THE NEWBERG REPORT — June 6, 2008: Day One of the Draft.

This
is a tale about draft philosophy.

The
right kind, and the wrong kind.

And
how advocates of the wrong kind can make Draft Day a significantly better one
for everyone else.

When
the Rangers were fortunate enough to land Mark Teixeira with the fifth pick in
the 2001 draft, it wasn’t necessarily because the teams ahead of them screwed
up.  Whether Teixeira’s contract demands
(he would eventually sign a four-year, $9.5 million major league deal) factored
into Minnesota’s choice of Joe Mauer (first)
or Philadelphia’s
choice of Gavin Floyd (fourth) doesn’t matter, because those clubs drafted
well.  The Cubs selected Mark Prior
(second), simply preferring him over Teixeira. 
Tampa Bay tabbed Dewon Brazelton (third) but
obviously that club was never going to meet Teixeira’s monetary demands.

There
are no such excuses for Justin Smoak — a switch-hitting, power/defense first
baseman drawing comparisons to Teixeira, for one — falling to Texas at pick number 11
yesterday.  It had absolutely nothing to
do with signability.

Players
slide on Draft Day.  It happens.  Chances were decent that someone in the top
10 was going to fall a few spots, especially this year, when the first round
was as unsettled as any in memory.  It turns
out Smoak was that guy.

San Francisco sat at number five,
where it was predicted almost across the board that Smoak would land, and
decided to take Florida
State catcher Buster
Posey, a player whose rumored demands led some to believe he might fall to a
large-market team late in the round.  Florida, drafting sixth, then took California high school catcher Kyle
Skipworth.

Houston, sitting at number 10,
did not stray from its apparent decision to draft for need.

The
Astros wanted Skipworth.  The final
Baseball America
mock predicted they’d get him.  But the
Marlins had foiled that plan at number six.

Cincinnati took Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso at
seven.  Camps are split on whether he or
Smoak is the better prospect.  Defensible
pick.

At
eight, the White Sox chose Georgia
shortstop Gordon Beckham, the player they apparently wanted all along.  Fine.

Washington selected Missouri righthander
Aaron Crow, maybe the top power pitcher among college draft-eligibles, at
number nine.  Certainly
understandable.  If the Rangers had gone for
pitching, he was the guy I was hoping for.

Smoak,
who was pegged to go third or fourth or fifth in most mocks I saw, and eighth
in a couple, was sitting there as the Astros went on the clock.  He had to be the consensus “best player
available” at that point, but if there were any teams or industry experts who
had Smoak elsewhere on their board based on pure talent and upside — even if
signability were factored in — I can guarantee you that it wasn’t because of
Stanford catcher Jason Castro.

The
Astros didn’t have the chance to take Skipworth, but that didn’t stop them from
making sure they filled their “need” by adding a catcher (24-year-old rookie
J.R. Towles, hitting a woeful .145, was optioned to AAA last night, and the
club’s 2006 number one pick, 20-year-old catcher Max Sapp, remains in Low A and
still isn’t hitting).  Houston took Castro, thought by most to
figure in somewhere in the last third of the first round, certainly in the last
half.  The great Kevin Goldstein of
Baseball Prospectus wrote, yesterday morning: “Stanford’s Jason Castro is the
third best catcher in the draft, and the gap between him and whoever teams
think is the fourth best on the board is wider than the Grand
Canyon.”

Thank
goodness, from the Rangers’ standpoint, that Houston decided it absolutely had to grab a
catcher.

This
week alone, various projections had Texas
using its first pick on Crow or Eric Hosmer or Christian Friedrich or Andrew
Cashner or Ethan Martin or Aaron Hicks or Gerrit Cole or Shooter Hunt.  Not one had Smoak available at number 11.

Houston
went for need, Texas (not worrying that adding a first baseman could fog up the
picture for either Chris Davis or Max Ramirez) took the best player available,
and I came away with this thought: As much as I was looking forward to drafting
immediately before Oakland all day, I found myself just as thankful to be
drafting right after Houston.

