Stubbs' Potential Divides Scouts
Even after Drew Stubbs spent three years in the high-profile Texas program, scouts still aren't sure what to do with him on draft day
Drew Stubbs has the best combination of tools and athleticism among position players in his draft class. His power, arm, speed and defense all are enticing, though he's still raw as a hitter.
That scouting report comes from 2003, when Stubbs was playing for Atlanta (Texas) High, a small 3-A school, and hadn't faced major competition in showcase events because of his exploits in football, basketball and track.
The Astros drafted him in the third round that year, and the two sides reached an agreement on a $900,000 bonus before the commissioner's office asked Houston owner Drayton McLane not to exceed the recommended bonus amount for that draft slot, which was about $420,000.
While many teams ignore such requests, the Astros heeded this one, so Stubbs followed through on his commitment to attend Texas. Three years later, he has earned All-America honors, won a College World Series and played against top competition in the Big 12 Conference and as a member of Team USA. That experience combined with better coaching and more practice was supposed to have smoothed out Stubbs' rough edges.
But the 6-foot-4, 201-pound athlete's scouting report still reads the same. Talent evaluators still love his Gold Glove-caliber defense, immense raw power and blazing speed, and still question his ability to do one of the most fundamental tasks in the game: make consistent contact with the baseball.
"Some of my guys love him, but I don't think he can hit," one scouting director says. "On 29 of the 30 teams, I bet he's compared to Rocco Baldelli, because there's no one else like that. All the other four tools are fine or better if you give him usable power."
In a draft considered lacking premium players atop the first round, the scouting community has dissected and nit-picked every player's flaws. And not even the chronically injured, the one-year wonders or the bad makeup players have engendered as much discussion as Stubbs.
"I wish I could say more, but that guy has got a lot of debates about him, and I just can't get into that," one area scout says. "The truth is in the eye of the beholder. I've covered this kid since high school, and it's all going to come to a head this year."Body Of Evidence
Stubbs will become a first-round pick and do better than the money he never collected from the Astros. Some team will find his athletic gifts too much to pass on, but it's hard to discern exactly which club that might be.
People on both sides of the Stubbs debate can find ample evidence to support their cases. Stubbs ranked among the top five in the Big 12 in runs, home runs and total bases. He led the conference in steals and highlight-caliber defensive plays.
He also led the Big 12 in strikeouts and has become Texas' career leader in that category. Stubbs struck out 75 times in 71 games as a freshman and 71 times in 72 games as a sophomore, and he had 53 strikeouts in 58 games so far as a junior. That's consistency, but not the kind a scouting director wants to invest seven figures in.
Even if Stubbs maintains that strikeout rate, his skill set compares with that of Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter or Preston Wilson--all of whom have earned all-star berths by flashing power, speed and strong defense to go with triple-digit strikeout figures.
Scouting directors who question Stubbs' ability to make contact concede that his defensive abilities could make him a top 10 center fielder in the major leagues if he were to step onto the field today. Even Long Beach State's Evan Longoria, who's battling Stubbs to become the first college position player drafted, rates as an average defensive player at shortstop or second base.
"When you line up the middle of the diamond guys in the country--the guys who can stay in the middle infield and center field--there's nobody else," the scouting director says. "If you move Longoria off the position, who else stays in the middle of the field? Stubbs stands out in that aspect. Anyone who has seen him play defense loves him, and you've got to give that credence."
"It's remarkable," Texas coach Augie Garrido says. "You don't realize it as a coach at the time, because you've got a lot more things on your mind. But when I put together the highlight film from last year and saw how many things he did, you say, 'Oh, man, that's awesome.' "
Stubbs has improved his defensive play since getting to college. His physical gifts allowed him to simply run down balls all over the field in high school. He still does that, but he also has learned nuances.
"Drew didn't know much about playing baseball (in high school), other than to hit it and to catch it," Texas associate head coach Tommy Harmon says. "He didn't know anything about taking angles and what place to throw the ball to. He didn't know a lot of things that a lot of these guys have when they play year-round in a big city.
"He's been great defensively. He makes great plays people don't notice, like keeping a guy from going to second on a base hit in a one-run game." Brighter Outlook
While the strikeouts have remained consistent, Stubbs has improved his results when making contract over his three seasons. He's gone from .301/.395/.465 and .306/.384/.527 his first two years to .356/.455/.609 as a junior.
"I think a big part is the experience factor," Stubbs says. "This being my third year in college, I've been able to see what's worked for me and what hasn't worked."
Stubbs' biggest change didn't come by adjusting his swing or his approach at the plate, but in his mental outlook.
"It not about the swing, it's about mentality," Garrido says. "The swing is about a confidence level. Now, when he strikes out, he doesn't let it bring the doubt to his performance that it did in the past."
"My freshman year, I was dragging previous at-bats into the current one," Stubbs said. "I wasn't always able to let bad at-bats go. It would linger in my mind if I struck out. I'd try not to try to strike out rather than get a hit."
Harmon points to Texas' series against Oklahoma State as a turning point in Stubbs' season this year. He was batting .365 (38-for-104) since then, with eight of his 11 home runs and 17 of his 27 extra-base hits. He still struck out 25 times in those 25 games, but Harmon said more of the strikeouts have come on good pitches that Stubbs has swung through rather than bad ones he's chased.
"He's having a lot more fun now, you can see it in his eyes," Harmon says. "He has a lot more confidence, he has the knowledge of how to do things. He can make adjustments and knows why this works. I said, 'Drew you're a very intelligent guy, don't take the pitch on the outside, just hit it to right field. I don't have a magic wand, it's just using your noggin.' He's gaining confidence."
Now it's going to be up to some team to show the confidence to draft Stubbs and believe he's going to deliver on the potential and tools scouts have been dreaming about for years. One scouting director said the decision offers two possibilities, both of which frightened him: He'd be scared to draft Stubbs too high because of what Stubbs can't do, but he'd also be scared to pass on him because of what he can do and might do down the road.