Ray Liotta opted to attend Tulane University, and is has already started 2 games for the Green Tide
The last thing likely on the minds of Brewers fans right now is the possibility of still being able to sign draftees from the 2001 June Free Agent Amateur Draft. The draft & follow process (known as DFE for Draft, Follow & Evaluate) is just another way to cultivate talent. A lot of teams don't even bother with the process, because it does require a certain amount of extra effort to not only scout & draft these players in the first place, but to then continue to follow & gauge their progress to deem them worthy of a professional contract.
Basically what it boils down to is that all Major League teams are able to sign any unsigned draftees from the previous year up to a week prior to the next year's draft should that prospect attend a Junior College or Community College (or not attend school altogether). That is, not a full 4-year undergraduate institution. You will see a lot of teams focus on such tactics from the 20th round on, and it's likely no coincidence that out of the Brewers' 29 signings from last year's draft, 15 of those come from the first 20 rounds. Out of the 21 unsigned players, 12 are eligible to receive a professional contract from the Brewers before having the ability to re-enter this year's draft, but I will get into more player specifics a little later.
The Astros seemed to have pioneered the DFE process, selecting players such as Daryl Kile, Roy Oswalt & Tim Redding in their respective drafts yet waiting to see how they progressed over the next 51 weeks before deeming them worthy of a contract. The Yankees have done the same with heralded LHP Andy Pettite & LHP prospect Brandon Claussen (#3 prospect in the Yankees organization as rated by Baseball America). In fact, they set the record for DFE signings last spring by signing LHP Sean Henn (already considered the Yankees #6 prospect by Baseball America in a deep Yankees farm system) to a $1.7 million bonus. The Cubs are yet another team known to take advantage of the DFE process, and it's no surprise that all 3 teams minor league systems are considered some of the best in the business. It's also no surprise that most draft & follow candidates are pitchers, as teams are generally looking for them to add more velocity, or work on improving command or developing and/or adding secondary pitches over the course of the follow & evalutate year. Any given pitcher can go from throwing in the mid-80s to the low 90 to mid 90s in a matter of months due to maturation, better mechanics, improved conditioning, etc. And developing another breaking pitch or mastering a current one is also just a matter of time & practice. This is not to say that positional prospects can't improve upon similar areas of their skill set, it just isn't as likely nor as easy to project.
Sean Henn's bonus is definitely more of an exception than the rule for DFE signings. The whole process is used as a cost-cutting measure actually, as teams have the luxury to draft certain players that they want to see develop over the course of the year before offering those prospects the coveted professional bonus/contract & opportunity. As surprising as it may seem, the Yankees (as well as the Houston Astros) are actually noted for avoiding players in the draft with big bonus demands, with the exception of Drew Henson who wouldn't had fallen as far as he did had it not been for his potential future as a collegiate & NFL quarterback. Not necessarily a bad idea, considering how many big bonus deals are offered to such high-rish, high-reward players that never see time past AA or even A level minor league baseball. Plus, it's mutually beneficial to the team and the player because the prospect in question then has the opportunity to prove himself, and likely knows exactly what areas his "parent" club is expecting him to improve upon. If he doesn't progress as hoped and/or isn't offered the money he desires, that prospect can always re-enter the draft and see what they're offered by a new club and possibly go through the whole DFE process again.
As noted above, it does add pressure to the area scouts that are responsible for gauging these prospects' progress. Some teams & scouts in general aren't too fond of the DFE process because of this, as they would much rather focus on the upcoming crop of available talent rather than have to worry about players drafted from the year before that may still be eligible to be added to the team's minor league system. Like any other avenue, it would seem that any team intent on generating talent & maintaining or upgrading their farm system would not leave a huge stone like the DFE process unturned. Given the Brewers recent rebuilding efforts at the minor league level, you would think they would take advantage of any & all opportunities at their disposal, regardless of the time, efforts & resources necessary to make it a worthwhile venture.
Here is the list of the Brewers unsigned draftees from last June's draft. The number that precedes their name & position is the rounds in which they were drafted. The first group of players are the players that are not eligible for the DFE process, followed by the name of the school they're attending as a reason why. The second group of players are the prospects that are elgibile for the DFE process, as they are currently attending a Junior or Community College:
Not Eligible for the DFE process:
(11) David Slevin, 2B-Transferred to Clemson University whose baseball season starts Friday, February 22, 2002
(12) Ray Liotta, LHP-Opted to attend Tulane University, and is has already started 2 games for the Green Tide (as of 2/22/02).
(20) Joshua Smith, RHP- At first was scheduled to attend an Arizona JC or CC, but Arizona State caught wind of his abilities (a big, projectable frame & a high-90s fastball) and wisely offered him a scholarship.
