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By Jim Callis
(Talent Ranking: **** out of five) Missouri is one of the more underrated baseball states in the nation. The Show-Me State yielded supplemental first-rounder John Rheinecker and slugger Ryan Howard in 2001, first-rounder John Mayberry Jr. in 2002 and perhaps its deepest crop ever in 2003. This year, Scott Elbert could be the first lefthander drafted, while Blake DeWitt offers one of the nation's better high school bats. On the college side, righty Danny Hill has emerged as one of the draft's top senior signs.
Projected First-Round Pick
Scott Elbert, lhp
The consensus top high school lefthander in the nation entering the season, Elbert struck out 17 in his first start and never looked back. His fastball has sat at 90-93 mph all spring and features plenty of sink, as does his changeup. He has scrapped his curveball in favor of a slider, which has reached the mid-80s. He's polished for a prep pitcher and could pass Vanderbilt's Jeremy Sowers to become the first southpaw drafted, with several teams picking in the top 10 interested in him. A Missouri recruit, Elbert has an athletic frame at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds. He's also among the state leaders in home runs this spring and was the state's top running back as a junior. He ran for a state-best 2,449 yards and scored 36 touchdown in 2002, carrying Seneca to the state Class 3 semifinals, but gave up football last fall to focus on baseball.
Second- To Fifth-Round Talent
Blake DeWitt, ss
Though scouts say he has been a little anxious this spring, DeWitt still has batted .544 with 11 homers and is one of the safest bets to hit among the draft's high school prospects. He's a sound, strong lefthanded hitter whose power still shows when he uses wood in batting practice. DeWitt has arm strength and athleticism, but he's not a true shortstop. He'll move to second or third base once he turns pro or attends Georgia Tech, and he's intriguing as a possible catcher. He has been likened to Twins 2003 first-round pick Matt Moses, and Minnesota is believed to be following DeWitt closely. Danny Hill, rhp
Missouri righthander Travis Wendte was the state's best college prospect for 2004until he had surgery to repair a partial tear in his rotator cuff last fall. After allowing one run in consecutive starts against Texas A&M and then-No. 1 Texas, Hill supplanted Wendte and could go as high as the third round as a senior sign. On talent alone, he'd still go in the top five rounds. Hill doesn't have a classic pitcher's body at 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds and wasn't drafted last year. But he does have two solid pitches--an 89-92 mph sinker and a slider--and should make a good pro reliever. His fastball has reached 94 mph, and his splitter has its moments.
Others To Watch
Most of the state's best college position players are senior signs. 1B Cody Ehlers, the 2002 Jayhawk League batting champion, has lefthanded power and a good eye at the plate. SS Brooks Colvin, who played third base on Southwest Missouri State's 2003 College World Series team, is a baseball rat in the mold of David Eckstein. He doesn't have a standout tool, except for his arm, but he's a versatile defender who makes consistent contact at the plate. C Brad Flanders missed a month with a broken left hand and has hit just .240, but he'll get a chance because he's a good receiver with an accurate arm. Offensively, he has some power but must realize there's more to hitting than swinging for the fences. Missouri OF Lee Laskowski, who missed much of 2003 with back problems, may get a shot because of his power and plate discipline.
Many of Missouri's top pitchers are college seniors as well. Southwest Missouri State planned on using RHP Jeff Gray as a closer but couldn't get enough leads to him, so he moved to the rotation. Hampered by a strained oblique muscle last year, he has come back strong to throw three pitches for strikes: an 87-91 mph fastball, an overhand curveball and a changeup. RHP Mark Alexander had a spectacular regular season, going 3-0, 1.93 with nine saves and a 52-8 strikeout-walk ratio in 42 innings. He throws a plus slider and an 88-91 mph fastball. He'd go higher if he were bigger than 5-foot-10. After having Tommy John surgery following his high school senior season, he redshirted in 2000 and made just 26 appearances from 2001-03. RHP Pat Frost has an 86-90 mph fastball but his slider is inconsistent. Alexander is a fifth-year senior, so he can sign as a free agent before the draft.
He's not a senior, but RHP Steve Sharpe is a rare fifth-year junior. After missing most of the last two years, he won his first 13 starts of 2004 before taking a no-decision in Central Missouri State's Division II College World Series opener. Sharpe pitched at the University of Iowa from 2000-02, missing much of his junior year with a strained back, then sat out 2003 after transferring. He's a strike-thrower with an 89-92 mph sinker and a hard slider. As with a fifth-year senior, he can sign before the draft as a free agent.
RHP Derek Drage went 20-2 in two seasons at Parkland (Ill.) JC, where he was part of a 2002 Division II Junior College World Series championship. He started slowly in his first season at Southwest Missouri State but came on later in the spring. He pitched well in matchups against top Missouri Valley Conference pitchers such as Wichita State's Mike Pelfrey, Illinois State's Kyle Bloom and Southern Illinois' Eric Haberer, all of which were well attended by scouts. Drage has a good pitcher's body (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and command of an 88-90 mph fastball and curveball. He can be a draft-and-follow because he's a fourth-year junior, as can RHP Garrett Broshius. Broshius upset likely first-rounder David Purcey and Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 Conference tournament to boost his record to 10-0, 2.57. Broshius throws an 88-89 mph fastball and an effective slider from a low three-quarters arm slot.
RHP Lucas Harrell should be the third Missouri high school player drafted, in part because he plans on attending junior college and not a four-year school. He relies almost exclusively on his fastball, which sits at 90-93 mph.
There are three intriguing prep lefthanders behind Scott Elbert. T.J. Sinovich is the most polished, with command of three pitches. He should boost his fastball from 84-86 mph as he fills out his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame. Ross Detwiller is even more projectable at 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds. He already throws 88-90 mph and his arm works well. Nick Schmidt has the most size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) and velocity (89-92 mph) of the trio, though he's the least refined. All three may be tough signs because Sinovich and Schmidt have committed to Arkansas, Detwiller to Southwest Missouri State.
Draft-eligible as a 21-year-old sophomore, OF James Boone is one of the best athletes in the state. He's had a so-so spring, however, so clubs may wait until next year to try to sign him. He's a switch-hitter with bat speed, foot speed and arm strength.
St. Louis-Forest Park CC boasts the top two junior college prospects, LHP Ronnie Martin and OF Josh Outman. Outman was tied for the Division II national junior college lead with 110 strikeouts in 100 innings (Martin ranked third with 110 whiffs in 82 frames) and his 2.07 ERA was three runs better than Martin's 5.07 mark. But scouts say his unorthodox arm action has to be seen to be believed, and they prefer him as an athletic center fielder with gap power and speed. Martin, a 17th-round pick by the Tigers in 2003, has a better fastball (88-92 mph to Outman's 86-88) and an average curveball.
They're not ready for pro ball, but 1B Bill Disselhoff and Carl Junction High SS Matt Lawson bear watching for the future. Set to attend Missouri, Disselhoff is strong and athletic at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. A Southwest Missouri State recruit, Lawson is a slightly above-average runner with good infield actions. He handed Elbert his first loss of the spring by outdueling him 1-0, but Lawson's future is as a middle infielder.