THE NEWBERG REPORT — JUNE 8, 2007

It was another episode in an increasingly familiar stretch of baseball, another night on which the Rangers took themselves out of the game early due to ineffective starting pitching and awful defense. Earlier in the day, espousing the “best player available” approach, the organization’s braintrust went heavy after pitching and defense in the draft, devoting six of nine Day One picks to the mound and two to center field sprinters.

If you were concerned that Jon Daniels was going to lean toward the quick fix given the way the big club is playing and his own contract, which extends through 2008, you’ll be pleased to know that Texas spent six picks on high school players, none of whom figures to reach Arlington during the term of Daniels’s existing contract. For that matter, the three college players chosen aren’t likely to see Rangers Ballpark before 2009 themselves.

Grading draft classes is sort of foolish, especially in baseball, within hours of the draft rather than years, but having read a lot of player evaluations, both before and after the draft, and having talked to some media experts whose opinions I trust, I feel pretty good about yesterday.

Some quick thoughts:

1. I thought we were lucky to get high school righthanders Blake Beavan and Michael Main where we did.

2. I was against the idea of taking Tennessee center fielder Julio Borbon at 17 or 24, and there were plenty of publications predicting that Texas would do just that. Popping him at 35 wasn’t as difficult to get behind.

Will it take more than slot to sign Borbon, since Scott Boras advises him? Not sure, but Beavan and Main sound like they are eager to sign, and that should mean that the Rangers can step out of slot a bit on Borbon, if needed.

3. Love the Rangers’ final pick of the day, Florida high school lefthander John Gast. Having already had Tommy John surgery, there will be repeated references to Angels southpaw prospect Nick Adenhart as Gast rehabilitates, but add righthander Nick Masset to the comp as well. The difference will be that, if Gast signs, he’ll rehab under the tutelage of the Rangers’ staff rather than at home in Florida, which is what Masset did during his now-antiquated draft-and-follow season with St. Petersburg Junior College. More on Gast’s upside in a bit.

4. My only real disappointment was that we didn’t take a shot at high school righthanders (and Boras clients) Rick Porcello (who lasted until the 27th pick) or Matt Harvey (who lasted until 84), but there are obvious reasons why they fell as far as they did.

Boras is making noise that it’s going to take at least $7 million to sign Porcello, but that’s not the worst part. Setting the money issue aside, Porcello is apparently insisting on a big league contract, which means his options will kick in as soon as he signs. If he signs close enough to the August 15 deadline that it’s a 2008 contract, it still means he’ll need to be in the big leagues for good by Opening Day 2011; if he signs earlier than mid-August, he’ll be out of options going into 2010. If that seems like a long way off, it’s not. If Eric Hurley had signed a big league contract when drafted, for instance, he’d have been out of options this year and would not only be in Texas right now, but the club would not be able to send him down if he were struggling. And this is a guy who has had very few bumps in the road developmentally and yet is still just in AA.

Todd Van Poppel’s career was ruined by the big league contract he demanded and got right out of high school. I want my team to be willing to step out of slot to pay for the right player (Mark Teixeira, Taylor Teagarden, Johnny Whittleman, Marcus Lemon, Vincent Sinisi), but giving a high school pitcher a major league deal is just asking for trouble. We’ll see if Detroit succumbs.

As for Harvey, who was considered by some to be the best high school arm in the draft when the 2007 season began, Texas passed on him six times. But Harvey was passed over a lot on Thursday, maybe because of Boras, maybe because of his commitment to North Carolina, maybe because of reasons we don’t know about. But there’s something going on.

Hated to see the Angels be the team to step up and call his name. They took a chance on Adenhart three years ago that paid off. Hopefully they won’t be able to sign Harvey.

Here was the path my thoughts took: If we took Porcello or Harvey, we’d be able to give a shot to signing him, and if we didn’t, we still had four other picks in the first round, plus we’d get an added pick in 2008, one pick after the slot that was used on him in 2007. Since Texas is unlikely to have many, if any, compensatory picks in 2008 by virtue of losing Type A or Type B free agents, the possibility of ending up with an extra pick next year if the club failed to come to terms with Porcello or Harvey made the downside sort of interesting.

But then I thought about the effect that negotiating millions of dollars above slot with one of those two high school righthanders would have had on talks with Beavan (if we took Porcello at 24) or with Beavan, Main, and Ramirez (if we took Harvey as late as 54). That might have endangered multiple picks, and that’s something we can’t afford in this draft.

My gut tells me I would have been happier if we had locked down the right to negotiate with Porcello or Harvey. But my common sense tells me that the decision not take one of them was probably the rational one.

