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June 5, 2005

Draft Preview

College Pitchers to Watch

by Boyd Nation

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In talking about the hitters, I made the point that I'm more interested in who's likely to succeed than in who's likely to be drafted highly. That's true for the pitchers as well. The hard part, of course, is that it's not as clear how to adjust for college-specific factors like strength of schedule when evaluating pitchers, so you'll necessarily get a little less exactitude on this side of the ball.

Nonetheless, I'll try to be sure to mention some guys who might not have the reputation or the competition level to be sure of them, but whose statistical records draw attention.

Nobody in this year's class is guaranteed to take the Mark Prior fast track to the big leagues, but the top couple of guys on the list could be there by late 2007. They're both Scott Boras clients and are not likely to throw any more this year (which may be the best thing for them anyway, given the workloads that college aces carry). The relievers, on the other hand, could easily be there next year or even late this year if the right team gets interested.

Most of the numbers are obvious; RBOA is runs below opponent average, with opponents' runs per game adjusted for the opponents' strength of schedule. Here we go:

Luke Hochevar, Tennessee, 1.90 ERA, 52.6 RBOA, 118.2 IP, 131 K, 42 BB, 6 HR.

1.90 is the lowest ERA posted by a full-time starter in the SEC, the nation's toughest conference, in at least four years. Hochevar is your prototypical big righty, with a fastball that can touch 95, although he usually lives down around 90-92 with good movement. It's backed up by a great slider and a decent curve and change-up. Hochevar has Team USA experience, which is worth mentioning because it seems to correlate positively with at least early minor-league success. He's carried the usual college-ace workload but has had his pitch counts managed fairly well.

Mike Pelfrey, Wichita State, 1.91 ERA, 45.7 RBOA, 131.2 IP, 136 K, 28 BB, 3 HR.

Pelfrey is your non-prototypical really big righty, listed at 6'7", 215 and probably a bit heavier than that. His fastball may be the single scariest pitch available this year, occasionally touching 97 mph with tremendous movement. His statistical record doesn't quite match Hochevar's because of the lesser level of competition he's faced, but the three home runs he allowed, after allowing just two in 2004, are enough to make it a tough call between the two hurlers. Pelfrey had a 134-pitch outing earlier in the season but hasn't triggered warnings in any of his other starts.

Ricky Romero, Cal State Fullerton, 2.80 ERA, 44.5 RBOA, 119.0 IP, 129 K, 31 BB, 5 HR.

Romero is probably the best left-hander available in this year's class, another player with Team USA experience. He mixes three pitches--a low-90s fastball, a slider and an improved change-up--quite successfully. His workloads have been relatively light by college standards.

Lance Broadway, Texas Christian, 1.67 ERA, 54.9 RBOA, 108.0 IP, 144 K, 34 BB, 2 HR.

In addition to having the best name in this year's draft, Broadway could sneak in as the best value. A transfer from smaller Dallas Baptist, where he threw two no-hitters, Broadway didn't draw much attention until the last few weeks and still projects in the mainstream listings as a second- or third-round choice. His numbers, though, have been fantastic. One worry is that he's been over 120 pitches four times this year and over 130 twice. Another is that none of his pitches are really overwhelming; he gets by more on polish and control, and that can be a hard way to succeed as you ascend the ladder.

Kevin Slowey, Winthrop, 2.26 ERA, 61.6 RBOA, 103.1 IP, 106 K, 10 BB, 6 HR.

Until this year, Slowey mostly fell into the "great stuff, but not sure what to do with it" bin. During the offseason, though, he bulked up quite a bit, and it seems to have made a difference. His best asset is still his control, as the 10 walks duplicates his record from last year. The level of competition he's faced isn't as high as some other guys, but even adjusted for that he has the highest RBOA in the nation; he's given up no runs in four of his 13 starts. His pitch counts have been quite low by college standards.

Brian Bogusevic, Tulane, 2.57 ERA, 45.4 RBOA, 112.0 IP, 114 K, 33 BB, 4 HR.

Two-way players have always been a fact of life in college, but few of them have done both as well as Bogusevic, who could be drafted as an outfielder in the first round just as easily as he could ne taken as a pitcher. An early-season hamstring strain knocked his numbers down a bit, but the latter half of the season has shone.

Wade Townsend is obviously the wild card in the bunch, as he goes through the draft again. His performance record is excellent; He's had a year off. You decide what's worth what.

To finish up, the best of this year's crop of relievers, who are worth mentioning because they're probably the closest to The Show under the current development strategies teams are using. None of these guys are likely to be converted into starters.

Craig Hansen, St. John's, 1.41 ERA, 57.1 IP, 14 SV, 77 K, 17 BB, 1 HR.

Hansen is your basic big, flame-throwing righthander. The level of competition he has faced is a little suspect, but he also dominated in the Cape Cod League.

J. Brent Cox, Texas, 1.77 ERA, 61.0 IP, 14 SV, 70 K, 16 BB, 1 HR.

Pedigrees are dangerous things, but if there's a better pre-draft pedigree these days than the Texas closer, it's hard to find. Cox's mechanics may make Will Carroll a little nervous, but the results have been good so far. Hopefully, he can smooth things out before the injury bug finds him.

Steve Kleen, Pepperdine, 1.97 ERA, 45.2 IP, 15 SV, 41 K, 17 BB, 1 HR.

Kleen is, you guessed it, a big right-hander. There's nothing overwhelming about him, but his statistical record has been excellent the last couple of years, so he's worth a little attention from an opportunistic club.

Boyd Nation is the author of Boyd's World and provides college data services to a few major-league teams. He can be reached here.

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