Last week I introduced a new series I will be doing regarding the impact of organizational First Year Player Drafts. This is the second in the series.
Organizations spend boatloads of money on the signing bonuses provided their top draft picks. The list below includes the first round selections of the Cubs, Marlins, Red Sox and Giants from 2006-2010. In 2007 MLB introduced a slotting system. They “suggested” a bonus price for the player at that particular "slot" or round of the draft. Some teams followed the suggestions. Many did not, as you can tell from the last figure listed in parentheses. That is the suggested slot figure for that round.
2006 - #13 Tyler Colvin, OF $1,475,000
2007 - #3 Josh Vitters, 3B $3,200,000 ($2,700,000)
2008 - #19 Andrew Cashner, RHP $1,540,000 ($1,540,000)
2009 - #31 Brett Jackson, OF $972,000 ($972,000)
2010 - #16 Hayden Simpson, RHP $1,060,000 ($1,512,000)
2011 - #9 Javier Baez, 3B/SS $2,625,000 ($1,962,000)
2006 - #19 Brett Sinkbeil, RHP $1,525,000
2007 - #12 Matt Dominguez, 3B $1,800,000 ($1,620,000)
2008 - #6 Kyle Skipworth, C $2,300,000 ($2,600,000)
2009 - #18 Chad James, LHP $1,700,000 ($1,422,000)
2010 - #23 CHRISTIAN YELLICH, OF $1,700,000 ($1,260,000)
2011 - #14 Jose Fernandez, RHP $2,000,000 ($1,602,000)
2006 - #27 Jason Place, OF $1,300,000
2006 - #28 DANIEL BARD, RHP $1,550,000
2007 - NO SELECTION
2008 - #30 Casey Kelly, RHP/SS $3,000,000 ($1,200,000)
2009 - #28 REYMOND FUENTES, OF $1,134,000 ($1,134,000)
2010 - #20 Kolbrin Vitek, 2B/OF $1,359,000 ($1,359,000)
2010 - #39 ANTHONY RENAUDO, RHP $2,550,000 ($844,000)*
2011 - #19 Matt Barnes, RHP $1,500,000 ($1, 386,000)
2011 - #26 Blake Swihart, C $2,500,000 ($1,197,000)
*(Supplemental pick-included because of his bonus vs. slot)
2006 - #10 Tim Lincecum, RHP $2,025,000
2007 - #10 Madison Bumgarner, RHP $2,000,000 ($1,800,000)
2008 - #5 Buster Posey, C $6,200,000 ($2,800,000)*
2009 - #6 Zack Wheeler, RHP $3,300,000 ($2,340,000)
2010 - #24 Gary Brown, OF $1,400,000 ($1,242,000)
2011 - #29 Joe Panik, 2B $1,116,000 ($1,116,000)
*Similar catcher over payment as Matt Wieters of the Orioles who set the bar at $6M in 2007.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
We already know the ramifications of the early drafts listed. Of course it is too early to say the most recent draft picks have already succeeded or failed. But one thing is clear. Player selection is not an exact science. Scouting is not an exact science.
Here is what we don't know. Should a specific team take a specific player if the player is sitting there to be drafted? For example, should a team have taken Tim Lincecum before San Francisco in 2006? Debates are common in draft rooms. Scouts press for their top picks. Other scouts press for theirs. Ultimately, the general manager may have to make the decision. In the case of Lincecum, debates raged about his unorthodox pitching mechanics. He was an "injury waiting to happen" according to many, many scouts. Well, here we are in 2012 and Lincecum has become one of the top pitchers in baseball. But is his arm healthy now? His side? Only Tim Lincecum knows. But the Giants have sure gotten their $2.025M from him, haven't they? You think more so than the Orioles got from Bill Rowell at No. 9 for $2.1M? Yikes!
Beyond the money spent on the draft bonus, think of the countless dollars spent on travel, research and salaries that comprise the scouting of undrafted free agent players. Can a team afford to make a mistake? It comes down to the price of doing business. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong. Barring injury, it is my feeling you better be right about a first-round player. Many scouting directors have lost their jobs because of bad drafts. Many.
The scout has to know everything about the potential selection well in advance of the draft. Everything. No hidden questions that can't be answered when asked by the front office brass. That scout (and the assigned cross-checker who also reviews potential top selections) must know the prospect inside and out before draft day. And yes, that includes what the prospect eats for breakfast.
