Looking back on the draft, and forward.
Awesome effort last night from Matt Harrison, the final player selected in the third round of the 2003 draft (97th overall, which was 21 slots after Rangers scouting director Grady Fuson chose Stanford righthander John Hudgins), and from Ian Kinsler, who was taken in that same draft, 14 rounds and 399 picks after Harrison, and from Craig Gentry, the Rangers’ 10th-round pick in 2006.
In that 2006 draft, scouting director Ron Hopkins (now a National Crosschecker with the Orioles) found infielder Chris Davis in the fifth round, righthander Jake Brigham in the sixth, draft-and-follow lefthander Derek Holland in the 25th, and lefthander Danny Ray Herrera in the 45th.
But the club had a disappointing start to the draft, taking lefthander Kasey Kiker in Round One (12th overall) after hoping righthander Tim Lincecum (10th) or righthander Max Scherzer (11th) would fall and deciding to pass on righthander Kyle Drabek (18th), who three years later would help Philadelphia acquire Roy Halladay from Toronto.
Texas had no second-round pick that year, forfeiting that selection to the Indians when it signed free agent Kevin Millwood. Catcher-turned-corner-bat-turned-DH Chad Tracy (3rd) and infielder-turned-utility-player Marcus Lemon (4th) fell short of expectations.
You would have been excused if you’d viewed Gentry as an afterthought pick. College seniors are generally seen as minor league roster plugs, and in Gentry’s case he hadn’t even been drafted the year before as a junior, due in large part to the fact that the University of Arkansas product needed Tommy John surgery.
But area scout Jay Eddings thought there was some upside there, staying on him despite the elbow procedure and even though he’d also missed time as a senior with a right knee infection.
Today, Gentry has been the second-most productive draft pick in that 2006 10th round, behind Tampa Bay outfielder Desmond Jennings.
And the second-most productive of the 49 picks the Rangers made that year, behind Holland.
And the fourth-most productive 10th-round pick Texas has ever made, behind Rusty Greer, Doug Davis, and Billy Sample, two of whom will resurface later in this report.
The 10th round takes on more significance in the new CBA than it ever has before. The draft bonus pool implemented under the new rules dictates that teams have a set amount they can pay in the aggregate over the first 10 rounds (subject to monetary and future draft pick penalties should they exceed that amount). Any dollars, therefore, that are saved in any of the first 10 rounds are available to be spent elsewhere on players in that range whose demands are over the league’s suggested slot.
Significantly, Texas has signed all seven players it selected earlier this week in Rounds 4-10 of the amateur draft, and another 11 players agreed to terms as well. The list:
Round Player POS
4 Alec Asher RHP
5 Preston Beck OF
6 Royce Bolinger OF
7 Cam Schiller 2B
8 Cody Kendall RHP
9 John Niggli RHP
10 Casey Shiver RHP
12 Keone Kela RHP
13 Sam Stafford LHP
16 Janluis Castro 2B
17 Charles Moorman C
20 Josh McElwee RHP
23 Coby Cowgill RHP
25 Gabriel Roa SS
26 Austen Thrailkill LHP
28 Joseph Burns LHP
30 Barrett Serrato OF
40 Paul Schwindel RHP
Again, that bright line drawn at Round 10 is very significant. The fact that Texas signed Asher, Beck, Bolinger, Schiller, Kendall, Niggli, and Shiver so quickly suggests none were over slot (at least meaningfully so) and that many might have been significantly under slot, chosen on the basis that they’d be willing to take such a deal.
Add in the fact that Bolinger, Schiller, Kendall, and Niggli (as well as unsigned third-round catcher Pat Cantwell, whose Stony Brook Seawolves just lost to LSU in one of the most incredible college baseball games I’ve ever seen) are college seniors – only the equally aggressive Blue Jays front office selected more of those (seven) in the first 10 rounds – and it’s a slam dunk that the Rangers saved significant money on Day Two, likely to facilitate their ability under the new CBA to sign players they chose on Day One.
That’s not to say Bolinger or Kendall might not end up carving out an established big league career like Gentry, but for now it’s clear that the target placed by the Rangers on college seniors in the back half of the first 10 rounds was strategically dictated under the new rules, facilitating opportunities to select and lock up players whose over-slot demands are more difficult to meet than they used to be.
The most challenging sign will probably be supplemental first-rounder Joey Gallo, the third baseman whom Keith Law (ESPN) said a couple days ago would fit in as the Rangers’ number five prospect, behind Jurickson Profar and, in some order, Martin Perez, Mike Olt, and Cody Buckel (thus, ahead of players like Neil Ramirez, Ronald Guzman, Justin Grimm, Tanner Scheppers, Jordan Akins, Leonys Martin, Rougned Odor, and Jorge Alfaro).
College seniors often sign for as little as $5,000, lacking the leverage of a return to school. The soft slots for Rounds 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9, where Texas took college seniors, add up to $936,000. If the Rangers are able to sign those five players for something close to $5,000 each, then right there is an added $900,000 to devote to Gallo or someone else.
It wouldn’t be enough alone to sign Gallo (who has committed to LSU) if Kevin Goldstein’s report of a $2.5 million price tag is accurate and non-negotiable (as his slot is $1,324,800). Stay tuned.
Tuesday morning, after Texas had taken monster center field athlete Lewis Brinson with its first-round pick on Monday, I wrote that “Texas may draft another half dozen toolsy center fielders today and tomorrow.” I didn’t expect that to include the club’s first two picks that day, second-rounders Jamie Jarmon and Nick Williams, both high school center fielders.
