|THIS YEAR’S CROP|
|*****||One for the books|
|***||Solid, not spectacular|
|**||Not up to par|
|*||Nothing to see here|
When the scouts discuss top-tier talent in the Palmetto State this year, the discussion begins and ends with Jason Place, who could become the first high school player from South Carolina drafted in the first round since the Phillies took outfielder Reggie Taylor from Newberry with the 14th overall pick in 1995. Place is aggressive and somewhat raw and reminds many scouts of Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur. The rest of the state’s high school crop is barren, with enigmatic yet toolsy Jeff Ussery the only other prepster with a shot of going in the first 10 rounds. Perennial college stalwarts Clemson and South Carolina both made regionals but do not have significant draft talent available this year aside from the Tigers’ Tyler Colvin. A handful of players from mid-major schools will be first-day selections, while the junior college ranks have not generated any excitement among most scouts.
|National Top 200 Prospects
1. Jason Place, of, Wren HS, Easley
2. Tyler Colvin, of, Clemson
|Other Players Of Note
3. Heath Rollins, of/rhp, Winthrop
4. Graham Godfrey, rhp, Charleston
5. Jeff Ussery, ss/rhp, Heritage Academy, Hilton Head
6. Josh McLaughlin, rhp, Charleston
7. Jacob Dempsey, of/1b, Winthrop
8. Andrew Cruse, rhp, South Carolina
9. Jason Berken, rhp, Clemson
10. Andy D’™Alessio, 1b, Clemson
11. Ryan Owens, lhp, Citadel
12. Josh Cribb, rhp, Clemson
13. Stephen Faris, rhp, Clemson
14. Steve Richard, rhp, Clemson
15. Harris Honeycutt, rhp, South Carolina
16. Arik Hempy, lhp, South Carolina
1. Jason Place, of (National rank: 47)
School: Wren HS. Class: Sr.
Hometown: Easley, S.C.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Birthdate: 5/8/88.
Scouting Report: Place is one of the best high school players to come out of South Carolina in several years. Scouts see him as a five-tool, blue-collar player with a great body who approaches the game in an aggressive and physical manner. Place has above-average speed that he uses well in the outfield and on the basepaths. His raw power rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale and is capable of producing both iron shots and high, majestic blasts over the fence. He also has plenty of arm strength to play right field, as evidenced by a 90-92 mph fastball he has shown on the mound. More than one scout compared Place to Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur, particularly with his aggressiveness at the plate and his power potential. A dead pull hitter, Place could pile up high strikeout totals early in his career. He also has battled a series of nagging injuries, particularly with pulled hamstrings, though a recent emphasis on flexibility training has led to improvements.
2. Tyler Colvin, of (National rank: 170)
School: Clemson. Class: Jr.
Hometown: North Augusta, S.C..
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Birthdate: 9/5/85.
Scouting Report: Colvin was the hottest hitter coming down the stretch for one of college baseball’s hottest teams. It’s redemption for a player who finished 2005 in a 4-for-39 slump. Colvin took a 15-game hitting streak into the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, as his tools start turning into production. Colvin’s timing couldn’t be better, as scouts are looking for any college hitters who have tools and are performing. Colvin doesn’t have a tool that stands out, but as he has gained strength he has been able to repeat his smooth lefthanded swing more readily, and he’s added power to be average in that department. He’s an above-average runner and an efficient basestealer who plays a solid left field. Colvin’s arm is average. While he doesn’t stand out, he has shown fewer and fewer weaknesses this spring, and some scouts estimated he would go in the first three rounds.
No Sure Things Among Sandlappers
Beyond Place and Colvin, the state’s best prospect is Winthrop’™s Heath Rollins, but scouts aren’t sure whether Rollins will pitch or play the outfield in the professional ranks. He spent most of this season on the hill and at first base for the Eagles, going 11-4, 3.58 in 20 starts. Rollins’ athleticism is off the charts, with several scouts seeing him as a center fielder due to his 6.5-second speed in the 60, which gave him 25 stolen bases in his first 30 attempts. As a pitcher, his fastball resides in the 87-90 mph range and touches 93. He also throws a good slider and curveball and shows a decent feel for the changeup while working the outer half of the plate. Rollins’ 6-foot-1 frame is the biggest knock against him as a pitcher in pro ball, while his biggest detriment as a hitter is his average power. In college, he saw action at all three outfield positions as well as first and second base, and his makeup and approach are outstanding.
