By Jim Callis
June 1, 2004
(Talent Ranking: ***** out of five) Texas was rated as a five-star state in 2002, when it had five players chosen before the beginning of the second round, and again in 2003, when that number jumped to eight. The Lone Star State gets five stars again this year, and the talent is even better. Texas boasts the draft's four pitchers with the best combination of stuff and polish (Rice's Jeff Niemann, Philip Humber and Wade Townsend; LaGrange High's Homer Bailey), the hottest college lefty down the stretch (Texas A&M's Zach Jackson), college baseball's best money pitcher (Texas' Huston Street) and the draft's top prep athlete (Greg Golson). All will be first-round picks, and the Rice aces will be the highest-drafted trio of teammates ever.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
1. Jeff Niemann, rhp, Rice
2. Philip Humber, rhp, Rice
3. Homer Bailey, rhp, LaGrange HS
4. Wade Townsend, rhp, Rice
5. Zach Jackson, lhp, Texas A&M
6. Huston Street, rhp, Texas
7. Greg Golson, of, John B. Connally HS, Austin
8. Yovani Gallardo, rhp, Trimble Tech HS, Fort Worth
9. J.P. Howell, lhp, Texas
10. Troy Patton, lhp, Tomball HS, Magnolia
11. Brandon Allen, of, Montgomery HS
12. Josh Baker, rhp, Rice
13. Javier Guerra, rhp, Denton-Ryan HS, Denton
14. Sean Morgan, rhp, Clements HS, Sugar Land
15. Joe Savery, lhp/of, Lamar HS, Bellaire
16. Chris Davis, 3b/rhp, Longview HS
17. Paul Janish, ss, Rice
18. Garrett Mock, rhp, Houston
19. Aaron Brown, rhp, Clear Creek HS, League City
20. Jordan Chambless, rhp, Calallen HS, Corpus Christi
21. Josh Geer, rhp, Navarro JC (CONTROL: Devil Rays/19)
22. Sam Demel, rhp, Spring HS
23. Preston Clark, c, Rockwall HS
24. Curtis Thigpen, c/1b, Texas
Others To Watch
25. Cory Patton, of, Texas A&M
26. Hunter Pence, of, Texas-Arlington
27. Trey Taylor, lhp, Baylor
28. Rob Johnson, c, Houston
29. Cain Byrd, rhp, San Jacinto JC (CONTROL: Rangers/18)
30. Stan Widmann, ss, L.D. Bell HS, Hurst
31. Rhett Bomar, of, Grand Prairie HS
32. Jordan Dodson, rhp, The Woodlands HS
33. Mike Pankratz, of, Baylor
34. Chance Corgan, rhp, Forney HS
35. Seth Garrison, 3b/rhp, Coppell HS
36. Chris Beuchner, rhp, Lamar
37. Josh Brady, 1b, Texas Tech
38. Michael Mask, of, Texas Tech
39. Mark McGonigle, of, Bellaire HS, Houston
40. Matt Carpenter, 3b, Elkins HS, Sugar Land
41. Bobby Bell, rhp, County Day HS, Aledo
42. Shawn Ferguson, rhp, San Jacinto JC
43. Kenn Kasparek, rhp, Weimar HS
44. J.P. Padron, 3b, Clear Creek HS, League City
45. Matt McGuirk, of/lhp, Arlington Heights HS, Fort Worth
46. Mark Lowe, rhp, Texas-Arlington
47. Kristian Bell, rhp, Blinn JC
48. David Trahan, rhp, Alvin CC
49. Abe Woody, rhp, Baylor
50. Michael Griffin, 3b, Baylor
51. Ben Zobrist, ss, Dallas Baptist
52. Jordan Foster, of, Lamar
53. Chris Kolkhorst, of, Rice
54. Nate Phillips, ss, Grace Preparatory Academy, Arlington
55. Cat Everett, ss, Lamar HS, Houston
56. J.R. Towles, c, North Central Texas JC (CONTROL: Athletics/23)
57. Todd Gilfillan, c, Westwood HS, Austin
58. Clayton Jerome, rhp, Texas Christian
59. Ben Brockman, rhp, Abilene Christian
60. Chris Martin, rhp, Arlington HS
61. Erik Paulson, rhp, Midland HS
62. Miles Morgan, rhp, Coronado HS, Lubbock
63. Corey Kluber, rhp, Coppell HS
64. Bryce Cox, rhp, Paris JC
65. Jon Hunton, rhp, Lamar
66. Garrett Murdy, rhp, Texas A&M-Kingsville
67. Josh Ford, c, Baylor
68. Cody Waller, c, Bryan HS
69. Evan Gattis, c/rhp, Bishop Lynch HS, Forney
70. Tyler Kersten, rhp, Brazosport HS, Jones Creek
71. Sean McLemore, rhp, Pearland HS
72. Tate Casey, rhp, Longview HS
73. Ricky Hargrove, rhp, Katy HS
74. Tony Langford, rhp, Country Day HS, Fort Worth
75. Randall Linebaugh, rhp, Mesquite HS
76. Kyle Rogers, rhp, Ball HS, Galveston
77. Craig Crow, rhp, Grayson County CC
78. Alfred Joseph, of, Moody HS
79. Josh Hamilton, 1b, St. Edward's
80. Jarrad Burcie, rhp, Tarleton State
Projected First-Round Picks
• Jeff Niemann, rhp
Though Niemann was one of three players the Padres were considering for the No. 1 overall pick in mid-May, he really hadn't been at 100 percent this season. After tying an NCAA Division I record by going 17-0 in 2003 as Rice won the College World Series, Niemann had arthroscopic surgery last fall to clean out inflamed tissue in his elbow. He also strained his groin in mid-April, sidelining him for a month, and he had made two relief appearances and two relatively ineffective starts since returning. In his first outing back, Niemann showed exactly why he could be the top choice. His fastball registered 92-97 mph, and his 6-foot-9, 260-pound frame allowed him to drive the ball down in the zone and make it that much more difficult to hit. His slider, the best breaking pitch in the draft, hit 87 mph. Niemann has exceptional body control and strike-throwing ability for his size, the result of working diligently on his mechanics. He also has a spike curveball and a changeup but hasn't needed them very often in college. Even at less than his best, Niemann had struck out 83 in 70 innings and held hitters to a .219 average. If he can regain his 2003 form in the three weeks before the draft, San Diego could opt for him over Long Beach State righthander Jered Weaver and Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew.
