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Feature
 
 
Draft retrospect: Jack Zduriencik's drafts - Part 4: 2003

Ebert
on 12/15/2004

 

Welcome to the fourth and final installment of the draft retrospect series as we look back on the drafting efforts of scouting director Jack Zduriencik and his staff. I broke down the individual players that were selected and signed during Zduriencik's first three years (2000, 2001 and 2002) in the first three installments of this series.

Please feel free to review the first installment here:

http://www.brewerfan.net/ViewArticle.do?articleId=193

The second installment here:

http://www.brewerfan.net/ViewArticle.do?articleId=194

And the third installment here:

http://www.brewerfan.net/ViewArticle.do?articleId=195

In this final installment, I will briefly breakdown the drafting efforts in 2003 and 2004, pointing out some of the key players selected and signed, however, I will not break these players down in great detail since not enough time has passed to accurately gauge the progression of most of the players that were added to the system. After that, I will also point out drafting trends and philosophies that Zduriencik and his staff have embraced during their first five drafts, while looking ahead to future years to determine how the organization can continue to build a strong base of talent from within.

The 2003 Draft
Rickie Weeks. I could stop right there when talking about the importance of the 2003 draft. The only consolation prize for having a really bad season is a really high draft pick. 2003 was a good year to pick within the top two overall selections since the draft pool offered two extremely talented young offensive prospects in Weeks and Delmon Young. Young was selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and he has continued to show his offensive prowess after only one full season. While Weeks didn't hit as well as many had hoped in his first full season, especially since he's the NCAA Division 1 hitting champ with a career .479 batting average, it is important to keep in mind that it was his first full season in which he played in a league (Southern) that favors pitchers.

The 2003 draft did offer us something we had not seen before under scouting director Jack Zduriencik: An early preference for college players. The Brewers selected collegians with their first three picks, and seven of their top 12. They reverted back to their success signing early picks by inking their top 12 draftees, and 17 of their top 20. They added one more top 20 pick, 15th rounder Joel Rivera, the next spring through the draft and follow process, and had the ability to sign another DFE in 13th rounder Luke Cannon. Garrett Bussiere, the team's 14th round selection, was the only player from the first 20 picks that truly got away as he honored his commitment to play for the Cal Bears. Overall, the Brewers had signed 26 of their 50 picks by the end of the summer, and signed six out of 15 candidates through the draft and follow process the following spring.

It should be noted that the Brewers success signing so many of their early picks is commendable since owning the second overall pick came with a hefty price. Weeks signed a Major League contract that guaranteed him a spot on the 40-man roster in early August of 2003. The deal included a $3.6 million dollar signing bonus, which surpassed the $2.45 million dollar bonus the Brewers gave Ben Sheets in 1999. In total, Weeks' deal is worth no less than $4.8 million dollars, and by reaching certain incentives the deal could be worth as much as $5.5 million.

Another trend that continued in 2003 was the use of the aforementioned draft and follow process. The Brewers were able to follow 15 of their unsigned draftees through the spring of 2004, and ended up signing six of those players, one more than the previous year.

Weeks isn't the only player worth noting. Third round catcher Lou Palmisano gave Brewer fans hope that they finally might have a catching prospect worth being excited about. Cap'n Lou, as affectionately referred to on the Brewerfan.net Fan Forum, was named the Pioneer League's MVP after his debut season, leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and he continued to hit well in Beloit this past year. Robbie Wooley (sixth round), Mitch Stetter (16), Tommy Hawk (17), Ty Taubenheim (19), Nick Slack (20), Terry Trofholz (22nd), Drew Anderson (24), Hasan Rasheed (26-DFE) and Kenny Durost (28) have all enjoyed successful professional careers so far while Tony Gwynn (2), Charlie Fermaint (4), Bryan Opdyke (5), Brian Montalbo (7), Ryan Marion (8), Greg Kloosterman (9), Tyler Morrison (10) and Oscar Montes (18) still offer hope. Similar to the 2001 draft, the 2003 draft seems to offer a little bit of everything.

