Draft Dish: May 4

2006 Top Junior College Prospects

Baseball America lined up its Top 15 junior-college draft prospects,
regardless of whether the players were under control to a club. Many of
the players listed below probably will sign prior to the draft, rather
than re-entering the process.

Rk. Player Pos. School 2005 Draft Info
1 Bryan Morris rhp Motlow (Tenn.) CC Devil Rays, Third round
2 Chad Lee rhp Barton County (Kan.) CC None
3 Sean O’Sullivan rhp Grossmont (Calif.) JC Angels, Third
4 Milton Loo ss/3b Yavapai (Ariz.) JC Reds, Ninth
5 Tommy Hanson rhp Riverside (Calif.) CC Braves, 27th
6 Pedro Beato rhp Saint Petersburg (Fla.) CC Mets, 17th
7 Josh Bradbury of Orange Coast (Calif.) CC None
8. Aaron Breit rhp Garden City (Kan.) CC Padres, 12th
9 Drew Miller rhp Seminole (Okla.) State JC Padres, 37th
10 Jess Todd rhp Navarro (Texas) CC None
11 Steven Marquardt 3b/ss Columbia Basin (Wash.) JC Rangers, 23rd
12 Bryant Thompson rhp Pensacola (Fla.) JC None
13 Casey Beck rhp San Jacinto (Texas) CC None
14 Bryan Casey rhp/3b Arizona Western CC Royals, 20th
15 Jonathan Holdzkom rhp Salt Lake (Utah) CC Mariners, 15th



–COMPILED BY JIM CALLIS, JOHN MANUEL AND ALAN MATTHEWS

With
the 2006 draft shaping up as a disappointing group of players, some
clubs may decide the money allotted for the current draft budgets may
be better spent on players they drafted in 2005 and have followed
through the season at junior college.

The draft-and-follow rule,
put simply, allows clubs to draft players and retain their negotiating
rights with the player through the next year, up until one week prior
to the following draft (a week known as the closed period). Some
organizations are more comfortable with the draft-and-follow than
others, trends that change with the regimes running the organization.

The
2006 draft is a poor one, and the ’05 draft-and-follow class has
several highly-drafted players who could emerge as potential
top-three-rounds picks in the weakened ’06 crop if they don’t sign
during the closed period.

The Devil Rays have the highest
unsigned draft-and-follow–also known as DNFs, as in “draft-’n’-follow”
or DFEs, as in draft, follow and evaluate’”in third-round pick Bryan
Morris. The righthander ended up playing for his father, an assistant
coach at Motlow (Tenn.) CC. Morris has dominated inferior competition
despite a left wrist injury that sidelined him for one start. He was
9-1, 0.91 with 108 strikeouts in 79 innings as a pitcher and had batted
.364-7-26 for good measure. Morris’ ERA led the state by nearly two
runs. However, he probably won’t sign for less than the seven-figure
bonus he and the Rays nearly worked out last summer.

“He’s done
what he needed to do,” Motlow head coach Dan Rhoton said. “He’s still
throwing in the mid-90s, his curveball is still a pitch the scouts are
saying is already major league quality, and he’s developed a changeup,
which he frankly didn’t need in high school.

“He’s still
(planning on) negotiating with the Devil Rays, and he understands the
business side of it. He wants to play professional baseball, but if it
doesn’t work out with the Devil Rays, he’ll go back into the draft or
come back to Motlow for another year.”

The Angels spent $800,000
on one of last year’s top draft-and-follows, righthander Stephen Marek.
The organization also has the second-highest rated DFE in this year’s
class in righthander Sean O’Sullivan, a product of Valhalla High in El
Cajon, Calif. A third-round pick last June, O’Sullivan has spent the
spring as a two-way player at Grossmont (Calif.) JC in San Diego,
batting .401 to lead the Pacific Coast Conference while also ranking
second in the league in ERA at 2.14.

However, area JC coaches
and scouts agree O’Sullivan, described as having a mature body and
stuff, has not improved his stock in the past year and has little room
for projection. His fastball, which topped out at 92 mph early in the
season, has not reached such heights in conference play (sitting in the
87-90 range), and his lack of a put-away secondary pitch is evidenced
by his 48 strikeouts in 62 innings.

In a draft short on position
players, Reds ninth-round pick Milton Loo stands out as a player who
would add a toolsy infielder to a thin crop. The Yavapai (Ariz.) CC
player, whom the Reds also drafted in 2004 in the 17th round out of a
Hawaiian high school, has battled an elbow injury late in the spring
that limited him to DH but was cleared to play for Yavapai in the
postseason.

Loo hit .343 with five home runs this spring after
hitting .404 in 2005. He has enough athleticism to play shortstop but
has played third in deference to a superior defender, teammate Troy
Hanzawa, and has become adept at the hot corner in a short time. He’s
average or better across the board, showing intriguing power potential
the last two years in the Arizona CC Athletic Conference, which uses
wood bats. One scout compared his overall package to that of Tony
Graffanino, though some have been troubled in the past by his
inconsistent effort, and by the fact he turned down a low-six-figures
signing bonus last year.

Among players not under control, Barton
(Kan.) CC righthander Chad Lee has garnered considerable interest. An
Oklahoma signee, Lee has flashed a good curveball to go with a solid
6-foot-3, 190-pound frame and 90-94 mph fastball. Another non-control
player attracting interest was outfielder Josh Bradbury, who
transferred to Orange Coast (Calif.) JC after one season at Loyola
Marymount. Bradbury, who also has seen time at the corner infield
spots, was hitting .381 with 11 home runs, good for third in the state.

