Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Rule Four

With the draft coming up soon (Thursday) I figured I'd give my extremely informal opinions. I haven't researched the stats or done in-depth scouting of the players (like CamdenDepot), but that doesn't mean I can't throw in my two cents. There are rumors that the O's may target some high school player that isn't being talked about as a top pick, but I'm going to ignore those (unless that means Hosmer). There are really 6 guys that I think are at the top of this class, draft-wise: Pedro Alvarez (3B), Buster Posey (C), Tim Beckham (SS), Brian Matusz (SP), Aaron Crow (SP), Justin Smoak (1B), and Eric Hosmer (1B). Guys like Kyle Skipworth (C) and Gordon Beckham (SS) are also near there, but I think that the O's aren't seriously considering anyone outside of those six.

I guess I'll go through them one at a time.

Buster Posey: With Wieters in the system there is little reason to draft Posey from a need standpoint, but that is the wrong way to draft. He could obviously be shifted from behind the plate, but being a good defensive catcher makes up a large part of his value. As a second baseman, he would not be projected to go near the top of the first round. I wouldn't draft him at #4. Since his value is similar to other players, position breaks the tie.

Pedro Alvarez: It would be great if Alvarez dropped to the #4 spot, but I highly doubt that happens. The guy has a great swing and can really hit, and it seems that he may be able to stick at third. His bonus demands are reportedly high, but the O's have shown that they don't mind paying for elite talent (Wieters). He's the #1 player on my draft board.

Tim Beckham: Anyone drafting the junior Beckham is drafting for upside. He doesn't have the raw tools of some previous top picks (like Justin Upton) but if everything goes right you've got an All-Star shortstop on your hands who is average to above-average in all aspects of the game. If some sort of crazy scenario occurred in which both he and Alvarez were on the board, I would still pick Pedro. Beckham has the higher ceiling (based on position), but has less of a chance of reaching it. There's also the several year wait until he's ready, to consider. Still, a system devoid of middle-infield prospects could add a great one if the O's get lucky.

I fully expect those three to be the first guys off the board, in whatever order. For the O's purposes, it really doesn't make much of a difference. That would leave them with the following choices.

Brian Matusz: There are no Tim Lincecum's or Clayton Kershaws in this draft. Matusz is probably as good as it gets, as a fairly polished lefty with solid stuff. I've heard that there are issues with his mechanics, but they seem to be more of the "less than maximum efficiency" type, than the "this guy is going to need Tommy John surgery soon" type. Still, the O's system is stacked on the pitching side with projected #2/3 starters, and so adding another one (even a good one) doesn't really appeal to me. I wouldn't be against it, but I'm not really for it, if you know what I'm saying.

Aaron Crow: Here's where the "arm injury" mechanics come into play. He does a lot of things right, but a couple wrong, and that scares me. All pitching prospects come with injury risk, but if I'm picking this high in the draft I want someone who I don't have to sweat over so much. He was better stuff than Matusz, but worse command and less general polish. I wouldn't pick him over Posey (hey, he could always be the regular C, with Wieters backing him up once in a while and playing first otherwise) and thus I wouldn't pick him at all.

Justin Smoak: "Switch-hitting Justin Morneau with better defense" is how I first heard him described, and that has stuck with me. The problem with picking a first baseman high in the draft is that he really needs to be able to hit. There are no fall-back options. If Beckham doesn't hit as well as expected, he can still be a utility guy or a pinch runner or something. If a first baseman doesn't hit, then he won't see the majors. Not only that, he has to hit a lot better for the investment to be worthwhile. Still, Smoak seems like the kind of guy you would take that chance with. He is athletic enough to not be just a "slugger", while also being a slugger. Brandon Snyder isn't hitting and Billy Rowell, who may have to move to first in the future, is doing OK at third for now and is a lesser player. The only real concern is that first baseman are generally easy to find amongst the freely available talent (cough... Carlos Pena... cough). That means that "Justin Smoak" (well, not exactly, but a decent 1B) could be gotten for much less than the #4 pick in the draft and $8 million (or whatever he's asking for). Still, a 30+ HR hitter isn't on the O's roster right now (Nick is more 25+) and it would be nice to add a guy that can do that within a couple years. For me, it's a toss-up between Matusz and Smoak. Neither is the type of player you want to draft high (like a #1 starter or impact up-the-middle player); neither has a tremendously high ceiling (Smoak, I think, will top out as an above-average 1B, a "#2" if you will - much like Matusz); both guys have cool names (hey, all else being equal...). I lean slightly towards Smoak because of the players the O's already have. If I was picking for the Giants, I'd probably pick Smoak too. For the Tigers, I'd pick Matusz.

Eric Hosmer: I haven't heard much about Hosmer, other than that he has huge offensive potential, and huge bonus demands. As a high school first baseman, he has a higher ceiling than Smoak. That doesn't outweigh the increased risks for me though, and I would pick Smoak ahead of him without thinking twice. In the MinorLeagueBall mock draft, Hosmer was picked by the O's after Beckham, Alvarez, and Smoak were off the board. That is the only reason I covered him, and I could see the justifications for the pick in that scenario. I'm not desperate enough for a power bat that might not even sign to make that leap, though.

Either Matusz or Smoak will probably be holding up an Orioles uniform Thursday, and whichever Joe Jordan picks I'm OK with. He has definitely earned the benefit of the doubt. I wish I knew more about the guys that will be picked later, so that I could do a little shadow drafting. I still may, but everything I say should be taken with a grain of salt. I guess that'll make my comments more flavorful, or something.

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