CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The Cedar Rapids Kernels could have a problem with fly balls that are hit to right-center field this season. Which of their millionaire outfielders will catch them?
Mike Trout, the Kernels’ center fielder, was the 25th pick in the 2009 draft and received a signing bonus of $1,215,000 from the parent Los Angeles Angels, but he’s flanked by a guy in right field, Randal Grichuk, who was the 24th pick in 2009 and got $1,242,000.
The center fielder is normally the captain of the outfield, but who has dibs – the $1.242 million right fielder (Grichuk) or the $1.215 million center fielder (Trout)? Grichuk was quick to respond.
“I’m going to call him off for sure,” he said, clearly joking.
The Kernels just hope they don’t run into each other. That’s a big investment out there, but it’s only part of the story in Cedar Rapids this season. The Angels had five of the top-48 picks in the draft last year. All of them signed, all of them got hefty bonuses, and all of them were assigned to the Kernels.
Tyler Skaggs, a 6-foot-5 left-handed pitcher, was the 40th pick and got a $1 million bonus. Garrett Richards, a 6-3 righty, was the 42nd selection and got $802,800. Tyler Kehrer, a 6-3 lefty, was the 48th selection and got $728,100.
That’s a total investment of $4,987,900 – nearly $1 million per man. They’ve got nice bank accounts, but they leave their bank-books at home.
“Once you get on the field, or get in the clubhouse with all your teammates, that stuff doesn’t really matter,” Trout said. “You’ve got to get out there and perform anyway.”
Grichuk and Trout were first-round picks. Skaggs, Richards and Kehrer were supplemental picks, giving the Angels a heavy influx of new talent. They got those extra picks as compensation for losing Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Jon Garland as free agents in recent years.
As you might imagine, a club doesn’t get five of the top-50 picks too often.
“It’s a pretty special group. But you know, only time will tell,” Cedar Rapids Manager Bill Mosiello said. “The thing about baseball, a lot of guys are rated a lot higher than maybe they’re supposed to be before that first full year (in pro ball), because everybody has the belief that they’re great players. That first year separates guys quickly. Hopefully it’s not the case with our guys.”
All things considered, Mosiello likes the idea of working with high draft picks.
“As a manager, obviously you’d rather have those type guys than the guys that weren’t even drafted,” he said, “although on this team, we had some guys perform great for us last year that weren’t drafted.”
Grichuk, Trout and Skaggs were drafted out of high school and are just 18. Richards and Kehrer, both college guys, are a couple of years older, and all five of them are considered some of the top prospects for the Angels, who have won five AL West titles in the last six years.
Mosiello thinks it’s just coincidence that all five guys were sent to Cedar Rapids this season. He said they weren’t ready for the next step in their careers, and they all proved they didn’t belong in Rookie ball again this season. Cedar Rapids was the logical destination for the entire quintet.
“None of them are ready to move up or anything. It’s 100 percent coincidence,” Mosiello said. ‘But I know they (the Angels) would like to get to the point where winning players are moving up in groups together.”
Grichuk was the first member of the group to be drafted last June with the 24th selection, but he knew the Angels also had the 25th pick and was curious to see what would happen next. He put the celebration on hold for a few minutes.
“I had a bunch of people over at the house, and I made sure they were quiet for the next pick to see who one of my teammates would be,” he said.
Grichuk was happy it was Trout.
“I was hoping he’d get taken, because I had played with him the summer before,” Gritchuk said. “I made sure everyone was quiet and watched.”
Grichuk and Trout played together at the Area Code Games in 2008 and also were together for the Team USA tryouts that year, although neither one was selected for the national team. “There were guys that made it who didn’t even get drafted,” Grichuk said with a shrug. “Figure it out.”
Once you get in the clubhouse, none of that stuff matters. Millionaires and undrafted free agents are thrown together, side by side. May the best man win.
“We all get together as a team here,” Kehrer said. “And no matter where you’re drafted, everybody gets along pretty well. Noone talks about anything like that. We all get along and we have good team chemistry, and that’s the key.”
It’s unusual for a major league team to have five of the top-50 picks in a single draft, but it’s not unprecedented. The Angles, in fact, had five of the top-28 picks in the 1986 draft, and none of them paid great dividends for the parent club.
Roberto Hernandez, the 16th pick in 1986, collected 329 saves in the major leagues, but none of them came with the Angels. Lee Stevens, selected 22nd, hit .254 in 10 years in the big leagues, but spent only three years with the Angels before moving on. Terry Carr, picked 25th, never made the majors. Mike Fetters, selected 27th, spent 16 years in the major leagues and had a 31-41 record, but won only three games for the Angels. Darryl Green, picked 28th, never made it.
The Angels certainly hope for better results from the 2009 draft, but you never know how it’s going to turn out.
“That’s how crazy the game is,” Mosiello said. “But it’s neat to be surrounded by talent and for people in the organization to believe that these guys are going to be really good players.”
Mosiello said they’re all working hard. None of them have fat heads, despite the fat bonuses.
“No, they’re good kids,” he said. “The way they handle themselves is fantastic.”