Expect a weaker draft this time

May 20 2012 - 6:10pm

No major-league club wants to be constantly picking at the top of the amateur draft.

"That means you're not winning games at the top level," says Brewers general manager Doug Melvin . "The goal is to pick at the bottom of the draft. That means your major-league club is successful."

The Brewers were successful in 2011, winning their first National League Central crown and setting a franchise record with 96 victories. Accordingly, their draft slot for the first round of the draft June 4 is No. 28 among the 30 clubs (there are 31 first-round picks because Toronto gets compensation for failing to sign its top pick last year).

The Brewers also inherited the No. 27 selection previously held by Detroit as compensation for losing free agent Prince Fielder to the Tigers. They also picked up a supplemental first-round pick at No. 38. So, from Nos. 27 through 38, the Brewers will make three of 12 selections.

Being at the bottom of the first round makes it nearly impossible to project which players will still be on the board. That's especially true this year in a somewhat muddled draft in which few players have separated themselves from the pack. In other words, there is no Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper this year.

The college class is particularly weak, especially in position players, a sign that most of the top high school draft picks went pro three years ago. There are some solid collegiate pitchers, such as Stanford's Mark Appel, LSU's Kevin Gausman, San Francisco's Kyle Zimmer and Texas A&M's Michael Wacha.

The Houston Astros have the top selection and have their eye on Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton, University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino and the aforementioned college pitchers. After the top five to eight players available, the picture gets a bit murkier.

Baseball America, which does a terrific job tracking the draft -- before, during and afterward -- already has held its initial mock first round. BA has the Brewers taking Florida prep shortstop Addison Russell at No. 27 and Nevada prep third baseman Joey Gallo at No. 28.

If those players are still on the board, they certainly would make sense for the Brewers. It's no secret they are thin at shortstop in their system and therefore would have interest in Russell, who is represented by Scott Boras and has a scholarship to Auburn. Gallo, who also displays a blazing fastball as a pitcher, has tremendous raw power, another commodity in short supply in Milwaukee's system. There are few impact bats in the college ranks, so if you're looking for hitters, you'll look to the high school level.

Under the collective bargaining agreement that went into effect after last season, several changes were made to try to rein in spending on the draft that had gotten out of whack. Each team has been assigned a total pool of money to be spent on its selections, depending on the number of selections it has and placement in each round.

The Brewers, who have 12 picks in the first 10 rounds, have a draft pool of $6,764,700 to work with in signing their selections. Any team that goes over its spending allotment by up to 5 percent is taxed 75 percent on the overage. Exceeding the limit by between 5 percent and 10 percent results in a 75 percent tax and the loss of a first-round pick next year, with penalties getting stiffer the more a team goes over budget.

The signing deadline also was moved up from Aug. 15 to July 13, giving teams just over a month to come to terms with draft picks or lose them. With restrictions on total money spent and the shorter signing period, many predict that more high school picks with college scholarships will exercise that option rather than going pro.

Accordingly, "signability" will be more important than ever. Teams no longer will be able to greatly overpay high school prospects to forgo college scholarships.

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On the radar screen

As shaky as some of the performances have been out of the Brewers' bullpen, it's difficult to imagine a late-inning reliever at Class AAA Nashville with a 0.00 ERA still waiting to be summoned.

That's the situation with right-hander Jim Henderson, who entered Friday having allowed no earned runs in 11 appearances covering 182/3 innings for the Sounds. Henderson had issued eight walks and struck out 19.

What's the story, you ask? For beginners, Henderson is 29 and has spent all of his 10 professional seasons in the minors with nary a call-up.

The knock against Henderson was that his stuff was too erratic, in particular his breaking ball. He compiled a 5.93 ERA in 20 outings at Nashville last year and a 5.46 ERA in 45 appearances at Class AA Huntsville the previous season. But he has a fastball that registers regularly in the low 90s.

Henderson's command has been sharper this year, and though he is not on the 40-man roster, Brewers officials have talked about promoting him.

"He has moved himself into a position of consideration," said Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash . "He clearly has the ability; he just has been inconsistent in the past.

"The interesting thing is that he was on the verge of being released in the spring. But we had a need at Nashville and he was sent there. He's a grinder."

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Gone, not forgotten

Games won't be the same at Fox Cities Stadium for fans of the Brewers' Class A Wisconsin affiliate with the passing of Brock Calmes.

Calmes, 28, died Monday after a brief illness. Since he was a teenager, Calmes had served as a vendor for the Timber Rattlers, entertaining fans with his booming voice as he sold the staples of ball games -- peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy.

