2005 Draft Notebook: Talks With Upton Start Slowly
Compiled By Allan Simpson
“I’d characterize negotiations as being in the preliminary stages,” D-backs scouting director Mike Rizzo said.
Rizzo and Diamondbacks general partner Jeff Moorad had talked twice since the draft with Larry Reynolds, Upton’s adviser. No deal is imminent, according to Rizzo.
“There hasn’t been much movement on their side to get a deal done quickly,” Rizzo said. “We hoped things would move a little faster. We’d like him to get at least two months of pro ball under his belt, to get 200 at-bats this summer. There are some things he needs to work on, especially defensively.”
Reynolds, who attended the College World Series in Omaha, commented only that negotiations were moving slowly.
While a number of clubs indicated they would move Upton immediately to center field, where scouts say he has Gold Glove potential, Rizzo said the Diamondbacks have no intention of having Upton play anywhere but at shortstop. He struggled defensively there this spring, especially with his throwing accuracy, the only obvious flaw in his game. He spent part of his season at Great Bridge High in Chesapeake, Va., playing third base.
Rizzo was emphatic that Upton would sign a standard minor league contract, unlike the major league deal that shortstop Stephen Drew, the team’s first-round pick in 2004, signed just prior to this year’s draft. Drew agreed to a contract that guarantees him $5.25 million, including a $4 million bonus.
Drew began his career at high Class A Lancaster of the Diamondbacks system. Rizzo indicated Upton would start his at Missoula of the Rookie-level Pioneer League—if and when he signs.
The Royals also had not signed Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon, the second overall pick, and the Mariners had not come to terms with Southern California catcher Jeff Clement, the third pick.D-backs Assemble Power Arms
While Rizzo was anxious to get Upton under contract, he was enthusiastic about some of the power arms his team had signed. The D-backs drafted pitchers with 16 of their next 22 picks after Upton, including four with fastballs that have been clocked in excess of 95 mph. Two of the pitchers, righthanders Jason Neighborgall and Maels Rodriguez, have hit 100 mph.
Rodriguez, 25, once was one of the premier pitchers in Cuba. He starred in international competition for Cuba’s national team—hitting 100 mph on the radar gun during the 2000 Olympics in Australia--and set strikeout records in Cuba’s domestic league. He defected to Costa Rica two years ago with the intent of striking it rich on the open market, but his stuff diminished significantly due to back problems that sapped him of his velocity. He never topped even 90 mph in various tryouts camps for major league clubs and never signed as a free agent. He kept a low profile until this year but was forced to enter the draft when it was determined that he had been living in Florida for the last year.
The Diamondbacks took a flier on Rodriguez in the 22nd round and quickly signed him, sending him to Rookie-level Missoula.
“He needs some mechanical adjustments to get back to where he was,” Rizzo said, “but we’ve already got him in the low 90s again. We felt it was worth the gamble.”
Arizona also signed supplemental first-rounder Matt Torra and 20th-rounder Pete Duda, both of whom have topped 95. Duda pitched all of four innings in his Stanford career.
The Diamondbacks added to their pitching stockpile by taking a flier on 7-foot-1 righthander Ryan Doherty, the tallest player in college baseball history. They signed Doherty as a nondrafted free agent after his disappointing junior season at Notre Dame. Like Rodriguez, Doherty was assigned to Missoula, where with minor tinkering in his delivery he had already elevated his fastball to 90-91 mph and his slider to the mid-80s.Change Of Tactics
The Athletics, who inspired the “Moneyball” craze earlier in this decade by drafting almost exclusively college players, reversed course this year and took high school players with six of their first nine selections. From 2000-04, Oakland selected a total of five high school players in the first 10 rounds.
The change wasn’t necessarily by design, A’s scouting director Eric Kubota indicated.
“We may have relaxed our philosophy or broadened our horizons a bit,” Kubota said, “but it was more a situation this year where he we liked high school kids a little more in the spots where they were picked. Generally, if we like players equally, we’ll draft the college player.”
