See what I mean about Rule 4 draft previews being the biggest waste of time imaginable?
Full disclosure: I'm conflicted. You, too, are probably conflicted. This wasn't how the first-day draft narrative was supposed to play out. After being forced to conduct last year's amateur draft under severe financial constraints and then clambering out of that hole into the comforting arms of a new cash-flush ownership regime, the Rangers were supposed to go out, pluck some highly regarded big-money talent off the board, flex their financial muscle as a means of "persuading" as much of that talent to sign as possible, and then sit Nolan Ryan in a windowless 4x6 room with the more stubborn remaining draft holdouts and have him stare deep into the kids' souls until they were intimidated into signing.
The difference between that (very) idealistic blueprint and what the Rangers' amateur scouting division actually went and did, however, approximates the difference between night and day. Because just as we had grown comfortable with the notion of the Rangers snagging a Josh Bell or a Blake Swihart or a Brandon Nimmo or another moderately familiar name with a consensus top-40 prospect ranking attached, they went completely off the board in selecting two players that few of us even knew to exist and blew up the comfort zone. Even worse: neither player graded out any higher than the mid-80s where Baseball America's draft prospect rankings were concerned. And just how is one supposed to reconcile their faith in the Rangers' amateur scouting with not just one, but two perceived reaches with their top two draft picks that cut so sharply against the mainstream grain?
Here's the thing about it, though, and what it all ultimately boils down to -- the Rangers didn't pull these names out of a hat. These players were drafted for a specific reason; in all likelihood, this was a case where these were the two legitimate highest players left on the Rangers' draft board. It's also conceivable that Texas did have a slot-busting talent or two ranked ahead of them, but elected to forgo such a commitment out of a desire to conserve funds for a big Day Two splurge ... and that's a point I really don't want to overlook. It's fine and good to evaluate these draft picks in isolation because doing so provides insight into the Rangers' thought process (and sensibility thereof), but there is just as much (if not more) value in evaluating the draft class holistically and looking at its strengths and weaknesses as a whole, which means giving the entire three-day drafting process a chance to play out before condemning the people responsible for driving this thing.
Ultimately, Kevin Goldstein and Keith Law and Frankie Piliere and Jim Callis and the rest of the principal draft-forecasting players all have obligations to their respective audiences to provide the best scouting information possible using the resources at their disposal. The Rangers have an obligation to both themselves and their fan base to make the best and most informed picks possible using the resources at their disposal. When the opinions formulated by a team's scouting resources sharply diverge from those of a draft analyst's scouting resources, guess who comes across as more impartial and has the stronger platform through which they can influence public opinion? This is a classic scouts vs. scouts battle -- a battle the Rangers can't outwardly win unless their scouts' opinions conform with those on the opposing side. And in this case, the opposing side happens to have a nice, sturdy, safe track record, but that doesn't make them infallible, nor does it automatically make the Rangers fools for running counter to it.
If this all sounds like me taking a full-spin apologist position, rest assured that's not what I'm aiming for. In actuality, I'm concerned. The mainstream is what it is, and what it is is right quite a bit of the time. If the mainstream is right this time, the Rangers used their two highest draft picks on a diminutive future reliever and a fix-me-up outfielder that could end up being beyond fixing, and the mere notion of that is very alarming. If that notion manifests in reality, this draft could end up being a bust, and jobs will be lost as a result; if it doesn't, the Rangers win and the mainstream loses. It's that simple. Really, though, the most constructive advice I can possibly offer is to ditch your preexisting biases and view all of this with an open mind, and if you can't or won't heed that advice ... well, then these 750 words were the second-biggest waste of time imaginable.
No. 33: LHP Kevin Matthews | DoB: 11/29/92 | 5' 11", 180 lb.
School: Richmond Hill High School (Georgia) | Estimated Slot: $936,000
Best No. 33 Picks: Milt Wilcox (1968), Mike Gallego (1981), Dave Burba (1987)
There is a lot of overlap here in terms of what the scouting reports indicate as a result of there simply not being that much out there on Matthews, so I'll try to avoid any redundancies -- except, in a way, Matthews already is redundant. Okay, maybe not redundant so much as repetitive, or as an act that we've already seen before with the likes of Kasey Kiker, Robbie Ross, and Robbie Erlin. The 18-year-old southpaw emerges as his home state's best prep pitching prospect, though the significance of that accomplishment is somewhat devalued by Baseball America's unimpressive two-star-out-of-five grade for Georgia's 2011 draft crop, with the addendum that high school pitching was "particularly weak."
