The NFL draft begins Thursday, and as usual, there are several prospects with baseball connections. The most prominent is Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who projects to go in the first two rounds. As an Oklahoma high school righthander, he was the Yankees' top choice (second round) in the 2002 draft. Though he ultimately never got past high Class A, Weeden was part of the December 2003 trade that sent Kevin Brown from the Dodgers to New York.
Two other potential NFL draftees were picked in baseball. Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson signed with the Rockies as a fourth-rounder in 2010 and spent that summer in the minors before putting baseball on hold. He figures to go in the same range in the football draft. Georgia Tech wide receiver Roddy Jones went in the 39th round to the White Sox as a Georgia prep outfielder in 2007 but didn't sign.
UCLA tight end Cory Harkey wasn't drafted in baseball, but his father Mike was the fourth overall pick by the Cubs in 1987 and won 36 games over eight major league seasons.
I thought Alvarez was the best player in the 2008 draft, but he certainly hasn't played like it. Drafted second overall that June by the Pirates and signed to a $6.355 million big league contract, he threw up a red flag by reporting to instructional league considerably out of shape. Though he seemed to be on the right path when he homered 13 times in the second half of his rookie 2010 season, he slumped to .191/.272/.289 last year and is off to a 4-for-37 start with 16 strikeouts this April.
In J.J.'s article, he had several damning quotes about Alvarez from an American League scout, including this one: "He was terrible. I was shocked how bad he looks. He's a different guy right now. He won't hit Triple-A pitching right now. He looks bad physically and the swing looks bad."
There have been a number of notable position-player busts over the years. Two No. 1 overall picks, Steve Chilcott (Mets, 1966) and Matt Bush (Padres, 2004), failed to reach the big leagues, though Chilcott was waylaid by injuries and Bush never should have been picked that high. Two other No. 1 selections, Al Chambers (Mariners, 1979) and Shawn Abner (Mets, 1984), got to the majors but only briefly and did little there. Danny Goodwin, the only two-time first overall choice, batted just .236/.301/.373 in 252 big league games.
Three players taken in the first five picks—John Jones (Senators, 1966), Ted Nicholson (White Sox, 1969) and future NFL quarterback Jay Schroeder (Blue Jays, 1979)—failed to get past Class A. Toronto took the clear best college player in 1982 with the No. 2 choice that June, and saw Augie Schmidt stall in Triple-A. The White Sox grabbed Kurt Brown fifth overall in 1985, and he couldn't advance further than Double-A while the four players drafted ahead of him (B.J. Surhoff, Will Clark, Bobby Witt, Barry Larkin) went on to lengthy and productive careers. So did the guy chosen right behind Brown: Barry Bonds.
The Marlins handed Josh Booty a then-record $1.6 million bonus as the No. 5 overall pick in 1994, and he got only 26 major league at-bats. They didn't come on merit, but rather as a ploy to keep his interest in baseball. That didn't last, and Booty went on to play quarterback at Louisiana State and as a backup with the NFL's Cleveland Browns.
Top-five-pick disappointments of a more recent vintage include Jeff Clement (Mariners, 2005), Tim Beckham (Rays, 2008) and Donavan Tate (Padres, 2009). Seattle was set to choose Troy Tulowitzki at No. 3 before a late switch to Clement, the only player in the first seven picks in a loaded 2005 draft not to become a star. Tampa Bay took Beckham, who has reached Triple-A but may not profile as a regular, over Buster Posey. Tate's injury problems and two failed drug tests have been more notable than anything he has done on the field.
The closest parallel to Alvarez is Dave Roberts, whom the Padres selected No. 1 overall in 1972. A day after San Diego picked him, he made his big league debut. The next year, he batted .286 with 21 homers and like Alvarez in 2009, Roberts appeared destined for stardom. But he hit just .167 in 1974 and never was a full-time starter in the majors again.
Perhaps if Alvarez can get himself into better shape, he can reclaim the bat speed and hitting ability that made him the No. 2 choice just four years ago. If not, you could argue that he's the biggest waste of hitting talent in draft history. None of the players mentioned above generated the same kind of glowing offensive scouting reports, and none signed for as much as Alvarez did.
Teams considered Marrero a top-five-pick talent when the season began, which made it a dicey proposition that he'd be available to the Padres with the No. 7 overall selection. While scouts still believe Marrero is a no-doubt shortstop, they wonder how much offense he'll provide after watching him hit .278/.340/.410. He's sliding and likely still will be on the board when San Diego makes its decision.
At this point—though much can change in the next six weeks—I'd expect Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton, Florida catcher Mike Zunino and four college righthanders (Stanford's Mark Appel, Louisiana State's Kevin Gausman, Texas A&M's Michael Wacha and San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer) to go in some order before the Padres pick. When you're choosing that high, you have to worry about grabbing the best talent and not worrying about positional needs.
That said, the best talent at No. 7 may well be a shortstop, either Puerto Rican high schooler Carlos Correa or Louisiana prepster Gavin Cecchini. There's a chance Correa could grow too big for the position, though his power would make him a fit at third base. Other possibilities include Florida high school outfielder Albert Almora, California prep lefthander Max Fried and Duke righthander Marcus Stroman. I'd opt for someone with more upside than Marrero.
To start, we need to separate the full-season and short-season leagues. At the lower levels of the minors, defensive play is erratic and leads to more run scoring. For instance, teams in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League averaged 4.76 runs per game in 2011. That figured ranked fifth among the six leagues that begin play in June but would have placed sixth among the 10 circuits that start in the April.
At the full-season level, the California (5.41 runs per club) and Triple-A Pacific Coast (5.33) leagues favor hitters the most, according to the last five years of data. The high Class A Florida State (4.44), Triple-A International (4.52) and low Class A Midwest (4.59) leagues are a pitcher's best friends. The high Class A Carolina League was the lowest-scoring circuit last year with 4.35 runs per team but had a more neutral average of 4.69 from 2007-11.
In Rookie and short-season ball, the Pioneer (5.61) and Arizona (5.49) leagues are hitter's paradises, while pitchers find it easiest to survive in the New-York Penn (4.41) and Gulf Coast (4.43) leagues.
For more detailed analysis, check out Matt Eddy's Minor League Blog post from last October.