In the last year, I have picked up tips on players from relatives, fans, neighbors, coaches, and scouts. Everyone has an opinion on the draft’s most underrated player, and often, it’s a player on their team, in their area, or on their block. But along the way in listening to these suggestions, a few actually stick out and rise above their peers. A few actually should be two days away from offering major league organizations good value.
After deliberating over my own evaluations, interviews from scouts, players, and coaches, as well as some statistical information, a few players seem to be higher on my draft board than they are on most others’. It appears I like drafting high school players in the early rounds and college players thereafter, with a heavy mix between pitching and up the middle players. Most of all, I looked for good athletes and pitchers with higher ceilings than their draft status would suggest.
In order of where they are likely to be drafted on Thursday, here are “My Guys” for the 2007 draft.
Phillipe Aumont, RHP, Canada HS
I first saw Aumont at the East Coast Showcase last August in Wilmington, when to my eyes he stuck out as the event’s most interesting arm. Matt Harvey had a better week, and Mike Main showed better velocity, but Aumont oozed potential even then. His big 6’7″ frame adds life to a heavy fastball, and Aumont has a cleaner delivery and slider than his size and pedigree would suggest. He’s still very rough around the edges, no question, but behind David Price and Rick Porcello, Aumont has the highest ceiling in the draft.
Jake Arrieta, RHP, Texas Christian
On this, I’ll admit, I was wrong. Before the season, I was convinced Arrieta was four months from a top ten selection–after watching him pitch for Team USA, I thought he’d give the Horned Frogs a repeat of his sophomore season. I was wrong, as Arrieta’s fastball command eroded, and worse, he became hittable to the worst parts of lineups. However, beneath the surface, the Arrieta from last summer remains. He has a sturdy innings-eater frame, still touches 94 on the gun, and shows a good slider and change often enough to have a #2 ceiling. In a draft bereft of experienced right-handed pitchers, Arrieta has better than late first round value.
Corey Brown, OF, Oklahoma State
Last year, Drew Stubbs was taken with the eighth overall selection on the basis of his Gold Glove defense, plus baserunning skills, and good power potential. The Reds were willing to overlook persistent strikeout issues to take Stubbs, preferring to note the Mike Cameron and Torii Hunter comparisons he’d drawn. While Brown’s defense takes a backseat to Stubbs’, he’s better-equipped in the rest of the toolbox, with only his questioned make-up lowering his draft stock. Brown’s combination of patience, speed, and power could turn him into an All-Star, and at worst, should make him into a really valuable fourth outfielder.
Drew Cumberland, SS, Florida HS
Previously calling Aumont the most intriguing pitcher at the East Coast Showcase was a compliment; the group included a number of pitchers who will be picked first three rounds on Thursday. To call Cumberland the event’s most impressive position player is more of a backhanded compliment. However, Cumberland was on another level during infield practice in Wilmington, showing natural actions at shortstop that should keep him at the position. Cumberland is extremely athletic and has good bat speed,and while he won’t hit for much power, I had his batting practice ranked in my top five at the event. Cumberland’s lack of a single asset has hurt him, but the draft might not have a more well-rounded shortstop.
Yasmani Grandal, C, Florida HS
Devin Mesareco has been the sexiest name in the draft the past few weeks, as the Pennsylvania catcher has risen to the top of the prep catching ranks. Before Mesareco, that territory was all Yasmani Grandal, who earned the status by showing some offensive potential on the summer showcase tour in 2006. Grandal is the best defensive catcher for his age in the draft, and as a switch-hitter, he has value despite only average offensive skills. His bat speed lags behind most top round prospects, but Grandal’s position and defensive prowess will be worth his bonus amount.
Brandon Hicks, SS, Texas A&M
Scouts desperately wanted a collegiate shortstop to make a statement this spring, but Zack Cozart (Mississippi)’s production at the plate stayed modest, Josh Horton (North Carolina) continued to struggle in the field, and guys like Darwin Barney and Ryan Wehrle were complete disappointments. In searching for mid-round replacements at the position, scouts have grown very fond of Pepperdine’s Danny Worth and Hicks. The latter, like Grandal, doesn’t project very well offensively, but his athleticism leaves more room for growth. At present, Hicks is a good defensive shortstop with good baserunning skills and a little pop. In a bad shortstop market, Hicks will be a steal in the second round.
Travis Jones, 2B, South Carolina
In ranking the top ten prospects in the Great Lakes Collegiate Summer League last year for Baseball America, I made a mistake in ranking Jones only eighth. He was the league’s most toolsy hitter headed to the most impressive school represented in the league–something should have told me to put him near the top. However, I watched Jones take the second base job and run with it at South Carolina, and in the middle rounds, he’s worth a pick. Jones’ speed is a bit down over the last year, thanks to muscling up, but the benefit has been more power. Jones has Josh Barfield‘s look and swing at the plate, he could be the next real second base prospect in the minors.
Wes Etheridge, RHP, UC Irvine
Etheridge struck out 10 hitters in eight shutout innings in his regional debut on Friday, so if he was a sleeper before, he isn’t now. A junior college transfer to the Anteaters, Etheridge had a better season than Scott Gorgen as one of the nation’s true worm-burners. Etheridge doesn’t offer a ton of velocity, but he excels at keeping his 85-89 mph fastball down in the zone, and his slider danced more than ever on Friday. Etheridge is a pretty standard sinker-slider pitcher, but until we know how aluminum groundabll rates correlate with professional wooden-bat statistics, I’ll take my chances on a regular joe like Etheridge near the 10th round.
Seth Garrison, RHP, Texas Christian
Anthony Varvaro is hardly a selling point in a draft philosophy, so to catch your attention, I’ll call drafting Garrison the Nick Adenhart Route. The Angels prospect (and Varvaro as well) needed Tommy John surgery in the months leading up to the draft. Before surgery, Garrison had one of the nation’s best 12-to-6 curveballs as well as a plus change to go with a fringe fastball. He was similar to former Horned Frog Lance Broadway, but with a better changeup. While buying out his rehabilitation will be overslot for a 10th round pick, Garrison offers a reward no one else can in those rounds.