5. Random thought: Baltimore took Matt Wieters at number five, and the point was made repeatedly that the Orioles had never before invited a negotiation with Boras. Wieters may be the first fifth-pick-out-of-Georgia-Tech-advised-by-Scott-Boras for the Orioles to deal with, but could there be another one not too long from now?

6. Toronto took Houston high school third baseman Kevin Ahrens with the 16th pick, which Texas forfeited to the Blue Jays by signing Frank Catalanotto.

7. Finally, before getting into an analysis of the Rangers’ picks, let me say this about ESPN: whoever decided that it was better television to have a coffeehouse conversation with Barry Larkin and several others than to broadcast the picks in the supplemental first round ought to be fired. If they thought that anyone other than diehard fans of 2007 baseball was watching ESPN2 in the middle of a weekday afternoon, they’re as clueless as we all figure they are. Maybe the SportsCenter generation wants to hear Dave Winfield talk about the good old days. But the SportsCenter generation wasn’t tuned into ESPN2 in the first place. And for at least half an hour, the MLB.com audio feed continued to simulcast the ESPN broadcast, meaning there was no way to see or hear the draft unfold.

Rant over. I hate ESPN.

On to the players:

1 (17th overall, taken with a pick awarded for the loss of Carlos Lee). BLAKE BEAVAN, RHP, Irving High School (Tex.) (Ranger first-round picks since 1990 include Mark Teixeira, John Danks, Thomas Diamond, Kasey Kiker, John Mayberry Jr., Drew Meyer, Rick Helling, Carlos Pena, Benji Gil, Scott Heard)

He stands nearly a foot taller than Kasey Kiker, and throws from the other side, but like last year’s first-round pick, Beavan wants to sign (his slot calls for about $1.5 million), and it appears that Texas is going to put him on a path not unlike the one they set Kiker out on after signing him last summer. Beavan said yesterday afternoon that he understands his career will start in Spokane, where he’ll face mostly college competition, and based on how he’s toyed with high school hitters, it sounds like a challenge he’ll be ready for.

The 6-7, 210-pound Beavan went 9-2, 0.19 for Irving High this spring, striking out 139 hitters in 73.1 innings (nearly two per inning) and walking only four — four! — while he scattered 23 hits, an average of two a game. On March 6 he struck out 18 in a perfect game against Irving MacArthur.

As a junior, Beavan went 8-2, 1.29 with 100 strikeouts in 59.2 innings and was named Baseball America’s Youth Player of the Year (an award won the last four years by Delmon Young, Adenhart, Cameron Maybin, and Robert Stock). In his sophomore year, he went 7-3, 0.65, fanning 97 in 64.2 frames. Beavan went 1-6, 1.76 with 88 strikeouts in 50 innings as a freshman, earning the team’s one victory in a 1-23 season.

Beavan commands an explosive fastball in the mid-90s (touching 98) with a plus slider that Baseball America called the third-best secondary pitch among all high school pitchers in the draft (though other publications called the pitch’s development level suspect). He has a change that he didn’t really need in high school and that he’ll need to develop in order to get left-handed hitters out in the pros. His fiery mound demeanor is described as extreme confidence or arrogance, depending on who you ask. I heard Perfect Game’s David Rawnsley comment during the yesterday’s proceedings that Beavan “doesn’t like hitters.”

And he’s faced hitters he doesn’t like on a pretty big stage. Last summer he pitched for Team USA in the quarterfinals at the IBAF World Junior Championships, traveling to Cuba and firing an 11-strikeout, complete-game shutout in front of a hostile crowd that included 40 armed guards and members of Fidel Castro’s family.

Scouts praise the big righthander’s easy delivery (Roy Halladay) but some have concerns about the recoil in his arm after he finishes (Troy Percival, K-Rod). There is some thought that the mechanical issues could relegate him eventually to a closer’s role, but that’s not even a consideration at this point, and if he takes well to instruction, probably never will be.

Leading up to the draft, the consensus in the mocks was that Beavan wouldn’t get past the Indians, who had the 13th pick (and made my day when they had Bud Selig call out the name of Beau Mills). In fact, the minor league pitcher most frequently mentioned as a comp for Beavan is Cleveland blue-chipper Adam Miller, the McKinney product who is dealing in AAA in his fifth pro season and is a near-lock to join the big club sometime this year. Beavan is saying he wants to be in Arlington in three years. That’s a longshot, but if he stays healthy and dominates from the start, it can’t be ruled out.

Look at it this way: Hurley was drafted three years ago, and although it would be premature to throw him into a big league fire right now, it’s nonetheless been a topic of conversation among media and fans.