The
Rangers took six players on Thursday and will take another 44 today if they use
every pick available to them.  I knew
nothing about five of yesterday’s picks until after Texas called their names, and
it’s doubtful I’ll know much about today’s selections until doing a little
research, but the fact that Justin Smoak’s name tops our list makes the 2008
draft feel like a win already. 

As
much confidence as I have in Ron Hopkins and his team of scouts and
crosscheckers, I’m sure there will be a number of others to emerge from this
draft class to help this organization win at the big league level, one way or
another, but things sure got off to a sensational start early yesterday
afternoon, as it’s hard to dispute that Texas stayed true to its rational plan
and took what we can probably all agree was not only the best player available,
but in fact the best player available to the team picking immediately ahead of
the Rangers.

On
to the picks:


1 (11th overall). JUSTIN
SMOAK, 1B, Univ.
of South Carolina

(scout: Jim Cuthbert)

(last year’s first-round
picks: Blake Beavan and Michael Main; past Rangers first-round picks include John Danks, Thomas Diamond, Kasey Kiker, John
Mayberry Jr., Mark Teixeira, Rick Helling, Carlos Pena; best number 11 pick in
last 25 years: Shawn Estes [Mariners, 1991])

In
the 16th round of the 2005 draft, Oakland used
the 491st overall pick to select Smoak out of a South Carolina high school.  Four picks later, Minnesota
chose Yonder Alonso out of a Florida
high school.  There were plenty of people
who thought the two should have gone in that same order yesterday.  In fact, Goldstein wrote that Cincinnati, which drafted
Alonso at number seven, might have been the only team that did have Alonso
higher than Smoak on its board.

Some
scouts suggest that Smoak, a Gold Glove-quality defender at first base (something
Alonso clearly is not) with huge power potential and an ability to run the
bases well despite below-average speed, could be a switch-hitting version of Adrian
Gonzalez or Justin Morneau.

Or
that he could be Chipper Jones.

Or
Mark Teixeira.

Need
more?

Baseball
America ranked Smoak as the
number two power hitter among college players in this draft, behind Vanderbilt
third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who went number two to Pittsburgh.

ESPN’s
Keith Law had Smoak as the number three player on his entire board.  When the Rangers made the choice, Law called
it the best pick in the draft.  A day
later, he gives Texas props for making the
second-best pick of the round, next to Colorado’s
selection of Friedrich at number 25.

Smoak
has an easy swing with plus bat speed and strong wrists that generate prodigious
power from both sides of the plate.  Terrific
pitch recognition, hits to all fields.  Good
hands and feet defensively, and a solid arm. 

Could
easily add good weight to his 6’4″, 215 frame. 

Started
every game in his three years at South Carolina, earning Freshman All-America
honors when he hit .303 with 17 home runs and 63 RBI in 2006 (setting freshman school
records for home runs and RBI), and third team All-America recognition when he
hit .315 with 22 home runs and 72 RBI in 2007. 
This year, as a junior, he hit .383/.505/.757 with 23 home runs, 19
doubles, and 72 RBI in 63 games (235 at-bats), drawing more than twice as many
walks (57) as strikeouts (28).  Collegiate
Baseball made him a first-team All-America selection, and he was a
semi-finalist for the Dick Howser Trophy, awarded to the college player of the
year.

In
his three-year Gamecocks career, Smoak set school records for home runs (62), total
bases (485), RBI (207), and walks (151), and is among the greatest home run hitters
in SEC history.  Former Rangers first
baseman Rafael Palmeiro is fourth in the Conference with 67 career homers.  Former Rangers first baseman Will Clark is
sixth with 61.  Future Rangers first
baseman Smoak is fifth with his 62.

The
three hitters ahead of that trio, each of whom played three years of college
ball, compiled their totals in four years.

Smoak
was the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Regionals each of the last two
seasons.

Wood
bat concerns?  In the summer after his
freshman year, Smoak went to the Cape Cod League and was named its MVP (and top
prospect), leading the league with 11 home runs (in 154 at-bats over 39 games)
and a .565 slugging percentage as he hit .286 and added 10 doubles.  (On the other hand, playing for Team USA after his
sophomore season, he struggled, hitting just .223 with three homers and 19 RBI in
121 at-bats.)

