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2005 Draft Scouting Reports: Nebraska

By Jim Callis
May 30, 2005


THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
Nebraska gets a four-star rating almost solely because of the presence of Alex Gordon, the top college hitter in the draft. After him, there's no one close to a significant position player available. The state's high schools may not yield a single draft pick, so behind Gordon the prospect crop consists mainly of college pitchers.

(National ranking in parentheses)
Potential First-Round Picks
1. Alex Gordon (2), 3b, U. of Nebraska
Potential Second-Fifth Round Picks
None
Others Of Note
2. Brandon Bird, rhp, Creighton U.
3. Zach Kroenke, lhp, U. of Nebraska
4. Eric Wordekemper, rhp, Creighton U.
5. Brett Jensen, rhp, U. of Nebraska
6. Brian Duensing, lhp, U. of Nebraska
7. Mike Nihsen, rhp, Ralston HS
8. Ron Madej, lhp, Bellevue U.
9. Tony Roth, 2b, Creighton U.
10. Joe Simokaitis, ss, U. of Nebraska
11. Dustin Timm, rhp, U. of Nebraska
12. Phil Shirek, rhp, U. of Nebraska
13. Curtis Ledbetter, 1b, U. of Nebraska
14. Daniel Bruce, of, U. of Nebraska
15. David Cleveland, rhp/1b, Omaha Central HS, Omaha


1. ALEX GORDON, 3b (National rank: 2)
School: Nebraska.
Hometown: Lincoln, Neb.
B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 215. Birthdate: Feb. 10, 1984.
Previously Drafted: Never.
Scouting Report: Though Gordon was Nebraska's top high school prospect in 2002, he went undrafted because he was set on playing for his hometown Cornhuskers. Three years later, he's the best college position player in the draft and has considerably more offensive potential than former Husker Darin Erstad, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 draft. Gordon should hit for power and average because he has a sweet lefthanded swing, strength, exceptional strike-zone discipline and the ability to make adjustments. He uses the entire field and can drive the ball where it's pitched after getting pull-conscious as a sophomore. After a slow start with wood bats last summer, he adapted and became Team USA's second-best hitter (behind Virginia's Ryan Zimmerman). Zimmerman's skill at the hot corner forced Gordon to play first base, but he's a solid defender at third. When Gordon first arrived at Nebraska, some thought he might have to move to first base or an outfield corner. But he has worked hard on his defense, where his strong arm, instincts and quickness are assets. A solid-average runner, Gordon is chasing a rare 20-20 season this spring. There's no glaring weakness in his game, and he should advance rapidly as a pro. Gordon probably won't go as high as Erstad and may command a major league contract, but he's not considered a particularly tough sign.


OTHERS TO WATCH
(Numbers in parentheses indicate rank in Nebraska)

Huskers, Bluejays Supply Arms

While Gordon is clearly the team's (if not the country's) best hitter, there's debate about which Cornhuskers lefty is better, with more scouts siding with Zach Kroenke (3) over Brian Duensing (6). Kroenke has tighter stuff, with a heavy 88-93 mph fastball and a 78-82 mph slider. Scouts don't like his pie-throwing arm-action, which costs him command and consistency. Duensing does a better job of pitching, but his stuff hasn't been the same since an elbow injury cost him most of 2003 and eventually required Tommy John surgery in 2004. He competes with an 86-90 mph fastball and a changeup. He bailed Nebraska out at the Big 12 Conference tournament by pitching well in back-to-back starts, including 7 2/3 scoreless innings in a 1-0 title-game win over Baylor.

Though one scout likens 6-foot-7, 190-pound RHP Brett Jensen (5) to Ichabod Crane, he's fearless on the mound. He throws harder than most sidearmers, anywhere from 88-91 mph. His slider isn't devastating, but he throws it for strikes.

But the best pitcher in the state is a fifth-year senior who won't be able to sign before the draft because his team will be in regionals. Creighton RHP Brandon Bird's (2) velocity has climbed steadily since he returned from a shoulder injury in 2001, taking another leap to 90-92 mph this spring. He's deceptive and lanky at 6-foot-5, and succeeds by mainly throwing his sinker. Bird, who has a serviceable curveball, hasn't allowed a homer in 42 innings this year.

A sprained elbow ligament clouded the status of Bird's teammate, RHP Eric Wordekemper (4). He was throwing 90-93 mph fastballs and his curveball and changeup were working well when he got hurt in February. His stuff wasn't as crisp after a two-month layoff, as he returned throwing 87-90 mph and eschewing his breaking ball, but he did turn in seven shutout innings in his lone Missouri Valley Conference start. A club likely will draft him and then monitor him during the summer before deciding whether to sign him.

RHP Mike Nihsen (7), the state's top high school prospect, showed an 88-92 mph sinker and command of both a curveball and slider last summer. An athletic 6-foot-3, 180-pounder, he seemed poised to go in the first 15 rounds this June. But he didn't perform well for much of the season, probably because he was worn out from playing quarterback in football and guard in basketball. He'll go to Nebraska if he doesn't turn pro.

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