|THIS YEAR’S CROP|
|*****||One for the books|
|***||Solid, not spectacular|
|**||Not up to par|
|*||Nothing to see here|
Nebraska doesn’t have a talent to match Alex Gordon from a year ago–when he went No. 2 in the draft to the Royals–but the state still has an early first-rounder in Cornhuskers righthander Joba Chamberlain and improved depth, especially in terms of hitters. The high schools continue to lag far behind the colleges, however, and may not produce a single draft pick.
|National Top 200 Prospects
1. Joba Chamberlain, rhp, Nebraska
2. Tony Watson, lhp, Nebraska
3. Ryan Wehrle, ss, Nebraska
|Other Players Of Note
4. Zach Daeges, of, Creighton
5. Luke Gorsett, of, Nebraska
6. Brett Jensen, rhp, Nebraska
7. Joe Broekemeier, rhp, Aurora HS
8. Jeff Christy, c, Nebraska
9. Chris Gradoville, c, Creighton
10. Travis Mortimore, lhp, Wayne State
11. Brandon Buckman, 1b, Nebraska
12. Sam Murphy, rhp, Westside HS, Omaha
13. Nick Jaros, of, Nebraska
14. Brian Feekin, lhp, Papillion-La Vista HS, Papillion
15. Charlie Shaver, lhp, Elkhorn HS
1. Joba Chamberlain, rhp (National rank: 7)
School: Nebraska. Class: Jr.
Hometown: Lincoln, Neb.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 225. Birthdate: 9/23/85.
Scouting Report: Chamberlain’s success story is hard to fathom. He didn’t pitch until his senior season in high school, and he spent his freshman year of college going 3-6, 5.23 for Nebraska-Kearney, an NCAA Division II program. He had minor knee surgery after transferring to Nebraska in the fall of 2004, dropped 25 pounds and emerged as a star for the Cornhuskers. He pitched them to the College World Series in 2005 and is a good bet to do so again this year. Slowed by triceps tendinitis that caused him to miss a couple of starts early this spring, he has been more inconsistent than he was as a sophomore. But he’s rounding back into peak form, which for Chamberlain means throwing a 92-94 mph fastball that tops out at 97 and a devastating slider. He also has a curveball and feel for a changeup. Once he turns pro his fastball should chew up wood bats. His stuff may not be quite as good as that of Luke Hochevar and Max Scherzer, but Chamberlain has better makeup and should come with a lower price tag. A member of the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska, Chamberlain will become the highest-drafted Native American ever when he goes in the first 10 picks.
2. Tony Watson, lhp (National rank: 86)
School: Nebraska. Class: So.
Hometown: Grimes, Iowa
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Birthdate: 5/30/85.
Scouting Report: Watson was Iowa’s top high school pitching prospect in 2003, when he threw three no-hitters and set a state record with a 0.10 ERA. But he tore his labrum before he got to Nebraska, and following surgery he redshirted during his first year with the Cornhuskers. Shoulder injuries are often the kiss of death for pitchers, but Watson has come back strong. He has been Nebraska’s most effective weekend starter this year, outpitching even projected first-rounder Joba Chamberlain. Watson’s fastball parks at 88-89 mph and touches 92, and his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame hints at more velocity to come. He gets a lot of run and sink on his heater and excels at pounding the strike zone down and away. He also uses a plus changeup and a slurvy slider that needs more consistency. He’s athletic and repeats his delivery well, and his makeup is off the charts. Watson has extra leverage as a draft-eligible sophomore, but teams aren’t worried about his signability if he goes in the second to fourth round.
3. Ryan Wehrle, ss (National rank: 117)
School: Nebraska. Class: So.
Hometown: Papillion, Neb.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. Birthdate: 5/31/85.
Scouting Report: Coaches say Wehrle, whose father Craig played football for the Cornhuskers, is the most improved player in the Big 12 Conference. After batting a soft .275/.377/.329 as a freshman in 2005, he hit .365/.445/.557 in the regular season as a draft-eligible sophomore. He’s still developing, particularly in terms of home run power, so it’s possible he would go higher in 2007 than he will this year. But in a draft short on position players, especially middle infielders, Wehrle will be enticing. Though he’s 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, he has a chance to stay at shortstop. He’s just an average runner, but he has the athleticism and arm strength to at least begin his pro career there. At worst, he becomes a plus defender at third base, and he should hit enough for the hot corner. One scout compared Wehrle to Michael Cuddyer, both for his bat and for his defensive versatility.
Cornhuskers Dominate State’s Talent
Zach Daeges won the Northwoods League triple crown last summer with .366-13-48 totals, and after a similar spring he could go as high as the fifth round to a team that appreciates strike-zone judgment (49 walks, 22 whiffs) and/or saving money on a quality senior sign. Daeges produces for power and average from the left side of the plate, and he scored points by volunteering to play third base when Creighton had a hole there. Daeges doesn’t have the range for the hot corner and will be an outfielder as a pro, and his arm has bounced back nicely from Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2004.
After winning the juco home run title with 24 at Garden City (Kan.) in 2005, outfielder Luke Gorsett came to Nebraska and replaced Alex Gordon as the most dangerous hitter in the Cornhuskers lineup. Gorsett has tremendous bat speed and can uncork tape-measure shots. There’s a lot of effort to the rest of his game, but he has usable tools and enough arm for right field. He’ll probably get drafted from the fifth to seventh round.
Righthander Brett Jensen hasn’t been as dominant as when he set a Cornhuskers record with 16 saves a year ago, but he still has been tough to hit. Jensen gives batters a different look, as a 6-foot-7, 190-pounder who pitches from a sidearm angle. He gets a lot of life on his fastball, which has sat at 88-90 mph at times and at 85-87 at others this spring. His keys in pro ball will be to develop a more consistent slider and to trust his changeup more against lefthanders. A senior, he turned down the Nationals as a 23rd-rounder a year ago.
The high schooler with the best chance of getting drafted is Joe Broekemeier, a projectable 6-foot-4, 180-pound righthander. His fastball ranges from 84-92 mph and his curveball has the makings of a quality pitch. He’s a good athlete who’s an all-state performer in basketball and track (as a sprinter and long jumper). He’s considered virtually unsignable away from Nebraska, where he could blossom into an early pick in the 2009 draft.
Jeff Christy is one of the better defensive catchers in the college game, with strong receiving and leadership skills to go with a solid-average arm. He wasn’t drafted as a junior in 2005 after batting .236 with one homer, but he’ll draw middle-round interest this year after hitting .292 with eight homers entering NCAA regional play. He swings through a lot of pitches and may never hit enough to be a regular, but he could reach the majors as a defensive-minded backup.
Nick Schumacher threw 90-92 mph in the Coastal Plain League last summer, ensuring that scouts would come to see him at Wayne State this spring. But he blew out his elbow and required Tommy John surgery after just five starts. The Wildcats came up with another legitimate pitching prospect in 6-foot-5, 225-pound lefthander Travis Mortimore. He projects as a reliever with an 87-90 mph sinker and a slider. That combination is most effective when he stays on top of his pitches and doesn’t lapse into a crossfire delivery.