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General : : Crack The Bat
First Round Bats: ’05 vs. ’08
Published: Thursday, September 24, 2009

2005 Draft, One for the Ages
The early returns on the players taken early in the 2005 draft are rather promising. The first five players selected have all made their MLB debuts, as well as eight of the top 10 selections. Overall, 14 of the first round picks from the 2005 draft have already had a taste of the big-leagues.

Two years ago I wrote a story about the number and quality of impact bats that were drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft. Feel free to re-visit that story here.

Without a doubt, that draft continues to look incredibly impressive, still holding up as one of the best ever with a few more bats that are just now starting to get their feet wet. That group includes Jeff Clement, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, Trevor Crowe, Cliff Pennington and Colby Rasmus. Brandon Snyder, John Mayberry Jr. and Tyler Greene are knocking at the door, as Mayberry and Greene have even had a small taste of life in the big leagues.

Among those that are thriving, Justin Upton is putting up big numbers as a 21-year old. Ryan Zimmerman is a cornerstone player for the Nationals. Ryan Braun has a rookie of the year award and two all-star appearances to his credit. Troy Tulowitzki is leading the NL Wild Card leading Rockies in runs, home runs, RBI, slugging and OPS as a Gold Glove caliber shortstop. Jacoby Ellsbury has already made his mark for the Red Sox, getting on base and stealing a plethora of bases as the team’s leadoff hitter.

The second overall pick from the 2005 draft, Alex Gordon, was expected to have the easiest transition to professional and big-league baseball, and he is struggling to meet expectations, although he has been injured for most of the year. The Royals continue to believe that eventually he will turn things around and live up to his considerable promise.

By this time next year we may be talking about a list that could rival some of the names listed above. It should be noted that when I wrote the story linked above it was two years removed from the 2005 draft. Less than a year and a half after the 2008 draft, and we’re already starting to see some potential impact bats starting to get their chance in the big leagues.

Standing out among the ’08 draftees for just how far they have progressed in a limited amount of time is Gordon Beckham. He has quietly put together a very impressive debut season with the White Sox, as I know I wasn’t the only one surprised by how early he made the team. He’s currently hitting .266 with 25 doubles as 12 home runs, filling a big hole at third base for a team that entered the season (and continued through the season up until just before the trade deadline) with playoff aspirations.

Continuing with the college bats, and a name I’ve mentioned in recent columns, Buster Posey was recently called up by the Giants after soaring through the minor leagues. He could be in San Francisco for good.

Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick, is hoping to have much better success at the MLB level than Gordon has had so far. Alvarez, like Gordon at a similar stage in his career, is off to a very nice start as a pro, putting up better numbers at AA after being called up from high-A midseason.

The Reds may have an interesting situation on their hands at first base as Yonder Alonso continues to creep closer to the big leagues. He finished the year at AA, hitting .292/.374/.464 between three levels, while showing his disciplined eye at the plate with a 41 to 46 walk to strikeout ratio in 295 at-bats. The closer he gets to Cincinnati, you have to wonder what they will do with he and young slugger Joey Votto, as both are best off at first.

Tenth overall pick Jason Castro, for whom the Houston Astros were criticized at great length for taking that early on draft day, also enjoyed a big year at the plate, and also finished at the AA level. He hit .300/.380/.446 between two levels, and gives the organization another promising young backstop to look forward to.

Justin Smoak tore up the Texas League (AA) during the first half of the season only to struggle in the Pacific Coast League (AAA) during the second half.

Jemile Weeks had a similar story between high-A and AA this past year.

Brett Wallace was the key piece the Cardinals used to acquire Matt Holliday from the A’s, and has such a big year that some questioned why the Cardinals would give up such a talented young hitter for a two to three-month rental. (The way the Cardinals have been playing over the second half of the season, I think that’s a trade they make 10 times out of 10.)

A trio of first basemen had mixed results.

David Cooper had an ok year at AA and could repeat that level next year after soaring past three levels during his debut season.

Former Aflac game MVP Ike Davis thrived between high-A and AA, and could be the Mets first baseman of the future sooner than anyone expected.

Allan Dykstra walked over 100 times in the Midwest League and showed some of his prodigious power, but also struggled to make consistent contact.

The remaining two college bats selected in the first round of the 2008 draft were a pair of shortstops, Reese Havens and Lonnie Chisenhall, although Chisenhall has already slid over to third base.

Havens posted respectable numbers in the Florida State League, a circuit known for suppressing offensive numbers. He managed to show his disciplined approach (.361 OBP) and decent power (.422 SLG) despite hitting only .247.

Overall Chisenhall had a nice season, although he managed to hit only .183 after being promoted late in the season to the AA level. However, of his 17 hits with Akron, 10 went for extra bases.

Many of the premium high school picks have taken a little longer to develop, which of course can be expected of those not named Justin Upton.

The first overall pick, Tim Beckham, continues to impress onlookers with his tool-set, but at some point he’s going to have to start hitting like what is expected from the first overall pick. He enjoyed a solid, not spectacular season in the South Atlantic League this past year, and likely will progress level-to-level one year at a time unless his bat truly explodes.

While Beckham was signed for his five-tool ability, Eric Hosmer was taken third overall for his ability to mash. His bat may not have been as advanced as originally thought, as he hit .241 with six home runs in 106 games between two levels this past year. Like Beckham, it’s not like anyone is giving up on him, but expectations are high for him to produce at the plate.

The same can be said for the sixth overall pick, Kyle Skipworth.

Jumping towards the end of the round, I think most would cut Anthony Hewitt, the 24th overall pick, a little more slack. Even on draft day people knew he was more raw than most first rounders and needed time for his polish to catch up with his amazing athletic ability.

It was two mid-rounders that did their best to make their mark during their first professional seasons. Aaron Hicks and Brett Lawrie, the 14th and 16th picks respectively, both played in the Midwest League this past year. Hicks held his own, putting up decent numbers, while Lawrie hit .274 with 13 homers and 19 stolen bases before he was aggressively promoted to AA, and is now mashing for Team Canada in the World Cup.

Somewhat of a wild card to the prep bats discussion is Casey Kelly, the last pick of the first round in 2008, who split the season between time spent exclusively on the mound and time spent exclusively as a positional prospect. He has the talent to excel either way, but the early results may show that the Red Sox (and scout’s) preference for his arm upon being drafted may win over Kelly’s own desire to hit and play the infield.

One thing that sets the players from the two different drafts apart is defense. While many of the 2008 draftees are fine defensive players, most of the more notable first rounders from 2005 are plus to Gold Glove caliber defenders.

And of course, the number of players from the 2005 that have had such a huge, immediate impact so early and so quickly in their respective careers (ages 20-23) means they also are potential Hall of Fame candidates down the road. I don’t mean to place that kind of unfair label on them so early in their careers, but that is the difference between all-stars and superstars.

The thoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA. Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net, and can be contacted via email at pebert@brewerfan.net.