|THIS YEAR’S CROP|
|*****||One for the books|
|***||Solid, not spectacular|
|**||Not up to par|
|*||Nothing to see here|
A year after Colby Rasmus became the first Alabama high school player since Terrance Long in 1994 to be drafted in the first round, his former high school teammate, Kasey Kiker, could be taken even higher. The Russell County Warriors built the nation’s best high school team last year, completing 2005 ranked No. 1 in the nation and opening 2006 as the preseason favorite to repeat. The team’s season never came together as expected, but Kiker, Colby’s brother Cory, and Adam Coe should all be drafted out of Russell County this June. Alabama’s college class isn’t as stout as last year’s, but lefthanders Wade LeBlanc and Mike Felix won’t be around long on the draft’s first day, and Alabama’s Emeel Salem headlines a respectable supporting cast of four-year college prospects.
|National Top 200 Prospects
1. Kasey Kiker, lhp, Russell County HS, Seale
2. Caleb Clay, rhp, Cullman HS
3. Cory Rasmus, rhp, Russell County HS, Seale
4. Wade LeBlanc, lhp, Alabama
5. Mike Felix, lhp, Troy
|Other Players Of Note
6. Chase Christianson, rhp, South Alabama
7. Emeel Salem, of, Alabama
8. David Robertson, rhp, Alabama
9. Brandon Hynick, rhp, Birmingham-Southern
10. Taylor Thompson, rhp, Saint James HS, Montgomery
11. Jake Smith, 3b, Hueytown HS
12. Adam Coe, 2b, Russell County HS, Seale
13. Ryne Lawson, rhp, West Alabama
14. David Freese, 1b, South Alabama
15. P.J. Walters, South Alabama
16. Del Howell, lhp, American Christian HS, Tuscaloosa
17. Chris Dennis, rhp, Auburn
18. Austin Hubbard, rhp/3b, Homewood HS, Birmingham
19. Tom King, 2b, Troy
20. Zach Piccola, lhp, South Alabama
21. Jared Bradford, rhp, Shelton State CC
22. Robert Brooks, ss, Enterprise HS
1. Kasey Kiker, lhp (National rank: 28)
School: Russell County HS. Class: Sr.
Hometown: Phenix City, Ala.
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 181. Birthdate: 11/19/87.
Scouting Report: Kiker is one the nation’s most electric lefthanders and has a remarkable track record for a high school pitcher. As a 15-year-old in 2003, he was the winning pitcher for Team USA when it won a gold medal in the World Youth Championship in Taiwan. He was the ace of national champion Russell County High’s staff in 2005 as a junior, going 12-1, 0.52 with 173 strikeouts and 24 walks in 94 innings. Kiker appeared in the Aflac All-American Classic in August and numerous other high-profile showcases and tournaments, showing guile and aggressiveness each time out. His velocity fluctuated throughout the spring, and his most impressive outing might have come in early May when he pitched at 93 with late life and command of his hard breaking ball and changeup. Kiker carves up hitters with power stuff. His 76-78 mph breaking ball has 1-to-7 tilt with tight spin, and his changeup is more consistent and rates as a present above-average offering. Kiker isn’t tall, but he’s thick and strong, especially in his lower half. He pitches with a chip on his shoulder, which doesn’t bother most scouts, but the club that selects him will investigate his makeup.
2. Caleb Clay, rhp (National rank: 90)
School: Cullman HS. Class: Sr.
Hometown: Cullman, Ala.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185. Birthdate: 2/15/88.
Scouting Report: Auburn recruiting coordinator Butch Thompson saw in Clay an athletic player with good arm strength who could blossom into a Friday starter. Unfortunately for Auburn, Clay may have blossomed too soon. He was primarily an outfielder before his senior season, but when he started pitching in relief this spring he became the talk of the Southeast. With a slender, strong and projectable body and a simple, loose and easy delivery, Clay moved into a starting role and climbed draft boards. He struck out 10 and hit three home runs in a doubleheader sweep in the second round of the 5-A playoffs. His days as a center fielder, however, appear over. His fastball sat between 90-91 mph, touching 94. It’s heavy with late life. Surprisingly, his a slider and changeup have been solid, if somewhat inconsistent. When he stays on top of his slider, it has tight rotation with hard bite. Clay’s aptitude is as much of an asset as his athleticism. He’s eager to learn and offers a fresh arm. He showed rudimentary feel for pitching, spotting his fastball to both sides of the plate and pitching down in the zone. Cullman made a late push in the postseason and Clay’s workload piled up, which drew some concern from scouts.
3. Cory Rasmus, rhp (National rank: 91)
School: Russell County HS. Class: Sr.