Matthews presently wields a modest high-80s fastball that, though not especially projectable in terms of potential additional velocity, he throws with good movement and excellent command, giving him what Jason Parks describes as at least a future average pitch after factoring in all of the components; this base offering is complemented by a mid-70s curveball and a low-80s change-up, with the former being described as a "tight, solid-average" pitch and the latter being mostly disregarded. On the flip side, a Perfect Game USA scouting report from last summer took note of the sweeping action on Matthews' curveball -- which he threw with "very good size/depth" -- and the "nice sink" on the change-up, whereas Parks indicates the change-up has plus potential and can be hurled along with the curveball for consistent quality strikes.
What sets Matthews apart is the athleticism -- you might have heard he's capable of pulling off a 360 slam dunk -- and very advanced feel for pitching with three solid-average offerings that he can command consistently. The Rangers, as an organization, have placed a heavy emphasis on fastball command in their pitching prospects, and his athletic qualities and repeatable (albeit heavy-effort) delivery should give him the necessary foundation to advance through the system and hopefully emerge on the other side as a legitimate mid-rotation possibility. That said, some sources see him as a future reliever due to the effort in his delivery and his diminutive stature; the Rangers clearly don't agree, but the likelihood of this panning out hinges to a great degree on your opinion of his future role.
For what it's worth, Kevin Goldstein says that he "understand[s]" the Matthews pick from the standpoint of him being the Rangers' type of pitcher "with a very clean arm who might be undervalued." Scout.com's Frankie Piliere reports that most of the industry's initial reaction to the Matthews pick was "very positive," and suggests that the reports of increasing velocity from Georgia-area scouts could render him a unique prep left-hander who has a good combination of feel and stuff. Parks writes that two of the Rangers' brightest scouting minds were in attendance at one of Matthews' recent starts, and indicates that though he was shocked by the pick, he is also "pleasantly surprised."
No. 37: OF Zach Cone | DoB: 12/14/89 | 6' 2", 205 lb.
School: University of Georgia | Estimated Slot: $873,000
Best No. 33 Picks: Mike Scott (1976), Frank Viola (1981), Troy Glaus (1994)
One of the first -- and most biasing -- things I saw on this pick was this stomach-dropping Twitter remark from Keith Law: "I was on the phone with a scout when Cone was picked. And he started laughing." That, in combination with his sub-.750 OPS junior campaign, questionable feel for the game and meager mid-80s Baseball America prospect draft ranking, has this pick looking far sketchier on the surface than the one that preceded it, and has just about every draft expert scratching their heads ... but I'd prefer to dig a little deeper, if you don't mind.
There's something about Cone's scouting profile that is vaguely reminiscent of, well, Greg Golson, or really any other toolsy, ultra-athletic outfielder that just doesn't seem to "get it" yet. He has demonstrable bat speed (power) and enough upper-body strength to fully utilize his physical gifts, but reportedly has serious problems with pitch recognition/discipline and, specifically, off-speed stuff, along with some kinks in his swing mechanics that the Rangers believe are correctable. Cone's also described as an above-average to plus runner with sufficient range for center field, though there are conflicting reports on the quality of his defensive reads and the quality of his arm (the latter of which was described as a plus tool as recently as last fall).
Before disparaging Cone on the basis of his lackluster offensive numbers, I want to take care in pointing out that he was involved in a particularly devastating collision with Georgia teammate Johnathan Taylor in early March that left his teammate partially paralyzed and left Cone with a serious concussion. It is easy to talk yourself into believing that he should have straightened himself out by now and that this doesn't serve as an adequate excuse for his offensive deficiencies, but the physical and psychological impact of such an accident could have very easily had a profound effect on his confidence, his approach, and even the physical tools. Concussions are very serious business, but from a mental standpoint, inadvertently crippling his friend on the ballfield may have been an even crueler blow.
The Rangers clearly believe that he'll get right eventually and that this was a matter of extenuating circumstances allowing them to jump on a player that otherwise might not have been available to them; they also clearly believe that the existent flaws in his offensive game can be fixed and he can be a true five-tool talent with upside as high as the sky. People are understandably averse to the idea of picking a player that requires "fixing" right off the bat (see also: John Mayberry Jr., ca. 2005), and the Rangers will no doubt take a beating on this pick if Cone never even gets off the ground while other talent that they could have drafted at No. 37 develops into players of legitimate value.
It might be crazy, and it might constitute taking a flier on a lottery ticket far higher in the draft than just about any other team would be willing to do ... but, then again, nobody knows anything really.