Draft classes are a lot like fine wine. You're not really sure what you have until they age a bit.
And while it still may be a bit early to put a stamp of approval on the members of the First-Year Player Draft class of 2008, early indications point to a truly outstanding vintage.
"I thought it was a great year, just for bats in general," said one scouting director. "Some of the advanced college bats are already in Double-A and they're going to prove they were worthy of where they were selected. Some of the high school hitters were premium bats."
Out of the 30 players taken in the first round of 2008, 28 signed and they have all started their professional careers. While they've gotten off to varying degrees of on-field success, the overall results have been impressive.
Of those 28, 23 made their pro debuts at some point last summer. Of the remaining five, four signed too late to play in '08 but have all taken the field this spring. The fifth was unable to play last year due to an injury, but is also in action now.
In a Draft that was skewed toward college players (of the 28 who signed, 20 were out of college), 25 are currently with full-season squads (and one of the three who isn't is absent due to injury; otherwise he would be playing with an Advanced A squad).
The overall Minor League leader boards are peppered with 2008 first-round names after the first month of the season, with representation from hitters and pitchers alike.
So, how does the 2009 Draft class stack up against its predecessors? While that remains to be seen, the scouting director believes it's going to be a tough act to follow.
"That's the weird thing about this year," he said. "There aren't those guys in the Draft. I thought last year was a great Draft class. You could have taken any of those guys taken in the first 10 picks and been happy with any of them. All of those guys were guys any Major League club would love to have in their organization as a prospect, somebody who could get to the big leagues quickly. I feel strongly about that."
While most eyes are on the upcoming Class of 2009, let's take a look back at what last year's vintage has been up to.
1. Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay Rays: This five-tool prospect taken out of high school in Georgia is a true shortstop whom the Rays brought into the fold nice and early, no doubt aided by the fact that they also drafted his older brother Jeremy in the 17th round. Both are at Class A Bowling Green, where the younger Beckham is hitting .314 with two homers and 23 RBIs.
2. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates: Alvarez was not quite as easy to sign as Beckham. The Vanderbilt slugger did not join the Pirates fold until after extended and contentious negotiations, but he made up for lost time when he homered in his first pro game this spring at Advanced A Lynchburg. He's been making adjustments, hitting .214 with six home runs and 25 RBIs.
3. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals: Known for his raw power potential, the 19-year-old drafted out of high school in Florida could be fast-tracked by the Royals despite his age. At Class A Burlington to start the season, he is hitting .233 with eight RBIs.
4. Brian Matusz, LHP, Baltimore Orioles: A polished southpaw with great secondary stuff drafted out of the University of San Diego, Matusz was a late sign who saw some action in the Arizona Fall League but made his official pro debut on Opening Night as the ace of the Advanced A Frederick Keys rotation. He ranked among the Minor League leaders in strikeouts as well as strikeouts per nine innings with 45 in 34 innings, including 13 in seven innings in his last start. Overall, he has a 3.18 ERA in six starts.
5. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants: The Florida State product was the 2008 College Player of the Year as he led Division I in batting at .463 as well as slugging and RBIs. Still learning the finer points of catching, he has all the physical tools to be a fine backstop. At Advanced A San Jose, Posey is batting .299 with five homers and 22 RBIs.
6. Kyle Skipworth, C, Florida Marlins: The left-handed hitter out of high school in California has great power potential and his defense has been coming along nicely, especially for someone who didn't move behind the plate until his junior year of high school. At Class A Greensboro, he is batting .176 with one home run and 11 RBIs.
7. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: An excellent defensive first baseman out of the University of Miami, the Reds will eventually have to make a call as to which of their great young first basemen -- Alonso or incumbent Joey Votto -- makes the shift to the outfield. One of the best pure hitters in the draft with plus power, Alonso is hitting .283 with five homers and is among the Minor League leaders in RBIs with 28 at Advanced A Sarasota.
