In recent years, Major League Baseball has worked to catch up with professional basketball and football by making its amateur draft a big deal. It has received help from ESPN, which has decided to televise the early part of the event and it has received help from its franchises who are putting an emphasis on their farm systems and not free agents. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, interest has been generated by the internet as college and prep stars' statistics and scouting reports have become much more accessible.
The 2008 MLB Amateur Draft, which is this Thursday, June 5th at 2:00, boasts a weak overall pool of talent. Its strengths are at first base, catcher, and in relief pitching. Its weaknesses are in pitching- particularly at the high school level, outfield and shortstop. There are five players that would be highly ranked in any year and then there is a falloff to the second tier of roughly eight players. At that point, the talent drops off significantly and each player comes with questions. With that in mind, here are the top 15 heading into the draft based on scouting reports, statistics and track record. One note: this list is strictly based on talent- signability (i.e. Scott Boras clients and players leaning towards college) is not figured in.
At the end, we try to feed the Reds fans by prognosticating, using Reds logic, who the Cincinnati Reds will take with their seventh overall pick.
The Top 15 Draft Prospects:
1. Tim Beckham, HS, SS: He is not a clear cut number one pick, but he has the highest ceiling in the draft and is easily the most talented high school player. The Rays have the first pick and they have a glaring need at shortstop and catcher so they will either take Beckham or Florida State catcher Buster Posey
2. Pedro Alvarez, Vanderbilt, 3B: He missed the first 23 games of the season, put up a respectable but not remarkable batting average of .312 and is still in the top five. This is because he has some serious power and has already proven himself on Team USA the past two summers.
3. Aaron Crow, Missouri, RHP: Crow's stock skyrocketed earlier this season when he put together 43 straight scoreless innings. He came back to earth in April and then came concerns about his violent motion. These minuses may drop him to number seven in the draft, but no lower than that.
4. Brian Matusz, San Diego, LHP: Many scouts, experts, and MLB personnel have Matusz ahead of Crow, but its just a matter of taste. Matusz is lefthanded, may be more polished, and may have more secondary pitches, but Crow keeps the ball down.
5. Buster Posey, Florida State, C: There are many teams early in the draft in dire need of catching. Posey, who has only been catching two years, may be the safest pick in the draft. He is going to hit (he hit .471 this season) and despite his inexperience behind the plate, he is already an above average fielder.
6. Justin Smoak, Southern California, 1B: Though the struggled with Team USA last year, Smoak has done nothing but hit and hit for power in college. He can hit to all fields- from both sides of the plate- and is above average defensively. The biggest question on him is his position- should a team really draft a first baseman this high considering it is the easiest position to learn (and possibly fill)?
7. Eric Hosmer, HS, 1B: Scott Boras has his hands on Hosmer and claims it will take a lot of cash for Hosmer not to fulfill his commitment to attend Arizona State. Hosmer is the best high school hitter in the country and can throw a fastball in the 90s- he's a great athlete and a huge risk. He could drop like a rock due to his Boras affiliation.
8. Yonder Alonso, Miami, 1B: Amazingly, a third straight first baseman lands in the Top 15. That may not happen again for twenty years. That is a good indication of just how weak this draft is that no high school pitcher is a better pick than the first three first basemen.
9. Gordon Beckham, Georgia, SS: Gordon (no relation to fellow Georgian Tim) went undrafted out of high school and proceeded to use that chip on his shoulder in a positive manner. He won the Cape Cod League home run title last summer and continued to hit for power this spring drawing comparisons to Chase Utley. He uses more of the field than Utley, but he will probably end up at Utley's position which drops him a little in the draft.
10. Kyle Skipworth, HS, C: Overall, the draft may be weak, but the state of California tried its best to change that. There may be five to seven Californians chosen in the first round including Skipworth, who is the best high school catcher. He is widely considered as significantly better than Devin Mesoraco who was chosen 15th overall by the Reds last year.
11. Shooter Hunt, Tulane, RHP: There is a slight dropoff from Matusz and Crow to Hunt, but not much. Because he is a pitcher and some players ahead of him are first basemen, this should be about the latest that Hunt is drafted.
12. Aaron Hicks, HS, OF/ RHP: Whoever drafts Hicks will have an interesting decision to make- centerfielder or pitcher? He is a five tool centerfielder who reminds many of Eric Davis, but he also throws a fastball in the mid 90s and has a hard curveball, a cutter and a change to boot. It would not be a reach to see Hicks drafted in the top ten.
13. Josh Fields, Georgia, RHP: There is a dropoff after Hicks. Fields is a right handed Billy Wagner in almost every aspect. He can throw in the upper 90s, he can miss badly in spurts, and he is small in stature.
14. Brett Lawrie, HS (Canada), 3B/C: Canadians can be hard to scout due to the weather, weak competition and lack of exposure. Lawrie fell through these cracks until he went on tour last summer with Canada' junior national team. He has skyrocketed up the rankings as more and more people see him.
15. Tim Melville, HS, RHP: Melville barely edges fellow high school hurler, Ethan Martin, for the last spot in our rankings. He is no Clayton Kershaw nor Homer Bailey and really is not worthy of a first round pick in a normal year. As it is, he and his family have made it quite public that he wants to be paid like a top 15 pick or he is honoring his commitment to North Carolina.
Lastly, who do the Cincinnati Reds, who have Bengaled the last two first round picks, figure to draft when the seventh overall pick is up on Thursday? Well, they could ignore history and draft another fast riser with no track record (2007 first rounder Devin Mesoraco) or someone that cannot make contact despite his advanced age (2006 first rounder Drew Stubbs). Or they could go with a high ceiling high schooler that has plenty of experience competing at top levels (Skipworth). Or they could make a safe pick on a position of need (Gordon Beckham). Or they could get lucky and have someone fall into their laps and be forced to succeed- a scenario that is possible, but not probable...
The top five in the rankings should all be gone by the time the Reds pick at number seven. If not, they should jump on whoever remains and then keep going to church. If this does not happen, here are the best picks for the Reds with an emphasis on three positions of need: pitching, shortstop and catching.
1. Eric Hosmer- only if they are going to pay him Boras- type money which is doubtful, so that leads us to...
2. Kyle Skipworth- this corrects the pick from last year (Mesoraco), but drafting two straight catchers is a stretch, so that leads us to...
3. Gordon Beckham- safe pick... let's hope he stays at shortstop.
4. Aaron Hicks- would be worth the price of admission at Dayton next year.
5. Shooter Hunt- projects no higher than a #3.
Put it all together, and Gordon Beckham is the probable pick for the Reds.
Minor Leagues, MLB