By JAY LeBLANC
August 16, 2008
Oh, what a night. Ten first-round draft picks had yet to agree to terms as of yesterday morning, and while most of them hammered out deals with the clubs that had drafted them in the final hours before the midnight signing deadline, it was unclear whether the second and third selections in the draft had signed long after the deadline had passed. Baseball nerds everywhere - including yours truly - held their breaths and waited late into the night to learn the what the future held for Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer and the Pittsburgh and Kansas City franchises.
At 12:35, MLB.com‘s Jonathan Mayo reported on his draft blog that Alvarez had signed with the Pirates for a $6 million bonus, and four minutes later, Baseball America‘s Jim Callis reported that Hosmer had agreed to terms with the Royals, though figures were unavailable at the time. Seventeen minutes after that I posted this article, which I’d been working on since Tuesday. Now that the drama has ended, with all but three first-rounders choosing to sign, let’s check in on all of this year’s top picks:
No. 1: Tampa Bay Rays
Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin HS (Ga.)
Beckham, a 6-foot, 188-pound shortstop, was touted by scouts as a five-tool prospect and the Rays’ decision to select him No. 1 overall surprised nobody. He signed quickly for a $6.15 million bonus and got right to work the the Rookie-level Princeton Devil Rays, playing alongside his older brother, second baseman Jeremy Beckham, until Jeremy’s promotion to short-season Class A in late July. Beckham has struggled in his pro debut, hitting .243 with one home run and nine RBI in 136 at bats, but he’s only 18 and his upside remains tremendous.
No. 2: Pittsburgh Pirates
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt
Despite missing time with a broken hand, Alvarez was considered the top college positional player available in the draft. The Pirates were roundly criticized after passing on Matt Wieters in the 2007 draft to select Daniel Moskos - who has a 6.33 ERA in advanced Class A - with the No. 4 pick, and decided to go with the potential franchise player this time around. They came dangerously close to failing to sign Alvarez before agreeing to a deal that included a $6 million bonus so late last night that it wasn’t reported until nearly 40 minutes after the deadline had passed. With so little time left in the minor league season, it’s unclear whether Alvarez will make his debut in 2008.
No. 3: Kansas City Royals
Eric Hosmer, 1B, American Heritage HS (Fla.)
Kansas City took power-hitting high school infielder Mike Moustakas with the No. 2 overall pick in 2007 and went the same route in 2008, selecting the 6’ 4”, 210-pound Hosmer. The 18-year-old was considered the top high school hitter in the 2008 draft and is also by all accounts a decent defender at first base. Hosmer put a scare into the Royals by nearly deciding to take his talents to Arizona State before agreeing to a deal at the very last minute. Terms of the deal still weren’t available when I posted this article, but I can assure you that Hosmer is now a very rich man.
No. 4: Baltimore Orioles
Brian Matusz, LHP, San Diego
A year after drafting their catcher of the future, the pitching-needy Orioles opted for a potential ace to throw to him. Matusz used his four-pitch arsenal to shoot to the top of the college pitching heap this past season, and the fact that he’s left-handed and has a projectable 6’ 4” frame only adds to his appeal. For a while it looked like the Orioles and Matusz might not be able to come to terms, but yesterday afternoon they agreed to a major league deal that included a $3.2 million bonus. Matusz will immediately be added to the 40-man roster and his minor league options will expire after the 2012 season, but it would be a major disappointment if Matusz wasn’t in the O’s rotation long before then.
No. 5: San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey, C, Florida State
Posey took virtually all of college baseball’s top individual awards this past season after leading Florida State to the College World Series. A converted shortstop, the 6’ 2”, 200-pound Posey is still learning to catch but has all the tools to be successful at the position, and after dominating in one of college baseball’s top conferences, there’s little question he’ll be able to adjust to pro pitching. The Giants’ negotiations with Posey went right up to the deadline, but Baseball America reported shortly after midnight that he had agreed to a deal including a $6.2 million bonus. Contrary to earlier reports, it was not a major league contract. With just two-plus weeks remaining in the minor league season, it remains to be seen whether he’ll make his pro debut in 2008.
