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Highlighting the best homegrown units in the game
Posted: Thursday June 7, 2007 12:33PM; Updated: Thursday June 7, 2007 7:03PM
Every franchise in baseball dreams of hitting it big in the first-year player draft, of selecting a whole team of future All-Stars that will be productive -- not to mention relatively cheap -- for years to come. Unfortunately for every franchise, it rarely works that way. In the draft, like at the plate, if a club can come up with a nice down-the-middle knock once every three tries or so, it's doing well. Complete whiffs and all-out slumps happen all the time.
Still, teams will get their hits, and sometimes they even string a few of them together. For all the franchises seemingly cobbled together out of free-agent pieces and trade leftovers, there are some with whole chunks made up of nothing but well-scouted, smartly picked and nicely developed young talent. An entire outfield. A double-play combination. A battery.
As representatives for all 30 teams gather in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Thursday for the first televised MLB draft -- think NFL draft minus the hoopla, the recognizable athletes and Mel Kiper -- let's look at some of the better so-called "homegrown" units in the game.
(All of these players are still with the team that first signed them, though some weren't drafted because they weren't eligible to be drafted. Only certain residents of the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico -- high schoolers, junior college players and some four-year college players -- are included in the draft.)
I could throw a few names out here -- and, in fact, one name listed below may be thrown out if he keeps acting up -- but Tampa Bay's trio of (from left to right field) Carl Crawford, Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young is hard to beat.
This is the first full season together for this outfield, but it's darn near impossible to find any talent evaluator, on any team, who doesn't like the potential. Crawford's already past the potential stage and into full-fledged stud-dom, if he's still a tad unknown. Only 25, Crawford (a second-round pick in '99) is in his fifth full season in the majors, where he has a career batting average of .293. He also averages more than 50 steals a season, and just about all his numbers -- average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage -- are still on the climb.
Put him next to the sometimes wayward Dukes and Young and this is an outfield that has a lot going for it. If Dukes doesn't pan out -- both Dukes (a third-round pick in 2002) and Young (the No. 1 overall pick in '03) are struggling at the plate in their first full year -- there's always center fielder Rocco Baldelli, the Rays' No. 1 pick in 2000. Injury problems have limited Baldelli's playing time in the past couple of years and, like Dukes, he may be on the trading block.
Infield (left side)
At one time, third baseman Eric Chavez and shortstop Bobby Crosby of the A's were going to be the next great thing. But Crosby, the AL's Rookie of the Year in 2004, couldn't stay off the disabled list, and Chavez ran into his own injury setbacks, and the two never have quite hit their stride.
Last year, David Wright and Jose Reyes hit theirs, though, and the Mets now have a left side of the infield that will be in Queens for years. Wright, the third baseman, is signed through 2012 (with a club option for 2013). Shortstop Reyes, who also serves as the team's leadoff man, is signed through 2010, with a team option for '11.
Wright (a first-rounder in '01) provides the capability for 30 homers a year (he had a total of 53 in '05 and '06), a high batting average (career .302) and a very good on-base percentage (career .374). Reyes (signed as an amateur free agent in '99 from the Dominican Republic) also can hit for average, has a .398 on-base percentage this season and projects to more than 50 steals a year, at least for the next couple of years.
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