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By John Manuel
(Talent Ranking: *** out of five) South Carolina's colleges continue to play at a high level despite a need to import a steady stream of players to offset ordinary high school talent in the state. Up to seven college players could be drafted in the first five rounds, only one of whom came from a South Carolina high school. Even in a year when Taylor Harbin extended his own record as the state's all-time home run leader and two-time state 3-A champion Riverside High is ranked No. 2 nationally, the South Carolina prep talent remains thin from a draft perspective.
Projected First-Round Picks
• Tyler Lumsden, lhp, Clemson
An unsigned sixth-round pick of the Marlins out of a Virginia high school in 2001, Lumsden has one of the nation's best power arms for a southpaw and has earned comparisons to Andy Pettitte for his size and aggressiveness. Lumsden usually works with a fastball in the 89-92 mph range and can touch 94. His curveball is a power pitch that he commands sporadically, but his cutter and changeup have a chance to be plus pitches. The cutter, a true power slider that he has developed this year, has made some lefthanded hitters look foolish. Lumsden still walks too many hitters and needs to be more efficient with his fastball. Opponents say he's prone to giving up the big inning; if he wiggles off the hook, he often settles in and dominates.
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Billy Buckner, rhp
Buckner emerged last spring at Young Harris (Ga.) JC, where he teamed with Orioles first-round pick Nick Markakis and current College of Charleston righthander Kevin Bulger to form a potent rotation. Buckner lost velocity late in the spring and wound up getting drafted in the ninth round by the Devil Rays, but didn't sign and became South Carolina's ace early on in 2004. He missed starts in May due to a bout with mononucleosis. Scouts expect his stuff to come back when he's strong again, and it's plus stuff. His 90-91 mph fastball has touched 94 and he owns one of the country's best curveballs, a true downer that serves as his strikeout pitch.
• Matt Campbell, lhp
Campbell gradually evolved into the Gamecocks' No. 1 starter and was moving up draft boards on the strength of dominant efforts against Alabama and Kentucky, two of the Southeastern Conference's weaker teams. Campbell worked as a reliever for Team USA last summer, and most scouts agree that if he doesn't cut it as a starter he would at least be a solid lefty specialist in the bullpen. Campbell commands an above-average curveball well. He's added a slider and a good changeup since coming to South Carolina, but his propensity for throwing breaking stuff has hurt his velocity. While he touched the low 90s out of the pen last summer, he worked in the 85-89 mph range for most of the spring.
• Collin Mahoney, rhp
A former catcher, Mahoney has embraced the move to the mound, even using the same adviser who represents the patron saint of catcher-to-pitcher conversions, Troy Percival. Mahoney showed raw power at the plate but hit just .239 in 184 college at-bats. The burly 6-foot-4, 240-pounder became a scouting sensation when he hit 100 mph several times this spring, making him the draft's hardest thrower and owner of an 80 fastball grade, at the top of the 20-80 scouting scale. Scouts also are impressed that Mahoney has an idea of the strike zone with his fastball and 86-87 mph slider. His lack of experience shows up most in fielding, holding runners and the nuances of setting up hitters.
• Landon Powell, c
Powell has been a national story since he took the GED test and sneaked through the 2000 draft unnoticed as a high school junior. He ended up at South Carolina after no pro club signed him as a free agent. After struggling as a freshman (he enrolled in January, lost out on the starting job and rarely played), Powell has become a rock in South Carolina's lineup, catching nearly every day for consecutive College World Series teams. He got too big and soft last season, and clubs still fear his body could go south. Powell has firmed up this season with the help of a personal trainer and shown several above-average tools. He's had his best season at the plate, ranking among SEC leaders in batting, home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. He's especially dangerous from the left side. His arm strength and accuracy are pluses, and he quickens his throws at times by throwing from his knees. He blocks balls well and has shown durability and leadership. Stats-savvy organizations are particularly high on him.
• Lou Santangelo, c
In two seasons at Seton Hall, Santangelo hit .251 with three home runs in 291 at-bats. He still swings and misses with regularity, but he's shown marked improvement at the plate and was tied for the ACC lead in home runs with 15. Santangelo has a live, athletic body that helps make his glove a plus tool behind the plate, and his accurate arm grades as at least a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Scouts also like his toughness and makeup. The question is the bat. He has good bat speed, strength and raw power, as well as a hitch in his swing that keeps him from making consistent contact.
