Best Athlete: OF Drew Stubbs (2) has five-tool ability, if he can hit for average. He’™s an above-average runner who can effortlessly cover vast tracts of land in center field. He was a high school quarterback and member of championship relay teams in track, and has the strength to lead Texas in homers last year with enough speed to lead the Longhorns in steals two straight seasons. RHP Dallas Buck (10) has played just two sports at Oregon State (he spent part of his freshman year as a defensive back and special teamer on the football field). He played four in high school, including basketball and, like Stubbs, ran track. RHP Jeff Samardzija (94) made his mark at Notre Dame first on the mound, posting a 2.95 ERA as a freshman, but entered Irish lore as a junior wide receiver for first-year coach Charlie Weis. In a first-team all-America season, he set Notre Dame’™s single-season records for yards receiving (1,249) and touchdown catches (15). OF Nick Moresi (52) has a long, lithe frame that elicits comparisons to Von Hayes, and a power-speed game that does the same. He went 13-for-13 on stolen bases while ranking in the Western Athletic Conference’™s top five in home runs (11) and earning Fresno State’™s team award for defense. 3B Matt Antonelli (27) was the Massachusetts prep player of the year in football and hockey as a senior.
Best Pure Hitter: While he may not be as polished as Bobby Crosby or as explosive as Troy Tulowitzki, Long Beach State 3B/SS Evan Longoria (7) makes consistent hard contact with an aggressive swing and led the Cape Cod League in homers (eight), RBIs (35) and slugging percentage (.500) during an MVP season in 2005. 3B Wes Hodges (8) has smooth hitting mechanics that he repeats easily. He’™s so smooth that when a wrist injury threatened to ruin his high school senior season, he taught himself to bat lefthanded for the first time and still hit .400. He hit .397 as a Georgia Tech sophomore. OF Shane Robinson (29) flirted with the .500 mark for part of 2005 before “slumping” to .427. He put together a 40-game hitting streak that broke J.D. Drew’™s Florida State record, and has more punch than might be expected from someone so slight (5-foot-9, 165 pounds). Miami OF Jon Jay (30) sprays line drives from pole to pole and has great bat control. He struggled last summer with Team USA, however, hitting just .262 with two extra-base hits. Mississippi 3B Chris Coghlan (38) hit .363 last spring for the Rebels, leading the team in doubles, then won the Cape Cod League batting title by hitting .346, albeit with just five extra-base hits in 130 at-bats.
Best Raw Power: 1B Matt LaPorta (6) holds up Albert Pujols as his hitting model and produced similar results in 2005, leading Division I with 26 homers. Like Pujols, LaPorta isn’™t afraid to go the other way and shows power to all fields. 1B/OF Mark Hamilton (33) hasn’™t put it all together yet for a full season, but he has shown as much power with wood as any collegian. He’™s hit 13 homers the last two summers in the Cape Cod League. Hamilton’™s six dingers last summer tied him for second in the league with Chris Errecart (34), who’™s more athletic. Neither played a full Cape schedule, as Hamilton missed time during Tulane’™s College World Series run, while Errecart had a sprained ankle. 1B Josh Morris (45) hit 16 homers to power Georgia’™s 2004 CWS run but has struggled since then to make consistent contact. He hit .220 on the Cape with six homers to tie Errecart and Hamilton. Lamar’™s ballpark always plays big, but C Michael Ambort (47) had the raw power and ability to use it to belt a school-record 18 homers last season.
Fastest Runner: Robinson is the classic college water bug, with plus speed and unmatched instincts. He’™s been caught stealing just eight times in 76 college attempts with the Seminoles and excels at taking an extra base once already aboard. Watching Stubbs run quickens scouts’™ pulses; he’™s both graceful and explosive, turning in a 60-yard-dash time of 6.31 seconds. An above-average defender and plus runner, SS Emmanuel Burris (77) was the co-MVP of the Cape Cod League playoffs and stole 37 bases last summer while hitting .286.
Best Defensive Player: LaPorta came to Florida as a catcher but has had little chance to play behind the plate because of the defensive polish of Brian Jeroloman (21). His combination of sound technique, solid-average arm and quick release helped him throw out 47 percent of opposing baserunners in 2006. He handles a pitching staff well and has a catcher’™s requisite leadership skills. Stubbs has a plus arm to complete his tool package, and should have no trouble playing center field in any big league ballpark. Justin Turner (86) has soft hands, guile and instincts, and his quick feet help him turn the double play well, while his Titans middle-infield partner, Blake Davis (62), has more arm and athleticism.
Best Fastball: The best position in the draft may be hard throwers, particularly among the college ranks. RHP Max Scherzer (3) regularly pushed his fastball into the upper 90s as a closer in 2004 in the Northwoods League, hitting 98 mph, and as a starter for Missouri, he sat at 97 in the ninth inning of a victory against Nebraska in 2005. While he hasn’™t had Scherzer’™s success in college yet, RHP Brandon Morrow (9) had the best velocity in the Cape Cod League last summer, working at 96-99 mph consistently. His fastball can be hittable, though’”he had a 9.36 ERA as a sophomore at California, due in part to control problems. North Carolina’™s power-armed duo of LHP Andrew Miller (1) and RHP Daniel Bard (4) both can pitch in the 93-96 mph range with their fastballs, and Bard consistently hit 97 as a freshman, when he was more effective. Their fastballs helped them rank 1-2 among the Cape’™s Top 30 prospects last summer. Southern California RHP Ian Kennedy (5) has low-90s velocity, but no collegian uses his fastball more effectively, as Kennedy has both control and command. While Bard, Morrow and Scherzer all could be future closers, RHPs Blair Erickson (18) and Chris Perez (22) blow mid-90s gas as the nation’™s top current closers.