Depending on how things go this summer, chances are good that Hurley and Beavan will go into the 2008 season as this franchise’s number one and number two prospects. Beavan signed a letter of intent with the University of Oklahoma, but it’s one that he won’t honor. He’s going pro: Count on it.

1 (24, taken with a pick awarded for the loss of Gary Matthews Jr.). MICHAEL MAIN, RHP, DeLand High School (Fla.)

Peter Gammons said during the draft that at least three teams wanted to draft Main (whom Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein called a “crazy great athlete”) as a center fielder. You can be sure Texas wasn’t one of them.

The 6’1″ Main hit .457 with 22 RBI and 24 stolen bases for DeLand High this season and was named the third-best high school athlete in the draft by Baseball America, but it was his mound work that earned him Gatorade National Player of the Year honors. The righthander went 12-1, 1.02 for the Bulldogs this season, striking out 121 hitters in 82.1 innings with a mid-90s fastball (judged third-best in the draft among high schoolers) that has touched 99 and stays down in the zone with late movement. He mixes in a power curve (triggering at least one Tom Gordon comp) and a potentially above-average change, and not surprisingly fields his position well.

Tim Hudson is another name that comes up from time to time when prototyping Main.

Main has been on the map for a long time. In 2004, Baseball America named him the top 15-year-old baseball player in the nation in its annual “Baseball For the Ages” feature. That fall he registered 94 on the radar gun while pitching in Mexico for Team USA’s Youth National Team in a qualifying tournament for the 2005 World Youth Championship. A year ago several publications called him a candidate to be the top prospect in this week’s draft. He missed some time as a junior with tendinitis in his rotator cuff, but there are no health questions now.

Boasting a 4.1 GPA, Main has committed to Florida State, but his signability is not considered to be an issue. He told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that he has a deal in place and expects to sign with the Rangers in the next few days.

Main was a Team USA teammate of Beavan’s. It’s too soon to tell whether he’ll start out with Beavan at Spokane after signing, but you can bet that the Rangers’ vision after the first round went the way they had hoped was that Beavan and Main will eventually team up in Arlington as two core members of the pitching staff.

1-Supp (35, taken with a pick awarded for the loss of Carlos Lee). JULIO BORBON, CF, University of Tennessee (Colby Lewis, Jason Romano, Corey Lee, Mike Bell)

There are things to love about Borbon — plus plus speed, bat control, ability to drag bunt, outstanding range in center field. There are things to question — low walk totals, subpar throwing arm, basestealing inefficiency.

But for Texas, which had already taken two pitchers and had two more picks in the 19 slots that would follow number 35, the opportunity to take the draft’s first college outfielder, one who was projected to go as early as the middle of the first round (and, accordingly to a number of mocks, to the Rangers at number 17), was one the club didn’t want to pass up. This choice has the feel, more than any of the Rangers’ other choices yesterday, of being a “need” pick, but he was taken later than almost every projection had him going, and so from that standpoint it can be argued that he might very well have been the best player available as well.

Borbon’s stock was sky-high after the 2006 season, when he led the gold medal-winning Team USA in hits, triples, and stolen bases at the FISU World Championship Tournament in Cuba. But this January, Borbon, a preseason first-team All-American, fractured his left ankle in practice when he slid awkwardly into second base on a play where there wasn’t even a throw. That same week, Baseball America had ranked him as the number six draft prospect in college, number nine overall.

Surgery followed, and Borbon missed a couple months, and all eyes were on his running game to see how the injury would affect his ability to impact games with his feet, both offensively and in the field. He answered those questions, stealing 10 bases in 13 attempts once he returned to action and playing plus defense in center field. His draft stock increased as the season wore on, and comparisons to Johnny Damon revived.

Baseball America called Borbon the third-fastest college baserunner in the draft (clocking in as fast as 6.28 seconds in the 60-yard dash), and the second-best college athlete. He possesses a little pop in his bat, even if not fence power at this stage. In his three seasons with the Volunteers, he has hit .355/.392/.477, with 30 doubles, 13 triples, seven home runs, 100 RBI, 122 runs, and 41 steals (in 52 tries) over 629 at-bats, but his average and on-base percentage in his disjointed 2007 were the lowest of his college career.

The Boras client told reporters yesterday that he wants to sign. He’s a very important prospect, especially if the club is trying to find ways not to have to spend $60 million over five years to bring in an aging player like Torii Hunter to fill the void left in center field by Gary Matthews Jr.’s departure. That’s not to say that Borbon could arrive in 2008 — there’s no chance of that — but if he takes to the pro game this summer and the Rangers believe he has a chance to eventually play every day in Texas, leading off and patrolling center field, maybe the club will decide it doesn’t need to commit four or five years to an expensive center fielder.