• Philip Humber, rhp
Humber, who won the 2003 College World Series clincher against Stanford with a complete game five-hitter, might be the safest pick among the three Rice aces. He was the first to join the Owls' weekend rotation, doing so a month into his freshman season, and has been the most consistent. An 11-game winner for the third straight year, Humber ranked among NCAA Division I leaders in victories, ERA (1.80), strikeout-walk ratio (141-33 in 105 innings) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.1) in mid-May. He does it with three plus pitches: a 90-94 mph fastball that scrapes 97, a true 12-6 curveball, and a splitter that he uses as a changeup. The run on his fastball is inconsistent and the pitch flattens out at times, but his curveball is a big-time strikeout pitch and his splitter keeps batters off balance. Strong and durable at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he has been injury-free and has the most resilient arm of the Rice first-rounders. There's a little recoil in his delivery but it's not a huge issue. It will be an upset if Humber doesn't go in the first six picks of the draft.
• Homer Bailey, rhp
Bailey and Maryland righthander Nick Adenhart were running neck and neck as the top prep prospects in the draft before Adenhart succumbed to elbow problems, leaving Bailey as the undisputed class among the nation's high school crop. Even with an increasing bias against prep righties in the first round—only two went that high in 2003—Bailey is certain to be selected with one of the first 5-10 choices. A University of Texas recruit, he threw 94 mph in his first scrimmage this spring and has been lights out every time he has taken the mound. He was 12-1, 0.39 on the season with 10 walks and 168 strikeouts in 72 innings. He has the best fastball (92-96 mph), the best righthanded breaking ball (a hard downer curveball), the best command and the most polish among high schoolers in the draft. He still has plenty of room for projection at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, and though he throws effortlessly the ball explodes out of his hand. Bailey will need to improve his changeup and get stronger, but that's true of almost every prep pitcher.
• Wade Townsend, rhp
Many scouts are projecting Townsend as a big league closer, but he has the stuff to pitch in the front of a big league rotation. His fastball velocity has fluctuated this spring, sitting at 87-89 or 90-91 mph at various times, but he has also hit 95. His heater is straighter than those of fellow Rice aces Jeff Niemann and Phil Humber, but Townsend has better command of the pitch and can locate it on either side of the plate. He also throws the nastiest curveball among the trio, though sometimes it breaks so much that he can struggle to control it. He'll throw an occasional changeup to lefthanders, and if he refines that pitch or a splitter it would be hard to move him to the bullpen. Townsend is so competitive that his intensity can work for or against him, and the consensus is that he'd thrive on trying to blow away hitters in the late innings. Like Niemann and Humber, Townsend has a strong frame (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) and impressive statistics (11-0, 1.68, 141-43 strikeout-walk ratio in 113 innings, .171 opponent average). He has slipped toward the middle of the first round, which could be a bargain for some lucky team.
• Zach Jackson, lhp
In his first start for the Aggies after transferring from Louisville, Jackson spun a seven-inning no-hitter against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He was even better later, taking a perfect game into the ninth inning at Nebraska and striking out 13 in a shutout of Kansas State, but slumped in his final two outings before regional play. Teams that covet performance won't be able to ignore his numbers from the Cape Cod League last summer (6-0, 1.88) or with Texas A&M this spring (10-5, 3.55, 110-24 strikeout-walk ratio in 104 innings. Jackson commands three solid pitches: an 88-93 mph fastball that holds its velocity for nine innings, a slider that's a big improvement over his old curveball and a circle changeup. He's durable and athletic at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, and the fact that he's lefthanded enhances the total package even more. Jackson's recent efforts have pushed him from the supplemental first-round to the middle of the first round.
• Huston Street, rhp
No one discusses Street without mentioning the words "heart" or "winner." As a freshman, he saved all four victories as Texas won the 2002 College World Series, and he outdid that performance last summer with the U.S. national team. In the semifinals of the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic, Street pitched 8 2/3 innings of shutout relief to beat Mexico in a 14-inning classic, finishing with a 94-mph fastball. He didn't allow a run in 29 innings with Team USA. Street missed March with a strained groin and hasn't had his usual unbelievable sink for much of the spring, but he still put up a 1.60 ERA and limited opponents to a .172 average. Street isn't the most physical pitcher at 6 feet and 190 pounds, and neither his 88-92 mph fastball nor his slider are overpowering. But he generates good life on both pitches and spots them so well that he misses bats. He'll need a better changeup to combat pro lefthanders, an adjustment he should be able to make. Clubs that noted the quick arrival in the majors of 2003 first-round relievers Ryan Wagner, Chad Cordero and David Aardsma will be attracted to Street in this year's opening round. The Expos, who took Cordero 20th overall last June, could have some interest in Street at No. 13.
• Greg Golson, of
Golson's package of five tools is as attractive as any in the draft, and there's really nothing he can't do. His most obvious tool is his top-of-the-line speed, which takes him from the right side of the plate to first base in as quick as 3.8 seconds. He has the bat speed and hand-eye coordination to hit for power and average. Defensively, both his range and arm are plus tools. Though Golson missed six games with a strained right hamstring and hasn’t been at 100 percent for much of the spring, he still has performed well. He'll need to make some offensive adjustments as a pro, as his swing is more choppy than fluid, but scouts believe he'll be able to do so. He hit .515 this spring. Like Homer Bailey, Golson has signed with the University of Texas but will forego college after he gets picked in the first round.
Second- To Fifth-Round Talents
• Yovani Gallardo, rhp
Gallardo struck out 25 in a March victory against Fort Worth crosstown rival North Side High, but scouts were shaking their heads because he needed 11 innings and 148 pitches to do so. His workload has been more reasonable since, easing concerns about the co-outstanding pitcher at the Perfect Game/Baseball America World Wood Bat Championship last October. Six-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Gallardo uses a strong leg drive to launch 91-94 mph fastballs, and his three-quarters breaking ball is a plus pitch at times. On the season, he went 5-4, 1.38 and struck out 143 in 61 innings. He has committed to Texas Christian but is expected to sign as an early second-rounder.
• J.P. Howell, lhp
In many ways, Howell is a lefthanded version of Longhorns teammate Huston Street. Listed generously at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, he has a fastball that sits at 85-86 mph and tops out at 89. But he has a plus breaking ball, a curveball that devastates lefties and keeps righties at bay, plus command of his fastball and a huge heart. A nasty splitter also helps, and a developing changeup serves as his fourth pitch. Hitters have trouble picking up Howell's pitches, none of which ever seem to catch the heart of the plate. A second-round pick by the Braves out of high school, Howell should go in the same area this June. Teams that emphasize statistical analysis may consider taking him a round earlier after checking out this line: 13-2, 2.01, 112 innings, 69 hits, 41 walks, 134 strikeouts.
• Troy Patton, lhp
The ace of the high school team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation entering playoffs, Patton is very similar to J.P. Howell. He has one of the better curveballs in the draft and the main concern about him is his durability because he's 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds. Both have been dominant all spring. While Patton hasn't proven himself at the college level like Howell has, he does have a superior fastball, pitching at 88-92 mph with movement and command. He used that repertoire to go 10-0, 0.65 with 120 strikeouts in 64 innings. He's another member of a stellar Longhorns recruiting class but figures to sign as a second-round choice.
• Brandon Allen, of
Allen had Division I-A football potential as a linebacker, but his ability to punish a baseball is more impressive than his ability to punish ballcarriers. There's a lot of raw lefthander power packed in his 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame, which reminds one scout of a smaller version of Phillies minor league slugger Ryan Howard. The question is how well Allen can tap into it. He actually performed better with wood bats last summer than he has with aluminum this spring, when he hit .329 with just two homers. His ability to make contact is an issue, though his supporters believe he'll improve once he devotes himself to baseball full time. A University of Houston recruit, Allen is a very good athlete for his size. He's a solid average runner who plays a competent left field. With teams desperately seeking position players in the 2004 draft, Allen could have been a first-round pick with a strong season. Instead, he'll have to settle for the second or third round.
• Josh Baker, rhp
Jeff Niemann, Phil Humber and Wade Townsend command most of the attention, but Rice has a fourth pitcher who will go in the early rounds of the 2004 draft. A 2001 fourth-round choice by the Rangers, Baker was drafted well ahead of all of them coming out of high school. He hasn't improved as much as they have, but he's still plenty attractive as a 6-foot-5, 210-pounder with an 88-92 mph fastball, hard slider and good splitter. His control wavers but Baker is tough to beat when he gets ahead in the count. He spent his freshman year at Alabama and has gone 17-2 since transferring back home. Undrafted because of signability concerns as a sophomore-eligible in 2003, Baker should go in about the same area he did three years ago. And he does have one edge over the Owls' aces: bloodlines. His father Johnny was an NFL linebacker, his uncle Frank was a big league infielder and his brother Jacob was an outfielder at Rice and in the Royals system. Baker also is the brother-in-law of Astros star Lance Berkman, another former Owl.
• Javier Guerra, rhp
Guerra's delivery engenders plenty of debate among scouts, who question whether it will be considered legal in college or pro ball. He uses a sort of crow hop that catapults him toward the plate from well in front of the rubber. The leverage helps the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Guerra generate a 92-95 mph fastball and a hard curveball. His changeup gives him a solid third pitch. On the year, he went 9-1, 0.85 with 93 strikeouts in 58 innings. If he's forced to alter his mechanics, the consensus is he'd lose 3-4 mph of velocity. The uncertainty makes it difficult to get a true read on where he'll fall in the draft, but he's expected to go high enough to pass up a scholarship from Arizona.
• Sean Morgan, rhp
Morgan has an impressive resume, owning one of the best sliders in the entire draft and sharing co-outstanding pitcher honors at the 2003 Perfect Game/Baseball America World Wood Bat Championship with Yovani Gallardo. His low-80s slider and 6-foot-3, 218-pound build are reminiscent of fellow Texan Jason Jennings', and he went 12-0, 1.10 with 121 strikeouts in 70 innings. There's some effort in Morgan's delivery, and though he's athletic he will have to watch his weight. But Morgan is a strong student who will be difficult to lure away from a Tulane scholarship. He'll almost certainly slide lower than his talent alone merits and will be a better pick three years from now when he's more signable.
• Joe Savery, lhp/of
Jeff Niemann went from Lamar High to Rice three years ago, and as Niemann prepares to depart for pro ball, another Lamar product is set to replace him. Savery is a lean, projectable athlete at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. He usually pitches at 87-90 mph, though he hit the low 90s more often when he faced off against Troy Patton in early May. Savery's secondary pitches are works in progress, but it's easy to dream on a tall lefty with such an easy arm action. He had a successful 2004 season, going 11-0, 0.77 with 97 strikeouts in 64 innings. He also is interesting as a lefthanded hitter, and is a poor man's version of Dodgers 2002 first-rounder James Loney, though he'd be used as a pitcher in the unlikely event he turns pro this summer. The Owls plan on taking advantage of Savery's power and using him both ways next spring.
• Chris Davis, 3b/rhp
Righthander Tate Casey received more hype at Longview High entering the year, but struggled so much that he lost his spot in the rotation. He may have a brighter future as a tight end at the University of Florida. His teammate Davis' destiny is definitely on the diamond. He's a 6-foot-3, 205-pounder with lots of strength in his bat and his arm. While his lefthanded swing will need some shortening, his power potential is immense. Davis also has touched 93 mph off the mound. If he makes it to the University of Texas, one recruiter thinks he has a chance to become the Longhorns' best two-way player since Brooks Kieschnick.
• Paul Janish, ss
Janish has lived up to his reputation as a standout defender at shortstop this spring, making just three errors in his 52 games while continuing to show a strong arm, soft hands and solid range. After batting just .296 with six homers in his first two seasons at Rice, then .105 with wood bats for Team USA last summer, Janish improved significantly at the plate. He was hitting .358 with nine homers in late May, doing a better job of using the whole field. He still could use more strength and a shorter stroke. There are few true shortstops available in the draft, so he could go as high as the third round to a team that believe he'll hit enough. If he returns to Rice—and Owls juniors are often difficult to sign—he could get a chance to pitch in 2005. His fastball tops out at 93 mph, and his slurve and changeup are promising.
• Garrett Mock, rhp
Mock was dazzling at the Cape Cod League all-star game last summer, setting himself up for a good chance to follow in the footsteps of Houston's two 2003 first-round righthanders, Ryan Wagner and Brad Sullivan. While he showed his 89-94 mph sinker and hard curveball at times, Mock endured a frustrating spring. He got shelled early and then injured his left ankle practicing bunt coverages, and what initially was thought to be a sprain turned out to be a slight break that sidelined him for a month. Mock has to do a better job of throwing strikes and letting his curveball and changeup play off his fastball, rather than trying to nibble at the plate and trick hitters. Mock still can be an early pick for a team that remembers how good he was on the Cape.
• Aaron Brown, rhp
Brown is one of the more projectable pitchers in Texas. He's a 6-foot-6, 185-pounder who started to come on after he gave up basketball to focus on baseball as a senior. His fastball bumped up from 87-88 mph to 90-91, and it has nice sink down in the strike zone. His slider has improved as well. He could be very interesting once he adds some polish and strength. He figures to do that at the University of Houston because he's considered one of the state's tougher signs.
• Jordan Chambless, rhp/of
Chambless made a bigger name for himself in football, signing with Texas A&M as a quarterback after accounting for 3,542 yards and 48 touchdowns as a senior. He led Calallen High to a 36-5 record in three seasons as a starter, extending the school's state record of 15 straight seasons with double-digit victories. He also led Calallen to a 35-2 record in baseball this spring, while going 10-0, 0.33 with 133 strikeouts in 63 innings. He's a very athletic 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds and could see double duty for the Aggies' baseball team if he doesn’t sign. Pro clubs like him more as a pitcher because he has an 88-92 mph fastball that scrapes 94, plus a hard slurve. He's also a power-hitting outfielder, though he's raw and strikes out a lot.
• Josh Geer, rhp
Geer was the top junior college prospect in the state, but it's unlikely that he'll be a high pick in June. He's talented enough, but if the Devil Rays can't sign him as a 19th-round draft-and-follow, clubs probably won't try to buy him away from transferring to Rice. Geer pitched and played third base for Navarro this spring, and the wear and tear involved knocked his velocity down from 90-93 mph to 88-90. Once he focuses solely on the mound, he should have two plus pitches in his fastball and breaking ball. A wiry 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, he's a tenacious competitor.
• Sam Demel, rhp
Demel is another hard-throwing righthander from Spring High, which produced a kid named Josh Beckett five years ago. Demel has an 88-93 mph sinker and also throws a changeup and a slurvy breaking ball. He's strong but not projectable at 6 feet and 185 pounds, but his arm works very well and he's a bulldog on the mound. A good student who has committed to Texas Christian, Demel may not sign for less than upper-fourth-round money. He didn't hurt his stock by going 13-1, 1.51 with 146 strikeouts in 88 innings, and he beat then No.1-ranked Tomball High in the Texas 5-A playoffs.
• Preston Clark, c
The best offensive and defensive catcher in Texas, Clark homered off 2003 Rangers first-round pick John Danks as a junior last year. He has good catch-and-throw skills to go with his power, and he moves well behind the plate despite having multiple knee operations in the past. The biggest concern scouts have is that he has lost flexibility after bulking up his 5-foot-10 frame this year. Nevertheless, catchers are always in demand and Clark can be signed away from the University of Texas if he goes in the first five rounds.
• Curtis Thigpen, c/1b
Thigpen isn't a consensus third- to fifth-round pick, but there are teams that could draft him that high because they love his makeup and versatility. Thigpen is an adequate defender and could start behind the plate for many college teams but not at Texas, which has projected 2005 first-rounder Taylor Teagarden. He plays a lot of first base for the Longhorns, and has enough athleticism to play anywhere on the diamond except for shortstop and center field. Offensively, he makes consistent line-drive contact and has some gap power. He led the Longhorns with a .370 average. Thigpen could be very useful in the major leagues as a backup catcher who could play multiple positions.
Others To Watch
• OFs Cory Patton and Hunter Pence aren't going to win any beauty contests, but they swing two of the meanest bats in Texas. Patton, who has a 5-foot-10, 210-pound frame that one scout compared to Matt Stairs', was the National Junior College Athletic Association's player of the year in 2002, when he hit .463 and led national juco players with 31 homes and 119 RBIs at Seward County (Kan.) CC. He led Texas A&M with 13 homers and 58 RBIs last year, which got him drafted in the sixth round by the Padres. But Patton was getting married and had no desire to sign last summer. He is having a similar season this year, hitting .341-11-64 with good plate discipline (32 walks, 20 strikeouts), and could get drafted in the same area. He runs and moves OK for his size and has a plus arm in right field. He went 8-1 on the mound in 2002, with his fastball clocked at 88-89 mph. Pence, the Southland Conference player of the year, led the league in batting (.395) and slugging (.616). He looks gangly at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds and his swing isn't a classic stroke. But he has good plate coverage and strength, and he runs well for his size. His arm strength will limit him to left field.
• LHP Trey Taylor was a Rockies second-round pick out of high school in 2001, when his fastball jumped to the low 90s. But he hasn't shown that velocity in three years at Baylor, where he's been dogged by inconsistency and questions about his mental toughness. Taylor pitches most often at 85-88 mph from a low arm slot, and mixes in curveballs, cutters and changeups. He pitched better down the stretch, hitting 89-90 mph more regularly, but still didn't miss a lot of bats.
• C Rob Johnson turned down $275,000 from the Phillies last year after they drafted him in the 18th round out of Saddleback (Calif.) JC. Scouts were disappointed that he didn't hit for more power this spring, but he still could go in the sixth to eighth round if he's deemed signable. Johnson is athletic for a catcher at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. He has solid catch-and-throw skills and runs well for his position. He needs to quicken his trigger and shorten the length of his swing, and improve his throwing accuracy.
• RHP Cain Byrd entered 2002 as Louisiana's top high school pitching prospect after flashing a low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider the previous summer. But he didn’t prepare himself physically for his senior year and strained a forearm muscle that dropped his velocity into the mid-80s. The Rangers took him in the 18th round, and he decided to pass up Louisiana State and attend San Jacinto so he could be a draft-and-follow. Texas was expected to sign him but hadn’t had the opportunity yet because the Gators advanced to the College World Series, where Byrd won their opener. He has thrown 88-92 mph and shown a good slider again this spring, and there's room for more projection with his 6-foot-3, 195-pound build.
• SS Stan Widmann is the top high school middle-infield prospect in the state, though he may not be quick enough to play shortstop at the pro level. He's an athletic 6-foot-1, 180-pounder with a strong arm and offensive promise. If he has to move, he should have enough bat to play second base. He'll attend Clemson if he doesn’t sign.
• OF Rhett Bomar is loaded with tools. He's 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, and his power and arm are more than suited for right field. He might not play any baseball after this spring, though. The consensus top quarterback recruit in the nation, Bomar is headed to Oklahoma, where he'll be the eventual successor to reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. Bomar threw for 6,097 yards and accounted for 91 touchdowns in 27 high school games.
• Rice will have to replace its big three next year, not to mention Josh Baker, the best fourth starter in the nation. Among the candidates will be a pair of high school righthanders (Jordan Dodson and Bobby Bell) and a trio of juco righthanders (Josh Geer, Bryce Cox and Craig Crow). Dodson led the The Woodlands to a state 5-A runner-up finish in football as a quarterback, but his future lies with baseball. His exposure was limited this spring after he sustained a minor shoulder injury diving for a ball, but it wasn't considered serious and scouts don't believe he's signable anyway. An athletic 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he has a fastball that runs from 88-92 mph and an effective breaking ball. Bell is a projectable 6-foot-4, 180-pounder who throws in the mid-90s and has a tremendous feel for a changeup. Cox is a raw 6-foot-4, 195-pound project. More of a third baseman before this year, he played both ways this spring and posted a 7.33 ERA. But he also hit 95 mph with his fastball and generates heavy sink when he keeps it down in the zone. His secondary pitches need a lot of work. Crow, who helped pitch Grayson County to the Junior College World Series, is the opposite of Cox. He's not as imposing with his size (6-foot-1, 196 pounds) or fastball (88-91 mph), but he has command of three pitches, including a curveball and changeup.
• OF Mike Pankratz likely will be a better draft pick in 2005 than this June. A draft-eligible sophomore, he generated a lot of interest when he won the Northwoods League batting title (.372) and MVP award last summer. He only started to tap his potential this spring when he hit .311-6-33, and it would make sense for him to return to Baylor. He's a prototype right fielder, with a 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame that generates lot of raw power. He could use more experience and needs to make adjustments against breaking pitches. Pankratz also runs and throws well, befitting an athlete who spent the fall of 2001 as a redshirt quarterback at Texas A&M. He didn't play baseball until he transferred to San Jacinto, where he helped the Gators finish second at the 2003 Junior College World Series.
• RHP Chance Corgan is another 6-foot-5 quarterback with ties to Texas A&M, though he'll play only baseball for the Aggies if he doesn’t turn pro this summer. He's a polished athlete who throws 88-92 mph and should add velocity in the future. He also has a good curveball.
• 3B/RHP Seth Garrison emerged as a prospect early in his high school career, but he hasn't lived up to expectations that he'd continue to get better. Though he's still athletic at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds and looks good in workouts, his future may be as a pitcher. Scouts say he pulls off pitches as a hitter, reducing his ability to make contact, and he doesn't run as well as he used to. Garrison, who has committed to Arizona State, has thrown 91 mph off the mound.
• Southland Conference champion Lamar's best prospects are juco transfers pitching out of its bullpen. RHP Chris Beuchner, who arrived from Collin County (Texas) CC, has a strong 6-foot-3, 228-pound build and throws a 90-94 mph fastball without effort. He has a hard slider but not much feel for the pitch, and he might be better off with a splitter. RHP Jon Hunton, a Hutchinson (Kan.) CC product, is a skyscraper at 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds. His arm works well but he pitches mainly at 86-88 mph. Senior LHP Kyle Stutes, the Southland pitcher of the year, has a 10-1, 2.25 record and an 84-19 strikeout-walk ratio in 88 innings. But he's a 5-foot-10 finesse lefty who's not attracting early-round attention.
• Texas Tech, whose Dan Law Field is the Coors Field of the Big 12 Conference, has its usual share of position players putting up big numbers. The top prospects are 1B Josh Brady (.356-19-84, 30 steals) and OF Michael Mask (.325-14-66). Both are short, stocky guys with compact strokes that feature some uppercut. Brady, part of a national championship team last year at the CC of Southern Nevada, ranked fourth in Division I in RBIs entering the NCAA regionals. Mask played at Galveston (Texas) JC last year. Though he's undersized at 5-foot-10 and 166 pounds, SS Cameron Blair (a Grayson County CC transfer), could get a look after hitting .378-14-77 with 19 steals.
• OF Mark McGonigle doesn't get as much attention as Greg Golson, Joe Savery and Rhett Bomar, but he's another athletically gifted outfielder. He's a 6-foot-2, 180-pound switch-hitter with 6.7-second speed in the 60-yard dash and a plus-plus arm. Scouts question whether he'll hit for more than gap power and whether he's signable, so he could be playing for the University of Houston next spring.
• A member of the 2002 national championship team at Elkins High, where his father Rick is the head coach, 3B Matt Carpenter is one of the best lefthanded hitters in the state. He's 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds and offers plus power, though his lack of athleticism and arm strength may force him to move to first base. He has committed to Texas Christian and is considered a tough sign. He emerged as Elkins' top prospect after RHP Stephen Porlier was lost to Tommy John surgery. A Tulane recruit, Porlier had an 87-91 mph fastball and hard curveball before his elbow gave out.
• RHP Shawn Ferguson, Byrd's teammate at San Jacinto, spent two years at Texas. He redshirted on the 2002 national championship club and got six at-bats last year. His pro future is as a pitcher, as he gets nice run on an 89-92 mph sinker and backs it up with a hard slider. Making up for lost time, he also plays left field for the Gators. Ferguson, who homered and drove in four runs in San Jac's first-round win at the Junior College World Series, will play both ways for TCU if he doesn't turn pro.
• Like Ferguson, juco RHPs Kristian Bell and David Trahan aren't under control to major league clubs. Bell is just 6 feet tall and has a maximum-effort delivery, but he has a 90-94 mph fastball with life, not to mention an average curveball. Trahan has an 88-93 mph fastball and so-so breaking stuff. Ordinarily, he'd be considered projectable at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, but he's 23. Trahan pitched at Alvin CC in 2000, then dropped out before returning last fall.
• As a 6-foot-9, 235-pound righthander who threw 92-93 mph last summer, Kenn Kasparek looked like a surefire early draft pick coming into 2004. Then he had trouble getting his mechanics in sync, topping out at 86 mph early and never finding his hard slider of a year ago. He'll probably fall low enough in the draft that it will be difficult to lure him away from Texas. Kasparek's brother Andrew, a senior catcher at Sam Houston State, could get drafted for his offensive potential. The older Kasparek's career .362 average trails only former big leaguer Glenn Wilson in Bearkats history.
• After Kasparek, the two most disappointing high school players in Texas were 3B J.P. Padron and RHP Tate Casey. Padron has a lot of raw power in his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame, but got pitched around all spring and didn’t adjust. He was hampered by a sore shoulder, tried to pull everything and chased too many pitches out of the strike zone. He'll probably end up at LSU and projects more as a first baseman down the road. Six-foot-seven and 225 pounds, Casey threw in the low 90s and showed a hard breaking ball on the showcase circuit last summer. He wasn't nearly as good this spring, as he appeared too muscle-bound and his arm didn't work as well. The consensus now is that he has more of a future as a tight end at Florida.
• Scouts flocked to see OF/LHP Matt McGuirk after the Major League Scouting Bureau gave him a grade of 52 (on the 20-80 scouting scale), usually indicative of a third- or fourth-round pick. He won't go that high, but the TCU signee is an interesting athlete. He's 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds and has plus speed. Once he gets stronger, he should have the power needed to play on an outfield corner. McGuirk went 13-0 on the mound this spring, but he pitches in the mid-80s with an ordinary breaking ball. He's projectable and could develop better stuff, though pro teams like him more as a hitter for now.
• Redshirt sophomore RHP Mark Lowe barely pitched in his first two years at Texas-San Antonio, taking 2003 off to focus on his mechanics. He showed a low-90s fastball last summer in the Northwoods League and maintained it through the fall and spring. A 6-foot-3, 180-pounder, he needs to improve the consistency of his location and his hard curveball.
• Another redshirt sophomore, RHP Abe Woody, was one of the few players to meet expectations at Baylor this spring. He doesn't have great pro size at 6 feet and 200 pounds, but he's a good athlete who throws strikes with a sinker/slider combination. His sinker, which also features nice arm-side life, usually registers from 88-93 mph. Woody scored points with a 0.77 ERA as a set-up man for Cape Cod League champion Orleans last summer.
• Baylor was an enigma all season. The Bears were loaded with draftable talent and outscored their opponents by 59 runs, yet somehow managed to go 29-31. 3B Michael Griffin struggled with breaking pitches and won't go in the top five rounds as once projected. His best tool is his ability to hit for average, but he batted just .291 this year after hitting .211 with wood for Team USA last summer. He doesn't have enough power for the hot corner or the defensive skills to play second base, making him more of a pro utilityman. C Josh Ford had one of the Cape Cod League's better arms last summer but had to DH this year after major shoulder surgery. He's a strong 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds and reached double figures in homers for the second straight season, but it's hard to imagine a team investing an early pick in him before he starts throwing again. Ford, who should be able to catch in the fall, showed arm strength before the injury but needed to shorten his release. The Scouting Bureau turned in early reports on RHP Sean Walker, 2B Paul Witt and 1B Drew Sutton, but they're more likely to be senior signs in 2005. That's probably the same fate that awaits OF Reid Brees, who needed to show more power to go with his team-best .355 average. He's the younger brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Drew Brees. Redshirt senior RHP Zane Carlson's 37 saves are a career record for Baylor and the Big 12, and he holds the Cape Cod League record as well. He had surgery to correct a trapped nerve in his biceps in 2002 but is healthy again. Though he's just 5-foot-11 and coming off his worst year at Baylor, Carlson's plus slider, average fastball and late-inning makeup will get him drafted—if the Padres don't sign him as a 16th-round draft-and-follow. Another redshirt senior, LHP Jared Theodorakos, was taken by the Rockies in the 49th round in 2002 and by the Brewers (who maintain his rights) in the 25th round last year. Theodorakos, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2003, pitched at 88 mph this spring. His changeup is his best pitch. (Update: Milwaukee signed Theodorakos before the draft.)
• SS Ben Zobrist led Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) to the NAIA World Series and earned NAIA all-America honors in 2003, then decided to transfer to Dallas Baptist for his senior year to gain more exposure. He helped the Patriots win the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series, batting .378-8-66 with 22 steals in 60 games. He's a 6-foot-3, 200-pound athlete who switch-hits and has a good approach at the plate. He also shows speed and arm strength.
• Teams that value plate discipline will take a hard look at OFs Jordan Foster (.486 on-base percentage, 44 walks versus 19 strikeouts) and Chris Kolkhorst (.489 OBP, 36 walks versus 20 whiffs). Foster wasn't drafted in 2003 after setting a Lamar record by batting .417. Scouts would like to see him hit for the power befitting a 6-foot-1, 205-pounder. He hit just four homers during the regular season but drilled four more to capture MVP honors during the Southland Conference tournament. Kolkhorst, best known for making crucial defensive plays in left field to help Rice beat Stanford in the 2003 College World Series, is more athletic than Foster but offers less power. He's a gritty sparkplug, an outfield version of David Eckstein. He played the Stanford series with a dislocated shoulder and a torn knee ligament, refusing to get an MRI and reaching base five times in the finale.
• SSs Nate Phillips and Cat Everett are undersized and may have to change positions in the future, but they're infield sleepers. Phillips, 6 feet and 170 pounds, has good infield actions and projects to have enough power to play third base. He pitched a lot for his private school this spring, showing an 87-88 mph fastball and a potential plus curveball. He has committed to Weatherford (Texas) JC and almost certainly will be a draft-and-follow. Everett, 6 feet and 175 pounds, might be a step slow to be a pro shortstop. As a line-drive switch-hitter with good hands, he has the makings of an offensive second baseman. He doesn't figure to go high enough to divert him from Tulane.
• The Athletics have selected C J.R. Towles in the last two drafts, in the 32nd round out of high school in 2002 and in the 23rd round out of Collin County (Texas) CC in 2003. Towles ranked fourth among national juco hitters with a .484 average last year, then transferred to North Central Texas after Collin County disbanded its program. Though he slipped to .340 this spring, his bat still has appeal, as do his catch-and-throw skills. He'll head to Oklahoma State if he doesn't turn pro this summer.
• Todd Gilfillan, Cody Waller and Evan Gattis are three more catchers to watch. Gifillan has the best catch-and-throw skills among Texas prepsters and is athletic, though he'll have to prove he can hit. Waller has power potential at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, along with an average arm. Gattis, the most physical of the group at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, was primarily a pitcher as a sophomore at Forney High. Though he played mostly behind the plate at Bishop Lynch, he was clocked at 90-92 mph on the mound. Gilfillan has committed to Texas, Waller to Houston and Gattis to Texas A&M.
• RHP Clayton Jerome hasn't been quite as dominant as he was a year ago, when he beat out first-round picks Brad Sullivan and Ryan Wagner of Houston for Conference USA pitcher of the year. But he won nine games for the third straight season, thanks to a high-80s sinker and a 12-to-6 curveball. Undrafted a year ago, he'll make a good senior sign.
• RHP Ben Brockman couldn't live up to his Scouting Bureau billing, a 57 grade that signifies a first-rounder. But he does have a plus changeup and a projectable 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame. He also throws an 86-88 mph fastball and a decent slider. He could be a tough sign as a redshirt sophomore.
• RHPs Chris Martin, Erik Paulson, Miles Morgan and Corey Kluber are all projectable high schoolers whose best days are ahead. Six-foot-seven and 175 pounds, Martin has an 86-89 mph fastball and a curveball. He plans to attend McLennan (Texas) CC and should be a draft-and-follow. A Texas A&M signee, Paulson also played shortstop and quarterback for his high school team. He's 6-foot-3 and 188 pounds, and he tops out at 91-92 mph. Morgan and Kluber are both 6-foot-4 and throw in the high 80s. A Texas Tech recruit, Morgan has the better curveball. Kluber has committed to Stetson.
• RHP Garrett Murdy was named NCAA Division II pitcher of the year after going 14-1, 1.88 with 158 strikeouts in 115 innings, leading D-II in victories and whiffs. His statistics are more impressive than his stuff, an 87-91 mph fastball and a slurvy breaking ball. A 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, he wasn't drafted out of Orange Coast (Calif.) JC last year.
• RHPs Tyler Kersten, Sean McLemore and Jarrad Burcie light up radar guns to as high as 94 mph, but they use maximum effort and need to refine their secondary pitches and command. Kersten committed to TCU, while McLemore chose Houston. Burcie had two surgeries on his left knee last year and missed time with a pulled groin this spring.
• At the other end of the spectrum are high school RHPs Ricky Hargrove, Tony Langford, Randall Linebaugh and Kyle Rogers. None stands taller than 6-foot-1, so they're not projectable, but all have average or better fastballs along with polish. Hargrove (committed to Houston), Langford (Notre Dame) and Linebaugh (Baylor) all could contribute as freshman at quality Division I programs next spring. Rogers is expected to go the juco route.
• OF Alfred Joseph is the best 2004 prospect on a Moody High team that's 38-1 and had won its first six postseason games en route to the state 5-A quarterfinals. He has quick hands and pull power, though his arm and speed probably will limit him to left field.
• 1B Josh Hamilton set an NCAA Division II record with five homers in one game in 2003, though that wasn't enough to get him drafted. He continued to hit for power this spring, setting a St. Edward's record with 20 homers. He's one-dimensional, but his lefthanded pop could make him a decent senior sign.
• The state has no shortage of speedsters who could get drafted in the middle rounds: Texas Tech OF Cody Fuller, who doubles as a wide receiver on the Red Raiders football team; Lamar Consolidated High (Sugar Land) OF Kori Williams, a Houston recruit; Prairie View A&M OF Gerald Miller; and Texas State OF Evan Tierce.
• The Street legacy will continue at Texas even if Huston Street becomes an early pick and signs as expected. Street's twin brothers, OF/LHP Jordan and OF/RHP Juston, are likely to pass up any pro offers to become Longhorns, especially because both are recovering from knee surgery. Their father James quarterbacked Texas to the 1969 national football championship and pitched the Longhorns to the 1968 and '69 College World Series.