Nobody will have a bigger impact on the draft than Scott Boras
Major League Baseball's powers threw a couple strong brush-back pitches at controversial superagent Scott Boras before last June's draft, instituting rules changes aimed at keeping signing bonuses for amateurs at reasonable rates, or even scaling them back.
But by most accounts those brush backs have thus far missed their intended target. Boras remained unscathed last year, and his "special,'' "unique'' and "premium'' (his favorite words) drafted players were not one dime poorer.
Boras, who by all appearances remains the king of the amateur draft, actually fared better than ever at last year's draft, with seven of his selections receiving $1 million bonuses, five getting $2 million, and four hitting the benchmark $4 million figure -- an amount that is reserved for Boras' "premium'' amateur talents. However, some executives still attribute Boras' biggest haul ever to his "historic'' stable of amateur talent, and as this year's draft approaches, a few execs even remain hopeful that amateur bonuses still may be downsized.
The year-old regulations designed to discourage bloated bonuses still apply and Boras' amateur group can't quite match last year's, again putting him at the center of Thursday's amateur draft. However, another Boras bonanza still remains possible.
The agent/adviser has at least two talented prospects he tags as "premium'' (hitting prodigies Pedro Alvarez of Washington Heights in Manhattan and Vanderbilt University, and Eric Hosmer of American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla.), as well as several other potential No. 1 picks. Scouts seem to nod to Boras' glowing assessments of his top two hitters, especially Alvarez, who one admitted was an "elite'' hitter.
Maybe even better for Boras, this time around he won't have to battle over every draftee with his arch nemesis Frank Coonelly, the king of baseball's slotting system. Coonelly, a worthy adversary for Boras, has moved from his position as MLB senior VP, where he made his mark by promoting plans to keep bonuses down. Now he runs the perennially pathetic Pittsburgh Pirates as its club president and can only affect one team with his cost-controlling theories.
What's more, there's intriguing scuttlebutt going around the game that Coonelly's new team, which hasn't had a winning record since Barry Bonds left town 16 years ago, might actually take Alvarez or Hosmer with the No. 2 pick after years of discouraging others from bowing to Boras. If so, that would set up a negotiation to end all negotiations between baseball's two brilliant draft zealots.
Coonelly won't tip his hand but did suggest in a phone interview that he might not follow the slotting system he endorsed for years. "If we value the player above the recommendation ... we would do it,'' Coonelly says.
With the No. 1 pick, the Rays are expected to take either Florida State's athletic catcher Buster Posey or five-tool Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham, leaving the hitting genius Alvarez, who like Manny Ramirez, hails from Washington Heights, as perhaps the strongest possibility for Pittsburgh, which has the second pick. In fact, one draft watcher said he'd be surprised if Alvarez, whom scouts love despite a hand injury that disrupted his junior season, falls past the Pirates.
Boras himself seems to be enjoying the delicious possibility that Coonelly's team may take Alvarez. And Boras won't be surprised if he does. "When you're in the winning business versus the institutional business, those are two different worlds,'' Boras says. "I hope all teams apply their best efforts to take the best player available to them.''
Boras happily notes the possible "180-degree turn'' in Coonelly's thinking, based on Pittsburgh press reports suggesting the Pirates are considering Alvarez. But as for anyone who claims Coonelly is being hypocritical if he takes a slot-busting player, Coonelly points out, "I have a different role now than I had then.'' In previous years his goal was to keep costs in line while aiding weaker team's chances to enhance its talent stable; now his lone objective is to save the beleaguered Bucs.
Coonelly's critics would charge that other GMs, including his predecessor in Pittsburgh, Dave Littlefield, might have hurt their job status by following Coonelly's arbitrary slots. Last year the Pirates refused to go above slot to fill a need with enormous catching prospect Matt Wieters, a Boras client now thriving in the minors for Baltimore after signing above slot at $5 million. Coonelly disagreed in a phone interview that he applauded the Pirates for playing it cheaper and taking Clemson reliever Daniel Moskos. However, sources indicate he did rip into the Tigers for busting through the slot and spending $7.28 million for high school pitcher Rick Porcello, another Boras client.
Reports have also indicated that Boras might seek $7 million for Alvarez as well, but others believe Boras views Mark Teixeira's eye-popping $10.5 million amateur bonus from 2001 as the right comparable. Either way, the asking price will be well above the slot figure, which is pegged at about $3 million for the No. 2 pick. Boras cites the limited number of infielders who can hit 30-35 home runs and bat .300 to justify the sky-high request.
Even if Boras doesn't quite have the talent to match last year's ridiculous bonanza that included $4 million-plus signees Porcello, Wieters, high school hitting sensation Mike Moustakas (Royals, $4 million) and 98-mph-throwing righthander Andrew Brackman (Yankees, $4.55 million), plus three other $1 million bonus babies (and that doesn't include University of Georgia right handed reliever Joshua Fields, who rebuffed the Braves' offer), he still has a formidable group.
Boras has the lefthanded-hitting Alvarez ("he's so far above everyone else because of his special bat,'' Boras says), the lefthanded-hitting Hosmer ("he's separated himself from the high school players'') and one more player who could qualify as "premium,'' in Boras' draft lexicon. That would be the 97-mph-throwing righthander Gerrit Cole, who just needs to mature physically, according to Boras, and may accept a scholarship to UCLA if the price isn't right. The agent discovered Cole near his Orange County, Calif., home when Cole's no-hit bid was broken up by Boras' son Shane.
Boras also has Fields back, plus a pretty good stash of potentially high picks: Wake Forest lefthanded-hitting first baseman Allan Dykstra ("light-tower power,'' according to Boras), University of Texas lefthanded-hitting outfielder Jordan Danks (brother of White Sox pitcher John), University of Arizona lefthanded-hitting outfielder Jon Gaston, Indiana high school right handed pitcher Alex Meyer, California high school lefthanded pitcher Brett Mooneyham, Kentucky high school lefthanded pitcher Nick Maronde and Stanford lefthanded pitcher Jeremy Bleich.