Looking Ahead to the Draft, College EditionBy
Hard to believe it’s already time to start talking draft again, ain’t it? It seems like just yesterday Blogger acted like the piece of shit it is, making draft day so frustrating that I abandoned IGWT. But that’s neither here nor there.
For the first time in the history of man, the MLB draft will be televised this year. I’m not sure if all the details have been hammered out yet, but word on the street is ESPN will televise the first 5 rounds on Thursday, June 7th, with the remaining 45 rounds to take place off-air the following day. Casual fans may not be interested in watching their team select a player that won’t contribute to the big league squad for 3-4 years, but for the die-hards, this is about as good as it gets.
For the first time in what seems like an eternity, the Yanks did not forfeit a first round pick as compensation for signing a free agent this offseason. Since they tied with the Mets for baseball’s best record, but had a better aggregate record over the last 3 years, the Yanks’ first pick will come at number 30 overall, the last pick of the first round. Thanks to the new CBA, there’s 34 supplemental first round picks this year, with one more possibly on the way if the D-Backs don’t sign ’06 first rounder Max Scherzer. The Yanks don’t have any of those picks, and lost out on any chance to pick one up when they inexplicably resigned Ron Villone. As it stands right now, the Yanks are picking at #30, then at either #94 or 95 overall (depending on how the Scherzer situation plays out), and every 30 picks thereafter.
The ’07 draft class is one of the better classes in recent memory, highlighted by an outstanding high school crop (surprisingly, much of the prep talent comes from cold weather states), and supplemented by some high ceiling college arms and a surprising amount of depth behind the plate. The latter is exceptional news for Yankee fans, who’ve been looking for the answer to the “Who’s after Jorge?” question for 2-3 seasons now.
Matt Wieters of Georgia Tech (.355-15-71 in ’06) and JP Arencibia of Tennessee (.352-11-52) are the cream of the college catching crop, and probably the 2 best college hitters available in this draft. Both could be off the board by pick #10, but Wieters is being “advised” by Scott Boras, so who knows where he’ll end up. I just wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the kid to fall to the Yanks. He’s crazy good. Here’s the best of the rest:
Mike Ambort, Lamar
If you’ve been around since the days of IGWT, then you might recognize his name as one of the guys I mentioned last year. Ambort suffered what was thought to be a minor elbow injury in the 2005 Cape Cod League season, but he ended up having Tommy John surgery 2 weeks into the college season. Since taking a medical redshirt prolonged his eligibility, Ambort will be returning to Lamar as a 5th year senior in 2007. Before his injury, the local kid out of Rockville Center was a masher who set a school record with 18 home runs and handled catching duties with aplomb. He’s the best player on the best team in the Southland Conference, and will be a coup for someone after the fifth round.
Mitch Canham, Oregon
Canham is battle tested backstop, leading OSU to the CWS Title in 2006. He coaxed 18 straight scoreless innings from an overly taxed pitching staff against an otherworldly Rice lineup, and made a game saving block on a wild pitch in the late innings of the Title game. He’s a great clubhouse guy with great leadership skills, and the ability to get the most out of his pitchers. His bat is great for a catcher, but he won’t be able to match Jorge Posada’s output, not that many could. Regardless, he’d be a wise choice to succeed Posada, and could still be around when the Yanks choose in the second round.
Josh Donaldson, Auburn
Outside of Wieters and Arencibia, Donaldson is arguably the best pure hitter amongst backstops in this year’s draft. Pitchers routinely posts sub-1.00 ERAs in the pitcher friendly Cape Cod League (an ERA of 0.00 is not uncommon for relievers), but Donaldson was one of a handful that hit over .300. The anchor of the Tigers’ lineup, Donaldson’s line drive stroke at the plate isn’t in question. His defense is merely adequate, but he works hard at it and has shown signs of improvement with his footwork and catch-and-throw skills. His bat will draw a lot of attention, especially in the second round.
Alex Garabedian, Charleston
Even though he’s at Brett Gardner’s alma mater now, Garabedian spent the first 2 years of his college career at Miami. He’s another masher, with plus power to all fields and a knack for doing something good with pitcher’s pitches. Adequate behind the plate, he’ll do a good job shutting down the running game, but I don’t think pitchers will be comfortable burying a breaking ball in the dirt for strike 3. Unsigned as the Yanks’ 7th round pick in 2004 out of high school, the Yanks would be wise to pluck him again. He’s my sleeper pick behind the plate.
