but Ely consistently racks them up and has posted an 83-27 record going back to his days as a high school star in suburban Chicago.
Ely can't overpower hitters with his fringe-average fastball and his curveball is inconsistent, but he does have a nifty changeup. That repertoire doesn't give him a huge ceiling, but he does locate his pitches down in the zone and rarely beats himself by surrendering walks or home runs.
He's a favorite sleeper of mine and I wouldn't rule out Ely carving a niche for himself in the back of someone's rotation. White Sox GM Kenny Williams isn't afraid to trade prospects, and Ely could find a better opportunity elsewhere. He'll probably open 2010 in Triple-A.