Recapping Day One of the Rangers' Draft.

Cameron Maybin keyed Detroit’s 2007 trade with Florida for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.  Maybin was a High Class A center fielder with a week of experience at the AA level.

Austin Jackson headlined a Yankees deal with Detroit to get Curtis Granderson.  He was a AAA center fielder.

Adam Jones was shipped in front of a five-player Mariners package to get Baltimore’s Erik Bedard.  Jones was a AAA center fielder who’d had two cups of coffee in Seattle.

Grady Sizemore was part of Cleveland’s four-player demand from Montreal in the Bartolo Colon deal.  Sizemore was a High Class A center fielder.

Lorenzo Cain helped Milwaukee acquire Zack Greinke from Kansas City.  He was a AAA center fielder with a couple months in the big leagues.

Franklin Gutierrez and a Dodgers player to be named later got Milton Bradley from Cleveland.  Gutierrez was a AA center fielder.

Chris Young and two others were used by the White Sox to go get Javier Vazquez from the Diamondbacks.  Young was a AA center fielder.

Michael Bourn was the centerpiece of a three-player package Philadelphia put together to get Houston closer Brad Lidge and infielder Eric Bruntlett.  Bourn, developed by the Phillies as a center fielder, had just completed his rookie season.

Not all young center fielders get traded.  Matt Kemp didn’t.  Neither did Andrew McCutchen.  Maybe if Josh Hamilton’s development went differently, B.J. Upton would have been, but he wasn’t traded, either.  The Dodgers probably wish they’d traded Shane Victorino, rather than leaving him exposed three times to the Rule 5 Draft and losing him twice, the second time irreversibly.

Dexter Fowler wasn’t, and won’t be.  Same with Mike Trout, though Peter Bourjos probably will be at some point.

This isn’t a suggestion that Texas drafted Florida high school center fielder Lewis Brinson in order to deal him, but if he and Leonys Martin and Jordan Akins develop as the Rangers hope they will, one or two of them will be traded, and will make Texas better in the process.

Young players with star potential who play in the middle of the field are super-valuable.

As are power-hitting corner prospects, unusually scarce in today’s game.  Like Mike Olt.  And maybe Joey Gallo.

When I sat down yesterday to pull together the following data for last night’s First and Supplemental First Rounds of the 2012 draft –

1st round (29th overall).  LEWIS BRINSON, OF, Coral Springs High School (Fla.)

(scout: Frankie Thon)

(MLB slot: $1,625,000)

(last year’s first-round pick: Kevin Matthews; recent Rangers first-round picks include Jake Skole, Kellin Deglan, Matt Purke, Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Michael Main, Kasey Kiker, Thomas Diamond, John Danks, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Pena; best number 29 pick in last 25 years: Adam Wainwright [Braves, 2000])

Supplemental 1st round (39th overall, pick awarded for loss of C.J. Wilson).  JOEY GALLO, 3B, Bishop Gorman High School (Nev.)

(scout: Todd Guggiana)

(MLB slot: $1,324,800)

(last year’s supplemental first-round pick: Zach Cone; recent Rangers supplemental first-round picks include Mike Olt, Luke Jackson, Tanner Scheppers, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, Tommy Hunter, Colby Lewis; best number 39 pick in last 25 years: Todd Hundley [Mets, 1987])

Supplemental 1st round (53rd overall, pick awarded for loss of Darren Oliver).  COLLIN WILES, RHP, Blue Valley West High School (Kan.)

(scout: Dustin Smith)

(MLB slot: $954,800)

(best number 53 pick in last 25 years: Sean Casey [Indians, 1995])

– something struck me about the organization’s recent history in the first round, which led me to tweet this:

Not counting sandwich round, here’s the list of all TX 1st-rounders still in the org: K.Matthews (’11), J.Skole/K.Deglan (’10).  That’s it.

(Tom Grieve doesn’t count, either, since he was drafted by the Senators in 1966, six years before they moved to Texas.)

But that’s not meant as an indictment on the Rangers’ track record in the first round.  Mark Teixeira and Blake Beavan and Michael Main were traded for players who helped Texas reach the World Series, as were players like Tommy Hunter (supplemental first), Robbie Erlin (third), Joe Wieland (fourth), Chris Davis (fifth), and a handful of others.

Who knows what the future holds for 2006 sixth-rounder Jake Brigham, 2010 fifth-rounder Justin Grimm, 2010 fourth-rounder Drew Robinson, 2010 third-rounder Akins, 2010 second-rounder Cody Buckel, or supplemental first-rounders Luke Jackson (2010), Tanner Scheppers (2009), and Julio Borbon and Neil Ramirez (2007)?

