It’s only March, and the 2006 Major League Draft is nearly three months away, but it’s never too early to check with the talent evaluators to get an early look at which players are gaining and slipping on early boards. The high-school season has barely begun for most teams, but the college season is six weeks in for some teams, offering plenty of opportunity for players to make an early impression. Overall, this year’s talent is weaker than it’s been in previous years, particularly among position players. “Last year, we had Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun,” said one National League scout. “This year, there is just nothing in that class when it comes to college hitters.” One American League front-office executive speculated that as many as 22 of the 30 first-round picks in June could be pitchers, while a scouting director remarked, “Even that number might be a little low.” Again, it’s early, and as a scout based on the East Coast put it, “We still have lots of times to see these guys. Somewhere between now and June, some guy will start exploding and everyone will suddenly be all over him . . . we just don’t know who that guy is yet.”

  • Of what little positional talent there is in this year’s college class, much of it has been disappointing, other than Long Beach State infielder Evan Longoria (sorry, no relation to Eva). Looking to follow in the steps of recent Dirtbag infielders who went in the first round (Bobby Crosby in 2001 and Troy Tulowitzki in 2005), Longoria has been primarily playing third base this year (where he’s made just one error on the season), but had played shortstop in the past, leaving a debate as to whether he has the athleticism to play in the middle of the infield as a pro. “He’s the best college position player in the county for me, and he can play shortstop,” said an American League scouting director. “And guys from that school play in the big leagues, so the track record is nice,” he added. A National League scouting director saw Longoria as unable to play in the middle, leaving him questioning if he’ll hit enough as a third baseman. “I like Longoria plenty, but he’s too big and not quick enough to play second base or shortstop as a pro–if you draft him as a third baseman, you are buying into that power,” he added.
    Evan Longoria LBSU   .375 .516 .569  72 11 27  3  1  3 13 19  5  3  1
  • One player slipping in the minds of some is Texas center fielder Drew Stubbs. Entering the year ahead of Longoria by most accounts, Stubbs is a dynamic athlete and a fantastic outfielder, but he’s yet to convince some evaluators that he can make consistent contact at the major league level, as he’s recorded 167 whiffs in 629 college at-bats. However, with plus or better tools across the board, he may have a ceiling higher than any player in the draft. “He’s a 70 [on the 20-80 scouting scale] center fielder in the big leagues right now, and if he hits, he’ll have power–but I’m still on the fence about him,” said one scouting director. Another scouting director remains high on Stubbs, seeing him as the top college position player. “He just has such great tools, and such great athleticism and he’s one of the best 10 center fielders in baseball right now, at any level,” said the scouting director. “He doesn’t have to improve that much to be more valuable long-term than Longoria–Stubbs just has far more impact-player potential.” An amateur scout who recently saw Stubbs summed up the debate concisely. “He’s the kind of guy you hope is not on the board anymore when you pick. You don’t want to necessarily take him, but you don’t want to be the team that missed out on him either.”
    Drew Stubbs   Texas  .338 .449 .563  80 23 27  5  2  3 15 16 21  9  2
  • Pure power has been hard to come by among college hitters. Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta, who led the nation with 26 home runs last year, has been sidelined much of the year by a strained oblique muscle, while Tulane first baseman Mark Hamilton has stuggled at the plate. With a number of scouts in every weekend to see righthander Brandon Morrow (more on him in a bit), University of California outfielders Brennan Boesch and Chris Errecart are both getting plenty of eyeball time, and both have impressed–Scouts like Errecart’s bat speed, but prefer Boesch overall, who some see as having a chance to slip into the supplemental first-round. At 6’5″, 215 pounds, the left-handed hitting Boesch offers more projection than his teammate and has drawn some Paul O’Neil comparisons. Also keep an eye on Wake Forest third baseman Matt Antonelli, who offers a power bat from third base, but not enough of an all-around game to get into the first round.
