Think Blue

Obsessing over the Dodgers' minor league system so you don't have to.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

FYPD Preview

The draft is just over a week away (June 9-11) and will be airing on MLB TV (damn you Dish Network!!!). For the second time in the 8 years that Logan White has been running the show, the Dodgers will not have a first round pick. The last time that happened, the Dodgers selected Luke Hochevar, whose refusal to sign ended up allowing the Dodgers to take Clayton Kershaw the following year. If you haven't followed the draft process closely, I'll highlight a few things that should be looked for come draft day:

Rule #1: Bet on a prep arm

In Logan White's 7 drafts, he's selected a high school pitcher with his first pick 5 times. The two exceptions are Hochevar in 2005 and James Loney, who many projected as a pitcher, in 2002. Even in '05, White said he was looking at pitcher Beau Jones (who came off the board the very next pick), out of a Louisianna high school. Names like Chad Billingsley ('03) and Clayton Kershaw ('06) are recognizable to most Dodger fans, but how are the others doing?

Scott Elbert ('04): 3.63 ERA, 39.2 IP, 38 Hits, 4 HR, 18 BB, 49 K's in AA

Chris Withrow ('07): 5.65 ERA, 36.2 IP, 32 Hits, 3 HR, 18 BB, 50 K's in High A

Ethan Martin ('08): 3.76 ERA, 40.2 IP, 34 Hits, 1 HR, 25 BB, 51 K's in Low A

What do they have in common? All are arm strength guys with high release points, plus fastballs and good curveballs. All are 6'1-6'3 (and I realize I'm probably being generous by listing Billingsley as 6'1). All are good athletes (Elbert was a HS running back, Martin was considered a 3B until the year he was drafted).

Where do they come from? Billingsley hails from Ohio, Elbert from Missouri, Kershaw and Withrow from Texas and Martin from Georgia. White will take local kids from time to time (Greg Miller in 2002, Michael Watt in 2007), but doesn't go out of his way to draft by proximity.

Rule #2: Don't believe the rankings

Nearly every year, White will pick a kid earlier than where he's exptected to be drafted. In 2008, it was Dee Gordon (who wasn't on most scouting publications' radars). In 2007, it was Watt. In 2006, it was Preston Mattingly. In 2005, it was Ivan DeJesus. Obviously, some of those picks have paid off while others are forgettable. The bottom line is, if Logan like, Logan draft.

Rule #3: Supplements don't help much

The Dodgers are lucky to have a supplemental first round pick after losing Derek Lowe, though Logan White's track record on such picks has been fairly disastrous.

In 2002, the Dodgers selected a tall lanky lefty out of Esperanza HS named Greg Miller. He threw in the upper 80s, touched the low 90s but he was projectable and could spin a nice curve. The next year, he began the season in Vero Beach, holding his own against much older competition. And then, he took off. The 18 year old was promoted to Double A Jacksonville and he became one of the most dominant pitchers in the minors. His fastball velocity jumped, with him regularly touching the mid 90s. He picked a slider that turned into a devestating breaking ball. He was looking like the second coming of Sandy Koufax. happened. A pain in his shoulder. No one knew what it was. Exploratory surgery was performed but a solid dianosis wasn't given. He was never the same. To this day, he still owns a mid 90s fastball and a filthy slider, but once it leaves his hand God knows where it's going. Once considered a crown jewel in the Dodgers' system, Greg is now lucky if he can go an inning without issuing a walk.

In 2004, the Dodgers selected VCU RHP Justin Orenduff. His career started well and he quickly moved up to Double A, but a shoulder injury that required surgery sidelined him for most of the 2006 season and he hasn't been the same since. Now back down at Inland Empire, it's a longshot that Justin makes the major leagues.

In 2005, the Dodgers selected Tennessee RHP Luke Hochevar. It seemed like a steal at the time, since Hochevar was regarded by some as the best pitcher in the draft. So why would he fall to the 40th pick of the draft? Here's the short answer: Scott Boras. Here's the long answer: Scott Boras regularly scoffs at MLB's "slotting system", where the league will suggest how much teams should pay a draft pick. Boras also insists that his big name draft clients receive major league contracts, which isn't such a bad idea. However, when rumors of Hochevar's bonus demands circulated through front offices, teams backed off. It's rumored that then GM Paul DePodesta pushed for the Dodgers to select Hochevar and, at one point, the move seemed to work out as LA believed they had a deal in place with the college junior. But as a scout drove to deliver the contract in person, Luke absconded only to surface days later and ultimately renegged on the deal. Hochevar would re-enter the draft the next year and reached a pre-draft deal with the Royals to become the #1 overall pick. That led to Andrew Miller falling to the Tigers, allowing the Dodgers the chance to draft Clayton Kershaw.

