Friday, June 06, 2008

Draft Recap, Plus Other Notes

I've come to loathe the NFL Draft. It seems like the day after the Super Bowl, we're already seeing every sports channel and website piling on with mock drafts and over-analysis of some offensive guard who will probably go in the fourth round. The hype surrounding the event has grown to such ludicrous proportions that by the time the April draft rolls around, I just don't care anymore.

The MLB draft is much more tolerable. Only recently has ESPN even begun televising the event, and the build-up is much less overbearing. It's like you wake up one day and say, "Oh, hey... the draft is today."

Well, that day was yesterday, and the Twins made their first seven selections in an important draft where they owned three of the first 31 slots. With their first pick, they selected Aaron Hicks, a switch-hitting outfielder out of Woodrow Wilson High School in California. I've been tracking Hicks for some time now, as he strikes me as very much a Twins type of player and there was a good chance he'd be available at the 14 spot.

Hicks is extremely athletic, advanced defensively and very toolsy all-around. He also pitched in high school and displayed a fastball that touched 97 mph, but he has made it fairly clear that his preference is to stick in the outfield as a pro. The MiLB.com scouting report calls Hicks "one of the more athletic outfielders in the high school ranks and perhaps in the Draft class," but notes that "if he doesn't hit, those raw tools will be wasted." Hicks strikes me as a similar player to Austin Jackson, the Yankees outfield prospect whom the Twins were reportedly targeting in Johan Santana trade talks over the winter. Hicks is quite raw and the Twins will have a lot of work to do with him, but his upside is tremendously high and he could one day turn into a dazzling big-league outfielder.

The selection of Hicks is certain to be controversial among Twins fans, since the team didn't exactly use its first pick to draft into an area of weakness. This organization is chock full of athletic center field types, from Carlos Gomez to Denard Span to Dustin Martin to Joe Benson to, most recently, Ben Revere (who is still tearing up the Midwest League with a batting average over .400). There's some truth to that notion, but considering how undeveloped his tools are, it's rather unlikely that Hicks will be nearing the majors any sooner than 2012 at the earliest. Much can change in four years -- by that time several of the aforementioned prospects may have flopped and Gomez may have shifted to right field. I think it's quite reasonable to believe that Hicks was the best player on the board when the Twins selected, and that makes him a good pick.

The Twins second pick came later in the first round, with the No. 27 selection they received from the Angels as a result of the Torii Hunter signing. With this pick, the Twins selected right-hander Carlos Gutierrez, a closer from the University of Miami. This selection was far more questionable than that of Hicks, as Gutierrez was rarely mentioned as a first-round talent and was ranked by Baseball America as the 82nd best player in the draft. Gutierrez has already gone through Tommy John surgery, and he throws between 90-94 mph with good downward movement. He seems like an unremarkable player right now, but perhaps the Twins believe he will gain velocity and turn into a dominator as he moves away from his elbow surgery.

The Twins have a fine history with drafting college pitchers, but it's tough not to be a little disappointed by this pick, as Gutierrez very likely would have been available in later rounds. My thinking is that the Twins wanted to use this selection on left-hander Christian Friedrich out of Eastern Kentucky University, who had gone to the Rockies just two picks earlier. The Twins are likely to need bullpen help within the next few years though, and Gutierrez is likely to move quickly through the system, so certainly there is some logic behind taking him. There is also some talk that they may try and convert him to a starter.

With the No. 31 sandwich pick -- another return from the Hunter signing -- the Twins grabbed Shooter Hunt, a right-handed pitcher from Tulane University. Hunt is a much better pick, considered a mid-to-late first-round talent with electric stuff. He throws in the low-to-mid 90s and features a power curveball and has the potential for an above-average changeup. Hunt has struggled with his control at times, but the Twins seem like the right organization to help him with that issue. Here's the scouting report for Hunt:
With a strong junior season, Hunt has moved himself into serious first-round contention. While the right-hander doesn't always command his pitches well -- he's walked a few too many this year -- he's got terrific stuff, most notably his fastball and curve, both of which are above average. He hasn't needed a changeup much, but he has the feel for one. There might be one or two right-handers who rank ahead of Hunt heading into the Draft, but he's not too far behind them in the pecking order.
The Twins didn't pick again until No. 60, where they took 20-year-old shortstop Tyler Ladendorf. Ladendorf is a somewhat uncharacteristic pick for the Twins, who generally like to go after projectable high school hitters with selections in this area. Ladendorf was drafted by the Yankees out of high school in the 34th round in 2006, but he opted to go to to Howard College. He was again drafted in the 34th round in 2007 -- this time by the Giants -- but elected to return to Howard for another year where he increased his stock substantially. At 5'11" and 190 lbs, Ladendorf may be too big to stick at shortstop, but he's said to be athletic enough to handle a position switch and could be a contributor down the line if he hits.