Here are this week's teams to review:
Like the Padres from last week's article, anything that happened in the organization prior to this year doesn't count. But Jim Hendry and his staff made some good choices. Too bad the drafted players have not gotten a chance to play on the big stage or have been traded out of the organization.
Tyler Colvin has found a home in Colorado. The team likes him as a fourth outfielder and he's getting playing time. He has some pop in his bat and he plays outfield very well. He's good in that role and he should prosper, once and for all.
This was to be the year Josh Vitters assumed the role at third base following the free-agent departure of Aramis Ramirez. At least that was the plan. Then the new group came in and picked up Ian Stewart. Vitters is back in the minor leagues. He, like Colvin, can hit. Vitters is versatile enough to play both corners in the infield and both corners in the outfield. He's a good guy to have around. I wish the Cubs would trade him so he could play. Currently, he is playing third base for the Iowa Cubs at Triple-A and hitting .255 with no homers. I like him more than those numbers indicate. I'd like him more if he played in Cleveland. Right now.
Andrew Cashner was dispatched to the Padres, where he is now a member of their bullpen staff. He was moved to the Padres along with outfielder Kyung Min-Ya for pitcher Zach Yates and top prospect first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Cashner has a power arm with a 100 mph fastball. He really has a limited repertoire and that's why he's best suited for bullpen use. Once he learns to command his fastball, he can be considered for a role as a closer. When he cranks the heater up over 100 mph it straightens out on him, which is a problem, but he was a solid draft choice. He has a history of shoulder problems. For me, that's a very, very dark red flag. But, they could use him in Chicago. Now. If Rizzo is a bust, the trade will have been a huge sacrifice of a power arm that is now out of the organization.
Brett Jackson is still another Cub that must wait his turn until the contract of Alfonso Soriano runs its course. Marlon Byrd, another impediment to Jackson is now gone, having been traded to Boston. Jackson can play all three outfield positions well. He can hit for power and he can run. I like everything about his game. As of this writing, Jackson is scuffling at Triple-A Iowa, hitting only .239 with two home runs. It is time to give him a chance on the biggest stage. There is no way he's still in the minor leagues next season. No way.
In fact, with Byrd gone, this would be a nice time to recall Jackson and give him a chance to play on a team that likely isn't going anywhere soon.
Hayden Simpson is in High-A learning how to pitch. He has good potential as a starter, but he's pretty raw. He's only 170 pounds and the heat may take a toll on his body. We have to wait and see what happens this season.
Javier Baez is said to have had the best bat speed in last year's draft. Baez is seen as versatile enough to play anywhere on the field, including at catcher. Chances are, if Vitters succeeds at third with Starlin Castro at short, Baez may be moved to second base or the outfield. Those are positions in the organization needing bigger bats. Baez is seen as an impact type hitter with outstanding power to go with the fast hands and quick bat. Baez is a player to target long term as he has all the tools to succeed. He could be a very good fantasy player in a couple years.
Brett Sinkbeil was a "can't miss" prospect that did. I remember going to see him pitch in Jacksonville or somewhere similar when I covered the Marlins' minor league teams. He had all the stuff in the world. When he didn't make it with Florida he went to Pittsburgh. He isn't pitching this year. Or last year, for that matter. He isn't pitching anywhere. Oh well, what's $1.5M among friends?
Why have the Florida (now Miami) Marlins tried so hard to make Matt Dominguez their third baseman? Well, they have $1.8M and a first-round draft pick invested in him. The problem? He can't hit major league pitching. He's a good defender at third base, but every time he gets a chance to show that he can hit, he ends up screaming, "I'm a 4-A Player." Dominguez is now repeating Triple-A. he has a career minor league average of .255. He has hit 61 homers in 2,021 plate appearances and a .244 batting average playing for the big league club in only 48 total plate appearances. Because of the money, we have not seen the end of Dominguez as a major league player. No way. So far this season he is hitting .241 with three homers at Triple-A. But with Hanley Ramirez playing third base, where does Dominguez play? It's a problem. An expensive one, at that.
Kyle Skipworth. Oh my, stop me if you've heard this before. Skipworth isn't living up to expectations as a former No. 1 draft choice. Especially one that cost a tidy $2.3M. Skipworth is back in Double-A this year and there is plenty of time left for him to blossom as he's only 22 years old. I've seen Skipworth in the Arizona Fall League. He played well, but his plate discipline and refinement at the plate were lacking. He still has a chance, but J.T. Realmuto has passed him at catcher in the Marlins' system.