No. 6: Florida Marlins
Kyle Skipworth, C, Patriot HS (Calif.)
Scouts viewed Skipworth as the best high school catcher available in the draft, with a power bat from the left side and the tools - including a plus arm - to become at least an average defender. He signed quickly for a $2.3 million bonus and was assigned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Marlins. Skipworth has struggled mightily thus far, hitting just .194 with four home runs and 17 RBI in 134 at bats, but plenty of high schoolers have trouble making the adjustment to pro ball and the Marlins will be patient with the 18-year-old.
No. 7: Cincinnati Reds
Yonder Alonso, 1B, Miami (Fla.)
Alonso mashed all season as Miami was once again among the best teams in college baseball, and was the first of three Hurricanes to be selected in the first round of this year’s draft - and the last to sign. The 6’ 2”, 215-pound 21-year-old has plus power and was considered one of the most advanced hitters available in the draft. He’s a below-average defender at first, but his hitting should more than make up for it. Negotiations between the Reds and Alonso went right down to the wire, but Baseball America‘s John Manuel reported late last night that Alonso had agreed to a major league deal including $4.55 million in guaranteed money and a $2 million bonus.
No. 8: Chicago White Sox
Gordon Beckham, SS, Georgia
Beckham, a 6-foot, 180-pound shortstop, was the heart and soul of the Georgia squad that advaned to the College World Series finals before falling to Fresno State. Beckham is unique among the early choices in that he doesn’t have a standout tool; he just does everything well on the baseball field. Beckham agreed to a deal that included a $2.6 million bonus on Wednesday, then went out and took batting practice at U.S. Cellular Field and homered on the last pitch he saw. He joined the Class A Kannapolis Indimidators yesterday and went 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored in his first pro action.
No. 9: Washington Nationals
Aaron Crow, RHP, Missouri
(did not sign)
A year after taking a highly-touted college lefty - Ross Detwiler - with the No. 6 pick, the Nationals went for the top college righty on the board at No. 9. Crow isn’t particularly big for a pitcher - he’s 6’ 1” and 195 pounds - but used a mid-90s fastball, high-80s power slider and solid changeup to baffle hitters at the University of Missouri and rise to the top of prospect lists. Baseball America‘s John Manuel reported shortly after midnight that the Nats offered Crow a $3.3 million bonus but he would go no lower than $4 million and the two sides simply ran out of time. Crow agreed to a deal to pitch for an independent league team earlier in the week, so it looks like he’ll be pulling a Luke Hochevar, staying sharp in independent ball and waiting for next year. As for the Nats, they’ll take a compensatory pick in next year’s draft as a consolation prize.
No. 10: Houston Astros
Jason Castro, C, Stanford
Castro was considered the second-best catcher in college baseball - behind only Posey - this past season and led Stanford to the College World Series. The 6’ 3”, 210-pounder offers power potential from the left side and advanced catching skills. After signing for a $2.07 million bonus, he was assigned to the short-season Class A Tri-City Valley Cats. The 21-year-old has really come on lately after a slow start and is now hitting .278 with a .287 on-base percentage in 79 at bats. He’s yet to show any pop, with no home runs and just four RBI, but he’s shown good plate discipline by walking more often (14) than he’s struck out (13).
No. 11: Texas Rangers
Justin Smoak, 1B, South Carolina
Smoak is similar to Alonso in that both are limited defensively but mashed with the best of ‘em in college baseball this past season. While Alonso isn’t quite as much of a one-dimensional power-hitter as Smoak, the 6’ 4”, 220-pound Smoak has the advantage of being a switch-hitter and there has been much debate as to which player is the better pro prospect. There was some question as to whether Smoak would end up signing, but he agreed to a deal that included a reported $3.5 million bonus late last night, according to Baseball America. Like some of the other late signees, it will be interesting to see whether he makes his pro debut before the end of the minor league season.
