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By John Manuel
(Talent Ranking: ** out of five) Scouts and college recruiters agree: Alabama's high school class is full of players who should go to college. Few of the top prep players are ready, in terms of physical ability or polish, for the rigors of professional baseball. Injuries hurt the college hitters, and the prep ranks lack power arms. Only a solid class of college pitchers saves what would otherwise be a disappointing year for talent in the state.
Projected First-Round Picks
• Taylor Tankersley, lhp
Tankersley has a long track record for scouts, and his plus stuff and success on the mound should mean he'll go no later than the sandwich round. Drafted out of high school by the Royals, Tankersley tied Alabama's record for wins by a freshman (eight) despite pitching primarily in relief. He struggled as a sophomore with a painful cyst on his left wrist, but picked up again in a relief role down the stretch, helping Alabama win its second straight SEC tournament. His success in the bullpen has made him hard to scout. The Crimson Tide often holds him as a reliever for Friday and Saturday, and he starts Sundays if he hasn't been used. He has thrived in the role, and has cleaned up his mechanics, driving through the catcher instead of falling off to the side. His sturdy 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame and strong lower half help him pump fastballs regularly in the 88-92 mph range with average life; he can run it up to 94 and maintains his velocity well. He's aggressive with the pitch, attacking hitters inside and making them prove they can hit it. Tankersley's breaking ball, a power slider, plays average, and he's shown a feel for a changeup in a starting role. He ranked among the NCAA's ERA leaders, at 1.64 in 64 innings, as Alabama's disappointing season neared its end.
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Nate Moore, rhp
Moore's emergence has given the state a bright spot. His nasty sinker/slider stuff, good control and strong, durable body give him a slight edge over his more celebrated counterpart, Auburn's Steven Register. Moore's arm slot is nearly sidearm, helping him generate heavy boring, sinking action on his fastball. He's improved his velocity to the 90-93 mph range when he's fresh, and the pitch has even more life when he's throwing in the 89-90 range. His slider doesn't have great depth, but it can have late, explosive life in to lefthanded hitters, helping him have better success with them than the average sidearmer. He commands both pitches well and flashes a changeup in his side work in the bullpen, though he doesn't need it against Atlantic Sun Conference competition. Moore, one of the nation's ERA leaders, could move quickly as a power set-up man.
• Steven Register, rhp
Register pitched on the same high school team as Expos farmhand Nick Long and Dodgers prospect Edwin Jackson. While his polish, track record and quick arm argue for an early pick, his 6-foot-1, 162-pound frame is an impediment. His 16 saves in 2003 led the nation, and he pitched well for Team USA last summer as Huston Street's set-up man. When he's fresh, Register shows a 93 mph fastball from a lightning-quick arm and deceptive release, and he pitches consistently in the 89-91 range. His slider grades as an average or above-average pitch, an 83-84 mph breaker with depth. An excellent athlete, Register is a 6.6-second runner over 60 yards and fields his position well. He needs to shore up his command and balance in his mechanics, and he wears down due to his lack of strength. He moved into the rotation (making his first college start May 9 against South Carolina) in an attempt to better control his workload.
• Patrick White, of
An all-state football player as an option quarterback, White has a scholarship to West Virginia (he changed his mind on signing day, eschewing an oral commitment to Louisiana State) that complicates his signability. He has emerged this spring as the best athlete in the prep class. White is an explosive runner whose quick hands at the plate and power potential evoke Devon White comparisons, and his power/speed combination is unmatched in the state. He hit .487-12-48 with 26 stolen bases this spring. To see White's power, scouts have to watch him take batting practice; his approach means it's usually absent during games. He's shown more polish than expected in center field, and may not make it out of the third round.
• John Parker Wilson, 3b/rhp
A Parade all-America quarterback, Parker led Hoover High to back-to-back state football championships. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder has a football scholarship to Alabama, where incumbent signal-caller Brody Croyle and former starter Tyler Watts also have baseball backgrounds. He's more signable than the average Crimson Tide quarterback recruit, however, because his family has a pro baseball background. His father played in the minors, and his uncle was a scout. Pro teams prefer him as a hitter, but if Wilson plays baseball at 'Bama, he could be an effective two-way player, as he throws a 90-91 mph fastball with four-seam rise. His football mentality and competitiveness suit him well on the mound and on the diamond, where he profiles best as a third baseman. He has good enough hands and arm strength for the position, and he needs repetition and groundballs to gain polish. He also needs at-bats. Wilson has good bat speed that helps him generate plus raw power but has an all-or-nothing approach.
• Adam Lind, of/1b
An eighth-round pick out of an Indiana high school by the Twins in 2002, Lind is a draft-eligible sophomore who will go as far as his bat takes him. He's put together a consistent career for South Alabama, posting nearly identical seasons and showing a fluid stroke with good bat speed and raw power potential. His swing played well with wood last summer as he hit .269 (well above league average) in the Cape Cod League. While he has shown the ability to draw a walk, his power would evince itself more in games with better pitch recognition and strike-zone judgment. Lind isn't a great athlete, making him a fringy defender in left field and better suited for first base.