Some will be traded.

And that’s OK.

In two years, Scheppers could be working in the eighth inning or in the ninth inning or in San Diego.

Olt could be at third base or first base or left field in Texas, or added to the core of a young team that had a controllable top-of-rotation starter it grew willing to trade.

Arranging your draft board by best player available, rather than by any perceived system need, means you don’t pass on Smoak just because you have Davis, or Brinson because you have Martin and Akins, or Gallo because you have Olt.

Texas may draft another half dozen toolsy center fielders today and tomorrow.  Best player available.

But none will be as toolsy as Brinson.  Not all the experts agree on the likelihood that the 18-year-old reaches his potential, but there’s little debate on how extraordinary that potential is.

Jason Parks invites Rangers fans to “welcome a monster toolshed into your system,” calling Brinson “a project, but [with a] ceiling [that] is absolutely enormous.”  Kevin Goldstein suggests Brinson “arguably has the highest ceiling of any high school position player in the draft, but there is fatty tuna in the finest sushi restaurants that isn’t as raw.”  John Manuel notes that the University of Florida commit “fits [the] Rangers’ high-risk, high-reward profile.”  According to ESPN, “Brinson has as high an upside as any player not named Byron Buxton [who went number two overall] in this draft, with an ultra-projectable frame and plus tools galore,” and notes that, on the 20-80 scouting scale, “[h]e will flash 70 speed, 70 glove, 60 arm and average raw power that you could turn into a 60.”

That’s All-Star level, if it all comes together.  Big if, of course.

Brinson himself considers his outfield instincts and throwing arm to be the best part of his game, and Texas believes he’ll be able to stay in the middle of the field defensively.  Long and lean at 6’4”, 180, the Maybin comps are inevitable, but there’s something instructive there: Maybin turned 25 two months ago, and is with his third organization.

The move to San Diego, his third, is partly because he’s been a disappointment.  But the move to the Marlins, his second, was because Detroit had Granderson in place, didn’t pass on Maybin on Draft Day in spite of that, and when Cabrera and Willis were made available, nobody could match the Maybin-Andrew Miller-plus package that the Tigers were able to offer the Marlins.

If it sounds by the tone of this report that I’m already cooking up a 2015 trade that involves Lewis Brinson and Yovani Gallardo, I’m not.  But we’re at a point in the Texas Rangers cycle where the relentless replenishment of the pipeline serves multiple purposes, one of which Erlin and Wieland – wish ’em the best – served quite nicely 10 months ago.

To be fair, Brinson is drawing a handful of Greg Golson comps as well, a reminder that baseball is hard and players don’t always pan out, even the ones whose tools redefine the chart.  Like Golson, if Brinson doesn’t work out in Texas, three or four or seven other organizations are going to see if they can unlock him.  There are very few things on the baseball field that scouts think Brinson will never be able to do.  But the road will be long.

Look at what Akins did in his first pro season.  And, after a breakout fall and spring going into 2012, check out the regression this year (even though he appears to be clawing himself out of it a bit).  There’s a ways to go with the hit tool, which is also the biggest question in Brinson’s projection (some scouts apparently feel he actually took a step back this year in that regard).  Baseball is hard.

It’s sort of extraneous to point out that Brinson gets good marks for his makeup, since character issues are often deal-killers for the Rangers, but they show up a lot in the scouting reports for the teenager, whose father Lewis Jr. lost a battle with lung cancer when Brinson was 11 years old.

While the new CBA introduces a whole new brand of signability issues, all indications – including some from Brinson himself – are that he’s prepared to forgo the scholarship to the University of Florida and begin his pro career.  “There’s still a little work to be done, but it’s pretty close,” he says, after noting that he “was a Marlins fan growing up,” which is a crazy reminder that we’re now in the age of players who never lived in a world where the Florida Marlins (1993 - ) didn’t exist.

Parks describes Brinson as “a tools werewolf [and] monster athlete” whose “upside is crazy,” quoting a league scout as saying, “He’s a project, but the ceiling is superstar,” while summing up his own thoughts with this: “This is a very, very promising pick.  The Rangers went upside here at #29, and man oh man oh man does this kid have upside.”

Almost every reputable mock draft I saw had Gallo going ahead of Brinson.  Goldstein had the left-handed-hitting slugger going 11th overall to the A’s, noting that he “has as much raw power as anyone in the draft, and scouts that believe he can end up adequate at third base have pushed him up some boards.”  Law had Gallo going 11th as well.

