RC Mailbag: Looking ahead to the 2007 draft

Today RC opens up the mailbag to answer a reader's question about the 2007 draft. While the draft is still eight months away, it's never too early to begin speculating about which player the Royals might select with their first pick. Will Dayton Moore radically alter the Royals' draft strategy? We ponder the possibilities inside.

Since we will have the first overall pick again, who do you see us taking? - Jason, Springfield, MO

In fairness to Jason, this question was submitted to us prior to the Royals' season-ending sweep that allowed them to finish with a better record than the Devil Rays. Because of the late surge, the Royals will have the second overall selection in next June's draft, rather than the first. Nevertheless, it's definitely worth exploring some possibilities.

The prospect du jour right now is clearly Vanderbilt's David Price, a tall left-handed pitcher with nasty stuff. He's in essentially the same position at this point as North Carolina's Andrew Miller was last season, and he's coming off a dominating summer with the FISU gold medal winning U.S. National Team. Of course, he'll have to show that type of dominance next spring to remain at the top of most draft boards, particularly since his 2006 collegiate campaign – 9-5, 4.16 ERA – fell short of expectations after his stellar freshman season.

A certain KC columnist has been hyping Georgia Tech catcher/closer Matt Wieters ever since he saw him on television during the NCAA tournament, and many Royals fans now seem to think that Wieters should be the guy. RC likes Wieters quite a bit as well, but barring a breakout performance in 2007, we have doubts that he'll be the best available player when the Royals make their pick. If anyone does take him high in the first round, it will almost certainly be as a catcher, even though his size (6'6", 230 lbs) creates some concern about his agility behind the dish.


Wieters is one of the top two collegitate catchers available in the 2007 draft

Michael Main, a right-handed pitcher from Florida, is thought of in some circles as the best high school player available. However, Main has already experienced shoulder tendinitis, and his workload this spring is expected to be very limited. He'll probably serve as his high school team's closer for most of the season, waiting until the playoffs to join the rotation. It could be tough for him to distinguish himself as the best high school pitcher available as the draft nears, particularly if questions about his durability continue to prevail.

Several other intriguing players are NC State's 6'10" righty Andrew Brackman, Rice's two-way star (LHP/1B) Joe Savery, and RC's favorite current collegian – Virginia's Sean Doolittle – who, like Savery, is a left-handed pitcher and first baseman. Among that group, Doolittle is probably the most interesting, although we're curious about whether most scouts view him as a pitcher or as an offensive player. He's an outstanding collegiate player and is among the early favorites for the 2007 Golden Spikes Award, but he'll clearly have to focus on either pitching or hitting as a pro. We're not sure if either of his talents is projectable enough to warrant selection with the second overall pick, but he's a winner, and it will be fun to follow his progress next season.


Doolittle often reminds RC of Nick Markakis, who was also a two-way player in college

Of course, there are several factors at play that promise to make the Royals' selection difficult to predict. The most obvious is that KC is now at the mercy of the Devil Rays, who have never been shy about selecting the top-ranked prospect with the first overall pick. The second is that nobody can really be sure about how Dayton Moore will draft, and his upbringing in the Braves' system generates more questions than it answers.

Moore joined the Braves' front office in the summer of 1996, and in the 10 drafts since, the Braves made 35 selections in the first and second rounds. Of the 35 players selected, 28 (or 80 percent) were high school players. Additionally, only one of the Braves' first overall picks – NC State's Joey Devine in 2005 – was a collegian, and only five (roughly 14 percent) of their first and second round picks came from four-year colleges.

When asked about the Braves' preference for high school athletes by Scout's Honor author Bill Shanks, Moore explained that the organization preferred to draft young and rely on a solid player development system to raise its own players.

"Our philosophy [in Atlanta] is that we like high school players," said Moore. "We like young players. We like to develop our own."

It's worth noting, of course, that the Braves during Moore's tenure in the organization never selected in the top half of the first round, by virtue of their string of division titles. Therefore, it's impossible to say precisely how much weight to give the Braves' track record of drafting high school athletes, since most of the top-notch collegiate talent was gone by the time they made their first selections. Indeed, it's difficult to imagine that the Royals under Moore will radically alter their approach to their top pick, particularly since Deric Ladnier – who coincidentally also cut his teeth in the Braves' organization – maintains his position as the scouting director and appears to have Moore's confidence.

Perhaps that puts us back to where we started, but if we had to guess, future Royals drafts will likely be more tools-oriented than they have in the past. That's probably more relevant to the later rounds of the draft, but it wouldn't surprise us if the Royals do get longer looks at several high school players as potential first round picks this spring, particularly if no collegiate players separate themselves from the field. And don't be shocked if one of those high school players – perhaps someone who we're not even presently aware of – emerges this spring to have his name called when the Royals ultimately make their selection. We certainly don't see any slam-dunks among the current field, and if there was one, the Devil Rays are first in line anyway.

Of course, the most important thing to remember when discussing the June 2007 draft in October 2006 is that there's a hell of a lot of baseball to be played between now and then. Who's going to get hurt? Who's going to underperform? Who's going to get arrested? Who's going to stand out? Those are questions that only time can answer, and much can and will happen in the next eight months.

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