JUCO DISH

• Loo’s Yavapai club could have seven or more players drafted or signing pro contracts. The most interesting is outfielder Shane Keough,
a 36th-round pick of the Athletics last June who did not play his final
two high school seasons. As a result, Keough lacks instincts and has a
raw, inconsistent hitting approach. However, he has shown power
potential (18 doubles, third in the conference) and plus speed while
adjusting to center field, where he’s potentially an above-average
defender. His father Matt, an
ex-big leaguer with the A’s, works for the organization as a special
assistant to general manager Billy Beane. One of his Yavapai teammates
is also big league progeny: catcher Kevin Gossage, the Rangers’ 2005 34th-round pick and son of Goose Gossage.


The Braves signed sixdraft-and-follows last year, and might top that
number in 2006. The Braves signed just two players after the 13th round
last year, and many of their subsequent selections went to junior
college. Among the top players the organization was targeting to sign
are Riverside (Calif.) CC righthander Tommy Hanson and Chipola (Fla.) JC catcher/first baseman Tyler Flowers.
Hanson has dominated the California JC ranks more than any player this
season, though he has just average fastball velocity. The top prospect
and ERA champion last summer in the West Coast Collegiate League,
Hanson throws four pitches for strikes and was 8-2, 1.90 for Riverside.
His 120 strikeouts in 85 innings led the state by a wide margin, and
he’d allowed just 59 hits and 21 walks. Flowers ranked second among
Florida juco players with 14 home runs and was the Panhandle Conference
player of the year.

• Los Angeles Pierce JC has a high-profile draft-and-follow in Willie Cabrera,
the Braves’ 14th-rounder who was hitting .401 this spring.
Pierce–which has produced three current big leaugers in new Orioles
lefthander Kurt Birkins, Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp and A’s lefthander Barry Zito–also has an undrafted gem in Dominican righthander Miguel Cuevas, who pitched for Miami-Dade CC last spring. Cuevas, who checks in at 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, reminds some of Astros farmhand Jason Hirsh
with his size, though his stuff is less advanced. Cuevas’ fastball sits
at 87-89 mph but has reached the low 90s, and he has shown some feel
for pitching. He is expected to be drafted in the first 10 rounds after
an 8-2, 3.27 season that has included 89 strikeouts and just 25 walks
in 77 innings.

• A pair of highly-drafted Rangers draft-and-follows have run into health problems. Eighth-rounder Brad Barragar,
a righthander at Golden West (Calif.) JC, has seen his velocity dip due
to what scouts and opposing coaches have termed “arm fatigue.”
Righthander Dexter Carter, a
projectable 6-foot-6 righthander who was a 12th-round pick, has not
pitched since throwing a no-hitter for Louisburg (N.C.) JC in March. A
trio of tests (including an MRI) during a one-week span in late March
revealed a stress fracture near the elbow in Carter’™s ulna, one of the
bones in the forearm. He has been on a flexibility and strength program
and said he expects to throw his first bullpen since the diagnosis
today (May 4). Carter said if his rehabilitation continues to go well,
he could still pitch in the postseason for the Hurricanes. He also was
exploring throwing in a summer college league.

• Righthander Jonathan Holdzkom,
under control to the Mariners, no longer is pitching at Salt Lake CC.
Holdzkom, whose fastball has reached 98 mph this season and usually
sits in the mid-90s, went 3-2. 4.26 in a wood-bat league for the school
this spring before leaving the team, but walked 40 (while striking out
44) in 32 innings. According to one area scout, the Rancho Cucamonga
(Calif.) HS product had moved back home and was pitching in weekend
adult leagues to stay fresh for the draft. His brother Lincoln is pitching in the Cubs system this year.

DRAFT DOPE

• Righthander Jeremy Jeffress’
stock continued to soar with another impressive outing. The Halifax
County High (South Boston, Va.) product flashed a 97 mph fastball and
an improving though inconsistent breaking ball in a complete game 4-3
victory against Franklin County High (Rocky Mount, Va.). More than two
dozen scouts–including a handful of scouting directors and front
office personnel–attended the outing and saw him run his fastball up
to 97 mph into the seventh inning. Jeffress’ breaking ball sat in the
77-83 mph range when he stayed on top of it, making it a second
potential plus pitch. “My expectation is he’ll have a dominant fastball
and a good out-pitch with the curve as he learns how to command it,” a
scout with an American League organization said. Jeffress, who led his
high school basketball teams in three-pointers each of the past three
seasons, was off to a slow start in March. His fastball velocity has
steadily climbed, and the radar gun readings he produced against
Franklin County were consistent with those he showed in his last five
outings. In his last two starts as April turned to May, his last
pitches registered 95 and 96 mph.

Jeffress’ athleticism and arm
strength are assets that should help him be drafted in the first 50
picks, though his size–he’s 6 foot, 174 pounds–could prevent him from
being taken in the first round.

“I don’t think he gets out of
the first round,” another scout said. “His arm is really special and he
has a good delivery for a high school kid. I can see him as a closer
down the line.”

• North Carolina righthander Daniel Bard
has seen his stock fluctuate all spring and recovered some momentum
with a complete-game shutout against North Carolina State. Scouts saw
his fastball sit in the low 90s and were back out in force the next
Sunday when Bard beat Duke with six innings of one-run ball, though his
fastball command was less consistent. Bard, 6-2, 3.61 for the
second-ranked Tar Heels, has 73 strikeouts in 67 innings and just 26
walks but continues to work toward being more pitch-efficient. “When he
pitches aggressively, he’s throwing more strikes,” North Carolina
pitching coach Scott Forbes said. “And his stuff is good enough that most guys at this level aren’t going to get good swings against it.”

Contributing: Jim Callis, Alan Matthews.

Draft | #2006

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