Rollins’ teammate, Jacob Dempsey, has attracted interest as a senior sign with a bat that produced 17 home runs and 78 RBIs while hitting at a .405 clip. The lefthanded slugger was deemed by most scouts as the best hitter this year in the Big South Conference, but his bat is his only true tool. He is capable of hitting long, majestic home runs from foul pole to foul pole with his plus power. A left fielder in college, he figures to move to first base in pro ball due to his poor throwing ability and lack of overall athleticism.
In the Southern Conference, Charleston righthanders Josh McLaughlin and Graham Godfrey could go between the fifth and 10th rounds. McLaughlin has a plus 80 mph curveball with a hard, sharp break that he mixes with an 88-90 mph fastball. In addition to posting 14 saves and fanning 64 batters in 52 innings, he allowed a .191 opponent average and 1.39 ERA this spring. Godfrey, a draft-eligible sophomore, is 6-foot-4 with a 90-94 mph fastball that he throws for strikes. Across town at The Citadel, lefthander Ryan Owens could also go in the first 10 rounds. The senior touches 94 with his fastball and throws a hard slider in the low 80s. Owens received little offensive support this year, but showed poise on the field and mental toughness off it after his mother’™s death during his sophomore season. He signed as a fifth-year senior free agent prior to the draft with the Astros.
In addition to Colvin, Clemson should have several others drafted. Andy D’Alessio has the most promise among position players. A 10th-round pick out of high school in 2003, D’Alessio struggled for two years before hitting .313-20-71 in his first 58 games this year as a junior. He is regarded as the best defensive first baseman in the Atlantic Coast Conference and produced solid power numbers from the left side of the plate. He has a few holes in his swing, which figures to affect his draft status.
The Tigers also have a few pitchers who have attracted interest. No player in South Carolina helped his draft status this year more than senior Josh Cribb. The 5-foot-10 righthander went 9-0, 2.63 in his first 14 appearances by throwing three pitches for strikes. He keeps hitters off-balance by employing two different arm angles, and displays outstanding competitiveness while working off his 87-91 mph fastball and a Frisbee slider. Stephen Faris mixes four offerings for strikes and discovered the art of pitching this season as a junior. Jason Berken, recovering from Tommy John surgery, won nine games and showed good heat early by throwing his fastball at 88-92 mph, but lost velocity as the season progressed while working deep into counts. Berken could become one of the state’™s better prospects with added arm strength that figures to come in 2007.
Most of the Gamecocks’ pro prospects are sophomores, although Andrew Cruse has attracted interest with his power arm out of the bullpen. The high-energy Cruse challenges hitters with a 92-93 mph fastball and has an above-average slurve that he struggles to throw with consistency. Teammate Harris Honeycutt has garnered some attention, but his 87-89 mph fastball tends to flatten during starts and he has difficulty repeating his breaking ball. Hard-throwing lefty Arik Hempy was moving back up draft boards after his first seven starts, but an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery dampened his draft status.
Jeffrey Ussery is a study in contrasts. He looks great during drills but disappears once the lights come on. Growing up in a wealthy family, Ussery moved around in high school and did not taking the field this past spring. Several college recruiters are concerned about his lack of experience in game competition as well as a batting average that resided under .300 during his junior year. Those same critics believe his performance last year in the East Coast Showcase doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the player he’ll be. At the same time, Ussery looks the part of a promising infielder, with raw tools and a projectible body. His speed and footwork are his best traits, but his bat needs more consistency and power. He signed with Georgia Tech and has indicated it will take a significant bonus for him to bypass college.