|EDITOR'S NOTE: Each issue between now and our
Draft Preview, Baseball America will look at the top draft prospects at
each position as part of our in-season draft coverage.|
|The 2006 class has average middle-infield talent, with no superstar in the Stephen Drew (2004) or Justin Upton (2005) mold. However, it does have a breakout talent in Long Beach State's Evan Longoria, who was the Cape Cod League's top hitter last summer and off to a strong start in 2006. Longoria plays third for the Dirtbags but projects better as a second baseman and could get a shot at shortstop in pro ball. He acquitted himself well there last spring for Long Beach State when Troy Tulowitzki, who went on to be the No. 7 overall pick, was injured. Most of these players lack the tools to be true big league shortstops, though, unlike players such as Upton, Tulowitzki and Cliff Pennington in 2005.|
|Ryan Adams, projected by most scouts as a second baseman, leads the high school class with his polished hitting approach. Suburban Houston's Kyle Drabek might be the best shortstop in the prep class with his arm strength and power potential, but his stuff (and pitching pedigree) make him an even better prospect on the mound.|
The 6-footer, whose listed weight is 165 pounds, is too small. His delivery, likened by some to a pinwheel, requires too much effort. His control--he walked 153 in his first 217 collegiate innings--is too scattershot.
Knutson ain't buying it.
"I get to see a lot of (Mariners righthander) Felix Hernandez," Knutson said from the Huskies' Seattle campus, "and his stuff looks like Tim's stuff . . . Tim's strong and athletic, even though he's 5-foot-11 or 6-feet tall, and 165 pounds at most, and Felix is 6-foot-4, 220 or so.
"He's got Felix' stuff and delivery and a Pedro (Martinez) body."
If scouts shared Knutson's enthusiasm for Lincecum, there's no way the Huskies righthander would be on campus as a junior. A draft-eligible sophomore last year, Lincecum slipped to the 42nd round, where the Indians took a late-round flier. His price tag dropped over the course of the summer but remained a reported seven figures, far more than the Indians were willing to spend. Instead, he went to the Cape Cod League, struck out 68 in 39 innings and allowed just 14 hits while posting a league-best 0.69 ERA.
And scouts who have seen him this spring say Lincecum actually is better than the '05 model, though he regressed a bit in a recent start, a loss to San Diego in which he gave up seven runs (three earned) in five innings. The Huskies' career strikeouts leader (he passed 1999 Mariners first-round pick Jeff Heaverlo earlier this season) has shown both improved fastball velocity and command during his 3-1, 3.72 start, which includes 49 whiffs and 18 walks in 29 innings.
"I call him 'Plastic Man' because of his delivery and his arm, it just bounces back so well," a scout with an American League club said. "He's like Roy Oswalt in some ways. His fastball against Arkansas--on three days' rest--was 91-96 mph, sitting 93-94. He's been up to 97 and 98 at times this year. He's been really good, and he holds his stuff deep into games.
"His curveball's been more inconsistent but it's still a plus-plus pitch sometimes. What's different is, his changeup is better this year--it's average when I've seen it. And when he throws 91-92 with his fastball, he does it easy and repeats it. He spins off his front foot and has some recoil, a lot more effort, when he dials it up (to the high 90s)."
Lincecum's delivery, Knutson said, focuses his attention on his abdomen and his legs-his arm is "along for the ride." So his ace, who doesn't use ice after starts, can come back on short rest, as he did on the Huskies' trip to Hawaii, when he threw 128 pitches against Arkansas on just three days' rest. His resiliency is one reason most scouts are projecting him as a reliever down the line, but the development of his changeup this year could affect those projections.
Kiker Shines In Showdown
One of the most anticipated high school matchups of the season unfolded with more than 20 scouts in attendance on a cool, cloudy day in Florida's Panhandle. Russell County (Ala.) senior lefthander Kasey Kiker, a second-team preseason All-American, got the start against Mosley (Fla.) High and pitched well, despite surrendering three runs in Mosley's win. He touched 97 mph and sat between 93-94 mph.
Mosley senior slugger Cody Johnson, a first-team All-American outfielder, hit a two-run home run after Kiker was out of the game, but struggled facing a top lefty like Kiker.
"There's a reason we shouldn't go see good lefthanded high school hitters against good lefthanded pitchers," a scouting director with an American League organization said. "Kiker had (Johnson) totally overmatched. He swung at a curveball that must have bounced in the grass in front of home plate.
"There are a lot of good-looking high school lefties out there, and I think (Kiker) is in the mix."
An area scout wasn't quite as impressed with Kiker, though. "We're picking apart a guy who is an excellent pitcher, but sometimes he has a tendency to pitch too much and that's what he did a little bit against Mosley," the scout said. "His fastball now is plus, his changeup in the past has been strong-average to plus . . . and he has a tendency to guide the ball."
Meanwhile, Johnson's plus-plus raw power and upside haven't convinced at least one scout that he's going to fall in the first round this June, as some scouts predicted before the season.
"There is a little bit too much hype on Cody Johnson right now," the scout said. "He can't get to anything above his belt that is mid-80s and up. There is kind of a hitch in his swing. The raw power is special, but he has a long way to go with the swing."
• Royals officials told the Kansas City Star that the organization, which drafts No. 1 overall for the first time ever, has zeroed in on four pitchers at the top of the draft board: North Carolina pitchers Daniel Bard and Andrew Miller, Southern California righthander Ian Kennedy and Missouri righty Max Scherzer. "I think everybody is pretty aware as to who the better pitchers are," scouting director Deric Ladnier said. "Now it's just a matter of who do we want? At this point, there is no definite-definite guy."
• Righthander Colton Willems, one of the top arms in the prep class of '06, racked up 29 strikeouts in his first 12 innings without allowing a hit. The senior from John Carroll High (Fort Pierce, Fla.) combined on a no-hitter in his debut, striking out 14 in 6 1/3 innings before leaving because of a 70-pitch count. "He's got a really good arm and a heavy, heavy fastball," a Florida area scout said. "He's also shown a feel for a change. The day I saw him, there were 20 (scouts) in to see him, and his fastball was anywhere from 91-96 with heavy sink. I wouldn't be shocked if he's moved up into the bottom of the first round."
• While the third baseman for the top-ranked high school team in the nation, Monsignor Pace's Chris Marrero, entered the spring as the top-ranked position player in the high school class, shortstop Adrian Cardenas had taken advantage of the attention Marrero was getting with a strong start this spring. Cardenas hits in front of Marrero and had 29 hits in his first 37 at-bats with eight home runs and nine doubles. Marrero, meanwhile, missed more than a week in March when he tweaked his right hamstring during a double-steal in a game at Key West High. (He missed significant time last summer with a similar injury.) While Marrero wasn't slipping in the draft, according to a pair of scouts who had seen him, he wasn't cementing his top-prospect status either. "He's just not dominating this level, and you'd like to think the top guy would dominate," a scout with an American League organization said. "He's not Justin Upton and he's not Cameron Maybin, and those were the top guys last year. If Marrero is the top guy this year, then it's definitely a pitcher's draft."
• Cal State Northridge righthander Craig Baker had cooled off a bit, losing a start at Oklahoma State to fall to 3-2, 3.51, but the 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior had established himself as a solid first-five-rounds selection with his good start, which included 8 1/3 shutout innings against UC Riverside. Baker ran his fastball up to 95 mph in that start, according to one scout, and sat at 93 with a solid-average curveball that was above-average at times.