In 2006, after selecting Kershaw and junior college RHP Bryan Morris, the Dodgers took a flier on Evansville Central HS IF/OF Preston Mattingly. Yes, Mattingly, as in son of Donnie Baseball. The bloodlines were there, the athleticism was there, the frame was there. Everything was there...except that insigificant ability to actually play the game of baseball. Preston didn't remind scouts of his dad, in that he's 6'3 and 200 pounds, a very good athlete and much faster than his father ever was. But the bat was, and still is, a big question. Having grown up in Indiana, Preston didn't see the best of competition. He didn't do the showcase circuit and didn't travel to tournaments. So when the understandibly raw teen first saw professional pitching, he was completely lost. This season has been an improvement, though not enough so to warrant any type of optimism about young Mattingly's ultimate future.

So who are the Dodgers going to pick?

No idea. It's hard enough to project the first 10 picks, let alone the first round. With 35 players coming off the board ahead of them, the Dodgers are probably hoping someone they like falls. But just for fun, I'll list the names of some guys I think the Dodgers could be looking at, with some other prospects I like.

Matt Hobgood, RHP (Norco HS, Norco CA)
Hobgood is a workhorse who works mainly off two pitches. His fastball doesn't have the best velocity, but he's consistently in the low 90s with it and gets fantastic movement. He also throws a very good curveball, one of the best among high school pitchers. His mechanics are said to be better than most prep arms. Matt has practically no projection left in him physically at 6'4 245 lbs, so what you see is what you get. He also has command/control problems, so he'll have to work on throwing better pitches and consistency. Overall, he's bigger than the Dodgers normally like, but the arm strength and breaking ball are there.

Chad James, LHP (Yukon HS, Yukon OK)
James is a guy who probably won't be there at #36, but I can dream right? He's a tall, projectable lefty who already throws in the low to mid 90s and has room for more. His curveball is a good pitch now and his changeup is better than what most high schoolers have. He needs to work on consistency with his stuff and command, but that can be said about almost any draft pick.

Garrett Gould, RHP (Maize HS, Maize KS)
Gould has a chance to be the first player from Kansas to go in the first round in 16 years and he probably will. He's got a projectable 6'4, 190 lbs frame and already touches the mid 90s. His curveball is one of the best in the draft and he's a fine athlete. His delivery needs some work and he doesn't have the experience of most other top prep pitchers in the class, so he may need longer to develop.

Madison Youginer, RHP (Mauldin HS, Mauldin SC)
Younginer has been hard to see this spring, mainly due to the fact that he's been used primarily as a reliever, which is bizarre for a top prospect. However, he may be the best arm strength guy in the draft (outside of Strasburg, of course), with a fastball that regularly registers in the mid 90s and a power breaking ball. Madison has some issues with his delivery, where he pushes off his landing leg and spins off to first base. His arm works well though, and he's athletic, so some adjustments shouldn't be much of a problem.

Slade Heathcott, OF (Texas HS, Texarkana TX)
Slade piqued my interest after I read Jon Mayo's scouting report. He's got 5 tool potential, with advanced hitting ability and plus power at the plate. In the field, he has great speed in spite of undergoing ACL surgery just 7 months ago. He covers plenty of ground and has a very strong arm. He's got a bit of an injury history, though it isn't all his fault, and some off the field issues that teams will look into. But the tools put him up there with any prep OFer not named Donovan Tate. The Dodgers would be lucky to nab him with one of their second round picks, though there's a chance that a team could take him in the late first.

David Nick, 2B (Cypress HS, Cypress CA)
Just 2 years ago, Cypress HS produced the #3 overall pick in the draft, Cubs 3B Josh Vitters. Nick isn't the same prospect, though he does offer an intriguing toolset. Currently a SS, David doesn't have the tools to handle the position as a pro. But moving over to 2B would save some value in his bat, which is a plus tool. He also has good speed. Nick could be an option for the Dodgers in the 3rd round as an offensive minded 2B.

Richie Shaffer, 3B (Providence HS, Providence NC)
Coming into the season Shaffer was ranked #50 on Baseball America's Top 100 prospect list for the '09 draft. However, a broken hamate bone has left Richie swinging one-handed and has drastically tempered his draft stock. When he's healthy, Shaffer can flat out hit. His build and swing remind me of Josh Vitters, though he's not at that level. He can handle third for now but some scouts see him growing out of the position. If he's signable in the first 5 rounds, I'd take him in a heartbeat.

That's all for now. Coming up next are reviews of the Dodgers' big league squad and minor league prospects.


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