The June Amateur Draft   (06/04/01)

The Amateur Draft is tomorrow.  Thirty teams will try to improve their fortunes.  Two of them will definitely do so.  Those two teams will be the ones who draft USC pitcher Mark Prior and Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira.  There are a number of players in this draft who have high ceilings who could one day be as productive as those two, but none who have both their talent and polish.

Mark Prior

Prior is the best college pitcher since Roger Clemens.  In 19 games this year, he was 14-1.  He pitched 129.2 innings, allowing 91 hits and 17 walks while striking out 189 batters.  His ERA entering this week's College World Series is 1.53.  Baseball America rates him as having the best fastball in the draft.  They also say he has the best breaking ball... and the best control.  BA also rates him as one of the 10 best college pitchers ever.  Because of his signing demands, reportedly $10-15 million in bonuses, the Twins, who have the first overall pick, will probably pass on Prior.  Which means he'll drop to the Cubs at #2.  They won't pass him up, regardless of how much money he'll cost.  Wanna see something really scary?  Imagine a young Roger Clemens (Prior) and Kerry Wood in the same rotation.  Then consider that in 2 to 3 years, Juan Cruz, Joey Nation, Ruben Quevedo and Carlos Zambrano, all highly regarded pitching prospects, will join a staff that already has Felix Heredia and Kyle Farnsworth.  Only the White Sox, Marlins and Padres have as many quality young arms but none of those teams have as many guys who can top 95 mph.  From 1906-1908, the Cubs fielded one of the best teams in the history of baseball, the strength of which was their starting pitching.  With Three-finger Brown, Ed Ruelbach, "Brakeman" Jack Taylor and Orval Overall leading the way, the Cubs won 322 games in 3 years.  One hundred years later, with Prior in the fold, the Cubs could field another staff just as good.

Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira (pronounced Teh-SHER-ah) is the best hitter in the draft and projects to be another Chipper Jones.  He's a switch hitting third baseman who isn't very good with the glove, but good enough that he can still play the position.  Like Jones, he'll hit for average and power from both sides, but favoring the left.  He spent most of this season on the sidelines with a broken ankle, but last year he was the best college hitter in the country, hitting .427 with a .772 slugging percentage and a .549 on base.  He also led his team in stolen bases with 13.  For his efforts, he was named Baseball America's Player of the Year in 2000, following in the footsteps of JD Drew, Todd Helton, Jason Varitek and Phil Nevin.  Teixeira is represented by Scott Boras, which may present signability issues for some of the smaller markets.  He'll be in the bigs no later than 2003.

If you play fantasy baseball in a keeper league, both Prior and Teixeira will very likely help you in the next year or so.

The #1 pick, however, will be...

With the number one pick, the Twins will probably take a high school catcher from St. Paul, Minnesota named Joe Mauer.  Scouts rave about his ability to control a game from behind the plate a la Charles Johnson.  Like Johnson, he has prodigious power.  He hit 9 home runs in 47 at bats this season.  The big question is when or if he'll be able to put it together in the big leagues.  Catchers taken in the first round don't have a very good track record.  In fact, of the 45 who have been selected in the first round in the 31 years of the amateur draft, only 15 have made it to the majors, of which only 7 - Ben Davis, Jason Kendall, Mike Lieberthal, Charles Johnson, Ron Karkovice, Jeff Reed and Mike Scioscia - played mostly catcher.  On the plus side for Mauer, most of the first round catchers who have succeeded have been drafted in the last 10 years.  With scouts using more scientific methods and tools these days, more and more first round picks reach their potential.  So in Mauer's case, it's more than likely a question of when rather than if.

Other Hitters

Besides Teixeira, there are some other very good college hitters available: Jake Gautreau (3rd, Tulane), Mike Fontenot (2nd, LSU), John VanBenschoten (1st, Kent State) and Chris Burke (SS, Tennessee).  Gautreau led the nation in RBI (84) and hit for high average (.359) and power (20 homers).  Fontenot suffered through a number of injuries this year but still managed to hit .352 with 12 homers.  VanBenschoten grades out above average in every tool (hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, arm strength) and could be a huge sleeper.  Burke played shortstop out of necessity for the Volunteers this year, but will probably be switched to his more natural position at second.  His excellent on base skills and speed make him a perfect lead-off hitter.

There are also a couple of potentially very good high school hitters.  Centerfielder Roscoe Crosby from Union High School in Buffalo, SC has an interesting choice before him: he is considered one of the top 10 prospects in this draft, but he is also the most heavily recruited high school wide receiver in the country.  Whoever drafts him will have to offer enough money to dissuade him from a potentially illustrious career in college and the NFL.  Casey Kotchman is considered the best prospect from Florida this year and doesn't appear to be a tough sign for the team that drafts him as he hasn't committed to any college yet.  Scouts rave at how polished a hitter he his and contend that he will hit for both average and power once he makes the big leagues.

Other Pitchers

On the pitching side, there are plenty of intriguing arms.  Middle Tennessee State pitcher Dewon Brazelton's numbers are almost as good as Prior's but came against inferior competition.  Still, with a fastball that reaches 97 mph, he is regarded by many as the second best pitching talent in the draft.  Marshall (TX) High School sensation Colt Griffin just started pitching this year, but has already been clocked as high as 100 mph.  However, control is something altogether foreign to him right now.  He could be the next Nolan Ryan or the next David Clyde, depending on how well he takes to instruction.  High schooler Gavin Floyd, who hails from Severna Park near Baltimore, has an excellent fastball (regularly reaching 95 mph) and an even better curve ball.  Kris Honel, who's graduating from Providence Catholic High in New Lenox, Illinois just outside of Chicago, also has a terrific fastball and an exciting knuckle curve.  He missed a good portion of this season with a strained ligament in his wrist, but rebounded nicely to finish the season.  The lack of innings this year may end up as a blessing in disguise as he didn't put any excess wear and tear on his arm.

