Assigned the arduous task of bettering an unprecedented cache of young talent which figures to enviably position the Texas Rangers atop their four-team division for many years to come, general manager Jon Daniels, scouting director Ron Hopkins and a literal detachment of talent evaluators performed their jobs in a most admirable fashion during Day One of the MLB First-Year Player draft, refusing to deviate from the best-player-available dictum with their first two tremendously important bullets at picks No. 14 and No. 44 and somehow landing a pair of top-10 talents in the process. Remarkable.
What follows is an in-depth look at each of the four amateur players the Rangers procured with their first four picks, complete with draft position, field position, date of birth, physical information, school (where applicable), estimated slot money (via Lookout Landing -- please, please take these with a grain of salt, as I cannot confirm their validity at this time) and the best all-time picks at that respective draft position, as well as embedded MLB.com scouting video for your Rangers prospect edification. Enjoy:
No. 14: LHP Matt Purke | DoB: 07/17/90 | 6' 3", 180 lb.
School: Klein High School (Texas) | Estimated Slot: $1,600,000
Best No. 14 Picks: Tino Martinez (1988), Derrek Lee (1993), Jason Varitek (1994)
The widespread assumption from the outset of Day One was that Texas would select a home-state prepster with their top draft pick, but the lofty bonus demands of 18-year-old southpaw Matt Purke were expected to deter numerous teams and beget a pronounced fall down the draft board; case in point, Keith Law's ESPN.com mock draft pegged Purke falling into the Yankees' hands at No. 29, while Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus and Jim Callis of Baseball America both foresaw the Cardinals snapping him up at No. 19.
It took but a split-second for Brownwood High School right-hander Shelby Miller to evolve from the presumptive favorite to be selected by the Rangers at No. 14 into an afterthought, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in light of the fact that Miller has a really good fastball, deficient command, questionable secondary offerings and late-rising bonus demands of his own. Purke, meanwhile, embodies a refreshing and most-welcome reminder that owner Tom Hicks remains willing to bankroll the acquisition of top-tier amateur talent in spite of his financial difficulties, adhering to the plan which the front office painstakingly constructed two years ago in the hope of building baseball's next great powerhouse. Best player available, people. You've gotta stick to it.
A near-consensus top-10 talent, Purke is arguably the best left-handed pitching prospect in the draft -- rivaled only by Capistrano Valley High School prepster Tyler Matzek who was popped by the Rockies at No. 11 -- and unarguably among the most expensive; his reported Rick Porcello-esque bonus demands seem to fluctuate between $6-7 million but presumably won't include the demand of a major league deal, a condition which Texas wouldn't agree to anyway. The notion has been floated that the Rangers selected Purke for the sole purpose of intentionally not signing him and recouping a 2010 first-round draft pick as compensation, but I'm dismissing that nonsensical conjecture.
Scattered among Purke's quality offerings are his 89-92 mph fastball (which he can ramp up to 94 mph with regularity), thrown from a low three-quarters arm slot which generates sink and adds an element of deception, as well as a slider which Baseball America characterized as "among the best in the prep draft class." Purke also equips a high-70s curveball and seldom-seen change-up, the latter of which is thrown with the classic vulcan-style grip (generating split-finger action), akin to what injured right-hander Eric Hurley previously employed.
It doesn't require much imagination to envision Purke developing into a top-tier major league pitcher given his lights-out stuff and projectability; his mechanics are, however, a source of some concern, as Baseball Time in Arlington's Trip Somers recently explained in excruciating detail at TexasLeaguers.com (with his conclusion quoted here): "Overall, Purke's mechanics could be a lot worse. That said, I'm not a fan of his arm action at all. The slinging action reported by Baseball America is clearly present, and he puts a lot of torque on his elbow. Long term, he has almost no chance to stay healthy with these mechanics."
Purke worked out in front of team president Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Sunday (both of whom have lavished copious amounts of praise upon their new gem), a visit which the organization leveraged in the hopes of better discerning what exactly Purke was seeking. Interestingly, Ryan's minor league business partner, prominent Houston businessman Don Sanders, possesses a 50 percent stake in Select Sports Group, the Houston-based agency that is advising the Purke family (per D Magazine's Evan Grant), although to what extent that convenient coincidence might facilitate negotiations is uncertain.
