The first day of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft was yesterday, and in looking at the MLB Draft results and the reactions from around the interwebs, the reactions were rather negative in regards to the Texas Rangers' two selections.
At #33, the Texas Rangers took Georgia high school pitcher Kevin Matthews, a POUS (Pitcher Of Unusual Size), although the "unusual" is on the low end, rather than the high end...the lefthander is definitely below 6'0", although whether he's 5'8", 5'10", 5'11", we don't know.
The Rangers have gone this route before. They took small Southern lefty Kasey Kiker in the first round in the 2006 draft, and whiffed on him. They took small Southern lefty Robbie Ross in the second round in the 2008 draft, although Ross fell that far because of bonus demands, and Ross has looked like a solid prospect so far. They took small California lefty Robbie Erlin in the third round of the 2009 draft, and he's rocketed through the system, sitting at AA right now, and looking like a legitimate top 100 prospect in all of baseball.
So Matthews is another of that archetype, a small Southern lefthander who gets good grades for athleticism and clean mechanics, and whose velocity has varied dramatically, getting as high as 95 while primarily coming in in the upper 80s. The Rangers have tended to emphasize athleticism with the pitchers they draft, believing that athleticism helps for consistent mechanics which is the key to good command.
Matthews was a reach, if you look at the Baseball America and similar rankings, but as Kevin Goldstein pointed out, teams are going to take the guys that they like. This isn't the NFL, where if you think a guy is the 30th best pick, but he won't go until #60, you can trade down and still get him. You take your guy who is on the board when it is your turn.
While Matthews turned some heads, Zach Cone is the guy who caused the biggest uproar and controversy of yesterday's picks. A University of Georgia righthanded centerfielder, Cone had a terrible offensive year in 2010-11, and Keith Law, for example, reported that he was one the phone with a scout when the Cone pick came down, and the scout laughed at the pick. And as a college player, he's not viewed as having the same sort of upside potential as a toolsy high school pick.
After the jump, I'll offer my thoughts on Cone, and why I think the Rangers targeted him...
I covered a lot of this yesterday in the comments section of the draft posts, so if you've read this already, I apologize...
But here’s the way I think the Rangers look at the Cone pick.
One of the things Tom Grieve talked about last night is the shift in draft philosophy -- under Jon Daniels in recent years, the Rangers have aimed more for high variability, high upside guys with a higher flameout rate, rather than the "safer" pick, the polished or more skilled players who have lower ceilings, who may make the majors but profile as a second division starter or a backup.
I think the Rangers look at Cone and see a guy who can field, run and throw, and who has good raw power. Had a great sophomore year, which had him looked at as a potential first round pick, but followed that up with a terrible Cape Cod season last summer, then a bad year with the bat in his junior year.
He's clearly got some hitting ability, or else he wouldn't have hit as well as he did in his sophomore season. Jon Daniels, on the broadcast last night, talked about Cone's upside, and how the organization felt that there were some adjustments Cone could make, once he got professional coaching, that would allow him to better actualize his hitting tool.
So the organization looks at him, and their scouting department or the folks in player development system say, here’s a flaw in his swing, a correctable flaw. We fix this flaw, and we suddenly have a five tool player, someone whose ceiling is as an All Star caliber CF’er, a guy with a higher ceiling than even Leonys Martin, who was just given $15.5 million to be the centerfielder of the future.
Now, maybe there’s only a 10-15% chance that the swing fix takes and he becomes a major league caliber talent…but if you look at history, guys taken at that point in the draft generally have only about a 15% chance of ever being productive anyway.
The best player ever taken at #37 overall was Frank Viola, a terrific pitcher for the Twins and Mets. After him, the guys who were drafted and signed* at #37 who had at least 10 bWAR were Mike Scott (#2 at 20.2), Rick Miller, and Mike Heath. The players who were between 2 and 10 bWAR were Jacque Jones, Adam Jones, and 70s journeyman Ron Jackson.
* Troy Glaus was also picked at #37, but he didn't sign. You can include him if you want, but I generally don't include guys who don't sign in the "picked at pick X" talk, because the drafting team didn't get any benefit out of him anyway.
So you have three choices…you take a guy rated around #35 who, if he pans out, you think could be a decent major leaguer, but more likely will flame out.
You take a guy rated higher but who wants too much money, and you moneywhip him, understanding that you’ve got a finite budget and that if you spend $6 million on a Josh Bell, rather than $1 million on a Cone, you’re devoting $5 million to one guy, rather than, say, $3 million spread over 3 later over-slot guys and another $2 million spread between 5 Latin American signees.
Or you take a guy who has huge bust potential, but who also has the tools and ability to be a true impact player. A Nelson Cruz type, if you like.
The Rangers' strategy here is clearly to go with what is behind Door #3. Knowing that they aren't likely to have a premium draft pick, the type of pick that will get you a Gerrit Cole or a Bryce Harper or an Evan Longoria or a Troy Tulowitzki anytime soon, they decided to pull the trigger on a high variability guy, knowing that he probably has less of a chance of being a major leaguer than many other players they could have picked, but also believing that he has a better chance of being an impact major leaguer than most of the other players on the board (at least, those who would sign for slot).
I’m not saying I agree with the pick, but I can understand the thought process behind it.