Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Note to keep in mind come draft time -- Jeremy Slayden 

Georgia Tech junior outfielder Jeremy Slayden, a first-team pre-season All-American, will miss the season because of rotator cuff surgery.

After an early slump, Slayden had posted a .294/.394/.523 line in 2003, a slight step backwards after an electrifying freshman season where he hit .348/.442/.625, with a GaTech freshman record 18 homers. BA had him as their #30 college prospect coming into the 2004 season, and John Manuel pegged him as a possible first-round pick in 2004.

So what does this have to do with the Rangers? Slayden is the type of player Fuson has focused on in past drafts -- a corner outfielder without a lot of athleticism, but with good plate discipline (note the 100 point spread between batting average and OBP) and power potential. Very similar to 2003 draftees Andrew Wishy and Jeremy Cleveland (although both Wishy and Cleveland are bigger than the 6'0" Slayden), who turned a lot of heads with impressive performances in Spokane. In short, a guy who can hit.

As a player who appeared to be a late first- or second-rounder in 2004, Slayden was looking at a significant payday. I'm not positive of the NCAA eligibility rules, but having played only 9 games this year, I think Slayden can red-shirt, which would give him a significant negotiating advantage, since he would have two years of eligibility remaining (much as Vince Sinisi did this year). Such a situation would likely make Slayden slide into the later parts of the draft, since a team is likely to be loathe to burn a high pick on a player who missed the majority of the prior season to injury, and who would likely demand at least second- or third-round money to sign. And Grady Fuson has a history of spending above-bracket money to get a guy who slid because of signability concerns -- Patrick Boyd, Kiki Bengochea, Marc LaMacchia, and Sinisi all come to mind. With the major league payroll now almost $50 million lower than last season, Fuson surely has the flexibility to stretch the budget to try to sign a first or second round talent, if he could snag him in rounds 10-15.

In any case, it seems like something to keep an eye out for...Slayden's profile seems to fit what Fuson looks for in a player, and he's pulled the trigger on these types of tough signs in the past. I wouldn't be surprised if he snagged Slayden in the June draft in round 12 or 13, gave him a couple of months to see how his shoulder is progressing, and then gave him second-round money to bring him into the fold.

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