Chad James is a highly regard left-handed starter. He has completed two seasons in the Marlins' minor league system, having pitched for Greensboro in A ball and Jupiter in Double-A. He has returned to Jupiter this season after compiling a 5-15 record last season in 27 starts. His ERA was a very respectable 3.80. James walked an average of 3.1 BB/9IP, while striking out 7.5 K/9IP. He had a WHIP of 1.50 and was very hittable, giving up 173 hits in 149.1 innings. He may be better than his statistics to date, but the jury is still out.
Christian Yelich is now the top prospect in the Marlins' organization. He's a 20-year-old outfielder from California with a huge upside as a five-tool prospect. To this point in his minor league career, Yelich has a .325 career batting average with 17 homers and 34 stolen bases in 603 plate appearances. He has really played only one full season; 2011 at Low-A Greensboro where he hit .312/15/77 with 32 stolen bases. He has the potential to hit for power and a high batting average as a left-handed corner (probably left field) outfielder. He has to show he can repeat his outstanding season, but he has a tremendous future as a solid Marlins draft pick. He is a guy to target in long-term keeper leagues.
Right-hander Jose Fernandez from Tampa is another top pick. It is too soon to know if the Marlins have gotten this right. He spent his rookie season making one start in the Gulf Coast league and then he went to the short-season Jamestown team in the New York-Penn League. He threw only a total of four innings in his first professional season, giving up five hits, walking four and striking out seven. Fernandez fled Cuba in 2008 and he is just now becoming more accustomed to his new home. Tall and thin at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Fernandez is highly regarded by scouts. His jury is out as well.
Jason Place, an outfielder, last played for two minor league teams in 2011 at the age of 23. He hit .178 with two homers and nine RBI over 105 plate appearances. He has never played above Double-A. Place last played as a member of the Yankees' organization. Interestingly, he hit .292 in 132 plate appearances as an 18-year-old rookie for the Red Sox in 2006. That was the best he has done. For a bonus of $1.3MM, Place just has never seemed to find the groove in his short career.
Daniel Bard is now beginning to show himself as a value pick for Boston. Desperate for both starting and relief pitching, Bard has enough arm strength and repertoire to pitch in both situations. If need be, Bard could close games as well with a moving, high velocity fastball. When he was first signed, Bard was projected to go higher than his eventual 28th overall. Bad pre-draft vibes about his sign ability (or lack thereof) lowered his draft day position. The Red Sox got this right and at a good price of $1.55M.
The Red Sox paid Casey Kelly $1.8M over slot to sign him as a shortstop/pitcher. When I saw Kelly in the Arizona Fall League he had convinced the Red Sox to let him play shortstop during the fall season. When the Fall League ended, so did Kelly's shortstop career. He returned to pitching and was traded to San Diego as part of the Adrian Gonzalez deal. He is currently among the top Padres pitching prospects according to scouts and player evaluation specialists. I don't see why. Everything I have seen him throw has been rather straight. But that may just have happened during the countless games I've seen him pitch. I have no beef with his delivery, his arm action or even his command (which is improving.) I just haven't seen sharp secondary pitches that will carry him deep in games as a rotation starter. I do think he knows how to pitch and he keeps the ball down, but I can't get him above a middle of the rotation starter in my projections. I just think $3M in 2008 was a bit extreme, but it did help fetch AGon.
Reymond Fuentes was also sent to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez. So if you're playing at home, so far that's another $1.134M in first round money that Boston traded to San Diego for the outstanding first baseman. In all, Boston spent the following: Kelly ($3M,) Fuentes ($1.134M) and $325,000 from their 2007 aizrhth round, Anthony Rizzo signing. Total? The Red Sox spent $4.459M of draft bonus money on Adrian Gonzalez. Looking back, the Gonzalez trade can be treated as a cash transaction, as Kelly, Fuentes, nor Rizzo ever played for Boston. It remains possible Fuentes can become a solid major league player, but there are those in the scouting community with doubts. His best tool is his speed and he can steal bases. At the time of the trade, Fuentes had been a .270 hitter with at least 40 stolen bases in each of his primary minor league seasons. Other players like Blake Tekotte (CF) Rymer Liriano (RF) and Jaff Dacker (LF) have passed Fuentes on the Padres' organizational outfield depth chart.
