Kershaw Leaps To Front Of Tepid Prep Class
Position players lacking among high schoolers
See Also: Midseason High School Top 50 See Also: College Midseason UpdateSee Also: Midseason College Top 50
In the eyes of scouts, assessing talent for the 2006 draft has been a challenge. Many of the projected early picks from the college and high school crops haven't lived up to expectations, and precious few players have stepped up to fill the void.
"There hasn't been much performance out of the high school class," a National League scouting director said. "It's been a real tough year, as tough as it's been in a real long time. It's a little more difficult when guys aren't showing the 'usability' of their tools."
One exception is Clayton Kershaw, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound lefthander from Highland Park High in Dallas. Projected as a second- or third-round choice entering the season, he now ranks as the best prep prospect.
"Kershaw has thrown better than any high school pitcher," an American League scouting director said. "He's been up to 95 with life and a plus breaking ball."
Kershaw, who pitched for USA Baseball's junior national team last summer, has a reputation for pounding the bottom of the strike zone, and his stuff has gotten better this spring. His fastball has risen from 88-92 mph in the past, to sitting in the low-to-mid 90s this spring. Even more significant, his curveball has improved to give him a legitimate second above-average pitch.
That he's lefthanded, has a large, athletic frame and repeats his delivery well are more points in his favor. Another is that he has performed consistently well all spring. A Texas A&M recruit, Kershaw fanned 18 in Highland Park's district opener, then broke the school's career record for wins by picking up his 32nd in his next start.
"That's the best I've seen him," said a NL crosschecker on hand for the latter outing. "He was mid-90s with a good curveball and even hit a home run. He would have been good against anybody that night."Concerns Dog Top Arms
Kershaw stands out the most in a high school class dominated by pitching. But making the 2006 draft all the more confusing, several of the top arms come with question marks.
The Woodlands (Texas) High righthander Kyle Drabek has as much pure physical ability and aptitude as anyone. Though the son of former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek stands just 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, he delivers a mid-90s fastball and two quality breaking balls with ease. He's also a gifted shortstop with some power in his bat, and if scouts didn't prefer him as a pitcher he might be the first high school middle infielder drafted.
Kasey Kiker of Russell County High (Seale, Ala.) has arguably the best raw arm strength among prep lefthanders. He regularly hits 95-96 mph for the defending national high school champions.
Yet Drabek and Kiker may not go as high as their talent alone would warrant. Scouts have expressed worries about their makeup, both on and off the diamond.
"(Drabek) will still go in the first round . . . but you better do your homework on him. Kasey Kiker, too," a second AL scouting director said. "On the mound, they're both top 10 picks. But with all the other stuff, it's hard to pick those guys."
Stillwater (Okla.) High lefthander Brett Anderson presents a different puzzle. The son of Frank Anderson, a noted pitching coach at Texas before becoming head coach at Oklahoma State, Brett is extremely polished. One NL scouting director called him a high school pitcher with college-level polish and said, "It's obvious he's been well-schooled by his dad." He has a low-90s fastball that rates as his third-best pitch at times, behind his curveball and changeup.
The only thing that doesn't fit is his lack of athleticism. Anderson's 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame is a little soft, and he has trouble fielding bunts and covering first base. That probably won't keep him from being the second high school lefty drafted.
"He's not athletic, but he has great command for his age," the first AL scouting director said. "I can't think of any lefthanded high school pitcher in the last five or six years with command like he's got. He has a special feel for throwing strikes."
Other prep arms who figure to go in the first round are Fountain Valley (Calif.) High righty Chris Tillman, who's very projectable at 6-foot-7 and 185 pounds; Halifax County High (South Boston, Va.) righty Jeremy Jeffress, who has shown a mid-90s fastball; and Mansfield (Texas) High righty Jordan Walden.
Walden, who ranked No. 1 on Baseball America's preseason high school prospects list, has been inconsistent with his top-end velocity (high 90s on his best days) and command this spring. Two righthanders from Florida, Colton Willems (John Carroll Catholic High, Fort Pierce) and Matt Latos (Coconut Creek High), also could pitch their way into the first round.Few Hitters Stick Out
As for position players, there aren't many high schoolers who stand out as lock first-round talents. There could be more prep hitters than college hitters taken in the first round, but neither group inspires scouts.
