THE NEWBERG REPORT — JUNE 6, 2006

The due diligence has been done. And there’s no question that the Rangers are as prepared as any organization in baseball. But that doesn’t mean Texas knows this morning whose name it will call when the draft reaches the number 12 slot near lunchtime.

Two things stand out as far as the top of the 2006 draft class is concerned, and they are interrelated: it’s as weak a crop as there’s been since 2000, and there is so much uncertainty in the first round that it’s nearly impossible to know until the draft actually unfolds who the first half a dozen picks will be, much less the 12th.

Over the last few days, the names that have surfaced most frequently in connection with the Rangers’ pick are University of Washington righthander Tim Lincecum, The Woodlands High School righthander Kyle Drabek, Wake Forest infielder Matt Antonelli, Alabama high school lefthander Kasey Kiker, Missouri righthander Max Scherzer, and University of Texas center fielder Drew Stubbs. Not all of them will remain unchosen after the first 11 picks, but most projections suggest most of them will be there at 12.

Every one of them has questions (not that any draft pick is ever free of questions), and the decision you have to make if you are Jon Daniels or part of his crew is how to view what will likely be a $2 million investment: do you take the safest player — because of how expensive he will be to sign, or do you take the player, as risky as he might be, who has the highest ceiling — again, because of how expensive he will be to sign?

Daniels has demonstrated over and over again that he is willing to gamble. The gamble is always educated. Safety is rarely the priority.

Baseball America’s Jim Callis predicts this morning that Lincecum, the small fireballer who many project as a dominating closer but who some insist will be able to start in the big leagues, will be the Texas pick. MLB’s Jonathan Mayo speculates that it will be Drabek, who is the most talented pitcher in the draft by most accounts — and yet every story about him this spring hasn’t gotten to paragraph two without mention of his makeup issues. CNN/SI’s Bryan Smith thinks the Rangers will end up with Scherzer, whose stock has dropped, possibly because of shoulder concerns.

Meanwhile, the Rangers signed another draft-and-follow last night, coming to terms with Mississippi State shortstop Thomas Berkery, their 46th-round draft choice last summer, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. This follows the signing of Yavapai Community College catcher Kevin Gossage, as you know from last night’s news flash. One thing I failed to note last night is that Gossage had the season — and the sensational post-season — that he had in a league that uses wood bats.

Texas was permitted to negotiate with Berkery, who started at second base as a redshirt freshman, third base as a sophomore, catcher and third as a junior, and shortstop this season, because was a fifth-year senior. If the Bulldogs weren’t eliminated from the NCAA Regionals on Sunday, Berkery would have gone back into the draft (Baseball America suggested he could have gone in the top 10 rounds today), as the Rangers could only negotiate with him once his season was over — but wouldn’t have been able to negotiate at all after last night. They had one day to get a deal done, and they did it.

Berkery hit .384/.464/.571 for the Bulldogs this season, winning the Southeastern Conference batting title. Past winners of the SEC hitting crown include Rafael Palmeiro, and Buck Showalter.

As a 46th-round pick, you might choose to dismiss the Berkery signing.

But Jason Botts was a 46th-round draft-and-follow.

And in 2003, the Rangers used their 28th-round choice on Brazoswood High School righthander Brad Lincoln, hoping to sway him from a commitment to the University of Houston.

Lincoln could be the top pick in today’s draft.

So you never know. How baseball players will develop is as hard to predict as in any sport.

The Rangers’ first decision today on who is most likely to develop and meet his expectations has about $2 million riding on it.

Mike Hindman will send a news flash out to the mailing list as soon as the pick has been made, and he’ll follow up with flashes on most if not all of the Rangers’ remaining Day One picks. Stay by the Newberg Report message board all day for draft discussion, and tomorrow morning you’ll get from me what is generally the longest Newberg Report of the year.

I’m pumped.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

2 Comments

Jamey, a question.

Why does baseball not push its draft back a couple of weeks so that it doesn’t occur during the NCAA baseball playoffs? I’ve always thought the draft is such a distraction for a lot of players on NCAA playoff teams. I would assume that MLB would want to have a good relationship with the NCAA, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Am I alone in wondering about this? What are your thoughts on the issue?

There’s been talk of doing just that. The balance is between delaying the draft until they are done in Omaha, and further shortening the rookie league seasons.

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