Thursday, June 5, 2008

MLB Draft: Brewers have a big opportunity

By Nicole
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The amateur baseball draft starts today and the Brewers are in the best position we've been in in a long time, with 6 of the first 62 picks.

Imagine, we've drafted Braun, Fielder, Hart, Weeks, Hardy, Gallardo, Parra and Gwynn, Jr while we WEREN'T in a great draft situation. If that's the case, I can't wait to see what Scouting Director Jack Zduriencik has up his sleeve this time around.

Of course, that's a bittersweet thought, because it's only a matter of time before Jack Z becomes a GM somewhere and another spectacular draft when he's actually got room to maneuver could be the final piece.

Here's an article from JSOnline.com about Jack Z.

Below I'm posting the full text of an article from ESPN.com that basically says we have a chance to set ourselves up for the next decade or so. Imagine that, a national news service article on a small-market team that includes no condescension! In fact, it's a very flattering article.

Brewers could fortify franchise for decade with strong draft

By Gerry Fraley
Special to ESPN.com

For years, it was easy to pick out the Milwaukee representative among a group of scouts checking out a potential top-100 player for the amateur draft.

The Brewers' scout had the hangdog look because he knew his work was a waste of time.

With few early-round picks, the Brewers had no chance at many top-shelf players. They would make a first-round choice, then watch as many as 90 players go off the board before their next pick.

The Brewers, operating with a small margin of error, drafted well. But the scouting operation always wondered what it could accomplish with a few more swings.

"You want to see everybody, but you knew what would happen," said Jack Zduriencik, Milwaukee's vice president for player personnel. "There were some guys we couldn't focus on because we knew we had no chance at them."

That changed this year.

For the first time since 1993, the Brewers have extra picks in the June draft. With six of the first 62 picks overall, the Brewers could have a blockbuster draft.

The Brewers have the freedom to make at least one risky, high-upside selection. Given their recent success with the draft, it is reasonable to expect the Brewers to find enough talent to fortify the franchise for a decade.

Given the Brewers' reliance on the draft, June 5 will be the biggest day for the franchise since Bernie Brewer discovered his slide.

"The guys in the scouting department are a major part of what goes on here," Zduriencik said. "For the Milwaukee Brewers to be successful, we have to draft well. That's the way it is.

"This draft means a lot to those guys in the field. They want to get their guys to the big leagues."


From 2000, when Zduriencik began running the Brewers' draft, through last year, the Brewers had only 21 picks among the top 100. That tied them for the fifth-fewest number of picks. Atlanta had the most top-100 picks in that span with 39, one more than Oakland.

The Brewers lost three second-round picks as compensation for free-agent signings. That included a choice in 2000 that Atlanta used to select second baseman Kelly Johnson in return for losing strikeout machine Jose Hernandez to the Brewers.

The lack of early picks put Zduriencik in a tough spot. He worked without a safety net. If his first pick was not good, the draft could turn into a disaster.

"Jack and his staff have done a great job without the extra picks," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "This is a chance we've never had, to retool the system. Everyone is excited about it."

Milwaukee kept its picks this year and picked up four choices as compensation for not keeping free-agent relievers Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink. The Brewers received choices Nos. 32 and 52 in return for losing Cordero, Milwaukee's closer last season, to Cincinnati. Melvin had tried to keep Cordero but was outbid by the Reds.

Milwaukee essentially traded for picks Nos. 35 and 53, their return for Linebrink's move to the Chicago White Sox. The Brewers obtained Linebrink from San Diego last summer with the full knowledge that he would leave as a free agent after the season, bringing draft-choice compensation.

"We hated to give up the players we did," Melvin said. "But with these picks, we can still benefit."

Zduriencik leans toward playing it straight with each of the first six picks rather than taking a flier on even one choice. There is enough talent in this draft, Zduriencik said, that the Brewers can get a high-quality talent with choice No. 62.

"You have to do your due diligence and make sure your guys understand what we're doing," Zduriencik said. "This is a little bit of unfamiliar territory for us, but we're going to do with what we've always done."

That way has worked.

During Zduriencik's tenure, the Brewers have drafted first baseman Prince Fielder, second baseman Rickie Weeks, shortstop J.J. Hardy, outfielders Tony Gwynn Jr., Corey Hart and Ryan Braun and starting pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra.

Others have noticed. Scouting directors Tom Allison of Arizona and Bobby Heck of Houston were plucked from Zduriencik's staff in the past two years.


Zduriencik straddles both sides of baseball's cultural war that wages between clubs that want high school players with big upsides and clubs that want polished collegians.

Zduriencik looks for the best player and will take a prep player as quickly as he'll take a collegian.

Weeks and Braun were drafted out of college. Parra came from a junior college. The others were high schoolers.

"You can define what makes the best player a lot of ways," Zduriencik said. "Each philosophy fits differently with each club. With us, if it's a college kid, great. If it's a high-ceiling high school kid, great.

"The only thing is that you can get into trouble if you start thinking about drafting for needs at the big league level."

Zduriencik's approach has allowed the Brewers to have a steady flow of talent in the system rather than the gaps that come with having too many players from a similar age group.

The guys in the scouting department are a major part of what goes on here. For the Milwaukee Brewers to be successful, we have to draft well. That's the way it is.

--Brewers' VP for player personnel Jack Zduriencik

With the major league club stocked with young and homegrown talent, the Brewers could be more inclined toward high school players in this draft. In that scenario, the Brewers could take a high school outfielder such as Destin Hood or Anthony Hewitt with their first pick, No. 16 overall.

The bounty of draft picks does present a problem: money.

The players taken in Milwaukee's spots last year received a combined $4.91 million in signing bonuses. The price never comes down. The small-market Brewers likely will have to pay at least $5 million to sign their first six picks. A year ago, Milwaukee gave out $3.77 million to the nine players it selected in the first 10 rounds.

Melvin and Zduriencik both said the club has the financial resources to sign the picks. Years ago, legendary Boston scout George Digby taught Zduriencik a valuable lesson about letting contract demands shape player evaluations.

"George always said, 'The kids who want to get started playing, those are the kids you want,'" Zduriencik said. "I don't think there's anybody in the big leagues who regrets what he signed for."

That's what the Brewers offer most of all: a realistic chance to get to the big leagues.

A player who signs with Milwaukee likely won't find his progress blocked by an expensive free-agent acquisition. The Brewers have drafted well. This time, they must draft well and often. Gerry Fraley is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

 

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