The Calculated Guessing Game

Conventional wisdom, if such a thing actually exists about baseball's annual draft of amateurs, has offered three mantras going into this year's selection process:

(1) It's a much better year for college talent than for those coming out of high school.
(2) It's a much better year for pitchers than for opposition players.
(3) The talent level is fairly well-balanced with not all that much separating the top echelon from those below.

Ask Logan White, the man in charge of the Dodgers involvement in the process how he feels about such thoughts and you'll find that he accepts two of the above as being essentially true. He's in agreement that it's more of a year for pitchers than for hitters and that the distance between prospects is not at all vast. The other ? Well, " It's false that this is a college year. I've found there's more at the high school level particularly among position players." will have continual draft updates on June 7 and 8 to keep you up to date on the players the Dodgers have selected and in which round. Los Angeles is in an enviable position since they will have their own pick -- the 17th pick in the first round -- plus the 28th and 33rd pick overall from the Yankees for signing Paul Quantrill.

That White feels may alter thinking on the part of certain teams. "Teams that have been traditionally oriented toward college players like Oakland may go for the high school kids this time." That, he feels "could mean that there's some good college players available where we pick."

An intriguing part of this draft involves just what the Dodger philosophy is for first-year general manager Paul DePodesta was a key figure in Oakland's insistence on collegians in previous drafts. White, on the other hand, became notorious for his movement toward high schoolers in the two years that he's been the L.A. draft honcho. In 2002 they comprised seven of the first eight players picked with only second baseman Delwyn Young (fourth round), a junior college player, interrupting the flow. Last year, it was eight from the high school ranks before going for infielder Brett Dowdy from the University of Florida in round nine.

But White has always maintained that it was the tendency of other teams to opt for the collegians that dictated his moves. They pretty well ignored the good high schoolers early so they were there for him and he didn't hesitate. If the opposite proves true this year, he'll react accordingly.

For Logan is a firm believer in the BAA -- Best Available Athlete -- approach. Naturally good draft preparation means you go into D-day with an idea where each player is likely to land and who you may be able to get when your turn comes. But that's not to be so set in stone that you're oblivious to the shifts in movement as they occur. As Logan puts it, "Say you decide you're after a hitter but when your turn comes Mark Prior is still sitting there. Are you going to ignore him?"

There are sideline observers that wonder if DePodesta and White will clash on what names to call. Logan observes that with a chuckle. "If we go for college players with our first three choices, everybody's going to say, 'Paul got to him.' It could wind up that we do, but" and he pauses, "I don't think it will." Nor does anyone else who knows the two men. White's track record in his two years at doing this is too good to ignore and DePodesta is too smart to overrule him. No, the best available athlete it will be whether from high school or college.

The slight difference in those out there, though, makes this a tougher call than it's been in the past. "I don't see that the front-runners have really separated themselves," says White. "That makes it much tougher to figure who might be there when we pick than it was the past two years.

"Two years ago, I knew at least three weeks before the draft that James Loney would be there for us. Now I would have taken Prince Fielder when we chose (at 19th) because, while he's not much with a glove I feel he's going to be a tremendous big league hitter with power. Also I felt sure we could still have gotten Loney at 31 (a supplemental pick the Dodgers had as compensation for losing Chan Ho Park to the Rangers) because everyone thought of him as a second-round pitcher. But then we wouldn't have gotten (Greg) Miller."

Fielder was long gone to the Brewers at No. 7 by the time the Dodgers selected so they went for Loney, then Miller at 31 and he, of course, has become their prize pitching prospect.

Last year, the team had to wait until the 24th spot before selecting but here, too, Logan believed. "I felt that Chad Billingsley would be there and he was."

That's because, again, most clubs had down-graded him to second-round status, a belief that White obviously didn't share. When he went for the righthander from Ohio, some wondered if it wasn't a reach. What Chad has done and is doing since, though, has made believers out of more than a few.

