Saturday, September 09, 2006

Class of '06

As Staten Island begins their playoff run today, I think that it would be a good time and reflect upon the 2006 draft class. How did it shape up? Were expectations met? What can we expect next year? Yankee fans should be very happy with the answers to these questions.

2005 was supposed to be a great draft year. Between J.B. Cox, C.J. Henry, Austin Jackson, Bret Gardner, and a talented set of college starters which included Lance Pendleton, Zach Kroenke, Alan Horne, and sudden ace reliever Josh Schmidt added to an international class that included studs Jose Tabata and Ramiro Pena.

Well, one year later this group of potential stars has turned out to be disappointing. Cox had a great year, but C.J. Henry and Austin Jackson did not perform well at Charleston, resulting in Henry's trade to Philadelphia. Kroenke flopped after an impressive debut in Staten Island, displaying how important strikeouts really are. Alan Horne disappointed at Tampa, while Pendleton missed the entire season with an injury. Outfielders Gardner and Tabata were solid despite injuries, while Ramiro Pena showed a complete lack of hitting ability.

All this proves one lesson: half-season numbers are not reliable. They can be very important, but in the long run they rarely hold up.

What happened this year?

1st round pick Ian Kennedy pitched just 2.2 innings for Staten Island after signing for just over 2 million dollars, allowing no runs. He will start Game 3 for Staten Island. His fellow first round pick Joba Chamberlain signed late for 1.1 million, and in doing so missed the entire minor league season. He is expected to consider winter ball, and is currently working out in Tampa.

The Yankee's next pick (after losing their 2nd round pick to Boston for Mike Myers) was 3rd rounder Zach McAllister. McAllister performed well in the Gulf Coast League, going 35 innings, striking out 28 while walking 12. His ERA was 3.09. If any lesson is learned by Zach Kroenke however, it is that McAllister's good but not great performance in the short season is a poor indicator of whatever may come.

McAllister was followed up by 5th rounder George Kontos. A failing college pitcher, Kontos was a big risk. But the Yankees listened to their scouts and Kontos thrived against wooden bats, going 78 innings while striking out 82, walking 19, and using his heavy 93 mph 2 seamer to allow just just 2.64 earned runs per 9. His partner in crime was Tim Norton, posting a nearly identical 2.60 ERA in 72.1 innings, striking out 83 and walking 14 (posting one of the better k/bb ratios in the minors). They start games 1 and 2 for Staten Island. They are certainly a fearsome duo.

These two college starters were followed by tough signs Dellin Betances and Mark Melancon in the 8th and 9th rounds. Betances absolutely dominated, posted an ERA under 1.20 in 23 innings, striking out 27. Melancon signed fairly late, resulting in him only pitching 6.2 innings, posting a 4.05 ERA and 6 strikeouts. Still, Melancon has inspired enough confidence to be crowned Staten Island's closer for the playoffs over Nick Peterson.

The Yankees drafted two more relievers in the 10th and 11th round, picking up Casey Erickson and Nick Peterson. Erickson flopped, post a 4.91 ERA in 29.1 innings after a hot start. Nick Peterson however excelled, posting a 2.06 ERA in 35 innings, striking out 51 while walking a very high 29. He is a big candidate for regression next year, with such poor control.

The Yankees drafted a black eye in the 12th, taking Daniel McCutchen. McCutchen, a college starter, was pretty impressive for Charleston (Staten Island's rotation was filled already), posting a 1.86 ERA in 29 innings, while striking out 29. Unfortunately, he tested positive for steroids. He is currently serving out his suspension. Who knows what to expect of him next year.

22 year olds Gabe Medina and Paul Patterson worked well out of Charleston's bullpen, posting ERAs of 2.97 and 3.72 in 30 and 36 innings. Medina managed to strike out 38 in his 30 innings. Both should be a part of a stellar Tampa bullpen next year with Mark Melancon and Nick Peterson.

Somehow, the Yankees got Sophmore Dave Robertson to sign out of the 17th round. Reports are it took only 600,000 dollars. Robertson has not pitched yet, but will bring his dynamic stuff to either Charleston or Tampa next year. He is a candidate for closer in Charleston, as he only pitched one season in college. His control problems will need to be fixed, but his stuff is first rate.

Position players Colin Curtis and Mitchel Hillgross enjoyed good first years. Hillgross lacked power, but managed to post a .352 OBP to go along with a slug% under .400. Curtis was better, batting .307 with a .358 OBP and .436 Slg%. Neither will hit a ton of home runs, but Curtis profiles to be a decent centerfielder. He'll be in Tampa next year. Hillgross may start in Charleston, depending upon where Ramiro Pena plays shortstop.

The international free agent market brought the Yankees Jesus Montero. This 16 year old catcher is called the best hitter to come out of Venezuela since Miguel Cabrera. He's a big guy though, at 6'3" 220 lbs at age 16. The Yankees intend on attempting to keep him at catcher, but a move to 1b or the outfield is not out of the question. He will either start at Charleston next year or with the short season Gulf Coast Yankees. Bet on Charleston.

My take? It was a great year, though not the absolutely mind blasting year that myself and other pundits were envisioning. When you take a step back and look at a lot of these draftees, you see a lot of candidates for regression. Nick Peterson isn't going anywhere with that many walks, and nor likely is Dave Robertson until he solves his college-age control problems. McAllister and Betances have looked stupendous, but both are very young and have a long way to go. If two of Kennedy, Chamberlain, Kontos, and Norton manage to excell in A ball enough to earn a promotion to Trenton, we should be very happy. Melancon looks great, but he isn't going to rise as fast as Cox did. Colin Curtis doesn't have the kind of upside that even Gardner did, although he may find a little more power.

In the end, this draft is not likely to outshine 2004 (Hughes, Garcia, Marquez, Brett Smith, Jason Jones, and Angel Reyes), although few ever will. It will however likely do better than the decent 2003 class (Clippard, Duncan, White, Beam, Karstens, Corona), and certainly better than the 2005 class. It is my personal belief that Kennedy, Kontos, Melancon, Curtis, and Montero will shape into good prospects next year, while the others fall off.

The Yankees due have one huge calculated advantage from the 2006 draft however. With the dominance of college talent, the cream should rise to the top fairly quickly. A solid college prospect will be ready for the majors in 2-3 years (instead of 4-5 years for a high schooler). By 2008-2009, the Yankee core will be needing replacements. Both the 2004 and 2006 draft class will be ready to fill in. Timing is everything. Good job Brian Cashman.