You can look at the top of the Rangers' 2010 draft class in one of two ways.
You can fixate on the fact that the club's picks at 15, 22, 45, and 49 were ranked by Baseball America, two weeks ago, as (respectively) unranked, 51st, 126th, and 98th on the publications assessment of the draft's top 200 prospects.
Or you can note that the Rangers' first three picks were each speculated at some point in the week leading up to the draft by either Jim Callis of BA, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, or Keith Law of ESPN to be the Rangers' first overall selection at 15, and that two of the players were considered to be riding the most helium on draft boards in the last couple weeks.
You can view the apparent fact that, according to several sources overnight, the Rangers were on the verge of coming to terms with their first two picks - at slot or lower - as a sign that (1) they were overdrafted strictly because of their signability, or (2) the Rangers have gotten off to a great start by locking down those two down, giving them some cost certainty as they head into the remaining 49 rounds without having dipped into the $1-2 million pad they have budgeted for going over slot throughout the draft class.
Is outfielder-defensive back Jake Skole the next Grady Sizemore? Or the next K.C. Herren?
Can Kellin Deglan buck the odds at the most difficult position to draft well at (as Peter Gammons wrote on Saturday: "The 35-year history of the Draft is lined with monumental mistakes selecting catchers")?
Is flamethrowing Florida righthander Luke Jackson the next Eric Hurley? Or the next Shane Funk?
With several high-profile pitchers still on the board, and Tommy Mendonca a year into his pro career, was the selection of Mike Olt a duplicative shot taken on a power/defense third baseman with hit tool questions, or a worthwhile effort to add another slug prospect to a system relatively thin in that area?
In the baseball draft, there are often more than just two sides to every coin, particularly before the players even get on a plane. This year that feels more true than usual, when compared with recent drafts that had a Justin Smoak or Tanner Scheppers to wrap our arms around instantly, or even a signability decision like Rick Porcello or Matt Purke to get the talk shows fired up about. In spite of the Rangers' firepower (four of the first 49 picks) and handicap (budgetary issues reportedly handcuffing the club more than in recent drafts), most experts probably won't single Texas out - at least through the first and supplemental first rounds - on a short list of the winners or the losers around the league.
It's always wise to adopt a "time will tell" attitude on any baseball draft, but with the top of this Rangers class, it seems almost obligatory. Even without a Smoak or Porcello story to get in the way of a good Tony Romo golf segment on local radio this morning, any or all of the Rangers' four picks last night could end up factoring in heavily to the big picture - or all four could disappoint.
The Rangers' four Day One selections:
1 (15th overall, pick awarded for failure to sign 2009 1st-rounder Matt Purke). JAKE SKOLE, OF, Blessed Trinity High School (Ga.) (scout: Ryan Coe)
(last year's first-round pick: Matt Purke; recent Rangers first-round picks include Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Kasey Kiker, Thomas Diamond, Mark Teixeira, John Danks, Carlos Pena; best number 15 pick in last 25 years: Chase Utley [Phillies, 2000])
Jake Skole, safety prospect.
In football, at least.
In baseball? Maybe not.
Georgia Tech wanted Skole as a defensive back, offering the First-Team All-State selection a full scholarship to play safety for the Ramblin' Wreck as well as an invitation to walk onto the baseball squad in the spring, where he'd be teammates with his brother Matt, an All-Conference third baseman who just completed his sophomore season at the school.
But was his selection by the Rangers last night a safe one? Judging by his placement (if at all) on the various mock drafts published the last few weeks, and by his reportedly imminent agreement to a signing bonus at or near slot, you might think so.
The Rangers deny it.
First-year scout Ryan Coe, who joined the Rangers in October after coaching at Kennesaw State University since 1998 (he had former Ranger Jason Jones in 1998-99), got to know Skole and his family when Skole was 12 years old. There were scouts around the league in on Skole when the 2010 season began, but none probably had a book on the kid like Coe, who also coached Skole in summer camps.