The Rangers feel pretty good about Brinson, Gallo, righthander Collin Wiles, Jarmon, and Williams at the top of their haul. Said Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg: “We got probably five of our top 50 in this Draft.”
And the Rangers did end up popping six more center fielders on Tuesday and Wednesday: Jarmon and Williams (2nd round), Gonzaga’s Royce Bolinger (6th), South Carolina high schooler Kwinton Smith (14th; a University of South Carolina wide receiver commit), Alabama high schooler Jameis Winston (15th; the top quarterback recruit in the nation, committed to Florida State), and Georgia high schooler Tevin Johnson (39th).
Not all of them will stick in center field – and they probably won’t all sign. (Though Jarmon hinted on Twitter that he plans to.)
But the Rangers have positioned themselves with the strength and depth of their farm system to take chances on high-end, risk-reward talent, and Texas went in that direction over and over this week, hedging against the reality that they won’t all be able to stay in the center of the diamond and won’t all pan out.
Some other draft notes:
According to Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News), Gallo is high school teammates with Greg Maddux’s son.
Wiles threw one more game that eluded all the reports that came out on Draft Day. It was a sixth straight shutout, improving his season record to 9-0, 0.12 (one earned run in 56.1 innings, including 43 consecutive scoreless innings to end the season).
Fifth-rounder Preston Beck was reportedly told by the Yankees that he’d have been their pick at 187th overall – had Texas not taken him at pick number 186. He’d played on a summer league team coached by Greer.
Lefthander Sam Stafford, the club’s 13th-round pick, was the Yankees’ second-round pick in 2011. After reportedly agreeing to a slot deal of approximately $400,000, New York evidently backed off when his physical revealed a small tear in the shoulder. Stafford turned down a reduced $200,00 offer, returned to the University of Texas, and ended up having shoulder surgery in February, missing the season. The Rangers have acknowledged that the 22-year-old is still recovering, and not ready to pitch.
The Red Sox chose Stafford in the 40th round in 2008 out of Spring Klein High School. At the time, the Rangers’ current Southeast Crosschecker, John Booher, was Boston’s area scout in Texas.
Winston is fascinating. The Rangers understand that he will play football for the Seminoles. NCAA rules, however, permit college football players to play baseball without forfeiting their college eligibility. The Rangers aren’t going to pay a huge bonus to Winston, a player with certain designs on an NFL career, but if he’s interested in giving pro baseball a shot – which he has said for some time that he is – Texas will give him that opportunity.
I was sort of joking when I wondered on Twitter on Tuesday when the Angels would draft a Creighton University catcher. (During the time that former Creighton catcher Scott Servais was in charge of the Rangers’ farm system, the club tended to draft a Creighton player each year, twice a catcher [Chris Gradoville, Carson Vitale], and traded for another [Tim Gradoville]. Creighton’s head coach is Ed Servais, Scott’s uncle.)
Los Angeles did it on Wednesday, taking Creighton senior catcher Anthony Benboom in the 22nd round.
The Angels, under a new regime, took one high school player in the first 15 rounds and only five overall.
Not exactly a high-risk, high-reward philosophy. Whatever the gap was between the Rangers and Angels was a week ago in terms of farm system strength and the potential for making future impact trades, you can probably argue that – if the Rangers hit on some of these “lottery picks” (as Goldstein calls them) – the gap was widened this week.
This afternoon, the Rangers attempt to win a series against the Giants, after losing three straight series to their AL West foes. The ball goes to Scott Feldman, who went to high school (Burlingame) and college (College of San Mateo) just outside of San Francisco before going to Texas in the 30th round of the 2003 draft, 789 slots after Harrison and 390 after Kinsler did.
Feldman was drafted in the 41st round by Houston in 2002, a year in which the Astros were led on the mound by second-year big leaguer Roy Oswalt, who would go 19-9, 3.01 and finish fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Today, Feldman probably holds down a rotation spot until Oswalt is deemed ready to return from AAA to the big leagues, a former 30th-rounder keeping a spot warm for a former 23rd-rounder out of a Mississippi community college.
It no longer matters that current Wasserman Media Group agent Len Strelitz, engineering his one draft as Rangers scouting director in 1996, went with Wichita State outfielder Casey Smith (who wouldn’t sign) in Round 23, one pick before the Astros chose Oswalt. Or that the six players from the Rangers’ crop that year who would go on to establish big league careers (R.A. Dickey, Travis Hafner, Doug Davis, Joe Beimel, Mark Hendrickson, and Warren Morris) did so primarily with other clubs.
Nobody locally paid much attention to the draft that year as the Rangers were headed toward their first-ever playoff berth. But times have changed – a lot – and even though Texas is more relevant at the big club level than ever, its exploits in the draft remain hugely vital to the overall picture.
And if we’re able to look back five or eight years from now at this draft, the year when a future five-tool center fielder was brought into the fold, and another one helped key a critical trade for an impact July addition, and a college senior not only helped facilitate the signing of a potentially elite corner power bat in the supplemental first round but also went on himself to contribute at a Craig Gentry level, then some of us might look back fondly on the time we spent reading and thinking about the amateur baseball draft in this pretty great era of Texas Rangers baseball, and one of us won’t feel so silly for writing another 2,014 words about the subject.