Hometown: Phenix City, Ala.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195. Birthdate: 11/6/87.
Scouting Report: Scouts know Rasmus as well as they can know any high school prospect. The son of Tony, his high school coach and a 10th-round pick of the Angels in the January phase of the 1986 draft, and younger brother of Colby, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2005, Cory had a celebrated youth and prep career. He was a catcher on the 1999 Phenix City Little League team that advanced to the Little League World Series, and he teamed with Kasey Kiker to form the nation’s most successful high school pitching staff as a junior, leading Russell County to a national title in 2005. He was also an Aflac All-American. Rasmus has always shown impressive arm strength. His fastball was clocked in the high 80s as a 15-year-old and last fall he bumped 97 mph. But he doesn’t do it easily. His arm is quick but his delivery features lots of effort. His thick, stocky frame lends no projection, but most scouts feel his present package profiles well enough. His command suffers when he’s throwing in the mid-90s, but he shows a feel for pitching and his aggressive approach plays well. When he stays on top of his 11-to-5 slider, it has tight spin at 80-83 mph. In one game this season, Rasmus threw eight consecutive changeups, and it grades as an average- to above-average pitch at times. Like Kiker, Rasmus seems to flourish in the spotlight and has turned in impressive performances in front of throngs of scouts. He needs to mature off the field–he was sent home after one day at the East Coast Showcase in 2005 after he took a student’s bike for a joyride late one night–but his prankster personality is not a significant concern. Rasmus’ track record and arm strength could entice a team to take him as early as the second round, though his lack of projection could land him in the third- to fifth-round range.
4. Wade LeBlanc, lhp (National rank: 93)
School: Alabama. Class: Jr.
Hometown: Lake Charles, La.
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. Birthdate: 8/7/84.
Scouting Report: LeBlanc was bound for hometown McNeese State before he blew up as a senior at Barbe High in Lake Charles, La., earning first-team All-America honors. When McNeese coach Todd Butler left for Alabama, LeBlanc followed. He was BA’s Freshman of the Year in 2004, posting an 8-4, 2.08 record. He missed time with a bruised collarbone as a sophomore and was capping his college career strongly, winning each of his first eight decisions. LeBlanc fits the mold of the classic college lefthander with a feel for pitching and a repertoire that profiles in the back of a rotation. He has a smooth delivery, which he repeats well, and a durable frame. His bread and butter is a plus changeup that he throws with good arm speed. It’s a deceptive pitch, with late sink and fade, and he commands it well. He relies on it heavily, which could present a problem as advanced hitters lay off it. His fastball velocity is below-average. He can touch 90 mph, but typically settles in at 84-87 mph, and struggles with command when he throws harder. His overall command is above-average, and he can manipulate the strike zone with both his fastball and changeup. He was not as sharp as a junior as he had been during his first two years at Alabama, however. His breaking ball is a get-me-over offering, with average spin and break. LeBlanc’s strong track record boosts his stock, but his modest ceiling keeps him from becoming a first- or second-round talent.
5. Mike Felix, lhp (National rank: 94)
School: Troy. Class: Jr.
Hometown: Panama City, Fla.
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195. Birthdate: 8/13/85.
Scouting Report: Following a disappointing stint at Auburn, Felix transferred to Troy and split time between the outfield and the mound. He came on strong this spring, pitching in relief and flashing a fastball up to 93 mph and a plus breaking ball. Felix has drawn comparisons to Mike Hampton for his athletic frame. His arm works well from a high three-quarters slot, which enables him to get good downward break on his curveball. He will throw his curveball in any count, and it’s a swing and miss pitch with nasty late break. He pitches at 89 mph and showed good command of all of his pitches this season, though in the past he struggled to throw strikes. This season he began mixing his pitches and changing speed off his fastball, which elevated his stock. He shows an adequate changeup. His ceiling is that of a set-up man, and as long as he can continue to throw strikes Felix figures to fill a role as a reliable reliever.
Caleb Clay was one of a handful of draft-eligible players in the state to make significant strides this spring. No state in the Southeast saw more players climb from late-round obscurity to first-day picks. Adam Coe transferred to Russell County High in hopes of enhancing his stock, and was successful in doing so. He bulked up in the offseason and used his strength to manhandle pitchers to the tune of .455-22-52 with 19 walks and 17 strikeouts. He has above-average bat speed and raw power. Coe’s approach is raw, as he’s aggressive in all counts and prefers to pull, though he can drive balls to the opposite field when he tries to. Coe’s ripped physique worked against him in other phases of his game because his bulk limited his flexibility and his actions are stiff defensively. He’ll have to move to second base or perhaps a corner outfield spot. He hit his way into the top 15 rounds of the draft, and he could be a candidate as a draft-and-follow if he opts for a junior college over Georgia.