Before Skole's high school senior season got underway, he was nowhere to be found in BA's pre-season ranking of the top 100 high school draft prospects, or the top 20 outfielders. When he then tore ligaments in his ankle three games into the season, getting tangled up with the opposing first baseman as he was trying to beat out a bunt, he presumably fell off the radar for a lot of clubs, and certainly the industry publications. The injury cost Skole nearly two months of action and, combined with what was thought to be a solid commitment to the Georgia Tech football program, much play during most of the mock draft season.
But he returned in time for Blessed Trinity's two-week playoff run, and in six games he hit .452 with six home runs and 21 RBI. In what would be his final high school game, on May 24 in the Georgia Class AA semifinals, Skole went 2 for 3 off of Cook County High School righthander Kaleb Cowart, whose 97-mph fastball helped make him the Angels' top pick last night, 18th overall. Skole singled and doubled off Cowart, barreling the ball both times, and suddenly his name started showing up on mock drafts and in blog write-ups. If anything, it might have forced Texas to think of Skole with the 15th pick - assuming he lasted that long (BA's Jim Callis wrote on Friday that Toronto at number 11 was "one of a few clubs in on [the] fast-rising" outfielder, and John Sickels suggested that Tampa Bay had strong interest at number 17) - rather than waiting to use a later pick on him.
But regardless of where Skole thought he might go before his late May high school heroics, he's apparently not inflating his price to the point at which negotiations would drag on into nervous territory (as the 15th pick, which was compensation for last year's unconverted Matt Purke selection, would leave Texas empty-handed and without any 2011 compensation if it failed to get a deal done by August 16 [unless the pick were a college senior]). Skole has reportedly already called Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson to tell him he's not coming to school, and an agreement with the Rangers could come this week, putting Skole in line to be in uniform when the short-season leagues kick off later this month, assuming his ankle is ready to go.
The Rangers will administer a physical before finalizing any deal, but they're confident that the ankle is fine. Both sides are evidently prepared to agree to something in the range of a slotted signing bonus (which would presumably fall just short of $2 million). This won't be like the Yankees' negotiations five years ago with fellow two-sport Georgia Tech recruit Austin Jackson, who turned pro out of Denton Ryan High School for a reported $800,000, which was a record figure for an eighth-round pick.
Incidentally, Skole won't need to actually play college football for the five-year amortized bonus we discussed yesterday to be available. The league has to approve the five-year option for two-sport players, and apparently it's a near-certainty for players like Skole with demonstrable two-sport opportunities, even if they never play the second sport.
A left-handed hitter who stands 6'1", 188, Skole has shown raw power and good bat speed, though he's had difficulty with offspeed pitches. A tremendous athlete who was timed at 3.79 to first and 6.54 in the 60, he's generally graded as a corner outfielder but the Rangers believe he can handle center field. The future power grade and plus arm belie the occasional Johnny Damon comps, and though he might not profile as complete a player as Grady Sizemore, that name does come up, and not just because of the defensive back background.
As Skole develops, a J.D. Drew type of ceiling might make more sense than a Damon upside, especially once the organization gets to work on his swing mechanics. (And on that point, don't be surprised or discouraged if Skole shows very little punch for a month or so. The Rangers typically allow a first-year player 75 or 100 at-bats before they start to modify his approach - unless he asks for help sooner. For reference, in past Newberg Reports there are well-documented stories about how the club handled Chris Davis and Tommy Mendonca in their draft years.)
Kevin Goldstein's comment moments after the pick was straightforward: "Skole is brilliant at 15. Tons of tools and signable at 15. Just fantastic."
The Rangers insists that while the signability is a plus, they chose Skole because he was at the top of their board when pick number 15 came up. Now, does that mean Zack Cox and Stetson Allie, for instance, weren't on the board at all given their anticipated bonus demands and the unprotected nature of the pick, or did Texas simply prefer Skole from a talent standpoint? We won't know that answer, just as we didn't for years regarding Minnesota's choice of local prep Joe Mauer over Mark Prior and Mark Teixeira at the top of the 2001 draft, a decision that was widely characterized then as a signability concession.
Does Skole, who fairly or not will be inextricably linked to Purke (just as Scheppers and Milton Bradley are connected), have Purke's upside? At this point, no scout would say yes to that question. But was Skole a signability pick?
The Rangers insist he wasn't. But the willingness to sign quickly does mean we ought to start finding out about him right away, and that's something we can all look forward to.