(22) Damarius Bilbo, OF/RHP-Attending Georgia Tech on a football scholarship as their next quarterback. Very athletic, and while he is not currently on their baseball team, he still would have to be re-drafted to be offered & sign a contract.
(31) Andrew Sigerich, RHP-University of Illinois, Chicago.
(38) Ross Hawley, RHP-Transferred from Augustana College to Kansas State.
(39) Travis Johnson, OF-Opted to attend the University of Mississippi.
(40) Jeremy Wilson, C (local boy from Catholic Central HS in Burlington, WI)-Opted to attend Austin Peay.
(46) Jordan Szabo, OF-Opted to attend the University of California in Irvine.
Eligible for the DFE process, and may be signed up to a week prior to this June's Amateur Free Agent Draft:
(15) Timothy Dillard, C-Currently attending Itwawmba Community College in Mississippi.
(17) Justin Wilson, LHP-Currently attending Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona (will be teammates with DFE candidate Stephen Hunter, both of whom attend the same school that last year's signed draftees Dennis Sarfate & Travis Hinton hail from).
(26) Manuel Parra, LHP-Decided to return American River College in Florida.
(29) Jamie McAlister, RHP-Currently attending Jefferson College.
(32) Jon Calmes, RHP-Currently attending Columbia Basin CC in Washington.
(33) Greg Esteves, SS-Currently attending Gulf Coast CC.
(34) Faurieuir Miller, OF-Attended Laney Junior College last year in California, but everything I have seen has him reportedly out of baseball, still making him eligible for the DFE process.
(35) Stephen Hunter, OF-As mentioned above, attending Chandler-Gilbert CC, however, he is a returning student & player.
(45) Jason Costello, LHP- Currently attending St. Petersburg Junior College in Florida.
(47) Joseph Constentino, OF-Currently attending the CC of Southern Nevada.
(48) Brian Harper, LHP-Currently attending Westark JC in Arkansas.
(49) Nicolas Stillwagon, C-Currently attending Mississippi Gulf Coast CC.
The next natural question is to wonder which prospects the Brewers may be following and in what areas they may be looking for each prospect to improve upon. I don't have a scouting report on most of these individuals, but I can break down a few of them, and from there we can make intelligent guesses as to the strengths & weaknesses of the other eligible players.
Manuel Parra is a 6'2", 185 pound lefty that is noted to be more of a finesse pitcher with a good curveball. The Brewers are likely looking for Parra to add a little velocity and possibly life to his fastball, and it's a good chance they're also looking for him to round out his overall repetoire to give batters different pitches to look at should he remain a finesse lefty.
Jamie McAlister is a 6'2" 195 pound righty that throws in the mid-80s yet throws an outstanding changeup. The changeup alone is probably what got the Brewers' attention, as it is usually the last pitch any given pitcher masters. In this case, McAlister doesn't have the luxury of being a lefty in which he can get away with pitching consistently in the mid-80s. No doubt the Brewers are looking for him to add some much-needed zip to his fastball.
Greg Esteves is a very athletic SS that likely doesn't overwhelm anybody with his tool set. However, he obviously did something at the Dunedin Tournament (the event in which he made somewhat of a name for himself) to catch the Brewers' attention, and likely will be watched to see if he can continue to flash the moments of brilliance he did with Brewers scout Tom McNamara in attendance. It was at the same event in which the Brewers likely took interest in their 7th round pick & signee, Taylor McCormack. Both McCormack & Esteves were named to the all-tournament team for their performances.
Of the remaining DFE candidates, 3 are left-handed pitchers, 1 is a right- handed pitcher, there are 2 catchers (always added for depth in any given minor league system) and 3 outfielders (an area in which Brewers' GM Dean Taylor recently has stated he would like to address within the minor league system). They all must have done something right to warrant them getting the attention necessary to be drafted in the first place.
As with anything else, especially in sports and especially in baseball, time will tell. At least now we have a good idea of which unsigned draftees from last June's draft are still eligible to be signed, and when that time comes in late May, we'll have a better idea of what the Brewers were looking for in particular. If none are signed, we can only assume:
1. That either the Brewers elected not to invest much into the DFE process, which I highly doubt.
2. That none of the players in question did anything to justify a professional baseball deal.
3. They did so well as to price themselves out of our budget in which they likely will be taken in a round much higher this June than what they were last June.
As always, I expect a happy medium, and I will be sure to update the progress of these eligible DFE candidates likely in the month of May.
I would like to extend a special thanks to Jim Callis of Baseball America who helped me track down the current collegiate affiliation of some of the prospects in question.