Monsignor Pace High (Opa Locka, Fla.) third baseman Chris Marrero remains the consensus best high school position player. He has a strong 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame that generates plus power, above-average arm strength and the ability to remain at the hot corner as a pro.
But Marrero hasn't dominated as hoped and hasn't even been the best player on his team. Pace shortstop Adrian Cardenas is chasing the state home run record and has played his way into the second or third round, projecting as an offensive-minded second baseman (see story, page 43).
"Marrero definitely hasn't helped himself at this point," one NL scouting director said, "but you're hoping he can show you he can use those tools. He's got to remain up there decent and he's going to have a chance to be a high pick, just because there are not a ton of high school hitters out there. At some point, you have to make the determination if he's going to be able to use the tools he's got and if he's going to be an everyday player, and the jury is still out on that."
Huntington Beach (Calif.) High's Hank Conger could be the first catcher, high school or college, drafted in June. He's a switch-hitter who can launch balls from either side, and he also has arm strength. He has improved defensively, though there are long-term questions about his ability to stay behind the plate.
Chino Hills (Calif.) High first baseman/outfielder Chris Parmelee and Jackson High (Mill Creek, Wash.) outfielder Travis Snider are regarded as the top two prep hitters, though they aren't as well-rounded and play less premium positions than Marrero and Conger. They should be joined in the first round by Winter Park (Fla.) High shortstop Stephen King, who has drawn Scott Rolen comparisons as his stock has soared this spring. Some scouts also believe King could remain at shortstop despite his large 6-foot-3, 193-pound frame.
Other hitters who could go in the first round include Bishop Moore High (Orlando) catcher Max Sapp, who's more notable for his bat than his defense; Bishop Eustace Prep (Pennsauken, N.J.) shortstop Bill Rowell, who like King projects to move to third base; and Wren High (Piedmont, S.C.) outfielder Jason Place, who's one of the more toolsy players available but isn't considered a sure thing as a hitter.DRAFT DISH
• The Royals continue to mull what to do at No. 1 overall, and scouting directors around the industry say the club is considering choices such as righthanders Brad Lincoln
(Houston) and Tim Lincecum
(Washington). The Royals have had large groups of scouts in to see both pitchers recently, sending special assistant Guy Hansen
, the organization's pitching guru, in to see both players. One scouting director said the Royals will be less hesitant to draft short righthanders (both Lincoln and Lincecum stand around 6 feet tall) than other organizations might be due to the track record of organization veterans Art Stewart
, a senior advisor to general manager Allard Baird, and Brian Murphy
, assistant to the GM. "Art Stewart's been there for years, and Brian Murphy was the scout when they signed Tom Gordon
," the scouting director said. "And Art was around when they drafted Bret Saberhagen
and David Cone
(both listed at 6-foot-1)."
• Texas outfielder Drew Stubbs
entered 2006 as the draft's top-rated position player, but several scouting directors have worried about his ability to hit major league pitching. Stubbs finally has started to generate some positive momentum, going 17-for-41 (.415) with three doubles and four homers in his first nine games in April, and still could go very high in a draft short on hitters. He's now batting .333/.440/.614 with nine homers and 15 steals in 40 games--albeit with 42 strikeouts.
• Bothered by shoulder tendinitis, Missouri righthander Max Scherzer
had missed three straight starts after making two abbreviated outings. The Tigers hoped to have him back before the end of April. Scherzer, a first-round talent who missed an early-season start after slamming his finger in a door, has worked just 34 innings this spring, going 3-1, 2.67 with 36 strikeouts.
• Righthander Brandon Holden
of Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., had made progress with his stuff, velocity and feel for pitching this spring, but missed the cut on the midseason top 50 due to arm trouble. "Holden hasn't pitched (since March 28)," Douglas coach Dean Florio
said. "He had a sore triceps muscle, and we had to take him out of (a start). He had an MRI and nothing was torn or anything." Florio said Holden, who was 5-0, 1.00 with 66 strikeouts and nine walks in six outings spanning 28 innings this season, had resumed throwing and he hoped to have him back for the postseason in late April.Contributing: John Manuel, Alan Matthews.