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By Allan Simpson
(Talent Ranking: * out of five) Kentucky is one of the country's leanest states and could see even fewer players drafted if Louisville outfielder Mark Jurich signs with the Braves as a fifth-year senior. The state can at least take partial credit for two college lefthanders projected to go in the first round: Vanderbilt's Jeremy Sowers, a Louisville high school product, and Texas A&M's Zack Jackson, who spent his first two college seasons at Louisville. On the outside chance he's selected, Lexington high school outfielder Willie Mays will get attention for his name alone.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Mark Jurich, of
Jurich has enjoyed a solid senior season, leading Louisville in batting (.363), home runs (17) and RBIs (54). On talent, he would be a fifth- to eighth-round pick, but he'll be an intriguing player to follow. He's a fifth-year senior, so the Braves (who drafted him last year in the 13th round) control his rights and will try to sign him before the draft. He could emerge as a sandwich or second-round pick if he chooses not to sign or if Louisville's season overlaps the draft. College-oriented teams that place a premium on on-base percentage covet him. In one stretch of 15 plate appearances this season, Jurich walked 11 times, and he moved to the leadoff spot in the lineup to force teams to pitch to him. Beyond his powerful lefthanded bat, Jurich's tools are just average. He spent most of the season in center field because of need but profiles as a corner outfielder in pro ball. His arm is average. A former Team USA player, Jurich's father Tom is the athletic director at Louisville.
Others To Watch
• Six-foot-8, 210-pound RHP Scott Green was Kentucky's best draft hope at the start of the year. But he did not perform as expected, raising the possibility that the state may not produce a single high school draft pick. Green's fastball was clocked at 91-92 mph in 2003 but was in the 85-88 range this spring, and he lacked the strength to sustain his velocity. Green has committed to Kentucky and is likely to fulfill that obligation.
• Despite a mediocre fastball in the 84-87 mph range, 6-foot-4, 180-pound LHP Jacob Smith ranks among the state's best prospects. He is a Louisville recruit.
• Five-foot-10, 185-pound OF Willie Mays is a marginal talent by draft standards, but he may have the best name in this year's talent pool. Like the Hall of Fame outfielder, Mays is a center fielder with a flair for the game. He has good bat speed and drilled 17 homers as both a sophomore and junior, but struggled with breaking balls this year. His arm and speed are adequate, but he often takes poor routes on fly balls and probably will be limited to left field at the next level. He has committed to Kentucky.
• Eastern Kentucky hit .379 as a team this year, best in Division I, and has three seniors with impressive statistics that commanded interest from scouts. 3B Neil Sellers remains the team's top prospect, even though he slumped from .407-17-85 a year ago to .362-12-63. His bat is his best tool, but his hands and arm strength may be better suited behind the plate. C Chris Clark (.394-4-33), who started behind the plate ahead of Sellers, and OF Stephen Carter (.462-1-39) can also swing the bat but have limited power.
• RHP Shane Boyd could be the state's best draft-eligible talent, though there is little likelihood he would consider professional baseball at this point. Boyd, a 13th-round pick of the Twins in 2000 out of high school, is scheduled to be Kentucky's starting quarterback in the fall. He went 0-1, 9.69 this spring for the Wildcats baseball team and was just starting to hit his stride when he left for a month to participate in spring football. His moving fastball was clocked at 92-93 mph. A team could draft Boyd, retain his rights as a rising fifth-year senior and sign him before next year's draft. Because of the uncertainty surrounding Boyd, power-hitting senior OF Kaleb Stewart could become the rebuilding Wildcats' highest draft pick.
• Six-foot-5, 225-pound LHP Jacob Ociesa, a Mississippi State transfer, came out of the chute showing a quick arm, but struggled with his command and was relegated to mop-up duty late in the year for a 17-35 Murray State team.
• RHP Tim Saunders attracted attention at obscure Union College by touching 94 mph.
• LHP Brad Davis went 15-2, 1.98 and led NAIA schools with 138 strikeouts a year ago. He didn't produce the same numbers this year, but scouts said he showed better command of four pitches, including an 85-86 mph fastball. OF Russ Reyes has better power to all fields than Jake Ford, who hit .436 for Spalding College in 2003 and led the NAIA ranks with 31 homers and 110 RBIs.
• SS Dustin Shafer and RHP Thomas Goad are the best prospects at St. Catharine. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Shafer, under control to the White Sox, has excellent speed--he stole 38 bases in 39 attempts this spring. But he lacks the fluid middle-infield actions to remain at shortstop, with center field his likely destination. Goad's fastball was clocked from 88-91 mph and he supplemented it with an average slider. RHP Alan Tungate, a Padres draft-and-follow from 2003, was the school's best talent at the start of the year after going 7-1, 1.01, but he injured his arm throwing a slider and did not throw as well, though his heavy fastball touched 92.