2011 Texas Rangers Draft Recap: Athletes & "Up-the-Middle-Drafting"
The second two days of the Draft, this is the time when the average fans tunes out and even the die-hards lose interest. But don't be mistaken, World Series championships are won and lost on this day. It is such an interesting two days because there are so many different ways that a front office can go at this point. Seriously, there are so many that I won't even beginning to explain, instead later on I'll focus on an outline of the Rangers basic draft strategy. As for Day Three of the Draft, well this is when their is a small percent of around 0.1% of all baseball fans follow these names and even know what is occurring. But again with that said, there have been many diamond in the roughs found on the third day.
Now to answer one quick question, the second and third day of the MLB Draft leads teams into 50 rounds of drafting. Why you ask are there so many rounds? Two reasons, one is that it goes to show you how many players are working toward a career in professional baseball. And teams are bringing in over an enitre roster of players to filter into their Fall Instructional leagues, Latin American summer leagues, Rookie Ball, Short season A-ball, and even some into the A-, AA-, and AAA-farm teams. Two, just because a player is drafted, doesn't mean they will sign. In fact, on average teams only sign around 35 of their picks. Players don't sign for multiple reasons, they feel they are worth more money or they want to play college ball as opposed to instructional ball.
Before I get into the Rangers drafting recap, I have a couple more notes on the first two selections that will help get a better understanding of these two young men. The Rangers 33rd pick Kevin Matthews may have a tweeter account called "UVAbound11," but he got that many months ago and hasn't even tweeted from it since February. Matthews, according to the Savannah Morning News, was watching the Draft at his mom's house with some friends. When he heard his name called, he was jumping up and down, even broken a popcorn bowl, he then spoke to his father on the phone and both were in tears. Matthews won't come cheap as a signing (no first-rounder does), but the early signs point to him more than likely signing with the Rangers. It's true that he isn't of tall stature, but this sub-6-footer has something in common with another recent Ranger, high school pitcher signee...Robbie Erlin. In fact, I heard a couple people today compare Matthews to Erlin, stating he has a similar makeup, but is more "athletic." I want you to remember that word. The Rangers second pick, 37th Zach Cone, centerfielder at the University of Georiga will be an interesting case, and none of us will have a real good understanding of it until at least three years. Back in March, Cone collided with a teammate in the outfield (Jonathan Taylor), the collision left Cone with a concussion and bruised hip but his teammate was left partially paralyzed. Without a doubt it seemed obvious that this injury affected Cone, and no one in their right mind would blame him. His tools, "athletism" and potential are off the chart and the Rangers believe with the right professional coaching he could become a star hitting and fielding, true-centerfielder. At the beginning of the season Baseball America writer Jim Callis spoke about this pre-season All-American and said he might be the most athletic player in college baseball. He projected him to be a mid-first round selection...then the incident occurred. If Cone is able to rebound, adjust from professional coaching, and fit back into the highly-touted prospect many scouts thought he would be, then the Rangers could have the biggest steal of the draft. But of course, need to sign him first.
With those recaps out of the way here is a quick rundown of the Rangers' highlights from the second and third day of drafting:
83rd pick - Will Lamb - LHP/OF - Clemson Univ. - strong, strong hitter with high pitching potential, very "athletic"...think Mitch Moreland
113th pick - Kyle Castro - RHP - Pleasant Grove HS (CA) - another strong, athletic high school arm who needs some mechanical adjustments
174th pick - Brandon Woodruff - RHP - Wheeler HS (MS) - already at 6'4", 215-lbs. this athletic high school arm projects to be a ML power thrower
204th pick - Derek Fisher - OF - Cedar Crest HS (PA) - pure athlete, but I can't give you a good idea right now. I'll touch on him in a minute...smiling
234th pick - Max Pentecost - C - Winder Barrow HS (GA) - athletic high school catcher who projects well as a defensive backstop
294th pick - Rashad Harlin - CF - Helix HS (CA) - athletic arm, speed, and potential for the power
354th pick - Connor Sadzeck - RHP - Howard College - 6'5" collegiate arm who could be a flame-thrower once he hits a pro lifting routine, transferring to Univ. of Texas if not signed
384th pick - Gregory Williams - LHP - Marshall - first left-handed arm, athletic, young man who is a big kid and a workhorse
594th pick - Nathan Harsh - RHP - Brunswick HS (GA) - 18-year-old, pure athlete stands 6'5" and 211 pounds.
