'07 Pitching Selection Requires Close Inspection




2007 MLB Draft Many organizations consider college righthanders one of the safest commodities in the draft. It's a position clubs have a wealth of history to analyze, and a righty who offers at least average size with a combination of average stuff and command is almost sure to go off the board in the first five rounds.

The 2006 draft, panned early and often by many scouts, had one significant strength--college righthanders. Scouts could take their pick of power pitchers such as North Carolina's Daniel Bard, Washington's Tim Lincecum, California's Brandon Morrow and Missouri's Max Scherzer, who topped out with fastballs in the upper 90s, or Houston's Brad Lincoln and his mid-90s heater and power curve, or command pitchers with projectable frames such as Southern California's Ian Kennedy, Stanford's Greg Reynolds and Missouri State's Brett Sinkbeil. Throw in indy leaguer (and former collegian) Luke Hochevar, and the draft had depth of power righties, that stretched well into the second round with the likes of San Diego State's Justin Masterson and Long Beach State's Drew Carpenter.

TOP 10 RIGHTHANDED STARTERS
The draft class of 2007 has plenty of variety, but it's not the best year to find a righthanded starter. Still, it's easy to imagine all 10 of the pitchers below going in the first 65 picks--the end of the supplemental first round if the Diamondbacks fail to sign 2006 first rounder Max Scherzer.
RankPlayer, SchoolDraft Projection
1Andrew Brackman, N.C. State
First round
2Rick Porcello, Seton Hall Prep, W. Orange, N.J.
First
3Matt Harvey, Fitch HS, Groton, Conn.
First
4Michael Main, Deland (Fla.) HS
First
5Neil Ramirez, Kempsville (Va.) HS.
First
6Jake Arrieta, Texas Christian
First
7Blake Beavan, Irving (Texas) HS
First/Supp.
8Wes Roemer, Cal State Fullerton
First/Supp.
9James Simmons, UC Riverside
First/Supp.
10Bryan Augenstien, Florida
First/Supp.
Such is not the case among the college class of 2007, however. Only North Carolina State's Andrew Brackman has shown velocity similar to the Bard-Lincecum-Morrow- Scherzer quartet on a consistent basis, and while Brackman was off to a strong start (3-0, 2.01, 24 strikeouts in 22 innings), he's one of the nation's most unique pitchers at a listed 6-foot-10, 230 pounds. His basketball background has kept him from reaching 100 career college innings here a quarter of the way into his junior season.

And the only other college righthanded starters among BA's three preseason All-America teams, voted on by major league scouting directors, were two first-teamers--Texas Christian's Jake Arrieta and Cal State Fullerton's Wes Roemer--and two third-teamers, Florida's Brian Augenstein and UC Riverside's James Simmons.

In other words, while the draft class as a whole has promise, one of the trendiest categories of prospects--the college righthander pool--is shallow by usual standards. Things are wide open for players who weren't consensus early-round choices entering the season to jump up draft boards. Teams still are going to want to draft college righthanders; the question is, who will step forward to fill the void.

Augenstein was making a bid in early March to do just that, as he ran his fastball up to 92 mph in the ninth inning of an 11-strikeouts effort against George Washington. Gators pitching coach Ross Jones said the greatest improvement for Augenstein, who pitches primarily off a high-80s heavy sinking fastball, was the addition of a mid-70s changeup to help combat lefthanded hitters. He's also added some power to his low-80s slider, giving him a chance to have three solid-average pitches down the line.

The West Coast offers several candidates, such as the aforementioned Roemer and Simmons. They're comparable in size, though Simmons is three inches taller at a listed 6-foot-3. Simmons' early season performance also has been better, and after his dominating effort in the Cape Cod League last summer (5-1, 1.18, 44-5 K-BB ratio for Cotuit), he's primed to go in the first round this spring.