Brandon Hynick was more concerned about his health than his draft status at the season’s outset. He had an appendectomy, which led to a slow start to his junior season, and he had never sustained much success in college as an underclassman. By May, his fastball velocity had exceeded what it was last fall and his command was coming around. He’s been up to 93 mph and pitches off his fastball. Hynick is a good athlete and split his time between first base and the mound. His delivery is both simple and unrefined. His split-finger fastball and curveball are below-average pitches. Hynick has good makeup, and thanks to his upside he should be drafted in the eighth to 12th round.
Scouts were more familiar with Chase Christianson entering the season, but he improved his stock as well. He pitched on Saint Paul’s Episcopal’s state title team in high school and is the younger brother of Chad, a former Florida player. Christianson has an outstanding pitcher’s build to go along with a strong work ethic. He pitches between 90-92 mph, touching 94 with a power breaking ball, which has 11-to-5 break at 82 mph. His command has always been below-average, but as he improved his delivery this season he got ahead of hitters with more regularity. He has feel for a changeup, though he has never used it much in his relief role at South Alabama. Scouts believe he has the potential to start as a professional.
If Alabama was the state for overachieving high school players, the Crimson Tide continued that trend in college. Picked near the middle of the pack in the preseason, Alabama won 20 games in Southeastern Conference play and tied Kentucky for the regular season title. Emeel Salem made as much of a jump as any draft-eligible player in the league, proving a quick study on the field and off. He was an academic all-American and the only player to be a unanimous choice as all-SEC. He’s a throwback player, going all out all the time. He is a wiz in center field, tracking down balls in the alleys as well as those scorched over his head, and has a fringe-average arm that plays up because of its accuracy. He needs to get stronger, but he makes consistent contact with the top half of the ball and sticks to his game: spraying balls to both alleys and taking advantage of his 70 speed on the 20-80 scale. He needs to work counts more effectively to profile as a leadoff hitter in pro ball. He has well-below-average power and a thin frame that means he probably won’t develop much more. He has played his way into the draft’s first day, and could be taken as high as the sixth to ninth round.
David Robertson followed a successful freshman season in 2005 with a 3-3, 2.76 campaign this season. A draft-eligible sophomore, Robertson is likely to fill the same role his brother Connor did in pro ball. Connor was a member of Birmingham-Southern’s NAIA national title team in 2001 before being drafted by the Athletics. David is undersized, with a quick arm and clean delivery. He has been up to 95 mph, with a slider that sits around 81-83 mph. He will cut his fastball in any count. His command needs to improve, as does his approach. He has a tendency to nibble on the corners, while other times he’ll go right after hitters. He’s drawn comparisons to Blue Jays reliever Jason Frasor and profiles as a set-up man.
South Alabama corner infielder David Freese and Troy shortstop Tom King were two other players who helped themselves with strong performances this spring. Freese, 23, could have been a prime candidate to sign following the season as a fifth-year senior, but South Alabama earned a spot in the NCAA regional play, meaning he would likely wind up back in the draft. He was named Sun Belt Conference player of the year after batting .415-11-70 with a .509 on-base percentage. He has big-time raw power and mashes balls to all fields when he gets his arms extended. Freese’s approach is good; his defense at third base is not. He’ll probably have to play first base, though some scouts suggest he could catch. There, however, his arm strength and throwing motion could be problematic. King transferred from South Carolina and posted a .416 average with 34 doubles for the nation’s most productive offense. He’s a below-average runner and fielder who will likely move to second base, where his below-average power doesn’t profile well. He makes consistent hard contact and uses the entire field.
As so many players moved up draft boards, a pair of prep players inevitably went the other way. Righthander Taylor Thompson has a great body and a bad delivery. He matched up against Russell County High early in the season and fell apart, fighting his command and losing his composure on the mound. His fastball has been as up to 93 mph with excellent life. He could become a quality arm at Auburn. Jake Smith figures to play against Thompson at Alabama. He has a sweepy swing with significant holes. He’s a good athlete and has plenty of arm strength to handle third base, where he could settle in as a middle-of-the-order run producer if he tightens his swing and taps into his power potential.
Auburn righty Chris Dennis had not returned to the form he showed in 2004 as a sophomore before he had Tommy John surgery. His fastball velocity has been mostly in the mid-80s, while his slider lacks the snap it once showed. Jared Bradford features a mid-80s fastball with good movement, but also lost ground this season when his velocity was a tick below what he had shown before. If he doesn’t sign with the Devil Rays, he could wind up at Louisiana State.