By TOM STAD
July 4, 2008
Think back to your senior year in high school. Exams are just finishing up and you’re almost ready to move on to that next step of your life. As you walk in the door after finishing one of the last tests of your high school career, the phone rings. It’s Bill Gates, and he wants to give you a five-year, $8 million contract to come work for him at the Microsoft home office in Redmond, Wash. What do you do? Do you turn Bill down to spend four more years in a classroom and risk not getting a better offer four years down the line, or do you pack up your futon and head to the Great Northwest?
That was the decision facing nine high schoolers taken in the first round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft, not to mention the scores of college underclassmen who were selected. However, the students are the ones who are dictating the price tag nowadays, and consequently the word “signability” has gained significant meaning. When preparing for the draft these days, major league front offices have to worry about more than just the talent of the player; they must factor in whether or not the prospect is willing to make the decision to turn pro and choose not to remain in school for at least one more year, or whether he’ll want more money than the boss wants to spend. Make the wrong decision, and someone probably loses their job. It’s one of the factors that led to Player of the Year Buster Posey slipping to the Giants with the fifth pick. Tampa Bay was concerned about whether they willing to meet the Florida State catcher’s contract demands, so they passed on him with the first overall pick.
The kid who ended up being the first overall pick was Tim Beckham, a shortstop from Griffin High School in Georgia. The Rays figured Griffin would not cost as much as Posey, and would fill a need as well. Tampa Bay went with the youngster, who was willing to pass on his commitment to USC for the pros, instead of the more major league-ready Posey. Griffin recently inked a deal that included a $6.15 million signing bonus and is playing for the Rays’ Rookie Level Appalachian League affiliate in Princeton, W.Va., where he’s off to a bit of a slow start. So far, Beckham is hitting .231 in seven games, though he has proven advanced for his age by fanning just four times in 26 at bats.
The moral of the story is that the baseball draft is more of a crapshoot than that of just about any other major sport. Being in possession of the top pick can be a precarious position for a team to find itself in. However, it doesn’t make it any easier to have any of the other 30 picks. Some teams are always going to have issues with the first player they select in the draft. Number one is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Let’s take a look at some other notable first-round selections:
One player who is yet to sign, and may just return to South Carolina for his senior season, is the No. 11 pick in the draft, Justin Smoak. The first baseman was selected by the A’s out of high school but he wanted more money than Oakland was willing to offer so he headed for Columbia to showcase his talents in the SEC. Three years later, the Rangers own his rights. They have until August 15 to sign him or he can return for his senior season, meaning Texas would be awarded a compensatory first round pick in the 2009 draft. Smoak is expected to be offered between $1.5 and $2 million. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll accept it or try to improve his game for a year and move into the top 10 in 2009.
The Blue Jays got the first commitment out of a top pick when first baseman David Cooper, the No. 17 pick out of Cal, inked a deal that included a $1.5 million signing bonus. He was immediately assigned to the Auburn Doubledays of the New York-Penn League, where he will make $1,100 per month. From there, he’ll be headed to Advanced Class A Dunedin before the summer is over if he plays well enough.
Padres first-rounder Allen Dykstra may sport the name, but he’s not related to former Phillies roughneck Lenny Dykstra. Lenny’s son, Cutter Dykstra, however, was taken in the second round by the Brewers and is already playing for the team’s Rookie Level affiliate in Helena, Mont. Will his father manage his money as part of his fledgling investment firm for athletes? And will Dad charge a commission?
Another major-league family connection involved the No. 12 pick of the draft. Miami second baseman Jemile Weeks, little brother of Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks, was drafted in the eighth round by the Brewers out of high school but decided to go the college route. The move seems to have paid off for Jemile as the A’s are most likely going to offer the former Hurricanes star a $2 million signing bonus after selecting him following his junior season.