Simmons made waves with a complete-game, four-hit, 15-strikeout shutout of San Francisco in a touted matchup with Dons lefty Aaron Poreda. However, Simmons threw 139 pitches in that game and threw a complete game with nine more whiffs against San Diego State in his next outing. He didn’t fare nearly as well after those two starts, giving up nine hits and seven runs in five innings in a loss at Oklahoma. Through five starts, Simmons was 4-1, 2.38 with 38 strikeouts and six walks in 34 innings.

"He's been good out here, there's no doubt," said an area scout based in Southern California who did not see Simmons against the Sooners. "His velocity's been good, fastball sitting 88-91 (mph) and he's touched some 93s. He's a four-pitch guy with command, more back-of-the-rotation than a frontline guy. His slider's pretty good sometimes, but his curve's a show-me pitch right now. With experience in pro ball, it could get better, so he's got some improvement to make."

Stanford's Nolan Gallagher, Loyola Marymount's Brad Meyers and Pepperdine's Barry Enright are three other examples of West Coast righties who could move up draft boards. Enright has slightly less stuff and command than Simmons, and the junior wasn't at his best when the Waves visited East Carolina for the annual Keith LeClair tournament. His fastball sat at 87-90 mph, and he didn't have his usual command of his slider, curve and changeup. Still, he'd improved his stock with a 4-1, 1.46 start, with just four walks (and just 18 strikeouts) in 37 innings.

Meyers, an unsigned 14th-rounder out of high school in 2004, has more upside, having shown consistent low-90s velocity in the past (as recently as fall practice), but the 6-foot-6 righty--off to a 2-2, 3.09 start with a 28-7 K-BB ratio in 35 innings--was sitting in the 86-88 mph range with his fastball early this season for the Lions, according to one scout. Gallagher had lost his Friday job already at Stanford and was struggling with fastball command, according to coach Mark Marquess.

"He’s a little tentative with the fastball, and a lot of times when your command isn’t good, you take a little bit off of it," Marquess said. "He’s just not really throwing well. He’ll do it in spurts, but when you’re starting, you can’t have just one or two good innings. We think he’ll get it back; he’s a real hard worker, real dedicated.”

Bumgarner Shines In 'Oscar Game'

HICKORY, N.C.--The stars come out in February at Oscar time. Baseball's equivalent--well, the Baseball America equivalent--is a game, hopefully in February, pitting more than one prospect where scouts come out in full force. The dusty bleachers behind home plate at a high school field turn into a red carpet of recognizable faces--many who flew in that day from other parts of the country--of area scouts, crosscheckers and scouting directors.

Such occasions have been dubbed "Oscar games," because it gives scouts a rare chance during the spring to see a prospect duel with another player with similar-caliber skills, and such a night took place in western North Carolina on Feb. 28. More than 30 scouts descended on the chain-link-fenced field at St. Stephen's High, on hand to see one of the best matchups the state can offer, and the two high school pitchers who have committed to play collegiately at North Carolina provided an intriguing contrast for the first game of the season between South Caldwell and St. Stephens.

While South Caldwell ace lefthander Madison Bumgarner was the main reason scouts came out in such force, with crosscheckers and even a scouting director in evidence, St. Stephens righty Patrick Johnson also put on a show. Bumgarner, a physical 6-foot-4 southpaw who has drawn comparisons to Chuck Finley and John Smiley, didn't disappoint. His fastball sat in the 90-93 mph range for much of the evening and topped out at 94, and he used his big frame to give the pitch good downhill plane and favorable angle.

While his slurvy slider isn't an average pitch at present, it has potential.

"From that arm angle (slightly below three-quarters), he's going to have a sweepy slider, but it can work for him with that fastball," said one scout on hand. "It's kind of like Randy Johnson, though obviously he's not as good. If he commands his slider it will be effective even if it doesn't have two-plane break.

"He's got plenty of athleticism and plenty of fastball."

Bumgarner showed his athletic ability both at the plate, where he batted righthanded and looked the part with a decent swing, and by fielding his position well. He worked quickly and handled several groundballs to his left, to his right and tappers in front of him. He picked off three runners at first base for good measure.

