Jupiter, FL - I recall the buzz last summer of how Georgia was loaded and Florida down for the 2010. I agreed with it myself, after watching the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis shortly after the 2009 Draft.
But here we are, just three days before the 2010 Draft, and a whopping four Florida preps are projected by almost every media outlet to go in the first round. Not the sandwich round, but the real first round.
And there’s a strong possibility for a fifth, which would tie the state’s record.
Brito Miami Private shortstop Manny Machado is widely speculated to be the Pirates’ preferred pick at #2 overall. They’ve scouted him heavily and whether he’s selected there is likely a matter of Machado’s price tag. Machado’s advisor, Scott Boras, isn’t known for making pre-draft deals or taking discounts, but that might not be a pre-requisite for the current Pirates ownership who more than stepped up by spending over $6 Million to sign Pedro Alvarez as the second overall pick in 2008.
Two prep righthanded pitchers from different parts of the state might go in the first half of the first round themselves. Chipley’s Karsten Whitson (panhandle) and Oviedo’s A.J. Cole (Orlando) are among a top-heavy group of prep righties around the nation.
Archbishop McCarthy 3B/SS Nick Castellanos is another likely first round pick. A pure hitter with a projectable 6’3”, 200 lb frame, Castellanos also has the tools to become a good defensive third baseman.
Those four are almost a lock for the first round, but there’s another who can creep in and his name is Yordy Cabrera. The Lakeland High School shortstop (and likely pro third baseman) was higher than them all on many pref lists going into the year because of his plus-plus power upside and a very strong arm. Many scouts think he’ll go in the sandwich round, but there’s certainly a chance he sneaks in earlier. One logical team to choose him would be the Detroit Tigers, for whom Cabrera’s father Basilio works as a minor league coach. But the Tigers lost their first-round pick to the Houston Astros for signing closer Jose Valverde and don’t pick themselves till 44th overall in the sandwich round.
RECORD YEAR FOR FLORIDA HS 1ST-ROUNDERS?
By comparison, the 2009 Draft saw three Florida preps taken in the true first round: Bishop Verot third baseman Bobby Borchering, Lake Brantley shortstop Nick Franklin, and Buccholz outfielder Levon Washington, who did not sign.
The all-time state record is five, set in 2000 when shortstop Luis Montanez, lefty Joe Torres, lefty Sean Burnett, righty Boof Bonser, and shortstop David Espinosa not only went in the first round, but within the first 23 picks.
Twice in draft history (since 1965) have there been four Floridian preps taken in the first round: in 2006 and 1978.
The 2010 Draft appears almost certain to produce as many Floridian prep first-rounders as 1978 and 2006. Matching the five from the 2000 Draft is also reachable.
How about six? It’s never been done before, and there’s no obvious candidate to be the sixth. Calvary righty Luke Jackson has shot up for many teams and may go in the sandwich round. Second round is the perceived destination for West Orange shortstop Mason Williams. It only takes one team to like them among the first 32 picks in the true first round, so you never know. But at this point it appears a longshot.
SURPRISED FLORIDA HASN’T BEEN MORE PRODUCTIVE IN PAST?
What surprised me in my research (using both Baseball-Reference online and the Baseball America Draft Almanac (2004)) was the fact that Florida hasn’t always been a hotbed over the 45 years of draft history. In fact, during the first three drafts, from 1965-1967, not a single Florida prep was taken in the first round.
The talent was more geographically diverse in those days, at least in terms of how high school players were evaluated by major league scouting departments. There were years where states like Michigan and Ohio each had many more first-rounders than Florida.
Comparing raw numbers from one draft to another can be tricky because, for example, the 1965-1968 draft only had 20 teams and 20 picks in the first round, while the most recent draft had 30 and 32. So I tabulated the Florida prep picks by their percentage of all the first round picks in each of the five decades of the draft:
1960s (4/104): 3.8%
1970s (14/246): 5.6%
1980s (18/260): 6.9%
1990s (17/284): 6.0%
2000s (26/302): 8.7%
As you can see, the 1960s were quite down while the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s had comparable numbers. Then comes a noticeable hike in the most recent decade of the 2000s.
Signability has become more and more a factor in deciding who goes in the first round, but these numbers are still a strong testament to the increased talent in Floridian high schools.
SO GEORGIA ISN’T BETTER THAN FLORIDA IN 2010?
Georgia is still loaded, it’s not like all their best players fell off a cliff. They have two likely first-rounders in righthanded pitchers Kaleb Cowart and DeAndre Smelter provided they are signable for perceived worth. They may even get a third, but a fourth or fifth is highly unlikely.
Their strength comes later. What you are likely to see is the Georgia preps out-numbering the Floridians from the sandwich round on through the 5th. There is more depth of talent in the Peach State than there is in the Sunshine State. Given Florida’s prolific past and the fact it has almost twice the population of Georgia, it is remarkable how much baseball talent is now coming out of its pecan-growing neighbor to the north.
Nevertheless for Florida, it’s clear to even us skeptics that this year’s prep class is anything but “weak” or “down”. Four or five 1st-round picks is both amazing and historic.