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2005 Early Draft Preview: College Overview
By Will Kimmey
Best 2004 Season: Six players on the accompanying top 100 list earned Baseball America first-team All-America honors, including 3B Alex Gordon (1), who batted .365-18-75 and was named the Big 12 Conference player of the year. He was joined by 2Bs Warner Jones (28, .414-11-74) and Jed Lowrie (18, .399-17-68), OF Brad Corley (29, .380-19-85), UT Stephen Head (9, .346-13-53; 6-3, 2.82) and RHP Wade Townsend (6, 12-0, 1.80, 120 IP/148 SO). 3B Ryan Zimmerman (8) led Team USA to the World University Championship by hitting .468-4-27 on the summer, while OF Daniel Carte (16) was named BA’s Summer Player of the Year after leading the Cape Cod League in homers and RBIs and earning league MVP honors.
Best Athlete: The outfield crop features more athleticism than power this year with the likes of Travis Buck (14), Trevor Crowe (22), Jacoby Ellsbury (24), Chris Rahl (65) and Clete Thomas (39). But 1B/OF John Mayberry Jr. (10) and OF Justin Maxwell (25) rate at the front of the class because of their speed, grace and power. OF Jarrad Page (71), an all-Pacific- 10 Conference defensive back, may be the best athlete of the lot though his baseball skills are unrefined. RHP Luke Hochevar (3) comes from a family of athletes: his sister was an all-America volleyball player at Long Beach State who now plays on the pro beach circuit in Puerto Rico; his father played for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets in 1979; his mother played basketball and volleyball in college.
Best Pure Hitter: No hitter trusts his hands or displays the wrist quickness of Jones, who flirted with a .500 average much of last season and led the nation with 111 hits. Gordon and Head each possess prototype lefthanded swings, while 3B Ryan Braun (27) is an advanced hitter from the right side.
Best Raw Power: Gordon and C Jeff Clement (5) both have legitimate power to all fields, and demonstrated that ability with wood bats for Team USA. Mayberry struggled to show consistent power for the same team, but his long-limbed, leveraged swing has many scouting directors expecting his pop to outstrip that of anyone in this class. 3Bs Mike Costanzo (67) and Steve Pearce (64) hit 21 home runs each last season; no returning player clubbed more. Corley led the offensively charged Southeastern Conference with 19 longballs. Carte, RHP/DH Micah Owings (36) and OF Jeremy Slayden (46) also have above-average power.
Fastest Runner: Maxwell has been timed at 4.0 seconds from the righthanded-batter’s box to first base and his speed grades out at the maximum 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Rahl runs a 6.5 second 60-yard dash and swiped 42 bases in 46 tries a year ago. Crowe and Ellsbury are the Pac-10’s fleetest afoot. Crowe’s speed helps him turn doubles into triples, though his team’s offense is strong enough that he doesn’t need to steal bases.
Best Defensive Player: C Taylor Teagarden (12) has Gold Glove ability behind the plate, with excellent receiving, blocking and throwing skills. Drew Butera (78), son of ex-big leaguer Sal Butera, also possesses the same defensive tools. SSs Tyler Greene (4) and Cliff Pennington (17) have the arm strength, range and hands that will enable them to stay at shortstop in pro ball. Zimmerman could play shortstop in a pinch because of his arm strength, hands and instincts, but must settle for being the nation’s best defensive third baseman. There are few fly balls that Ellsbury and Maxwell can’t track down.
Hardest Thrower: RHP Jason Neighborgall (33) has the best raw arm strength. His fastball hit 102 mph in the Cape Cod League in 2003, while RHP Mark McCormick (11) hit 101 on the Cape in last summer’s all-star game. Hochevar and RHP Mike Pelfrey (2) touch 96 in nearly every start, while RHP Craig Hansen (13) consistently throws the hardest among potential closers. RHPs Chris Leroux (55) and Kevin Whelan (41) will move from part-time catchers to full-time pitchers this year because of their ability to work in the mid- to upper-90s.
Best Breaking Ball: At its best, McCormick’s 12-to-6 curveball can buckle the knees of major league hitters, but he must become more consistent with it. The rotation on Neighborgall’s curve rates right with McCormick’s, though his ability to spot the pitch is a much bigger concern. LHP Ricky Romero (23) throws his curveball for strikes almost at will. RHP Tim Lincecum (35) fanned 161 in 123 innings as a freshman, many on his curve. Hansen and Hochevar feature sliders with good power and bite at 83-84 mph.
Best Command: Vanderbilt had this category’s top candidate last year in Jeremy Sowers, the sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft, and does so again with LHP Ryan Mullins (21). He walked just 20 batters (against 93 strikeouts) in 120 innings last season, while posting a 2.58 ERA that bested Sowers’ 3.08 mark. LHP Cesar Ramos (19), who walked 34 in 134 innings, rates just a tick behind Mullins. Romero and RHPs Mark Holliman (43) and Sam LeCure (51) rarely miss the strike zone either.
Most Intriguing Background: Townsend won’t play college baseball this year after forfeiting his amateur status in an unsuccessful attempt to continue negotiating with the Orioles, who drafted him in the first round, when he returned to school. He earned his degree in December. Maxwell and Slayden were potential first-round picks a year ago, but Maxwell didn’t play an inning after breaking a bone in his arm when he was hit by a pitch in the preseason and Slayden was shelved by a torn rotator cuff after nine games. Mayberry’s eponymous father played 15 major league seasons, while RHP Kris Harvey’s (53) father Bryan was an all-star closer. The fathers of Butera and SS Steve Tolleson (86) also played in the big leagues. Mayberry (Mariners, 2002) is a former first-round draft pick, as is RHP Alan Horne (42), who was selected by the Indians in 2001.
Best Two-way Player: It’s an embarrassment of riches in this category, with LHP/OF Brian Bogusevic (15) and Owings commanding considerable high-round interest as both pitchers and power hitters. Bogusevic led Tulane in strikeouts and wins, as well as RBIs while ranking second in home runs. Owings led Georgia Tech in strikeouts, innings pitched and home runs last year before joining Bogusevic as a tag-team tandem for No. 1-ranked Tulane. Head is a first-round talent as a hitter, but also shuttles between the weekend rotation and a closing role. Costanzo, Harvey, RHP/OF Zack Kalter (75), Leroux, RHP/OF Lance Pendleton (56) and RHP/3B Kevin Roberts (68) are also expected to do double duty this spring.
Closest To The Majors: Head and Carte are polished hitters who should hit immediately in pro ball. Townsend’s inaction should have him raring to go, and he should advance quickly once he signs. College closers such as Hansen and RHPs J. Brent Cox (30) and Joey Devine (34) could move quickly if they remain in relief roles.
—Compiled by Will Kimmey