The No. 1 pick in the draft, hard-throwing Luke Hochevar, is Kansas City's hopefor a quick reversal on the field and in the news
Four hours beforethe start of the major league draft on June 6, Luke Hochevar was driving backfrom a gym to his apartment in Knoxville, Tenn., when he received a cellphonecall from his agent, Scott Boras. "How do you feel about going Number1?" asked Boras, who had just heard from the Royals that they were going touse the top pick on the 22-year-old righthanded starter. A stunned Hochevarquietly broke down in tears. "I had heard there was an outside chance thatI'd be the pick," says the former Tennessee ace, who was selected at No. 40by the Dodgers in 2005 but rejected their contract offer, took last summer offand reentered the draft this spring. "Honestly, though, I was as surprisedas everyone else."
Indeed, KansasCity's 11th-hour decision to take Hochevar was an unexpected draft-day twist.It was widely projected that the Royals would pick North Carolina lefty AndrewMiller, but privately the organization was torn between Hochevar, Miller (whowent to the Tigers at No. 6) and Houston righty Brad Lincoln (to the Pirates atNo. 4).
According toscouting director Deric Ladnier, after much deliberation K.C. settled on thelanky 6'5" Hochevar because he was the most advanced pitcher in the draft.As early as mid-summer 2007 Hochevar, who throws a mid-90s fastball and anabove-average slider, could provide a much-needed boost to a rotation thatthrough Sunday had the worst team ERA (6.24) in the majors. The Royals scoff atreports that they passed on Miller because of his price tag--he was reportedlyseeking a signing bonus close to $6 million. Says Ladnier, "We never talkedmoney with Miller's people."
If signabilitywere a top concern for Kansas City, it most likely would have passed onHochevar--expected to seek at least $3 million--as well. During contractnegotiations with the Dodgers last year, Hochevar grew frustrated with the slowpace of the talks, left Boras and, through another agent, agreed to a $2.98million bonus in September; but he had second thoughts and rehired Boras, andno deal was made.
Hochevar startedthrowing again in January, and in April he signed with the Fort Worth Cats ofthe independent American Association. He made four impressive starts in frontof an army of major league scouts. "He quickly reestablished himself as atop pitcher, arguably the best in this draft," says one NL scout who sawhim throw. "There were no longer any concerns about his layoff."
Preliminarynegotiations between Kansas City and Boras began on Sunday. Desperate forpositive press, the woeful Royals--who were 16--45 and on pace to tie the 1962Mets' modern record for most losses in a season--realize they have to get thefirst No. 1 pick in franchise history signed as soon as possible. LastThursday's press conference introducing new general manager Dayton Moore turnedcontentious when reporters grilled owner David Glass for dragging out thefiring of Moore's predecessor, Allard Baird. The following day, the Royalsrevoked the credentials of two reporters who were particularly critical ofGlass, a frugal owner who has become a symbol of his franchise's futility.Since the former Wal-Mart CEO took over in 2000, the Royals have played .404baseball and, assuming another 100-loss outfit this year, will have fielded thefour worst teams in franchise history. "These are bad times for thefranchise, and they could only get worse if they don't lock up Hochevar,"says an executive for another American League club.
Hochevar has faiththat a deal will get done soon. "I want to get out there as soon aspossible," he says, "[and] be a part of turning things around for thisfranchise."
Life Isn't Good Without Pujols
The Cardinals, whountil last week were cruising to their third consecutive 100-win season and NLCentral title, quickly discovered what life is like without slugger AlbertPujols. After its All-Star first baseman was put on the DL on June 4 with astrained right oblique, St. Louis suffered a three-game sweep at the hands ofthe Reds before taking two of three from the Brewers. Pujols--who is out untilat least early July--had accounted for a third of the Cards' run production (92of 276 runs), the highest percentage in the majors. To make matters worse,cleanup hitter Jim Edmonds continues to struggle (7 for 29 at week's end) as heplays through an abdominal injury.
By the end of theweek Cincinnati was only 11/2 games out and Houston was six back with RogerClemens warming up in the minors. "It's going to be tempting for them toget Pujols back in there soon," says a National League executive, "butcoming back too quickly from that kind of injury could be devastating."
St. Louis G.M.Walt Jocketty is seeking a first baseman with punch--he's pursued the Orioles'Jeff Conine and the Pirates' Craig Wilson--but isn't convinced he will swing adeal soon. "There are clubs who see our situation and probably think we'regoing to panic and overpay to do something," he says. "I haven't had aconversation with anyone who's close to doing anything."
These four players' stocks dropped heading into the June 6 draft, but aNational League scout explains why they may turn out to be steals.
DANIEL BARD, RHP,North Carolina; drafted No. 28 by the Red Sox Could have been a top 10 pick butslid because he was inconsistent his junior year; durable with a good mid-90sfastball, very good curve.
KYLE DRABEK(above), RHP, The Woodlands (Texas) High; No. 18, Phillies Perhaps the mosttalented in the draft, teams passed because of [behavior issues]; a 97-mphfastball and an often unhittable curve.
CHRIS MARRERO, OF,Msgr. Pace High (Opa-Locka, Fla.); No. 15, Nationals Once considered the tophigh school position player in his class, he underperformed senior year; stilla great five-tool talent.
BRYAN MORRIS, RHP,Motlow State C.C. (Tullahoma, Tenn.); No. 26, Dodgers L.A. thought about takinghim at No. 7 but picked him up later; a 95-mph fastball with good late life anda plus breaking ball.
> Check outJohn Donovan's power rankings at SI.com/baseball.
MICHAEL AINSWORTH/DALLAS MORNING NEWS/AP (HOCHEVAR)
COMINGSOON? Hochevar, who made four starts for Fort Worth, could aid a dismal K.C.staff next year, if tightfisted owner Glass (inset) opens hiswallet.
BARRY TAYLOR/WIREIMAGE.COM (GLASS)
[See caption above]
DIAMOND IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES (DRABEK)