Blue Jays, Braves among big winners in 2007 draft
Posted: Monday June 11, 2007 3:55PM; Updated: Monday June 11, 2007 5:59PM
Major League Baseball got lucky -- unpredictability makes for good television, and Thursday's first televised amateur draft was filled with surprises. The 2007 draft was deep in talent, and while David Price going to the Devil Rays had been a given for almost a year, very little afterward went as expected.
Judging any draft in the days following its completion is a fool's errand, especially in baseball, with prospects years of development away from matching their draft-day potential. Having said that, these 10 teams stick out in terms of finding good value last week.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto has been one of the most dogmatic organizations in the draft under GM J.P. Ricciardi. With the farm system at an all-time low point, the Jays mixed low-ceiling college players with high school bats effectively. Kevin Ahrens and Justin Jackson give Toronto a potential left side of the infield, though both are years from the majors. The Blue Jays hope that catcher J.P. Arencibia and southpaw Brett Cecil will fly through the system, filling holes in the organization as early as 2009. The key could be signing second-round pick Eric Eiland, a center fielder, currently leveraging a commitment to Texas A&M in order to extract a big bonus.
2. Atlanta Braves
The Braves rarely waver from their draft-day philosophy, and 2007 proved no exception: Five of their first nine selections were Georgia natives. This trend started with athletic slugger Jason Heyward, whom the Braves did not believe would be on the board at 14. Some scouts believe Heyward had the draft's highest offensive ceiling. Atlanta then juggled closers and infielders, making great selections in Texas A&M shortstop Brandon Hicks and South Carolina second baseman Travis Jones, both toolsy talents with pronounced bodies of work.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
First-year scouting director Tom Allison had his hands full replacing Mike Rizzo, but in his first draft Allison added a bevy of arms to the offensive-filled system. Jarrod Parker, the first-round selection, had the draft's best fastball with two potential plus breaking pitches. With a few up-the-middle exceptions, Allison then stuck with college pitchers, finding gems in Wes Roemer and Sean Morgan. While many of Rizzo's hitters now fill the Diamondbacks' lineup, Allison's draft should round out an almost-complete rebuilding job.
4. Washington Nationals
During years under MLB control, scouting director Dana Brown could rarely select the players he wanted, instead opting for signable college relievers such as Bill Bray and Chad Cordero. Now under new ownership Brown is attempting to bring blue-chip talents to the organization, regardless of their inherent risk. The team considered catcher Matt Wieters before settling on potential ace Ross Detwiler with its first choice, and will look to make a splash with prep players like outfielder Michael Burgess and lefty Jack McGeary. However, Brown's best pick might be one of his safest: In the sandwich round Georgia teenager Josh Smoker was still on the board, and the southpaw already has four pitches that grade as at least average.
5. Detroit Tigers
GM Dave Dombrowski constructed a winning organization in Florida through building around a talented farm system. A World Series victory later, Dombrowski is doing the same thing in Detroit. For the third straight season the Tigers landed one of the draft's top two talents by being one of the only organizations to extend its budget for worthy prospects. Right-hander Rick Porcello has a higher ceiling than Price, the first overall pick, and while Porcello's trek to the majors will be slower than that of the club's 2006 first-round pick, Andrew Miller, Porcello should be a top 10 prospect by next season. Following the New Jersey prepster, the Tigers stayed with large, raw arms and toolsy college shortstops.
6. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Price solidifies the farm system's status as the majors' best. His time in the minors should be short, but before reaching Tropicana Field, Price must work on his changeup and tighten his delivery and approach. After Price, Tampa's best selections were a trio of accomplished college pitchers: Will Kline (second round), David Newmann (fourth round) and Brian Flores (13th round).
7. San Francisco Giants
The Giants have spent years drafting pitchers, developing them and using their value in trades. However, with an offense filled with hitters on the wrong side of 30, the Giants seemed a sure bet to use their three first-round picks on big bats. Wrong. Scouting director Matt Nerland stayed in his comfort zone with his first two selections, drafting prep pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson. Bumgarner is a hard-throwing lefty with huge potential, Alderson a quirky high schooler with unbelievable command. The team then drafted offense, still veering away from power bats with middle-infield athletes in Wendell Fairley, Nick Noonan and Charlie Culberson.
8. Philadelphia Phillies
For the fourth time in five seasons the Phillies started their draft with a Texan, this time Rice southpaw Joe Savery. While Rice coach Wayne Graham didn't have Savery on one of his typical brutal workout patterns as a junior, Savery has battled arm soreness since his freshman season. The Phillies have vowed to be as careful as Savery as they were with Cole Hamels, and they believe the athletic Owl has nearly as much potential. Scouting director Marti Wolevar then went with a trio of high-ceiling high schoolers before finishing his top 10 with interesting college players like Matt Spencer (Arizona State), Matt Rizzotti (Manhattan) and Chance Chapman (Oral Roberts).
9. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds had a very top-heavy draft but a good one led by late riser Devin Mesaraco. The Punxsutawney catcher was the first high school player that scouting director Chris Buckley has ever taken in the first round, a sound defensive catcher with good offensive skills. Mesaraco will never light the world on fire, but he's a good bet to be a consistent threat in a major-league lineup. Behind Mesaraco was a pair of completely different collegiate shortstops -- Todd Frazier, the Rutgers product with a big bat destined to change positions, and Zack Cozart, a slick fielder from Mississippi with questionable offensive skills. Buckley also spent high picks on a pair of solid Canadian arms and two toolsy Puerto Rican hitters.
10. San Diego Padres
One of the busiest organizations in baseball on Thursday, the Padres took a Moneyball approach to the draft with a few curveballs thrown in. The slumping farm system needed help, and a few players will move quickly, particularly first-round lefty Nick Schmidt. The big southpaw doesn't have Price's stuff, but he ran through the SEC just the same with a plus changeup. Catcher Mitch Canham should hit right away but will need time developing his defensive skills on the farm. The team took a break from college players with Floridians in shortstop Drew Cumberland, a top-of-the-order speedster, and Tommy Toledo, who has one of the class' best prep fastballs.
Bryan Smith is a freelance writer and a weekly contributor to Baseball Prospectus. His work has also appeared in Baseball America, Baseball Analysts and the Hardball Times.