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.

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