Interestingly, some experts suggest Gallo was more likely to land one of those spots in the top half of the round had he expressed a desire to stay on the mound with velocity that touches the upper-90s.  But he wants to hit, and while this wasn’t a case in which the Rangers were nearly alone in their preference for the bat over the arm (as in the case of Jurickson Profar), the club sounded thrilled that he fell to their slot at number 39, a compensatory pick awarded for the loss of C.J. Wilson to the Angels.

Senior Director of Player Personnel A.J. Preller and Director of Amateur Scouting Kip Fagg noted last night that there’s a premium in the league these days on young run-producing, power-hitting types, which helps explain why the Rangers targeted and landed Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara, hope to be able to effectuate their agreement with Jairo Beras, and popped Gallo with their first of two supplemental first-round picks last night.

You can read between the lines.  When the organization talks about a “premium in the league,” it suggests that there’s a real value here that goes beyond finding more power to develop and bring to Arlington.  Young power hitters are very tradeable.  Justin Smoak.  Jesus Montero.  Brett Lawrie.  Anthony Rizzo.  Yonder Alonso.

The MLB Network studio panel called Gallo “the most feared power hitter among high school players” in this draft, offering up an Adam Dunn comp that has surfaced in a few places.  Part of that is there’s some miss in the swing, like there is with Dunn, like there is with Olt.  But Law, for one, doesn’t think it will keep Gallo from getting his exceptional power to the big leagues, suggesting simply: “I think he’ll hit enough to get to the crazy power.”

That adjective surfaces in Parks’s comments as well – “Big, strong, physical frame; power is reported to be near elite; hands are crazy fast; bat speed is present” – though he too is skeptical of the hit tool, as well as his range at third base.  But the arm strength is certainly playable on an outfield corner, if it comes to that, and first base is an option as well.

Parks calls Gallo’s arm an “easy 7” (on the 2-8 scale, equivalent to the 20-80 version).  Jim Callis put an 8 on it and called Gallo “one of [the] draft’s most intriguing talents.”  That arm strength has one camp tantalized by the idea of the 6’5” righthander on the mound, but ESPN noted that “his preference for hitting is so strong that he [didn’t] tell scouts when [he was] scheduled to pitch.”  Frankie Piliere wrote of the LSU commit: “Typically, teams don’t expect to land the best power hitter in the draft outside of the first round.  But the Rangers added just that when they landed Gallo.”

High school statistics matter less than just about anything else worth looking at, but you might consider it notable that Gallo holds the Nevada state high school records for career home runs (65) and RBI in one season (80, in this year’s 43 games) since Bryce Harper was a Nevada prep as well – until you’re reminded that Harper left high school after his sophomore year to get his GED.

Gallo and Harper were youth baseball teammates for several years.  Gallo has the measurably better baseball name.  Probably two grades better.

And do with this note what you will: According to Perfect Game USA, which organizes showcases for the top high school players in the nation, the 442-foot home run Gallo hit to right center field in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at San Diego’s Petco Park in August (with a wood bat, off righthander Lucas Sims, who went 21st overall to Atlanta last night) was the 10th-longest home run ever recorded at the Padres’ home stadium.

Not just in Perfect Game events.

Ever.

Though they profile as very different players, the key question on both Brinson and Gallo is how the hit tool will come along.  The Rangers trust the player development program they have in place.  Once those two sign – and early indications are positive in that regard (possibly even well ahead of the July 13 deadline) – they’ll be turned over to a group of coaches and instructors whose job will be to begin the process of turning exquisite raw tools into actualized, productive baseball skills.

The same will be true as far as Kansas high school righthander Collin Wiles is concerned,  but it’s easy to come away with a different set of initial expectations when industry writers put the three players in these frames:

Brinson: perhaps the highest ceiling of any high school position player in this draft

Gallo: the most feared power hitter among high school players in this draft

Wiles: not among the 218 players that MLB Network profiled in preparation for last night’s 60 slots

The fact that Baseball America had Wiles ranked number 268 going into the draft at least suggests that Texas might have taken a player that it liked but felt it could get several rounds later, using the supplemental first only after learning that he would take a below-slot signing bonus (hypothetical: sixth- or eighth-round projection [if the BA assessment closely matches up with scouting sentiment], first-round pick, takes second- or third-round money), something the Rangers and many other teams wouldn’t have game-planned until the new CBA rules were implemented.

Texas has $6,568,200 to spend in the first 10 rounds.  Every dollar it saves in any given round leaves more it can spend in another round where there’s an opportunity to go above slot on a player perceived to be slipping due to bonus demands.