834th pick - Kyle Devore - RHP - Sacramento CC (CA) - athlete who fits the build (6'4", 215-lbs) of a ML pitcher
924th pick - Phillipp Klein - RHP - Youngstown State - 6'7", 230 pounds, very athletic, has the tools but needs some serious ML refining
954th pick - Matthew Leeds - 1B - Coll. of Charleston - switch-hitting, athletic, toolsy first baseman
1014th pick - Jonathan Taylor - OF - Univ. of Georgia - more on this young man in a minute
1164th pick - Tucker Donahue - RHP - Stetson Univ. - touch mid-90s with fastball, projected hard-throwing setup type pitcher, stock rising incredibly rapid due to his postseason shutdown performances...diamond in the rough potential
1254th pick - Tyler Scott - OF - Marin Catholic HS (CA) - big, powerful, projectable corner outfielder, already 6'3" - 220 pounds
1314th pick - Kaleb Merck - RHP - TCU - athletic arm for his 200-pound frame, projects to be another late inning reliever
1404th pick - Tyler Powell - RHP - Myers Park HS (NC) - another large frame HS arm (6'5" - 225 lbs.), whose ceiling is dependent on ability to adjust
1523rd pick - Kenneth Wiser - RHP - Linfield College - 6'7", 235 pound flame-thrower, will need an overhaul of mechanics and command, but love his size
I talked earlier about strategy on the second and third days of the draft, obviously I can't be certain what is going on in the Rangers front office, but I can give you a really good idea of their thought process. Jon Daniels briefly talked about this after the first night of drafting, he spoke about drafting athletes. and high-risk / high-reward players. Of course he spoke of smartly going about this method of drafting, but when done smartly it can be very rewarding. But the part that I want to focus on more than anything, and I told you to remember these earlier...drafting athletes. I don't want to minimize how difficult it is to be a Major League baseball player, let alone a professional player, but if you have an athlete he will perform. I'm certain you noticed throughout this article the BOLDED athletes, this was meant to show how many of the draftees this season are regarded as athletes and pure athletes.
Alexi Ogando, Mitch Moreland, and Matt West...what do these three men have in common? Not only are they prospects signed and developed in the Rangers farm system, nor that the three are very athletic, but it's how they came to their current positions that should interest you. All three originally played completely different positions than they do today. Ogando was originally an outfielder and once his development stalled the Rangers signed him and turned him into a pitcher. Needless to say this one is working out well now for Texas. When at Mississippi State, Moreland was the closer, in fact a couple years ago the Rangers nearly moved Moreland out of the outfield and back to pitching. Can you imagine this team now without Moreland holding down 1B and RF. Finally is West, may not know about this young man, but he has drafted and developed as an infielder. Year after year he struggled with his batting average, always very near .200, but the Rangers made the decision to make a change. Texas is now developing him as a pitcher, most likely a reliever, and West has responded very well. His mechanics and command are improving daily and his fastball is already touching the upper-90s.
The final piece the Rangers did in draft strategy is something that I subscribe to and absolutely live by, and that is "Draft Up the Middle" strategy. What this means is that you draft the players that play up the middle: Catcher, Starting Pitchers, Second Baseman, Shortstop, and Centerfielder. These are the most complete players at younger ages, seriously think about that, the best of the best play these positions and then adjust to the others.
Any Catcher can adjust and move to First Base or Third Base...if needed. Any Starting Pitcher can adjust and move to relief or closer roles, and even back into the field...if needed. Any Second Baseman or Shortstop can move to corner infield and outfield positions...if needed. Any Centerfielder can adjust and move to the corner outfield spots...if needed.
In 2011 the Texas Rangers made 51 draft selections, 46 of these selections fall into the strategy.
My favorite pick - is the Rangers 6th round selection (#204), Derek Fisher a left-handed hitting outfield (projected corner outfielder) who could become the best pick by Texas in the entire draft. He is constantly compared to another eastern Pennsylvania hitting prospect, Mike Trout, you know arguably the #1 prospect on ALL of baseball right now Mike Trout. Fisher's downside is a below-average arm, but that is really it. He has a very advanced plate discipline and projects to be a .300+ hitter, with 25-30 HRs a season. Texas will likely need to go above slot money to sign him away from Univ. of Virginia, similar to Matthews. But the Rangers budget has allowed for this and I don't see how Texas won't muster up the money and sign this young man. I was very high on the second pick Cone, but I'm evener higher on this young man, he could be that major diamond in the rough.
Greatest moment in the 2011 Draft - I won't go into detail, but referring back to the story from earlier in regards to Zach Cone and now partially paraylzed teammate Jonathan Taylor. Well, if you noticed this up above, in the 33rd round with the 1014th pick the Texas Rangers made a touching gesture and selected Taylor. When I heard the news earlier, I was touched and very proud to call myself a fan, ok fanatic, of the Texas Rangers. I stand and applaud the Rangers front office for this gesture. The team even got Taylor his own jersey and had it signed by the entire team. Taylor and Cone are the best of friends and before the injury were inseperable on and off the field. The two played and roomed together while playing in the Cape Cod summer league, and both were considered to be high draft picks in 2011. In fact the two had a joke of a dream that the two could play in the same outfield for the same team. This is an organization that prides itself on the family atmosphere, and this gesture is consistent with exactly that. Texas drafted and will welcome a new member to their family in Zach Cone, they also felt it necessary to bring his "brother" along to. Doctors are cautiously optimisitic that Taylor will one day regain enough strength to walk again, and I truly will pray for the young man to regain that ability as well.