No clear-cut No. 1 in 2008 Draft crop
This year's class loaded with hitters, light on pitching
Let's get ready to ... build for the future!
While Michael Buffer isn't exactly rushing to have that phrase copyrighted, it's the mantra of all 30 organizations and their scouting departments as they prepare for the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. From the moment the Rays pick No. 1, for the second straight year, on June 5 until the Draft comes to an end at some point on June 6, teams will be searching for the next generation of Major League talent.
Numbers will tell you that it's not an easy task, with such a small percentage of drafted talent ever making it to the big leagues. And yet scouts are crisscrossing the country seeing all the amateur talent available in this year's Draft class.
For the second straight year, fans can watch the first round unfold live on ESPN2 from Orlando, Fla. MLB.com, of course, will take over from there.
It was fairly obvious a year ago, even at this early stage, that the first name to be announced on the first live TV broadcast of the Draft would be Vanderbilt pitcher David Price. Things went according to script and the Rays did indeed take the southpaw with the first overall pick. This year, however, there does not appear to be a clear-cut answer for who Tampa should take.
"You had Price No. 1 last year, you don't have any of those this year," one scouting director said. "That's obviously the drop off. [The Draft class] is pretty good. it's not phenomenal, but it's pretty good. I think there's some depth. I'm not googly-eyed over this Draft."
Without a clear-cut No. 1, there have been several players mentioned as potential top picks. If the Rays want to go back to the college pitcher group, Missouri's Aaron Crow and San Diego lefty Brian Matusz are the top two choices. They could go back to Vanderbilt and take third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who was slowed by an injury earlier but has returned at full strength and resumed his place atop the college bat ranks. Multi-tooled high school shorstop Tim Beckham is another possibility, as is fast-rising college catcher Buster Posey. And the list doesn't end there, with other candidates popping in and out of conversations.
Beyond that top group, though, that first scouting director is not alone in being underwhelmed with the overall talent level of the class. At the start of the amateur season, there were some high expectations for the class. But the big issue has been one of separation: There hasn't been any and opinions on who will be at the top of the Draft vary depending on who's doing the talking.
"I don't think the depth is what we thought it was earlier," a second scouting director said. "Early on, it seemed like it was tremendous. It's good at the top, then you can lump a whole bunch of them together. When you look at our final list and then pick another team, it might not be similar. There's that much variation in opinions."
Teams with multiple picks at the top of the Draft will have to try and come to some kind of consensus to make the most of where they pick. The Mets, for instance, have two first-round picks and a third selection in the supplemental first round. The Brewers pick No. 16 overall and then have a pair of sandwich picks, at Nos. 32 and 35 and two more second-rounders, giving them five picks through the first two rounds. The Phillies get to make six selections over the first three-plus rounds (including the second supplemental round, which takes place after the third round is over).
"I was expecting a clearer picture," said one scouting director about the top-of-the-Draft choices. "You'd like to think the crystal ball would be a little clearer in terms of who the upper-tier guys are. There's a consistent group of guys we've targeted, but I can't tell you there are any definites. It's a little muddled."
That's not to say some players haven't put their best foot forward. High school catcher Kyle Skipworth is an intriguing bat and he has stood out among a fairly deep class in California this spring.
"Going in, the California high school class was supposed to be exceptional," a scouting director said. "Some have had some hard times with injuries and things. Unless you grew up in Southern California, I don't think anyone can appreciate Skipworth's record with 18 hits in a row (and on base 25 times in a row). He stepped up."
So did Crow, to an extent. The right-hander, expected to go near the top of the first round, put up 43 consecutive scoreless innings. But the streak ended in a big way, with Crow allowing eight earned runs in his first two innings of his next start.
"You have to give Crow credit with [the streak], you can't say he didn't step up," the first scouting director said. "But then he gave up five runs in the first inning, it kind of typifies the way the year has gone."
College pitching is valued highly every year and this season should be no different. Crow has vaulted himself to the top of the list along with Matusz, who shook off an early rough start to cement his place among the top college arms in the class.
The high school arms lag far behind the more advanced university-based pitchers this year. Last year prepsters like Rick Porcello, Jarrod Parker and Madison Bumgarner all filled the tops of Draft charts. There haven't been any younger pitchers who have stood out like that group has this year.
In fact, if one were to point out one particular strength in this class, it would be offense. In addition to Skipworth, a pair of college hitters have helped their cause with their performances more than perhaps any other players. Posey, the Florida State catcher, has been mentioned at the very top of the Draft while University of Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham (no relation to Tim) likely has also risen to the top of the first round.
"The fact that they play in the middle of the field doesn't hurt either," a scouting director said.
Finding legitimate first base prospects in the past hasn't always been easy. Not so this year, where the corner position is definitely a strength. Teams can choose from college players like Miami's Yonder Alonso, South Carolina's Justin Smoak or Arizona State's Brett Wallace. High schooler Eric Hosmer also figures to be in the top of the first-round mix, with a host of other first basemen to choose from over the first couple of rounds.
"There's more [first basemen] than there's ever been," one scouting director agreed. "In a normal year, if you take a national cross-checker type, in the top 20 players, you'd have 12-15 pitchers. This year, it's position-player heavy, which is a nice change."
With the emphasis on hitters, the natural class to compare this Draft to is from 2005, which saw college players like Alex Gordon, Jeff Clement, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki -- all taken in the top 10 and all in the big leagues -- and high school offensive talent like Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce and Colby Rasmus selected in the first round as well. While there is the similarity in overall Draft strength, comparing this year with that one is not a fair exercise.
"There's always a standard you try to follow and that  class was exceptional," a scouting director said. "This class is OK, it's just not in that exceptional category. You compare to 2005, there's nothing like that this year. There are a lot of guys who haven't shown what they did during the summer.
"There's probably a lot of frustration out there and I think you'll see a lot of deal-cutting and a lot of drafting for need."
Jonathan Mayo is a senior reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.