Talented bloodlines to be displayed in Draft
Sons of Smith, Dunston, and yes, Gretzky, anticipating big day
It's called the First-Year Player Draft, but with the early-summer date and the number of sons and brothers of former and current Major Leaguers in the mix, this year's Draft could also be called the Major League Baseball Family Picnic.
Bloodlines run strong in the Grand Old Game, and this year's Draft has an intriguing group of young thoroughbreds champing at the bit to hear their names called in the big leagues' favorite June post parade, which will be held from June 6-8.
The names jump out at any baseball fan who's been paying attention over the past decades. From Bichette to Bonilla, from Boras to Bream, from Dunston to Garvey to Guillen to Pudge (well, Rodriguez), you're going to see serious big league progeny over the rounds of this year's draft.
You might even find the son of a "Great One" who didn't play baseball. That would be Trevor Gretzky, a potential draftee better known (right now, at least) as the son of hockey legend Wayne.
Headlining the list might be the most common last name of all. Dwight Smith Jr., the son of the former Chicago Cubs outfielder who was runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year in 1989 and who played in the big leagues for eight seasons, is listed by MLB.com as the 35th-best Draft prospect in 2011.
Smith Jr., an outfielder from McIntosh High School outside Atlanta, has committed to Georgia Tech but has been projected to be a potential high-average hitter in pro ball. He said his father has been instrumental in teaching him the ins and outs of the game.
"We work on our game a lot, three or four times a week," Smith Jr. said. "Hitting, defense, every aspect of the game. When we go back home, we'll analyze 'Baseball Tonight' almost every night."
As for Smith Sr., the father says the son has the chance to become the best baseball player in the family.
"With the knowledge he's got and that beautiful swing and what he's doing with his legs, I think so," Smith Sr. said. "The things he's learned at 14, 15 and 16 are out of this world. I didn't use a wood bat until I was in the Minor Leagues. I broke every one of them. I still owe the Cubs some money. I think he has the chance to be a lot better than me."
We'll see if that's the case with Dante Bichette Jr., the son of the four-time All-Star of the same name whose monstrous home runs and cartoon numbers in the thin air of Coors Field in the 1990s stamped him a Colorado icon.
Dante Jr. has nice baseball credentials of his own, having starred in a Little League World Series and excelled as a high school shortstop at Orangewood Christian in Maitland, Fla. He is viewed as a legitimate prospect. He said growing up around the Major League lifestyle has taught him a lot about what to expect come Draft day and hopefully beyond.
"It's not so much that I'm feeling pressure heading into this, but there are expectations," Bichette Jr. said. "It will show me where I want to be. To be drafted high, make it to the big leagues and become a star, that's what I've always dreamed about."
Bichette Jr. said his father has been vital in helping him stay grounded while reaching for great heights.
"I grew up also playing tennis, but he didn't push me one way or another," Dante Jr. said. "I chose baseball, but he had already told me that no matter what I did, I would have to give 100 percent of my effort to it, and he pushed me to show that commitment.
"Pretty much everything I know, I've learned from him."
Smith Jr. and Bichette Jr. can only hope that they someday achieve the Major League accolades of other famous sons of baseball-playing fathers. Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and current Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder come to mind.
Who will be next?
Maybe it will be Ryan Garvey, who plays third base and right field for Palm Desert (Calif.) High School and is the son of former All-Star Steve Garvey and his wife, Candace.
Maybe it will be another Junior, and there should be plenty to choose from, including the identically named sons of former big leaguers Jack Armstrong and Shawon Dunston.
And maybe this Draft's future Most Valuable Players or Cy Young Award winners will be the brothers of Major Leaguers. There are a few of those in the pool, too.
Consider Joe Ross, the younger brother of current A's starter Tyson Ross. Joe, from Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound, 18-year-old right-hander whose fastball touches 95 mph. That put him at No. 48 on MLB.com's Top 50 heading into early June, although he's expected to honor a commitment to UCLA.
Other big league brothers who are eligible for the Draft include the older sibling of 2010's No. 1 overall pick, Bryce Harper. That would be Bryan Harper, a left-handed pitcher, who is no stranger to the Draft game, having been selected by the Cubs last year in the 26th round. He did not sign, opting to pitch for the University of South Carolina instead.
And then there's David Lucroy, a 6-foot-3 senior right-handed pitcher who is the youngest brother of Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. David expects to hear his name called, but he also has a commitment to East Carolina University. The Brewers are among the teams that have scouted the younger Lucroy.
Other former Major Leaguers with sons who might be drafted include 1990s Braves playoff hero Sid Bream, whose son, Tyler, is a sophomore third baseman at Liberty University. There's Ozney Guillen, the high school outfielder son of White Sox manager Ozzie who was drafted by his dad's organization in the 22nd round last year but opted to play at Miami Dade Junior College instead.
Dereck Rodriguez, the son of eventual Hall of Fame catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, is a star outfielder for Monsignor Pace High School in Miami, where Ozney Guillen played for four years.
Even Pudge's agent, Scott Boras, has a son, Shane, with a shot to be drafted. In fact, Shane Boras, an infielder, was taken by the Cardinals in the 35th round of the 2008 Draft but opted for school at the University of Southern California, where he's in his red-shirt sophomore season.
Add Brandon Bonilla (son of Bobby), Dan Lockhart (son of Keith), Kemer Quirk (son of Jamie) and Tyler Servais (son of Scott) to the mix, and there figures to be familiar family names being called out in all 30 big league war rooms.
And don't forget Gretzky, who plays first base for Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, Calif.
When describing what it might be like to hear his name called, Trevor couldn't help but think about the winter sport that shaped his upbringing.
"To be drafted is one of my dreams since I saw my dad holding up jerseys when he was traded," Trevor said. "To be in a moment like that would be amazing."
And leave it to "The Great One" himself to speak for all of the dads who might shed a tear or two as their talented sons move on to careers in professional baseball.
"Being a parent is sort of special, and unless you're a parent, you don't understand how unique it is, the feeling you have for your kids," Wayne Gretzky said.
"We're proud of all our kids and we encourage them and support them the best we can."
Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft will begin with a one-hour preview show on Monday, June 6, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Days 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.