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By Jim Callis
(National ranking in parentheses)
1. DAVID DUNCAN, lhp (National rank: 104)
OTHERS TO WATCH
Reimold Reaches Peak Again
OF Nolan Reimold (2), who ranks second in NCAA Division I in slugging (.770) and eighth in homers (20), has ridden a roller coaster in the two months before the draft. He seemed certain to be a third- to fifth-round pick as a power-hitting collegian, then went into a slump that dropped him more into sixth- to 10th-round territory. Once he stopped gearing his swing to hit homers to impress crosscheckers and scouting directors, he let his power come naturally, surged again and regained his previous status. The Mid-American Conference player of the year, Reimold is more than just a one-dimensional masher. He runs well for his size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds), has a right-field arm and has solid tools across the board.
Moeller High has one of the richest baseball traditions among high school programs, counting Buddy Bell, Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin among its alumni, and LHP Eric Surkamp (3) holds school records for ERA (0.32 as a sophomore) and wins in an undefeated season (8-0 as a junior, capped by a win in the state's Division I title game). He's projectable at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, and he has a lot of polish for a high schooler. Surkamp owns an 86-88 mph fastball and good feel for a curveball and a changeup. He probably won't be drafted high because he has told scouts he won't sign and plans on following former Moeller teammate Andrew Brackman to North Carolina State.
The son of ex-big leaguer and current Indians farm director John Farrell, 3B/RHP Jeremy Farrell (4) also is considered a near-impossible sign and is ticketed for an Atlantic Coast Conference school (Virginia). Most clubs prefer Farrell as an everyday player, noting his strong build (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), sound stroke, strength and arm. But he also has potential on the mound, showing good life on an 88-90 mph. If he does go to college, he'll be the Cavaliers' replacement for projected top-five pick Ryan Zimmerman.
LHP Jon Niese (5) allowed just one earned run in 78 innings this spring at Defiance High, which also produced Dodgers first-rounder Chad Billingsley two years ago. Ohio's first back-to-back winner of state player of the year awards, Niese won't go nearly as high because his stuff has been inconsistent, but he could sneak into the fifth round for a club that saw him on one of his better days. He's a projectable (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) lefty who already has a high-80s fastball. His splitter, curveball and slider all have potential. If he doesn't turn pro, he'll attend Cincinnati.
The only righthander among the state's top six pitching prospects, Kurt Smith (6) stands out for his size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and arm strength. He has an 88-92 mph fastball that has been clocked as high as 95, though there's a lot of effort in his delivery. Also a power-hitting infielder, he could play both ways if he attends Ohio rather than signing.
LHP Justin Thomas (7) joined former Giants first-round pick Brad Hennessey as the only Youngstown State hurlers to win conference pitcher-of-the-year honors, coming with six of Dave Dravecky's Penguins career strikeout record in the process. Thomas is sturdily built at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds and has solid arm strength. He pitches at 87-88 mph and tops out 92, and he'll flash a good slider at times.
John Slone (8) was one of the best catchers in the Cape Cod League last summer, but some scouts wonder if he'll be able to stay behind the plate as a pro. Though he's athletic and runs well for his position, Slone's receiving skills are just adequate and his arm is below-average. As a hitter, he provides line-drive contract. After turning down the Pirates as a 15th-round pick in 2004, he should go a few rounds higher as a senior sign this June.
Big 10 Conference tournament champion Ohio State's best prospects are all seniors. LHP Trent Luyster (9), a 39th-round pick of the Cubs last year, is 6-foot-3, works in the high 80s and shows a plus slider on occasion. RHP Mike Madsen (12) had a 1.31 ERA and started the all-star game in the Cape Cod League last summer, but he never has been drafted because he's not very physical. At 6 feet and 155 pounds, he has a fringe-average 88-91 mph fastball and a decent curveball he can throw for strikes. OF Steve Caravati (13), a fifth-year senior, saw his chances of repeating as Big 10 player of the year end when he pulled a hamstring in the Buckeyes' opener and missed a month. Caravati is finishing strong, earning MVP honors in the league tournament by going 14-for-21 with two homers in five games. He's an advanced hitter who controls the strike zone and has gap power. He has been limited to left field since having Tommy John surgery in 2001 and tearing his labrum two years later.
While recovering from Tommy John surgery, RHP Anthony Gressick (10) spent 2004 as a full-time DH and batted .377 with 16 homers. Returning to the mound this spring, he showed an 87-88 mph fastball that touched 90-91, plus a decent curveball. He might be more of a senior sign for 2006.
LHP Steve Zemanek (11) probably won't get drafted high enough to make signing worthwhile, but he's an interesting prospect for the future. He's projectable at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, has a mid- to upper-80s fastball and shows a lot of polish for his age. After being diagnosed with diabetes, he decided to choose a college close to his home, committing to Akron.
Kurt Eichorn (14) spent most of the season at DH, but he's a potential lefty-hitting version of Todd Greene, with a better arm behind the plate. Eichorn has above-average arm strength, power at the plate and is a better athlete than most catchers. He's still raw defensively and will need a lot of work to become a pro catcher. Draft-eligible as a sophomore in 2004, he went in the 38th round to the Cubs.
Finally fully recovered from 2003 back surgery to fix a herniated disc he injured while weightlifting, fifth-year senior 1B/3B Andy Hudak (15) has made a run at the Mid-American Conference batting title with a .361 average. He gets extra points for his makeup, and his pro chances would be enhanced if he can handle the hot corner.
RHP Matt Long (17) was one of the state's top high school pitching prospects three years ago but had Tommy John surgery in 2004 at Miami. He returned at midseason this year, and while his solid-average fastball and sharp curveball aren't back yet, they're getting there. The team that drafts Long likely will monitor him in summer ball before signing him.