Said Purke -- who posted a 1.18 ERA during his 47-inning senior campaign and amassed 91 strikeouts to just seven walks -- of the soon-to-ensue negotiating process: "We're going to work hard to get something worked out. I told them that I would negotiate and do what I can to be in a Rangers uniform. I think we'll get a deal done. I want to be wearing the red, blue and white. If not, though, I'll be in Fort Worth playing for TCU." It's my expectation that a deal will somehow get done, but negotiations will probably run up through 11:50 p.m. on August 17th -- this year's new draft signing deadline, due to the fact that the usual August 15th signing deadline falls on a Saturday this year, effectuating an extension from the league offices -- and Purke is going to nab a life-changing payday unless Texas refuses to acquiesce to his demands.
[Direct link available here.]
No. 44: RHP Tanner Scheppers | DoB: 01/17/87 | 6' 4", 200 lb.
Team: St. Paul Saints | Estimated Slot: $800,000
Best No. 44 Picks: Bob Wickman (1990), Jon Lieber (1992), Joey Votto (2002)
It was during the fateful first full week of May 2008 that Fresno State ace right-hander Tanner Scheppers first encountered the injury which would enable Texas to procure a consensus top-10 talent as late in the 2009 amateur draft as the supplemental first round -- albeit an injury which understandably decimated his draft stock at the time and no doubt contributed to his precipitous fall out of the first 32 picks during Tuesday evening's nationally televised proceedings.
While loosening in the bullpen prior to his scheduled start against Western Athletic Conference adversary San Jose State on Friday, May 9th, 2008, Scheppers experienced right shoulder tenderness that precipitated his late scratch and prompted Fresno State's coaching staff to push him back two days, although the only thing that ultimately accomplished was delaying the inevitable dose of bad news. A recurrence of right shoulder tenderness on Sunday, May 11th, 2008 once again forced Fresno State to back off from starting their prized right-hander, but assistant coach Matt Curtis optimistically proclaimed that Scheppers would be able to start against Sacramento State the following Saturday.
On Thursday, May 15th, a mere two days before that scheduled outing, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo reported that the source of Scheppers' discomfort was a stress fracture in his right shoulder that would necessitate a six-week hiatus. This diagnosis eventually proved inaccurate, although according to Kevin Goldstein, a relative level of ambiguity lingers around the exact nature of Scheppers' shoulder problems.
A report filed by Daniel Lyght of the Fresno Bee two days ago indicates that Scheppers incurred a slight tear of his right rotator cuff and a frayed labrum, while ESPN.com's Keith Law opted to characterize the injury as a "shoulder impingement"; in any event, Rangers team physician Dr. Keith Meister matter-of-factly stated that the shoulder injury, which was redressed through rehabilitation rather than surgery and was apparently caused by him being overworked, "was no longer an issue" -- an assessment with which famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum reportedly concurs. Scheppers recently told Marc Hulet of The Baseball Analysts that he performed shoulder exercises at the Athletes Performance Institute in Los Angeles for four months to build up the muscle around his rotator cuff, effectively strengthening his arm.
Scheppers was selected by the Pirates with the 48th-overall pick last June, although Scheppers and advisor Greg Genske of Legacy Sports failed to strike an agreement before the August 15th signing deadline -- this in spite of a late initiative on the part of Pittsburgh owner Bob Nutting, entailing the approval of an additional increase in the draft budget which apparently still fell short of Scheppers' bonus demands of $2 million -- and the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League swooped in to nab the hurler whom Baseball America had tabbed as the draft's 10th-best prospect shortly before the tsunami of shoulder problems inundated baseball's consciousness.
Described as the second-best college pitcher in the draft (behind, of course, the greatest draft prospect of all time, whose name is simply redundant at this point), Scheppers utilizes a standard four-pitch repertoire comprising a fastball, slider, curveball and change-up, although his heater is something more special than the "standard" label would imply. Scheppers' fastball, his reputed best pitch, reportedly sits in the 92-94 mph range with some late life and has been clocked as high as 97-98 mph -- an offering which he complements with a hard high-70s curveball with two-plane break (meaning it breaks both down and away from right-handed hitters), his second-best pitch, albeit one which he cannot consistently throw for strikes yet, and a mid-80s change-up which he has yet to harness. Said one anonymous scouting director of his mechanics: "He's got the best arm action, delivery and stuff in this draft behind [Stephen] Strasburg, and it's a cleaner arm than Strasburg."
Scheppers has expressed a willingness to sign as quickly as possible and begin his professional career, although that isn't necessarily an indication that he will, in fact, do so; his price tag could run as high as $4 million, although it isn't my expectation that Texas will meet those demands, forcing Scheppers to strike a compromise in the vicinity of $3-3.5 million. Make no mistake, however -- Scheppers is a top-10 talent, and Texas will be forced to part ways with top-10 money to seal the deal. Will they do so? My best guess is yes, but understand that this is neither a cheap nor a risk-free proposition. From a pure value standpoint, however, Texas could do no better, and if Scheppers fulfills his immense potential at the major league level, this will go down as one of the great supplemental-round steals in amateur draft history.
[Direct link available here.]
No. 62: 3B Tommy Mendonca | DoB: 04/12/88 | 6' 1", 200 lb.
School: Fresno State University (California) | Estimated Slot: $605,000
Best No. 62 Picks: Manny Delcarmen (2000), Andre Ethier (2003)
Deemed the 86th-best draft prospect by Baseball America, Mendonca is most famous for his heroic exploits in the 2008 College World Series -- which earned the power-hitting third baseman Most Outstanding Player honors, predicated in large part on the four home runs which he walloped during the course of the series that helped lift Fresno State to the Division I baseball championship -- and most recognizable for his immense power potential, undoubtedly his best tool. Mendonca was selected to Baseball America's 2009 Preseason All-American First Team alongside first-round talent in the vein of Dustin Ackley, Grant Green and Mike Leake.
Described as a "streaky" player in both offensive and defensive respects, Mendonca generates immense lift with a reportedly distinctive swing which involves initiating his swing with his hands high, then dropping them into an "angled launch position"; this particular element evokes concern in some scouts, as does his vulnerability to off-speed pitches and propensity for swinging and missing often, and gives rise to the notion that certain components of his swing might require rebuilding.
Mendonca set a new Division I record for strikeouts with 99 in 2008, followed by 64 strikeouts in 233 at-bats with Fresno State in 2009 (although he concurrently hit .339/.447/.721 with 27 home runs), and given the considerable frustration among the Rangers' fan base with regard to profuse strikeouts -- Chris Davis, anyone? -- and the perception that this pick might have been more about signability than true upside, I don't suspect Mendonca will become an immediate favorite of Rangers minor league observers upon his date of signing.
Reports admittedly vary on the quality and consistency of his defense; the Turlock, California native -- a former two-sport standout in high school -- drew criticism from Baseball America as a result of his purportedly questionable range on balls hit to his right and the inconsistency of his throwing arm, but has fared enviably both statistically and anecdotally from a defensive standpoint (with the latter being evidenced by the plurality of glowing media reports on his fielding prowess), and I suspect that Mendonca may not have been tabbed quite this high if the Rangers did not possess some degree of confidence that he would be able to stick at third base long term.
Was this an instance of over-drafting by scouting director Ron Hopkins and company? Perhaps, but after the Purke and Scheppers picks anything resembling an average selection was going to trigger some disappointment. It's an intriguing choice, albeit one with some questions attached, and one which could may prove underwhelming if the translation from a hitter-friendly home venue and aluminum bats doesn't go as smoothly as the Rangers apparently hope it will.
[Direct link available here.]
No. 93: LHP Robert Erlin | DoB: 10/08/90 | 5' 11", 170 lb.
School: Scotts Valley High School (California) | Estimated Slot: $381,000
Best No. 93 Picks: Paul O'Neill (1981), Javier Valentin (1993)
If you caught sight of Erlin's dexterity and physical profile and immediately thought of the diminutive left-handed-throwing minor league tandem of Kasey Kiker and Robbie Ross, you were right on target. The similarities are multifold and reflect the Rangers' confidence that his above-average stuff -- which prompted one scout to murmur, "If he were two inches taller, you'd be talking about him as a first-rounder" -- will override his below-average stature.
The Santa Cruz-area southpaw equips an 89-92 mph fastball in both four-seam and two-seam flavors -- with the latter being utilized more frequently -- which he throws with advanced feel and command, as well as a mid-70s hammer curveball and a mid-to-high-70s change-up with the potential to be an above-average offering. His poise, maturity, makeup and work ethic are all considered virtues, as are his health and clean, repeatable delivery (which are not unrelated), and his signed letter of intent with Cal Poly is not expected to present much of an obstacle so long as the Rangers don't attempt to low-ball him.
[Additional Reading: "Q&A with Rangers 3rd Round Pick Robbie Erlin" (Jason Cole, Scout.com)]