Older players dominate draft's first day
Hochevar taken first overall; first prep player chosen seventh
NEW YORK -- Luke Hochevar waffled last summer.
He played a game of musical agents, flip-flopped on his decision to sign with the Dodgers after they made him the 40th pick in the draft and ultimately put his trust in Scott Boras. The superagent convinced Hochevar it would be best if he didn't sign with Los Angeles because a better deal could be had elsewhere, and the hard-throwing right-hander listened.
Clearly, Hochevar gambled. But his faith in his own ability, not to mention his belief in Boras' negotiating tactics, turned out to be the right move. Tuesday, the Royals surprisingly made Hochevar the top pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. Hochevar's selection marked the first time since 2002 and only the second time since 1998 that a high school player was not chosen No. 1 overall.
It marked just the beginning of what would be a college-heavy first round. While 13 high school players were selected in the first round -- four more than were chosen in the top 30 picks a year ago -- the first prep player wasn't chosen until seventh overall, when the Dodgers grabbed Highland Park High School (Texas) product Clayton Kershaw. It marks the lowest that a high school player has 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.
Of the 556 players drafted on Tuesday, only 28 percent (158) were from high school. Should that trend continue on Wednesday, it would mark the lowest percentage of high school players chosen since 1985, when 25 percent of the players chosen were prep schoolers. Monsignor Edward Pace High in Florida didn't seem hindered by the trend, however, seeing four of its players drafted -- outfielder Chris Marrero (15th to the Nationals), shortstop Adrian Cardenas (37th to the Phillies), catcher Franco Valdes (442nd to Detroit) and third baseman Jose Jimenez (495th to the White Sox).
There were 11 AFLAC All-Americans chosen in the first and supplemental rounds, 10 of which were selected in the first round.
The biggest surprise may have come in the supplemental first round, when the Dodgers grabbed Preston Mattingly, the son of former Yankees captain Don Mattingly, with the 31st overall pick. Mattingly wasn't expected by many to get drafted early on the first day, if at all, but Los Angeles' scouting director Logan White didn't hesitate to grab the Indiana prep star who has committed to the University of Tennessee.
"Russell Martin and Matt Kemp weren't in anybody's top 200 when we took them," said White, who drafted that pair in his first two drafts as Dodgers scouting director and has seen them make Major League impacts this year. "We knew [Mattingly would] go in the second or third round. He's got great bloodlines. He's a high-ceiling kid, one of the best athletes in the draft."
Colorado followed the Royals in the first round by choosing Stanford 6-foot-7 right-hander Greg Reynolds with the second selection. Tampa Bay grabbed Long Beach State third baseman Evan Longoria with the third pick while Pittsburgh and Seattle rounded out the top five by choosing University of Houston starter Brad Lincoln and University of California starter Brandon Morrow, respectively.
The Royals, who chose third baseman Alex Gordon with the second overall pick last season, made the early noise, though. They had been debating the merits of choosing North Carolina product Andrew Miller or Lincoln. Ultimately, though, the club's scouting department felt that Hochevar was further along in his development than the aforementioned duo and that signing him would be more cost-effective.
Incoming general manager Dayton Moore, who was named to the post last week, was not involved in the decision to choose Hochevar, who has pitching for the Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association.
The Dodgers, having forfeited their top pick in 2005 as a result of signing Derek Lowe, chose Hochevar with their first pick. It marked the second time Los Angeles had taken him, the first coming in the 39th round of the 2002 draft when he was coming out of high school.
Though Hochevar was considered one of the top pitching prospects in last season's draft, signability issues caused him to slip into the supplemental round. And, as expected, the negotiations dragged out and by the end of the summer, Hochevar appeared to switch agents, leaving Boras in favor of Matt Sosnick.
Sosnick and Hochevar then reached an agreement with the Dodgers on a $2.98 million bonus in September, or at least that's how it seemed, before the hurler changed his mind again and rejoined Boras' group. At that point, negotiations broke off and the stalemate continued through the winter, when it became obvious that Hochevar would not sign with Los Angeles with each passing month.
Hochevar, as many Boras clients have done (see Stephen Drew), opted to play in independent ball this spring, signing with Fort Worth, where through Tuesday he has gone 1-1 with a 2.38 ERA in four starts. He's fanned 34 and walked 11 while opposition has managed to hit .244 against him. Hochevar was 25-10 with a 3.10 ERA in three years at Tennessee, going 15-3 with a 2.26 ERA in 2005, helping the Vols reach the College World Series.
Reynolds, meanwhile, has helped pitch the Cardinal into this weekend's Super Regional against Oregon State. He's 7-5 with a 3.37 with a 3.36 ERA in 17 starts and has pitched complete games in five of his last six outings, including striking out seven and walking two in a Regional victory last week against North Carolina State.
Longoria, who hit .353 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs in 56 games for the Dirtbags, is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which is presented annually by USA Baseball to the top collegiate player in the country.
Lincoln went 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA in 17 starts for Houston, which was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament over the weekend by Oklahoma. The right-hander posted a pair of shutouts, striking out 152 and walking only 32 to lead the Cougars while Morrow, an All Pac-10 selection, was 7-4 with a 2.05 ERA in 14 starts after splitting his freshman and sophomore seasons between the bullpen and the rotation.
The Dodgers, Nationals and Red Sox were the only teams with multiple picks in the first round. Los Angeles also went the high school route with its second pick, selecting Huntington Beach (Calif.) catcher Hyun Choi Conger. The Nationals, meanwhile, grabbed prep outfielder Chris Marrero from Monsignor Pace in Florida with the 15th pick before tabbing fellow Floridian prep star Colton Willems from John Carroll High.
Boston, which had its own pick at 27 and the Yankees' pick at 28 (for signing Johnny Damon), selected high school outfielder Jason Place and University of North Carolina right-hander Jason Bard.
Other first-round picks of note include Andrew Miller, the University of North Carolina hurler whom many predicted would go No. 1 overall to Kansas City. He went to Detroit sixth overall. Kyle Drabek, son of former Major Leaguer Doug Drabek, went to the Phillies at No. 18, lower than expected while Mattingly went to the Dodgers with the first pick in the supplemental round.
Aside from Mattingly, there were other relatives of familiar names who went on Day 1. The highest of whom was Drabek. Chad Tracy, son of Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy, was taken by the Rangers in the third round out of Pepperdine. The Mets took Jeremy Barfield, the son of former slugger Jesse Barfield and brother of current San Diego infielder Josh Barfield, in the ninth round.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.