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April 3, 2008

Future Shock

2008 Draft Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

Last week's Draft Notebook had a section touching on the plethora of one-dimensional slugging first baseman at the college level. On the flip side of things, this year's college class is incredibly shallow up the middle. That positional scarcity, as well as some impressive early-season performances have two such college players moving way up on draft boards, and making a strong case for consideration among the Top 10 picks.

The highest riser is University of Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham, not to be confused with Georgia high school shortstop Tim Beckham, arguably the top player in the draft and no relation. After leading the Cape Cod League in home runs last summer, the Bulldog has turned this season into a true breakout performance, batting .442/.512/.929 in 26 games with 15 home runs in 113 at-bats, placing him miles ahead of any other college shortstop. "He should thank his mom and dad because they sure picked the right year for him to be born," joked one scouting director. "He's pretty much on his own island right now." Offensively, the best comparison might be to Padres shortstop Khalil Greene, but he's not nearly in Greene's league with the glove and evaluators are mixed on his defensive future. "He's not a classic shortstop," added the scouting director, "but I think he could play there. He's got enough arm, athleticism, and actions to stay there." Another scouting director wasn't nearly as optimistic: "I do think there are concerns defensively. He's not necessarily a runner, so there are questions about his range, but if you think he can stay at short, you take him pretty early."

Even worse than the middle infielders is the college catching crop this year. Florida State's Buster Posey has had a phenomenal junior season so far, and is not only making a strong run to be a top ten pick, he might also be the only college backstop taken in the first two or three rounds. Catchers are often overdrafted, and three candidates with a chance to move into that area the two Prestons: Arizona State's Preston Paramore, big-bodied Texas Longhorn Preston Clark, as well as Yale's Ryan Lavarnway, who has 11 home runs in 77 at-bats against lesser competition, but also major questions about his defense.

Posey, on the other hand, earns nothing but praise. Originally an infielder, Posey has been catcher for only two years and is already an above-average defender. His bat was never much of a question mark, yet he's even exceeded expectations at the plate so far as well, batting .456/.558/.816 in 27 games with eight home runs and 23 walks (against just eight strikeouts) in 103 at-bats. "He just does everything well," gushed one scouting director. "He's going to contribute offensively and defensively, and he's gone from a line-drive guy to somebody who gets some real carry on the ball. In an ideal world, you're talking about a catcher who hits .280-plus with 15 plus home runs, good plate discipline and he throws everyone out." Posey's arm strength is evidenced by his four scoreless innings as the Seminoles' closer.

Another up-the-middle college player making some noise this spring is Miami second baseman Jemile Weeks, the younger brother of Rickie. After hitting six and then five home runs in his first two seasons with the Hurricanes, Weeks already has six this year, which is part of an impressive .400/.459/.765 line in 23 games, giving him more home runs and RBI than teammate Yonder Alonso. While the relation to the budding Brewer star is a good one, the two are very different players. "If you think he's going to be Rickie, you're mistaken," said one scouting director. "It's a totally different body type. Jemile is more agile, Rickie more powerful," he added, and it should be noted that the elder Weeks is listed at 215 pounds, while Jemile is a more lithe 180.

Another scouting director gave what basically amounted to a full scouting report. "He has a very erect set-up and his hands are very high and he doesn't really have any trigger for his swing. So he has this minimal stride and kind of dead hands--that makes me worried a bit about hitting with the heavier wood bats. Still, he might not be big, but he's strong." Like most sources spoken to, there are still major questions about Weeks defensively. "He needs a lot of work at second base," continued the scouting director. "He's such a good athlete that he plays the position and gets it down, but there's a lot to clean up there with his footwork, hands, instincts and mechanics." A plus-plus runner, teams who think Weeks can play second or maybe even give him a shot a center field could take him in the first round. Yet another scouting director summed up Weeks' upside succinctly: "If he hits, it's not going to matter where he plays."

College Pitching Is Deep

While Missouri's Aaron Crow and San Diego's Brian Matusz have maintained their status as the top two college arms in this year's draft class, behind them there's a deep group of college pitchers with first-round potential. Two in particular have taken a step forward this year to put themselves at the top of this group of good-but-not-elite arms.

