The No. 1 pick in the draft, hard-throwing Luke Hochevar, is Kansas City's hope
for a quick reversal on the field and in the news
Four hours before
the start of the major league draft on June 6, Luke Hochevar was driving back
from a gym to his apartment in Knoxville, Tenn., when he received a cellphone
call from his agent, Scott Boras. "How do you feel about going Number
1?" asked Boras, who had just heard from the Royals that they were going to
use the top pick on the 22-year-old righthanded starter. A stunned Hochevar
quietly broke down in tears. "I had heard there was an outside chance that
I'd be the pick," says the former Tennessee ace, who was selected at No. 40
by the Dodgers in 2005 but rejected their contract offer, took last summer off
and reentered the draft this spring. "Honestly, though, I was as surprised
as everyone else."
City's 11th-hour decision to take Hochevar was an unexpected draft-day twist.
It was widely projected that the Royals would pick North Carolina lefty Andrew
Miller, but privately the organization was torn between Hochevar, Miller (who
went to the Tigers at No. 6) and Houston righty Brad Lincoln (to the Pirates at
scouting director Deric Ladnier, after much deliberation K.C. settled on the
lanky 6'5" Hochevar because he was the most advanced pitcher in the draft.
As early as mid-summer 2007 Hochevar, who throws a mid-90s fastball and an
above-average slider, could provide a much-needed boost to a rotation that
through Sunday had the worst team ERA (6.24) in the majors. The Royals scoff at
reports that they passed on Miller because of his price tag--he was reportedly
seeking a signing bonus close to $6 million. Says Ladnier, "We never talked
money with Miller's people."
were a top concern for Kansas City, it most likely would have passed on
Hochevar--expected to seek at least $3 million--as well. During contract
negotiations with the Dodgers last year, Hochevar grew frustrated with the slow
pace of the talks, left Boras and, through another agent, agreed to a $2.98
million bonus in September; but he had second thoughts and rehired Boras, and
no deal was made.
throwing again in January, and in April he signed with the Fort Worth Cats of
the independent American Association. He made four impressive starts in front
of an army of major league scouts. "He quickly reestablished himself as a
top pitcher, arguably the best in this draft," says one NL scout who saw
him throw. "There were no longer any concerns about his layoff."
negotiations between Kansas City and Boras began on Sunday. Desperate for
positive press, the woeful Royals--who were 16--45 and on pace to tie the 1962
Mets' modern record for most losses in a season--realize they have to get the
first No. 1 pick in franchise history signed as soon as possible. Last
Thursday's press conference introducing new general manager Dayton Moore turned
contentious when reporters grilled owner David Glass for dragging out the
firing of Moore's predecessor, Allard Baird. The following day, the Royals
revoked the credentials of two reporters who were particularly critical of
Glass, a frugal owner who has become a symbol of his franchise's futility.
Since the former Wal-Mart CEO took over in 2000, the Royals have played .404
baseball and, assuming another 100-loss outfit this year, will have fielded the
four worst teams in franchise history. "These are bad times for the
franchise, and they could only get worse if they don't lock up Hochevar,"
says an executive for another American League club.
Hochevar has faith
that a deal will get done soon. "I want to get out there as soon as
possible," he says, "[and] be a part of turning things around for this
Life Isn't Good Without Pujols
The Cardinals, who
until last week were cruising to their third consecutive 100-win season and NL
Central title, quickly discovered what life is like without slugger Albert
Pujols. After its All-Star first baseman was put on the DL on June 4 with a
strained right oblique, St. Louis suffered a three-game sweep at the hands of
the Reds before taking two of three from the Brewers. Pujols--who is out until
at least early July--had accounted for a third of the Cards' run production (92
of 276 runs), the highest percentage in the majors. To make matters worse,
cleanup hitter Jim Edmonds continues to struggle (7 for 29 at week's end) as he
plays through an abdominal injury.