1-Supp (44, taken with a pick awarded for the loss of Gary Matthews Jr.). NEIL RAMIREZ, RHP, Kempsville High School (Va.)

After taking Borbon nine picks earlier, Texas returned to the high school pitching landscape and chose Ramirez, a high-ceiling righthander who, like Beavan and Main, commands a fastball in the mid-90s with life.

The 6’3″ Ramirez went 6-2, 1.46, fanning 74 in 52.2 innings in 2007, disappointing some scouts who believed after his 4-3, 1.05 junior season (67 strikeouts in 42 frames) that he would be a lock to fit somewhere in the first round. Going into this season, Baseball America called him the number 11 high school prospect in the country (Main was number nine, Beavan number 16) and placed him on its Pre-Season All-American Second Team. But mechanical inconsistencies (and possibly a back strain that cost him about a week this spring) pushed him down to the sandwich round.

Ramirez, who has committed to Georgia Tech, was a 2006 Aflac All-American and 2007 Louisville Slugger High School Pre-Season All-American, along with Beavan and Main in each case.

Ramirez mixes an 11-5 curve and a change with his explosive fastball, though the secondary pitches are works in progress. His fastball command and natural deception are the things that the scouts are drawn to, and he proved in the Cal Ripken Sr. Summer Collegiate League, in which he was named the top prospect while pitching against college hitters, that he has the kind of upside and polish that give him every chance to become the pitcher that, a year ago, he seemed to be well on his way to becoming.

1-Supp (54, taken with a pick awarded for the loss of Mark DeRosa). TOMMY HUNTER, RHP, University of Alabama

Hunter is big. Really big. Some have compared him physically to Jonathan Broxton, the Dodgers reliever that Texas targeted when it was shopping Alfonso Soriano two summers ago. Others have been less kind, invoking the name of David Wells. Standing at 6’4″ and listed at 250, the double black-belt, two-time Junior Olympic judo champion projects as a high-octane, late-inning reliever, a role the draft-eligible sophomore filled on occasion at Alabama, starting at other times.

Hunter (who was drafted in the 18th round out of high school by Tampa Bay) went 10-3, 3.30 as a freshman (earning Freshman All-American recognition) before working out of the bullpen for Team USA in the summer, helping the squad win the gold medal at the FISU World University Championships in Cuba. In 21.1 innings, he went 3-0, 3.80 and scattered 19 hits and four walks while punching out 23.

As a sophomore in 2007, Hunter went 7-5, 3.87 in 11 starts and 15 relief appearances, fanning 80 and issuing 22 walks in 117.1 innings with an arsenal featuring a low-90s fastball.

Rule 4 states that any player who turns age 21 within 45 days following the draft is eligible for that draft. Hunter will be 21 on July 3, and accordingly he was eligible to be chosen this week. This does give him the added leverage of a return to school for two more years — and two more drafts — so this might be a player that will command above-slot money to sign. He says, however, that he won’t let negotiations drag — he plans to decide sometime next week whether he’ll sign or return to Alabama for his junior season.

Nine spots after Texas chose Hunter, San Diego used the penultimate pick of the sandwich round to take Ohio State lefthander Corey Luebke, who was the Rangers’ 22nd-round pick a year ago.

2 (80). MATT WEST, 3B, Bellaire High School (Tex.) (Johnny Whittleman, Vincent Sinisi, Nick Regilio, K.C. Herren, Jason Bourgeois, Jason Grabowski)

Given the fact that Texas had made five choices before taking West, it’s easy to overlook this pick as one that fell outside of the higher-profile areas of the draft, but considering that West was the number 80 pick in a draft class that, by all accounts, is deeper than the 2005 draft that produced Johnny Whittleman for the Rangers at pick number 67 and Taylor Teagarden at number 99, we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the West pick.

A high school shortstop for the powerhouse Bellaire program in Houston, West went into his senior season as a Rawlings Pre-Season All-American and a candidate to go in the supplemental first round, but he saw his stock slip a bit during the spring. Nonetheless, scouts think his plus bat speed could develop into legitimate power, and he’s praised for his ability to go the opposite way. Athletic but just an average runner, West hit .545 with eight home runs, 43 RBI, 61 runs, and 31 stolen bases in 77 at-bats.

West will probably move to third base as a pro due to his 6’2″, 195 frame that is still filling out, and so the development of power at the plate will probably be the key to his potential to become a big league regular. He has committed to both Arizona State and San Jacinto Junior College but is expected to sign.

