It's getting a little bit drafty
But there's no clear No. 1 yet for June's First-Year Player Draft
It's that time of year again, when every team goes to the drawing board dreaming of finding the next group of big leaguers.
Scouts are running all over the country, watching every amateur game imaginable, trying to leave no stone unturned. With the First-Year Player Draft just four weeks away, it's crunch time for all 30 scouting departments as they hone in, not just on the high-profile first-rounders who come complete with huge expecations, but on the players each Major League organization will take over the two-day, 50-round event.
The extravaganza kicks off on Tuesday, June 6 at 1 p.m. ET when the Kansas City Royals make the first overall selection in the 2006 Draft by virtue of having the worst record in the 2005 season. They'll be followed by the Rockies, Devil Rays, Pirates and Mariners to round out the top five.
Who the Royals will take in that top spot is still anyone's guess. There isn't a Justin Upton in this year's draft, a player who clearly is the most talented in the class. With no one completely separating themselves, Kansas City appears to be looking at five players: North Carolina's Andrew Miller, the tall left-handed pitcher most saw as the front-runner to go No. 1 before the season began; University of Washington right-hander Tim Lincecum, who has pitched himself into the top of the draft by leading the nation (at least collegiately) in strikeouts; Brad Lincoln, a right-hander out of the University of Houston; Brandon Morrow, the ace of the Cal-Berkeley staff and Evan Longoria, the Long Beach State infielder and the lone position player mentioned at the top of the draft.
"I don't want to denigrate whoever the No. 1 guy is going to be, but there hasn't been any one or two players like there has been in the past," said Dodgers scouting director Logan White, who'll pick at No. 7 and again at No. 27 and No. 31 in the supplemental first round, thanks to the free agent loss of Jeff Weaver. "I would say it's not as obvious talent-wise as it has been in the past."
It's not that the class of 2006 is without talent, but the cream, as of yet, has not risen to the top. A lot can change between now and draft day. Just look at last year's draft for confirmation on that fact. Lance Broadway wasn't on anyone's first-round projection lists in May, but thanks to a huge run at the end of his college season, he skyrocketed all the way to No. 15. So just because things look a bit murky right now doesn't mean things won't clear up by that first Tuesday in June.
"In typical scout fashion, we always say it's not a very good year," White said. "I think it's going to be better than we thought when we started. Overall, it's a class that doesn't stand out as much with obvious talent. Every year, there seems to be consensus. This class doesn't seem to be like that."
There is one consensus about this class: it's extremely college-heavy. And it's all pitching. Don't be surprised to see more than two-thirds (20 picks) of the first round come in the form of a college hurler. "From a position player perspective, it does seem a little light," said Yankees vice president of player personnel Mark Newman, whose team has the No. 21 and No. 41 picks in the first and supplemental first rounds. "It's kind of strange-looking deal right now. College position players are almost non-existent, it seems."
That's in stark contrast to last year's draft, which opened up with the bat. Six of the first seven picks were hitters, with Upton at No. 1 (by Arizona) the only non-college player among that half-dozen. Being college-pitching heavy is not exactly a new phenomenon -- 2004 had the same feel heading into that draft -- but there's a certain sense of authority in the scouting community about this year's crop of hurlers. All of them have some kind of question mark next to their names, be it because of size, arm angle or secondary pitches. When it comes time to call a name, it seems it will require an even larger leap of faith than usual.
"There have been some injuries to some top pitchers, so there's some instability at this point in the pitching and some dead spots in terms of position players," Newman said. But there's still a ways to go and we're still working on it."
Heading into the season, it appeared Miller was going to be the guy. He's a tall lefty with tremendous stuff. He was drafted in the third round out of high school by the Devil Rays, so he's been through all of this once before. Coming off a very strong Cape Cod League season, many assumed Miller would be the easy choice for the Royals, who could use the help of an advanced college pitcher to complement the stable of bats they are developing in their system.
But Miller hasn't run away and hid as expected. While he's pitched well for the Tar Heels, he hasn't been the dominant force most thought he would be. That opened the field to a number of other college arms. Pitchers like Miller's teammate Daniel Bard, Missouri's Max Scherzer and USC's Ian Kennedy all once figured into the mix, but a combination of less-than-awe-inspiring outings and/or injuries have knocked them from the upper echelons, for now.
The guys who are left at the top, as mentioned, all have some issues. Lincecum is a small, slight guy with an unorthodox delivery. He's got a rubber arm, but with any undersized pitcher, people have concerns about durability. Many feel Lincecum would be best suited as a reliever, and could make it to the big leagues by the end of the summer that way. It's a role he excelled at in the Cape League last summer. At the same time, it's hard to argue with peformance, and Lincecum has dominated some of the best college programs in the country on his way to setting a career mark for K's in the very competitive Pac-10 Conference. Names like Roy Oswalt come up when discussing Lincecum, examples of smaller guys succeeding on the largest stage.
Lincoln and Morrow also don't fit the prototypical starting pitcher mold. Many see Lincoln in the pen as well and Morrow is a converted guy who's still learning how to hone his craft.
"I think there are a lot of guys, a lot of players who have flashes of some really interesting ability," White said. "With a little tweak here or there, they may become pretty good big leaguers.
"Ideally, you want a guy who's so polished, who's so ready to step into the big leagues pretty fast. Of course, there have been guys who have been taken who didn't seem like they'd get there that fast, and have done well."
While the emphasis on college pitching is obvious, there is still talent to be had in a collegiate batter's box. Longoria has played all over the infield. He's playing third mostly this year for Long Beach State, but he's played shortstop -- the position Bobby Crosby and last year's No. 7 overall pick Troy Tulowitzki manned over the past several years -- as well as second base. He can do a little bit of everything, but he's not the kind of guy whose tools will pop out at you.
Texas outfielder Drew Stubbs has enviable tools, but he's also a bit of an enigma. He swings and misses a great deal, making some scouts concerned about what his future looks like. Florida slugger Matt LaPorta has shrugged off a very slow start (injuries played a key) and could move up as the college bat with the most raw power.
The high school ranks should not be ignored. Kyle Drabek, son of former big league pitcher Doug Drabek, is on a lot of lists. He could be a prospect as a shortstop or a pitcher, though most feel his future will be on the mound. Lefty Clayton Kershaw has snuck into top-10 conversations, though a recent oblique issue may cut that bid short. Names like Jeremy Jeffress and third baseman Chris Marrerro should be known, even if they don't rise up into the top third of that draft.
Of course, in a draft like this one, drafting high may not be that great of a blessing. Multiple picks may be the best way to ensure that you hit the mark with at least one of these intriguing picks. The Red Sox have four of the first 44 picks, thanks to the loss of Johnny Damon and Bill Mueller this offseason.
The Oakland A's, known for ammassing draft picks over they years, actually don't make their first selection until pick No. 66. The Mets who have taken a pair of college pitchers at the top of their drafts each of the last two years, don't pick until pick No. 62. The Indians, such firm believers of promoting from within, don't select until No. 39.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.