Others To Watch
• Birmingham-Southern has had its best season since moving to Division I, led by LHP Wes Letson and solid senior sign Connor Robertson, whose younger brother David, an Alabama signee, is one of the state's better prep righthanders. Letson is the better draftee and could slip into the first 10 rounds. He's a workhorse whose upper 80s fastball touches 91 on occasion. His breaking ball is average but inconsistent, and the same can be said for his command, but he pitches aggressively and has some feel for his craft. Robertson helped the Panthers win the NAIA World Series as a freshman and has added closing duties over the course of his career; he throws in the 89-92 range off the mound. However, his power bat is his best tool, and he might be athletic enough for third base.
• Auburn signee Josh Donaldson is widely acclaimed as the best baseball player among the state's prep class, but scouts agree he needs to fill out physically in college. He's an aggressive hitter with gap power who doesn't have a position for pro ball at this time; he'll likely play third if he goes to college.
• Auburn OF Sean Gamble (son of Oscar) and RHP Colby Paxton (son of Mike) have big league bloodlines but have had poor 2004 seasons. Paxton's stock has slipped significantly, while Gamble could still go in the first 10 rounds due to his athletic ability and .319 showing last summer in the Cape Cod League. However, leg injuries and a poor approach at the plate have left him flailing offensively, as his swing and load don't allow him to catch up to inside fastballs. He's an above-average runner, but his poor throwing arm relegates him to left. His approach hasn't endeared him to some scouts, who question the extent of his injuries and consistency of his effort. Auburn 2B Tug Hulett also is the son of a former big leaguer, Tim Hulett, but he is not expected to be a premium pick. He is an average runner who lacks the tools to be more than a good senior sign for most.
• In a draft short on position players, Auburn's Chuck Jeroloman has the defensive tools at shortstop to profile as a solid organizational player or utilityman. He has a plus arm, soft hands and enough range, plus a reputation as a scrapper with excellent makeup.
• LHPs Arnold Hughey, Brent Carter and Tyler Wilson have had vastly different seasons. Hughey has been Auburn's most consistent starter; he throws across his body and doesn't maintain his velocity enough to be a premium pick. He touches 89 mph and usually settles in at 84-87 with a good feel for a changeup, but his curveball is fringy. Carter tied for second in the SEC in victories in 2003 as he pounded the strike zone with average stuff, but he hasn't been able to repeat his success. His command, impeccable last season, faltered, and his fastball-changeup combination has proved more hittable. He throws in the 83-86 mph range with good movement down in the zone, and his changeup has so much life it's been compared to a Whiffle ball. Wilson, the best of a mediocre lot of prep lefties, could be an interesting draft-and-follow at Lurleen B. Wallace JC, where he's committed. His fastball, usually in the 86-89 range, has touched some 90s, and his strong lower body helps him sustain his velocity. His herky-jerky mechanics need work, leaving his breaking ball below-average.
• Early in 2003, LHP Todd Nicholas was pitching his way toward the top of the draft, showing 90-92 mph fastballs for Mississippi State. He's lost the feel for his mechanics since then, though, costing him fastball velocity (he's more in the 84-87 mph range now) and command. His slider and changeup are fringe pitches, and Nicholas hasn't made many adjustments since transferring to Troy State. Teams that saw him at his best last year could gamble on his arm strength.
• Some considered Georgia signee Clay Whittemore the state's best prep player last year after he hit .415-14-72, but his senior performance probably has him headed to college. He has some athletic ability behind the plate, where he's a relative newcomer, but hasn't showed much polish offensively. He's a solid runner with average arm strength.
• RHP Ryan Ellison dominated 1-A high school competition in football (where as a running back he scored more than 70 career touchdowns), basketball (he's the state's 1-A career points leader) and baseball (his 500-plus strikeouts set a state 1-A record). His level of competition may mean the Troy State signee won't be a big-time draft, but he has flashed some tools. His 86-89 mph fastball has some sinking action, and from time to time his slider is a power pitch. His athletic ability helps him have good pitchability for his experience level. He has a strong, durable body as well and is the best of the state's substandard prep righty class. Also in that group are Auburn signee Cliff Mullins, just 17, and Birmingham-Southern recruits James Oliver and Jordan Alvis. Mullins showed average fastball velocity last summer, as well as some feel for a solid breaking ball. His velocity and performance have suffered this spring (he's down to 83-84), and most expect him to head to college. Oliver has some projection, commands his 87-89 fastball decently and shows an average curveball. He also plays second base and could be a two-way player in college. Some shoulder issues have brought down his draft stock.
• Joining Alvis in a solid Birmingham-Southern recruiting class are LHP Blake Martin, a lanky fastball-changeup pitcher who will need to hone his curveball, and speedy C/OF Brint Hardy, who's probably too slight to catch but has the speed the Panthers covet in the outfield.
• RHP Brendan Flaherty needs to clean up his delivery, scaring off many scouts when he cups the ball in the back of his arm action. He has good arm strength, throwing in the low 90s at times, and his secondary offerings lack polish.
• The state's top junior college talent is RHP Joe Rowe, who throws in the high 80s and has touched 93 with his fastball. The Angels hoped to sign him as a 26th-round draft-and-follow from 2003. Long and projectable, Rowe has a methodical delivery and lacks arm speed, but has shown improved coordination since being drafted. He's committed to NAIA Faulkner (Ala.) University.
• Athletic OF Haneef Aleem looks the part of a draft pick at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, but his bat has shown little life to scouts, and for all his athleticism, the game doesn't come easy for him.