Made for TV
From who will get picked first to which Scott Boras clients will get snubbed, the first televised draft has lots of subplots
THIS YEAR'S amateur draft—the first to be televised—won't feature much-hyped phenoms such as former top picks Joe Mauer or Delmon Young. But ESPN2, which will air the first round on June 7 from 2 to 6 p.m., is hoping there's enough intrigue to make it a must-see for baseball fans. "This will serve the very big baseball fan and maybe attract some others," says Len DeLuca, senior vice president of programming for ESPN, which was approached by MLB to carry the event. "We have no expectations [in terms of ratings], but we hope to create some interest."
For the first time, baseball executives will draft at a site (Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando) rather than over the phone, and while there are no surefire stars, the pool of prospects still has front offices excited. "The overall first-round talent is as good as ever," says an American League scouting director. "Because of that, there's a lot of unpredictability on how things will shake out." Among the questions:
Is Price right?
The Devil Rays are expected to nab David Price with the top pick, making him the first lefthander to go No. 1 since the Yankees took Brien Taylor in 1991. Armed with three plus pitches—a 95-mph fastball, a killer slider and a power slurve—Price led Vanderbilt to its first SEC title, going 11--0 with a 2.71 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 123 innings. One concern, however, is his recent workload: Price has thrown at least 120 pitches in eight of his last 13 starts. "Taking a pitcher Number 1 is always a huge risk, and Price has been pushed very hard," says an AL executive. "If I had the Number 1 pick, I'd take [Georgia Tech catcher] Matt Wieters. He's the safer pick—probably the best catcher to come around since Joe Mauer."
Will youth be served?
The draft is shaping up to be just the second in nine years to have more high school than college players go in the first round. "I can't remember this many good high school pitchers in the draft since the late '80s," says a National League G.M. The top prospect is righthander Rick Porcello, a 6'5" flamethrower from Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J., whom scouts compare with Josh Beckett.
Will teams play ball with Scott Boras?
The √ºberagent represents seven potential first-round picks, including the best position player (Wieters), the top high school pitchers (Porcello and righthander Matt Harvey of Fitch High in Groton, Conn.) and the collegiate pitcher with the biggest upside (N.C. State righty Andrew Brackman). All possess top 10 talent, but Boras's penchant for exorbitant bonus demands and protracted contract negotiations will scare away many clubs. Says an AL scouting director, "[Harvey and Brackman] could fall to the end of the first round. If they weren't with Boras, they'd be a lock to be gone in the top 10."
Whither Max Scherzer?
The only unsigned first-round pick from last year's draft, Scherzer—another Boras client—has spent the spring with the Fort Worth Cats, an independent league team. On May 23 Scherzer showcased his 98-mph fastball and mid-80s slider in his third start at Fort Worth, where in 16 innings he has allowed one run and struck out 25. Scherzer is trying to follow in the footsteps of Royals righty Luke Hochevar, a Boras client who went 40th in the 2005 draft, sat out for a bigger payday, pitched for the Cats in '06 and then went No. 1 last June.
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Consider This by Baseball Prospectus
In 1988, Bill James wrote, "Players taken in the June draft coming out of college ... perform dramatically better than players taken out of high school." His assertion gained momentum in 2005 when Rany Jazayerli of Baseball Prospectus reviewed every draft from 1984 through '99 and found that college players selected in the first three rounds produced 55% more value over their careers than high school players taken in the same slots. The theory was persuasive. In last year's draft 25 college prospects were among the 44 first-round picks; 10 years earlier the 25th college player wasn't chosen until the 73rd pick. Now, the current trend has inflated the draft positions of college players, which makes a high schooler a potentially better value pick. A G.M. entering the June 7 draft would be wise to abide by this age-old rule: Take the best prospect available.