When
the Athletics drafted Smoak out of Stratford High in Goose
Creek, South Carolina (where he
was a year behind Matt Wieters) in 2005, he projected to go well before the 16th
round but was thought to be a near-impossible sign due to his commitment to South Carolina.  Yet, if the reports are true, negotiations
evidently stalled with Oakland
at $950,000 and Smoak demanding $1 million. 

Wow.

Think
Billy Beane was thinking about that $50,000 gap when Texas
popped Smoak yesterday with Oakland
on deck?

Smoak’s
advisors are Dustin and Hunter Bledsoe, who also advised him in his high school
negotiations with Oakland.  Hunter, a 32-year-old former SEC Player of
the Year as a Vanderbilt first baseman, spent four seasons in the Dodgers’ system
before splitting 2003 between the Yankees, Royals, and the independent
leagues. 

Smoak’s
season is over (South Carolina
was eliminated on Sunday) but don’t count on him signing quickly.  He’ll probably come to terms, but as a player
who was widely projected to go several spots earlier, chances are that negotiations
could take a while.  Slot calls for about
$2 million.  It will probably take more
to get a deal done, and Texas
and Smoak will have until August 15 to do so (or else Smoak returns to school
for his senior year and the Rangers will get an extra first-round pick next year
as compensation).  But – worst case
scenario – even if negotiations were to take so long that the first time Smoak
suits up is in Surprise at Fall Instructs, this is a player who nonetheless could
arrive by 2010.

Will
he demand a major league contract (which means a 40-man roster spot)?  Don’t know. 
That’s fairly significant, especially given the current crowd on the
roster and the Rule 5-related decisions facing this club the next two winters.

Does
the Smoak pick mean that Davis
could become a designated hitter candidate rather than this club’s next first
baseman?  (Doubt he moves back to third,
where I bet Michael Young moves next season and where Johnny Whittleman
continues to develop.)  And what would
that mean for Ramirez, who would then be blocked at catcher (Jarrod
Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden), first base (Smoak), and DH (Davis)? 

Doesn’t
matter.  If you’re in a position to trade
Saltalamacchia or Teagarden or Davis
or Ramirez or Smoak without creating a hole developmentally, that’s one heck of
a good problem to have.  That’s why you
take the best player available.

A
final comment from Goldstein, during an in-draft chat session: “Congrats
Rangers fans, you just found your replacement for Mark Teixeira.  Just a crazy, crazy steal.  The Rangers could have picked fourth or fifth
and not done better.”

 

2 (57). ROBBIE ROSS,
LHP, Lexington Christian
Academy (Ky.)

(scout: John Poloni)

(last year: Matt West;
previously: Johnny Whittleman, K.C. Herren, Vincent Sinisi, Nick Regilio, Jason
Bourgeois, Jason Grabowsk; best number 57 pick in last 25 years: Jon Lester
[Red Sox, 2002])

For
all the depth that the Rangers are accumulating in pitching prospects on the
farm, the vast majority are righthanders. 
All things equal, you’d rather have a lefthander in Rangers Ballpark,
given the jet stream to right center, and Texas took three southpaws among its six
picks on Thursday.  Ross was the first,
and might be the most challenging to sign.

Ross
is an athletic 5’11”, 185, somewhere between Kasey Kiker and John Danks in stature and just as competitive.  Featuring a fastball that sits at 90-92 mph with
life and touches 94, he pounds the strike zone (just six walks in 51 innings as
he went 5-2, 1.51 with 75 strikeouts), mixing in a solid breaking ball and
change with a good feel for pitching.  He
also hit .473 as a first baseman, swatting 13 doubles in 32 games and driving
in 22 runs.  There’s a lot about that
profile that might remind you of Danks (whose 18-year-old curve Ross’s slider
attracts the same sort of praise as).  Or
maybe a left-handed version of Michael Main, a few ticks down on the radar gun.

