Once upon a time I believed high school players were where itâ€™s at, that a team should spend all 50+ of its picks on prepsters and completely forego college players. However Iâ€™ve been coming around on college guys of late, and nowÂ believe that they too have their place in the amateur draft world (conversely, Billy Beane has been warming up to high schoolers, taking 4 in his top 7 picks last year). In fact, Iâ€™ve concluded that a team should draft only college guys at 2 key positions: catcher and end-game reliever. Experience in these roles is crucial, and you can argue that they are the scarcest commodities out there.
But enough of that, lets get down to business. If youâ€™re a Yankee fan, thereâ€™s only one guy to focus on for the first round: Jack McGeary. The 6â€™-3â€ southpaw will be graduating from Roxbury Latin High in suburban Boston this summer and has a â€“ putting it mildly â€“ strong commitment to attend Mike Mussinaâ€™s alma mater, Stanford (and it’s not just baseball that’s getting him there either, he scored a 2030 on his SATs). Over the last decade, the rule of the land has been â€œif you commit to Stanford, you go to Stanford,â€ as nary a player has passed up the Cardinal for pro ball since before Moose played at Sunken Diamond. That track record combined with some scary bonus demands (more on that later) is what will get McGeary to the Yanks at #30.
So what makes this kid so great? As I mentioned before, heâ€™s a nice big lefty, butÂ his calling card is his polish. Heâ€™s the equivalent of a college pitcher coming out of high school, and the only other prep pitcher drafted this century with a similar level of polish is one Mr. Philip J. Hughes. McGeary sports an 88-91 mph fastball that is generally his 4th best pitch (itâ€™s more than likely that heâ€™ll add a couple ticks once he fills out and gets into a proper throwing program). He commands one of the draft’s best curveballs and 2-seamer to both sides of the plate, and his changeup is well beyond his years. His delivery is nice and simple, and he repeats it with ease.
McGreary has said he doesnâ€™t consider himself a finesse pitcher nor a power pitcher, he believes he is something in between. Given that he’s a non-power lefty coming out of a Massachusetts high school, I’m sure you’ve already thought of the Tom Glavine comp, though I wouldn’t consider that entirely accurate. The best comp is Andy Pettitte, a guy who throws too hard to be considered a soft tosser, but spins a good enough breaking ball to keep hitters honest.
So what about that Stanford commitment? Jack’s father has said that he’d forgo his commitment for “life changing money,” words that send chills down the spines of scouting directors everywhere. I dunno about you, but $500 grand would change my life considerably, although I’d have to think the McGeary’s are thinking $2M+. We all know money isn’t an issue with the Yanks, who spent a combined $3.35M on the first round last year.
But where do you draw the line? Is $2M too much for a prep pitcher, considering all the perceived risk? Clayton Kershaw reeled in $2.3M last year, the only high school pitcher to cash in over the $2M mark other than Josh Beckett, whoÂ landed a $4M bonus as part of the $7M major league deal he signed in 1999. So maybe $2M it is too much, but then again,Â maybe it’s just not anymore. Maybe it’s the new going rate for premium high school arms.Â If you want to get an idea of how much a club likes someone, look at how much they gave them as a signing bonus, not where they were drafted. If the Yanks like McGeary (and they better), suddenly $2M or $2.5M doesn’t seem unreasonable.
The key is working out a predraft deal with the kid to make sure he’sÂ signable (predraft deals happenÂ all the time, there’s nothing groundbreaking here). The new CBA mandates a uniform signing date of August 15th for draft picks, so the negotiating window that was once 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds big is now barely one-sixth that. That’s great for college coaches, but not the negotiating process, hence the importance of knowing how signable he is.
I’m curious to see if his commitment and bonus demands make him plummet a la Dellin Betances, though McGeary is much more likely to be worth the gamble. So what happens if McGeary is off the board by time the Yanks first pick comes up? That’s what these kids are for:
Michael Burgess, OF, Hillsborough High (Fla.)
Comin’ straight outta the same high school that gave you such first class citizens as Gary Sheffield, Carl Everett and Doc Gooden, Burgess can flat rake. Only 4 people in the history of the universe have hit a ball that cleared the 60 foot tallÂ batters eye at Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium:Â VinnyÂ Jackson, Frank Thomas, Junior, and Michael Burgess. His exploits have already hit YouTube (hat tip to DA Humber), and he’s the best power prospect in the entire draft class, and that includes Matt “the centerfield cameraman is for target practice” LaPorta. Damon Oppenheimer seems to have a bit of a phobia when it comes to power prospects (the top power hitter he’s drafted and signed in his 2 years at the helm is CJ Henry), which seems a bit odd to me. Burgess strikes me asÂ the kind of kid you draft, develop for 2 years, then trade for an ace-type starter. He’s committed to Arizona State.
Josh Smoker, LHP, Calhoun High (Georgia)
Offering a bit more upside than McGeary, Smoker is also a much bigger risk (he’s Betances to McGeary’s Phil Hughes). He flashes a mid-90’s fastball, but generally sits around 90-91. He also throws a decent change, an improving slider, and has the makings of a nice split. He’s committed to Clemson, and might be a bit of a reach at #30, unless he has a monster senior year. The Yanks just have to avoid getting caught up in the “we lost out on McGeary, so let’s get the next best thing” mindset if there’s someone better out there.
Justin Jackson, SS, Roberson High (N.C.)
Your typical toolsy shortstop, Jackson is a whiz with the glove, sporting well-above average hands, footwork, arm strength and accuracy. At the plate, his best asset is his patient approach. He makes solid contact consistently, but can have the bat knocked out of his hands by good fastballs. Even though he’s committed to Arizona State, there’s a good chance Jackson will be off the board by #30, but stranger things have happened. He’s got a chance to be the best player from the draft, period, if all things go right. Just like CJ Henry…
Nick Noonan, Parker High (Ca.)
Another Clemson commit and another toolsy shortstop, I’ve actually seen this kid play, albeit for about 5 innings. There’s a high school field not 50 feet from my “backyard,” so I catch the occasional game when there’s nothing better to do. I’m no scout, but I can tell you for a fact that Noonan was clearly the best player on the field, at the plate and on defense. A wiry-strong lefty hitter, Noonan’s game isÂ similar to Stephen Drew’s, just with more speed. He plays with a quiet confidence, but he lacks the overall explosivenessÂ most teams like to see out of first rounders, which is why he’ll have to settle for being a sandwich pick.Â
The high school class this year is extremely impressive, and is headed by two RHPs who’ve committed to UNC: Matt Harvey and Rick Porcello. What makes them so unique is that neither is from California, Florida, Texas, Arizona or some other typical baseball hotbed. Harvey is coming out of Fitch High in Connecticut, while Porcello is coming out of Seton Hall Prep in JerseyÂ (Eric Duncan’s alma mater). It’s not often that cold weather stats produce elite prospects, let alone two in the same draft.
Just like every year, Baseball America‘s got the best draft coverage around. They’ve recently launched their Draft Blog, and their two most recent podcasts talk about the draft class as a whole, and the newest fad of drafting college closers and rushing them toÂ the bigs.
Next up, more on the college guys.
(Photo Credits: Jack McGeary via Perfect Game USA. Josh Smoker’s back via The Augusta Chronicle. Nick Noonan via The San Diego Hall of Champions).