Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Look Ahead at the Rule 4 Draft

Did you know that the First Year Player draft in June is also called the Rule 4 draft? Until recently, I didn’t either.

For years, when you watched the Orioles play, what you saw on the field was all you had to hope for. There was no help on the way (at least in-house) as the farm system was barren and player development did not receive nearly enough attention. Thankfully, that is all changing. Joe Jordan, who became the Orioles Scouting Director before the 2005 season, has done a good job turning things around. It certainly wasn’t easy as he wasn’t given much to work with in the beginning, but that shouldn’t be a concern now that Orioles’ President of Baseball Operations, Andy MacPhail, is on board – he is showing some serious devotion to player development.

Most of our promising young players are pitchers, such as Radhames Liz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Chorye Spoone, Pedro Beato, and Brandon Erbe. Baseball America recently ranked the Orioles minor league pitching 3rd in the league. The hitters are lagging behind, pulling our overall talent ranking to 16th. There are still a few hitters worth watching though, such as Nolan Reimold, Bill Rowell, Brandon Snyder, Mike Costanzo, Brandon Tripp, and most of all Matt Wieters.

Like I said the Orioles are on their way up, and it should only get better this year as they have the privilege (and shame) of picking 4th in the 2008 Rule 4 draft. The teams picking ahead of us, in order, are the Tampa Bay Rays, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Kansas City Royals. The exciting thing is that there are more than 4 draft eligible players that I - and most anyone who’s been paying attention – would love to get into our farm system.

Here’s a list of the best of the best that the Orioles will most likely be choosing from come June. The scouting reports and pictures are courtesy of Greg Pappas.

Key: *=lefty, #=switch-hitter, LHSP=left handed starting pitcher,
RHSP=right handed starting pitcher, (x) = age at the time of the 2008 Draft.

1. *Pedro Alvarez {College 3B, Vanderbilt} (21). The third-baseman, from the same college (Vanderbilt) as last year's overall #1 pick David Price, is the consensus #1 rated player after stellar Freshman and Sophomore campaigns. Alvarez is well put together at 6' 2 225 lbs., bats left, throws right and plays a decent third base. However, it's his bat that most feel have him at the head of the class.

Alvarez has comparables to Alex Gordon, with a .300+ BA and middle of the lineup production (25+ HR, 100+ RBI) very possible. He is the kind of player that if he develops as projected, could be a franchise player, whether at 3B or with a potential switch to 1B. He runs fairly well, although it's unlikely he'll be much of a stolen base threat.

Alvarez is an on-field leader, playing outstanding in stints for Team USA, and should become an easy top-5 choice this Draft, barring an unforeseen setback.

Since this report was written, Alvarez broke the hamate bone in his wrist. He is expected to miss about half of the college season and he may not be back to normal before the season ends. But the hamate bone is an injury that is well documented and shouldn’t scare people away. He may slide slightly because of this injury, but he is still expected to go in the top 5.

2. Aaron Crow {College RHSP, Missouri} (21). Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow really burst onto the scene during his dominating Cape Cod season (Collegiate Wood Bat League) this past fall. At 6' 2 215, he is not overly big, but is a solid athlete and easily repeats his mechanics, which may contribute to why his command of a low to mid-nineties fastball (which has hit 98 occasionally) has been outstanding. Crow led the league with a miniscule ERA of 0.67 and has a solid repertoire of secondary pitches, with a slider and change both grading out as average to above-average.

While his Cape campaign was very impressive, his college season was merely good. The sophomore was the Tigers' Friday night starter (#1) and threw 117.2 innings in 18 starts, striking out 90.

If he picks up where his Cape stint left off during the coming college season, he has the chance to go #1 overall.

3. Tim Beckham {High School SS, (GA)} (18). Beckham, with continued progress, profiles as an All-Star caliber SS, both with the glove and at the plate. He is an athletic defender with graceful actions and a very strong arm. Unlike many High School SS's, Beckham will stay at short. He is filling out his 6' 2 build and should add more strength to an already formidable offensive skill-set. He's fast AND quick, a combination more uncommon then most realize, and he's a great and instinctive base-runner to boot. Beckham has played well in wood bat tournaments and along with Eric Hosmer is considered among the very best hitters in the HS ranks.

