2009 Draft Preview: Damaged Goods

Rooting for U.S. Steel
The two sides of Pat Venditte

Nick Adenhart MemorialBaseball’s amateur draft has quickly become a highly competitive marketplace for talent. Just a few seasons ago only a handful of teams really flexed their financial muscles to acquire top talent in the draft, but as young players have taken over the game clubs have revamped their focus on the annual talent drive. Case in point: The Royals spent $11.1M on the draft last year, a new record, while other traditional tightwads like the A’s ($6.5M), Brewers ($8.4M), and Pirates ($9.8M) also ramped up their spending from recent years. The Yankees are no longer the only team digging for late round bargains, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t uncover talent in the late rounds.

One thing Damon Oppenheimer has shown in recent years is that he’s willing to gamble on players with questionable medical dossiers. Both Andrew Brackman and Mark Melancon were drafted knowing that it was extremely likely they would need Tommy John surgery, Damon Sublett was selected after an injury riddled junior year, and Joba Chamberlain was taken despite concerns about his knee, triceps and weight. Perhaps the best example of a player being drafted while he was injured is the late Nick Adenhart, who was the top high school pitcher in 2004 before blowing out his elbow just days before the draft. The Angels gambled on his upside and TJ’s success rate, handing him a $710,000 bonus as a 14th rounder before watching him grow into one of the best young pitchers in the game.

Here’s some players that are either hurt, or have another negative mark on their resume that could cause them to fall into the later rounds, an avenue a team like the Yankees could explore to land extra talent. Fun starts after the jump.

Luke BaileyLuke Bailey, C, Troupe HS (Georgia)
The top all-around catching prospect in the draft class, Bailey blew out his elbow while pitching for his high school team and underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday morning according to Jason Churchill. He owns a premium combination of offensive prowess and defensive aptitude thanks to his supreme athleticism. Capable of squaring up balls and driving them all over the field with big time power potential, Bailey can also shut down the opposition’s running game with his strong, accurate arm and quick release.

Rated the 7th best high school prospect by Baseball America, Bailey was a first round lock prior to the injury, likely a top twenty pick. It’s possible that a team with multiple picks in the first and/or supplemental round (Angels, Diamondbacks, Mariners) could still pop him early because of the dearth of elite catching. Committed to Auburn, Bailey would be a solid selection for the Yanks at any point given the high success rate of TJ.

Ian Krol, LHP, Neuqua Valley HS (Illinois)
Ian KrolThis year’s draft class features an excellent collection of high end high school southpaws, and Krol fits right in with that group. The problem is that Krol hasn’t played in a game this season because he was kicked off his team for repeated violations of the school’s athletic code of conduct. When he’s actually on the mound, Krol uses his above average command to locate his low-90’s fastball to all four quadrants of the strike zone. He uses his heater to set up his promising curveball and changeup.

Makeup concerns like this tend to get frowned up obviously, but when push comes to shove, talent wins almost exclusively. The problem is that teams have not been able to get a look at Krol this year, and that will certainly affect his draft position. No one’s going to risk a high pick on someone who didn’t pitch at all this year, so instead of being selected in the top two rounds like he was expected to do before the season, look for Krol to drop down, possibly into the double digit rounds. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up following through on his commitment to Arizona.

Joe SandersJoe Sanders, IF, Auburn
One the better yet most unheralded hitters in the country, Sanders has been an anchor in the middle of Auburn’s lineup for the last three seasons. He was hit by a pitch in the face against Samford two weeks ago, breaking his jaw in two places. The injury required surgery, and Sanders had titanium plates installed to realign his jaw and secure the break. He’s expected to be out another week or so, which is astonishing to me considering the guy had titanium freaking plates put in his face.

Despite missing time with the injury, Sanders still leads the team in doubles (14), homers (18), RBI (54), total bases (124) and slugging (.756). He uses the same aggressive approach at the plate that embodies the Auburn program, and he has the bat speed and brute strength to drive the ball out of any part of any park. The problem is that while he’s played both second and third base for the Tigers, he doesn’t have the defensive skills for those positions and will likely be relegated to a corner outfield spot as a pro.

Unlike the other players in this post, Sanders isn’t a premium draft prospect. Instead he was borderline day one player, a fourth or fifth rounder under normal conditions because of some concerns about holes in his swing. Now with the injury, chances are that Sanders falls out of day one entirely and instead becomes a sixth through tenth round kind of player. That would be the perfect spot to gamble on a player with this kind of bat, especially for a Yankee team without too many impact bats on the way.

Chad Thompson, RHP, El Toro HS (Cali)
Chad ThompsonThompson is sort of the Dellin Betances of the 2009 draft. He’s huge (6′-8″, 210 lbs), raw, and didn’t really pop up on the radar until he flashed premium arm strength on the showcase circuit the year before he was draft eligible. Unfortunately for him, the promise of a top three rounds pay day went out the window when he blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery last Friday.

Thompson was as raw as it gets before the injury, even more raw than Betances was when he came out of high school. He shows mid-90’s velocity but doesn’t hold it because he struggles mightily to repeat the thing he calls a delivery. Both his breaking ball and changeup are as underdeveloped as Dustin Pedroia’s hair follicles. Thompson is a major project, but his upside is in orbit. TJ is likely to knock him out of day one of the draft, but if someone pops him in the late rounds and is willing to pony up a six figure bonus, Thompson may forego his commitment to Arizona State. He could be a major, major coup.

* * *

Now, obviously there’s an increased risk in taking players who are presently hurt or have not played at all this year, but some of that risk is mitigated by taking the player at a spot lower than their talent warrants. You still have the risk of getting no return on a big bonus, but frankly the Yankees aren’t hurting for cash and can assume the risk for a potentially high reward.

What d you guys think about gambling on players that are hurt? Good strategy or bad?

Photo Credits: Adenhart via Kurt Miller (Press-Enterprise); Bailey via LaGrange Daily News; Krol via Flickr user Let’s Play Two; Sanders via Anthony Hall (Auburn); Thompson via Jebb Harris (OC Register)

Rooting for U.S. Steel
The two sides of Pat Venditte
  • whozat

    Barring an implosion this season — and the way things are going, I’d almost not be surprised if things got worse from here — the Yanks never get to pick in a position where non-risky, impact talent is available. High-risk/high-upside drafts picks/international signings are the only ways they can get that kind of player into the system short of trades, so they need to go for it on those fronts.

  • Rick in Boston

    I’m a fan of taking the risk – the team ends up being able to monitor post-op and then can structure the rehab to fit the individual player. Kids going to college with an injury aren’t going to get the same opportunities to get healthy as a player going to pro ball – coaches on the collegiate level want you back in the field/on the mound as soon as possible since their job is based on your performance.

    In a major league organization, you have a multitude of trainers, coaches, doctors whose jobs are to get you healthy on a schedule that allows to to reach your peak potential. So yes, the Yanks should absolutely take risks on injured players.

    • Michael

      I saw the Sanders kid play in his last college game (after the injury), he went 2 for 3 with a jack out of the park …. the injury is a no player for this kid, he can still stoke ’em!

  • Moshe Mandel

    Good strategy. If you draft at the back of the 1st round every year, this is the way you end up with premium talent.

  • Bob Michaels

    Don`t forget the economic climate of today compared to last yr.I don`t think the bonus money will be that high this time around

    • Steve in MN

      yea the economy really effected the NFL draft

      • KW

        different sports, different slot and salary structure.

        • Steve in MN

          just saying a lot of people thought Stafford would get less than the usual huge salary increase from the previous year, because of the economy, especially in Detroit, and it never happened. I think teams would be short-sighted to lower bonuses this year. The economy won’t stay down, and when we come out of it, yea they may have saved 1 or 2 million, but won’t have as much talent.

  • Nick

    why not take a filer on an injured pitcher, cyears down the road they could be something special

  • Reggie C.

