Josh Vitters, Mike Moustakas and Matt Dominguez have plenty in common beyond all being star infielders for Southland high schools.
Throughout their careers, they have dominated with their bats, played for Team USA squads and thrived despite the constant presence of major league scouts.
And today, Vitters, from Cypress High, and Moustakas and Dominguez, from Chatsworth, are expected to be first-round picks in Major League Baseball's first-year player draft.
"That would be sweet," said Vitters, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound third baseman who was invited to Florida to take part in the first televised baseball draft.
Players chosen in the first round are expected to command bonuses averaging around $2 million, a seemingly huge investment for still-developing talent.
Since 1965, the first year of the draft, 67% of first-round picks have gone on to play in the majors, according to Allan Simpson, founding editor of Baseball America magazine and now national scouting coordinator for Perfect Game USA.
The most successful draft in terms of first-round talent reaching the majors was 1990, when Chipper Jones was the No. 1 pick. Only four of the 26 players selected in the first round that year failed to play in the big leagues.
But first-round picks that ascend to baseball's highest level do not perform equally, a fact not lost on Angels General Manager Bill Stoneman.
"We don't measure success on just whether a guy gets to the major leagues," Stoneman said. "What really tells the story is: How productive is the player once he gets there."
Rany Jazayerli, co-author of "Baseball Prospectus" and a writer for baseballprospectus.com, considered that question and many others in 2005 when he studied the drafts of 1984-1999, focusing on the first 100 players selected each year.
Jazayerli said about 77% of first-round picks reached the majors, though many only for only a short span. About 30% became productive major league players who enjoyed significant careers, but less than 10% achieved distinction such as multiple All-Star selections.
Still, the millions gambled on a first-round pick is generally considered money well invested, whether it's the $160,000 the Seattle Mariners paid Ken Griffey Jr. as the No. 1 pick in 1987 or the $5.15 million the Minnesota Twins gave Joe Mauer as the top pick in 2001.
"You can sometimes pay what is perceived as an exorbitant amount of money," Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said, "but he might turn out to be one of the best players in your organization, or one of the best players in the league or one of the best players in the game."
Though there is considerable investment in a player such as Mauer, the payoff is potentially huge because clubs can pay major league minimum salaries for three years before players are eligible for arbitration.
Mauer quickly became an All-Star and one of the game's top hitters. Consider also the case of San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum.
Last year, the Giants selected the University of Washington pitcher with the 10th overall pick and paid a $2-million bonus. Called up from triple A in May, Lincecum is 2-0 with a 4.05 earned-run average and appears on track to become a mainstay.
By comparison, the Boston Red Sox paid more than $51 million for the opportunity to \o7negotiate \f7with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, then signed him to a $52-million, six-year contract. Matsuzaka is 7-4 with a 4.63 ERA.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have the first pick today and are expected to take Vanderbilt left-hander David Price. The Dodgers have the 20th pick. The Angels would have drafted 24th, but they lost that pick to the Texas Rangers for signing free-agent outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. The Angels' first pick is 58th.
Along with the televised broadcast of the first round, there are several more changes this year, including a universal signing deadline of Aug. 15 and improved compensation for teams that fail to sign picks in the first through third rounds.
For example, if the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are picking fourth, failed to sign the player they take, they would get an additional pick next year after whichever team was drafting fourth. The make-up picks used to come at the end of the first round.
The signing deadline also eliminates the "draft-and-follow" scenario, in which teams selected high school players in lower rounds and then monitor their progress at junior colleges before deciding whether to sign them before the next draft.
The Angels, for example, drafted Texas high school pitcher Jordan Walden in the 12th round in 2006. Last week, the club signed him out of Grayson (Texas) County College for $1 million.
Vitters, Moustakas and Dominguez appear to be in line for even larger paydays.
All have signed letters of intent -- Vitters with Arizona State, Moustakas with USC and Dominguez with Cal State Fullerton. But if the money is right, they all probably will turn pro.
"I'm hoping I can make the Show within two or three years," Vitters said. "I definitely think it's realistic."\o7 \f7
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Average first-round signing bonuses for last 20 years:
1987 -- $128,000
1988 -- $142,000
1989 -- $176,000
1990 -- $252,000
1991 -- $365,000
1992 -- $481,000
1993 -- $613,000
1994 -- $790,000
1995 -- $918,000
1996 -- $944,000*
1997 -- $1.325 million
1998 -- $1.637 million
1999 -- $1.809 million
2000 -- $1.872 million
2001 -- $2.154 million
2002 -- $2.106 million
2003 -- $1.765 million
2004 -- $1.958 million
2005 -- $2.018 million
2006 -- $1.896 million
* Does not include "loophole" free agents Travis Lee, Matt White, John Patterson and Bobby Seay, who received larger bonuses on open market after prospective teams that drafted them failed to tender an offer within 15 days of selection.
Source: Allan Simpson