At 92, the Twins took right-hander Bobby Lanigan of Adelphi University. Lanigan doesn't throw particularly hard, but has a good mix of pitches that he can locate well. He was ranked by Baseball America as the 129th best draft prospect, and as such seems like a bit of a reach in the third round, but certainly he is the type of pitcher that this organization has had success with in the past (see: Baker, Scott and Slowey, Kevin).

The Twins used their final two picks of the day to grab center fielder Danny Ortiz out of a Puerto Rican high school in the fourth round at No. 126, and third baseman Nicholas Romero out of San Diego State in the fourth round at No. 156.

All in all, this was a fairly typical draft for the Twins. They used their highest picks to get a toolsy high school outfielder and some college arms. They definitely reached on Gutierrez, but made up for that by nabbing Hunt at 31, who easily could have gone somewhere between 10-20. Overall I'm fairly happy with the new players they've acquired and look forward to seeing how the kids handle the rookie leagues in the second half of the season.

* The Twins fell to the Orioles 3-2 yesterday, capping off a series loss in the wake of a solid string of games against the Royals and Yankees. On the plus side, Scott Baker pitched well in his first game back from the disabled list, holding the O's scoreless over five frames outside of a two-run homer off the bat of Nick Markakis.

* Ron Gardenhire's choice to carry 13 pitchers seemed pretty silly to begin with, and it seems all the more misguided after the team had to risk an injury to one of its best starting pitchers yesterday when Kevin Slowey was used as a pinch-runner for Mike Redmond in the eighth inning.

* Matt Macri didn't even board the plane back to Rochester before learning that he'd be sticking with the Twins for the time being, as Nick Punto is headed back to the disabled list with a bad hamstring. Unfortunate timing for Punto, who doubled twice in yesterday's game and currently sports numbers quite similar to the ones he put up in his career year of 2006.

* Francisco Liriano started for Rochester yesterday, going six innings and allowing three runs (all on a home run). His control took a step back, as he walked four and threw just 53 of 96 pitches for strikes, but he did notch seven strikeouts for a second consecutive outing. Liriano seems to be making strides, but don't expect to see him up anytime before the All-Star break.

* I'm heading out to Chicago this weekend, and I'll be taking in the Twins/White Sox match-up at U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday night. I'll be sure to check in with a full recap on Monday. Have a great weekend everyone.

12 comments:

Brent said...

I like your draft recap. Very informative.

I find it funny that you say "Ron Gardenhire's decision to keep 13 pitchers," as if Bill Smith and the front office aren't more involved in that decision. Especially since the main reason for the decision to keep 13 pitchers is because multiple candidates to be sent to the minors are out of options, and it is more likely the front office that is worried about losing them than it the manager would be.

Daymonster said...

I will also be at the game on Saturday.

I'll be the drunk guy in the Twins hat. Look for me.

Andrew said...

Nice recap, Nick. I really like Hicks. I've heard that in the worst case scenario he will be the next Carlos Gomez, while the best case is the next Ken Griffey Jr.

This weekend series should be very fun stuff to watch. A guy with a swollen lip the first night should be entertaining for White Sox fans.

Lol, and where in the world did "toolsy" come from? I've heard it a lot this draft.

twayn said...

Have fun in Chicago, Nick. Two suggestions: deep dish at Gino's, and cheezborgers at the Billy Goat Tavern.

Curveball said...

Okay, too often the Twins seem to play "we'll lose the guy" during the Gardenhire-era.