Frenso State's Tanner Scheppers was a relative unknown when he entered college. "I'll be perfectly honestly with you," said one scouting director. "If you said his name to me two years ago, I'm not sure I even would have known who he is." Now, he's on everyone's radar as one of the best arm strength guys available. In seven starts for the Bulldogs, the six-foot-four right-hander has a 2.22 ERA in 44 2/3 innings, limiting opposing hitters to a .219 batting average while registering 64 strikeouts. "He's definitely opening a lot of eyes right now," continued the scouting director. "He's up to 95-96 pretty consistently--he's far from an unknown at this point for anyone." Beyond one of the best fastballs around, Scheppers shows good feel for his breaking stuff, but his changeup is currently a below-average offering. His clean and easy mechanics also earn high praise.

Righty Shooter Hunt of Tulane is another pitcher moving himself into consideration for the first half of the first round, if not higher. He's been nothing short of lights out so far this year, with a 0.95 ERA in 38 innings, during which he's allowed only 12 hits while striking out 52. Six-foot-three and strongly built, Hunt is the complete package, with a low-90s fastball that touches 94 and features explosive late life, as well as a hard-breaking curveball and a highly deceptive change. Throw in solid mechanics, good control, and strong makeup, and there's little to complain about. "A lot of the excitement over him right now is just that he really answered the bell," said one scouting director. "He's not doing anything new for anyone, but he's just being as good as advertised every time out--and that can be a huge thing in itself."

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Every draft is filled with familiar last names, as we might not be selling jeans here, but genes, and that's a story unto itself. The are many sons of ballplayers in this draft, including two who should go in the first three or four rounds, as well as one with a father better knows for his football career and television work--a player who just might be the most intriguing in the draft.

Yet another slugging first baseman from the college ranks, Arizona State first baseman Ike Davis combines with Brett Wallace to give the Sun Devils college baseball's most dangerous pair of corner infielders (although both will be first baseman when all is said and done). The son of 11-year big league reliever Ron Davis (best known for the early part of his career spent with the Yankees), Ike is a six-foot-five left-handed hitter with big-time power who currently leads the 26-1 Arizona State squad in batting average and slugging as part of a .415/.476/.792 batting line in 27 games that includes 16 doubles and eight home runs. Beyond the bat, he's not especially toolsy, and his power comes with its fair share of swings and misses, but he's lined up right now to go in the sandwich round.

It's hard not to see Cutter Dykstra play and not think of his father Lenny. Currently a shortstop at Westlake High in Southern California, Dykstra draws immediate comparisons to his father for his compact, wiry frame, and an all-out style of play, but teams aren't sure of where he fits on the diamond. His arm is short for the left side of the infield, and many teams don't like him in the infield at all, thinking instead that they'd give center field a try, as his offensive profile--good approach, contact hitter with gap power, plus runner--might fit best there.

While fans that follow the football draft are well aware of Virginia defensive lineman Chris Long, who could go No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, another son of Football Hall of Fame member and Fox Broadcaster Howie Long is getting ready for the draft, only this one likes baseball. Oh, and he's left-handed. A senior at St. Anne's Belfield High School in Virginia, Kyle Long is actually bigger than his brother, and is currently listed at goliath-esque six-foot-eight and 285 pounds. His workouts are already becoming the stuff of legend, including 480-foot home runs hit with wood bats and line drives up the middle that dent the batting practice pitcher's protective cage, yet most teams prefer him on the mound, where he pumps out mid-90s heat. He's extremely raw and unproven, but he's already a second- or third-round talent who might be a tough sign because of a commitment to Florida State; he's already informed the Seminoles that despite his significant pro potential as an offensive lineman, he will only be playing baseball. Still, a team that sees him as C.C. Sabathia plus two inches could be prepared to buy him away from any more education.

Next time out: A look at the top high school talent, and how the best arm in the draft is dropping precipitously and just might be this year's Kyle Drabek.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Jemile Weeks

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