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Draft Notebook

By John Manuel
February 14, 2005

TOP 10 CATCHERS

EDITOR’S NOTE: Every two weeks between now and our Draft Preview, Baseball America will look at the top draft prospects at each position as part of our expanded in-season draft coverage. We’ll start by looking at the nation’s top 10 catching prospects.

Ten catchers were drafted in the first three rounds last year, including first-rounders Neil Walker (Pirates) and Landon Powell (Athletics), and this year’s draft has similar demographics.

Four high school catchers stand out from the crowd on the prep side, but Southern California’s Jeff Clement, who holds the national high school career record for homers (76 at Marshalltown, Iowa, High), is the top prospect on the basis of his power. While he hit just 10 home runs last year because of mononucleosis and a wrist injury, scouts expect him to have a breakout 2005 season with the bat. Clement has passable defensive skills, though they do not compare to those of Texas’ Taylor Teagarden and Central Florida’s Drew Butera.

“Clement’s power is a separator,” an American League scouting director said. “But he likely is an American League player.”

 

Player, School

Projected Round

1.

Jeff Clement
Southern California

Early first

2.

Taylor Teagarden
Texas

Mid-first

3.

Brandon Snyder
Westfield HS
Centreville, Va.

Late first

4.

Jonathan Egan
Cross Creek HS
Hepzibah, Ga.

Second

5.

Preston Paramore
Allen (Texas) HS

Second

6.

Matt Liuzza
Louisiana State

Second

7.

Brent Milleville
Maize HS, Wichita

Third

8.

Nick Hundley
Arizona

Third

9.

Chris Robinson
Illinois

Third

10.

Brett Hayes
Nevada

Third

-- ALLAN SIMPSON
No one—no team, no executive, no player—had a better offseason than Scott Boras.

The Tigers’ signing of Magglio Ordonez capped a winter when Boras clients got one big contract after another: Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek.

But even Boras wasn’t perfect. His two top clients from the 2004 draft, righthander Jered Weaver and shortstop Stephen Drew, remain unsigned. Weaver, drafted 12th overall out of Long Beach State, is still negotiating with the Angels, and the sides appear to have made progress. The Diamondbacks, who drafted Drew 15th overall, have not made as much headway with the former Florida State shortstop.

Boras didn’t disagree with the “common sense” timetable of spring training that Diamondbacks scouting director Mike Rizzo detailed in a January interview (BA, Feb. 14-28). But he didn’t sound optimistic about Drew reporting to spring training in an Arizona uniform.

“Aside from a couple of brief conversations with their scouting director, we really haven’t ever heard anything from Arizona,” Boras said while in Tampa for arbitration hearings. “I don’t think he has been given the authority to make a proposal.”

In other words, nothing has changed since last summer, when a group of minority investors forced out former Diamondbacks president Jerry Colangelo and took control of the club. While they tried to install former agent and Boras rival Jeff Moorad as club president, Major League Baseball has not ratified the decision to put an agent in charge of a major league organization. The change has left the Drew negotiations hanging.

“Under the new regime, we haven’t received a formal proposal,” Boras said. “We had a situation with Stephen where we understood where they were as an organization and they understood where we were, but since the administration changed, that’s all changed.”

In other words, the tables have turned on a Boras client. It’s not so much the player holding out on the team as the team holding out on the player in this case.

For Comparison’s Sake

Obviously the issue is money. Boras doesn’t go into specifics about contract demands in the media, but industry chatter has held that Rickie Weeks’ contract as the No. 2 overall pick in 2003 would serve as the benchmark for a Drew deal.

The players couldn’t be more different despite their backgrounds as college middle infielders. Drew played in one of the nation’s toughest leagues, the Atlantic Coast Conference, for a high-profile program. Weeks nearly went unrecruited out of high school and played at Southern. However, Weeks proved his tools in two summers using wood bats for USA Baseball’s college national team, while Drew has never played in a wood-bat league due to injuries. Drew’s older brothers J.D. and Tim already have played in the big leagues. Weeks had no such advantage in learning the nuances of the game.

In terms of their tools, scouts give Weeks an edge—especially those who don’t believe Drew can be a big league shortstop.

Both have been labeled five-tool players. Both have excellent bat speed, though Weeks’ ability to whip the bat through the zone has been compared to Gary Sheffield’s. Drew’s game has been compared more to Todd Walker’s, and scouts who thought Drew was too apt to turn his game off questioned his drive during his amateur career.

Weeks’ tools and Team USA experience garnered him a $3.6 million bonus and a major league contract guaranteeing him at least $4.79 million. Boras clearly believes Drew merits at least that and more.

“There were some years where we only represent a few players in the draft because we feel the talent is not there,” Boras said. “Like last year, we felt like we represented the two best players available.”

Two Of A Kind

Boras also believes Weaver was the best pitcher available, and he certainly put up the best numbers. The College Player of the Year went 15-1, 1.62 with an amazing 213-21 strikeout-walk ratio. The year wasn’t too different from the numbers Mark Prior put up at Southern California in 2001 (15-1, 1.69, 202-18 K-BB). The command both pitchers exhibited as amateurs was their defining characteristic, but Prior’s fastball and curveball both earn higher grades than Weaver’s.

“Prior’s the outlier,” said a scout who saw both pitchers as amateurs. “When Mark didn’t have his best stuff, he still threw 90-93 and the fastball was still firm, with a power breaking ball, almost a slider. Jered was more 86-88 with more of a sweepy slider that he really needs to locate, and if he didn’t have his best stuff, he needed his defense. Mark could dominate even without his best stuff.

“They’re two very different bodies with very different mechanics. Both are very competitive. It’s just hard to compare anyone to Mark as an amateur and have them come out ahead.”

Perhaps realizing this, Boras says Prior’s 2001 landmark $10.5 million guaranteed major league contract—with a $4 million signing bonus—isn’t the standard for Weaver, and that Weaver’s contract shouldn’t be a record-breaker. Boras and Angels scouting director Eddie Bane said negotiations were ongoing, and that general manager Bill Stoneman was handling the case.

Bane said the Angels got a pleasant surprise when Weaver pitched in Long Beach State’s alumni game—for the alumni—in early January.

“We are talking some (with Boras), but that’s about it,” Bane said. “There’s not a lot to report. There’s no drop-dead date; we can negotiate up until a week until the draft. We’re still optimistic.”

If neither player signs, they would go back into a 2005 draft class that is considered deeper than the ’04 class by most scouts. Boras would prefer that Weaver and Drew remain part of the class of ’04.

“Obviously these signings are different,” he said, “because these two players were the most skilled players in the draft, and should be in the major leagues in a short time.”

If they ever sign.

DRAFT DOPE

• One of the country’s top power-hitting high school prospects was recovering from offseason surgery. First baseman Henry Sanchez of Mission Bay High of San Diego had surgery to repair his left hamate bone in January. He was expected to be ready for the regular season opener March 2. “It had been a problem since last summer and it was just getting progressively worse,” Mission Bay head coach Dennis Pugh said. “When you take 200 cuts a day, that sort of thing can happen and we just wanted to go ahead and take care of it.”

• Scouts who cover Virginia need to sign up soon for Westfield High product Brandon Snyder’s e-mail list. The Centreville, Va., player—whose father Brian was a big league pitcher in the 1980s—will be informing scouts via e-mail during the season whether he will be playing shortstop or catcher in his next game.