8. Gordon Beckham, SS, Chicago White Sox: No relation to Tim Beckham, this University of Georgia product has plus power, especially for a middle infielder, and was so impressive this spring he came close to breaking camp with the big league club. At Double-A Birmingham, he is batting .303 with two homers and 14 RBIs and is among the Minor League leaders with 14 doubles.
9. Aaron Crow, RHP, Washington Nationals: The former Missouri ace and the Nationals did not come to terms, so he returns to this year's Draft and will be showcasing himself as a member of the rotation of the Fort Worth Cats in the independent American Association when their season gets under way this week. Crow was 13-0 with a 2.35 ERA for Missouri last spring, including a 43-inning scoreless streak. Speculation is that he'll once again go in the first round.
10. Jason Castro, C, Houston Astros: A Stanford product, Castro impresses with solid tools straight across the board, and adds a great work ethic and makeup to his strong defense and live bat. At Advanced A Lancaster, he is hitting .272 with four homers and 19 RBIs.
11. Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas Rangers: The switch-hitter out of South Carolina boasts big-time power as well as ranking among the top defensive first basemen in his Draft class. He is off to a stellar start at Class A Clinton this year, hitting .355 with five homers and 20 RBIs and is among the Minor League leaders with a .474 on-base average.
12. Jemile Weeks, 2B, Oakland Athletics: The younger brother of Milwaukee Brewers infielder Rickie Weeks, Jemile shined for the University of Miami last spring and was off to a strong start at Class A Kane County before suffering a hip flexor, which wiped out the rest of his season and most of his spring. Now saddled with additional leg problems, his ETA is up in the air.
13. Brett Wallace, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals: The two-time Pac-10 Triple Crown winner out of Arizona State stayed on fire with one of the best offensive debuts of any first-rounder in 2008, hitting a combined .337 between Class A Quad Cities and Double-A Springfield. He returns to Springfield, where he is hitting .284 with five home runs and 16 RBIs, and is one of those closest from among this group's hitters to being ready for the bigs.
14. Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins: Drafted out of high school in California, where he was a product of MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, the switch-hitting teenager has big-time talent. After hitting .318 with 12 steals in the Gulf Coast League, he's currently in extended Spring Training awaiting assignment.
15. Ethan Martin, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers: The high schooler from Georgia signed with the Dodgers in mid-July but a knee injury kept him from officially beginning his professional career until last month, as a member of the Class A Great Lake Loons' rotation. The first high school pitcher taken, he has a fastball in the mid-90s and a power curve, and is 3-1 with a 2.16 ERA in six games, with 32 strikeouts in 25 innings and a .204 average against.
16. Brett Lawrie, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers: Though he caught and played third base in high school in British Columbia, the teenage power hitter has been converted to second base, at least for now. He delayed his pro debut until this year as he played for Team Canada in the 2008 Olympics and with their World Baseball Classic squad. With Class A Wisconsin, Lawrie is hitting .298 with four homers, 21 RBIs and eight steals.
17. David Cooper, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: The first of the first-rounders to sign, the left-handed hitter out of Cal-Berkeley combined to hit .333 at three levels of the Minors in 2008 and started the '09 campaign at Double-A New Hampshire, where he is batting .263 with a homer and 13 RBIs. A polished player with line-drive power to all fields, he's on an accelerated pace.
18. Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets: The son of former All-Star reliever Ron Davis opted to go the hitter route instead. He flashes a spectacular glove at first base, though he is also solid in right field if needed. The Arizona State product is batting .278 with a homer and eight RBIs for Advanced A St. Lucie.
19. Andrew Cashner, RHP, Chicago Cubs: The Texas Christian University product spent most of his pro debut at short-season Boise last summer but finished up at Advanced A Daytona, where his postseason heroics on the mound helped lead the team to the Florida State League title. He returned to Daytona late in April after missing the first few weeks with an oblique strain. Still on a pitch limit as a result, he'd posted a 1.00 ERA in three starts over nine innings.