3 (110). EVAN REED, RHP, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo (Hank Blalock, Taylor Teagarden, Chad Tracy, Michael Schlact, Barry Zito, Ryan Dempster, John Hudgins)

The Rangers’ division rivals in Los Angeles and Oakland made higher-profile picks just after Texas took Reed, as the Angels selected Connecticut high school righthander Matt Harvey eight picks after Texas and, two picks after that, the A’s took TCU righthander Sam Demel (whom Texas chose in the 35th round in 2004), also a college reliever.

Did the Rangers make the right call? Area scout Todd Guggiana, who found Kameron Loe in the 20th round, deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Reed has a power arm (mid-90s fastball, slider) that settled in for Cal Poly in late relief in 2007, after he had started the year before. In 32 Mustang appearances this season, he went 4-3, 3.19 with 11 saves, permitting 36 hits and 18 walks in 42.1 innings while fanning 41. Despite concerns that his fastball is too straight, no hitter took him deep all season.

For what it’s worth, Reed told the San Luis Obispo Tribune that he expects to give starting another try once he signs.

4 (140). GARRETT NASH, CF, Jordan High School (Utah) (Wes Littleton, Brandon Boggs, Marcus Lemon, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, Ryan Glynn)

When I saw one scouting comp suggesting that Nash reminds some of Cleveland center field prospect Trevor Crowe (whom I suggested recently trying to pry loose in an Eric Gagné trade), at least defensively, I perked up. Nash has been a middle infielder in high school, but like Crowe he’s apparently going to shift to center field, where his plus plus speed can be put to better use.

Nash ran a 6.27 60 last summer and one publication characterized him as the fastest high school player in the country. He utilizes his speed well, running the bases effectively (racking up 120 high school steals while getting caught just once) and showing good range in the field.

A switch-hitter, Nash hit .434 with 27 RBI and 32 swipes in 27 games this season, the third straight campaign in which he earned First-Team All-State honors. Scouts see power potential from the right side but none from the left.

Nash will play for reigning national champion Oregon State should the Rangers fail to sign him. The area scout responsible for recommending the Nash pick was former Rangers southpaw Andy Pratt, in his first year scouting for the organization.

5 (170). JOHN GAST, LHP, Lake Brantley High School (Fla.) (C.J. Wilson, Chris Davis, Michael Kirkman, Mike Nickeas, Matt Lorenzo, Warren Morris, Ryan Dittfurth)

A risk worth taking. Before Gast injured his elbow in mid-April, he had turned himself into a potential first-round pick, touching 94 with a plus curveball and command of both. Lefthanders like that don’t last long in the draft. Had he not been hurt, he probably would have gone in yesterday’s top two rounds.

A Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American, Gast had a 5-1, 0.58 record, punching out 66 in 34 innings, when he hurt himself and underwent May 1 Tommy John surgery. He obviously won’t pitch this year and probably won’t in 2008, either. But if Texas can sign him and rehab him like the Angels did with Adenhart in 2004, this could be a huge acquisition.

Under the old CBA, Gast would have been a strong candidate to forgo his commitment to Florida State and instead enroll at a junior college, creating a draft-and-follow opportunity like Masset did in 2000, when he opted out of his scholarship to Louisiana State and pitched for St. Petersburg before signing with Texas on the eve of the following draft. But under the new rules, Gast will have until August 15 to sign with the Rangers, with no draft-and-follow possibilities. Otherwise, he’ll likely go to Florida State and redshirt in 2008.

Rounds six through 50 take place today. And then we can start to envision how the Rangers might staff the Arizona League and Spokane rotations, with Beavan and Main and Ramirez (should they sign) joining a promising collection of arms that includes pitchers like Fabio Castillo, Jake Brigham, Wilmer Font, Geuris Grullon, and Carlos Pimentel.

And that brings up a point that must be made. For yesterday and today to pay off the way they need to, it’s not necessary that all, or even most, of those pitchers are wearing Rangers caps four years from now.

In fact, it’s not conceivable.

At least a couple won’t be able to get AA hitters out. Another one or two might get hurt, as much as we don’t want to think about it. And who knows, maybe three years from now, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels (yes, that’s right) trades Main and third baseman Emmanuel Solis, both of whom are starring in Frisco, and big league left fielder Chad Tracy to Colorado for free-agent-to-be outfielder Brad Hawpe, who helps Texas separate itself from the Angels on the way to a playoff berth.

Not all nine of the players Texas drafted yesterday will reach the Rangers’ 40-man roster. The key is to get as many of them as possible onto somebody’s 40-man roster. The effort to find players capable of getting there continues this morning.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers

%d bloggers like this: