In the days leading up to this year's Rule 4 draft, first-year Rangers scouting director Kip Fagg made it abundantly clear that it was Texas's intent to peg high-upside players while, of course, abiding by the "best player available" dictum. It was also intimated that the Rangers would have some wiggle room to manuever above and beyond mere slot money. I suspect both assumptions have conspired to set a lot of people's heads spinning around in the last 12 hours after what some would consider to be a disappointing beginning to this year's draft class, and I can't assure you that I can do anything about that. But I can try.
What follows is an in-depth look at each of the four amateur players the Rangers procured with their first four picks yesterday, complete with draft position, field position, date of birth, physical information, school (where applicable), estimated slot money (via Lookout Landing, which I would advise you to take with a grain of salt) and the best all-time picks at that respective draft position, as well as embedded MLB.com scouting video for your Rangers prospect edification. Take a deep breath, and try to enjoy:
No. 15: OF Jake Skole | DoB: 01/17/92 | 6' 1", 200 lb.
School: Blessed Trinity High School (Georgia) | Estimated Slot: $1,560,000
Best No. 15 Picks: Richie Hebner (1966), Jim Rice (1971), Chase Utley (2000)
At no point in the last 3-4 years had the Rangers' scouting department approved the selection of a player completely out of left field with its first-overall pick; Blake Beavan was slot-appropriate for his level of talent back in 2007, whereas Justin Smoak and Matt Purke were both high-level prospects that managed to slip just far enough for Texas to obtain their draft rights. Jake Skole doesn't conform with that recently established precedent (particularly since he was not ranked among Baseball America's top 200 draft prospects going into Monday), and thus he naturally looks like a huge overdraft at first glance.
But to make that assumption omits other important variables, including the facts that (a) the Rangers had no choice but to identify and select a player whom they were absolutely certain would sign, lest the draft pick end up being relinquished for good, and (b) prospect rankings are fallible, especially draft prospect rankings, where talented players can slip through the observational cracks and end up being penalized for that in the subjective mainstream rankings. Such would appear to be the case with Skole to some degree, a player who epitomizes the classic high-tools, high-risk, high-reward high school draft prospect.
Skole counteracted the draft stock-depressing effects of his questionable signability and injury concerns -- he had a reasonably strong commitment to play both football and baseball at Georgia Tech, and missed nearly his entire senior baseball season with a right ankle injury -- with impressive offensive potential, boasting a powerful and compact swing which has evidently evoked some comparisons to Johnny Damon and Grady Sizemore. Mechanically speaking, he would seem to be somewhat lacking in lower-body leverage (as illustrated in the below video), something which Texas will presumably address once his professional career gets underway and all of the accompanying instructional benefits are made available to him. As you might expect from a high school player, his pitch recognition is not exactly polished.
There's some sharp divergence in opinion on his defensive fate (the Rangers seem to envision Skole as a dynamic center field prospect, whereas Baseball America describes him as a "fringe-average runner who profiles as a corner outfielder"), as well as on his position on the draft value continuum; grousing erupted en masse once the Skole pick went down yesterday, but other respected draft evaluators such as Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus lavished praise upon the pick, deeming the selection "brilliant" because of Skole's great tools and relative signability. The latter has already manifested, as Skole is reportedly close to a deal with Texas, and there's nothing better for a talented, albeit raw commodity than being exposed to top-notch professional instruction as soon as possible.
No. 22: C Kellin Deglan | DoB: 05/03/92 | 6' 2", 195 lb.
School: Langley High School (British Columbia) | Estimated Slot: $1,290,000
Best No. 22 Picks: Chet Lemon (1972), Rafael Palmeiro (1985), Craig Biggio (1987)
If Baseball America's Jim Callis is to be credited for nailing the Skole pick on the head in his final Monday morning mock draft, then ESPN.com's Keith Law deserves similar consideration, if not more -- he had Deglan ending up in the Rangers' clutches as far back as May 25th, which is remarkable considering how much prospect movement transpired in the various mock drafts over the last several weeks (although Law later altered that prediction, but the overriding point stands). What is less clear, at least beyond his inherently fuzzy development curve by virtue of being a high school catcher, is how Deglan will be perceived by the draft-educated portion of the fan base ... if that matters at all.