First Round Preview

Anyway, here's how I see this year's first round breaking down.
Team Player, Position Comments
1) Minnesota Joe Mauer, catcher local boy, relatively cheap sign, huge upside
2) Chicago Cubs Mark Prior, pitcher the best pitcher in the draft and perhaps the best in 20 years
3) Tampa Bay Dewon Brazelton, pitcher D-Rays have a number of quality hitting prospects, need pitching badly
4) Philadelphia  Gavin Floyd, pitcher Philly needs young pitching and 'Balmer' is close enough to call Floyd 'local'
5) Texas Colt Griffin, pitcher desperately needs pitching; local high school phenom w/100mph heater might be the answer
6) Montreal John VanBenschoten, first will probably end up in center considering the struggles of Bradley and Bergeron
7) Baltimore Mark Teixeira, third  Both Teixeira and Ripken hail from the Baltimore area; Cal needs a successor
8) Pittsburgh Mike Jones, pitcher Great fastball, but lack of a solid second pitch might send him to the pen
9) Kansas City Roscoe Crosby, outfield a two-sport star in the Dee Brown mold
10) Houston Kenny Baugh, pitcher Rice alum - like Lance Berkman; great command necessary for pitching at Enron
11) Detroit Aaron Heilman, pitcher went 14-0 at Notre Dame this year; a right handed Mark Mulder 
12) Milwaukee Casey Kotchman, first Florida high schooler often compared to a young Raphael Palmeiro
13) Anaheim Alan Horne, pitcher high schooler with great strikeout numbers - 143 in 75 innings
14) San Diego Kris Honel, pitcher like Mark Phillips last year, not much wear/tear but great potential
15) Toronto Michael Woods, second  hit .469 for Southern U. and has excellent basestealing skills (32 steals). 
16) Chicago WS  Jeremy Sowers, pitcher Louisville phenom has been the most dominating high schooler the past 2 years
17) Cleveland Josh Karp, pitcher Very good stuff, questionable make-up; could be in the majors soon if he wants
18) NY Mets Dan Denham, pitcher high schooler with mid-90s fastball, good curve; the Mets need young pitching
19) Baltimore Mike Gosling, pitcher top lefty in the draft; O's have had good success with Stanford alums (Mussina).
20) Cincinnati Jason Arnold, pitcher Reds picked him in 2000 in the 16th round, and he would have signed for $60K; will get considerably more this year.  Blossomed in his first year as a starter in 2001.
21) San Francisco JD Martin, pitcher  Not overpowering but good command of 4 pitches, a la Bobby Jones
22) Arizona Chris Burke, shortstop good power (18 HR), average (.452) and speed (42 SB) for a middle infielder
23) NY Yankees Matt Harrington, pitcher wouldn't sign with Rockies last year; the kind of high profile youngster the Yanks love
24) Atlanta Macay McBride, pitcher Georgia high school lefty who throws hard
25) Oakland John Ford-Griffin, outfield Has three of the ten .400+ seasons in FSU history; less power but better average hitter than JD Drew 
26) Oakland John Steitz, pitcher Yale right hander often compared to Scott Erickson
27) Cleveland Jake Gautreau, third hit .348 with wooden bat for Team USA last year
28) St. Louis Todd Linden, outfield powerful switch hitter was Cape Cod League (wooden bats) MVP last year
29) Atlanta Gabe Gross, outfield  Auburn alum often compared to Mike Greenwell, but with more power
30) San Francisco Mike Fontenot, second another in a growing line of good hitting LSU second basemen

You'll notice that not all teams have a first round pick.  Those that don't lost their picks as compensation for signing free agents away from other teams.  The compensation picks are:

16. White Sox from Marlins (Charles Johnson).
17. Indians from Red Sox (Manny Ramirez).
18. Mets from Rockies (Mike Hampton).
19. Orioles from Yankees (Mike Mussina).
21. Giants from Indians (Ellis Burks).
23. Yankees from Mariners (Jeff Nelson).
24. Braves from Dodgers (Andy Ashby).
26. Athletics from Mets (Kevin Appier).
27. Indians from White Sox (Sandy Alomar).

One Request

The NFL draft always gets a couple of days of coverage.  Actually, more like a week when you consider all the previews leading up to it.  Every major professional US sport televises it's draft and gets good ratings.  Hey, even the WNBA televises their draft and they get a decent number of viewers.  Every one but baseball, that is.  For whatever reason, the lords of baseball refuse to join the 21st century (or the 20th century for that matter) and televise the June draft.  They have yet to figure out how to make money at this game - other than extorting new stadiums from municipalities.  One step in the right direction, toward creating some enthusiasm for their sport from a grass roots level, would be to televise the draft.  There are a number of notable telegenic experts (at least as telegenic as Mel Kiper Jr) who are always ready to talk prospects: David Rawnsley, Allan Simpson, Jayson Stark, Peter Gammons, me...  ;-P.

Fantasy baseball players already pay close attention to the draft and the minors.  It's high time to introduce the grass roots of baseball to the mainstream of America.

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