By TOM STAD
August 22, 2008
Last Friday was the deadline for 2008 Amateur Draft picks to decide whether to sign with the organizations that selected them or wait at least another year before starting their professional careers. One school in particular was very happy when Saturday morning rolled around. Surprisingly, the Yankees could not ink their top pick, right-handed starting pitcher Gerrit Cole of Santa Ana, Calif., and UCLA will be the benefactor of Cole’s decision not to take the $2 million New York offered. The No. 28 overall pick will head to Westwood to pitch for the Bruins next season instead.
The highest pick not to sign was the ninth overall selection Aaron Crow, who threw for the University of Missouri last season. Crow could not reach an agreement with the Nationals. The righty has singed on to play for an independent league club and will re-enter the draft in 2009, while the Nationals will receive a compensatory selection in next year’s draft.
The only other first-round selection not to sign by the deadline was Joshua Fields, the No. 20 overall pick by the Mariners from the University of Georgia. Because Fields was a senior and has no collegiate eligibility left, he has until the week before next year’s draft to come to terms with Seattle. Odds are he’ll sign well before that, but as of now, the top closer in the NCAA last year has yet to put his signature on a professional contract.
2008 NCAA Player of the Year Buster Posey was one of those who waited until the deadline was fast approaching to sign a deal. And what a deal it was! The former Florida State backstop inked the richest deal of any draft pick. Selected fifth overall by the Giants, the catcher is guaranteed $6.2 million, which is $50,000 more than top pick Tim Beckham got from Tampa Bay. Posey could have been the top pick overall but he was reportedly looking for nearly double the bonus Beckham got, causing his slide to the fifth spot. I imagine he’s quite happy now that he got more money than Beckham.
Second overall pick Pedro Alvarez, a third baseman from Vanderbilt, was able to pry the Pirates wallet open and nab $6 million in guaranteed money shortly before the deadline. That was a shocker, but Pittsburgh needed to make a statement by signing Alvarez after passing on super-prospect Matt Wieters - now tearing up the minors in the Orioles system - a year ago because of his contract demands.
Cape Cod League Championship
A long wait is over down on Cape Cod. The Harwich Mariners won their first Cape Bod Baseball League title in 21 years by beating the Cotuit Kettleers 2-1 last Friday to sweep the championship series. And they did it in dramatic fashion, as North Carolina rising junior Mark Fleury laced a pinch-hit, walk-off two-run single in front of more than 6,000 fans. Fleury will undoubtedly look back on this summer fondly as he was finally able to hoist a championship trophy following two unsuccessful appearances in the College World Series with the Tar Heels.
Harwich was held in check for most of the day by Cotuit lefty Nick Hernandez. The Tennessee junior-to-be hurled eight scoreless innings and came back out to start the ninth. Auburn’s Joe Sanders led off the frame with a triple which put an end to Hernandez’ day, and Stanford’s Drew Storen came on. But the Cardinal closer couldn’t close the door and set the stage for Fleury’s heroics by hitting a man and issuing a walk to load the bases.
Despite a pair of losses, Team USA (5-2) was able to qualify for the semifinal round and will have the opportunity to reclaim the gold medal they surrendered when they failed to qualify for the Athens games in 2004. One of the keys to the Americans’ success thus far has been the squad’s lone collegian, San Diego State right-handed starter Steve Strasburg. The rising sophomore hurled six-plus innings of no-hit ball and struck out 11 hitters in a rain-shortened 7-0 win over The Netherlands last week. He has yet to be tagged with a loss as a member of the national team and will be head coach Davey Johnson’s pick to take the hill in the semifinal round against defending champion Cuba (6-1) today. It will undoubtedly be his biggest test to date in what many see as the “real” gold medal game.
South Korea (7-0) may have something to say about that should they be able to dispatch Japan (4-3) in the second semifinal. Cuba’s hitters are swinging some hot bats right now, as they destroyed host China 17-1 Wednesday in game that lasted just seven innings. Team USA is also coming in to the semifinal round feeling confident, as the Americans outlasted Japan 4-2 in 11 innings on Wednesday.
Today’s winners will face off in tomorrow’s gold medal game while the losers will play for the bronze. Those two games will mark the end of baseball as an Olympic sport, for now. There is always the prospect of baseball - as well as its counterpart, softball, which is also being dropped - getting reinstated, but for now, Beijing will be the final games for both sports. The success of the World Baseball Classic and the unwillingness of MLB to halt the season for two weeks every four years have led to the sport’s demise as an Olympic staple.
Personally, I enjoy the World Baseball Classic more than Olympic baseball, even though it has been blamed for some slow starts - even poor full seasons - by major leaguers. Having the best major leaguers competing for their country against the world’s best is more appealing than a group of minor leaguers and a college player representing the U.S. at an international tournament in which pros are allowed. If the Olympics remained a true amateur event and only college players - or non-professionals from other countries - were allowed, I would be in favor of the sport coming back. But seeing the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard, Hanley Ramirez and others competing for their respective countries in the World Baseball Classic is much more appealing, and, I believe, a more accurate representation of which nation is the best in the world.
Tom Stad’s Amateur Hour runs every Friday here on National Pastime.
Be sure to check out our previous Amateur Hour columns: To sign or not to sign?, Summer on Cape Cod, USA Baseball, etc., Team USA; Cape stars, Stars shine on Cape, Olympics preview, Will top picks sign?