20. Joshua Fields, RHP, Seattle Mariners: The Georgia closer had the luxury of not having to abide by the Aug. 15 signing deadline because he was a senior, so he did not join the Mariners fold until late February. Armed with a plus fastball, he was sent right to Double-A West Tenn, where he has a 6.00 ERA over 10 outings with 15 strikeouts in nine innings.
21. Ryan Perry, RHP, Detroit Tigers: The closer at Arizona, Perry has hit 100 mph with his fastball numerous times and adds a good slider to the back-of-the-bullpen mix. He was the lone member of this first 30 to crack the big leagues this spring, earning a spot in the Tigers bullpen when Joel Zumaya started the year on the disabled list. He has a 2.92 ERA in 13 games with 10 strikeouts, albeit 11 walks, in 12 1/3 innings.
22. Reese Havens, SS, New York Mets: Drafted out of South Carolina, a sore arm limited him strictly to DH duties with short-season Brooklyn in his debut last summer, but he's back at shortstop now with Advanced A St. Lucie and is considered a fine defensive prospect. He is hitting .254 with six homers and 15 RBIs.
23. Allan Dykstra, 1B, San Diego Padres: No relation to Lenny Dykstra or Lenny's son Cutter, a prospect in the Milwaukee system, this Dykstra is a Wake Forest product with tremendous raw power whose draft spot slipped a bit due to concerns about a hip injury. At Class A Fort Wayne, he is hitting .174 with a homer and 13 RBIs.
24. Anthony Hewitt, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies: The shortstop-turned-third baseman, just 19, is a high school power hitter who is still raw but his tools and talent were irresistible to the Phillies. A New York City native, he opted to go pro over a scholarship to Vanderbilt. He'll work on his game in extended Spring Training and break camp in June with one of the two short-season clubs.
25. Christian Friedrich, LHP, Colorado Rockies: Armed with a plus slider and a 12-6 curveball as his out pitches, the Eastern Kentucky product combined for a 4.31 ERA between short-season Tri-City and Class A Asheville last year, and got off to a terrific start back with the Tourists this season. He is among the Minor League leaders in ERA and strikeouts with an 0.93 ERA and 45 strikeouts against eight walks in 29 innings over five starts. He fanned 10 in back-to-back games and is limiting hitters to a .188 average.
26. Daniel Schlereth, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: The son of former NFL star Mark Schlereth was the closer for the University of Arizona and has the stuff and makeup to earn that role in the big leagues before too long. With a plus fastball and power curve, he has a 1.69 ERA in nine games at Double-A Mobile and has limited hitters to a .176 average.
27. Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, Minnesota Twins: The closer for the University of Miami moved from starting to relief after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery that wiped out his 2007 season. But now he's starting again for the Advanced A Fort Myers Miracle, with a 1.50 ERA in six starts, walking six while fanning 19 in three innings and limiting batters to a .162 average so far.
28. Gerrit Cole, RHP, New York Yankees: A 17-year-old prep star in California, the lifelong Yankees fan posted an 0.47 ERA as a high school senior but in the end, opted to head to UCLA rather than turn pro at this point. The Yankees and the other 29 teams will get another shot at him in three years.
29. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Cleveland Indians: Converted from shortstop to third base this year, the North Carolina junior college draftee has some pop as well, as his grand slams in back-to-back games at Advanced A Kinston in late April will attest. He is hitting .333 with six homers and 32 RBIs to rank among the Minor League RBI leaders.
30. Casey Kelly, RHP/SS, Boston Red Sox: A two-way athlete in high school, Kelly wanted to stay at shortstop and the Red Sox wanted him to pitch. So, once signed, he played shortstop at short-season Lowell last summer, but this year will try both. He opened the season at Class A Greenville as a pitcher and is 4-0 with a 1.15 ERA in six starts, striking out 30 while walking five in 31 1/3 innings to rank among Minor League leaders in ERA. The plan at this point remains for him to move back to shortstop midway through the season.