There was very sad news on Sunday, when former Miami coach Ron Fraser died at age 79 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. When I was Baseball America’s college beat writer from 1989-97, talking to him was one of the highlights of my job. College baseball wouldn’t be anywhere near the same if not for The Wizard of College Baseball.
When Miami hired Fraser to coach its baseball team in 1963, he had a $2,200 salary, a converted shower for an office, a cow pasture for a field and a mandate not to spend any money. So he raised funds himself and generated interest in the Hurricanes program with such stunts as introducing college baseball’s first batgirls (the Sugarcanes) and having his team wear green gloves on St. Patrick’s Day. He met Miami businessman George Light, who became the principal donor in the building of Mark Light Field (in memory of his son, who died of muscular dystrophy), which opened in 1973 as college baseball’s first modern facility.
By 1977, Mark Light Field had become Mark Light Stadium, replete with an electronic scoreboard and concrete bleachers. Fraser paid off the stadium debt by hosting a $5,000-a-plate dinner on the infield, with international chefs preparing a four-hour, 11-course meal amid ice carvings, goldfish ponds and strolling violinists. He kept promoting, giving away Mercedes convertibles and free open-heart surgery, and creating the Miami Maniac, the first famous college baseball mascot.
Fraser’s most important accomplishment may have been persuading ESPN to broadcast regular-season games and the College World Series in 1980, further catalyzing an increase in popularity for college baseball. And he could coach, too.
Fraser’s teams captured CWS titles in 1982 and 1985. When he retired after the 1992 season, his 1,271 victories (against just 438 defeats) ranked second all-time behind only Southern California’s Rod Dedeaux’ 1,332. Fraser coached the Netherlands to the 1960 European championship, and he won a gold medal with Team USA at the 1973 World Championships and silvers at the 1971 and 1987 Pan American Games. He retired after guiding the United States to a fourth-place finish at the 1992 Olympics, when baseball debuted as a full-medal sport.
If there were a Mount Rushmore of college baseball coaches, Fraser would be up there with Dedeaux, Skip Bertman (Fraser’s former pitching coach with the Hurricanes) and Augie Garrido. Rest in peace, Ron.
The 2013 draft order inched closer to finalization last Tuesday, when Rafael Soriano signed a two-year contract with the Nationals. Because Soriano was a compensation free agent who turned down a qualifying offer from the Yankees, New York will receive a pick at the end of the first round (No. 32 overall as of now), giving it three of the 32 first-round selections. Washington forfeits what originally was the No. 31 overall choice and had moved up to No. 29, a pick that vanishes into the ether under the new draft rules.
Just two potential compensation free agents remain: Michael Bourn (Braves) and Kyle Lohse (Cardinals). The updated draft order is as follows:
7. Red Sox
9. Pirates (for failure to sign 2012 first-rounder Mark Appel)
10. Blue Jays
18. White Sox
Angels (forfeited No. 22 pick for free agent Josh Hamilton)
Braves (forfeited No. 28 pick for free agent B.J. Upton)
Nationals (forfeited No. 31 pick for free agent Rafael Soriano)
xx. Cardinals (potential pick for free agent Kyle Lohse)
29. Rays (for Upton)
30. Rangers (for Hamilton)
xx. Braves (potential pick for free agent Michael Bourn)
31. Yankees (for free agent Nick Swisher)
32. Yankees (for Soriano)
Supplemental First Round (Competitive-Balance Lottery Picks)
34. Marlins (acquired from Pirates)
38. Tigers (acquired from Marlins)
Indians (forfeited No. 42 pick for Swisher)
Supplemental Second Round (Competitive-Balance Lottery Picks)
73. Marlins (acquired from Tigers)
76. Mets (for failure to sign 2012 second-rounder Teddy Stankewicz)
96. Phillies (for failure to sign 2012 second-rounder Alec Rash)
Supplemental Third Round
106. Athletics (for failure to sign 2012 third-rounder Kyle Twomey)
Now that we’ve had almost a full cycle of the Collective Bargaining Agreement draft changes, with the draft, competitive-balance lottery and reduced free-agent compensation, what are your thoughts on the new system? Will the sentiment among agents remain to get their clients out and playing quickly again, or with budget-saving seniors getting pushed up the board and teams spreading their pool funds around, have their been some loopholes identified that are going to make signings less cut and dried in year two? It seemed from most perspectives that it helped the process and lots of high picks got some quality experience in their first pro summer, which should accelerate their development.
This may sound contradictory, but while I favor a free-market system and would let teams pay draftees whatever they want, most of the changes with the new system were positive. The most noticeable was that players signed quickly rather than having MLB force teams to wait to announce deals that exceeded guidelines from the commissioner’s office, a charade that delayed the pro debuts of many top prospects in past years.
Because the new rules offer strict draft-pick penalties for teams that exceed their assigned bonus pools by more than 5 percent, clubs with the higher bonus pools (those with the worst records and smallest revenues) can claim a disproportionate share of talent, which MLB believes will help level the playing field at the major league level. I don’t totally agree with that sentiment.
