Rare Convergence Leads To Busy Weekend For N.C. Scouts
DURHAM, N.C.--The life of a major league scouting director is never boring, but check in with one 75 days before the draft, when t
TOP FIVE THIRD BASEMEN
Elite college third basemen regularly have turned into big league sluggers in the last decade--think Troy Glaus (1997 draft), Pat Burrell (1998) and Mark Teixeira (2001)--and three such players were chosen among the first five picks last year. There's no Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman or Ryan Braun in this year's class, but the Atlantic Coast Conference has two hitters who should be drafted early. Georgia Tech's Wes Hodges has impressed scouts with his knack for making consistent, hard contact since high school, while Wake Forest's athletic Matt Antonelli was building on a solid Cape Cod League performance with seven early home runs.
In a draft lacking in power, Chris Marrero entered the season as the top-rated prep hitting prospect because of his future power potential. While Marrero has yet to dominate his competition, he has helped lead his school to a No. 2 national high school ranking. The high school class also offers a solid bat in New Jersey's Billy Rowell, who has power from the left side.
|1.||Chris Marrero||Monsignor Pace HS|
Opa Locka, Fla.
|2.||Wes Hodges||Georgia Tech||First round|
|3.||Matt Antonelli||Wake Forest||Second round|
|4.||Billy Rowell||Bishop Eustace Prep|
|5.||Chris Coghlan||Mississippi||Fourth round|
hings are really spinning, and there's no telling what state he'll be in--that's state of mind or of the country.
At least a dozen of the most significant talent evaluators in baseball tried to clear their minds and schedules for the third weekend in March, when all three of the Atlantic Coast Conference schools in North Carolina's Research Triangle played host to conference opponents.
Rarely do scouts get to catch six college clubs within 22 miles of each other on the same day, but that's exactly what happened on a blustery, sunny Saturday when most of Tobacco Road was immersed in college basketball. It meant plenty of shuttling between the campuses of Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State.
"Maybe in Southern California you could do this, but there you have to deal with the traffic. There really aren't that many chances to pull this type of thing off," a National League scouting director said as he settled in for his third game of the day.
Miami was at Duke, where Hurricanes junior center fielder Jon Jay was taking his hacks during batting practice. The scout flipped through the index cards of players he had evaluated that afternoon, counting each one. "I've already written up 11 guys today," he said. "And the third game hasn't even started."
After watching a Friday night showdown between Georgia and Auburn in Athens, Ga., the scout caught a flight to Raleigh-Durham and made it to his hotel room shortly after 1 a.m.
Saturday's first order of business was batting practice in Raleigh, where N.C. State juniors Aaron Bates and Jon Still showed their wares. Both players figure to go on the first day of the draft, but with Georgia Tech in town the best draft-eligible player on the field was Yellow Jackets third baseman Wes Hodges.
Following batting practice, a handful of scouts zipped west on Interstate 40 to Chapel Hill, where lefthander Andrew Miller prepared for his start against Maryland. North Carolina's junior duo of Miller and righthander Daniel Bard were the weekend's main attractions. Both should be first-round draft picks in June, though neither performed well against the Terrapins.
A day after Bard was lit up for a career-worst 10 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings in a Friday afternoon outing, Miller was touched for five earned runs off nine hits in five innings, departing in time for some scouts to skip back over to Raleigh to catch the end of the State-Tech game.
"The pitchers from North Carolina obviously did not take advantage of (the chance to pitch in front of numerous scouting directors)," a scout said. "It had to be a disappointment, especially for the teams that were picking high in the draft who were in there.
"But it's another look. That was probably the biggest thing for us, even though we didn't get to see them all good, just getting as many looks as you can."
The Saturday game in Raleigh was a wild, 12-11 extra-inning affair. Bates went 4-for-6 with a home run and Still capped a three-run rally in the 10th inning with the game-winning base hit for the Wolfpack. Hodges collected three hits as well, and maintained his status as one of the top 10 players in this year's pedestrian crop of hitters.
"Hodges is just a hit collector," an American League scouting director said. "You don't always like how it works--some days he's got better bat speed than others--but you look up and he's got two or three hits, and he's done that a lot for me."
The crowd of scouts wasn't as deep at Duke for the nightcap of the tripleheader, but after swinging by Taco Bell the NL scouting director was rewarded for sitting through an uneventful game. Hurricanes junior closer Chris Perez checked in for the ninth inning and flashed a 94 mph fastball, though his command was inconsistent. He slammed the door to hold off a late Blue Devils rally in a 4-3 Miami victory, ending a long but productive day on the scouting calendar.
"This weekend was a great opportunity for us, and the players," the AL scouting director said. "It gave us the opportunity to go between three places . . . Unfortunately, we are not put in that type of situation often to see so any quality players in such as small area."Early Action Draws Attention
MARTINSVILLE, Va.--The week leading up to the college scouting cattle call in North Carolina marked the regular season debut for one the Southeast's hardest-throwing high school pitchers.
Jeremy Jeffress, a senior righthander from Halifax County High in Fairfax, Va., was less than a month removed from leading the Comets basketball team in scoring and three-pointers--and it showed.
With more than 30 scouts looking on, including at least eight crosscheckers, Jeffress threw 41 pitches--27 strikes--in three innings with eight strikeouts and a walk. Martinsville High hitters were overmatched, but reviews on Jeffress' performance were mixed.
"It's March, so let's remember that," a scout said. "I've seen him up to 97, 98 miles an hour and I'm not sure how realistic it is to see that today."
"There's going to be some clubs who are going to go after him (in the early rounds of the draft), but I don't think we're one of them," said a crosschecker with an AL organization. "He was 90-91, works up and down in the zone, and there is just not much secondary stuff.
"He's extremely athletic and has off-the-charts arm strength, so you have to scout him, but I'm just not buying into it at this point."DRAFT DOPE
• Notre Dame junior Jeff Samardzija
might have a difficult decision come June. The 6-foot-5 righthander consistently pitched at 90-93 mph and touched the mid-90s in his first 22 innings. His 1-1, 4.09 record and 7-12 strikeout-walk ratio weren't impressive, but Samardzija didn't start throwing off a mound until football season ended in January. His secondary pitches were still progressing, but scouts sold on his athleticism and arm strength said they'd draft him among the first 50 picks if he'd give up football. The problem is Samardzija, a standout wide receiver who caught a school-record 15 touchdown passes as a junior, could play his way into the top 50 of the 2007 NFL draft as well.
• Samardzija's teammate Jeff Manship
is another junior righthander who was drawing interest. Fully healthy for the first time in his college career, Manship was 2-0, 1.44 with a 32-5 strikeout-walk ratio in 25 innings. A high school All-American from San Antonio, Manship was the highest-rated recruit ever to commit to Notre Dame, but missed his freshman year and all but 23 innings last year after having Tommy John surgery in February 2004. Manship's 90-93 mph fastball and plus curveball have returned, and his changeup emerged as a solid third option after he focused on developing it while curbing his breaking ball use over the summer in the Cape Cod League.
• Teams will take power arms anywhere they can find them, so word that 6-foot-3 righthander Brian Omogrosso
had hit the mid-90s had scouts heading to Indiana State for a look. He worked in the low 90s in high school in Beaver Falls, Pa., and struck out 48 batters in 41 innings as a college sophomore in 2004, but missed 2005 following Tommy John surgery. Omogrosso was 2-0, 0.00 with two saves and 15-3 strikeout-walk ratio through 16 innings, allowing seven hits.Contributing: Will Kimmey.