No. 12: Oakland Athletics
Jemile Weeks, 2B, Miami (Fla.)
Weeks, the younger brother of the Brewers’ Rickie Weeks, was a table setter on the Miami team that reached the College World Series earlier this summer. The A’s thought the 5’ 10”, 175-pound second baseman was advanced enough to make his pro debut in the Class A Midwest League, and he hasn’t disappointed, hitting .297 with a home run and eight RBI in 74 at bats with the Kane County Cougars while also swiping six bases in eight attempts. His defense remains a question mark, however, and he may eventually be moved to the outfield.
No. 13: St. Louis Cardinals
Brett Wallace, 3B, Arizona State
Wallace was considered one of the most advanced hitters in the college game this past season and, like the A’s did with Weeks, the Cardinals decided to challenge him with an assignment to the Class A Midwest League after he signed for a $1.84 million bonus. The 6’ 2”, 245-pound soon-to-be 22-year-old has shifted to first base with the Quad Cities River Bandits and has continued mashing like he never left Arizona State. He’s currently hitting .350 with five home runs and 24 RBI in 140 at bats and could be on the fast track if he’s so much as adequate defensively.
No. 14: Minnesota Twins
Aaron Hicks, OF, Woodrow Wilson HS (Calif.)
Hicks was one of the best athletes available in the draft, and some teams liked him better as a pitcher. Hicks’ preference was to play the outfield, however, and he was drafted by an organization with the same plans for him. High school hitters often struggle in their first taste of pro ball, but apparently the 6’ 2”, 170-pounder didn’t get the message. He’s hitting .308 with three home runs and 23 RBI in 143 at bats with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins and has stolen 11 bases while being caught just once. He’s also shown remarkable plate discipline for an 18-year-old, with 25 walks offsetting his 27 strikeouts.
No. 15: Los Angeles Dodgers
Ethan Martin, RHP, Stephens County School (Ga.)
Martin is similar to Hicks in that some teams liked him as a pitcher while others liked him as a positional player - he played third base in high school. The Dodgers liked the 6’ 2”, 195 pounder’s ability to throw three plus-pitches and his control and decided to develop him as a pitcher. Cash is Martin’s middle name - literally - and he signed for a $1,732,500 bonus. He was assigned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Dodgers, but the 19-year-old righty has yet to appear in any games.
No. 16: Milwaukee Brewers
Brett Lawrie, C/INF, Brookswood SS (Canada)
The 18-year-old Lawrie was considered the top prep player in Canada. Scouts rave about his plus power potential and though it’s not clear what position he’ll play as a pro, some believe he’ll be able to stick as a catcher. The 6-foot, 200-pound Lawrie recently signed with the Brewers for $1.7 million, but his pro debut will have to wait for the time being because he’s playing for Team Canada at the Beijing Olympics.
No. 17: Toronto Blue Jays
David Cooper, 1B, Cal-Berkeley
Cooper, a left-handed hitting first baseman, was considered one of the most advanced hitters available in the draft and has shown why since signing with the Blue Jays for a $1.5 million bonus. The 6-foot, 175 pound 21-year-old started his pro career by hitting .341 with two homers and 21 RBI in 21 games for the short-season Class A Auburn Doubledays, earning a quick promotion to the Class A Lansing Lugnuts. After hitting .354 with two more home runs in 24 games there, he earned yet another promotion, this time to the advanced Class A Dunedin Blue Jays, for whom he’s currently hitting .267 with a home run in 30 at bats. Clearly, he’ll be on the fast track as long as his suspect defense at first base doesn’t hold him up.
No. 18: New York Mets
Isaac Davis, 1B, Arizona State
The Mets chose Davis - the son of former big league pitcher Ron Davis - because they felt his smooth left-handed swing would translate to solid power numbers once he fills out. After signing for a $1.575 million bonus, the 6’ 5”, 195-pound 21-year-old was assigned to the short-season Class A Brooklyn Cyclones, where he’s made the transition to the outfield. He’s off to a slow start, hitting just .235 with no home runs and 11 RBI in 153 at bats - somewhat disappointing numbers for a college hitter in short-season Class A.
