Top Draft-And-Follows Re-Enter Draft
By Jim Callis
May 30, 2006
The 2006 draft crop may be the worst since 2000, but it just got better at midnight Tuesday. The top three draft-and-follow prospects from 2005 failed to come to terms with the teams that held their rights, infusing this year's talent pool with three more first-round-caliber righthanders.
That Luke Hochevar and the Dodgers wouldn't reach an agreement was a foregone conclusion. But the breakups between Pedro Beato and the Mets and Bryan Morris and the Devil Rays came as a surprise.
Hochevar tied for the NCAA Division I lead with 15 wins and led Tennessee to the College World Series in 2005, when he rated as the second-best starting pitcher in the draft. He was a candidate to go No. 1 overall to the Diamondbacks before questions about his signability dropped him to Los Angeles at No. 40.
Negotiations proceeded slowly over the summer before coming to a head on Labor Day weekend. Hochevar switched agents from Scott Boras to Matt Sosnick and agreed to a $2.98 million bonus. Then he switched back to Boras, reneged on the deal and accused the Dodgers of trying to force him into a bad deal. At that point, it became nearly impossible to reach an agreement in which both sides could come out as winners.
Hochevar joined the Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association this spring, and each of his starts has drawn flocks of scouts. He has shown a 90-97 mph fastball and a mid-80s slider while flashing a plus curveball. His command and stamina understandably aren't in peak form after his 10-month layoff, but he has looked similar to how he did in early 2005. He probably won't require much time in the minors.
Hochevar's asking price reportedly is a $4 million big league contract similar to the deal fellow Boras client Craig Hansen got when he fell to the Red Sox as the No. 26 choice a year ago. Industry insiders expect that Hochevar will find a taker in a thin draft. The Mariners, who own the fifth overall pick and desperately need pitching prospects, have been mentioned with Hochevar more than any other club. The Royals (No. 1), Tigers (No. 6) and Diamondbacks (No. 11) also are possible destinations.
Where Beato and Morris will go in the draft is more uncertain. Most teams don't bother to scout other clubs' draft-and-follows very thoroughly, on the thinking that if they're good and signable then they'll sign with their controlling club. While it isn't known how far Beato and Morris were from signing, both are believed to have sought first-round money.
Clubs expected the Mets, who have plenty of money and gave up their 2006 first-rounder to sign free agent Billy Wagner, to get a deal done with Beato. They drafted him in the 17th round out of Brooklyn's Xavieran High in 2005, a year after he had Tommy John surgery.
Beato has made a full recovery and showed three plus pitches at times this spring at St. Petersburg (Fla.) JC: a low-90s sinker that touches 96 mph, a sharp mid-80s slider and a changeup. He has a classic pitcher's build at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds and just needs to smooth out his mechanics and command.
The Devil Rays selected Morris in the third round out of Tullahoma (Tenn.) High last June, and they eventually agreed on a $1.4 million bonus. But Tampa Bay's former front office twice delayed finalizing the deal, prompting Morris to attend Motlow State (Tenn.) CC, where his father Ricky is an assistant coach.
Morris' maintained his quality stuff this spring, showing his trademark power curveball and a 90-95 mph fastball with late life. He led Tennessee juco pitchers with a 0.91 ERA and also pulled double duty as a center fielder, a role in which he broke a bone in his left wrist on a headfirst slide. As with Beato, Morris' mechanics and command could use some improvement.
"At the end of the day, we couldn’t reach an agreement," Devil Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "We wish him well in the future. Now we’re focused on the upcoming draft."
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