Nobody is saying that it will be an unencumbered freeway ride from the early rounds of Thursday's baseball draft straight to the majors. But let's just say if any would-be Justin Uptons care to check out the Arizona Diamondbacks -- or the Tampa Bay Rays, Milwaukee Brewers or any number of other young and vibrant clubs -- it sure appears as if the toll booth is wide open these days.
|Tim Beckham is a likely candidate for Tampa Bay at No. 1. (AP)|
Might we see schoolboy shortstop Tim Beckham (Griffin, Ga.) picking it for Tampa Bay a couple of summers from now?
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez (Vanderbilt University) helping to turn around a Pittsburgh franchise in which the Pirates logo should have patches over both eyes?
Catcher Buster Posey (Florida State) calling games in a year or two as part of an improving -- a recent 12-game losing streak notwithstanding -- Kansas City Royals club?
You don't need to be a big-league scouting director, Bill James or even Peter Gammons to see that prospects are making a quicker impact today than at any time in recent memory.
"If you can play, you'll get to the big leagues in a hurry," one National League executive says. "I guarantee it."
No team in the game is younger than the Diamondbacks, whose average age of 27.6 belies their dependence on kids such as Upton (20), Stephen Drew (24), Mark Reynolds (24), Chris Young (24), Conor Jackson (25) and, now, even Max Scherzer (23).
All but Young are homegrown, products of some enviable drafts overseen by Mike Rizzo, who, since July 2006, has been an assistant general manager for the Washington Nationals following seven seasons with Arizona (most of which he spent as the Diamondbacks' director of scouting).
The 2007 Diamondbacks, with all but Scherzer playing key roles, advanced to the NL Championship Series -- where they lost to a Colorado club led by a precocious rookie shortstop named Troy Tulowitzki.
Tulowitzki was part of a 2005 draft that already is well on its way toward becoming perhaps the greatest since the draft was instituted in 1965. Other '05 first-rounders who already are making a solid impact: Upton, third baseman Alex Gordon (Kansas City), third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (Washington), outfielder Ryan Braun (Milwaukee) and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston).
Oh, and some kid center fielder who debuted last Tuesday in Cincinnati and is hitting .577 with three homers and seven RBI in seven games: Jay Bruce.
Milwaukee has resurrected a once-moribund franchise under general manager Doug Melvin thanks to the exceptional draft work of one of his special assistants, Jack Zduriencik. Selected as the first non-GM to win Baseball America's Major League Executive of the Year award, Zduriencik, so honored in 2007, has helped the Brewers find Prince Fielder, Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy and Yovani Gallardo.