No. 19: Chicago Cubs
Andrew Cashner, RHP, Texas Christian
Cashner, a 6’ 6”, 185-pound righty, struggled with command at times as TCU’s closer but also dominated hitters with his high-90s heat, prompting the Cubs to select him with their first pick. The 21-year-old was initially assigned to the Rookie-level Arizona League Cubs after signing for a $1.54 million bonus but was promoted to the short-season Class A Boise Hawks after pitching just one inning there. He has struggled mightily thus far in Boise, posting a 7.45 ERA while walking 14 hitters and fanning nine in 9 2/3 innings. While it’s too early to panic, the Cubs have to be concerned about the complete lack of control he’s displayed so far.
No. 20: Seattle Mariners
Joshua Fields, RHP, Georgia
(has yet to sign)
Fields was a second-round pick of the Braves in 2007 following a disappointing junior season at the University of Georgia, but he and agent Scott Boras didn’t get the deal they wanted and he headed back to school. After anchoring the bullpen as closer for the College World Series finalist Bulldogs, the 6-foot, 183-pound righty went in the first-round this time around. MLB.com‘s Jonathan Mayo reported late last night on his blog that no deal was imminent, but because Fields was a college senior, the Mariners have until next May to hammer something out with him.
No. 21: Detroit Tigers
Ryan Perry, RHP, Arizona
Though it’s uncertain whether his future is as a starter or a reliever, Perry’s high-90s heat and two solid complimentary pitches prompted the Tigers to take him with the 21st overall pick, and he signed for a $1.48 million bonus. Perry has been used as a reliever thus far as a pro, and after tossing a pair of scoreless innings with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Tigers, he was promoted to the advanced Class A Lakeland Flying Tigers. He’s recorded three saves since the promotion to go along with a 4.26 ERA. He’s fanned six hitters and walked four over 6 1/3 innings with Lakeland.
No. 22: New York Mets
Reese Havens, SS, South Carolina
Scouts feel like Havens will eventually have to move to third base, so he was drafted more for his solid hitting skills than for his glove. The 6’ 1”, 195 pound 21-year-old signed for a $1.419 million bonus and was assigned to the short-season Class A Brooklyn Cyclones to play alongside fellow first-rounder Davis. Havens has hit fairly well - he’s currently at .263 with three home runs and 11 RBI in 80 at bats, though he has struck out a somewhat alarming 25 times - but his debut has been hampered by a lingering elbow injury and a groin injury. He’s been limited to DH duty of late, when he’s been able to play at all.
No. 23: San Diego Padres
Allan Dykstra, 1B, Wake Forest
What a draft it was for power-hitting college first basemen. Like Alonso, Smoak and Cooper, the 6’ 5”, 225-pound Dykstra can mash - he’s a left-handed hitter - but isn’t much of a fielder. The Padres selected him with the No. 23 pick, believing his bat would more than make up for any defensive deficiencies. Dykstra waited until the very last minute before agreeing to a deal that reportedly included a $1.15 million bonus late last night. There are injury concerns swirling around Dykstra right now, making it unlikely he appears in any minor league games this season.
No. 24: Philadelphia Phillies
Anthony Hewitt, SS, Salisbury School (N.Y.)
The 6’ 1”, 195-pound Hewitt played shortstop in high school but, after signing for a $1.38 million bonus, he’s making the transition to the outfield as a member of the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Phillies. Scouts love his tool set, but as a high school player from the Northeast he’s still very raw, as evidenced by his 39 strikeouts in 85 at bats so far as a pro. Besides the strikeouts, however, he’s fared relatively well for a high schooler making his pro debut, hitting .235 with nine extra-base hits.
