What We Learned Today
June 7, 2010

Although it probably doesn't seem like it since there were no games with imminent playoff implications played and we're still almost two months from the trading deadline, today was one of the most important dates of this baseball season.  In addition to the amateur draft being held today - or at least the first round plus the supplemental round with the subsequent rounds over the next two days - the first round series of the NCAA baseball playoffs concluded leaving 16 teams vying for the title.  Oh, and they played some major league games, too.  Some might argue that tomorrow will be just as significant with the anticipated debuts of two of the most talented players of the last decade - Stephen Strasburg and Mike Stanton - but this is what we learned today:

1) That the ACC is still an over-rated conference. For the first time in their history the ACC garnered eight invitations to the big dance and six of the 8 were either #1 or #2 seeds. Of those eight, only 3 advanced. Frankly, it would not be at all surprising if after next weekend only one ACC team, Virginia, remained.  Conversely, the SEC, which is widely regarded as the deepest and toughest conference but has been poopooed as over-rated this season by the experts, particularly at Baseball America... the SEC lived up to it's claim as the best overall conference.  Of it's 8 participants, five advanced to the next round.  Last year's champ LSU was eliminated but it wasn't exactly an upset as they faced arguably the toughest bracket that included top 20 standout and perrenial power UC Irvine, and the best pitching staff in college baseball in UCLA (Although Texas has a legitmate claim to that title as well). Regardless, the SEC represented itself well and still remains the benchmark by which all other conferences measure themselves in baseball as well as football.

2) Scott Boras is no longer the man clubs fear. In previous years quite a number of the best talents fell later in the draft than their talent would merit due to signability concerns, i.e, that Boras would ask for too much money. Not this year as four of the top seven picks are represented by Boras.  I guess teams finally realized that even with the "exhorbitant" signing bonuses, that these amateur players both a) represent the future of their organizations so they better pick good ones, and b) when compared to the contributions of the average free agent, the amateurs drafted today dwarf the value of each dollar spent by an order of magnitude.  For example, Steven Strasburg was given a total of $15 million, a record for an amateur, for which he will pitch for the Washington Nationals (health willing) a minimum of six years.  In all likelihood, even during his rookie year he will be a better than average pitcher and there's a good chance he'll develop into one of the five best in the majors by the time his arbitration clock expires and he's eligible for free agency.  Compare that to the two-year, $15 million contract the Nationals gave Jason Marquis who is at best a league average innings eater.  So which is better: $15 million for six years of elite performance or $15 million for two years of average performance?  And that's just the very top picks.  Players taken in the second and third rounds rarely cost more than a few hundred thousand yet a large number become major league players, whose average salary is $2.1 million.  The answer is pretty clear for everyone involved.

3) The Boston Red Sox had a very solid draft of college talents who won't require much time in the minors. Bryce Bentz has power that should play in the majors pretty quickly - perhaps by the end of Adrian Beltre's current contract - but the steal of the draft was probably LSU ace Anthony Ranaudo. Before this season began he was widely regarded as the #2 pick overall (behind Harper) but he suffered a stress reaction in his pitching elbow early this season that sidelined him for a month.  He spent the remainder of the season trying to recover his mechanics, but his last couple of outings showed that he's almost back to form. When he's on he has three above average pitches (including a fastball that reaches 97) and a good feel for pitching. He's also fairly young compared to his competition so there's a chance for some more improvement to his natural stuff.  As good a risk as Kyle Gibson was last year with his collegiate-ending arm injury - and he has absolutely dominated hitters in the Florida State League and has continued his blitz in the AA Eastern League, Ranaudo represents an even better value for next year.  Hopefully he'll get signed quickly and move toward a productive major league career.