1 (22nd overall). KELLIN DEGLAN, C, R.E. Mountain Secondary School (B.C., Canada) (scout: Gary McGraw)
(best number 22 pick in last 25 years: Rafael Palmeiro [Cubs, 1985])
Just two years ago, Texas was thought to have more depth at catcher than it knew what to do with. Every national columnist was speculating as to which blue-chip pitching prospects around the league Texas would be able to choose from by trading one if not two or three of Gerald Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez.
Daniels, rightfully so, said before the 2008 season: "Catching certainly is the strength of our organization. We'll just let it play out. . . . Some people may look at it as a logjam or that we have decisions to make, but I look at it as you can't have enough of a good thing."
Today, Laird is gone, Saltalamacchia and Teagarden are wearing AAA and AA uniforms, and Ramirez is in Texas, backing up a 34-year-old journeyman getting the first chance of his career to be a frontline backstop.
Catching is hard to develop. And risky to invest in. But the Rangers have seen as much of Kellin Deglan as any club, and they believe he has a chance to be a tremendous asset, both at the plate and behind it.
A product of a British Columbia high school that has no baseball program, Deglan (who turned 18 last week) played for the Langley Blaze of the wood bat British Columbia Premier Baseball League (which counts Rich Harden, Justin Morneau, and Ryan Dempster as alums) as well as Canada's junior national team, which traveled to the Dominican Summer League in May and faced clubs that included the Rangers' Dominican affiliate. His club also toured Arizona in March, passing through Surprise at one point. (Deglan also spent a week living and working out with Morneau this winter.)
Big at 6'2", 200 but considered athletic for the position, Deglan throws well and shows a feel for the game. He has good hands and quick feet, logging pop times at or just under two seconds. The left-handed hitter flashes plus power, and scouts believe he will compete with the bat, though as with most catchers, patience will be required. Those makeup and leadership buzzwords will pop up with Deglan, too, which of course is probably as important for catchers as any other position.
Deglan's commitment to Florida International is moot, as he has reportedly already agreed to a below-slot signing bonus of $1 million, pending a physical later this week.
The Rangers system now boasts catching prospects from Venezuela (Tomas Telis and Leonel De Los Santos), Mexico (Jose Felix), Australia (Guy Edmonds), New Jersey (Vin DiFazio), Colombia (Jorge Alfaro), and British Columbia (Deglan). (Prediction: Texas drafts Columbia University catcher Dean Forthun in the 50th round tomorrow. Not really.)
Would it have made more sense for Texas to roll the dice at number 22 on a riskier over-slot player like Cox or Allie or Anthony Ranaudo or Zach Lee, since a failure to come to terms with the player would have meant extra money to allocate to other picks (or July 2 international free agents) and an extra first-round pick next year, when presumably the budgetary constraints will be less onerous? Surely it was an option the front office discussed, which must mean they love what Deglan brings to the system and had no interest in forgoing the chance to add him to the fold just to strengthen other parts of the draft or the budget in Latin America.
Especially when he was willing to sign for less than slot, which will help with the rest of the draft and on July 2 without deferring the pick for 12 months and losing that year of development.
1-Supp (45, pick awarded for loss of Marlon Byrd). LUKE JACKSON, RHP, Calvary Christian Academy HS (Fla.) (scout: Juan Alvarez)
(last year's supplemental first-round pick: Tanner Scheppers; past Rangers supplemental first-round picks include Julio Borbon, Tommy Hunter, Neil Ramirez, Colby Lewis, Chad Hawkins; best number 45 pick in last 25 years: Gerald Laird [Athletics, 1998])
Like Skole, Luke Jackson was a late riser, figuring in last month as a possible third- or fourth-rounder before showing up yesterday as a "strong" possibility for the Rangers at 15 or 22 (both according to Keith Law) or as Florida's choice at 23 (Jim Callis). It's not clear how easy a sign he'll be, as he has a commitment to pitch for the University of Miami in the bag, though he has suggested he's motivated to turn pro.
