Let’s preview the preview by saying this: the baseball draft isn’t usually that exciting. It’s not like the football draft where you want to see what college star your team takes in the first round, or the basketball draft where you wonder if they’re taking that great senior guard or the freshman 7 footer. This is baseball. Unless you really follow amateur baseball, or live in the sun belt where college baseball actually is a real sport, you’ve never heard of ANY of these people. This year’s draft is on June 7th, and will be televised on ESPN.

What encouragement to read on!

But this year the Nats have 5 picks in the first 2 rounds. That includes the supplemental draft (used to be called the sandwich round. Because it’s delicious) and it works out that their #5 pick is the #71 overall. Not a bad way to go into a draft when the team is trying to rebuild. It would be nicer if something like this happened 3 years ago, but if they want to build a strong team, they need a strong farm system year in and year out. This year’s draft could wind up being very important to the team’s future and is definitely worth looking at.

First of all, how do the Nationals get so many darn picks? Well, everyone gets 1 pick in each round (duh) and then they get supplemental picks for losing free agents. Losing Type A free agents or type B free agents garners a supplemental round pick (in between rounds 1 and 2, so it’s good compensation). Also, if a team loses a Type A free agent, it gets the signing team’s 1st-round pick, unless it’s one of the top 15 picks, in which case it gets a 2nd-round pick. Type C free agents no longer get any compensation, thus eliminating the supplemental second round.

Wait… what did you just say?

This seems confusing, but the Soriano situation gives us a perFonsyfect example of what is going on. Soriano was a Type A free agent (A, B, C has to do with being in the “top” in their position… let’s not concern ourselves with this right now) and the Cubs signed him. So the Nats get a pick in the supplemental draft and should also get the Cubs first round pick. EXCEPT, the Cubs had pick number 3 in the first round. Since it is one of the first 15 picks, the Cubs do not have to give it up. Instead they lose their second round pick. It may seem unfair, but this could be very good for the Nats if they sign a Type A free agent this next season. They won’t have to lose their (probable) top 5 draft pick in 2008.

Anyway, in the first 2 rounds of the draft, plus the supplemental round in between, Washington has 5 picks :

#6 – Nationals first round pick
#31 – supplemental pick for Type A Soriano
#49 – supplemental pick for Type B Guillen
#68 – Cubs second round pick for Type A Soriano
#71 – Nationals second round pick

5 picks in the first 71 is pretty good. The nice thing for the Nats this season is that they can spend money on young stars. One of the big market/small market problems that has trickled down to the draft is the signing bonus size. As the big money teams have realized that focusing on a good draft is important, they have given out big signing bonuses. So some of the best players fall lower on the list than they should as a team like Kansas City or Tampa Bay feels they don’t have a $2 million signing bonus to give to an unproven high school player. One of the benefits of having a relatively high revenue stream while having the third lowest payroll is that the Nats won’t have to do this. They can grab whoever is highest on their board without fear of not being able to afford to sign them.

The problem with the draft is the same problem with the basketball and football draft, only amplified. Or X-Treme if we were trying to sell stuff. Anyway, just as in the other sports, you never know what you are going to get. But it’s worse with baseball because these guys have never played at the level of competition that they would see even in AA baseball. College baseball is competitive and good, but it isn’t deep compared to the minors and they still use freaking metal bats! It’s a bit of a crapshoot and despite Moneyball there is still alot of reliance on a guys makeup than what he’s already done for teams. Which may or may not be the correct way to draft. So what if a guy has 5/1 K/BB ratio in college? After all, it’s only college. Well the ERA of the A’s homegrown pitching staff over the last decade indicates that even if Billy isn’t always right, he seems to know how to draft pitchers.

If you haven’t read Moneyball yet, don’t read it for the Billy Beane bio, or the sabermetric introduction. People will tell you that the central premise of the story is that the statistics we are used to using in scouting (40 yard dash time, RBIs, Average) are relics of the past, and the informed scout/GM will use other stats. But the real story of the book, and the great reason to read it, is that it is the story of how a team with little money had to figure out how to draft 5 of the first 41 picks and sign them. More importantly, they needed to be guys who were relatively low risk (if that’s possible in the draft) because Oakland couldn’t go signing free agents with their budget. It is a fascinating story and they ended up looking pretty good signing current Major Leaguers Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Jeremy Brown and Mark Teahen. Also there is the statistical part – the book was so influential that most teams now have a dedicated statistical analyst on their full time staff (including Washington, someone should introduce that guy to Nook Logan).

What to watch for

So who are they going to draft? No idea. Not a clue. TNJeter CardR pays attention to college and high school baseball as much or less than you do. But we have time and incentive to do a little research and get a rough idea of what may happen. Also, after the draft, you can definitely find a summary of what happened here on TNR. The 2007 draft is supposed to be a pretty good one (i.e. deep), but there aren’t many superstars. This is also good news for the Nationals, who have many high picks but only one in the first round. A quality, deep draft is what they want in this situation, more than a shallower draft with some great guys up top. The Nats high pick could yield something really special. Past #6 picks include Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Jeremy Sowers, Rocco Baldelli, Andrew Miller and, oh yeah, the soon to be all time HR king, Barry Bonds. Love him or hate him, the Nats would be lucky to get someone of his talent. But there have also been some big busts and the position. Guys like Ryan Harvey and Josh Carp were drafted sixth, and only 2 drafts since 1995 have 9 out of 10 players in the majors, 1995 and 1998. Both of these drafts have their #6 pick on the outside looking in.

Who will the Nats get?

In terms of their top pick, #6, well there are several players that have been forecast to go here. Jim Callis of Baseball America was kind enough to forecast 3 players going in this spot, with an actual pick and 2 other possibilities. The actual pick he forecasted was Max Scherzer, a right handed pitcher. Scherzer is a risk, he can throw in the mid to high 90s, but had bicep tendinitis that kept him from being picked high last season, so he played a year in the independent league. He is extremely talented, one of the best RHP in the draft, but will he be healthy enough to make the majors? Callis also mentioned the Nats could take Rick Porcello, another righty who Baseball America considers the #4 prospect in the draft. He is the top high school pitcher in the draft, has a live fastball and is forecast to be a #1 pitcher some day. The third and final possibility, according to Callis, is Phillipe Aumont, a Canadian RHP from high school who is 2 meters tall (that’s 6′ 7″ in America-talk). He is from Quebec and apparently the Expos holdouts hiding in the Washington offices’ ventilation systems are really pushing for him.

Thanks to some exclusive access we were able to ask Keith Law of Scouts, Inc. and ESPN who he thought the Nats would draft (this exclusive access consisted of submitting a question to one of his ESPN chats) way back on May 16. This was his response:

Just a guess, but I’d say Jason Heyward, a very talented OF/1B from rural Georgia, or maybe Jarrod Parker. It’s still really early, though. Most teams haven’t had their predraft meetings yet to start to set up their overall rankings.

Heyward, for the record, is an OF with power out of high school who is considered one of the best raw talents available, if not the best. Parker is yet another righty pitcher out of high school, and has touched 98 mph on the radar gun this spring. So there you have it, check out the draft, or just check back here after the draft where you’ll see an assessment of the day.

By Charlie