The 2004 Draft
I'm not going to spend too much time on the individual selections from 2004 draft, since those players added to the system are fresh in many of our heads. Recently I took a look back on the 2004 draft to gauge the success after only a few months. Please review that story here:

http://www.brewerfan.net/ViewArticle.do?articleId=191

The biggest things to note from the 2004 draft was the selection of four pitchers with the team's first four picks, 30 high school players being drafted overall, more than any other team, and the team's increased presence in Canada, leading to seven Canadian draftees, again the most of any team. The Canadian presence is particularly interesting, and probably predictable given Doug Melvin's and Gord Ash' backgrounds, which led to the organization hiring six area scouts North of the border. As Jack Zduriencik has pointed out in the past, he is always looking for ways to find a niche, a way he can find an advantage other teams may not have. Scouting Canada in a year when visas were restricted might be one of those ways the Brewers could find a small advantage.

Drafting so many high school players really isn't anything new for Jack Zduriencik and his staff. Under his watch, Zduriencik has always shown the preference for high school players, although we thought that might change under Doug Melvin, who along with former team President Ulice Payne, hinted that the team would start to lean towards college players that were closer to contributing at the big league level. The 2003 draft seemed to reflect that assumption, although that one year did not indicate a trend.

So far the Brewers have signed 19 players from the 2004 draft, which seems like a low total given the signing success of Jack Zduriencik's four previous drafts. However, the team is going to follow 23 of their 2004 draftees through the draft and follow process, which is just under half of their 50 picks. The Brewers remain hopeful that some of these candidates will develop over the next year similar to Dana Eveland or Tim Dillard. While a development like Manny Parra is possible, emergences like that are closer to being a once in the lifetime opportunity than not.

As for the players, like any draft, so many of the players are expected to succeed as Brewer farmhands. At this point in time it's hard to determine if someone like fifth rounder Angel Salome is going to follow the path of someone like Corey Hart or someone like Josh Murray. We hope for the path of Hart, but unfortunately the path of Josh Murray is just as real, if not more so.

Trends, strengths and weaknesses
As mentioned above, the biggest trend that Jack Zduriencik has displayed in his five drafts is his preference for high school players, a trend that stems from the belief of drafting athletes with exciting baseball tools. This preference tends to lead to a "boom or bust" style of drafting, as that projection doesn't always turn into production at the professional level. Zduirencik has drafted four high school players out of five first round picks. Three of his four second round picks have also been high school players, while 14 of his 24 picks in the top five rounds have been from the prep ranks. In total, 112 of his 241 draft picks have been high school players, with 55 coming from junior colleges and 74 coming from the college ranks.

One of the best things that Jack Zduriencik has done under his watch is actually signing his draft picks. Other than the two top 10 selections that got away from the 2002 draft, no other top 10 draft pick has gone unsigned. 2002 fifth rounder Jarrad Page represents the highest draft selection under Jack Zduriencik that didn't sign. Of his 99 top 20 picks, 83 of those have eventually signed, while three more top 20 selections could sign as DFE candidates next spring.

Another philosophy that Jack Zduriencik has strictly adhered to is drafting the best player available. Many people wondered out loud when the Brewers drafted first baseman Prince Fielder when other talented first basemen such as Richie Sexson, Corey Hart and Brad Nelson were already in the system. Of course, Sexson has since been traded (although replaced by Lyle Overbay), while Fielder's presence has caused both Hart and Nelson to be moved to the outfield. Drafting for present and perceived future needs has failed previous management teams, and simply isn't a good idea since it takes most draftees three to five years to even sniff the big league level.

Positionally, first base, second base, center field and left-handed pitchers seem to be the biggest areas of drafting success. First base is highlighted by Prince Fielder and includes Corey Hart (moved to the outfield), Brad Nelson (also moved to the outfield), Travis Hinton, Grant Richardson and Josh Brady. Rickie Weeks stands atop the second base list, with Callix Crabbe and Steve Sollmann behind him. Center field boasts David Krynzel, Tony Gwynn, Jr., Steve Moss, Charlie Fermaint and several others that at this point in time are considered fringe prospects. The depth of talented center fielders stands proof of the organization's preference towards multi-tooled athletes.

