Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Get to know your future disabled list occupants

The June regular phase of Major League Baseball's first-year player draft is just two weeks away, and the Pirates sit comfortably at the No. 2 slot, ready to turn some young man's lifelong dreams of playing professional baseball into a painful, Pyrrhic realization.

The Bucs' new front office has said that it won't hesitate to take the best player available, regardless of expected cost or slotting, so there's an excellent chance we won't have a repeat of last year, when with his third-to-last gasp of fresh air, Dave Littlefield passed on Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters -- generally agreed to be the draft's best player -- to take Clemson reliever Daniel Moskos. In Moskos's defense, he hasn't bombed yet (3-1, 7 GS, 36.3 IP, 3.72 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 20/8 K:BB), but he wasn't anywhere close to being the best player on the board, and the Pirates were starving for a catcher with Ronny Paulino being Ronny Paulino and Ryan Doumit splitting time between catcher, first base, right field and the 15-day DL.

So for now, we're just telling ourselves that the apparently much more competent team of GM Neal Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith will do the right thing and select the best player, and that it might be a sign of sound decisions yet to come. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but we can't worry about that now. All we can worry about now is which player our front office will make a trivia question out of, or which stud pitcher will put the Mets over the top in the NL East when the Pirates trade him there in July of 2015 for a 35-year-old Ryan Church and a bag of Garden Salsa Sun Chips.

Here, according to a generous amalgamation of sources, are some players the Pirates are considering selecting with the second overall pick in this year's June draft:

Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin HS (Ga.)'s scouting report on Beckham is glowing:

Beckham has a good feel for the game, but he's got some mechanical flaws to his swing, most notably not turning on the ball the way he should right now. The ball does jump off his bat and he's got tremendous bat speed...power is more a projection right now, but he's got average to plus power potential...Athletically gifted, he also has a good sense of what to do on the basepaths...He's not a finished product, with some fundamental things to iron out...A bonafide five-tool player at a premium position, there's a reason why Beckham is at or near the top of draft lists everywhere. He's got tools galore, with some idea of how to use them. He'll need to iron out some things mechanically and fundamentally, but he's got the ability and potential to hit, hit for power, steal bases and stay at shortstop at the big-league level.

The Pirates could certainly use a shortstop, as they have almost zero depth at that position within the organization, and Jack Wilson is no spring chicken. You'd certainly like to think that some combination of a healthy Wilson and later Brian Bixler could hold down shortstop with the big club until Beckham would be big-league ready. That is, if Tampa Bay doesn't take him with the first overall pick. Regardless of whether Beckham goes first or second, he's going to command a signing bonus in the realm of $7 million. If he's there when the Pirates pick, he'd be a tough player to pass up, and the organization would do well to have him. But he wouldn't be ready to play for at least three or four years, and even that would require him to absolutely fly through the Pirates system without a setback. A more realistic estimate might be five years, which would make him the everyday shortstop in time for 2013.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Vanderbilt University
This guy might be the best player in the draft -- at least, the best player not named Tim Beckham. He doesn't appear to have the upside, the potential or the upside potential that Beckham does, but he looks to be the closest to major-league ready of all the position players in this year's crop. Again,
"As safe a bet as there is, Alvarez is a polished and poised hitter and should hit for average in the big leagues...He's got power now and should have at least average power in the future...Alvarez is a pretty big and strong left-handed hitting third baseman who plays with a bounce in his step..."

Difference here is that there are some red flags:

"He's got below-average speed...Base running is not really a key part of his game...He's got an average arm at third...He should be OK to stay at third. If needed, he'd probably make a pretty good first baseman...He has average range...A broken hamate bone forced him out of action for more than a month. The power has been slow to come back...Some lingering concern about him getting back to full strength following the injury."
Oh, and his agent is Scott Boras, who will be seeking between $8.5 and $9 million up front from the team that drafts him. Great. Unless that rookie contract includes club options at the veteran minimum until Pedro is eligible for an AARP membership, or exclusive rights to extract his DNA and clone unlimited Pedros, I'm not sure how sound a financial decision drafting this kid might be. Even if he's big-league ready in two years, there's a very real chance he winds up being a defensive liability at third. If he winds up playing first, you've paid out the ass for a guy who can hit, but becomes less valuable by virtue of playing a less difficult position. That he's a third baseman now is probably the only reason his draft stock is what it is. For a guy to project only average power and be mentioned as a potential top-five pick, he'd better be a catcher, a shortstop, a second baseman or a center fielder.

Just as good closers are often starters who never developed a workable third pitch, power-hitting first basemen often become power-hitting first basemen after being relieved of playing a position that requires them to be quick, limber and agile. Albert Pujols and Jim Thome started out playing third base. Todd Helton? Lance Berkman? Outfielders. Paul Konerko and Carlos Delgado were catchers. CATCHERS! Point is, you've got a much better chance of turning a good hitter into a first baseman than you do of turning anyone at all into a third baseman, and $9 million is a lot to shell out up front for a 20-year-old kid with questionable power. That said, if Beckham is gone when the Pirates pick, I hope they take Alvarez. Their 2011 runs scored/runs against can be 921:1247, and they can finish 57-105.
Seriously, drafting Pedro -- who, it's worth noting, will never, ever, ever, ever be referred to by his last name, which will lead to a veritable blizzard of stale 'Napoleon Dynamite' references -- would be a great way for the Pirates organization to show its fans that it is interested in fielding a competitive product through developing elite talent.

Aaron Crow, RHP, University of Missouri
Of the eight pitchers the Pirates have taken in the first round over the last 12 years, six have undergone Tommy John surgery before logging three full years of Major League service time. The record is two seasons by Benson, and the only two of the eight who haven't had the surgery at all are Paul Maholm and last year's first-rounder, Daniel Moskos.

If Neal Huntington decides to test what I think should be called "The Curse of Anna Benson," a guy he might choose to do it with is Aaron Crow. I'm not going to break down Crow, because the fine scholars over at Saber-Scouting have made him the subject of as fine a mechanical analysis as you'll see of a ballplayer, but suffice it to say, there are some hitches in his motion. One thing they didn't mention, though, is that the mechanical flaw they do highlight might lead to Crow tipping his pitches if it's not corrected before he hits the majors. Look at how far back he brings the ball before he even begins to bring his arm toward the plate. You don't think some of the better and/or smarter hitters in the game are going to be able to pick up the lay of the seams and deduce what pitch they're getting before they get it? That's a concern, to be sure. Also the high-stress delivery could be a thing.

Buster Posey, C, Florida State
Ain't gonna happen. Sure, the Pirates would do well to have another catching prospect in the system, just to complement the zero legitimate catching prospects they currently have, and the 1.5 adequate catchers who exist somewhere in the universe of their 40-man roster/Disabled List. But when was the last time you heard of anyone with a name like Buster Posey being taken seriously in any facet of life? How could the opposing pitcher avoid laughing before throwing right at his head every time?

Consider that there have been ten players in the history of Major League baseball to go by the name "Buster," and that the last one, Washington Senators' pitcher Buster Narum (whose given name was Leslie Ferdinand Narum) retired in 1967 after a glorious five-year career. Of the 18 players in ML history who have gone by or have been nicknamed "Buster," 13 ended their careers before 1950, and 10 were out of baseball before World War II.

For whatever it's worth, he did play all nine positions in a single game earlier this month. Maybe that counts for something.

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