He has been compared to BJ Upton and that is high praise indeed. Considered by most as the premiere High School prospect, and by some as the overall #1 player available, Beckham should come off the board very, very early. (photo courtesy of Baseball America)

4. #Justin Smoak {College 1B, South Carolina} (21). Justin was a borderline 1st rounder as a High School senior, and the switch-hitting first sacker has done nothing to disappoint the South Carolina fan base since his freshman campaign in '06. Smoak is well built at 6' 3 200 lbs., with sound swing mechanics from both sides of the plate and generates both good average and good power. He has played very well in the Cape Cod League (Collegiate Wood Bat League) and projects quite well as a big leaguer. Justin has a decent eye, but can be a bit undisciplined. However, he does play a very good 1B.

The comparisons to Mark Teixeira have been and will be there, but Smoak should make his own 'mark' on the game he loves. I project Smoak as an outstanding defensive first baseman, with the following line a rough estimate of his hitting abilities> .285/.365/.510 with 30'ish HR's and good run production - a very solid choice for any team looking for an advanced college bat.

5. *Brian Matusz {College LHSP, San Diego} (21). Matusz (pronounced MAT-is) is one of those pitchers that just has ML'er written all over him. The University of San Diego junior stands 6' 4 and weighs in at 195 lbs. He employs a sweet combination of crafty lefty with a low nineties fastball and consistently throws three quality pitches for strikes. He will pitch from 87-92 and can hit 94 when necessary, but it's his assortment of high-grade secondary stuff that has scouts excited about his future. His curve and change are both outstanding, and his athleticism and easy arm action plants him squarely in line to be a high first-round selection.
Because he doesn't necessarily profile as a true #1 ace, Matusz doesn't get the drools from the scouts as last year's #1 David Price had, but in time Matusz may prove to be about as good.
(photo courtesy of Baseball America)

I think the biggest reason Matusz isn’t being seen as a possible ace is because he doesn’t throw as hard as many other phenoms, but since when is a low 90’s fastball (up to 94) with up to 3 other average to above average pitches (also throws a nice slider) with control not good enough to dominate hitters?

6. *Eric Hosmer {High School 1B, (FL)} (18). For me, Hosmer may be the single best 1B prospect in the last 20 years and while some discount his value for being a 1B'man, I have him as the overall best prospect in the draft. He is big at 6' 4 200, and strong enough to launch massive shot after massive shot throughout both batting practice and in the games he plays. Already a very good defender at 1B, Eric profiles as a middle of the order beast. With perhaps the sweetest swing in the draft he won the WWBA (World Wood Bat Association) Tourney MVP back in October, adding to an impressive collection of accolades.

While High School phenom Tim Beckham gets the most rave reviews for being the next great 5-tool talent, it is Hosmer that has been the most consistent player. Coupling tremendous defensive and offensive skill-sets makes Hosmer a legit threat to go in the top 5.

Other than Alvarez’s wrist injury, none of these players have done anything to discourage teams from picking them early and paying them lots of money. If you wanted to mess around with a mock draft, you could easily predict these 6 players going in any order at the top of the draft board – although you’d have some explaining to do if you were to put Hosmer in the top 4. Normally I wouldn’t include Hosmer in this list of possible Orioles targets, but he does have the upside to warrant a high draft pick and Pappas loves him. I think he would take Hosmer with the 1st overall pick if he was given the chance. My favorite is Tim Beckham.

There are also two sleepers who could force their way into consideration for the top 5 spots – high school RHP Tim Melville, who could possibly have the best arm in the draft, and high school SS/3B Harold Martinez. Martinez plays short now but most seem him moving to third and being a great defender there. Crazily enough, he has gotten Alex Rodriguez comparisons but still doesn’t profile in the top 5 picks. He just hasn’t shown enough power yet to justify that high of a draft slot, but if he does start to show more power his senior year he’ll sky rocket up the amateur rankings.

No comments: