10 March 2010

What happens if the Nationals don't select Bryce Harper?

This will be the first of perhaps many posts looking at the Orioles option in the draft. Today's exercise is to try to determine who might be available and who might the Orioles select in the draft . . . and, more specifically here, at 1:3.

It has been long supposed that JuCo phenom Bryce Harper will be selected by the Washington Nationals. That he and Strasburg will provide the Nationals with a solid 2009 and 2010 draft value and, hopefully, lead to a renaissance or, more apt, a beginning for the Nationals franchise. Lately though, there has been some backlash against Harper's value, which was to be expected. The Sports Illustrated article took to hyperbole and created a "Bryce Harper" for everyone to focus on. Also, if the world is dedicated to him as being a phenom then scouts and journalists can zero in and magnify any imperfections. To a lesser extent, I think this happened to both Tyler Matzek and Grant Green.

Jonathan Mayo, prospect analyst for MLBlogs.com, rated Harper as the 4th overall prospect to begin the amateur season. He placed Anthony Renaudo, Drew Pomeranz, and Jameson Taillon ahead of Harper. I can understand Renaudo (seems like a sure thing) and Taillon (great potential), but think Pomeranz might be given too much credit. We'll see about that. BP's Kevin Goldstein said in a chat, "I've talked to a lot of scouts, scouting directors and front office people who have seen Harper. His power is absolutely friggin' unreal, no doubt about it, but there are questions about his barrel control, the length of his swing, and his ability to be anything more than a 1B down the road." That concern was later repeated by Buster Olney who mentioned that many scouts doubt that when Harper finishes growing that he may not have the quickness to catch up to MLB quality fastball.

That said, I still think he goes number one. Why might he not and how does that affect the Orioles? After the jump.

Here is what goes against Harper being drafted by the Nationals.

Drafting Harper does not fit the M.O. of the Nationals front office.
Mike Rizzo and Kris Kline seem unlikely to draft expensive "prep" players. Harper may be a JuCo, but age-wise he is a Junior in high school. He is also likely to see something in the neighborhood of 7.5MM dollars (about a 20% increase from Donovan Tate's bonus). With potential changes to draft bonus structure, I think Harper would not press too much for money similar to Strasburg's. Rizzo/Kline are more likely to select a solid/elite college prospect, an established JuCo, or a slot prep. Who are those guys?

College Prospect?
Anthony Renaudo . . . the right hander will cost about 8MM or so with Boras calling the shots. He should be a fast riser and be a solid arm to slot right next to Strasburg. I think he rates out more as a workhorse number 3 pitcher. I am assuming his arm discomfort is not a long term issue. If the injury does become an issue, then the next closest ones fitting this mold are Drew Pomeranz and Deck McGwire. Neither of those profile quite the same way as a healthy Renaudo.

Established JuCo?
LeVon Washington . . . Washington just is not a quality number 1 pick and would be something Washington would do if it focused on being slot. Two things stand out against Washington: a severe arm injury (some say he currently rates as a 20, but that is sure to improve though not certain to what degree) and that he is largely without a position (most likely profiles as a LF, but some may try to shoehorn him in as a 2B). If the Nationals do go slot, I could see something more like Zach Cox or Chris Sale from the college ranks or a prep.

Prep for slot?
AJ Cole . . . he would be the signing here if the Nationals wanted to go for slot here. I don't think they do. Cole is a solid arm with projection left in his frame and offerings. As a pro, he profiles as having a great fastball and a potentially plus curve.

So, the only potential pick I see for them outside of Bryce Harper is Anthony Renaudo. For this to happen, Renaudo needs to bounce back from his elbow discomfort and show it is of no concern.

What does Pittsburgh do?
Pittsburgh has shown two styles with their draft: spend big on a polished, elite college player or go slot. Thinking this, I cannot see Bryce Harper being drafted by the Pirate brain trust. He has enough chinks in the armor for the small market Pirates to shift cost elsewhere. I'm sure a lot of gnashing of teeth will happen in lazy writers' columns across America, but it makes some sense and is a logical perspective.

Renaudo would be the obvious elite, polished prospect that the Pirates would attach themselves to. In his absence, I could see them pursuing Deck McGwire (RHP, Junior, Georgia Tech), Drew Pomeranz (LHP, Junior, University of Mississippi), or Christian Colon (SS, Junior, Cal State - Fullerton). I could also see LeVon Washington going here if the Pirates believe his arm is sound.

Now what do the Orioles do?
At this point, Bryce Harper has passed by the Nationals and the Pirates who probably both fear that he commands more in a signing bonus than what he is worth. Industry sources seem to think that the Orioles are willing to spend top dollar on an elite prospect, but there is some concern over the Matusz and, particularly, Hobgood picks that there may be some cost restraint. I can see this going three ways with the third way being a bit hard to determine.

Scenario 1: Fans Rejoice
Bryce Harper is selected by the Orioles and given a MLB contract in exchange for accepting a 6.5MM signing bonus. This leaves the Orioles with about 2.5MM left in their budget and they go slot for the rest of the draft with one or two moderate overslots. There would be nothing similar to the deals handed to Michael Ohlman and Cameron Coffey. If not selected here, I have a hard time seeing him get past the Royals.

Scenario 2: Fans Grumble
Jameson Taillon is selected and signs for 6.5MM to a MiL contract. Again, the rest of the way the Orioles choose to go slot. Taillon is a big, tall righty who is certainly an elite talent. He is current the player who most analysts assume the Orioles will select (with Harper going first). If not selected here, Taillon will probably go to either the Royals or may slip all the way down to 15 to the Rangers. He will demand a big pay day or else will go off to college.

Scenario 3: Fans Froth and Take to the Streets
The Orioles think that Harper's worth is severely limited if he is stuck at first base. They may also think that paying north of 6MM for Taillon is a poor use of their budget. In this case, they may go slot just like the Pirates. I can see them also being interested in McGwire, Pomeranz, and Colon. I could also see them being interested in AJ Cole or Stetson Allie (RHP, Senior, St. Edward HS OH). In this scenario, they would pay about 3MM to sign their player and then aggressively pursue several overslot prospects. Most of those this year will again be pitchers. In general, the talent level in this draft class is not considered as deep as last year's.

What do I think right now about this course of events?
I think they select whoever Joe Jordan can get for less in order to be able to sign one or two overslots later in the draft. There just will not be enough viable overslots in my opinion for that route to be taken. I think the Orioles will rate Harper and Taillon as 1A and 1B. Jordan leans toward pitching in his evaluation, so I think Taillon has the edge here. Jordan also seems to really focus on personal interaction with draftees. If Taillon players up his commitment, it might turn Jordan off even though it would be obvious that it would be a ploy. Taillon cannot earn more money by going to college. In part, I wonder if that is why the Orioles downgraded Matzek to such an extent. So, I haven't answered the question . . . Bryce Harper. He wants to sign. Though, he wants to sign for a lot of money.

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