College ranks focus of '06 draft
Slightly more than 34 percent taken from high schools
NEW YORK -- When the top six selections were made in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, the fact that they all were college players, or at least not in high school, proved to be significant. The trend toward grabbing more established players continued throughout the two-day affair after Kansas City made headlines by grabbing holdout Luke Hochevar with the top pick.
The Royals surprised more than a few people by taking the former University of Tennessee star, who had been pitching in the independent American Association after spurning the Dodgers, who chose him with the 40th pick in the 2005 draft. Now, there will certainly be questions about how quickly he will sign; the hard-throwing right-hander indicated that he won't be heading back into the draft for a third time in 2007.
"I'm going to bust my tail to make them [the Royals] extremely happy," Hochevar said. "That [his contract] is in [agent] Scott Boras' hands and obviously mine as well. We want to be treated fairly and the Royals are a great organization and they're willing to get it done, so we're excited to proceed and move forward with this. It sounds like the Royals are ready to get it done and get me out playing."
There were 1,502 players selected, one more than a year ago, but far fewer than the draft's hey days between 1993 and '97, when an average of 1,688 players were picked. A record 1,740 players were chosen in 1996. There have been 57,154 players selected since the draft began in 1965.
Tuesday's first round should have been an indication of what to expect in terms of how the draft would unfold. The first high school player chosen -- Clayton Kershaw -- didn't go until No. 7, making him the lowest a high school player has ever been selected to start a draft. The previous low was in 1992, when the Yankees selected Derek Jeter sixth overall out of Central High in Kalamazoo, Mich.
The high schools made a comeback of sorts on Wednesday, though, particularly over the final 15 rounds. After Tuesday's first day, only 28 percent of the players drafted were from high school. And by the time the draft turned to the 35th round, the number of high school players was at 29 percent. Had the clubs stayed the course and continued their trend of picking college players, it would have represented the lowest percentage of high school players drafted since 1985, when the high school contingent in the draft reached an all-time low of 25 percent.
The comeback in the latter rounds was enough to push the number of high school players selected to 36 percent, which was slightly higher than last year [35.2 percent]. Overall, there were 542 high school players drafted, which represents the highest total since 558 were taken in 2002.
Meanwhile, there were 954 college players selected, down five from a year ago, but still marking the fifth consecutive season in which more than 900 players were chosen from the college ranks. There were six players, including Hochevar, who were not affiliated with any school.
While this draft was a little short on glamour during Wednesday's 32 rounds, there wasn't any shortage of familial connections. The Cubs and Red Sox grabbed the Papelbon brothers, Jeremy and Josh, in the 19th and 48th rounds, respectively, from the University of North Florida. They are the twin brothers of current Boston closer Jon Papelbon.
Still, the Papelbon invasion paled in comparison to Tuesday's family fun when Kyle Drabek, son of Doug Drabek, went to the Phillies with the 18th pick, before the Dodgers stunned many by choosing Preston Mattingly, son of Don Mattingly, with the 31st overall selection. He wasn't high on the draft board for many teams, but Los Angeles seems certain about him. And, he's as anxious to prove the critics wrong as the folks in the Dodgers' front office.
"I have a lot to do to prove to everybody I can play at the Major League level," Mattingly said. "It seems like in the beginning of the year, I was a top-10 rounder, then a top-five, and a month or two later, in the top three. The more people turned out to see me play, the more they saw how good I could be and the potential I had."
Another pick that raised a few eyebrows was the Cubs grabbing Notre Dame's Jeff Samardzija with their fifth-round selection. The big right-hander is also a star wide receiver on the football team and is expected to be a high draft pick in next spring's NFL Draft. Samardzija has indicated that he will play football for the Fighting Irish this fall and that he would like to be a two-sport star for as long as possible. But he grew up in Indiana, which is pro-Cubs territory, so perhaps the club is thinking he'll go with the hometown team and give up football.
"Obviously, I'd heard the Cubs were interested and I didn't know what to expect, but to be a local kid and picked by the Cubs -- that's amazing," Samardzija said. "I want to do both [sports] for as long as I can. Who knows when that may be? I hope I can find a team that'll allow me to do both."
While the Royals considered Hochevar to be the closest to being Major League-ready among the players drafted, neither he nor anyone else in this class is expected to make the jump directly to the big leagues. Only 19 players have gone directly into the Majors, the last being outfielder Xavier Nady, whom the Padres grabbed with the 49th pick in the 2000 draft.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.