What's the fantasy fallout from the 2008 First-Year Player Draft? Here are five first-round picks who are in prime position to make an impact at the big league level sooner rather than later.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
Drafted: 2nd overall
College: Vanderbilt University
Height/Weight: 6'2"/212 lbs.
Scouting report: Alvarez entered the season as the top player, talent-wise, in the Draft, and even though he missed a chunk of the season after suffering a broken hamate bone in his right hand, his status hasn't suffered. While his timing and strength have been slow in fully returning, most are confident it will and point to a long track record of success for Alvarez.
Fantasy forecast: For years, the Pirates have been yearning for a big-time power threat like Alvarez, who set the Vanderbilt single-season home run record at 22 -- as a freshman. It certainly can't hurt that his primary position is third base, currently occupied by the uninspiring Jose Bautista, or that he bats left-handed, a sore spot ever since Brian Giles was shipped to San Diego. The team might also decide to convert him into a first baseman with Adam LaRoche on the outs. Regardless, should Alvarez live up to his high billing, the opportunity for him to shoot through the farm system is clearly there.
Brian Matusz, SP, Orioles
Drafted: 4th overall
College: University of San Diego
Height/Weight: 6'4"/200 lbs.
Scouting report: After a slow start to the season, Matusz has remained one of the, if not THE top pitcher in this year's Draft class. The lefty has four pitches he can throw for strikes and isn't afraid to use his entire arsenal in a game. His velocity has been a little down this year and he hasn't pitched off his fastball as much as some would like, but he's still got front-of-the-rotation potential.
Fantasy forecast: The first pitcher off the board, Matusz goes to a perfect situation in Baltimore, where rebuilding is no longer a dirty word but a fact of life. Quality pitching prospects are few and far between in the Orioles' farm system, so the 6-foot-4 left-hander -- who already features a four-pitch arsenal, including some deceptive offspeed stuff, according to scouting reports -- instantly jumps to the top of their list. A respectable Minor League showing could catapult him to Baltimore within a couple of years. Remember, the only southpaw in the Orioles' rotation is Brian Burres.
Gordon Beckham, SS, White Sox
Drafted: 8th overall
College: University of Georgia
Height/Weight: 6'0"/175 lbs.
Scouting report: At first glance, he doesn't stand out. But then you watch him play for a little and can't help but be impressed. Beckham has quality at-bats and shows pretty good pop, which is surprising, considering his size. He's capable of being an excellent defender but might be better suited at second as a pro.
Fantasy forecast: The timetable for Beckham's ascension to the bigs will likely depend on where the organization decides he'll play, and how long it could take him to adjust to second base, if needed. Regardless, he's a player who has the ability to stand out at either middle-infield position. Beckham, who clobbered 24 home runs for Georgia this year, possesses excellent power to all fields and displayed improved patience as he accumulated more at-bats through his college years. With the hitter-friendly environment of U.S. Cellular Field helping his cause, he could have an immediate impact when the White Sox give him an opportunity.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Rangers
Drafted: 11th overall
College: University of South Carolina Columbia
Height/Weight: 6'4"/220 lbs.
Scouting report: There are a number of top-notch college first basemen in this year's class, and Smoak is right at the top of the list. That's because he's got a smooth and easy swing that generates plenty of power from both sides of the plate. This isn't college power; it will translate just fine in the pros. He can't run and is limited to first base defensively, but there will be more than enough at-bats to make up for those shortcomings.
Fantasy forecast: Since trading away Mark Teixeira last year, the Rangers have gone with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Brad Wilkerson, Frank Catalanotto, Ben Broussard and Chris Shelton at first base. In Justin Smoak, not only did they add someone whose name doesn't have 40 syllables, they also may have settled the position for many years to come. A 6-foot-4, 220-pound switch-hitter, Smoak thrived at South Carolina, setting the single-season record for homers as a freshman, with 17, and playing in all 194 games from 2006-08. Some scouts envision him hitting 40 homers at cozy Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, power production that would render Teixeira a distant memory.
Brett Wallace, 3B, Cardinals
Drafted: 13th overall
College: Arizona State University
Height/Weight: 6'2"/235 lbs.
Scouting report: Drawing rave reviews for his work in the box, he's one of the best hitters out of college and perhaps in the entire Draft class. His unbelievable plate discipline will undoubtedly be attractive to some teams, though it's unlikely he'll play anything but first as a pro. He could be the kind of Major Leaguer who hits .300 with 25 homers and a high on-base percentage annually.
Fantasy forecast: Named the Pacific 10 Player of the Year after a season in which he led the conference with a .414 batting average, 21 homers and 81 RBIs, Wallace wields the kind of powerful bat that should send him shooting through the Minors in a hurry. The problem is where he'll play when he gets to the Show. Wallace's massive legs and thick frame would seem to have him pegged for first base, a problem considering that the peerless Albert Pujols occupies that position in St. Louis. However, there are a few who believe the 21-year-old has the hands and feet to remain at third, and keeping him there would likely get him to the Majors more rapidly.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.