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April 21, 2009

Future Shock

Further Draft Consideration

by Kevin Goldstein

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College Players Could Come Down To Tools Over Performance

It's not necessarily a bad draft as much as it's one where the talent has been flattened, as many teams find it hard to see much separation between the 10th-best prospect in the draft and the 50th. As discussed in last week's notebook, taking college closers is one conservative approach to the position, but some may go the opposite way and stick to college position players with tools. There are two outfielders who could get easy first-round play in that scenario: Sacramento State's Tim Wheeler and LSU's Jared Mitchell. Wheeler's four-homer doubleheader two weeks ago got him plenty of attention, but he's hardly a new name for scouting directors, as he's entered this season coming off of a solid showing in the Cape Cod League. Currently batting .383/.491/.780 with 14 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 38 games, Wheeler can do a little bit of everything, but some do question his ultimate ceiling, with one scouting director saying, "he's more average-ish across the board. I like him, but I don't see dynamic tools." In contrast, Mitchell is loaded with that kind of dynamism. His performances have been mixed, but he has a good approach at the plate and leads the Tigers with 33 walks, and he has outstanding speed and plenty of power potential, making up for a sub-standard batting average with an impressive line of .310/.470/.595. His projection alone could move him into the first half of the first round according to one scouting director, who added, "you watch him play, and you get the feeling that he's really just beginning to scratch the surface of what he can do."

Another outfielder who falls into this category but who draws more widely varying reviews is Cal's Brett Jackson, a monster athlete with speed, power, and center-field skills, along with plenty of questions about his bat. Currently at .331/.401/.586 in 37 games, like most players in this draft Jackson's performances have been inconsistent, but those that have seen him shine are very high on him, with one scouting director calling him "the best college outfielder I've seen this year." Others aren't so sure, pointing primarily at an aggressive approach that has led to a team-leading 44 strikeouts in just 157 at-bats. "It's a pro body, and all of the tools are there," said another scouting director, "but I'm not sure he can hit, and we don't have much of a track record of him doing so."

Big College Arms Drop, Small College Arms Soar

College pitching was expected to be a strength of this draft, and while big names like Stephen Strasburg, Kyle Gibson, and Alex White have lived up to expectations, many other aces at big schools have seen their stock drop, including Vanderbilt's Mike Minor, Oklahoma State's Andy Oliver, and Kentucky's James Paxton. However, nobody has dropped more than Baylor's Kendal Volz, who has maintained his outstanding breaking ball this year, but lost 3-5 mph from his heater. "He's nowhere near the guy I was expecting this spring," said one scouting director, who thinks he may have dropped all the way out of the first round.

The situation has opened up opportunities for others, and two names from small schools not normally associated with baseball talent are zooming up the charts. While he's a bit raw and comes with questionable secondary stuff, Kennesaw State right-hander Kyle Heckathorn is a 6-foot-6, 240-pound monster who has touched 98 mph this spring, while Lipscomb's Rex Brothers has shown plus-plus velocity and a very good slider while striking out 94 over 64 2/3 innings this year.

Two pitchers that are more in limbo than anywhere else are Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers, a pair of unsigned 2008 picks (by the Nationals and Pirates, respectively). While Crow won't make his debut in the indie leagues until next month, Scheppers has already had a handful of private workouts for teams this spring, with one front-office official admitting to being interested. "You see the body, you see the athleticism, and the arm works really good," said the decision-maker. "He sat at 92 mph, got up to 94, it was free and easy, the secondary stuff was there... the word I'd use is 'intoxicating.'"

Finding The Sleepers

This draft might have as many sleepers as any in recent memory, as with so much talent fairly even overall, the old scouting cliché of, "it just takes one team," applies more than ever. Here are three names at different levels of sleeper-dom.

  • Into The First Round? Chad James, LHP, Yukon HS (OK)
    "I'm not sure how much of a sleeper this guy is anymore," said one scouting director about the big left-hander. At 6-foot-4 and over 200 pounds, James certainly has the pro body and plenty of projection, and he's been gaining velocity throughout the spring and touched 95 mph last week in a showdown between two of the better teams in the state.

  • Into The Top 100? Dylan Floro, RHP, Merced HS (CA)
    Yet another talent in the loaded Northern California group this year, Floro has a power sinker, a solid breaking ball, and a lot of polish for his age, with the downside being his smallish, slight frame.

  • Into The Single Digit Rounds? Trayce Thompson, OF, Santa Margarita HS (CA)
    If you believe in bloodlines, it's hard to match those of Thompson, despite the fact that there is little to no baseball history in his family. His mother played college volleyball, and his father is Mychal Thompson, the first overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft who had a 14-year pro career. He's fairly new to baseball, having focused more on hoops in the past, but if you can get past the rawness, his athleticism is off the charts, though he might be hard to buy away from his college commitment to UCLA; he certainly doesn't need the money right now, and he could develop into a sure-fire first-round pick three years from now.

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

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