Ross,
who turns 19 later this month, is the reigning Gatorade Kentucky Baseball Player
of the Year.  He has committed to the University of Kentucky, and the Rangers will likely have
to go over the nearly $600,000 slot to keep him from honoring it.  He’s represented by Dustin and Hunter
Bledsoe, just as Smoak is.

Baseball
America
ranked Ross as the number 43 prospect in this draft, and the signability issue is
probably the reason he fell to pick number 57. 
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Ross was hoping to be chosen
by the Yankees or Boston.  People usually aren’t fans of both teams, which
may suggest that his fondness for those two might have more to do with a
perceived ability to pay.  

According
to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, Ross is said to be seeking something in the neighborhood
of $1.5 million, which is mid-first-round money (and north of what Texas paid Blake Beavan [$1.4975 million] and Main [$1.2375 million] last summer . . . and also what fourth-rounder
Marcus Lemon said he needed to forgo his UT commitment in 2006 before settling on
$1 million).  Should the Rangers fail to
get a deal done with Ross, they would get a compensation pick immediately after
the 11th spot in the second round of the 2009 draft.

But
the Rangers don’t go into this unaware of Ross’s demands.  Have faith in this getting done.

 

3 (89). TIM MURPHY, LHP,
UCLA

(scout: Todd Guggiana)

(last year: Evan Reed;
previously: Hank Blalock, Taylor Teagarden, Michael Schlact, Chad Tracy, Barry
Zito, Ryan Dempster, John Hudgins; best number 89 pick in last 25 years: Justin
Morneau [Twins, 1999], Chris Young [Pirates, 2000])

Murphy,
the second lefthander in the Rangers’ draft haul, differs from Ross in that Murphy
is a college pitcher, complements an average fastball (with arm-side sink and
run) with a devastating breaking ball, and gets hitters out with an advanced ability
to change speeds.  He’s more of a
pitchability type than Ross, though he’s had issues walking batters.  In 102.1 innings this year, Murphy has walked
46 hitters (though he also punched 111 out and permitted only 83 hits).  His workload and strikeout total led the Pac-10
Conference.

What
Ross and Murphy share, according to Jon Daniels, is standout competitiveness on
the mound.  Murphy challenges hitters with
his four-seam fastball and 11-5 curve, and showed an ability to get out of
trouble that could bode well for a future as a reliever if he doesn’t develop adequately
as a starter.

Murphy
was a quarterback in high school, drafted in the 11th round in 2005 by the Angels
as an outfielder.  As a freshman at UCLA,
he played center field but didn’t pitch, not taking the mound until his sophomore
and junior years.  He has a 10-10, 4.34
records in 27 Bruins starts and 10 relief appearances. 

Early
in the 2008 season, Murphy was projected to go higher than the third round, but
he ran into command issues late in the season that reportedly impacted his
draft position.  He was Baseball America’s number 63 draft prospect, but Texas was able to get
him at number 89.

 

4 (123). JOE WIELAND,
RHP, Bishop Manogue
High School (Nev.)

(scout: Butch Metzger)

(last year: Garrett Nash
[unsigned]; previously: Brandon Boggs, Wes Littleton, Marcus Lemon, Kevin
Mench, Laynce Nix, Ryan Glynn; best number 123 pick in last 25 years: Steve
Sparks [Brewers, 1987])

The
lone righthander in the Rangers’ Day One crop, Wieland is also the most projectable
of the four pitchers Texas
chose.  A lanky, athletic 6’3″, 175, the
Nevada High School Player of the Year has room to grow, and the low-90s readings
on the gun (with sink and arm-side run) may not be where his velocity caps
out. 

Wieland
went 7-2, 2.04 with 115 strikeouts and 15 walks in 72 innings this year, showing
uncanny command of three pitches while hitting .556 with 12 home runs and a
state-record 76 RBI (that, according to one source, actually led the nation).

Ranked
by Baseball America
as the number 93 draft prospect in the country, Wieland evoked one comparison
to Mark Prior in terms of his exquisite command of a power arsenal and advanced
feel for the craft.

