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June 4, 2004

2004 Amateur Draft Preview

Looking at the Relievers

by Boyd Nation

On Wednesday I dicussed the prospects of some future stars. I also, inadvertedly, spent some time discussing the answers to some future trivia questions. I have no idea which ones are which, and--to be honest--neither does anyone else. One way or the other, though, it's highly unlikely that any of them will have an effect on any of the 2004, 2005, or 2006 major league seasons. For the slightly shorter of attention out there, we'll look at some guys today who are more likely to be in the majors in the near future.

It used to be that college relievers were valued on approximately the same level as minor league relievers, which is to say that they weren't valued at all. Somewhere along the way, though, it was decided that it should be possible to take a good college reliever and go to the extreme end of the Earl Weaver Pitcher Development Method with him, tossing him into the big league bullpen after only a very short time in the minors. The three players from the 2003 draft who have seen action in the majors so far--Chad Cordero of the Expos, Ryan Wagner of the Reds, and David Aardsma of the Giants--have all been college-turned-pro closers. It's worth noting that none of these clubs are particularly analytically-minded, and the results have been mixed, so it'll be interesting to see how this trend plays out.

Where on Wednesday I tried to stick to guys likely to be drafted early, this is just a list of the best relievers available (with one or two oddball possibilities thrown in); with the possible exception of Huston Street, none of these guys are likely to pull in huge signing bonuses, so they may be signability picks at any point in the draft, or may fall to a later round. The odds are good that only one or two of these guys will see significant time in the next year with the big club, but the odds are also pretty good that the first guy to make it to the Show from the 2004 draft will be on this list.

The Relievers

I'm including strength of schedule (SoS) information, since relievers face a broad enough spectrum of a team's opponents to make it a useful tool:

  • Anthony Rea, Santa Clara, 1.68 ERA, 30 APP, 13 SV, 53.2 IP, 53 K, 10 BB, 1 HR, 36 H, 108 SoS. Rea leads the nation in WHIP. He's a 5'11", 175-pound right-hander, so he'll have to look for a team who doesn't mind small righties, but his numbers have held up well over the last two years. Most of the other guys here are listed around 6'1", so it's not like there's a huge difference.

  • Chad Blackwell, South Carolina, 2.92 ERA, 31 APP, 15 SV, 52.1 IP, 68 K, 11 BB, 4 HR, 41 H, 109 SoS. Blackwell is second in the nation in saves. Converted from a junior college starter to a closer for the Gamecocks, he's been a bit unpolished at times (the four homers are a worry), but he has more good pitches than the average reliever, which could work in his favor.

  • Ryan Schroyer, San Diego State, 2.85 ERA, 28 APP, 13 SV, 41.0 IP, 50 K, 9 BB, 2 HR, 31 H, 104 SoS. Schroyer turned in good numbers, slightly better than this, for two years against tougher competition at Arizona State. After being disappointed by his 11th round draft selection last year, he attempted to transfer to Cal State Fullerton but ended up at SDSU with Tony Gwynn after a nasty dustup between the three coaches involved. His strikeout numbers were down a bit this year, but he was still good at keeping runners off-base, so he's worth a look.

  • Ryan Doherty, Notre Dame, 2.45 ERA, 29 APP, 11 SV, 33.0 IP, 44 K, 11 BB, 1 HR, 18 H, 100 SoS. Doherty has been used as more of a "traditional" one-inning closer than the rest of the guys on the list; colleges generally don't have that luxury. Physically, he's a much different animal than the rest of the list (or, for that matter, the rest of humanity)--he's listed at 7'1" and 220 pounds. His fastball touches the low-90s now; if he puts on some weight, it wouldn't be shocking to see him add three-to-five m.p.h. to that. That won't happen quickly, but his results are good enough that with a good strength program, he could be ready to contribute by Spring Training of 2005.

The Two-Way Guys

With the increased spread of LOOGYness, three-out specialists, 12-man staffs, and the continuing success of The Brooks Kieschnick Experiment (I loved the polka/ska single off the last album), teams are going to show an increased interest in guys who can contribute on both sides of the ball in a way that Mark McGwire or Tim Hudson never got the chance to. There are tons of two-way players in college (I count 110 guys this year with at least 10 mound appearances and 50 at-bats), but here are the best two candidates:

  • Stephen Head, Mississippi, 1B/LHP, .348/.420/.579, 3.08 ERA, 53 K, 15 BB, 111 SoS. Head will probably be drafted as a first baseman, and he may not have enough power to advance along that route. He'll get chances, because he looks like a first baseman is supposed to, but a team might be best served by getting him 200 AB and 50 innings of middle relief.

  • Huston Street, Texas, 3B/RHP, 1.60 ERA, 24 APP, 10 SV, 45.0 IP, 43 K, 12 BB, 3 HR, 27 H, 113 SoS. Street's semi-famous (he saved the 2002 national championship game, and his father was apparently a Texas football great, for those who care about such things), which complicates matters, but he's developed into a legitimately great reliever this year--currently second in the nation in WHIP. He hasn't played third this year and doesn't hit well enough to do so on a regular basis, but he's an excellent defensive third baseman and might be interesting to have around for some occasional LaRussian mind-games in tight situations. Even if he's not used as a position player, he's worth a look as a reliever.

On Monday I'll finish up by identifying guys who have something wrong with them, but who might have something right about them as well.

Boyd Nation is the sole author and Webmaster of Boyd's World, a Web site devoted to college baseball rankings, analysis, and opinions. In real life, he's an information security analyst with an energy company. He can be reached at boyd.nation@mindspring.com.

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