Because he has not shown any power whatsoever in his brief professional career, Kolbrin Vitek may find it very difficult to advance to the major league level. Drafted as a high average hitter, Vitek responded in his first two full professional seasons with a .278 composite batting average. However, including the beginning of this season, he has hit just seven home runs in 794 plate appearances. That will make remaining at third base very difficult, and did I mention he had 28 errors at third last season and four already this year? The club has prized prospect Will Middlebrooks as a candidate for third base preparing to assume the role in Boston. The team has been tempted to play Vitek in the outfield, but he is back playing third base in his current Double-A Portland assignment. It is way too early to write Vitek off as a bust, but this season will be very crucial.
Anthony Ranaudo was a response to the Red Sox realizing the pitching depth was slipping away in the organization. After all, not every club goes $1.7M over slot to capture a pitcher in the supplemental round of a draft. Especially when they could have taken him with their regular pick at 20 when they grabbed Vitek. I wasn't in the room and I don't know what happened. I do know that Ranaudo is one heckuva pitcher and the Red Sox paid him handsomely. You know what that means, right? He'll be pitching in Boston or be traded for a great player or players. That money means playing time. Sooner than later. Ranaudo will be a "no-brainer."
He's a 6-foot-7, 231-pound 22-year-old righty from New Jersey. Last season he was 9-6 with a 3.97 ERA over two classifications, Greenville at Low-A and Salem at High-A. He gave up 80 hits in 81 innings pitched and struck out 67 while walking 30. He is best known for having the organization's best curveball. In addition, he throws a high velocity (mid-90's) fastball and a changeup that is a work in progress. While pitching for LSU he experienced elbow issues that caused his drop in draft status. Because he was seen as among the nation's top pitching prospect (if not the best) prior to the draft, even with the elbow concerns his price tag remained very, very high. Too high? Yes, I think so. Ranaudo is currently disabled with a groin pull he suffered in spring training. Regardless of his 2012 assignment, Ranaudo is a top Red Sox pitching prospect. Follow the money and you will follow Ranaudo to a major league career. Eventually.
Matt Barnes offers the Red Sox some hope in the much needed and much depleted organizational pitching depth. He was selected out of University of Connecticut where he set a school strikeout record. So, what the Red Sox have is a guy that can hopefully miss bats and register some velocity on the radar gun. He is known to throw 97-98 with command. Like all young power pitchers, Barnes will have to develop secondary pitches, work on consistently throwing strikes low in the zone and learning mound presence. For now, Barnes looks like a good, solid choice. His fastball could carry Barnes to a big, big career with impact. He is currently throwing his flames at Low-A Greenville, where he has started three times already and won twice. He has given up six hits in 16 innings pitched. Here's the exciting part - he has struck out 25 and walked only two. Matt Barnes is a pitcher to register in your fantasy brain as a keeper. Boston's pitching situation may dictate a fast track for him as well as the aforementioned Anthony Renaudo.
Blake Swihart may or may not remain as a catcher. He's an excellent hitter and he may be viewed as too valuable to remain behind the plate. Especially if Ryan Lavarnway progresses and becomes the full-time backstop in Boston. He is a good enough athlete and has experience playing both infield and both outfield corners. Swihart, only 20, is the type of versatile, multi-tooled player that may eventually be worth his signing bonus. Swihart, a switch-hitter can hit for average and for power. This is his first full season in professional baseball, and so far he is scuffling. He's hitting only .212 with nine strikeouts in 60 plate appearances. The Red Sox will be patient with him because of their investment. He has too many raw tools to rush him or to worry about slow starts. For now, he has to gain experience.
We all know the Cy Young award winning pitcher Tim Lincecum he became. Consider the risk the Giants took when drafting him 10th overall. He was seen as a guy with an unorthodox delivery and a severe injury risk. Why risk that kind of money? Well, he had a training regimen that he had developed with his dad and he wasn't going to change the way he pitched. One of the nicest guys I have met in the game, Lincecum is the type of person that sticks to his beliefs. The following players were drafted ahead of Lincecum: Luke Hochevar (Royals), Greg Reynolds (Rockies), Evan Longoria (Rays), Brad Lincoln (Pirates), Brandon Morrow (Mariners), Andrew Miller (Tigers), Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Drew Stubbs (Reds) and Bill Rowell (Orioles). Is there now some wear and tear on the body and arm of Tim Lincecum? Maybe, but let us not forget who he has been, what he has done and what several other clubs that passed on him have missed. He made only 13 minor league starts before being called to the big club. That's more than unusual, but it worked. He likely has more good years ahead. If he stays healthy. But he was supposed to have broken down long before this. And he didn't. Great value.