Johnson's time to shine came in the bottom of the seventh inning. Having been pulled after five innings on the mound (where he topped out near 90 mph and showed a solid breaking ball), the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Johnson had the night's best swing against Bumgarner when he hit an opposite-field homer to tie the game at 1, forcing extra innings. South Caldwell won it in the 11th, though not before scouts got a long look at its junior righty Jimmy Messer, whose low-90s fastball and tight breaking ball kept some straggling scouts around even after Bumgarner had been lifted.

"Johnson's a bulldog," said another scout, "a nice little pitcher, but he's probably going to have to go to (college)."

If he has more showings like his opening-night performance, Bumgarner is unlikely to join him, and more likely to be drafted in the first round in June.

Bascom's Curious Case

Tim Bascom doesn't appear on Baseball America's list of the Top 50 seniors for the 2007 draft, because he's not playing college baseball as a senior.

He is taking 15 credit hours at Central Florida this semester, though, and he is hoping that when he starts pitching every weekend, as he was scheduled to do, scouts will be watching.

Bascom didn't anticipate his situation, and it is hard to remember a similar one. Drafted last June, Bascom never officially signed, due to a medical condition, and sought to return to school as a senior. However, Central Florida declared him ineligible due to contact with an agent, and a university spokesman called the case a "cut and dried situation."

So while Bascom and his family mull litigation over the diagnosis of his right knee--eventually, he had surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus damage--he goes about repairing his baseball career.

The 22-year-old started to work out for scouts starting in late February and early March, throwing prior to a pair of junior college game at St. Petersburg CC. Bascom has worked out this offseason and thrown bullpens. If he's healthy and throws well this spring, he apparently will join an independent league team--most likely the Bradenton entry in the new South Coast League, for its geographic convenience--for three or four starts against live competition prior to the 2007 draft.

Two talent evaluators who had seen Bascom said he looked healthy in his early work but was not yet as crisp as his 2005 form. He'd topped out in the upper 80s with his fastball--one said he may have "scratched 90"--but both said his velocity was almost immaterial at this point.

"This is his spring training," one said. "He needs to gear up to pitch against real hitters. No one's going to draft a college senior off some bullpens."

Bascom would just like to start having a typical career again. In three seasons with the Golden Knights--two as staff ace--Bascom posted career 19-11, 3.10 numbers, and the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder boasted an impressive 225-71 strikeout-walk ratio in 221 career innings. His fastball had reached 94 mph at times as a sophomore, but a right knee problem had kept him from throwing as hard as a junior.

Scouts knew he was banged up--the Dunedin (Fla.) High grad's father John had even supplied the Major League Scouting Bureau with medical records on his knee injury. Still, Bascom battled to a 2.48 ERA in 2006 (for the record, 48th-best in Division I), struck out 90 in 80 innings and allowed just 62 hits for a below-par Central Florida team that finished 23-33.

Bascom's fastball topped out in the 91-92 mph range and sat in the upper 80s. A consensus single-digit draft pick, the Padres took him in the sixth round, flew him to Boise (for a physical) to join their Eugene club in the short-season Northwest League, and negotiated a contract with him, but when Bascom's knee didn't pass muster with them, the club backed away.

Bascom returned to school but wasn't allowed to play for the program again after the school ruled his contact with agent David Sloan, acting as his adviser, violated NCAA rules. UCF coach Jay Bergman referred calls to the university's sports information office, and director Joe Hornstein said that while the school wishes Bascom the best and thanks him for his play there, the decision was not a difficult one.

"He had representation when dealing with the Padres," Hornstein said. "At that point, he's not eligible by NCAA rules . . . At the end of the day, his case was reviewed by the athletic department and (the baseball) program, and unfortunately they came to the same conclusion."

John Bascom has different ideas about his son's eligibility, his inability to transfer to any NAIA schools for his final semester and the quality of his son's medical treatment, but right now, what's more important to him is getting Tim back on a mound, back throwing in front of scouts.

Major League Baseball has confirmed in an e-mail exchange with the elder Bascom that Tim is eligible for the 2007 draft. The most high-profile case in recent memory that was similar involved North Carolina outfielder Tyrell Godwin, who failed a physical with the Rangers in 2000, then sat out his senior season at North Carolina to rehabilitate his own knee injury before signing with the Blue Jays in 2001 after they drafted him in the third round.