The one thing that seems to happen every year is teams overdraft catchers because of position scarcity (see Parrish, David). That’s not the case this year, and it’ll be interesting to see if some of these guys fall down into the draft spots that their skill set says they should be in. Personally, I really like Canham, and I love what Ambort brings to the table, and given the Yanks lack of catching depth, I’d have no qualms if they took both.
Here are a couple of other kids to think about:
Wes Roemer, RHP, Cal State Fullerton
Armed with a heavy sinker that sits in the low-90s and a good slider he’ll throw at any time, Roemer is a true workhorse. He averaged just about 7.2 IP per start in 2006, and at 6″5′, 185 lbs, he still has room to add some muscle to his already durable frame, not to mention add a tick to his heater. His changeup is promising, but it’s still a work in progress. His biggest strength is his top of the line command, as he posted a (ready for this?) 145-7 K/BB ratio in 155 innings last year, and started the campaign off with 65 consecutive walk-free innings. The numbers say he should be a top 10 pick, but his rather pedestrian stuff will drop him down into the sandwich round, possibly further.
Danny Moskos, Clemson and Cole St. Clair, Rice
There are about a dozen college relievers in this draft that can be described as elite prospects, but Moskos and St. Clair stand out from the pack because they’re left-handed. Moskos has an electric arm that produces plus fastballs and devastating breaking balls, and is basically the lefty version of Craig Hansen (so expect Peter Gammons to inexplicably praise him any day now). St. Clair is more of a Mike Stanton bulldog-type, owning a heavy sinking fastball, a sharp breaking ball and a nifty changeup. Both guys are good enough to start, but are more useful to their team at the end game (Rice coach Wayne Graham refers to St. Clair as his “moment of truth” guy). I’m a sucker for big game experience, which is why I prefer St. Clair (he tossed 5 innings of 1 unearned run ball against Miami in an emergency start in the ’06 CWS), but he is a Rice pitcher, so his arm could fall off any day now. Both guys should be gone before Round 2 begins, and I’d never take a reliever with a first round pick, but St. Clair recently went down with a “fluke shoulder injury” that could drop him in the draft, similar to what happened with Mark Melancon last year.
Damon Sublett, 2B, Wichita State
I ragged on Sublett a bit back at IGWT (I can’t find the post, but trust me, I did) for comparing Wichita State’s Eck Stadium to Yankee Stadium, but anytime you mention guys like Darren Dreifort and Braden Looper as former greats, well, you asked for it. Anywho, Sublett is a pure hitter and the essence of a guy who can fall out of bed and hit. He battled a broken hamate bone from May on last year, but still won Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year honors with a .394-10-45 campaign. His energy is infectious, and even though the Yanks have Jeter and Cano set at the middle infield, Sublett could be too good to pass up in the third round, and is athletic enough to play just about any position. It’s worth mentioning that Sublett also has the best breaking ball in the draft, and has been lights out as the Shocker’s closer the last 2 years, allowing exactly zero earned runs in the process.
Another guy worth mentioning is Matt LaPorta, the 2005 NCAA homerun king who had an injury plagued draft year in 2006. He returned Florida for his senior year, and is looking to reclaim his first round status. It may sound ridiculous now, but the Sawx failure to sign LaPorta last year could be akin to them failing to sign Mark Teixeira as 9th rounder out of high school in the ’98 draft.
Kellen Kulbacki of James Madison is another intriguing guy. He was a monster in 2006 (.464-24-75), but there are legitimate concerns that Madison’s extremely hitter friendly park skewed the numbers. I say that ballparks donâ€™t allow XBH by themselves, so Kulbacki still had to put a pretty serious charge into the ball on a regular basis to have that kind of season. If he’s still around in the 5th or 6th round, I’d bite.
And what the heck, keep an eye on Nebraska righthander Tony Watson (10-2, 2.78 ERA in 2006). If the Yanks take him, that would make it the third straight year they’ve drafted Nebraska’s ace (Joba in ’06, Zack Kroenke in ’05). Treachery may be afoot…
I’ll tackle the uber-impressive high school class next time around.