What makes losing the 13th pitcher any different from keeping Corky Miller over Mike Restovich, for example.

Go with your best and strongest team. If you have a few weak links, cut them loose...so they may/may not pan out in the future. If the Twins have any shortcomings, they wait too long before cutting dead weight and taking a chance a new talent.So, you lose Boof, Rincon or Bass. Maybe the Twins NEED two stronger guys on the bench right now. Can you trust that the minor league system has replacements for Boof, Brian and Juan circa 2008? Mariano Gomez? Julio DePaula? Bobby Korecky? Francisco Liriano? Casey Daigle? Mr. Humber?

Of course, the bench possibilities aren't that high at Rochester -- Garrett Jones, Darnel McDonald, Brian Buscher, Randy Ruiz.

Nick N. said...

Nice recap, Nick. I really like Hicks. I've heard that in the worst case scenario he will be the next Carlos Gomez, while the best case is the next Ken Griffey Jr.

Well, as with any prospect, the worst-case scenario is that he doesn't ever make it to the majors, so I would set his downside quite a bit below Gomez.

Lol, and where in the world did "toolsy" come from? I've heard it a lot this draft.

Not sure where the word originates, but it simply refers to play who possesses a lot of tools (speed, raw power, arm strength, etc.). It probably gets overused during draft time, and I guess I'm part of the problem. Oh well.

I find it funny that you say "Ron Gardenhire's decision to keep 13 pitchers," as if Bill Smith and the front office aren't more involved in that decision.

If Gardenhire didn't make the decision, he's at least been the leading public defender of it.

Okay, too often the Twins seem to play "we'll lose the guy" during the Gardenhire-era.

Right, I find it funny that they'll demote useful players to protect guys like Bass and Rincon, yet they have no problem letting young players with some actual potential (Alex Romero and Alex Smit for example) go for nothing. Seems like a backward policy to me.

beth said...

Politically, Gardy has to support having 13 pitchers on his roster. It doesn't look well for the manager to be insulting the front office. Reading between the lines, I think he'd rather have a 12-man pitching staff; he's said that when it comes to interleague, he doesn't want the 13-man.

However, he probably agrees with the front office that risking losing some of these pitchers could be a problem. I think right now they're trying to decide who should be let go. There are reasons for keeping all of them on the staff.

As for Rincon, I believe like most of you that it's time for him to go. However, I can see the organization's side about keeping him around simply on loyalty. Annoying, yes, but human. That being said, he should never come out to pitch in a close or tie game.

TT said...

Mariano Gomez? Julio DePaula? Bobby Korecky? Francisco Liriano? Casey Daigle? Mr. Humber?

I think those question-marks tell the story. The only one on that list that has shown he might be ready to help at the major league level is Korecky. Bonser, Bass and Rincon are all more likely to be successful.

they have no problem letting young players with some actual potential (Alex Romero and Alex Smit for example) go for nothing. Seems like a backward policy to me.

Everyone in the bullpen has more potential than either one of them. Romero's potential is a fourth outfielder on a mediocre team, Smit's is probably that he will finally get to AA ball.

I think the problem is that the likelihood that a minor league player will ever contribute at the major league level is pretty low. Its much more likely that a player who has been successful in the past will be able to turn things around and be successful again. Sidney Ponson?!

ubelmann said...

Alex Romero is no different than Brian Bass. He's a replacement level player who never really had much of a future. PECOTA has Romero projected to be below replacement level this year and basically at replacement level through the next six years.

Similarly, Smit has about 200 walks in roughly 400 innings and has never pitched above high A ball. His best case scenario is to turn out something like Saul Rivera, and I'm even fairly skeptical that will ever happen.

TT said...

Alex Romero is no different than Brian Bass. He is a replacement level player who never really had much of a future.

The mythological "replacement level player" that teams can't seem to find. Bass hasn't replaced anyone. One reason he hasn't been sent to the minors is that the Twins are fairly certain he won't pass through waivers. Which would mean at least some teams don't have a readily available replacement player who is as good.

Romero just replaced someone who got hurt. So, by definition, he is a replacement level player. But he is different from Bass in so many ways that it is hard to figure out how they are even remotely similar.

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