Saturday, June 14, 2008

2008 Draft Recap

I know, I know - the draft was over a week ago. First I put it off to see if some of the players would sign quickly (bad idea - most won't), and then I lost track of time. At this point, if you're actually interested in the draft, you've probably already read plenty of information on the draftees from other sources. Hopefully, you can take something out of this review.

The headline of the Orioles draft is, obviously, 1st rounder Brian Matusz, a left handed starter from the University of San Diego. The 2008 draft would be deemed a success even if Matusz is the only player that pans out, and he's one of the safer bets. That's not to say that he doesn't have upside. He immediately becomes the Orioles #1 pitching prospect, and on my personal prospect list, the #2 prospect overall behind catcher Matt Wieters. The more I hear about Brian Matusz, the more excited I am about him. He should be a fixture in the Orioles rotation for years, and with good command of 4 pitches, 3 of which are above-average or plus, he should move quickly. I even heard one scout say that he probably won't be challenged until he reaches the Major Leagues. That might be a little bit of a stretch, but I expect a Wieters' like dominance if he starts his pro career as low as High Single-A Frederick.

I have to admit that I was leaning slightly towards first baseman Justin Smoak with the Orioles pick, but I love the pick of Matusz, as well. I'm excited to see Matusz start pitching for the Orioles.

I'm also excited to see how the rest of the Orioles draftees perform. Scouting director Joe Jordan brought in more speed, athleticism and projectability than in years past. As a result, it will take several years to get a good read on how successful this draft will be.

The athletic infusion started immediately after Matusz. The 2nd thru 5th rounds were all spent on athletic players with speed: (in order) highschool centerfielder Xavier Avery, highschool outfielder L.J. Hoes, Univ. of Illinois centerfielder Kyle Hudson, and Univ. of Virginia shortstop Greg Miclat. Some of these players seem like reaches, primarily Hudson and Miclat. I think they would have been available a little bit later.

Hoes could be a slight reach, but the Orioles are talking about converting him to second base. He did play some third in high school, and did well in a private workout before the draft. This could be important when projecting his future value, because he probably doesn't have quite enough speed to play centerfield and not enough power to play a corner. His offensive profile could fit very well at second.

Avery is not a reach and is someone who could be very exciting to watch play. He has top end speed and has received some Carl Crawford comparisons. His competition in high school was below what you like to see for a top prospect, but he has played very well on the summer circuit against some of the top high schoolers in the country. And get this - he has a scholarship to the University of Georgia to play football as a running back. If we have a hard time signing Avery, it will be because of football. But don't worry too much. He is expected to sign.

Miclat may have been a slight reach, but I'm glad to have him in the system. He's a switch hitter (I love that) who plays great defense at short and has good speed. He reminds me a lot of Ohio State centerfielder Matt Angle (O's 7th round pick in 2007). Both play great defense, play the little man's game well, have speed and know how to use it.

Kyle Hudson probably figures to be an even closer comp to Angle, as their offensive game is almost identical and they both play centerfield. The biggest difference is in their arm strength - Angle has good arm strength and Hudson is below average.

I've always been a big fan of Joe Jordan and been confident in his decisions. One thing I like is that he's confident in himself and his staff, and he's not afraid to go after "his guys" as opposed to who the scouting industry in general would have them take. So I'm not too worried about players who are perceived as reaches. If Jordan liked them enough to take them there, then I'll wait to see how they progress before declaring anyone a bad pick. The only change I would have made, were I in the draft room, is I would have taken shortstop Tyler Ladendorf with our 2nd round pick. He's a personal favorite of mine and still would have fit Jordan's focus on athletic guys with speed. Avery wasn't a bad choice though. We'll just have to wait and see who was the better choice.

The draft is 50 rounds long, so there just isn't enough time to go over all of them. Most of them won't amount to anything at the major league level anyway. There are a few sleepers though.

7th rounder Caleb Joseph is an athletic catcher with some pop. If he can't stay behind the plate a move to third base or even second base is a possibility. He's already been signed and will start the year in Aberdeen.

8th rounder Robert Bundy is a wonderful talent. The 6'2" highschool RHP was a top prospect before he suffered a knee injury last winter. It limited him greatly during the season as he had to wear a bulky knee brace. Supposedly, he's back to full strength now and is looking as good as before the injury, maybe better as the knee brace forced him to adopt a quieter pitching motion. He'll be a big boost to the draft class from the 8th round if Jordan can get him signed. I'm optimistic.

20th rounder Ronnie Welty, an outfielder from Chandler Gilbert Community College, could be someone to watch as well. He can kind of do it all, with some power and speed, and could have gone several rounds earlier. He's already signed as well. I haven't heard yet where he'll play this summer.