    Aside from Luke Bailey, no body else on this short list is anything close to a 1st round prospect. IF any are available in the 4th round , or wherever we pick second, then it looks good.

    The Yanks would be fortunate to have Luke Bailey available. But Axisa said it himself: given the high success rate of TJS, it’d make sense for many teams to select a toolsy catcher.

    DJ LeMahieu is still the likelier candidate.

    • Whozat

      He’s a 2b now, though. Much less valuable position.

      • Reggie C.

        But you draft him as a SS and you play him as SS.

        LSU did the move to get their hot-recruit freshman more time on the field. IF Dj requires a move to 2B later on as he gets bigger, then fine. But he can play SS. His defense has been written up as solid. That’s all we need … a solid/average SS.

        DJ has shown he can hit very very well. I think to pass on him b/c LSU decided to help out the team overall , a decision LIKELY fueled by the knowledge that DJ is not coming back to school, is terribly shorted-sighted.

        • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt ACTY

          +1.

        • whozat

          If what you say is true, ok. But my understanding was that his D was borderline. Valuing a guy as an SS even though you know there’s excellent odds he’ll have to move to 2B — since someone ALREADY decided to move him — is kind of stupid. It’s essentially overdrafting. If they really think he can stick at SS, that’s one thing. But, to me, it sounds like this kid’s upside is UT player, and you’d like to see more upside in a first round pick.

          • Reggie C.

            Hey. I know picking a position player in the 1st round is scary to you. And though I rave about DJ’s hitting talents and projectability at the plate, the LSU coach’s decision to move him to 2B has unfairly scarred DJ. LSU has one goal: put as many good players on the field to get back to the College WS. LSU doesn’t care about keeping DJ as SS so to assure him a 1st round selection.

            The “borderline D” at SS is mostly fueled by the scouts’ projections on what DJ will look like several years from now. He can man the position right now. With DJ’s advanced bat, he’s somebody who can be in the upper minors (AA) before any high school pitcher.

            • whozat

              Hey. I know picking a position player in the 1st round is scary to you.

              You couldn’t be more wrong. My point is that I want high-upside picks in the first round, and that usually means accepting risk. If DJ was such a lock to be awesome at the plate AND could stick at SS, he’d be gone by the time the Yanks could pick him. Since you’re so enamored of this kid, explain to me why he’ll fall in the first place. I read Mike’s piece about him and seen some other commentary, so I feel like I’ve got as good a read as I can on him without seeing him play. I also know that the reservations about his D pre-date his getting moved to 2B, but that just sort of confirms the worry.

              At the end of the first round, you’re pretty much left with risky pitchers and toolsy high school kids. “Advanced bats” that can play D are usually gone. If this kid is so good, why will he be left?

              • Reggie C.

                That’s not the point. If a team snaps him up before the Yanks get a chance to select then … hey… that’s life in a world where teams can’t move up or down in a prospect draft. I’m fine with that.

                My argument is centered on the premise that the Yanks shouldn’t pass on him for the projectable HS/college pitcher.

                • MattG

                  I just think it would be cool to replace DJ with DJ.

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Aunt Becca-Optimist Prime

    Mike: I think it depends on the type of injury.

    I mean, titanium plates in your face is frickin’ bad ass, but much less likely to impact your over all development as, say, a torn labrum.

    So I think you have to consider that.

    FWIW I think this year the Yanks really, really need to get some position players. We’ve got depth at starters and catchers, but not so much anything else. At least, as I understand it.

    Also, since it’s semi-related Former Yanks’ prospect Tabata out 4-6 weeks with strained hamstring http://bit.ly/uhdML

    • whozat

      FWIW I think this year the Yanks really, really need to get some position players. We’ve got depth at starters and catchers, but not so much anything else. At least, as I understand it.

      I couldn’t disagree more. You don’t take a lesser prospect just because of the position he plays. Think about it…would adding some decent college middle infielder without too much upside to A ball really help the organization at all?