Best Breaking Ball: RHP Tim Lincecum (31) returns after being draft-eligible as a sophomore. Teams were scared off by the combination of price tag and his unique, corkscrew delivery, one that helps produce college baseball’™s best strikeout pitch. Lincecum spins curveballs with power and exceptional bite. Kennedy’™s curveball is like his fastball’”a solid-average big league pitch that plays up (especially in college) because of his command. LHP Wade LeBlanc (28), BA’™s Freshman of the Year in 2004, had an off year in ‘™05 (4.09 ERA) but still racked up healthy strikeout numbers thanks to his big curve. Miller’™s slider can be devastating when he’™s throwing it for strikes and at times earns a 70 grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. When healthy (he’™s coming off Tommy John surgery), RHP Jeff Manship (75) will feature one of the nation’™s best curveballs, which made him an ace on Team USA’™s junior national team in 2003.
Best Command: Kennedy’™s ability to put his pitches where he wants them has left batters mostly flailing for two seasons. While Texas’™ entire staff pounds the strike zone, RHP Kyle McCulloch (11) shines even among his peers, averaging two walks a start last season. At his best, Buck has excellent control of his power sinker and slider, making him a groundball machine. RHP Jared Hughes (15) has solid-average stuff, but his pitchability and ability to work all parts of the zone makes him a prospect.
Most Intriguing Background: C Chad Tracy (25) is the son of Pirates (and former Dodgers) manager Jim Tracy. The Pirates’™ first-base coach is the father of Kentucky 2B/OF John Shelby (43), whose dad also is a former Orioles and Dodgers outfielder. RHP Justin Cassel (62) competed against older brother Matt when Matt played at Southern California, but Matt has gone on to a pro career in football, throwing a pair of touchdowns for the New England Patriots in their 2005 season finale. RHP Joba Chamberlain (12), a Native American, emerged as an All-American and led Nebraska to the CWS last season after getting in shape, losing 40 pounds and transferring in from Nebraska-Kearney, where he had a 5.23 ERA in 2004. LHP Ben Snyder (60) is the younger brother of Indians farmhand Brad Snyder, a 2003 first-round pick.
Best Two-Way Player: While 2005 was the Year of the Two-Way Player, with studs such as Micah Owings (Tulane) and Stephen Head (Mississippi) leading their teams to greatness, the ranks are far thinner in 2006. Houston has had top players such as Jesse Crain, Kevin Roberts and even Brad Sullivan go both ways, and RHP/UT Brad Lincoln (13) follows in that tradition. A top prospect as a hard-throwing pitcher, Lincoln was better last year at the plate (.337-7-52, and he’™s Houston’™s top returning power bat) than on the mound (4-7, 4.76). He played every position except catcher, first base and center field as a freshman. Arizona State’™s Zech Zinicola (85) has 12 saves and five homers the last two seasons in a dual role, and because his 93-94 mph fastball has been more consistent than his power bat, he’™s a better prospect as a pitcher. Though slight, Florida Atlantic RHP/OF Mike McBryde (72) held up under the strain of his dual role for the Owls last season, hitting .370 (for the second straight season) with 35 steals in 39 attempts while saving 11 games and striking our 49 in 35 innings.
Closest To the Majors: College closers keep being put on the fast track, and the most likely suspects in 2006 to join the trend are Erickson, Perez and Mark Melancon (14), a closer on Arizona’™s 2004 CWS club who has moved to the rotation for 2006. Even though he went to college while his former La Quinta High teammate Ian Stewart signed out of high school, Kennedy could beat Stewart to the big leagues if he signs quickly. He’™s more polished and has more consistent stuff than former Trojans aces Seth Etherton or Anthony Reyes, whom he resembles more closely than Mark Prior. McCulloch’™s quality changeup and excellent command also could help him ascend quickly. LaPorta’™s power and polished approach make him a good bet among position players, while Longoria’™s polish and solid ability in the infield (though he’™s more likely a second baseman or third baseman) could keep his bus time to a minimum.
Don’™t Forget About: Seniors always sneak up the draft board based on strong final seasons. Among this year’™s candidates: RHP Ryan LaMotta reminds Baylor coach Steve Smith of big leaguer Paul Byrd with his guile and command. LHP Brae Wright has size and above-average stuff as a lefthander, though his makeup (he was booted from the Mississippi team and transferred to Oklahoma State) gives scouts pause. OF Gavin Dickey quit Florida’™s football team to concentrate on baseball. While he lacks polish, he has a potent bat and athleticism and could move into the draft’s first five rounds. RHP Robert Woodard was the Tar Heels’™ Friday starter ahead of Bard and Miller last season and has Kennedy-like command of fringe-average stuff. He also performed well in the Cape, walking four in 46 innings with a 2.53 ERA. While drafting players with military commitments can get dicey, Army’™s Nick Hill, 20-5 in his career, might the risk. His 1.21 ERA in 89 innings (with a 90-19 K-BB ratio) ranked second in the nation a year ago. Miami sophomore LHP Scott Maine will go back up draft lists if he can prove he’™s over his past injuries, which include Tommy John surgery and a devastating auto accident that caused doctors to insert seven titanium rivets to repair his fractured skull.