Wieland
has committed to San Diego
State, which has offered
him the chance to pitch and hit.  Texas failed to sign last year’s fourth-round pick, Utah high school
outfielder Garrett Nash, but as the club took seven players in rounds one
through three in 2007 and paid some of them above slot, it was a different situation.  Chances should be better that the Rangers get
a deal done with Wieland.

 

5 (153). CLARK MURPHY,
OF, Fallbrook HS (Calif.)

(scout: Steve Flores)

(last year: John Gast
[unsigned]; previously: C.J. Wilson, Chris Davis, Michael Kirkman, Warren
Morris, Mike Nickeas, Matt Lorenzo, Ryan Dittfurth; best number 153 pick in
last 25 years: Ryan Drese [Indians, 1998], Mark Lowe [Mariners, 2004])

Murphy
was the first player Texas chose yesterday
ahead of where Baseball America
had him slotted.  The publication ranked
the 18-year-old as the draft’s number 191 prospect.

A
big athlete (6’3″, 200) who played outfield and first base in high school and has
prompted comparisons to Ryan Klesko, Murphy hit .470 with 12 home runs, 25 RBI,
and 12 stolen bases in just 78 at-bats this season.  Scouts, however, expected more in 2008 than
what they saw out of Murphy, who dropped jaws with a power show he put on with
the wood bat at a June 2007 showcase event. 
The left-handed hitter/thrower injured a quad muscle and reportedly struggled
a bit in fall and winter showcases.

There
are thoughts that Murphy’s swing might need to be rebuilt, but the raw skills
are such that if he does find some consistency with his mechanics, the upside could
be substantial.

Think
about this: Avowed proponents of strength up the middle, the two hitters that Texas took among their
six Day One selections both play on corners. 
More evidence of a franchise staying true to the best player available approach,
rather than typecasting on Draft Day.

Murphy
has committed to UCLA as a fallback should he not sign.

Louisville third baseman Chris
Dominguez, the Rangers’ 17th-round pick in 2005, was Colorado’s fifth-round selection yesterday.

 

6 (183). RICHARD BLEIER,
LHP, Florida Gulf Coast Univ.

(scout: Juan Alvarez)

(last year: Bobby
Wilkins; previously: German Duran, Jake Brigham, Billy Susdorf, John Connally
Barnett, Adam Bourassa, Aaron Harang, Danny Kolb; best number 183 pick in last
25 years: James Mouton [Astros, 1991])

The
Atlantic Sun Conference Pitcher of the Year, Bleier went 7-1, 2.09 with 76
strikeouts and 17 walks in 90.1 innings for Florida Gulf
Coast in 2008, limiting
opposing batters to a .232 average.  He
works at 87-91 mph, pounding the strike zone with a four-pitch assortment,
which sounds a lot like former Angels/Rangers/Marlins reliever Juan Alvarez, the
Rangers area scout who recommended yesterday’s selection.

Interestingly,
Bleier worked out for a number of teams leading up to the draft but says he hadn’t
had any contact whatsoever with the Rangers, who made the lefthander their
final Day One pick.

An
area scout for the Reds told a Southwest Florida
reporter that Bleier gets better late in games, losing a little velocity but
gaining sink in the process.

Bleier
says his career aspiration has been to be a pro baseball player or a lawyer.  Respect.

Baseball
America did not list Bleier among
its top 200 draft prospects but did rank him as the number 21 prospect in the
hotbed state of Florida.

A
line that I confer on Josh Lewin and promise never to use in a Newberg Report:
Where there’s Smoak, there’s Bleier.

Milwaukee used its sixth-round
pick on Texas A&M shortstop Jose Duran, the younger brother of Rangers
infielder/outfielder German Duran.  The
sixth round, and Day One, ended with Longhorns outfielder Jordan Danks undrafted.

 

Make
sure to stop by Eleanor Czajka’s unparalleled Rangers Draft Page at http://www.dickiethon.com/eczajka/draft_2008.htm,
where she has compiled scouting reports, scouting video, school bios, and
player photos for each Rangers pick. 
Yesterday’s six picks are already up, and she’ll put new pages up as today’s
Best Players Available are singled out and chosen by the Rangers.


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

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