    PLAYER         TEAM     AVG  OBP  SLG  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BI BB SO SB CS
    Matt Antonelli WForest .314 .435 .600  70 23 22  2  0  6 12 15 10  6  0
    Brennan Boesch Cal     .272 .329 .470  66 10 18  1  0  4 11  4  8  0  1
    Chris Errecart Cal     .308 .375 .600  65 13 20  1  0  6 13  4 12  0  1
    Matt LaPorta   Florida .308 .513 .538  28  7  8  0  0  2 10 10  5  0  0
  • Pitching is the name of the day so far in this year’s draft, particularly on the college side. North Carolina lefthander Andrew Miller remains the early favorite to go number one to the Royals, as all teams love Miller’s size (6’6″, 210) and his two plus-plus pitches–a 92-97 mph fastball and a nasty slider that features heavy two-plane break. Fellow Tar Heel Daniel Bard also could be a top five pick, as he equals Miller’s velocity from the right side, and has better command. “When I saw Bard, he sat at 95-97 in the first inning and stayed there all day,” said a scouting director who recently saw the righty. “If you didn’t use a radar gun, you’d think it’s 91-92 . . . it’s just so easy and effortless.” Bard’s breaking ball is a power pitch, but can get a little slurvy.
    PLAYER            TEAM           ERA   IP    H  BB   K
    Daniel Bard       N.Carolina    1.93  28.0  15   4  35
    Andrew Miller     N.Carolina    0.64  28.0  14   7  33
  • Two west coast arms offer plenty of promise and plenty of question marks. Scouts have always loved California righthander Brandon Morrow’s pure stuff and he’s been much improved this year as the Bears’ Friday starter. Still, the inconsistency remains. He pitched just 25 innings as a sophomore, giving up 32 hits, walking 20 to put up a 9.36 ERA. Morrow struck out 12 over 6 1/3 no-hit innings in his season debut against UC Irvine, but then had just one whiff over five innings, while allowing eight hits and four runs against Long Beach State the following weekend. Morrow has the ideal pitcher’s build, sits at 95-98 mph with a fastball that has touched 100 on occasion, but his inability to command his secondary pitches is a concern, as is the fact that Morrow is a diabetic. “Purely on delivery and arm action, and stuff–I’m not sure there’s a better pitching prospect available,” said a scouting director who has seen Morrow on multiple occasions. “However, it’s hard for me to figure out why he struggles to throw strikes, as his mechanics are free and easy.” A West Coast scout pointed to Morrow’s approach as the problem at times. “He doesn’t command his secondary stuff well, and he’s throwing cutters and splitters while down 2-0 in the count when he has 98 mph in his pocket,” the scout said. “I just don’t get that.”
    PLAYER            TEAM           ERA   IP    H  BB   K
    Brandon Morrow    California    1.34  33.2  22  17  36
  • On the opposite side of the mechanics spectrum, but with just as many concerns about consistency and command, is University of Washington righty Tim Lincecum. He was a sophomore-eligible in last year’s draft, but his high asking price kept teams away until the 42nd round, when the Indians drafted him as an insurance policy. Slight of frame (6’0″, 165), and with a unique delivery that features lots of moving parts, Lincecum can be the rarest of rare when he’s on: a pitcher with two offerings that grade out as 70 or better on the 20-80 scouting scale: a 95-97 mph fastball and big-breaking curve that makes college hitters look foolish. However, his ability to dominate while not always throwing strikes, as in yesterday’s start when he struck out 11 over six no-hit innings but walked seven, keeps the righty as a big enigma for some. “I’m not sure I’d risk a first-round pick on him because of the mechanics and control,” said a scout with a National League team. “He could get big league hitters out right now, but he might walk in three runs before he does it.”