• Brad McCann, 3b
McCann, whose younger brother Brian is a catcher in the Braves system, has seen his tools go backward just a bit in two college seasons since transferring from Gulf Coast (Fla.) CC . His bat remains his best weapon, as he uses an advanced plate approach to set up pitchers and overcome his unorthodox swing. He produces line drives to the gaps, uses the whole field and has decent home run power. McCann's arm strength, once average, has joined his speed as below-average tools, and some scouts aren't sure he can stay at third.
Others To Watch
The class of South Carolina's subpar prep draft class, catcher/righthander Matt Weiters, has such a strong commitment to Georgia Tech, scouts stopped making calls to come and see him play in mid-March. A solid hitter with modest power, Weiters needs to get physically stronger. He has good arm strength and touched some 92s off the mound early but lost velocity as the spring went on. His family is academically oriented anyway, so he may not even be drafted.
• Two sleepers in the state bring solid lefthanded bats. 1B/RHP Chip Cannon will be a good senior sign with lefthanded power and a discerning eye at the plate. He showed power with wood last summer, leading the Coastal Plain League with eight home runs. He has arm strength and pitches for The Citadel, but his lack of agility probably limits him to first base, though he has played plenty of third in his career.
• South Carolina 2B Kevin Melillo, a former high school teammate of Brewers farmhand Rickie Weeks, out-homered Powell last season and could be an offensive second baseman down the road. He's battled a broken hamate this season and some scouts doubt his defensive tools, where he grades out no better than average.
• South Carolina had another excellent junior-college haul this season, and three of those players could be drafted in the middle rounds. OF Brendan Winn was leading the Gamecocks in homers and RBIs, despite an arm injury that could require Tommy John surgery down the line. He has juice in his bat but also has holes in his swing and doesn't make consistent enough contact to go much higher than the 10th round. OF/IF Steve Pearce had a chance to go better than that but didn't impress clubs in a stint at third base and he cooled off with the bat after a blistering start. He also lost weight during the year after getting his wisdom teeth taken out, costing him strength and power from an already modest frame. Righty reliever Chad Blackwell flashed a nasty 88-90 mph sinker and hard slider early in the season, but his slender build--he's smaller than his listed 6-foot-1, 162 pounds--wore down under a heavy workload.
• Clemson also could produce a spate of later draftees, with arm strength pitchers Tony Sipp and Steven Jackson the best bets. Jackson hit 94 early in his career but lacks a feel for his craft. Sipp, a speedy, athletic center fielder, doesn't hit enough for teams to ignore his 90-92 mph fastball. He also throws a power slider in the 80-82 range and a decent splitter, and could go as high as the eighth round for a team that has seen him command all three.
• SS Taylor Harbin earns comparisons to former Rockies infielder Brent Butler as a stocky middle infielder with a somewhat polished bat. He's the state's all-time prep home runs leader. The Clemson signee profiles better at second or third down the line, but doesn't run or defend well enough to be a good draft pick this year.
• RHP Wynn Pelzer catches and plays outfield at Roberts High, but scouts are more impressed with a lively 88-92 mph fastball and an athletic frame. Pelzer's very raw, however, making him more of a draft-and-follow.
• South Carolina's smaller colleges have some interesting arms, with RHP Byron Binda the best of them. Binda, whose rotation mates Stephen Carter and Jake Hurry also could be drafted, flashes a power arm, hitting 91-93 with his fastball, but does little else that interests scouts. Carter has pitchability but below-average stuff, while Hurry has flashed good velocity for a lefty (87-88, touching 90) to go with inconsistent mechanics, command and performance.
• RHP Ryan Johnson is at the other end of the spectrum, having won 22 of 25 decisions for Southern Conference leader College of Charleston between 2002 and 2004. He missed 2003 with Tommy John surgery, and the former Florida State walk-on (he never suited up for the Seminoles) gets by on a mid-80s fastball, decent curve and changeup. His pitchability and savvy help him get plenty of groundball outs.
• The Citadel's ace this season, RHP Jonathan Ellis, has a small frame but worked five complete games for the Bulldogs this year, and has impressed scouts by maintaining his 88-91 mph velocity deep into games. His changeup is his next-best pitch, and his breaking ball is fringy.