Madison Bumgarner is one of the three aces on the Giants' pitching staff. Along with Lincecum and Matt Cain, the Giants have such a strong top of the rotation that for years they have counted on those pitchers to lead the club to the playoffs. The team added very little hitting to supplement their great pitching. They were successful with that formula. Bumgarner is now realizing his enormous potential as a left-handed starter with command and a vast pitch repertoire. When he arrived on the scene, Bumgarner was seen as having the best fastball in the organization. He has much more than that now. He's another great value for the Giants scouting department.
Buster Posey's horrible collision at home plate has changed his career and possibly the destiny of the entire Giants club for the near term. He will be playing more first base than originally planned for him and he will not block the plate on throws home. His club has decided that he will use a "swipe tag" and stay away from direct contact at the plate. He's an extremely solid hitter with a bat loud enough to play first base on occasion. As a catcher, his offense, like that of Joe Mauer, is a tremendous bonus. That is clearly where his value is the highest. nut he is far too valuable to risk another major injury. But let us not forget – the Giants paid that enormous signing bonus for a catcher.
Zack Wheeler is the price the Giants paid to obtain Carlos Beltran for their 2011 stretch run. If Beltran had led the Giants to the promiselLand it may have been a popular and positive deal. Instead, it turned a very high quality prospect pitcher into a deal for a late-season rental. A high cost, indeed, when Wheeler's $3.3M draft bonus and his ability to join an already formidable pitching staff are weighed. Now he is the prime prospect in the Mets' organization. And that includes position players as well. Wheeler has a top of the scouting charts fastball, an above average curve and an average changeup. He doesn't really have control or command issues. He is now in the process of refining his delivery, facing quality hitters and waiting for his call. That will probably come in 2013. Wheeler may become a good rotation starter.
Gary Brown is a center fielder with wheels. He can chase down flyballs and steal bases. But he has to improve his contact rate to be able to use his speed. When I saw him in the Arizona Fall League his swing and batting stance were totally out of whack. He couldn't hit anything on the outside corner. He is seen as the Giants' top prospect. It has been reported the Mets wanted Brown instead of Wheeler in their trade for Beltran. The Giants refused. I wouldn't have. While I think speed and defense are important, I don't see Brown's ability to get on base with any frequency at this stage of his development. I wish him well.
Joe Panik is the type of player, like Brown, that I believe would have been available in a lower round. They may have had a different name, but their skill sets would have been available. Panik can play both second base and shortstop. He's a good hands infielder with a nice, short stroke at the plate. He'll be able to put the bat on the ball and make consistent contact. Similar to my feeling about Gary Brown, I don't think Panik has any one particular tool that makes him stand out as a "can't miss, must have" player. He was blessed with a really neat name. The only thing better would have been something like Joe Cool or Joe Sixpack.
*When I saw Kyle Kendrick pitch for the Phillies it looked like he was throwing batting practice. It was scary.
*Justin Upton can get in a hot streak with one at-bat. It will last a week and then...adios. I've seen that year in and year out.
*Andrew McCutchen is one very fine baseball player.
*Wade Miley is a sleeper as a left-handed starter. I've always liked his mound presence, his stuff and his command.
*What happened to Jon Lester? He has almost single handedly ruined my fantasy season as a defending AL-only champ. I have nowhere else to turn.
*The White Sox are underrated. If Adam Dunn is half as much better than he was last year, I think they come in second in the Central. They can pitch. So far.
*What happens when they close the roof in Miami? Will we see Stanton's bombs?
*Cabrera, Fielder, Stanton, Cano, Gordon, Braun, and on and on. Chicks dig the long ball. So do I. C'mon already.
*Derek Jeter is amazing. Have you watched his at-bats? Fantastic bat control. Taking the ball everywhere. Finished? Not yet.
*I don't want to say, "I told you so" about Justin Masterson, but I…You know the rest. I still believe he belongs in the pen.
*Remember, Dom Brown? The Phillies as a team can't hit a lick, right? Where's Domonic? They rushed him and now his mechanics are a mess.
*Here's the deal with Cespedes as I see it. Remember I said he'd have to get a steady diet of breaking balls if I were pitching? Well-there are many, many pitchers who think, "he can't hit my fastball. He may be a fastball hitter. But he hasn't seen MY fastball." And guess what? They throw the fastball and that's where his long balls come from. His batting average still tells me he can't hit breaking pitches yet. He'll adjust. Stop throwing him fastballs.
*Mike Trout is on fire. So is Trevor Bauer. Be careful. Don't jump too soon.
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