4) The catcher of the future in Washington is Derek Norris. The Nationals drafted uber-talent Bryce Harper as an outfielder and with good reason. As an outfielder, he won't have to learn all the nuances of catching at the higher levels and can just concentrate on what he does best: hit the cover off the ball.  Don't be surprised if he's taking swings against major league pitching by September of 2012.  The sooner they get his bat to the majors - a bat that hit .443 with 31 homers (on base of .536 and slugging of .987) against junior college competition - the better off everyone will be. What will likely happen is that he'll sign at the August deadline (as per Boras' modus operandi), spend the fall in Instructional league, start the 2011 season in the low-A South Atlantic League, perhaps with a promotion to high-A Potomac by the end of the season and then begin the 2012 season in Double A. Yes, his bat is good enough to challenge major league pitching by the time he's 19 years old.

5) The guys to watch other than Harper:
a) I really like Jameson Taillon, whom the Pirates took with the second overall pick. Huge upside but high school pitchers usually take three or four years to make their major league debut. He could come a little faster but that's still at least two years away.
b) A lot of folks are drawing comparisons to Alex Rodriguez for Manny Machado but I don't see it other than the fact that they were both shortstops from South Florida. He'll still be a pretty decent player but not that much more intriguing than Tim Beckham was in 2008.  If you're keeping score at home, this is Beckham's third year in the minors and he still hasn't reached AA.
c) The Royals surprised the pundits by taking Christian Colon, but given the state of shortstop in that organization it should not have been. His bat is disciplined enough to come quickly and he has enough power to be fantasy useful.  So when he signs it'll probably only take a year or so before he makes his debut.
d) Of the other college players taken, I think Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox) will probably be the one who makes it to the majors the fastest.  He has very good stuff, unusual mechanics which makes it harder for hitters to pick up the ball and he's been drafted by an organization that a) needs starting pitching and b) hasn't shied away from promoting young players quickly.  Drew Pomeranz (Cleveland) and Deck McGuire (Toronto) are both decent arms but I didn't see anything in them that said "superstar".  Both look two, maybe three years away from really contributing at the major league level and even then, as #2 or #3 type starters.  Michael Choice (Oakland) and Yasmani Grandal (Cincinnati) also look like major league regulars but at this point neither seem like perrenial all-stars.  They shouldn't take too long  to make their debuts, maybe by middle of next year, early 2012. 
e) Zack Cox (St. Louis) has a good bat but doesn't really have the kind of power to stick at third but his glove could play at second which kinda works out because the Cards have had a revolving doors there ever since, what... Tommy Herr?   Regular playing time is there for the taking if he can handle the defensive switch.

6) They played major league games too, didn't they... I really like the Pat Burrell signing/promotion in San Francisco.  The team was desperate for offense, particularly over-the-wall type power and Burrell has it.  He also still has a pretty good eye at the plate so the question is does he have the bat speed to make it play.  I think he does, especially now that he's back in his comfort zone, the National League.  I also think he'll get enough time at first base to earn eligibility there in fantasy leagues - he's played the position before for nearly 60 games -  so he could be a really nice addition for the second half.   Aaron Rowand has looked absolutely awful both in the field and at the plate so as long as Bochy is comfortable with an defensive outfield of Burrell, Torres and Huff, I think he'll go with that until the catching situation with Posey, Whiteside and Molina sorts itself out.  I expect Posey will be the guy behind the plate most of the time by August and with that Burrell at first base.

7) I am still not sold that Manny Corpas will keep the closer's job in Colorado, nor do I think Huston Street will ever get healthy enough this season to reclaim the job.  It might happen, but Street has proven to be easily breakable and even if he comes back this month I don't see him staying healthy the rest of the season.  And Corpas is beginning to look a lot like the wild Corpas of old.  The pitcher I would target for saves in the second half of this season is Matt Belisle, who has very quietly posted outstanding numbers.  To whit: in 25 appearances, he has allowed a run to score in only five of them and two of those were stints of at least 2.1 innings.  He has allowed only 2 runs since April 28 and in his last 22+ innings has walked only one batter while striking out 27.  Those numbers are the numbers of a closer.