Under the old rules, teams like the Nationals, Pirates and Royals spent lavishly on the draft, which is still the biggest bargain in player acquisition. All three were severely limited in what they could spend in 2012, when they combined for $16.3 million in bonuses—down from $46.1 million the year before. Disadvantaged teams can outspend more fortunate clubs in the draft, especially with the competitive-balance lottery and tighter free-agent compensation taking effect this year, but not nearly to the extent they could in the past.
There are no loopholes to exploit in the new draft rules, and I believe 2013 will unfold much like 2012. The assigned pick values will rise somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-8 percent, and the most aggressive teams will turn to cheap college seniors in rounds 6-10 in order to gain a little more financial flexibility. Clubs will continue to find a way to sign most of the best high school players but no one will be willing to give up future first-round picks to blow past their assigned pool by more than 5 percent.
With the organization Top 10 Prospects lists wrapping up at Baseball America, what would a Top 10 list look like from the pseudo farm system you’ve compiled from the hypothetical drafts you’ve conducted since 2003?
It has been three years since I compiled a Top 10 from my hypothetical drafts, so it’s a good time to do another one. Each year since 2003, I have randomly assigned myself a draft position and made picks in each of the first 10 rounds (a complete recap can be found here).
My 10 drafts have produced 10 players who have graduated to the major leagues: Ryan Sweeney (first round, 2003), Micah Owings (10th round, 2004), Michael Bowden (supplemental first round, 2005), Jordan Schafer (third round, 2005), Aaron Cunningham (fifth round, 2005), Daniel McCutchen (eighth round, 2005), Jason Heyward (first round, 2007), Sam Demel (third round, 2007), Will Middlebrooks (fifth round, 2007), Christian Friedrich (first round, 2008). Heyward and Middlebrooks are the jewels of that group, which doesn’t include Luke Hochevar (first round, 2005), whom I hypothetically failed to sign.
Justin James (fourth round, 2003), Bryan Morris (second round, 2005), Brett Sinkbeil (first round, 2006), Matt Angle (sixth round, 2007) and Blake Tekotte (third round, 2008) also have reached the big leagues, as have prospects Nos. 1, 2 and 10 on my pretend Top 10 below:
1. Shelby Miller, rhp, Cardinals (first round, 2009)
Baseball’s best righty pitching prospect not named Dylan Bundy.
2. Chris Archer, rhp, Rays (fifth round, 2006)
James Shields trade could open spot in Tampa Bay rotation for him.
3. Kyle Gibson, rhp, Twins (ninth round, 2006)
Recovered from Tommy John surgery, looked strong in Arizona Fall League.
4. Garin Cecchini, 3b, Red Sox (third round, 2010)
Pure hitter used savvy to steal 51 bases in 57 attempts last season.
5. Taylor Jungmann, rhp, Brewers (first round, 2011)
Relies heavily on 90-96 mph sinker, which could make him a No. 3 starter.
6. Mikie Mathtook, of, Rays (10th round, 2008)
As with Gibson, I signed him before he went to college and became a first-rounder.
7. Ty Hensley, rhp, Yankees (first round, 2012)
Had one of the best fastball/curveball combinations in last year’s draft.
8. Daniel Norris, lhp, Blue Jays (supplemental first round, 2011)
Despite rough 2012 pro debut, still shows the makings of three quality pitches.
9. Carson Kelly, 3b, Cardinals (second round, 2012)
Has the power and arm strength that teams covet at the hot corner.
10. Tim Federowicz, c, Dodgers (seventh round, 2008)
Offers solid defense and just enough bat to start in the big leagues.
Phillies first baseman/outfielder Darin Ruf paced the minor leagues with 38 homers in 2012. How did the last 10 minor league home run leaders fare in their major league careers?
Lightly regarded before the 2012 season, Ruf exploded in August, tying a professional record with 20 homers in one month. He added three more longballs during a September callup and blasted 10 in the Venezuelan Winter League, finishing 2012 with 51 homers.
Leading the minors in homers is no guarantee of future big league success, however. Of the 12 players who accomplished that feat (there were two years with ties) from 2002-11, only three have become big league all-stars: Ryan Howard (2004), Mark Trumbo (2010) and Bryan LaHair (2011). LaHair should come with an asterisk, going from all-star in the first half of 2012 to a big dropoff in the second half to moving on to Japan’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in November.
Mike Moustakas (2010) should join that all-star contingent in the future, but the rest of the home run champions aren’t a distinguished group. Ivan Cruz (2002), Graham Koonce (2003), Brandon Wood (2005), Kevin Witt (2006), Craig Brazell (2007), Dallas McPherson (2008) and Mitch Jones (2009) reached the major leagues but couldn’t establish themselves there. Jon Gaston (2009) didn’t even do that, topping out in Double-A before getting released in mid-2012.