Godwin eventually reached the major leagues, albeit for three hitless at-bats in 2005 with the Nationals. Bascom's father just wants his son to get a similar chance at playing professional baseball.

"Our family is full of baseball guys, back to the 19th century," Bascom said. "Tim's had to be on kind of a roller coaster ride lately, but things are settling down now  . . . He's just trying to play baseball again."

DRAFT DOPE

• High Point junior righthander Eammon Portice didn't pass his first big test of the season, giving up nine runs (seven earned) in 41⁄3 innings in a loss to Clemson. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder had one of the more intriguing arms in the Cape Cod League last summer and was a 17th-round pick of the Twins in 2004 out of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) High. He was 0-5, 6.30 in the Cape for Bourne but had 45 strikeouts and just nine walks in 30 innings. This spring through three starts, he was doing similar work, off to an 0-2, 7.63 start with 19 strikeouts and five walks in 15 innings. "In his first two starts, Portice was inconsistent," coach Sal Bando Jr. said. "In his first start (against UNC Charlotte) he . . . was sitting at 89-91 mph (with his fastball) and topping out at 94. And his split-finger and curveball were on. In his second start, he got too amped up for the game with South Florida and ended up flat out of the gate--topped out at 89, didn't get ahead and the ball was up. I think you will see over the course of the season more outings like his first than his second."

• Two raw high school talents were leaping up draft boards early in the season. Jonesboro (Ark.) High outfielder Delta Cleary was the consensus choice as Arkansas' top high school talent, and with football and basketball season over, the lanky 6-foot-3, 175-pound three-sport athlete was finally focused on baseball. His lack of a college commitment was seen by scouts and college recruiters as a strong sign of his desire to play pro baseball. One recruiter said his tools remained raw but projected to be average to plus across the board. Showing more present stuff was Mississippi high schooler Wendell Fairley, who drew some comparisons to Indians prospect Tony Sipp because of his athleticism, size and two-way talent. Like Sipp, Fairley has a solid-average fastball (88-92 mph) and good downer curveball, which he displayed in front of around 50 scouts in a mid-February game for George County High in Lucedale, Miss. But unlike Sipp, Fairley pitches righthanded, so scouts may be more tempted by his lefthanded bat. While his hit tool requires a lot of projection, he has one of the prep class' better combinations of above-average speed and raw power. Fairley has committed to Southern Mississippi for baseball.

• More than 40 scouts and hundreds of fans packed the stands on a Friday night in March to take in another showdown game between two of Tampa's top preps. Righthander Nevin Griffith (Middleton High) has been one of the Sunshine State's biggest movers this spring, thanks to his loose, easy arm action, and he punctuated his strong start with a complete-game victory against Hillsborough High, and one of the class' most powerful hitters in right fielder Mike Burgess. Griffith surrendered a fisted, opposite-field single to Burgess, but also retired him on strikes, thanks to a hard slider and fastball that was up to 94 mph.

• Missouri State produced a first-rounder in Brett Sinkbeil (Marlins, 19th overall) last year, but lanky lefthander Ross Detwiler has a chance to go even higher this season. The 6-foot-4, 175-pounder has one of the best combinations of present stuff and projection in the '07 draft class, and he'd gotten off to a strong start. After sitting in the 92-94 mph range with his fastball in a dominating 13-strikeouts effort against Dallas Baptist, Detwiler "struggled" in his second outing against Middle Tennessee State. His fastball sat in the 90-92 range and just touched 94, and his command of his slurvy, power curveball was inconsistent while his change lagged behind. Without his best stuff, he tossed seven scoreless frames, gave up just two hits and fanned seven. "I think he has first-round stuff," one talent evaluator said. "The arm works, and he is so thin that I think as he gains weight he can become even better. (Missouri State pitching coach) Paul Evans has done a great job with him."

Contributing: Alan Matthews.