Probably the primary reason for talented players to fall in the MLB draft is the question of signability. No one wants to spend a high draft pick on a player who is set on playing college ball the following season. It is therefore no surprise that when we asked Tom Allison about the sleepers he felt he got in the draft, the first names that came to his mind were players who had not yet signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"You start with Cody Wheeler in the fifth round; he went 30-2," Allison began, citing Wheeler's three-year won-loss record at Coastal Carolina. "He's been a stellar performer. Some of the high school picks that we took rounds five to ten - Blake Perry, Tyler Green - we really like their upside. We've still got to get them signed, but those two guys stand out."
"From the 11th-round down, there's Mike Freeman, whom we drafted last year, and Blake Cooper," continued Allison. "These guys have been stellar at the highest level. Raoul Torrez, Stephen Cardullo, and [Nicholas] Gallego were all playing in the College World Series and were very important members of their team."
"Ty Linton and Kevin Ziomek... yeah, they're going to cost some money, but you can't bring them into the organization if you don't first draft them. We're excited about them. All of them are going to have draft day disappointment from where they go in the draft. Our job is to keep telling them about our organization. You get guys like Matt Helm and Patrick Schuster in the hopes that they'll sign with you later on [in the summer]."
Mike Freeman (left) and Raoul Torrez in the College World Series
The fact that the Diamondbacks took Mike Freeman in the 36th round last season begs the question of whether he was selected more with an eye towards 2010 than with an actual realistic expectation of signing him in 2009, when Freeman had clear intentions to play his senior year at Clemson.
"You do always draft them to sign them," countered Allison. "Obviously, with Mike Freeman last year, as we walked down the negotiation trail, it just didn't work out. It isn't that you like the player any less, it's just that the timetable wasn't ready for both sides to be able to come to an agreement. But you do build a relationship and you're able to then select him with a little more conviction."
That certainly happened, as the D-backs selected Freeman in the 11th-round this season. Clemson just got eliminated from the College World Series, so Freeman will be able to begin his negotiations for a pro contract. Ty Linton was already selected with considerable conviction, going in the 19th round this season. Unlike Freeman, he has been in contract negotiations ever since draft day, but the progress has been slow.
"We'll continue to scout him and educate him as to what the Arizona Diamondbacks are about, but our scout George Swain has a terrific relationship with him," said Allison. "We had him on our east coast team in the professional showcase last year along with Matt Roberts, also. Both of those guys are signed to the University of North Carolina, but they may want to consider starting their pro careers now."
One reason athletes make that choice is that injuries can cause a player's draft stock to plummet. Allison believes that he got some top talent in the mid-to-late rounds that fell due to injury concerns, most notably in his ninth and tenth round selections.
"Zach Walters had a really stellar year last year, and he's a kid we've been [following] since high school," Allison revealed. "He had a hand injury, a big arm injury, and his stock in the draft fell a little bit. But we still feel that he's got a chance to be a good major league player. All these players want to get drafted higher. Our scout Jeff Mousser met with [Walters], but he really showed the desire to put the draft scenario behind him and start making progress towards the major leagues."
"Kawika Emsley-Pai was in the same high school team as outfielder Travis Snider from Toronto. He also played football and broke his back his senior year. If you break your back, it takes a long while to get yourself healthy. The injuries have certainly altered his career at some points, but we're very excited to get him signed and get him out there."
The D-backs fished for more injury sleepers in the later rounds. The guy they selected 871st overall has yet to be reeled in, however.
"Chris Floethe out of Cal-State Fullerton is coming off Tommy John surgery and is now pitching very well in the Cape Cod League," Allison said of his 29th-round pick out of Cal-State Fullerton. "So we'll certainly watch his progression, see how he comes along, and he could be another guy like a Ryan Cook. Cook didn't have a very good junior year, but he went to a summer league, we watched him, and were able to come to a negotiation that worked for both sides."
In contrast, 20th-rounder Michael Hur has signed, but he isn't currently playing ball due to injuries that Allison would not specifically disclose.
"He still has some injuries there," the Diamondbacks' scouting director said cryptically. "We'll have to walk through the extent of it over the next few weeks."
After injuries and signability, there are some draft picks who are considered sleepers simply because scouts can't see everyone, and sometimes one team's scouts take a look at a guy from a school off the mainstream map and love what they see.
"I think one guy who stands out is Derek Eitel in the 17th round," beamed Allison. "He's from a real small school in Indiana (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology). This guy was an all-everything quarterback for their football team and a very accomplished pitcher. He's one of those guys who our scouts had a good feel for. These are scout's guys, guys who they've followed since high school and know everything about them. They become the Charles Brewers of the world, or Bryan Woodall, who's an All-Star in the Cal League, or Trevor Harden, who is out this year. But that's what makes your draft in the mid-rounds: your scouts that have this type of feel for players that they've followed for years."
Finally, while not strictly sleepers, three players from Keystone College were selected and signed by the Diamondbacks in this year's draft, following the team's selection of Nelson Gomez in 2008. It's quite rare for a team to take three players from the same school in one draft, but Allison believes that quirk helped entice all three to sign.
"Our scout Shawn Barton, he's not far from there in Pennsylvania. What you have is a really good Division II program that gets players from all over. This year, they were a very successful team, and all three players, from Yazy Arbelo to Victor Lara, to Eric Groff are winners from a winning program. Our scouts have done a terrific job of getting to know the coach and how they go about their work. Especially in the case of Lara, he saw his other teammates go to us, and said, "hey, I wanna go too!" He had high demands at the beginning of the draft, but then adjusted them to join the organization. So they get the comfort of playing together."
Allison's other hotbed of talent is Lewis-Clark State. He selected Kyle Greene from there in 2008, signed Justin Mace as an undrafted free agent from there later that summer, and then went with Emsley-Pai out of that program this year.
"When you have programs that have had the success of a Keystone College or Lewis-Clark, with their coaching staff and the way they develop their players, that stands on its own," said Allison. "You know when you select a player from there the type of makeup, work ethic, and understanding of the game that they usually have."
Allison's success drafting in the later rounds also stands on its own, and there is no doubt that there will be several names from the 2010 draft class among the Arizona Diamondbacks' top prospect list for years to come.
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