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By Jim Callis
(National ranking in parentheses)
1. ZACH PUTNAM, 3b/rhp (National rank: 76)
School: Pioneer HS.
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Mich.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 210. Birthdate: July 3, 1987.
College Commitment: Michigan.
Scouting Report: Putnam came into 2005 as one of the top-ranked pitching prospects in the nation, but a disappointing spring has most clubs preferring him as a third baseman and projecting him as a third-rounder. After throwing 90-95 mph last year, Putnam touched 93 in his first outing this year and spent most of the rest of the spring in the mid-80s. His curveball has dropped to 70-73 mph and lost tightness, while the splitter he uses as a changeup has been no better than average. He already has filled out his 6-foot-2 frame and has short limbs, so there's not much projection left with Putnam, and some scouts think his delivery puts too much stress on his shoulder. They see some Ken Caminiti in him as a third baseman with strength in his arm and bat. His stroke (which features a high bat wrap) and his approach will need adjustments. He's a better performer on the mound now but figures to be better at the hot corner in the long run. Putnam has had first-round expectations for awhile and may not be signable for less than $1.5 million, which he has little chance of getting.
2. CHRIS GETZ, 2b (National rank: 139)
3. PAUL PHILLIPS, rhp (National rank: 178)
OTHERS TO WATCH
Sophomore Explosion In Michigan
There are two more high-profile sophomores in Michigan. Like Phillips, LHP Jayson Ruhlman (5) has impressive stuff but hasn't learned how to harness it. He pitched in the low 90s with his deceptive fastball in the Cape Cod League last summer and during fall practice, but has sat more in the high 80s this spring. He'll flash a plus curveball and his changeup has its moments, but Ruhlman pitched himself out of Central Michigan's rotation this year. LHP Clayton Richard (7) has limited baseball experience, coming to Michigan on a football scholarship and serving as a backup quarterback last fall. A highly regarded pitching prospect out of high school, he returned to baseball this spring as Michigan's co-closer. He's an athletic 6-foot-4, 225-pound southpaw with a low 90s fastball and a developing curveball. But he's also 22 and raw, and scouts don't like his arm action. He skipped spring football practice and has said he's going to give up football and wants to sign.
RHP Jim Brauer (4) will get drafted for the fourth time after not signing with the Mets as a fifth-year senior draft-and-follow. New York took him in the 42nd round last June, the Rockies drafted him in the 17th round in 2003 and the Expos selected him in the 29th round out of high school in 2000. Brauer has consistently pitched well in the Cape Cod League, earning all-star honors in 2001 and 2003 and tossing a no-hitter in 2002, but until 2005 he never had a big season for the Wolverines. He made just one start in 2003 because of a sore arm and was inconsistent in his return last year. Brauer stepped up in 2005, however, earning Big 10 Conference pitcher-of-the-year honors. One area scout says his stuff is better than Aaron Heilman's when Heilman went in the first round as a Notre Dame senior in 2001. Brauer throws strikes with a low-90s sinker and a slider.
The Wolverines have a number of senior signs in addition to Brauer. RHP Michael Penn (16) has similar stuff but isn't as strong and doesn’t maintain it for as long. 1B Kyle Bohm (17) scared off clubs last year with his desire to attend medical school, but he's signable and someone will take a chance on his line-drive bat. C Jeff Kunkel (15) is a senior as a student and a junior in baseball eligibility, meaning he can be draft-and-followed. Another line-drive hitter, he took over the team batting lead from Chris Getz with a late surge that took him to .390. He also has a strong arm and has thrown out 43 percent of basestealers this spring.
RHP Jason Cairns (6) began his college career at Central Michigan as an infielder, transferred to John A. Logan (Ill.) Community College as a sophomore, then returned to the Chippewas as a full-time pitcher. Throwing from a low three-quarters angle, he gets a lot of sinking life on his 90-94 mph fastball. In 96 innings, he has permitted just one homer and nine extra-base hits this year. To succeed as a pro reliever, Cairns will need to improve his command and develop a reliable second pitch. He uses a splitter and slider but relies almost solely on his sinker.
LHP Ben Rodewald (8) isn't ready for pro ball and is considered a tough sign, but a team may draft him with the idea of following him through the summer and making a run at him at the end. His 84-89 mph fastball has life to both sides of the plate, and he'll pick up more velocity in the future. He has a long, lean 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame and a very clean, low-effort delivery that has evoked Mark Buehrle comparisons. His curveball and changeup are advanced for a high school pitcher. Rodewald has committed to Central Michigan.
RHP Derek Feldkamp (9) has puzzled scouts. A teammate of Paul Phillips at Blissfield (Mich.) High, he too has been inconsistent. A 41st-round pick of the Blue Jays as a sophomore-eligible last year, Feldkamp has as good an arm as anyone on Michigan's staff but pitched his way out of the rotation this year. Though his velocity topped out at 95 mph when he worked in relief, he still wasn't missing any bats because his fastball is straight. He also has lost his feel for his secondary pitches, a slider and a changeup.
Scouts had to find directions to Calvin College, a tiny Christian school that plays at the NCAA Division III level, so they could check out RHP Jim Deters (10). Deters put himself on the map with 20 strikeouts in a 10-inning outing against Kalamazoo (Mich.), came back two starts later with a one-hitter against Tri-State (Ind.) and then put up 20 more whiffs against Olivet (Mich.). Deters has the arm to succeed against better competition. He's a 6-foot-4, 180-pounder with a good delivery, an 88-92 mph fastball and an average curveball. He'll need to add life to his heater and refine his changeup.
Scouts love SS Adam Rosales (11) as a senior sign because he's a gamer with plus speed and above-average arm strength. They do question his stiff swing, however, and wonder if he'll be able to hit with wood. His arm and agility have some wondering if he'd take well to catching.
3B Evan Sharpley (14) is Michigan's high school athlete of the year. He's unlikely to play professional baseball, at least this point, because he's a quarterback heading to Notre Dame on a football scholarship. Surprisingly, he doesn't have the plus arm strength or speed expected of a Fighting Irish quarterback. His best tool is his power.