Five of the six high school players the A’s drafted were pitchers. Three had yet to sign: second-rounders Craig Italiano and Jared Lansford, and third-rounder Vince Mazzaro, all righthanders.
Two of the other staunchest supporters of the college-oriented approach to scouting, the Cardinals and Red Sox, also went in a different direction, with St. Louis taking six high school players in the first six rounds and Boston four in the first five rounds. A year ago, the Cardinals drafted just four high school players overall and didn’t sign any. The Red Sox drafted one high school player in the first 16 rounds in both 2003 and 2004.
San Diego made a pronounced shift in the other direction, waiting until the 29th round to select its first domestic high school player. A year ago, the Padres took high school players with their first three picks, including shortstop Matt Bush with the first overall selection.
In the first 10 rounds this year, 68 percent of the selections came from college or junior college—down slightly from last year’s draft record of 70 percent.Braves Emphasize Downsizing
The Braves had signed only one player after the 13th round this year, but scouting director Roy Clark said it’s not to be construed that the club was having difficulty signing its mid- to low-round picks. It was more by design.
“We didn’t want to sign anyone if we didn’t have a place for them to play,” Clark said. “With all the players we had in extended spring training and the (six) draft-and-follows we signed before the draft, we simply didn’t have any room on our short-season rosters for more players. We don’t want to be signing players if they don’t have a chance to play regularly.”
The Braves still plan to monitor their unsigned picks closely this summer, much like they would a conventional draft-and-follow.
“If someone jumps out,” Clark said, “we’ll make an aggressive effort to sign him. But we would probably sign him to a 2006 contract. We’ll still follow our normal draft-and-follows like we normally do, but for now we’ve signed all the players we intended to sign.”
Every Braves drafted through the first 13 rounds had signed with the exception of 10th-rounder Colin Carter, a Texas junior college product. The Braves initially planned to sign Carter immediately but relented. He will remain under control to the Braves until a week before next year’s draft. The only other player the Braves had signed was righthander David Williams, a 37th rounder.
The Indians are following much the same approach to signing players as the Braves. With the exception of a quartet of four-year college players drafted after the 24th round, the Indians had little intention of immediately signing any of their picks between rounds 14-24.
“It’s definitely by design,” Indians scouting director John Mirabelli said. “There’s always room for pitchers to get enough work, but there’s no point signing position players if you don’t have a place for them to play.”
• With few exceptions, teams have signed players to date to bonuses in accordance with slotting guidelines established by Major League Baseball. One noteworthy exception is the $2.975 million bonus the Nationals gave third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the fourth overall pick. “It’s interesting,” one scouting director said, “that the team that’s owned by Major League Baseball was allowed to go about $400,000 over slot.” Generally, MLB admonishes teams if they don’t abide by predetermined signing parameters.
• The most noteworthy signing after the first round came in the eighth round, when the Yankees, as expected, went significantly over slot to sign Texas high school outfielder Austin Jackson to an $800,000 bonus. Jackson had committed to Georgia Tech as a point guard and the Yankees were forced to offer the equivalent of sandwich-round money to steer him away from his basketball commitment. The Yankees were in position to spread his bonus out over five years because of his status as a dual-sport athlete.
• The Marlins had coughed up the most money to sign their early-round picks, some $6.6 million to seven players drafted before the start of the third round. In order, the Marlins gave $1.6 million to Florida high school righthander Chris Volstad; $1.225 million to Texas high school lefthander Aaron Thompson; $1 million to McNeese State righthander Jacob Marceaux; $975,000 to California high school righthander Ryan Tucker; $775,000 to Louisiana high school lefthander Sean West; $575,000 to Clemson outfielder Kris Harvey; and $450,000 to Nevada catcher Brett Hayes.
• The Blue Jays had made the most intensive effort to sign their draft picks, nabbing their first 15. The Pirates signed their first 14, while the Braves, Orioles and White Sox had all signed 14 of their first 15 selections.