|THIS YEAR'S CROP|
|*****||One for the books|
|***||Solid, not spectacular|
|**||Not up to par|
|*||Nothing to see here|
Area scouts say that Michigan is as barren as they ever can remember. There isn't a single player worthy of the first five rounds, and only a couple who figure in the first 10. The best high school players aren't ready for pro ball yet, and it will be an upset if any of them are drafted high enough to pass up on college and sign.
1. Dan O'Brien, lhp, Western Michigan
2. Jeff Kunkel, c, Michigan (CONTROL: Tigers)
3. Ben Humphrey, 1b, Central Michigan
4. Dale Cornstubble, c, Homer HS
5. Brandon Ritchie, lhp, Grand Rapids CC
6. Jeff Gerbe, rhp, Michigan State
7. Troy Krider, ss, Michigan State
8. Ryan Basham, of, Michigan State
9. Eric Rose, of, Michigan
10. Bryan Mitzel, of, Central Michigan
11. Alan Oaks, of, Jesuit HS, White Lake
12. Duane Below, Lake Michigan CC
13. Devin Kline, rhp, Lakeview HS, Battle Creek
14. Andrew Hess, rhp, Michigan
15. David Mills, of, Lakeview HS, Battle Creek
Prospects Few And Far Between
The state's top prospect, lefthander Dan O'Brien, probably won't go higher than the eighth round. He may not have even an average pitch, but he throws strikes with an 85-88 mph sinker, an 83-86 mph cutter, a curveball and a changeup. Some scouts say his cutter is his best pitch while others say it's his sinker, and his changeup may have the most potential. He's undersized at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds and lost velocity down the stretch. He didn't help his chances when he pitched against Ball State's Ben Snyder in front of a crowd of scouts in April. O'Brien walked four guys in the second inning, including three with the bases loaded, and battled his command all day.
A fifth-year senior under control to the Tigers as a 37th-round pick from a year ago, catcher Jeff Kunkel may not have his season end in time to sign with Detroit, meaning he'd re-enter the draft. He stands out mostly for his arm strength, throwing out 45 percent of basestealers during the past two seasons. A line-drive hitter with little power, he hasn't homered in 2006 and has gone deep just six times in four years. His average also dropped from .384 in 2005 to .333 this spring. Scouts give him credit for trimming up his 6-foot frame to 198 pounds, down from 220 in the past.
First baseman Ben Humphrey showed power but drew little attention from scouts in two years at Olney Central (Ill.) Community College. He'll go on the first day of the draft after hitting 13 homers and driving in a school-record 72 runs in his first season at Central Michigan. Humphrey offers size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) and strength. While he still has a propensity to swing and miss, he has toned down his stroke and approach. Outfielder Bryan Mitzel, his teammate, has similar pop but is less refined at the plate.
The best high school prospect in the state, catcher Dale Cornstubble is a key part of the Homer team that set a national high school record with 75 consecutive victories. That streak was snapped in the Michigan Division 3 championship game last year, and Homer started another one by winning its first 30 games in 2006. Cornstubble's catch-and-throw skills are outstanding and ready for pro ball, but his body (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) and bat aren't. He should emerge as a solid pick in 2009 after three years at Central Michigan.
Grand Rapids won three consecutive Division II Junior College World Series championships before falling in the title game to Louisiana State-Eunice this year. The Raiders' top prospect is 6-foot-4, 235-pound freshman lefthander Brandon Ritchie. He touches 90 mph with his fastball and flashes a quality slider.
Righthander Jeff Gerbe received the Major League Scouting Bureau's highest grade in Michigan (a 48 on the 20-80 scouting scale, with 50 being an average major league player) but didn't fool too many hitters. Opponents batted .337 against him and he had just 32 strikeouts in 79 innings. A former walk-on, Gerbe has a lean 6-foot-3, 177-pound frame and a fresh arm after pitching sparingly in the three seasons before this one. His best pitch is a sinker that was clocked at 90-92 mph early in the spring but was down to 86-88 by season's end. He doesn't have much of a feel for his secondary pitches, including a changeup that he throws too hard. His younger brother Matt, a righthander at Eisenhower High (Shelby Township), is one of the state's better high school pitching prospects. But his fastball currently sits at 84-86 mph and he'll likely attend Michigan.
Shortstop Troy Krider and outfielders Ryan Basham and Eric Rose are all decent prospects who'll be more attractive as senior signs in 2007. Krider will show all five tools at times, with his offense outshining his defense. Basham makes consistent hard contact but is limited athletically and defensively. Rose's outstanding speed plays well on the bases and in center field, though he needs to get stronger.