We don’t know that that’s the case, but under the new CBA (which, to be accurate, doesn’t impose a hard cap but instead levies monetary sanctions, and in some cases future draft pick forfeitures, if a club exceeds its league-assigned budget) there are new strategies that are essential to consider.  Either the Rangers are wild about Wiles and sensed at least one other team situated somewhere between 53 and 83 was poised to pounce on him if Texas didn’t, or something along the lines of the above scenario is in play and the club may believe it can reallocate some of the $954,800 slotted for the pick toward an over-slot effort to get things done with Brinson or (more likely) Gallo or someone else they plan to select today.

In any event, Wiles told reporters that the Rangers “matched what we were looking for, so it’s basically a done deal.  Just pretty much waiting on a signature.”  Interpret the first part of the quote, and the hypothetical laid out above seems fairly likely.

In other words, even if high school lefthander Matt Smoral, projected in several mock drafts to be the Rangers’ top pick, fell all the way to number 53 (Toronto popped him at 50), I’d say it’s doubtful – given the new rules – that Texas would have taken him.

Interestingly, leading up to the draft BA wrote that Wiles was “considered all but unsignable and likely will slide in the draft.”  The opposite appears to have been the case, as the 18-year-old will apparently let Vanderbilt know he’s choosing to turn pro.

Preller and Fagg described Wiles as a premium strike-thrower with good arm action and a “very projectable body.”  Reports tell us the lanky 18-year-old sits in the upper 80s with the ability to reach back for more (and certainly projects for more as he fills out), offers a promising slider with tight spin, and has some feel for a changeup.  He posted an ERA of 0.10 in 49.1 innings, which I don’t think is correct because giving up one earned run over that span would produce an 0.18 ERA, or an 0.14 ERA using a modified seven-inning basis, but the point is it looks like the kid gave up one earned run all season.  He fanned 76.

The Wiles pick didn’t pop like the Brinson and Gallo selections that prompted Goldstein to tweet that “the Rangers should be awfully happy at this point to get that kind of upside at 29 and 39.  Wow.”

But the Wiles pick may serve the dual purpose of adding another high-upside righthander to the system and improving the chances to get a guy like Gallo signed.

Five years ago, Jon Daniels and his crew set out on a critically important mission, as the decision had been made to trade Mark Teixeira as the first piece in a strategic teardown designed to make the Texas Rangers a perennial contender.  As Evan Grant would report in a piece for Baseball America (and as recounted in the JD e-Book):

“‘Now is not the time to be shy about taking risks,’” [Daniels] told his team of scouts. “By definition, these trades were going to be risks.  We focused on high-ceiling players with athleticism that played premium positions, and pitching depth. . . . To make this [plan] work, we needed impact players.”

No to Joe Saunders and Casey Kotchman, effective big leaguers with limited upside.  Yes to 22-year-old Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 21-year-old Matt Harrison, 20-year-old Beau Jones, 19-year-old Neftali Feliz, and 18-year-old Elvis Andrus, not to mention 17-year-old Engel Beltre, acquired from Boston the same day.

And yes to 18-year-old Lewis Brinson and 18-year-old Joey Gallo and 18-year-old Collin Wiles.  Three high school picks.  Three projectable high school picks.  Three projectable high school picks who are evidently ready to turn down elite college programs like Florida, LSU, and Vanderbilt to start their pro careers.

The strength of this baseball team at the big league level, and the depth on the farm, both brought about by what the Daniels group whiteboarded in 2007 and executed with assassin’s precision, facilitate a draft strategy where you can go younger, and go for impact upside.

In organizations thinner on minor league talent, rolling the dice can be a shakier proposition, because making key draft picks pay off (higher floor, lower ceiling) is more critical to the big picture.

But as Goldstein tweeted late last night: “With a packed system and late picks, the Rangers tend to focus on upside athletes, regardless of the risk.”

Texas can afford to play the player procurement game that way because of how it’s positioned itself over years of killing it in scouting and player development.

The “best player available” philosophy that guides the Rangers defines “best” in a way that doesn’t take into account how quickly the player might get to the big leagues, or how likely it is that he reaches his potential (whatever that potential is), or what the state of the position he plays happens to be at that moment in the system.

You can never have too many good baseball players, and to be more precise, you can never have too many toolshed center fielders or power-hitting corner bats.

It may be true that you can’t put six center fielders on the field or play a handful of those corner bats up the middle, but if they’re the players you think they might be, someone out there will need them, or someone else they can replace, and that presents impact opportunities to get better, the moments that drive Jon Daniels and A.J. Preller and Kip Fagg and dozens of scouts out there doing the grindwork while the rest of us watch the big club fight to maintain a league-best division lead and find its way to a third straight World Series.

 
title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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