Jack Zduriencik and his staff quietly stockpiled a nice group of left-handed pitchers. Manny Parra is the most notable, followed by the emerging Dana Eveland and Jeff Housman. Edwin Walker, Mitch Stetter, Jared Theodorakos, Brandon Parillo and Justin Wilson add promising depth.

Parra and Eveland represent the scouting staff's success in using the draft and follow process. As noted earlier, this is a process the Brewers have used increasingly more since Parra's emergence in 2002. This is yet another method in which the scouting department can maximize it's resources and abilities.

The Brewers' scouting staff has also packed the system with several intriguing right-handed pitchers, but injuries to Mike Jones and Chris Saenz stands as proof that there is no such thing as a pitching prospect. At least not until that pitcher continues to pitch well with sustained health towards the upper levels of a farm system. Using those parameters, only Dennis Sarfate qualifies.

You could easily pencil in a future lineup of Jack Zduriencik draftees and come up with a pretty formidable lineup based on projection. Krynzel, Hardy, Weeks, Fielder, Hart, Nelson and Palmisano look pretty good on paper, but it's unlikely that lineup will ever be a reality at the big league level. Too many things can and likely will go wrong in the next couple of years to depend on each and every one of the Brewers top prospect at each respective position from succeeding the way we hope they do. Just another reason why depth from top to bottom is so important, and why you should never draft for immediate and/or prospective need.

The most glaring position missing from that projected future lineup is third base, Zduriencik's weakest area of positional drafting. The highest drafted third baseman he has taken is Taylor McCormack, who was selected in the seventh round of the 2001 draft. McCormack is no longer with the Brewers organization, while Adam Heether and Tony Festa are fringe prospects at best. However, don't expect Jack Zduriencik to go out and draft a third baseman early next June just because of that weakness. As noted above, he has strictly adhered to the belief of taking the best player available, although that could happen next year given the strong group of third basemen expected to be available.

Looking ahead
Building your organization from the bottom up, largely using the draft to accumulate talent, requires a lot of time and even more patience. Many fans have drawn weary of the high rankings the Brewers farm system has received from notable scouting publications, wondering when that talent will start to produce more wins at the big league level. Jack Zduriencik himself said upon taking the job that it would take five solid drafts to rebuild the farm system. With five drafts under his belt, it's safe to say that the system looks a lot better from top to bottom now than where it did before Zduriencik took over. Rickie Weeks represented the first pick under Zduriencik's watch that made it to the big leagues, although that had more to do with his big league contract than actual merit. Chris Saenz made a spot start in late April of this year, Corey Hart had one of the most exciting outs recorded by a Brewer in his one at-bat with the big league Brewers in late May of 2004, while David Krynzel, Zduriencik's first pick as the Brewers scouting director, spent the month of September with the big league club.

That's not to say that the scouting staff doesn't need to improve. Unfortunately for a small market team like the Brewers, cultivating talent in as many ways as possible is going to need to be a never-ending process. However, if a strong talent base is developed, you may start to use those resources in more ways than simply trying to get them to the big leagues. The most successful teams are able to trade prospects for proven Major League talent, and given the success rate of prospects, it is more often than not a wise decision to turn two or three unproven players for one proven one.

The biggest area that has been questioned is Jack Zduriencik's aforementioned preference for high school players. College players, particularly pitchers, are typically considered to be safer picks. It has been suggested that the biggest years a young pitcher has to get through are from 18 to 21 years old, basically the years such a player would spend in college. By taking a college arm you could be weeding out those problems to a certain degree, although that doesn't come close to guaranteeing a pitcher drafted from college will not burn out, miss significant time due to injury, or both.

