Draft Dish: March 1

The first month of the 2006 college season only served to reaffirm what
scouting directors already knew–that this year’s draft will be
dominated by college pitching.

“I see a minimum of 22 pitchers in the first round at this point,
mostly college pitchers,” one American League scouting director said.
“In fact, I’m getting some early indication that the first five or six
players taken this year might be all college pitchers.”

“The best players this year, by far, are pitchers,” confirmed another
AL scouting director. “But there will be some teams that think they
must have a position player in the first round, and they’ll probably
overpay to get one.”

Not only should pitching dominate this year’s draft, but in the
season’s first month, few surprises had shown up on the radar. In
recent years, players such as Princeton outfielder B.J. Szymanski
(2004) and Kent State’s John Van Benschoten (2001) have emerged early
in the season and put themselves in the mix for the first round.

Among the pitchers that appear to have helped themselves in the early
going are Texas Christian lefthander Brad Furnish and UCLA lefthander
David Huff. Furnish went 5-6, 4.14 for the Horned Frogs last year and
left the Cape Cod League early last summer because of a pulled muscle.
But his fastball was clocked at 93 mph in a season-opening start
against Rice in early February at the Houston Astros College Classic,
and he complemented that pitch with a plus curveball. A week later, he
showed similar stuff while tossing a seven-inning no-hitter with 13
strikeouts against Stephen F. Austin at the Al Ogletree Classic in
Edinburg, Texas.

A consensus fourth- to sixth-rounder at the start of the year,
Furnish’s early success had him knocking on the door of the first
round, according to several scouts.

But at least one scouting director uttered a word of caution before moving Furnish up the draft board so quickly.

“I’ve seen the same stuff from him in the past–an average fastball and
a good breaking ball,” he said. “The difference is that he’s never had
much success before. He’s getting guys out this year. But the stuff is
the same.”

Huff made his own statement by striking out 15 in eight innings against
Pacific, including the first nine batters of the game on 40 pitches. A
transfer from Cypress (Calif.) Junior College, Huff was drafted in the
19th round last year after developing forearm soreness late in the
spring, leading to significant loss of velocity on his fastball. He was
expected to be a second- or third-rounder then, but could return to
that range if he continues to pitch as he did in the early going. His
fastball was clocked at 88-90 mph against Pacific, and he augmented it
with two good breaking balls and a plus changeup.

“David has pitched very well in his first three starts,” UCLA coach
John Savage said. “It’s only three starts, but he just looks different
than he ever has before. We’ll see the big picture after eight or 10
starts.”

Meanwhile, the college pitchers who appear to have taken a step
backward in the early going are Oregon State righthander Dallas Buck
and Georgia Southern righthander Dustin Evans, both potential
first-round picks at the start of the year.

Buck was a disappointment in the Cape Cod League last summer, with a
fastball in the 88-90 mph range, and his velocity had not returned as
he tended to be overly reliant on his sinker and slider, costing him
velocity. His body language on the mound also remains a source of
concern to scouts.

Evans was knocked around in his first two starts despite throwing his
fastball in the mid-90s, but left his third start early with an
undisclosed arm injury.

Closers In Demand

The preponderance of college relief candidates in this year’s draft has
become a particularly hot topic among scouting directors. The list
begins with UC Irvine righthander Blair Erickson, UCLA righthander
Brant Rustich and Miami righthander Chris Perez, who have each been in
the 94-96 mph range and performed as expected. The list has grown as
San Diego State righthander Justin Masterson and Arizona righthander
Mark Melancon, both of whom were expected to start this year, have
proven much more effective when used in closing  roles.

The 6-foot-5 Masterson, who transferred to San Diego State from NAIA
Bethel (Ind.) College, appears better suited as a closer because he
lacks a changeup. He struggled as a starter, despite a 93-94 mph
sinking fastball.

Melancon has the best arm on the Arizona staff. He was used as a
starter in one game primarily to get more innings, but was knocked
around in that role. His two-pitch arsenal, a 94-95 mph sinking
fastball and hard slider, proved much more effective in relief, his
role his first two years at Arizona and last summer with Team USA.