Pittsburgh may have some trouble signing the second overall pick, Pedro Alvarez. The Vanderbilt third baseman is represented by sports super agent Scott Boras who has the reputation of being, well, a wolf in a hen house. Major League Baseball makes recommendations on what a draft pick’s signing bonus should be in a method called “slotting.” Boras is notorious for ignoring those recommendations, choosing to pretend they don’t exist and getting his clients considerably more guaranteed money. It’s another factor that usually goes into a team’s draft strategy. Curiously, the small-market Pirates chose to ignore the Boras factor and took the top-rated player on the board in Alvarez. Whether they will pony up the cash and meet Boras’ asking price is yet to be seen, but to lose out on this prospect would certainly sting for a franchise that hasn’t seen a World Series in thirty years.
Posey could be the most intriguing pick of them all. The FSU catcher is the one whose picture is next to “signability” in the dictionary. Posey’s agent Casey Close is said to be asking for nearly double what top pick Beckham got. The Giants, on the other hand, are working from the figure last year’s No. 5 pick, Matt Wieters, got from Baltimore - $6 million. Both Posey and San Francisco are reportedly eager to get something done, so they figure to meet somewhere in the middle before August 15. If they somehow fail to come to terms, Posey will return to Tallahassee, try to take care of some unfinished business and probably set every NCAA offensive record known to man.
We’ll continue to track big league teams’ progress as they attempt to sign their first round picks as the clock ticks down to the deadline, and updates will come as they become available. For now, here are a few more items of note:
Not even three weeks have passed since Fresno State finished their improbable run to the national championship, yet 17 Division I schools are already going to have new head coaches for one reason or another. Three SEC teams are among that group, as Auburn, Kentucky and Mississippi State all will have a different face on the bench come 2009. Ironically, John Cohen leaves the Wildcats and crosses over conference lines to take over in Starkville for the retired Ron Polk, who won nearly 1,400 games in his career. Polk led eight Bulldogs squads to Omaha in his lengthy career, but only one in the past 10 years.
Posey won the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top collegiate catcher last week. The FSU backstop bested Stanford’s Jason Castro and Coastal Carolina’s Dock Doyle. Posey finished the season as the national leader in six offensive categories - batting average, hits, RBI, total bases, slugging percentage and on-base percentage - to lead the nation’s top offense.
CWS hero Tommy Mendonca, fresh off a national title with Fresno State, has been added to the USA Baseball National Team. The rising junior third baseman had no time to rest as he met the team last weekend in North Carolina, where the Americans hosted a six-game series against Chinese Taipei. Mendonca was 2-for-7 with a pair of runs scored in the two games he started at the hot corner.
Georgia, which lost the championship series to Fresno State, gave head coach David Perno both a raise and a five-year contract as a reward for leading the Bulldogs to the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship and a runner-up finish in the College World Series. Georgia athletic director Damon Evans announced the five-year, $2.25 million deal Wednesday. The Athens native and former Bulldog third baseman will earn $450,000 per season over the next five years - a raise of about $150,000 per year. Perno is one of only 12 coaches to lead three teams to the College World Series in their first seven seasons as a head coach.
The 2008 NCAA Freshman All-American Team was announced on Monday:
Catcher - Micah Gibbs, Louisiana State
First Base - Hunter Morris, Auburn
Second Base - Josh Adams, Florida
Third Base - Scott Woodward, Coastal Carolina
Shortstop - Rick Hague, Rice
Outfield - Kentrail Davis, Tennessee
Outfield - Ryan Lockwood, South Florida
Outfield - Brian Fletcher, Auburn
Designated Hitter - Kyle Parker, Clemson
Utility - Brett Eibner, Arkansas
Starting Pitcher - Chris Hernandez, Miami
Starting Pitcher - Seth Maness, East Carolina
Starting Pitcher - Shane Davis, Canisius
Starting Pitcher - Chance Ruffin, Texas
Relief Pitcher - Chase Dempsay, Houston
The left-handed Hernandez was named Freshman of the Year after posting an 11-0 record with a 2.72 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 112 2/3 innings. Hernandez was drafted in Round 14 of the 2007 draft but opted to play for his hometown Hurricanes instead of signing.
The 2008 Cape Cod League is underway on the Massachusetts peninsula. Hundreds of college players who weren’t among the top choices in the draft have made the trip out to eastern Massachusetts to showcase their talents to major league scouts. We’ll update the happenings on the Cape next week.
Tom Stad’s Amateur Hour runs every Friday here on National Pastime.