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Draft feels less chilly the second time
by Jim Callis
CHICAGO—In 2003, I conducted my first annual 10-round draft based on Baseball America's own scouting reports. It didn't go as well as I had planned.
Shooting for as much realism as possible, I tried so hard to keep myself to a $3.75 million budget while picking 31st each round that I pinched more pennies than Carl Pohlad. I spent just $2.9 million and my talent acquisition didn't look as good as my bottom line. My first draft crop now has a year and a half of pro ball behind it, and the only certain keeper is my first-rounder, White Sox outfielder Ryan Sweeney.
Undeterred, I drafted 10 more players in 2004 (BA, July 5-18). I randomly assigned myself the 21st slot in each round, with a budget of $4 million, giving myself a little extra cash after saving some the year before.
With this being our Draft Report Card issue, it's time to check my initial returns.
Best Pro Debut: It puzzled me that Louisiana State OF Jon Zeringue (first round for me/actually drafted by the Diamondbacks in the second) wasn't getting any first-round consideration in the real draft. Perhaps he would now after pounding high Class A pitching to the tune of .335/.374/.552 with 10 homers, 41 RBIs and nine steals in 56 games. OF Mike Butia (4/Indians, 5) was a short-season New York-Penn League all-star, hitting .315-5-44. LHP Andrew Dobies (3/Red Sox, 3) pitched very well while on tight pitch counts in the NY-P, posting a 2.03 ERA, .181 opponent average and a 36-8 K-BB ratio in 27 innings. He commands his high-80s fastball well, and also had a slider and changeup that are plus pitches at times.
Best Athlete: Zeringue isn't just a hitter. He has a plus arm and average speed, making him a good right fielder. RHP/OF Micah Owings (10/Cubs, 19) starred as a two-way player at Georgia Tech and in the Cape Cod League. Scouts think he's a safer bet on the mound with his bulldog approach, high-80s sinker and a decent slider.
Best Pure Hitter: Zeringue. Butia is a comparable hitter but doesn't have the same athleticism. 3B Brad McCann (5/Marlins, 6) has a knack for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball. He hit .284-3-13 in 28 NY-P games before breaking the hamate bone in his left wrist. If he can improve his throwing accuracy, he should be able to stay at the hot corner.
Best Raw Power: Butia, who set the James Madison home run record with 18 this spring, has a little more pop than Zeringue. Owings ranks fourth nationally with 69 career high school homers. He led the Yellow Jackets in homers in each of his two college seasons, though he's also prone to strikeouts.
Fastest Runner: I didn't draft anyone with above-average speed.
Best Defensive Player: SS Grant Plumley (7/Yankees, 9) offers plus hands and arm strength to go with solid range. He committed just four errors in 61 games at Oral Roberts and tied for the NY-P lead with 44 double plays. There are questions about his bat, however, and he hit a soft .252.
Best Fastball: RHP Jason Quarles (6/Pirates, 7) threw 94-96 mph all spring and summer, topping out at 98. He had a 4.56 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 25 NY-P innings. RHP Erik Cordier (2/Royals, 2) is a projectable 6-foot-3 and 197 pounds, and he already throws 90-94 mph. He had a 5.19 ERA and a 22-21 K-BB ratio in 35 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Best Breaking Ball: Quarles had one of the best fastballs in the draft, and his curveball is even better. Cordier's curveball and changeup are plus pitches when he's dialed in.
Most Intriguing Background: Quarles arrived at Southern last fall as an outfielder from Glen Oaks (Mich.) CC. He couldn't crack the lineup, but the coaches noted his arm strength and moved him to the mound. McCann's brother Brian is a top catching prospect in the Braves system, and his father Howard is a former head coach at Marshall. Owings' younger brother Jon Mark signed with Atlanta as a 17th-rounder in June.
Closest To The Majors: Zeringue is off to a nice head start. As a polished lefty, Dobies could catch him.
The One Who Got Away: No one! The Cubs weren't able to sign Owings, who transferred to Tulane, but I'm confident I could have gotten him for the $700,000 I budgeted.
Not Yet Mentioned: C Richard Mercado (8/Diamondbacks, 12) has average tools as a hitter and defender. Using a compact stroke, he hit .283-4-29 in 58 games in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, showing impressive plate discipline. He excels at calling a game. I took finesse LHP Jeff Gogal (9/Marlins, 12) mainly on the basis of his 0.60 ERA in the Cape Cod League in 2003. His command and plus changeup weren't as effective in the NY-P, where he had a 4.56 ERA.
Assessment: I'm feeling much better about my second crop, though spending an extra $1 million certainly helped. Bats are definitely the strength of this draft, and Cordier and Quarles both have electric if raw arms.
You can reach Jim Callis by sending e-mail to email@example.com.