ARLINGTON, Texas -- The challenge for Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and his staff during Monday's first round and supplemental round of the MLB draft was to find quality players at affordable prices.
The Rangers weren't in the financial position to take chances on big-name players with high price tags that slipped in the draft, like they did with Justin Smoak two years ago. And they didn't want to take any chances on a repeat of the Matt Purke situation. The Rangers took Purke in the first round last year expecting to sign him but couldn't make a strong enough offer. He's pitching for a TCU team trying to make the College World Series.
This year, as the Rangers' staff hunkered down in the "war room," it wanted players they knew were highly likely to sign on the dotted line by the Aug. 16 deadline. Early returns are favorable -- before Monday was over, the Rangers agreed to terms with their second pick and were close to signing their first.
That doesn't mean they ransacked the clearance rack. Daniels doesn't believe the club's limited financial resources meant sacrificing talent. It didn't stop him from using the term "premium" when describing his club's goals in the draft.
"We wanted something premium in everything we get, whether it's a premium bat, premium makeup or a premium position," Daniels said. "You're always looking for a competitive advantage, and something that's going to give a guy a chance to make an impact."
The other thing the Rangers stressed was makeup. They wanted to know they had good, character players.
"We wanted talented guys with makeup," director of amateur scouting Kip Fagg said. "That was the combination we wanted, and I think we got those kinds of players. We wanted good people."
The Rangers picked four players Monday. The group included a Canadian catcher that played hockey as a kid, a pitcher who played soccer in high school and an outfielder who signed with Georgia Tech to play football and baseball.
But all of them struck the Rangers as talented baseball players with big upside, a good attitude and a high probability to sign.
It started with center fielder Jake Skole, a left-handed hitter at No. 15 overall who is close to an agreement with the Rangers, according to a source. It's a pick the Rangers won't get back if they can't sign him. The selection surprised many of the experts. ESPN.com's Keith Law didn't even have him in the first round in his final mock draft.
"I don't think there were as many consensus guys this year," said A.J. Preller, the Rangers' senior director of player personnel. "You saw that in the first round. There were a lot of surprises and guys maybe some of the publications [had] and guys that ranked the draft didn't have in the first round. From day one, we've talked about that our list is our list. It's the guys that our scouting staff value and trust."
Skole surged up the Rangers' draft board after returning from a right ankle injury and producing big numbers in the playoffs for Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell, Ga. He played in 14 playoff games and hit .452 with six homers and 21 RBIs. Skole opened some eyes with a pair of hits against Kaleb Cowart, who has a live fastball and was taken three spots behind Skole by the Los Angeles Angels.
The Rangers are confident the injured ankle won't hinder Skole. He wasn't concerned about it, either.
"It's almost full strength," he said. "I've played 15-20 games, and it's almost right where it needs to be. I still feel it a little bit on cuts, but running straight ahead and getting balls in the outfield, no problems."
The Rangers drafted Julio Borbon in 2007 after he suffered a broken ankle. The club felt that Skole, a very good runner, was moving on the ankle fine by the end of the season.
Skole said he wants to get negotiations done quickly so he can begin his professional career. He said he knew "in the end I would end up playing baseball."
The Georgia Tech football and baseball signee said football coach Paul Johnson told him he'd support whatever decision he made.
Kellin Deglan, a catcher from British Columbia, was someone the Rangers watched in various locales. Like most young Canadian athletes, Deglan played hockey as a kid. He was a defenseman until age 10, when he opted to focus on baseball. His high school doesn't have a baseball team, so he played for travel teams. The Rangers saw the left-handed hitter with a fluid arm play as part of a tour through extended spring training teams in Arizona, including the Rangers. They also watched Deglan at a tournament in the Dominican Republic.
Sources familiar with negotiations said Monday that the Rangers have agreed to terms on a $1 million signing bonus with the catcher.
Texas took its only pitcher on the first day with the No. 45 pick, selecting right-hander Luke Jackson. He played soccer in the fall and didn't start pitching until he was in the ninth grade. But scouts see lots of potential in his arm. The Rangers' final selection Monday was third baseman Mike Olt (49th overall). The 21-year-old hit .318 with 23 homers and 76 RBIs for UConn in 2010. But it was his defense that caught the Rangers' eye.
The Rangers wanted to find a good mixture of talented players at key positions that could give them more overall depth in the system. To figure that out, the Rangers emphasized the importance of their scouts getting to know the players and their families so that they had every bit of information possible.
"We were digging a little deeper on certain guys," Preller said. "We found the guys that fit our fold and we researched them. We feel really good about doing a thorough job.
That includes the confidence that they acquired not only talented players with good character, but guys that will sign contracts.
"We fully believe we're going to sign all our picks," Fagg said. "That's the way we went into this, and that's what's going to happen."
The Rangers will put the same philosophy to work Tuesday and Wednesday as the draft continues.