      Adding another talented pitcher to the pool sends ripples up the organization…you add an arm with big upside, all of a sudden a guy like Brackman or Betances becomes expendable, perhaps. Even if you add a more advanced arm with a bit less upside, that adds to your pool of talent and maybe makes it so you feel OK packaging Kennedy and ZMac in a deal, or the added depth behind Hughes and Joba makes you feel like you can trade Wang in 2010.

      Always take the best player available

      • UWS

        Always take the best player available.

        Bears repeating.

        • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Aunt Becca-Optimist Prime

          I see where you guys are coming from.

          I guess, in the long run, as long as you get the position players eventually, you’ll be ok.

          • whozat

            Clearly. It’s also the case that position players are better bets in free agency. That said, you do want to create your own.

            The other side of building a minor league system is trading veterans for young talent, and that’s something the Yanks have been unable to do for a while now, partly because they’re just now beginning to see the kind of influx of young players that LETS you trade your vets, and also because they have handed out no-trade clauses like candy and signed guys through their decline phases where no one wants them.

            Chien-Ming Wang, provided that he returns healthy and effective, will be the first attractive veteran trade target the Yanks have had in years, and I’d like to see them take advantage of that. I think they’ll have the pitching depth to move him this coming offseason or during 2010, and he’s the best chip they have to bring back a young stud position player.

            • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt ACTY

              Chien-Ming Wang, provided that he returns healthy and effective, will be the first attractive veteran trade target the Yanks have had in years, and I’d like to see them take advantage of that. I think they’ll have the pitching depth to move him this coming offseason or during 2010, and he’s the best chip they have to bring back a young stud position player.

              I agree with what you’re saying, but I think they’ll have to wait til probably mid-season next year to trade him. Everyone’s real low on Wang and I think GMs are gonna be pretty gun-shy about him until he proves he can be his ’07/first part of ’08 self again.

              • whozat

                Sure, that’s probable. But I think if he came back in June, put up his customary sub-4 ERA and racked up a bunch of wins while singlehandedly halving the earthworm population of the Bronx he’d have convinced people he’s back. Especially if he added some post-season wins to his resume :-)

                And that’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

                • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt ACTY

                  Very true. As long as he’s respectable in the second half, his trade value will go up.

            • Reggie C.

              So we build a stable of projectable and hopefully impressive minor league pitchers to allow the organization to trade veterans + minor league depth for other org.’s talented position players.

              How many moving parts are there in that ideal scenario?? Too many.

              • steve (different one)

                teams do this all the time.

          • steve (different one)

            if the Yankees had a top 10 pick, and they were choosing between “stud bat” and “stud pitcher”, i think you could argue that *maybe* they should prioritize position players over pitchers, even if the pitcher is just slightly ahead of the bat on their board….

            but picking at the end of the 1st round, there aren’t going to be too many sure thing position players, where you might get a top 5 pitching talent who fell b/c of injury concerns.

            i’d like the see them stock up at position players too, but not at the expense of a clearly superior talent.

            • zack

              Yes, but the chances of it being a “clearly superior talent” at the end of the 1st round aren’t that great either. Picking best available player only gets you so far in a sport like baseball where the end of the 1st round and the next few rounds don’t have nearly the drop off as say football.

              The Yankees can continue drafting the BAP all they want, which seems to equal RHP for them, but if they aren’t going to trade any of them, then they have a pretty crappy situation.

              Everyone here says “Always take the BAP” and “then trade them for position prospects,” but then anytime anyone mentions the possibility of actually trading one of those ACTUAL pitching prospects, they freak out and say there’s no way you can trade Brackman or Betences.

              Well guess what, either you start trading those guys for the impact bats this minor league system so desperately lacks and causes the major league club to run out the Ransoms and Molinas of the world and sign free agents, or you start finding ways to get those bats into the system, like actually drafting them…

  • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt ACTY

    Not sure why, but I’m most intrigued by Sanders.

    • Michael

      The kid got hit in the face with a fastball and it didn’t even knock him down. I’ve seen this kid play and he is one of the best young hitters I’ve seen in the SEC.