No. 25: Colorado Rockies
Christian Friedrich, LHP, Eastern Kentucky
Friedrich was viewed by many as the second-best college lefty available - behind Matusz - and was projected as a possible top-10 pick. However, the 6’ 3”, 210-pounder slipped to No. 25 and the Rockies pounced. Friedrich signed for a $1.35 million bonus, and the Rockies have to be pleased with the early returns. He’s 2-0 with a 3.48 ERA in seven starts with the short-season Class A Tri-City Dust Devils, and has struck out an impressive 42 batters in 31 innings while issuing just eight free passes.
No. 26: Arizona Diamondbacks
Daniel Schlereth, LHP, Arizona
Schlereth comes from athletic bloodlines; his father, Mark Schlereth, played offensive line in the NFL and now serves as an analyst for ESPN. The 6-foot, 210-pound 22-year-old struggles with command at times but impressed scouts with his three-pitch repertoire at Arizona. Schlereth signed for a $1.33 million bonus and was assigned to the Rookie-level Missoula Osprey to begin his pro career. He’s didn’t give up an earned run in three innings with the Osprey before a promotion to the Class A South Bend Silver Hawks. He pitched a scoreless inning in his Midwest League debut on Wednesday.
No. 27: Minnesota Twins
Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, Miami (Fla.)
The 6’ 3”, 205-pound Gutierrez dominated college hitters this past season for the Miami squad that spent much of the year ranked No. 1 in the country and advanced to the College World Series. The Twins showed confidence in the 21-year-old by assigning him to the advanced Class A Fort Myers Miracle after he signed for a $1.29 bonus, and he’s made them look wise for doing so by posting a 3-1 record and 2.89 ERA in his first 18 2/3 pro innings, though he’s yet to record a save.
No. 28: New York Yankees
Gerrit Cole, RHP, Orange Luteran HS (Calif.)
(did not sign)
Cole can hit the high 90s with his fastball and also has good feel for his slider and changeup. Combine that with a projectable frame - he’s 6’ 3” and 190 pounds - and you’ve got one of the top high school pitching prospects in the country. When the lifelong Yankees fan was drafted by his favorite team - which happens to have a good deal of money to throw around - it sure seemed likely that a deal would get done. It’s not going to happen, and word is that it has very little to do with money and everything to do with Cole’s desire to attend UCLA in the fall. The Bronx Bombers will receive a compensatory selection in the 2009 draft.
No. 29: Cleveland Indians
Lonnie Chisenhall, SS, Pitt CC (N.C.)
Chisenhall ended up at Pitt Community College after getting arrested on burglary and grand larceny charges and getting kicked out of the University of South Carolina. Obviously that led teams to question his makeup, but the Indians loved his hitting ability and took a chance on him with the No. 29 pick. The 6’ 1”, 200-pound 21-year-old signed for a $1.1 million bonus and was assigned to the short-season Class A Mahoning Valley Scrappers. He’s making the transition to third base under the tutelate of his manager, former big-league third baseman Travis Fryman, and has held his own at the plate so far, hitting .279 with four home runs and 35 RBI in 204 at bats.
No. 30: Boston Red Sox
Casey Kelly, SS, Sarasota HS (Fla.)
Kelly, the son of former big league infielder Pat Kelly, was a standout high school quarterback and his commitment to play football and baseball for the University of Tennessee scared some teams off. The 6’ 3”, 194-pounder was also a star pitcher and some teams liked him better on the mound than at shortstop, but the Red Sox took him with the last pick of the first round intending to play him at short. He signed for a well-above-slot $3 million bonus and was assigned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Red Sox. The 18-year-old has struggled mightily in his first exposure to pro ball, hitting just .197 with a home run and eight RBI in his first 71 at bats while fanning an alarming 24 times and walking just twice. Of course, the Red Sox will be patient with their $3 million investment, and have the fallback option of shifting him to the mound if he can’t hit pro pitching.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and mayor of the National Pastime web community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by The Associated Press