As many as five college baseball players could go in the first two or three rounds of the NFL draft this week: Florida wide receiver/outfielder Riley Cooper, Minnesota wide receiver/outfielder Eric Decker, Stanford fullback/outfielder Toby Gerhart, Louisiana State safety/lefthander/outfielder Chad Jones and Notre Dame wide receiver/outfielder Golden Tate.
None are playing this spring while they focus on the NFL, though all but Gerhart have been drafted by baseball teams, and Cooper (25th round, Rangers) and Decker (27th round, Twins) were 2009 picks. Cooper signed with Texas for $250,000, though it's now uncertain that he'll return to baseball.
The best baseball prospect of the group is Jones. He might have been a sandwich pick coming out of high school if he hadn't sought a seven-figure bonus, and he's talented enough that he might have been a first-round pick this June had he focused on baseball. Despite his relative baseball inexperience, he played a key role in Louisiana State's College World Series championship last June.
Regarding last week's question about where Jason Heyward ranks among recent No. 1 overall prospects, Andrew Hawthorne (Chesapeake, Va.) notes that I could have summed it up more succinctly: "He's ranked ahead of Strasburg, for crying out loud!" Well said.
The scouts I've talked to about Hechavarria often compare him to another Cuban shortstop prospect, Jose Iglesias of the Red Sox. Iglesias has the superior glove and is considered by many to be the best defensive infielder in the minor leagues, but Hechavarria is the better hitter and should be a solid defender at shortstop. His inside-out swing is more geared for line drives than power at this point, but the Blue Jays anticipate that he'll have better-than-average pop for his position.
I'm skeptical of the track record of Cuban defectors, so I'm conservative when it comes to evaluating them. I consider Hechavarria the sixth-best prospect in Toronto's system, behind righthander Kyle Drabek, corner infielder Brett Wallace, catcher Travis d'Arnaud and righthanders Chad Jenkins and Zach Stewart. It's too early to consider Hechavarria a Top 100 Prospect. Iglesias didn't make the list, and I'd take him over Hechavarria based on the raves Iglesias generated in the Arizona Fall League.
Hechavarria will spend about a month in extended spring training, then report to high Class A Dunedin. He just turned 21, and he'll probably need at least two years in the minors before he can help the Jays.
I saw the conflicting reports as well. It's fair to say that Harper has firmly established himself as the best prospect in the 2010 draft, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Nationals have determined that he's their leading contender for the No. 1 overall choice. But this far in advance of the draft, nothing is finalized.
A year after smashing previous draft records with the bonus ($7.5 million) and contract ($15.1 million) they gave 2009 No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg, Washington faces another potential eight-figure deal if it takes Strasburg. While Strasburg was a better prospect than Harper, Harper holds much more leverage. Strasburg would have been at a disadvantage had he re-entered the 2010 draft as a college senior or independent leaguer at age 22. Harper, however, is just 17 and would be eligible for the next three drafts if he were to return to CCSN for his sophomore year.
In some ways, Strasburg was a prisoner of his considerable talent. He was so good that he was going to get offered too much money to turn down, and all he could really do if he re-entered the draft would be to maintain his value, not enhance it. I think Harper faces the same situation. He could prove himself at a higher level were he to transfer to a four-year college in a strong conference for 2010, but he also would assume a lot of risk as well.
In the end, I believe that Harper will sign shortly before the Aug. 16 deadline, for a little less than what Strasburg got, somewhere between $10 million and $12 million. That would eclipse the highest guarantee ever given to a drafted hitter, the $9.5 million Mark Teixeira received from the Rangers in 2001.
The Boras Corp. usually doesn't make public proclamations about their advisees' price tags. Instead, those numbers seem to somehow magically appear as we get closer to the draft.
The $10 million major league contract that the Cubs gave Samardzija to entice him away from an NFL career as a wide receiver really isn't the problem. Samardzija signed that deal in January 2007, and the Cubs could have optioned him to the minors through this season if they wanted to. When Chicago promoted Samardzija to the majors in July 2008, they did so because he was pitching well in Triple-A and they needed help for the stretch drive—not because his contract compelled a callup.
In the history of the draft, 43 players have received major league contracts. Thirty-six of those deals went to college players who were expected to reach the big leagues before they ran out of options, so the contracts weren't a development issue. The first high schoolers to get a major league deal, Todd Van Poppel, was a victim of a rushed timetable, but Alex Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Rick Porcello have survived just fine.
There are two main issues with Samardzija. The biggest is that he's still more of an arm-strength guy than a true pitcher. Even when he was throwing in the mid-90s at Notre Dame, he didn't miss a lot of bats. His fastball straightens out when he overthrows, and while his slider and splitter have their moments, neither is a consistent weapon. His command also isn't as strong as it needs to be.
The other problem is that in the last three years, the Cubs have moved him from a starter in Triple-A to a reliever in the majors, and back and forth again . . . again . . . and again. That's tough on any pitcher, especially one who's as raw and relatively inexperienced as Samardzija. I don't ever seeing him becoming a starter, so I'd commit to making him a full-time reliever going forward. Have him focus on two pitches and not worry about pacing himself would be the best way to get value out of Samardzija.