Brewers hope to connect in Draft

Brewers hope to connect in Draft

PITTSBURGH -- Giving Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik six of the first 62 picks in the First-Year Player Draft is a little like giving outfielder Ryan Braun six strikes in an at-bat.

With that many chances, you figure they are going to connect.

Braun is just one of Zduriencik's high-profile successes in his tenure as Milwaukee's Draft guru, a list that also includes current big leaguers Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks and injured right-hander Yovani Gallardo. For the first time in Zduriencik's tenure (his first Brewers Draft was in 2000) the team has compensation picks from Class A free agents who signed elsewhere.

In addition to Milwaukee's regular picks (No. 16 overall in the first round and No. 62 in the second round) the team will get two compensation picks (No. 32 and No. 53) as compensation for closer Francisco Cordero signing with the Reds and two more (No. 35 and No. 54) for setup man Scott Linebrink signing with the White Sox. Last year, the Brewers selected with the seventh overall pick and then were dormant until No. 102.

MLB.com will carry every pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, which takes place June 5-6 at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla. Day 1 coverage begins at 1 p.m. CT with a simulcast of ESPN2's broadcast of the first round and compensation picks. The remaining rounds on Day 1 will be shown exclusively at MLB.com, with live analysis on site from MLB.com Draft guru Jonathan Mayo.

Several of the top amateur prospects are expected to be in attendance in Orlando for Day 1 of the Draft, and each of the 30 Major League Clubs will be represented by front office executives and baseball luminaries. Fans are welcome to attend Day 1 of the Draft, and admission to The Milk House is free with seating limited to a first-come, first-served basis.

Day 2 will get under way at 10:30 a.m. and continue through Round 50, if necessary. Every pick on Day 2 can be heard live at MLB.com.

Here's a glance at what the Brewers have in store as the First-Year Player Draft approaches:

In about 50 words
The fact the Brewers select 16th -- matching the latest first-round selection in the Zduriencik era -- and the fact they have extra picks means that the team's scouts have to be experts on more players than ever. But the "best player available" philosophy remains, according to Zduriencik.

The scoop
"You have to be careful about [drafting for need]," Zduriencik said. "This isn't the NFL, where we're signing a guy in June and in September he's on your big league club. That is so rare when that happens. But it's nice to have the [extra] picks, it's motivated everybody and got everybody hopping like crazy to get those last looks at guys. We've all worked our tails off this spring because we know there are more guys in play for us."

First-round buzz
Zduriencik is not afraid of selecting players out of high school; five of his eight first-round picks have been preps, including three pitchers, all of whom have been derailed by injuries (Mike Jones in 2001 and Mark Rogers in 2004) or drug issues (Jeremy Jeffress in 2006). But general manager Doug Melvin has spoken of restocking the system with more advanced pitchers, so there may be some thought to spending No. 16 on a collegiate arm.

Shopping list
The organizational needs are easy to identify. The Brewers need pitching (who doesn't?) and catching (who doesn't?) and beyond prospect Mat Gamel, they are somewhat thin at third base. But because 2008 Draft picks will need Minor League seasoning, Zduriencik insisted he will line up prospects on the Draft board and make selections based simply on that. "The reality of it is that things change from year to year," Zduriencik said. "Two years from now, when the guy we draft this year is ready to be a big leaguer, the needs could be totally different."

Trend watch
Zduriencik always comes away with a mix of positions and ages, a product of the "best player available" philosophy. But look for a focus on pitching, since the team has parted with so many young arms over the past year-plus, including Dennis Sarfate, Will Inman and Joe Thatcher.

Recent top picks
Braun, the team's first-round pick in 2005, is a Draft success story. He was in the big leagues less than two years after Draft day, and last week, before his third anniversary as a pro, Braun signed a club- and industry-record seven-year contract extension. It made him the highest-paid player in Brewers history and was a record deal for a player with less than a year in the Majors. The two most recent picks are works in progress; Jeffress recently returned from a 50-game suspension and 2007 first-round pick Matt LaPorta is mashing in Double-A Huntsville. LaPorta was the Southern League's player of the week for two of the four weeks in April and looks like a legit Major League bat.

Rising fast
With Braun and Corey Hart fixtures at Milwaukee's corner outfield spots, the team will have to find a position soon for LaPorta. He came out of the University of Florida, so he was expected to be an advanced bat, but his Minor League success is still extremely encouraging. Through his first 74 games over the last two seasons, LaPorta batted .304 with 23 home runs and 70 RBIs.

Cinderella story
Hart and left-hander Manny Parra are examples of mid-round picks who have excelled. Hart was an 11th-round pick in 2000, Zduriencik's first Draft, and Parra was a 26th-round "draft and follow" pick in 2001 whose fastball jumped 8 mph in the year after he was picked. Now Hart is a fixture in the Brewers' outfield and Parra is getting his first extended big league action in the starting rotation.

In The Show
Braun is the only Brewers pick from the last three Drafts to make it to the big leagues, a sign of Milwaukee's requirement that players earn their way to the next level of the Minor League system.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.