“He still has two plus-plus pitches,” an area scout in the Southwest said. “But he will not start.”

In addition to those five pitchers, Clemson righthander Steve Richard
and Cal Poly righthander Rocky Roquet have pitched well enough early on
to get into the closer discussion. Roquet, a senior, showed a steady 94
mph fastball while racking up four saves and 10 strikeouts in his first
six outings..

“Closers have been a college phenomenon since the days of Darren
Dreifort,” an AL scouting director said. “Major league clubs are more
willing than ever to take a reliever in the first round, and it seems
like more colleges have that kind of guy–even if they are bringing
them into games as early as the fourth or fifth inning.”


DRAFT DOTS

• The college player scouts remain the most divided on is Texas
outfielder Drew Stubbs, often ranked as the top position player in the
class. While one area scout said Stubbs still will be drafted high
because of his 80 speed and defense on the 20-80 scouting scale, he has
struggled at the plate, even as he was hitting .341-2-9 in his first 41
at-bats. “Stubbs can’t hit,” one scouting director said. “He never
could hit, and he never will hit. All his other tools are
outstanding–even his power, when he hits it–but I think he’ll be one
player who will be disappointed this year.” Another scouting director
added, “His approach has been horrible. It looks like he has lost all
his confidence at the plate.”

• Long Beach State’s Evan Longoria has passed Stubbs on most draft
boards as the top position player available. Longoria, who had a
breakout season in the Cape Cod League last summer, came out of the
gates this spring hitting .438-3-7, and scouts say his talent is on a
par with Troy Tulowitzki, the Long Beach State shortstop drafted
seventh overall last year. Longoria has played third base for the
Dirtbags this season, but could shift to the middle infield–especially
second base–as a pro.

Contributing: Will Kimmey, John Manuel.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Each issue between now and our Draft Preview, Baseball
America will look at the top draft prospects at each position as part
of our in-season draft coverage. This issue’s topic: first base.

First base is often viewed as a position where teams stash players
incapable of playing anywhere else on the field. This year may be an
exception, as most of the top first-base prospects appear to have skill
and agility needed to play other positions.

Matt LaPorta, Chris Parmelee and Cody Johnson, the top three prospects
in this year’s class of first basemen, are all being scouted as
multi-position players. LaPorta, the top power hitter in the country
(regardless of position), entered Florida as a catcher and is expected
to see some time at third base. Parmelee and Johnson should see
extensive time in the outfield.

“There’s not a lot of pure first basemen this year,” an American League
scouting director said. “You rarely see a lot of first basemen in the
first round anyway, unless they’re in the first 10 picks. But they’ve
got to be legitimate first basemen to go that high.”

LaPorta is the only player considered a lock to go in the first round.
If Parmelee or Johnson are taken that high, it likely will be because
they have demonstrated they can play the outfield, at least adequately.
Washington state prep outfielder Travis Snider is projected to go
earlier as an outfielder, but some scouts see him as a first baseman
down the road.

Parmelee is the best pure hitter in the lot, though he not shown
consistent raw power. He makes hard contact and has a good feel for the
strike zone. At best, he’d be a left fielder because his arm and speed
are both below average.

TOP 10 FIRST BASE PROSPECTS

Rank Player, School Projected Round
1. Matt LaPorta, U. of Florida Mid first
2. Chris Parmelee, Chino Hills (Calif.) HS Late first
3. Cody Johnson, Mosley HS, Lynn Haven, Fla. Second
4. Mark Hamilton, Tulane U. Second
5. Aaron Bates, North Carolina State U. Third
6. Andrew Clark, New Palastine (Ind.) HS Third
7. Josh Morris, U. of Georgia Fourth
8. Brett Pill, Cal State Fullerton Fourth
9. Dustin Dickerson, Midway HS, Waco, Texas Fifth
10. Andy D’Alessio, Clemson U. Fifth

–ALLAN SIMPSON

Draft | #2006

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