Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Mailbag - June 2, 2009

Welcome to another edition of the Mailbag. We are deep into College World Series watching, Draft preparation and compiling our 2009 Division I Performance evaluations (which will be released later this week) so we have been doing more preparation than posting for the last few days. But we thought we’d take a brief break to answer a couple of reader questions.

The first question is from EvanF. Evan asks:

I have read where the upcoming draft is considered one of the weaker drafts. How weak is it?

I too have read where this is one of the weaker drafts, but I am not sure that we should just accept this as fact. I have been performing pre-draft rankings in various formats since 1999. I think it is important to note that there is a significant difference between pre-draft assessments and historical assessments. The 2006 draft is a great example of a draft that was considered very weak in pre-draft assessments, and, although it is too early to tell for sure, it doesn’t look like that will be how it will be viewed from a historical perspective. Nonetheless, there are some things we can determine by looking at the drafts of the last decade.

There are certainly some areas of weakness in this draft. For instance, especially on the heels of the 2008 draft, there is a tremendous dearth of hitting talent available in the 2009 version. But there are some unbelievable areas of strength as well. If you just focus on the very top of the draft, Strasburg is likely the best pre-draft #1 talent since at least Mark Prior, if not ever, and I happen to be extremely high on the total package that is Dustin Ackley. In fact, since 1999 the top 1-2, by pre-draft assessments are the following:

1) 2001 – Mark Prior and Joe Mauer
2) 1999 – Josh Beckett and Josh Hamilton
3) 2007 – David Price and Matt Wieters

Now Wieters wasn’t even selected second, so there was some debate on the top of the 2007 draft, but that is how we had it heading into draft day. If you compare Strasburg and Ackley with this list, they compare very favorably—probably somewhere between the drafts of 1999 and 2007. So if you are measuring the top of the draft, you certainly can’t call 2009 weak. Incidentally, when it comes to Ackley, I think he compares favorably with the college hitting talent that was selected last year, and if he ends up in CF as expected, a case could be made that as a total package he may be the best talent of a group that included Alvarez, Posey, Smoak, G. Beckham and Wallace.

Another area where I think the 2009 draft compares well is in the depth of available first round talent. Each year we rate the players based on a scale that attempts to determine first round certainty. Obviously 30 first round picks are made each year (32 this year), but typically there aren’t 30 certain first rounders. Using our rating system, the number of ‘certain’ first rounders has varied from a low of 14 in 2000 to a high of 32 in 2003. In most years the number is around 20, with 2007 having 20 and 2008 having 21. This year we have 25 players that receive a grade that would make them a ‘certain’ first rounder. So it certainly isn’t a draft that is weak in ‘first round’ talent.

Where the real weakness of this draft is in the #3-#7 spots, and it isn’t as much weak on potential as it is weak on certainty. If you look back at drafts from a historical perspective (we will do a Do-It-Yourself column on this later this summer), first round picks historically have less than a 30% chance of producing a successful major league career (defined as at least 3 Major League seasons above League average). Hitters have more certainty than pitchers, and college players have more certainty than high school players.

The strength of this draft is most definitely in its pitching, as I expect that more pitchers will be drafted in the first round this year than in another year in draft history. But remember, player valuations are a combination of both potential and probability. After Strasburg and Ackley, there are still a lot of high upside players in this draft: Donovan Tate, Tanner Scheppers, and the 5 High School Pitchers to name a few, but they come with high risk profiles: i.e. Donovan Tate is a highly athletic, toolsy, type that may still play football and/or go to college, Tanner Scheppers has a significant injury history and high school pitchers are the riskiest bets of all, right-handers even more so, and three of these five are righties.

So if I had to grade the 2009 draft based on talent available in it, it seems to me to be a fairly middle of the road draft that will likely produce a lot of surprises after the first two selections.

Our final question comes from ‘traderjohn’. John asks:

Now that Price and Wieters are both in the Majors, who is the Minor’s best prospect?

A great question that probably deserves more time than I can give it here, but here are my quick thoughts. In no particular order, the top talent still in the minors comes from this group: Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson, Tommy Hanson, Jarrod Parker, Mike Stanton, Jason Heyward, Carlos Santana, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Gordon Beckham. I assume I can’t choose Stephen Strasburg. I really love what Stanton did last year and think Smoak is the Minor’s best pure hitter, but, along with Montero, I don’t think they contribute enough defensively (either by position or talent) to truly be regarded as #1. I really am impressed with Santana and Beckham is ready for a bigger challenge, but I still worry about his ability to make consistent contact against major league pitchers with that swing, but neither of them is really a #1 for me either, so that would leave Heyward as the best position player prospect. The pitching is extremely tough, but, although I like them both a lot, I don’t think that Alderson or Hanson has the upside of the other two. In somewhat of a surprise, I think I prefer Parker to Bumgarner. If he stays injury free, I currently think Parker has the makings of the next big league ace, so in a bit of an upset, I will say that Jarrod Parker is currently the Minor’s best prospect.

That’s all for this week.

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