The team held a moment of silence Wednesday before the game against Burlington, and a memorial service will be held at the ballpark this Wednesday, beginning at 6 p.m.

"It won't be the same without Brock because you could hear him from one end of the stadium to the other," Timber Rattlers media relations director Chris Mehring told the Appleton Post-Crescent. "People would not buy from other concession hawkers because they wanted to buy straight from Brock."

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The same spin

As the Brewers stumble through the middle of May, we've heard a lot about how they struggled at this stage last season before getting it in gear and finishing with 96 victories. The same spin is coming from the Brewers' 2011 NL Division Series opponent, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The D'backs also have scuffled, wallowing below .500 as they did early last season before turning it around and winning the NL West title. But general manager Kevin Towers cautioned about comparing one season with a previous one.

"We haven't played that well this year," said Towers. "Last year, we were losing a lot of close, one-run games (in the early going). "This year, we have been pretty sporadic. We haven't been nearly as consistent. Every other day we are looking fairly decent."

One thing that will be difficult to repeat is the number of comeback victories the D'backs compiled in 2011. They led the majors with 48 come-from behind wins, and the magic isn't always there the next year.

The Cincinnati Reds discovered that a year ago. After leading the league in comeback victories in 2010 and winning the NL Central, they stumbled to a 79-83 record.

Which is why it's dangerous to say, "We started slow last year, too, and it all worked out." No two seasons are the same.

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Still waiting

Interleague play began in 1997, but fans have yet to see 12 matchups at particular venues. Every team has played each club in the other league but some have yet to visit every city in the other circuit.

This may change when interleague play becomes a daily feature in 2013, with Houston moving from the NL Central to the AL West to give each league 15 teams. But, for now, these particular 12 matchups have yet to occur:

Athletics at Brewers, Brewers at Mariners, Braves at Royals, White Sox at Mets, Cubs at Athletics, Twins at Nationals, Rangers at Cardinals, Dodgers at Yankees, Twins at Braves, Rays at Dodgers, Padres at Blue Jays and Cardinals at Angels. Oakland played in Milwaukee and the Brewers went to Seattle before moving to the NL in 1998, so we're talking interleague play only.

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AROUND THE BASES

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

MLB: Cincinnati 1B Joey Votto

Last Sunday against Washington, Votto became the first player in major-league history to sock a game-ending grand slam for his third home run of the game. Votto drove in six runs in that 9-6 victory.

BREWERS: RHP Zack Greinke

For the second consecutive start, Greinke allowed no runs Tuesday night in New York. Over seven innings, he surrendered only five hits and no walks while striking out seven. In his last two starts, he has pitched 15 scoreless innings with no walks and 18 strikeouts.

WEEK AHEAD

Dodgers at D'backs: Monday-Wednesday. Arizona needs to get going.

Tigers at Indians: Tuesday-Thursday. Chance for Tigers to close in.

Nationals at Braves: Friday-Sunday. Battle atop NL East.

Rays at Red Sox: Friday-Sunday. Boston playing catch-up.

BREWERS THIS WEEK

The Brewers' schedule takes on a distinct NL West flavor this week. They finish their home stand with three games against the San Francisco Giants, then after a day off Thursday, embark on a seven-game trip that includes three at Arizona and four at Los Angeles.

DID YOU KNOW?

Entering Friday, the Los Angeles Angels were 85-21 (.802) since the start of the 2011 season when scoring four runs or more and 18-77 (.189) when scoring three or fewer. This year's disparity was 16-4 (.800) when scoring four or more runs and 1-18 (.053) when they didn't.

YOU FIGURE IT OUT

When Atlanta jettisoned 38-year-old right-hander Derek Lowe to Cleveland over the off-season while paying $10 million of his $15 million salary, many people wondered what the Indians were doing. But nobody is second-guessing them now.

With a six-hit shutout of Minnesota on Tuesday, Lowe boosted his record to 6-1 with an AL-best 2.05 ERA. This is the same Derek Lowe who was 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA last season for the Braves.

Lowe's 127-pitch blanking of the Twins made him the first pitcher since 2002 (Baltimore's Scott Erickson vs. Kansas City) to throw a shutout with no strikeouts. It also was his first shutout since Aug. 31, 2005, and first complete game since Aug. 26, 2008.

Since 1918, only three Cleveland pitchers have tossed a shutout at a later age than Lowe, who will be 39 on June 1. Those pitchers were Dennis Martinez (six times), Satchel Paige (twice) and Joe Heving.

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