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2008 MLB Draft Overview

No team ever has drafted first overall two years in a row. No college or high school ever has produced the top pick in consecutive years.

One will certainly happen in the 2008 draft, which begins June 5 at 2 p.m. The Rays picked No. 1 overall last year, taking Vanderbilt lefthander David Price with the top selection. They stand first in line again this year after finishing with the worst record in baseball again in 2007.

Whether the Commodores will produce the top overall pick again remains to be seen, but the team has produced the No. 1 prospect for a second straight season. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez was Baseball America's Freshman of the Year in 2006 and hit 40 homers in his first two seasons. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder also has had two banner summers with USA Baseball's college national team, leading the team in batting and RBIs in both seasons and in home runs last summer.

However, Alvarez hit a speed bump on the way to join­ing his former teammate as a No. 1 overall pick. In the first game of the 2008 season on Feb. 22, Alvarez was hit by a pitch on his right hand by Oregon State freshman lefthander Tanner Robles. He finished the game but didn't play the rest of the weekend, and was soon diagnosed with a broken hamate bone.

The injury kept Alvarez out of the lineup until April 1, and he returned in Vanderbilt's 25th game. He was round­ing into form with three homers in a five-game stretch in the first week of May. So even though Alvarez missed five weeks of play, he remained the No. 1 player on several draft boards.

"We think Alvarez separated himself in the past," one National League scouting director said. "He was the top tal­ent coming in and I still think that. He fell behind a little bit, but talent is still talent."

That said, draft reality is still draft reality, and the No. 1 talent rarely goes No. 1 overall anymore. The No. 1 overall pick more frequently goes to the player with the best mix of bonus demands, talent and fit for an organization. With Alvarez, that mix was combustible. He's a client of Scott Boras Corp.. and industry sources indicated that he would require a major league contract worth about $8.5 million.

That left the race for No. 1 open, with three other players making a case to snag the spot. San Diego lefthander Brian Matusz, an unsigned fourth-rounder of the Angels out of an Arizona high school three seasons ago, has shown three above-average pitches at times and has performed consis­tently for three years. Florida State catcher Buster Posey, a third-round talent out of high school as a pitcher and infielder, has moved toward the top of the draft class after a dominant season offensively and defensively. And Georgia prep shortstop,Tim Beckham, despite a solid but unspec­tacular senior year, remained the consensus choice as the most well-rounded player on the board.

"With this year's crop, its not easy to pick in the top five," said one American League scouting director. "I feel like it's true that this is a year where you might get a player you're happy with at 15 or 25, considering what you have to pay in the top five."


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First Basemen And Relievers

After ranking second in the nation (behind Price) in strikeouts last spring, Matusz entered the year in the top five and has stayed there, nudging ahead of Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow as the consensus top pitcher available. Most scouts consider it a thin crop of college starting pitch­, ers, with just live likely to be first-round picks: Crow and Matusz, Eastern Kentucky lefthander Christian Friedrich, Tulane rigittliantler Shooter Hunt and Fresno State right-bander Tanner Scheppers.

After thathowever, the starting pitching class thins out. The top high school arms entering the season were hard Southern California flamethrowers Gerrit Cole and Aaron Hicks, with the latter also a first-round talent as an outfield­er. All three have had inconsistent springs, though Melville could still go in the first half of the first round.

The pitchers making the most news, however, were col­lege relief pitchers. Georgia's Joshua Fields, a second-round pick last year who didn't sign, didn't give up a run until May and had pitched his way into the first round this sea­son. Hard-throwing Arizona righthander Ryan Perry was likely to join him after flourishing again in a relief role after failing in a stint as a starter. And in a down year for talent in Texas, three college relievers (all righthanders) had emerged as the state's top draft prospects: Texas Christian's Andrew Cashner, Rice's Bryan Price and Texas Tech's Zach Stewart.

The only position that has better depth was first base, which could produce eight players selected in the first two rounds . "It's a first basemen and relievers draft," said one NL club's talent evaluator. "Those are the two positions with the most difference-makers."

The difference-makers at the top of the draft, however,play more premium positions. Posey's ability to move from shortstop to catcher as a sophomore made him a probable first-rounder entering 2008, but he wasn't a lock to be a single-digit selection after a modest summer in the Cape Cod League. He was having a monster season this spring, though, hitting .469/.571/.851 through 194 at-bats, and his 16 homers more than doubled his career total entering the year.

With Tampa Bay's young big league roster full of impact bats and a farm system loaded with talented power arms, Posey moved into strong consideration for the No. 1 selec­tion as a catcher who could move quickly. The Rays had fol­lowed him closely, with scouting director R.J. Harrison and executive vice president Andrew Friedman took in Florida State's series at Clemson together.

"With this year's crop and what they have, he makes sense," an AL scouting director said. "They are loaded every­where else, and if you're not sold on Matusz or Crow, I can really see it. He's a better offensively than I thought. I thought he was a bottom-of-the-order hitter after last sum­mer, but he can really catch and he's shown more impact with the bat this spring."

Beckham has all-around talent but hasn't even been the best Beckham in the state of Georgia. Gordon Beckham doesn't have Tim's athleticism or defensive ability at short, but the shortstop had led the Bulldogs to the Southeastern Conference regular-season crown and was second in the nation with 22 homers. Beckham was expected to move into the first 10 picks, perhaps into the top five.

Slot System Adjustments

Last year's draft incorporated two significant changes to the draft: The first round was televised on ESPN for the first time, and Major League Baseball instituted an Aug. 15 signing deadline. ESPN again will put thedraft on TV, showing all 46 picks in the first and supplemental rounds. And the signing deadline is in effect again, even though the deadline didn't lead to a reduction in signing bonuses, as MLB hoped. While MLB reduced its suggested slot bonuses last year by 10 percent from the 2006 bonuses, bonuses for first-rounders went up 9 percent from 2006 and were the third-largest in draft history, trailing only 2001 and 2002.

Front-office executives contacted for this story said MLB had yet to inform dubs about the 2008 slot recommenda­tions. However, the enforcer of MLB's slot system last sea­son, former MLB vice president Frank Coonelly, has taken over as president of the Pirates. Pittsburgh picks second overall, and Coonelly said in his introductory press confer­ence that the Pirates wouldn't be beholden to a slot bonus and would do what they needed to improve the club. He has reiterated the point since.

One NL scouting director commented, "Everyone will be waiting to see on Pittsburgh. Is (Coonelly) going to step out of the system?" If the Pirates do, the director predicted other teams could follow suit, though those decisions will be driven more by ownership than scouting directors.

MLB officials already have informed clubs of several snt changes to the slotting program. Last year, teams were tot( to not give any player selected after the fifth round bonus higher than $123,300, the slot for the last pick of the fifth round. This year, clubs have been informed they can go u to $250,000 for bonuses for two players without havmg to run those bonuses through the commissioner's office.

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