Regarded as Canada's top prep player this year, Deglan combines legitimate defensive chops and what Law describes as 60-grade power potential -- on the 20-to-80 scouting scale -- into a potent package that has left first-hand observers impressed; Baseball Time in Arlington's Jason Parks has seen Deglan play in person, and remarked last night that he "definitely" wields first-round talent. Swinging from the left side of the plate, Deglan reportedly possesses strong hands/wrists and good balance, but is also thought to be at risk of a "long" swing that could compromise his effectiveness against inside pitches; however, it's far too soon to pass judgment one way or the other.
Defensively, Deglan has all the appearances of being a near-immediate asset: his arm strength is above-average, his pop time (home plate-to-second base) has been clocked at an "encouraging" 1.85 seconds by Jason Parks, and his receiving skills/make-up are regarded as pluses. Texas has already agreed upon a below-slot $1 million signing bonus with Deglan, which will assuredly raise eyebrows, since this was the Rangers' first protected pick of the draft and the place where many would have liked to have seen Texas get aggressive. Did the Rangers screw up? Are they overvaluing make-up? Or are they simply pulling off a great bang-for-the-buck deal? I'm not qualified to answer those questions; I'm simply here to present both sides of the issue.
No. 45: RHP Luke Jackson | DoB: 08/24/91 | 6' 2", 180 lb.
School: Calvary Christian Academy (Florida) | Estimated Slot: $790,000
Best No. 45 Picks: Jerry Bell (1969), John Dopson (1982), Gerald Laird (1998)
This is a fascinating pick -- albeit a not-unexpected pick, especially since Keith Law had previously suggested the Rangers might be in on the Florida prep right-hander as early as the 15th- or 22nd-overall picks -- in that it really seems to drive home the prospect parity in this draft class outside of the top four picks or so. Case in point: Baseball America dispensed rave reviews for his raw stuff and athleticism, and went so far to state that Jackson, at his best, was "not far" from his much higher-ranked intrastate peers, Karsten Whitson and A.J. Cole -- both of whom were ranked among the top 16 prospects in the draft by the publication.
Described as another "late-helium" pick in the vein of Jake Skole, Jackson brandishes a 91-94 mph fastball that has been clocked as high at 96 mph -- a pitch which has some remaining projection velocity-wise -- and a "big" 12-to-6 curveball with abundant potential. His clean, repeatable delivery earns him points, but inconsistent command/control -- both grade out as 40 at the present and 50 in the future -- stemming in part from his late arrival on the high school baseball scene drove down his perceived value, as did some ambiguity around his signability; however, despite his commitment to pitch for the University of Miami, Jackson has reportedly expressed interest in playing pro ball, which would seem to suggest that a slightly above-slot enticement could sway him towards the Rangers' camp.
No. 49: Mike Olt | DoB: 08/27/88 | 6' 2", 215 lb.
School: University of Connecticut | Estimated Slot: $740,000
Best No. 49 Picks: Carney Lansford (1975), Jeff Suppan (1993), Carlos Beltran (1995)
From Baseball America: "Olt moved to third base as a sophomore, and his soft hands, smooth actions and strong arm will make him at least a solid-average defender there, and some scouts believe he has Gold Glove potential. [...] The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Olt has good leverage in his swing and above-average raw power, but his swing has holes and scouts still question his pitch recognition. His work ethic garners rave reviews, giving reason to hope he can become an average major league hitter. He's also a good athlete with fringe-average speed. Olt's stock was on the rise down the stretch, and he could be drafted as high as the second round."
[This report will be replaced by a more substantive report shortly.]
[Editor's note: Yesterday's live draft chat has now been moved here.]