06/07/2004 9:29 PM ET
Trend changes for NL East teams
High school position players taken often
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
Reviewing the draft results of teams from the NL East might lead high school players to come to the conclusion that they should stay in school. The results are in, and NL East teams went after collegians first and preps second in this year's First-Year Player Draft, especially when it came to pitchers.
|Phil Humber, whom the Mets picked Tuesday, was one of three Rice pitchers taken in the first round. (Rice University)
Collegians are not only considered to be farther along in the development process -- and thus easier to predict their ultimate value to the team -- they are less of a gamble than high school teens who are still growing. Most teams target the best player, regardless of age, but if all else is equal most teams will tab the collegian over the prepster each time.
The downside is the collegian is usually more expensive, especially if he has college eligibility remaining. But the recent examples of teams rebuilding rapidly with young college arms who move through an organization quickly appears to be gaining adherents throughout the league, and the NL East was no exception this year:
Mets: The Mets directed their attention on prospects who are farther along the development curve. Of the 50 players the Mets selected, 33 were college players. While they have varying degrees of experience, the process was clearly geared toward selecting a more-experienced player, especially pitchers.
Gary LaRocque, the club's assistant general manager and director of baseball relations, acknowledged that the Mets have always drafted a plethora of pitching but said there was no conscious effort to do so this season.
"It just presented itself as our best option," LaRocque said. "But that has been close to being consistent with what we've done in the past. The way you look at it, the pitching just presented itself."
While Phil Humber of Rice, the Mets' top pick, is considering a high-ceiling prospect the sleeper of the draft could be Jim Burt, whom the Mets chose in the 19th round. Son of former NFL star Jim Burt, the University of Miami first baseman/outfielder has better-than-average power. He's hitting .374 with 14 homers through 58 games this season and has 36 homers in his four years as a member of the Hurricanes.
Fourth-round pick Aaron Hathaway, a catcher from the University of Washington, second-round pick right-hander Matt Durkin, and 14th-round pick Brad Meyers, a high school righty from California, are three of the players whose progress is worth watching.
"We're very pleased with the way everything turned out over the last two days," LaRocque said. "(Director of Amateur Scouting) Jack Bowen and all the amateur scouts all worked extremely hard to give us the kind of depth we had on the board."
Expos: The Expos loaded up on pitching, beginning with left-hander Bill Bray, their No. 1 pick. Twenty-one of the 32 players selected by Montreal Tuesday were pitchers.
"We took pitchers to fill some spots and without compromising the talent, we feel we have some guys that could make an impact," scouting director Dana Brown said.
Montreal went after collegians almost exclusively, and when they did stray after prepsters it usually was for a outstanding talent like shortstop Ian Desmond or pitcher Collin Balester.
"We stayed the course with our mission statement and that is, before the year starts we have a mission for our scouts to find power legs, power arms and power bats," Brown said. "We think we have a few of those players in this draft -- early and some late."
Phillies: After selecting just four high school players out of their first 18 picks on Monday, including Greg Golson at No. 21 overall, the Phillies stayed in college during Day 2, selecting 18 of 32 players from the higher education ranks.
The Phillies' 2004 draft crop includes 32 college players -- 17 hitters and 15 pitchers -- out of 50 selections. Of the 18 high-school players, 12 were hitters.
"I'm very pleased with what we did on the first and second day," said Marti Wolever, the team's director of scouting. "We got some great athletes."
Golson, 18, was rated the best five-tool high-school player in the draft. Though he has a scholarship to play for the University of Texas, he's expected to sign.
Golson is considered a can't miss, but keep an eye on a few other Phillies draftees, inclduing Nathan Johnson, a right-hander from the University of Iowa, Kevin Rose, a right-hander from San Francisco and Nick Evangelista, a 6'4 right-hander from the University of Pittsburgh.
Marlins: Florida put a premium on taking the types of players that helped the organization win its second World Series championship in 2003.
"I think it is kind of geared to what we try to do with the pitching, speed and the defense," director of scouting Stan Meek said.
On the first day of the draft, the Marlins selected left-handed college pitchers Taylor Tankersley (University of Alabama) and Jason Vargas (Long Beach State), with their top two picks. They followed those choices up with a pair of speedy high school center fielders: Gregory Burns (Walnut H.S., Pomona, Calif.) and Jamar Walton (Greensville County H.S., Emporia, Va.) in the third and fourth rounds.
"Then we said, 'Let's go for some athletes who can play in the middle of the field and can really run.' They are athletic, and they have a chance to hit," Meek said. "We feel like we got that in them. We feel like we hit needs, and we hit athletes and we hit on the philosophy that we go by."
The Marlins completed their draft Tuesday by selecting 21 pitchers (16 right-handers), two catchers, three outfielders and five infielders. The team continued to go with college-groomed players, picking 19 more players from junior colleges, small colleges or major universities.
Braves: The Braves leaned toward college prospects, a break from their previous drafts which were heavy with high school selections.
"The strength of this draft wasn't necessarily at the high-school level," Braves Director of Scouting Roy Clark said. "There was a lot of high-school talent that just didn't fit our needs. But we're certainly happy to get a big bat in (Eric) Campbell. We're thrilled to have him in our organization."
Campbell, a power hitter who is projected to make the move from shortstop to third base, became just the second non-pitcher the organization has taken with their top selection in the past seven years.
Atlanta landed speedy LSU center fielder John Holt as the final selection of the third round. Holt, who the Braves project to be a second baseman, won MVP honors in last summer's Cape Cod League.
"He's a Brett Butler type of player," Clark said. "He can really fly and while we feel he'll be a real good second baseman, he can play center field, too. He's got the ability to be a real exciting player."
Some of the later round selections who might make the grade include Judson Norton, a hard-throwing right-hander from Manatee (Fla.) Junior College, Christian Marrero, a high school outfielder with tremendous tools and Austin Hyatt, a high school right-hander with three quality pitches.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com based in Houston. MLB.com site reporters contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.