Another benefit of drafting college players is their value to the system in trades. College players for the most part don't need as much minor league seasoning as high school players, and quite often will produce at higher levels in a team's system more quickly. If the Brewers are in a position to contend for the National League Central Division in the next couple of years, they may aid their cause by drafting more college players in hopes of trading a few of those prospects for a player that would fill an immediate need. More often than not, the prospects traded for proven, productive Major League players are in the upper levels of a team's system (AA and AAA). In other words, the faster a player reaches those levels, the quicker the team has a valuable bargaining chip.

Is it realistic to expect Jack Zduriencik to change his style of drafting? Probably not, as the trends clearly indicate that he is more likely to keep drafting high school players, especially since many expected that preference to change when Doug Melvin took over as GM. However, new owner Mark Attanasio might add a new wrinkle to that speculation. Upon being announced as the new owner, Attanasio was asked if he had read the book "Moneyball" and if he intended to bring any of those philosophies to the organization. While Attanasio dispelled a few broad generalizations from "Moneyball," such as the college versus high school debate, he did hint that he intended to look at the organization's evaluation process on how players were added to the system.

And it's not so much about the high school vs. college debate, but how you're drafting and what you're looking for. Jack Zduriencik made a very astute pick in Prince Fielder by taking what he believed was the best hitter available in 2002 while overlooking his perceived conditioning problems and shortcomings on defense. Maybe Zduriencik should follow that instinct more often. Instead of taking the player with the best speed, or the best fastball, take the player that is the best overall hitter, or the best overall pitcher, even if that player doesn't necessarily run the fastest or throw the hardest. This type of thinking often leads to the tools vs. skills debate that has become more popular. Tools are the raw athletic abilities that could turn into production down the road, while skills represent the present-day ability to produce. For positional players, speed may help overcome other deficiencies, and a pitcher with a blazing fastball may be able to strike out a batter in key situations on stuff alone, but as the old sayings go, you can't steal first, and good hitters can hit good fastballs.

That doesn't mean you avoid high school players altogether. There are plenty of teams that have had a great deal of success drafting player from the prep ranks, including the Dodgers, Braves and Twins. Given the fact that more and more teams are focusing on the college ranks, selecting high school players that have fallen further than they should can be used to a team's advantage. If you ask the scouting directors of the Dodgers, Braves and Twins I'm sure they will say they are more than thrilled with the notion of more teams selecting college players. The key really isn't necessarily drafting a player from one avenue or the other, but selecting the right player.

As for the actual needs on the field, from top to bottom in the organization, I already brought up the need for a third baseman. Most draft decisions usually aren't between what specific position needs to be addressed, but sometimes there is a discussion as to drafting a positional player versus a pitcher. While I pointed out the potential lineup of Zduriencik draft picks above, I didn't mention a potential starting rotation. That's because it's hard to come up with one. I think it's pretty clear that the organization has more promising hitters that it does arms, which is likely why the Brewers selected four pitchers with their top four picks in the 2004 draft. However, entering the draft, many expected the 2004 draft to be the year of the college arm. The Brewers reportedly had focused on that college crop early in the spring, although varying circumstances led the team to draft a prep arm in Mark Rogers. While Rogers may have a golden arm, again as discussed above, taking a prep pitcher seems to be a risky proposition.

So, could 2005 and future years lead to the year of the college pitcher, or even the third baseman? In his first five years, Zduriencik has taken only five non-high school pitchers in the top five rounds: Eric Henderson, Jon Steitz, Eric Thomas, Josh Wahpepah and Josh Baker. Henderson, Steitz and Thomas have already fizzled, as discussed in previous installments to this series, while Wahpepah and Baker were taken just this past June. It may be a good time to start thinking about adding some more advanced arms to the system earlier in the draft, hoping that those arms can complement a potentially exciting starting lineup.

However, maybe drafting pitchers, from high school or college, shouldn't be the focus. If the organization does a better than average job drafting and developing promising hitters, maybe they should continue to draft that way, with the idea of signing proven free agents and/or trading those hitting prospects for pitchers that fill a need. Developing pitchers is never easy, and only a few teams have seemed to have mastered that art. So, maybe the best idea is to leave that job to those other teams, hoping you discover a diamond in the rough from within from time to time. That doesn't mean you pass on the next Ben Sheets, but it may mean that you think twice about drafting the next J.M. Gold, Nick Neugebauer or Mike Jones.

