Robert Sobolewski was a pretty good middle infielder prospect at Sarasota High School in Florida, really fundamentally sound, knows how to play the game. But he's committed to the University of Miami and didn't go until the 20th round as a result (to the Astros). Assuming he doesn't sign, he's going to be one heck of a prospect in 2009.
Then there's Jake Locker. He didn't go until Round 40 out of Ferndale High School in Washington, but that's not because he's a fringe prospect. Quite the contrary, he's just barely scratching the surface with his baseball ability. See, he seems to have this interest in another sport. Evidently, he's quite a quarterback and all reports say he is heading to the University of Washington to perhaps start behind center in his freshman year. All indications point to him being impossible to sign. But it's worth noting the Angels took him and they've developed a reputation for convincing risk picks to sign (just ask Nick Adenhart and Mark Trumbo). This one may be more of a reach, but you should never say never with that organization.
OK, back to the important stuff. I apologize for the draft geek digression. Let's get back to Almonte and Maier. The chances of Maier going in this draft, as a Division III college senior, seemed remote. He's better known for being the 12-year-old kid who snagged Derek Jeter's fly ball and turned it into a home run in the 1996 ALCS. Turns out the guy can hit a little, finishing atop his school's list for career hits and he hit .403 in his senior year.
He was the subject of many pre-draft features. After all, who can't resist the human interest angle here? There was a little buzz when Orioles owner Peter Angelos was quoted in the Washington Post as saying he was intrigued about bringing some closure to the saga by drafting the kid who ruined his team's season a decade ago. Did they really need to take catcher Orlando Rodriguez out of Dr. Heriberto Domenech High School in the 50th round? Evidently. Maier could get a look as a non-drafted free agent witih a team, so perhaps his dream can live on.
Almonte is hoping his dream can continue as well. A few years back, he was a superstar, mowing down opponents in the Little League World Series. Then it turned out he was just a touch older than his competition and he was labeled -- perhaps rightfully -- as a cheater. He went on to high school in relative anonymity -- at least nationally -- and had an good career at James Monroe High School, including pitching his team to the city championship at Shea Stadium as a sophomore. He'll be pitching in the title game again this year on Friday after coming back from participating in a high school All-Star game in New Mexico.
He's a more legitimate prospect than Maier, but no one should get carried away. He has a real good idea of how to pitch, but the fastball tops out at 88 and usually sits in the mid-80s. He didn't have the history with a team (or teams) Maier had, so there was no nostalgic pull for him to go. Still, like Maier, his dream isn't over.
"There's no reason he didn't go," his high school coach Mike Turo said, pointing to the baggage surrounding him as the reason he wasn't among the 1,500 lucky names called. "He's going to go to New Mexico Junior College and next year, he'll have another good shot."
And that's all this two-day event is about, right? Giving kids a shot at fulfilling a dream. It's hard to deny anyone -- not even a Little League cheat or an interfering 12-year-old -- from pursuing that.