  • Stormrider6

    “Both his breaking ball and changeup are as underdeveloped as Dustin Pedroia’s hair follicles.”

    IETS (I enjoyed this simile)

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      Fun Fact #375

      Dustin Pedroia has had Harvard scientists work on a way of stopping his hair growth, because haircuts aren’t gritty.

  • mark the spark

    it’s a good strategy. if you can get just 1 Joba Chamberlain every 5 years, then you’re ahead of the game. but i’d like to see the yanks mix it up in the upcoming drafts and include more position players. especially guys with speed. i think that’s where the game is going. speed, pitching & defense, like it used to be.

    • V

      Speed and defense are great and all, but that’s basically what Brett Gardner is, at this point. I want more.

      • MattG

        Speed, yes. Defense? TBD.

        • Bo

          Hitting wouldn’t be a bad tool to focus on.

  • JohnC

    Dellin Betances today:

    6IP, 1R, 6H, 2BBs, 4Ks. 3-1 Tampa bottom of 7th.

  • ledavidisrael

    When your not pitching off the top of the heap your better off going high reward.

    Exp when a team has to have 15 all stars on the roster..

  • Mike

    off topic i know as far as this years draft but a story on venditte is the front page story on espn right now done by rick reilly.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=4145564

  • Stuart

    sorry to post here about the US Steel comments previously but man people need to get a grip. I live in southern Cal. from NY, older then most of you and a huge yankee fan. went back last august to catch 2 games before the park was closed.

    People act like the Yankee management(Yes I dislike Levine) are the only suits in baseball that care about $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$…
    I have a friend his family owns 20+ % of a ML team, they all care about money mainly.

    The Dodgers act like they are KC, yes they are off to a fast start but that is besides the point. It is pile on the Yankees time.. They are drawing about 45K a game, there tickets at least the premiums ones are outrageously priced and someone needs to acknowledge that and make the appropriate changes but all the piling on is obscene. the prima donna writers in NY are bozos that rate a stadium based on how good the FREE grub is in the press box……..

    The Yanks do one thing that is undeniable they try to win all the time, they may make bad decisions but it is not for lack of trying but just poor decision making….

    I have been to almost every stadium on the league I have not been to the new Yankee yet, but I wil lthis summer and I expect to not miss the terrible halls, no food choices, and many other issues with the old stadium..

    I am sure Citi is noce, but that is not my team, I will check it out also but I am a Yankee fan no matter what. I remember the Horace Clarke days so I have seen some ups and downs…

    • Bo

      This is why there are different threads. Stay on topic.

  • Bob

    For the record Ian Krol has pitched in the Hitters Spring league which is in a suburb of Milwaukee. There have been many scouts and cross-checkers up to see him pitch. He has faced some of the best players in that area, and many of them are going to play Division 1 baseball next year. His velo topped out at 92 last week in just his third start and his ERA is 0.44 with 36 K’s, 6 BB’s, 7 Hits, 1 ER in 17 innings. Did he make a poor choice early this spring, no doubt, he has learned a valuable lesson and is moving forward and working hard on and off the baseball diamond.

    • zack

      Mr. Krol, is that you?

  • Aaron

    For what it’s worth; I seriously doubt the Mariners will use a high pick on a catcher. They have too many prospects there as-is. They’re busy converting Jeff Clement to 1b because they have Adam Moore in the pipeline. Not to mention the irrational love the Japanese ownership has for Kenji Johjima…

    • Bo

      You take the best player on the board. If its a catcher, you take a catcher. No matter what else you got going. You don’t draft for needs.

  • http://gki6qg.bay.livefilestore.com/y1puypvkbiyS0057kXx8x2sZlo28XQxGaQmHFvMu2lie6r1rCkkqnEB_nyVnvfMULxzjczS5-2wrHhZD50j8JF2g_0yaNzAARSl/ManBearPig%20Championship%20Banner%20(landscape).JPG ManBearPig

    I can’t wait for this year’s draft, especially after the letdown that was last year’s draft. Thanks guys!

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