    PLAYER            TEAM           ERA   IP    H  BB   K
    Tim Lincecum      Washington    3.09  35.0  22  25  60
  • A number of players represented by Scott Boras have tumbled in the last few drafts, and that trend is poised to continue in June. Two of the top college righthanders–Missouri’s Max Scherzer and Southern California’s Ian Kennedy–have both retained Boras as an advisor, and while both would be likely Top 10 picks on talent alone, many teams picking towards the top will likely avoid the pair. One American League team executive, when looking at the draft order, saw both possibly falling out of the first round’s upper tier. Both the Diamondbacks at No. 11 and the Cubs at No. 13 have no issues in dealing with Boras clients and would be poised to take advantage of top talent falling to them. Scherzer, who one scouting director categorized as “simply a beast,” is one of the top arm-strength pitchers in the draft, with a mid-90s fastball and power slider described as having “boom and tilt.” Kennedy only projects as a No.3 or 4 starter, but might be the safest pick in the draft. He’s a little undersized and his stuff lacks the ‘wow’ factor, but he has impeccable command of a full repertoire of pitches. “I doubt there’s a pitcher closer to the big leagues–he’s more polished than [2005 No. 6 overall pick] Ricky Romero.” said a scouting director. “There’s a whole lot of 50s [average] grades on his pitches, and nothing over 55, but he has exceptional command and could get there very quick. He just pitches like a big leaguer.” One player who could take advantage of a Scherzer/Kennedy fall is Nebraska righty Joba Chamberlain, who the front-office executive called “maybe the best all-around package out there.” Working in the mid-90s with a plus slider and solid change, Chamberlain has pitched very well this year, beating some big-name schools in the process, but missed last weekend’s start with a sore triceps. “He not an athlete, but he has a durable body and a four-pitch mix,” said one scouting director. “He’s going to eat up a lot of innings in the big leagues.”
    PLAYER            TEAM           ERA   IP    H  BB   K
    Joba Chamberlain  Nebraska      1.29  21.0  11   6  28
    Ian Kennedy       S.California  3.02  41.2  34  11  48
    Max Scherzer      Missouri      2.88  25.0  18   7  31
  • Whither Luke Hochevar? The Dodgers’ top pick (second round) in the 2005 draft, Hochevar was one of the best college pitchers available last year, but fell because of perceived bonus demands from agent Scott Boras. Negotiations between the Dodgers and Hochevar were slow to start, and quickly became acrimonious when Hochevar switched agents last September. The former Tennessee star’s new representative, Matt Sosnick, quickly worked out a deal with the Dodgers for a $2.98 million bonus, but Hochevar then returned to Boras and did not sign. The Dodgers have not negotiated with Hochevar or Boras since, and all indications are that Hochevar will re-enter the draft. Yes, six months later, teams seem to have no idea what last year’s Roger Clemens Award winner as the nation’s best college pitcher is up to. “Nobody with our organization has heard anything at all,” said one team executive, from his team’s spring training office in Florida. “It’s weird,” added a scouting director. “Last year at this time we were being notified about [2004 unsigned first-round pick] Wade Townsend having public workouts and throwing in simulated games, but with Hochevar, nobody has said anything to us.”
    PLAYER            TEAM           ERA    IP   H   BB   K
    Luke Hochevar     Tennessee     2.25  139.2 104  54  154
    *2005 Stats

  • Generally considered the top high-school hitter in this year’s crop, Florida prep third baseman Chris Marrero left a strong impression with a scout who recently saw him. “He’s a good hitter with a lot of power, but his value will ultimately come down to what position he plays,” said the scout, who saw Marrero as stiff at the hot corner with a strong, but erratic arm. “On the low end, if he has to go to the outfield, you hope he can become like Pat Burrell,” said the scout. “But you’d hope he could be like a Jim Thome and at least get to the big leagues at third before he’s forced to slide over.” The scout saw reason for optimism that Marrero had a chance to stay at third, however. “If you watched Ian Stewart in high school, there’s no way you’d think he could stay at third, but he’s was a good athlete, worked hard on it, and now it looks like he can,” the scout added. “Marrero certainly has that kind of athleticism.”

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