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Midnight Approaches: While Strasburg Looms for Nats, Red Sox Lock Up Top Picks

08.17.09 at 12:58 pm ET
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Tick-tick-tick.

Midnight looms for major-league baseball teams to reach agreement with the players selected in this year’s June draft. And no issue looms larger than that of the future of top overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg and his negotiations — with the contributions of “adviser” Scott Boras — with the Washington Nationals.

Strasburg has been described as a once-a-generation talent, a pitcher with a more explosive fastball than Daniel Bard or Justin Verlander, capable of complementing that pitch with above-average off-speed stuff (a curve and changeup — and good luck to batters who are geared up for a 100+ mph fastball if he can also sell a changeup). The Nationals have already leaked word that they have made a record offer for a drafted pitcher, exceeding the $10.5 million that Mark Prior got to sign with the Cubs.

Of course, Prior offers something of a cautionary tale. He was viewed as a perennial Cy Young contender with perfect mechanics that made him virtually injury proof. Instead, following a collision while running with the bases in 2003 and heavy usage by then-Cubs manager Dusty Baker, prior encountered shoulder injuries that derailed his career. He has not pitched since 2006, another example of a huge prospect taken near the top of the draft who never panned out.

Prior is not alone. Brien Taylor was taken as the top draft pick by the Yankees in 1991, a left-handed pitcher who had stuff out the wazoo (including a 99 mph fastball) when he was taken out of high school. But he ruined his shoulder in a bar fight, and never reached the majors. In 2004, the Padres took shortstop Matt Bush with the top pick of the draft. He was arrested shortly after his selection, never proved able to hit in the minors, was eventually converted to pitching and, after that experiment failed (he blew out his shoulder), is not even pitching in the minors.

There are cautionary tales, to be sure. That said, it is possible to exaggerate the dangers of the top draft pick.

Since the draft was implemented in 1965, 19 of the 44 top selections (not including Strasburg, who has yet to turn pro) have made at least one All-Star team. Former top picks Ken Griffey, Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez have all put up Hall of Fame numbers in their careers; Joe Mauer is in his fifth full season of doing the same.

The common denominator of those players, aside from their draft status, is that they are all position players. Pitchers, on the other hand, have been a riskier lot, with just three of the 13 pitchers taken first overall making an All-Star team. (Even the group of All-Stars is anything but illustrious: Floyd Bannister, Mike Moore and Andy Benes weren’t exactly annual Cy Young contenders.)

Will Strasburg be able to fulfill his potential in a fashion that would be unprecedented for a pitcher taken with the top of the pick? Will he even seek the opportunity to do so, or will he walk away from an eight-figure offer from the Nationals in an effort to use his singular talent to bring down the draft system? The answers will start to come by midnight. And the baseball world will be watching with considerable fascination to see what will emerge from the Bermuda Triangle of Strasburg-the Nationals-Boras.

The Red Sox will be no different. For months, team officials have wondered what the future might hold for Strasburg. But Boston has been in the rather enviable position of detachment while watching Boras’ tireless efforts to claim millions of dollars for his amateur advisees this year.

The Sox did not draft a single Boras client this year. And so, the team has enjoyed a relatively calm negotiation period, in which the team has locked up most of the top talents whom it selected.

To date, the one significant disappointment for the Sox has been the fact that sixth-rounder Branden Kline will not sign. The right-hander was viewed as possessing immense potential, with the frame and delivery that suggested the potential for a mid-90s fastball and a nasty curve. But Kline didn’t play in a summer league, and instead seemed intent on fulfilling his academic and athletic scholarship to the University of Virginia.

Otherwise, the Sox have reached agreements with a raft of high-end talents. The team has spent particularly aggressively to secure the services of top prep talents, and in recent days, the team has spent almost $4 million to secure the services of players who fell in the draft due to questions about their willingness to sign.

The most prominent players who have signed with the Sox in recent days include:

–3rd-round pick David Renfroe (signed for $1.4 million), a pitcher and shortstop who earned some comparisons to David Wright; he will be groomed as a position player with the Sox

–7th-round pick Madison Younginer (signed for $975,000), a right-handed pitcher with a fastball that touches the high-90s and a slider that made his high-school opponents weep

–10th-round pick Brandon Jacobs (signed for $750,000), a powerful running back and outfielder who has what Sox amateur scouting director Jason McLeod describes as ‘€œgoofy power’€

–11th-round pick Justin Thompson (signed for $300,000), a shortstop who can also play second and third and shows a solid all-around game

–18th-round pick Renny Parthemore (signed for $150,000) is a right-handed power arm who shows the potential for an above average fastball and curve

–26th-round pick Miles Head (signed for $335,000, according to Jim Callis of Baseball America) is a corner infielder who showed significant power in several high school showcase events

When the smoke clears on Aug. 18, the Sox will have added a number of young players (mostly high schoolers) whom they hope will one day make an impact at the major-league level. That impact, clearly, is coming at some cost, though clearly nothing like what the Nationals are spending ‘€“ in time, money and sanity ‘€“ with Strasburg and Boras.

For the latest updates, Baseball America’s Draft Blog and the SoxProspects.com news blog are invaluable resources.

Read More: brandon jacobs, david renfroe, justin thompson, madison younginer
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