Since Zduriencik prefers drafting athletes with exciting tools, maybe there should be a greater focus on the most athletic players on the field: Shortstops. Going back throughout the Brewers drafting history, shortstop is one area in which the Brewers have cultivated impressive talent. Gorman Thomas, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Dale Sveum, Gary Sheffield and Bill Spiers were all drafted as shortstops. While Yount and Spiers are the only players that stayed at shortstop over a long period of time, the success of Thomas, Molitor and Sheffield proves that you can address other positions as well. Basically, you can't turn a left-handed outfielder into a middle infielder, but a middle infielder may be able to play just about anywhere on the field. The Brewers haven't taken a shortstop in the first round since 1987 (Spiers), although Zduriencik has taken two shortstops in the second round in J.J. Hardy and Josh Murray. But again, since Zduriencik holds such a belief in taking players with impressive raw tools, focusing on the best players on the field might be a good way to cultivate talent with more flexibility.

Since the early drafted pitchers were brought up just a few paragraphs above, how about the success of early picks in general? Again, it's too early to assess the success of the early picks from 2003 and 2004, but of the team's top 10 non-first-round picks (rounds two through five) that ended up signing from 2000-2002, only J.J. Hardy and Brad Nelson remain as legitimate prospects. Hardy alone should make that figure easier to swallow, but again, to not have any legitimate prospects past Hardy & Nelson from those early draft rounds is hard to accept.

It is a tribute to the scouting department that they have done such a great job building a much-improved talent base by mining later round talents like Corey Hart, Dennis Sarfate, Manny Parra and Dana Eveland. I guess I bring this point up because it shows that those drafting efforts could have been even better had more early picks turned out as they hoped, which in turn would make the organization in general in much better shape.

However, who am I to suggest that the Brewers' scouting staff should change anything they're doing when to date they have done a good job re-building the farm system? I would hope to see more of those early round picks succeed, and I am pleased to know that Zduriencik himself has stated that drafting and developing talent is a never-ending process. So even if the Fielder's, Weeks' and Hardy's do start to turn the fortunes of the Brewers' franchise around, the scouting staff isn't going to get passive in their talent acquisition efforts.

Next year Jack Zduriencik will once again own the fifth overall pick in every round of the draft, except for the second round. The team's second round pick was lost to the Oakland A's upon signing type A free agent catcher Damian Miller. Over the next three years, Miller's productivity more than likely will outweigh the future contributions of a projected second round pick, while the team can use the money that would have been spent on that second rounder (approximately $700,000-800,000) elsewhere. That gives the Brewers a good chance to take a chance on a player that has fallen further than he should have due to signability. Or, that money could even address the lengthy list of draft and follow candidates, especially if one or two of those players emerge even greater than the Brewers expect.

Regardless of how their DFEs and later round picks shake out, owning the fifth overall selection gives the scouting department an excellent opportunity to take one of the best amateur players in the nation. It's far too early to try and guess who that player might be, but I invite you to check out Brewerfan.net's draft coverage to survey the best draft eligible players from both the college and high school ranks.

In conclusion, looking at all of the talent that Jack Zduriencik has accumulated the first five years as scouting director of the Milwaukee Brewers, it seems that he and his scouting staff have put the Brewers on the right track. In the current market, it's probably unrealistic to expect the Brewers to go out and sign a bunch of big-name free agents to fill all of their roster needs. While new owner Mark Attanasio may start to spend some money on the open market in future years to help change that, there needs to be a strong base of talent in place before the team can even think about patching holes. With a projected AAA team of Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, David Krynzel, Brad Nelson, Corey Hart, Dennis Sarfate and Jeff Housman, that base of talent appears to be very, very close to being a reality.

I hope you enjoyed this four-part series breaking down the scouting and drafting efforts of scouting director Jack Zduriencik and his staff. Please contact pebert@brewerfan.net with any questions or comments.

 




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