College players taking over Draft
Changes in draft-and-follow rules alter clubs' strategies
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Tim Beckham grabbed the top spot in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft on Thursday, garnered all the headlines as a result and gave all high school players in the country hope that they too could someday be selected with the first pick.
But if those future high school stars looked past Beckham and at the two-day Draft as a whole, they might not be as optimistic. That's because the need for immediate gratification was evident once again in this year's Draft. Each of the 30 clubs went college heavy in the 50-round affair that ended Friday evening at The Milk House.
That a record-tying 21 collegiate players were chosen in the first round on Thursday was a better indication of what was to come over the final 44 rounds on Friday. That's because 485 prep players were selected out of the 1,504 names that were called. That total was also bolstered by a flurry of high school picks in the final five rounds as teams simply looked to fill up their Draft cards.
While the 485 prep players drafted represents an increase of nine over last year, it's the second-lowest total in 21 years. High school players represented 32.2 percent of the players drafted this year, the lowest since 32.8 percent of the players selected in 1987 came from the prep ranks.
And the percentage doesn't figure to increase much, if at all, in the near future.
"It doesn't surprise me to find that the numbers are going that way," said Frank Marcos, director of Major League Baseball's Scouting Bureau. "The reasons, quite simply, are the changes in the rules regarding the draft-and-follows. Clubs are drafting more college players, because they are more advanced and mature. Clubs today are less willing to have patience with the younger players.
"Clubs are more willing to draft the college players and take their chances with them. Also, the later-round high school players are deciding to go to college more."
It's highly unlikely Beckham will be going to college. He figures to be part of Tampa Bay's continued resurgence whether or not he remains at shortstop.
"This is what I've been dreaming to be," Beckham said. "This is a dream come true. I worked this hard to get to this spot, and it really came through. I didn't want to take it to my head too much, but I was hoping and praying I was going to be the No. 1 pick. I didn't want to tell everybody I was the No. 1 pick when I didn't really know. It's a dream come true, and it's an honor and a blessing to be with the Tampa Bay Rays."
The Rays also kept it in the family, selecting Beckham's older brother, Jeremy, a second baseman at Georgia Southern with the 503rd selection.
"I've dreamed about it at night, seriously," Jeremy Beckham said. "It's hard to explain, but it's just a different feel with my brother in the middle infield. Everything is so natural."
Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy also made its presence felt and is becoming a familiar part of the Draft process. The Academy had two players selected in the first round (Kyle Skipworth, sixth to the Marlins) and Aaron Hicks (14th to the Twins) and two more in the compensation round.
"The Academy is giving scouts a tremendous opportunity to see the players in a controlled environment," Marcos said. "That's a big part of it. The word is out among the kids. When they are done playing in the offseason with their teams over the summer, they want to go to the Academy and get the better-skilled teaching. "What kid wouldn't want to go there? Word is out among the players about what the Academy has to offer."
There were several selections of note on Friday, with the relatives of two Hall of Fame players getting chosen. Robin Yount's nephew Austin was selected out of Stanford University by the Dodgers in the 12th round. The Royals stayed in house by selecting George Brett's nephew Beau in the 29th round out of Ferris High School in Washington.
Only 19 players have gone directly to the Majors without stopping in the Minor Leagues, the last being outfielder Xavier Nady, whom the Padres grabbed with the 49th pick in the 2000 Draft. All scouting reports indicate that there are no players in this year's Draft that will be able to make that leap.
Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.