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Draft Postgame
2004-06-11 08:37
by Jon Weisman

Here's an insider's take on Dodger first-round draftee Blake DeWitt from a friend of Terry Austin, who most recently wrote the thoughtful blog, The Bench Coach. Austin had to cease Bench Coaching because of time constraints, so I get the benefit simply through a cut and paste:

In the state sectionals, Sikeston was taking on North County, the defending state champs. Sikeston was ranked first in the state, NC second. Blake was the starter for Sikeston and a hard-throwing lefty, Shea Brady, started for North County. Brady was 10-0 on the year with 113 Ks in 58 IP and an ERA just over 1.00.

In a scoreless top of the fourth inning, Blake quickly retired the first two guys. The third one grounded a slow roller to the first baseman. It was slow enough and close enough to the bag that he looked up to see where the runner was to
determine if he had to toss to Blake covering or if he could take it himself. The ball took a bad hop at that moment and the guy got on. The next guy blooped a hit to center. The next guy crushed one for a three-run home run.

Blake was furious. And I don't think it was at the first baseman, it was at himself for allowing the home run.

But then the story gets good. In the bottom of the fifth, Sikeston loads the bases with one out. The No. 2 hitter is up; Blake is on deck. I'm thinking, anything but a double play and we're back in this. If we don't score, we're done.

The No. 2 guy Ks. So Blake walks in, bases loaded, two outs in the bottom
of the fifth. Keep in mind this is a lefty on the mound that averages two strikeouts per inning.

The catcher is a cocky, great-hitting kid. Blake had struck him out looking in the first on three pitches. It was only his second K all season. He was probably feeling pretty good about his team's chances chances being up 3-0 that late in the game. I would have felt good about his team's chances if they got Blake out in that at bat.

The first pitch was a curve for a strike. Blake was taking all the way. The catcher looks at Blake and says something along the lines of, "You just missed your pitch." Blake, stunned, asks, "What?" No answer. The catcher now is getting back in his crouch. Blake actually leans down to him. "What did you say to me?" No answer. Then Blake says, "Throw it again."

He did.

Blake crushed one over the right centerfield fence. I'm not talking about one that just clears the fence either. It went over the 350' mark. But there was a tree that was about 50' high on the other side of the fence. It went over that tree. Amazing.

Oh, and Sikeston won 4-3.

You guys got a true gem.

* * *

Two e-mails I received questioned the number of high school players in the first Dodger draft under general manager Paul DePodesta. The first is from Rick Todd, aka DodgerKid.

Looking at Baseball America, and seeing our totals, and how we favored high school players over college players, I'm perplexed. I think this was a very stupid move. The stats are out there, and they're obvious, that drafting high schoolers is really risky, and much less likely to procure good players. Why would we continue to do it? What are your thoughts?

I'm sure DePodesta knows this as well...

The second was from Charles Frenkel:

I can't seem to find any draft reviews (for free, anyway), but perhaps it's too early (?). I was a little surprised by the multiple high schoolers that the Dodgers took. Perhaps it could be seen as Paul buckling under to the rest of the organization's philosophy; but my educated guess is that Paul wants to see how exactly the L.A. system does or doesn't work, before changing gears - thus, he gave White a fair amount of leeway in choosing players (even defying David Forst's prediction that he'd give White the first pick, then turn it into a college draft).

I think this is a better approach than J.P. (Ricciardi)'s mass modification of the Jays' system, getting rid of Tim Wilken, who (I believe) was responsible for many of the Jays' stars over the last decade.

A year ago, I was a militant convert to the idea that it was a mistake to draft high school players, thanks in large part to Moneyball. Today, I'm still aware of the risk DodgerKid describes, but I also understand the Moneyball philosophy to be more generally aimed at finding value. And when more teams are drafting college players, that might mean better values are available in the prep market. This might explain why DePodesta and Dodger scouting director Logan White seem to be co-existing so easily - that they were always much more on the same page than one would have thought.

The coast isn't clear on the high school studs drafted under White - we don't know if Greg Miller's most recent injury will be his last or how much it matters that James Loney has only one home run in 118 at-bats this year. This year, though, I'm not going to be smug in either direction. I'm going to look at the Dodger draft as a diversified portfolio - hedging in both directions, value and growth.

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