There are 3 long shots to get signed, all high school pitchers - Keith Landers (18th rd.), Jarret Martin (19th rd.) and Kevin Brady (44th rd.). Landers and Martin are both left handed with projectable frames, 6'7" and 6'3". Both can throw in the low 90's with breaking balls that project to be above-average or plus. Landers throws more of a slurve while Martin has a true downer of a curveball. Consistency is the only thing holding them back from being top prospects. Brady is a 6'3" right hander with a similar repetoire as Martin, but Brady has been more consistent than either of the lefties. Brady is the toughest sign of the three as he turned down an offer from the Red Sox in the 3rd round (they called him during the draft and made an offer, saying they'd pick him there if he'd accept it). I'll be happy if the Orioles can get one of these players signed.

There are a few locals that were picked by the O's as well.
-3rd rounder - (OF/2B) L.J. Hoes - St. John's College HS, in Washington D.C.
-22nd rounder - (RHP) Patrick Kantakevich - College of William & Mary
-37th round pick - (C) Charles Durakis - University of Maryland
-43rd round pick - (RHP) Oliver Drake - US Naval Academy
-44th round pick - (RHP) Kevin Brady - Gaithersburg HS

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

2008 Draft Preview

Tomorrow's the big day. Many casual baseball fans probably don't know this, but tomorrow is the MLB First-Year Player Draft. The MLB draft may not have the same level of immediate impact and it definitely doesn't have the same amount of publicity as the NFL and NBA drafts, but it's just as important to the success of each MLB franchise.

I've been following many of the draft eligible players and draft rumors pretty closely, but I don't want to get too detailed right now. For a more in-depth draft preview, check out Right now I want to focus more on the Orioles' draft day philosophy.

The two main decision makers for the Orioles on draft day are president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, and scouting director Joe Jordan. Normally, the scouting director has the most influence on decision making on draft day, but this is MacPhail's first draft with the O's and it's unclear how much influence he'll have. What makes it more interesting is the fact that their views don't really match up.

Both Jordan and MacPhail will say that the O's need to take the best prospect and not worry about position or whether they fill a need or how far away they are from the major leagues. However, this is really just one big cliche. Sure, you don't want to focus on any one of those things, but all of those things also go into determining who "the best prospect" is (except filling a need, which should never enter the equation). Joe Jordan has expressed verbally and with his track record, that he likes to take hitters early and find pitchers later in the draft. He also has a thing for players with power. MacPhail, on the other hand, preaches that you can never have enough pitching. So the two main philosophies we have competing against each other are: you can never have enough pitching, and take hitters early (especially ones with power) and pitchers later.

Wouldn't you know it, but those philosophies fall right in line with the two players rumored to be selected by the Orioles at 4th overall: San Diego pitcher Brian Matusz and South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak.

Brian Matusz is a tall projectable lefty (6-5, 200 lbs) with 3 above average to plus pitches. He throws his fastball in the low 90's and has arguably the best curveball and changeup in the draft. He also throws an average slider. He projects as a middle of the rotation starter at worst, and has the upside of a staff ace. Scouts' concerns are that he doesn't pitch off his fastball, opting to use his plus offspeed pitches to set up his fastball, and some small mechanical issues. He has a relatively short stride for a pitcher of his height, his arm action can get a little stiff, and he sometimes lands on a stiff front leg. All of this is correctable, but it may not be a good idea to change everything. He has had consistent success with these mechanics, with plus command, and it has also added some deception to his delivery. Then again, some scouts worry about the injury risk if left alone. If selected by the Orioles, he would instantly be among their best pitching prospects, if not THE best.

Justin Smoak is a switch hitting power hitter with no discernable splits. He has great pitch recognition and can hit any pitch for power to all fields. Depending on who you talk to, he's an above average to plus defender at firstbase as well. He sounds like the real deal, and very well could be. He has been a 3 year starter at South Carolina and has shown big power every year. The summer after his freshman year he played in the Collegiate Cape Cod League and showed that his power translates to wooden bats. The only blemish on his career is his time with Team USA last summer, where he struggled. I wouldn't call it a blemish, but it is also worth pointing out that the 2008 season is really the only time he has hit for average. He hit .303 and .315 his freshman and sophomore seasons, before hitting .383 this year. The power is definitely real though. If selected by the Orioles, that would mean they've taken a switch hitting middle of the lineup bat with their first pick two years in a row, along with Matt Wieters. Interesting fact - Wieters and Smoak were actually high school teammates.

Both Matusz and Smoak are top notch prospects and the "6th tool" (makeup) is supposedly a plus for both young men. They would both be great additions to any farm system. I'm hoping that one of the top talents (preferably Georgia highschool shortstop Tim Beckham) falls to the Orioles, but if everything goes as predicted (HA!), I'm pulling for Justin Smoak. It will be interesting to see how Joe Jordan and Andy MacPhail work together on draft day.