Jackson, a prep soccer player who didn't play baseball year-round and who didn't take up pitching at all until the ninth grade, sat 91-94 with late life for scouts all spring, touching 96 late in the season (up from 87-91 a year ago). His arm action is clean and at 6'2", 180 scouts believe there's projection for more (and for workhorse durability), but an inconsistent 12-to-6 curve and changeup kept him from sitting in the same pre-draft tier as fellow Florida prep pitchers Karsten Whitson and A.J. Cole - though Cole remains on the board this morning, while Texas made sure Jackson didn't get out of the supplemental first round.
The 18-year-old went 8-0, 0.90 with two saves in 10 starts (including three shutouts) and four relief appearances for Calvary Christian this spring. In 54.2 innings, he scattered 30 hits (.155 opponents' average) and 19 walks while setting 87 hitters down on strikes. He drilled seven hitters and yielded one home run. At the plate, Jackson hit .308/.396/.436 in 78 at-bats, going deep twice and driving in 22 runs. Interestingly, he also committed 12 errors (five on days he pitched).
There's objectively less pressure to convert on this pick since it came in the supplemental first round rather than the first itself, but the last two times Texas has had supplemental firsts, they've turned out to be the key picks from those drafts. Last year, Scheppers keyed the draft class (with first-rounder Matt Purke not signing). In 2007, two of the club's three supplemental firsts - Julio Borbon and Tommy Hunter - have paid off sooner than first-rounders Blake Beavan and Michael Main, predictably so given their relative stages of development when drafted.
Jackson won't fit into either category - he won't follow first-rounders who fail to sign and he's not clearly further along developmentally than the Rangers' top two picks - but there's no reason to assume the Rangers don't have hopes just as high for the one pitcher they took on Monday as for the other three players they selected.
1-Supp (49, pick awarded for loss of Ivan Rodriguez). MIKE OLT, 3B, Univ. of Connecticut (scout: Jay Heafner)
(best number 49 pick in last 25 years: Carlos Beltran [Royals, 1995])
Tremendous raw power and premium defense at third base. Sound familiar?
The Rangers used a second-round pick last year (62nd overall) on Fresno State third baseman Tommy Mendonca, who profiles in much the same way that University of Connecticut third baseman Mike Olt does.
Olt comes to the Rangers having just set UConn's all-time home run record with 44 - eclipsing the 43 that Jason Grabowski, the Rangers' second-round pick in 1997, hit for the Huskies - but it's his defense that Baseball America tabbed as third-best in the draft (at any position) and that Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg wanted to talk about last night: "We feel like [Olt] is a premium defender at third base," said Fagg. "He profiles as a power bat, but his strength is big-time defense."
Texas has spent early picks on third basemen with some regularity the last few years, but Johnny Whittleman (second round, 2005) and Matt West (second round, 2007) and Mendonca have each had their share of struggles. In a system short on productive corner bats, Olt will get a chance to establish himself as a reliable defensive player whose bat will play at third.
Olt played shortstop as a freshman at Connecticut, hitting .318 with 13 home runs and setting a school record with 61 RBI. He was named the top prospect in the New England Collegiate League the following summer and then hit .301 (eight homers and 40 RBI) as a sophomore, missing a third of the season with ankle and wrist injuries. Healthier in 2010, Olt hit .318/.401/.659 with 23 home runs and reestablished the school's season RBI mark with 76.
The 21-year-old has good hands and feet, solid range, and a strong arm from third. There are holes in his right-handed swing - he struck out 54 times in 264 at-bats this season - but the bat speed is there, and scouts believe in his approach at the plate and coachability. It's been a long time since third base was so uniformly thin in the big leagues, and in Olt the Rangers see a player they obviously believe could give them an developmental asset, particularly if he can make more consistent contact and take advantage of his power potential while providing lockdown defense at third.
The second round kicks off at 11:00 this morning, with Texas picking 72nd overall. The club then picks at 103 in the third round, 136 in the fourth round, and every 30 picks thereafter. Today's proceedings will conclude with the 30th round, and the 31st through 50th rounds will take place tomorrow.
To join the free Newberg Report mailing list so you can get e-mail deliveries of every edition of the newsletter, daily minor league game recaps, and frequent Newberg Report News Flashes, go to www.newbergreport.com and click the "Mailing List" link on the top menu bar.
(c) Jamey Newberg