Ability, Not Signability

Slotting concerns play less of a role in 2008 draft

ORLANDO—Conventional wisdom would say things usually get easier the second (or third) time around, but that wasn't the case for the Rays, who had the No. 1 overall pick for the second year in a row and the third time in the last six years.

This year's decision may have been the toughest. Unlike the previous two times they had the No. 1 pick, there was no consensus on which player should be the first choice. Vanderbilt lefthander David Price was the obvious guy last year, and in 2003 it was high school outfielder Delmon Young.

Tim Beckham
So the Rays held out until the very end before deciding who would be the first pick this year.

The 2008 draft class seemed to have at least three players with the talent to go first, and two of them seemed to be perfect fits for the Rays. Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez was the top talent in the eyes of some, but his price tag was high, and the Rays have Evan Longoria at third base for years to come. So Tampa Bay's choice came down to Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham and Florida State catcher Buster Posey.

The decision came down to the eve of the draft, less than 15 hours before the pick was to be made.

"We knew at some point late last night," Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said after the first day of the draft. "We felt like at the end of the day, Tim Beckham had a chance to be the best major leaguer of the bunch and the best player for us."

Beckham became the third high school shortstop taken with the first pick in the past five years. Justin Upton went to the Diamondbacks in 2005, and Matt Bush went to the Padres in 2004, ending an 11-year drought dating back to 1993, when Alex Rodriguez was selected by the Mariners.

"You look at this ballplayer and all of a sudden, there's about five players that came to mind. It was kind of a combination of the Uptons, Gary Sheffield, Orlando Hudson and Brandon Phillips."
—Rays scouting
director R.J. Harrison
Like the other shortstops before him, Beckham is an athletic player with five-tool potential, and he was Baseball America's top high school prospect throughout the year. He set the stage for his selection with outstanding performances on the showcase circuit last summer, which ended with MVP honors in the Aflac Classic.

"Last summer when I saw this kid, I saw him at a pretty good stretch in Lakeland, Fla., (at the East Coast Professional Showcase) and then at the Aflac game in San Diego," Harrison said. "You look at this ballplayer and all of a sudden, there's about five players that came to mind. It was kind of a combination of the Uptons, Gary Sheffield, Orlando Hudson and Brandon Phillips."

Of course, none of those players is still playing shortstop, and some scouts have questioned whether Beckham will be able to stay there. The Rays said they were confident that he can.

"I think the things that separate this kid and the reasons why I think he has a chance to play in the middle of the infield at shortstop are two things: I think he has the physical ability to do it, and I think he has the personality to play shortstop," Harrison said.

According To Form

After the Rays made their decision, the next three picks of the first round went according to form, with Alvarez going to the Pirates, Florida high school slugger Eric Hosmer to the Royals and San Diego lefthander Brian Matusz to the Orioles.

The Pirates had their eyes on Alvarez all spring and weren't going to let him slip by as Matt Wieters, a premium college hitter who fell to fifth overall, did last year. The Royals picked next, and similarly it was clear Hosmer was their man. Like Alvarez, Hosmer is a Boras Corp. client and is sure to have a high price tag, but this is the third consecutive year the Royals have picked a Boras Corp. client with their top pick.

The first real drama of the day came with the Giants and the fifth pick. San Francisco had been mum until Commissioner Bud Selig made the announcement that the Giants would select Posey. The Giants were after a quality bat who could make an impact quickly, and their choice came down to Posey and South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak. Posey's bat may not be the equal of Smoak's, a switch-hitter with premium power, but Posey plays a premium position and has athleticism for the position.

The Marlins then had Kyle Skipworth fall into their laps and were more than pleased to take him. Skipworth is the top high school catcher in this year's class and could have the highest ceiling of any prospect this year.

"We were excited that he got there," Marlins scouting director Stan Meek said. "We felt like a premium position player is hard to find and when you throw in the lefthanded bat and the power potential, it made good sense for us."

Picking at seven, the Reds chose Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso over Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham, so the White Sox took Beckham with the eighth pick. The Nationals then snapped up the top college righthander in the draft, Missouri's Aaron Crow, with the ninth pick.

Ability Over Signability

As the first nine picks showed, the most notable trend at the top of the first round was the willingness of teams to take players according to ability rather than signability. Alvarez and Hosmer are both Boras Corp. clients and were selected back-to-back with the second and third overall picks by small-market teams. The Giants, Reds and Nationals did the same thing when they took Posey, Alonso and Crow—all players whose representatives have reportedly thrown out signing bonus demands well above the slot recommendations.

Boras Corp. client Gerrit Cole dropping to the Yankees is the closest example to Rick Porcello falling to the Tigers last year, but Cole is not the consensus top high school pitcher in this draft as Porcello was last year. He was No. 17 in BA's predraft rankings, which is not far from where he landed at pick 28.

High school righthander Tim Melville, whose talent would merit a first-round pick, is the one exception, but even his fall was tied as much to a college commitment as bonus demands. Melville's family sent a letter to clubs in May saying that he was strongly committed to North Carolina and would sign only for a bonus approaching those of the top 15 picks. Melville would be most comparable to Matt Harvey last year, who dropped to the third round and also ended up at North Carolina. Melville wound up being drafted by the Royals in the fourth round.

Jason Castro
The Astros pulled the first surprise of the draft by taking Stanford catcher Jason Castro at No. 10. Castro was regarded as a back-of-the-first-round selection, but the Astros regarded him as the last top-tier catching prospect so they pounced on him.

"It's the total package guy," general manager Ed Wade told the Houston Chronicle. "It's offense and defense. It's the intelligence. Obviously there aren't a lot of guys who run through a Stanford program that don't come through a good head on their shoulders.

"We talked about (the fact that) aside from the physical attributes the ability to handle a pitching staff and the aptitude to do those type of things. To run a staff and run a game and all the feedback exclusive of the tools, which was self evident, all came back on a very positive basis."

The second half of the first round then saw a run on college relievers, which led to a group of surprise selections between 22 and 30. When the Cubs, Mariners and Tigers selected college righthanders Andrew Cashner, Josh Fields and Ryan Perry, the Mets and Padres had to fall back on college position players. New York selected shortstop Reese Havens with the 23rd pick, and the Padres took power-hitting first baseman Allan Dykstra.

While most of the surprises came from players who rose, Eastern Kentucky's Christrian Friedrich was the draft's big surprise faller. Ranked as the draft's No. 14 prospect and consistently projected to go as high as the top 10, Friedrich wound up falling to the Rockies at 25. Friedrich's freefall seemed attributable to circumstance as much as anything.

The last surprise of the first round came when the Indians chose Lonnie Chisenhall. Known for his involvement in a theft that got him kicked out of South Carolina a year ago, Chisenhall ended up at Pitt (N.C.) CC. He has one of the purest lefthanded bats this draft, and Indians scouting director John Mirabelli, who coached Chisenhall's high school coach at North Carolina State and roomed with South Carolina coach Ray Tanner in college, felt comfortable with Chisenhall's makeup.

"Certainly I think that when you take a guy with some history, it opens you up to some criticism and I understand that. Of all the kids we've drafted in the eight years I've done this, we know more about this kid than any others," he said. "I feel as confident on this kid, knowing his character and who he is as a person, as I can on anyone.

"Ray Tanner 100 percent endorsed the kid's character. It was a one-time incident, he learned from it, he admits his mistake and he's moving on."