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2005 Draft Scouting Reports: Tennessee
By John Manuel
(National ranking in parentheses)
1. LUKE HOCHEVAR, rhp (National rank: 6)
Hometown: Fowler, Colo.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205. Birthdate: Sept. 15, 1983,
Previously Drafted: Dodgers 2002 (39).
Scouting Report: Hochevar comes from an athletic family, with a father who was an accomplished basketball player and junior college baseball coach and a sister who is a professional volleyball player. Hochevar should turn out as the most accomplished of the three, if his luck holds out. He missed part of his sophomore season when he was struck by a batted ball on two separate occasions, once on the leg and once on the head. He still finished 2004 strong, though, dominating in the Southeastern Conference tournament and finishing the summer as Team USA’s top starter, winning the gold-medal game of the World University Championship in Taiwan against Japan. He started 2005 with a strong outing at Minute Maid Park and was the most consistent starter in the nation for much of the season, putting together an eight-game win streak. At his best, Hochevar has a fastball that sits in the 93-95 mph range with a mid-80s slider, but more often he pitches at 89-92 with his fastball and in the low-80s with the slider. He also throws a changeup and curveball for strikes, and both can be average pitches. He commands his pitches well thanks to an athletic frame and smooth delivery. His combination of stuff, his knack for pitching and a loose, long frame that offers hope of still more projection makes him one of the top two pitching prospects in the draft. A Scott Boras client, he’s a candidate to be the Diamondbacks’ selection with the No. 1 overall pick.
2. BRYAN MORRIS, rhp (National rank: 44)
3. RYAN MULLINS, lhp (National rank: 73)
4. ELI IORG, of (National rank: 75)
5. JENSEN LEWIS, rhp (National rank: 120)
6. CHASE HEADLEY, 3b (National rank: 128)
OTHERS TO WATCH
(Numbers in parentheses indicate rank in Tennessee)
Vanderbilt has made an impressive turnaround as a program under coach Tim Corbin, but the Commodores were relative underachievers in 2005, failing to qualify for the Southeastern Conference tournament with a 13-17 league record despite a roster with at least seven players who figured to be drafted, starting with Mullins and Lewis.
The next Commodores picks should be RHPs Ryan Rote (9) and Jeff Sues (10), both of whom were drafted last year. Rote, the closer much of the last two years, has struggled with command and his mechanics out of the stretch, a difficult problem for a reliever. He's thrown more consistent strikes out of the windup, scouts say, harnessing his 94-95 mph fastball. Rote's secondary stuff is ordinary, however. His grandfather Tobin Rote played quarterback for Rice and later in the NFL for parts of 13 seasons, making two Pro Bowls.
Sues' velocity is similar, 92-93 mph, but he also has a power slider and average curveball. With such a repertoire, Sues--a 14th-round pick last year who failed to sign--still hasn't broken through as a consistent starter in college due to his command struggles and inability to consistently pitch out of jams. He also has durability questions due to past medical issues.
The Commodores also have several position players who could be drafted, with fast-emerging 1B Mike Baxter (11) attracting the most attention for his line-drive bat. Baxter might be athletic to give the outfield a try, though he has a below-average arm. Some question whether he has the bat speed to develop pull power. He was challenging more-established 2B Warner Jones (7) for the honor of being the first Vandy position player drafted. Jones' hand-eye coordination is exceptional and made him an All-American as a sophomore; it also leads to his aggressive approach. Jones needs to be more selective and realize he could drive the ball more consistently if he didn't swing at the first fastball he saw. He has some strength in his hands and can punish mistakes for a smallish player. While some aren't sold on his defensive ability, he makes all the routine plays and has the arm strength to turn the double play effectively.
C Brian Hernandez (19) and speedy OF Antoan Richardson (20) both could be drafted as well; Richardson's unconventional swing prompts Corbin to bat him in the lower half of the order and has scouts thinking he'll never be more than a fifth outfielder. Hernandez has ordinary tools but could be drafted due to the need for catchers.
Small College Contributions
The other colleges in the state might combine to contribute as many players as the Commodores. RHP/C Caleb Moore (8) could be the state's most accomplished player, a two-way slugger and power reliever who has put up big numbers for consecutive seasons. Moore touches 93-94 mph with his fastball, but it's fairly straight due to his high arm slot, and he hasn't shown a consistent breaking ball. His arm strength might attract attention, and so might his bat. He makes consistent contact. Scouts think he won't hit for power with his current swing, but he's a solid enough receiver and has enough arm strength to merit a look behind the plate. Which position he'll play depends on the team.
Small-college pitchers who will get drafted include RHP B.J. Church (17), who dominated NAIA competition after getting kicked off the team at Middle Tennessee State. Church has solid-average stuff, touching 93-94 mph but pitching at 88-92 with a curveball he can throw for strikes. Area scouts like the Blue Raiders staff and question Church's makeup because of his conflicts at East Tennessee. Church's teammate, Jon Kirby (13), is on his third college program. He has a soft, blocky body that offers little projection. He still should get drafted late in the draft's first day because he can spin a breaking ball and throw it for strikes while throwing an 87-91 mph fastball.
Other college players in the state who could be drafted include LHP Rowdy Hardy (16), a fourth-year junior and proven winner with an unconventional approach. Long and lean, he lacks the strength to throw harder than 83-87 mph consistently, but pounds the bottom half of the strike zone with his sinking fastball and a good changeup. His fringy breaking ball will have to improve. RHP Brent Gabel (14) has shown low-90s velocity at times in his career but more consistently sits in the upper 80s. His clean arm action offers some projection and the promise that his secondary stuff will improve.
It's Not 2004
Tennessee's high school ranks were fertile last season and are back in a down cycle this year. Scouts and college recruiters say the 2006 class looks deep and strong at the top, though. Morris' chief competitor for top prep honors in the state this year, RHP Matt Lea (12), is the son of former big leaguer Charlie Lea and was on every scout's radar because of his bloodlines and strong, physical body. He's fairly similar to his father, whose big league career was cut short by injuries, but he's bigger and stronger already. Lea didn't improve this spring, though, sitting in the 84-88 mph range early on. He was bumping the low 90s later in the spring and might go in the first 10 rounds if scouts think they can sway him from his Mississippi State commitment. Lea's not a bad hitter and should be able to contribute to the Bulldogs as a two-way player.
The state's next-best prep player coming into the spring was C Scott Hawkins (15), who has a chance to get drafted because he doesn't have a strong college option and has athletic ability and tools. Hawkins has arm strength, size and a strong body ready for pro ball. He was kicked off his high school team midway through the spring, making it harder for scouts to see him. Scouts aren't likely to gamble on him early.