By now White has narrowed the top of his list "eight or ten names. I think we have a realistic chance to get three of those." Three because that's the magic number this time around for the Dodgers select 17-28-33. The 17th slot is their own while the other two come courtesy of the Yankees' signing of Paul Quantrill. Since he was a Type A free agent, the Yanks forfeited their own first-round slot and the Dodgers gained a supplemental pick at the end of the round as further compensation.

One thing that you won't get Logan to kick around is just who's on that list. "I'm Baseball America's worst nightmare," he says for that publication loves to play Mel Kiper, Jr., and predict which club will go for which player. And in his two years White has confounded that as far as the Dodgers were concerned with his choices of Loney and Billingsley for BA was with those who insisted each was a second-round type.

If you're wondering -- and, of course, you are -- this year BA declared that LA will go for Scott Elbert, a high school lefthander from Missouri, with their own choice and, with a bow in the direction of DePodesta, either righthander Justin Hoyman from the University of Florida or Jason Vargas, a lefthander from Long Beach State, in the Yankees' spot. After all, White has been seen observing each in action.

But beware. As noted, they haven't read White yet for be also aware that he's seen a lot of players, more so than most other scouting directors. For this is part of his approach as well. "What I do is compare," he notes. "I go around to see as many good players as I can and just compare each with the other. Some guys narrow it down but I don't think you can do that. That's like going to the Dodgers' extended spring camp and then saying, 'This is what the Dodgers have.' No, I have to compare a lot of players. I have to get around to do that, of course. I haven't been to the Dakotas but I've been just about everywhere else. I've even been to Maine because there's a player up there (righthander Mark Rogers). I've seen Jared Weaver and Justin Verlander although I don't think they'll be there when we pick."

Weaver who pitches for Long Beach State and who's the brother of the Dodgers' Jeff, may well be the first name called when the Padres get things started while Verlander, another college righthander from Old Dominion in Virginia, should be close to the top as well. You can figure that Stephen Drew of Florida State, the brother of J.D., will be right up there as well. The first high schooler might well be Chris Nelson, a shortstop from Georgia.

While the Dodgers will rank the players by position in order, "We never narrow it down by position. Not at the start anyway. Maybe later on we'll say, 'Let's get a catcher this time,' but you have to be careful. It's like a miner who is mining a hill that has both gold and silver. If silver is all that's coming out at first, should he ignore that because he's more interested in gold?

"A danger you have to avoid is what we call 'overdrafting.' Say you have a position player that you think is a fifth-rounder but you know that there aren't many position players this year so you go for him sooner than you planned and take him in the third round. You can get into trouble that way."

Slotting players is an art he practices with skill, too. "Say you like both Player A and Player B. You like A better than B but you feel that it's the other way around as far as other teams are concerned. So, you take B first because you think that A is more likely to be there with your next pick."

While the first rounders are the glamour picks, concentrating on the subsequent rounds can be just as rewarding. Everybody knows about Mike Piazza, a 62nd round pick in 1988 and while that was something of an anomaly, think of Eric Karros, a sixth-rounder the same year, and Paul Lo Duca, who lasted until the 25th round in 1993, and realize that the thorough scouting directors never relax as the rounds roll on. "We like to take high school hitters with some potential as it goes along," Logan explains. "Last year we were able to get Lucas May ( eighth ), Russ Mitchell (15th) and Travis Denker (21st) and all three look promising."

Another part of the process that is emphasized are the draft-and-follows, those who are drafted but who then attend a junior college. They're under a team's control until a week before the next draft so part of Logan's travels have included trips to see those the Dodgers still have rights to. So far, they've signed catcher Tony Harper (11th), lefthander David Pfeiffer (14th) and righthander Jesus Castillo (27th) with a couple more to be worked out with decisions pending.

As June 7-8 draws closer, Logan says, " I'm excited. It's a real grind. I've been on the road constantly since February but it's worth it. We really need some luck but if things go our way, we'll have the good fortune to get some good players."

Of course it's too early to rank recent drafts for the only thing that ultimately matters is how many quality big league players you get. But early indications are that the past two may well rank up with the best the club has ever had. And Logan is now trying to see to it that he's about to provide a suitable encore. The names may or may not be what you expect but he's shown that he's a master at making the right choices.