|THIS YEAR'S CROP|
|*****||One for the books|
|***||Solid, not spectacular|
|**||Not up to par|
|*||Nothing to see here|
|National Top 200 Prospects|
|Other Players Of Note|
1. Emmanuel Burriss, ss (National rank: 49)
School: Kent State. Class: Jr.
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
B-T: S-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 174. Birthdate: 1/17/85.
Scouting Report: Burriss stands out for two reasons: his speed (6.3 seconds in the 60-yard dash) and his ability as a middle infielder in a draft short on up-the-middle talent. He opened eyes last summer in the Cape Cod League, where he was the fastest player in the league and shared playoff MVP honors. He led the Cape with 37 steals--19 more than his closest competitor--and 52 hits. Burriss knows his game is built around speed, and he has adapted his hitting approach accordingly. He focuses on working counts and making contact so he can get on base and wreak havoc. His style results in little power, and he had just four extra-base hits in 44 games using wood bats on the Cape. His arm is a little light for shortstop, but some scouts think he has the quickness, hands and instincts to compensate and remain at the position in pro ball. Others believe he's destined for second base with the upside of becoming Luis Castillo. A team that believes in Burriss as a shortstop could pop him in the late first round.
2. Matt Long, rhp (National rank: 63)
School: Miami (Ohio). Class: Sr.
Hometown: Granville, Ohio
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 200. Birthdate: 2/23/84.
Scouting Report: Long was one of Ohio's top high school prospects in 2002, as scouts looked at his long, lean frame and expected his stuff would mature along with his body. After a detour for Tommy John surgery in 2004 and rehabilitating his elbow in 2005, those projections finally have come true this spring. Long's fastball now sits at 92-94 mph and has peaked at 96. His curveball was his best pitch in high school, and he has regained a hard, tight breaking ball. He also has shown the command and durability scouts hoped for. Miami has used him in relief, and he could move quickly if he remains in that role in pro ball. After turning down the Giants as a 34th-round pick last year, Long is now poised to go much higher, perhaps as early as the supplemental first round.
3. Chad Rodgers, lhp (National rank: 96)
School: Walsh Jesuit HS. Class: Sr.
Hometown: Stow, Ohio
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 173. Birthdate: 11/23/87.
Scouting Report: Rodgers moved slightly ahead of Vermillion's Andy Oliver as the top pitching prospect in Ohio thanks to his superior feel for pitching. Rodgers isn't lacking for stuff either, as he has an 87-89 mph sinker and can touch 92 when he uses a four-seam fastball. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup, plus an advanced feel for how to mix pitches and locations to keep hitters off balance. He has drawn comparisons to Indians prospect Jeremy Sowers, the sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft. Sowers' impeccable command grades out better, but Rodgers is more projectable and should wind up with better pure stuff. Rodgers is part of what could be a bumper crop of Kent State recruits, but he'll probably pass up college when he goes in the first five rounds.
4. Andy Oliver, lhp (National rank: 101)
School: Vermillion HS. Class: Sr.
Hometown: Vermillion, Ohio
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Birthdate: 12/3/87.
Scouting Report: Some scouts in prefer Oliver to Chad Rodgers among Ohio high school prospects. Both are 6-foot-3 lefthanders. While Rodgers rated the edge because he has more polish, Oliver has a stronger frame (200 pounds vs. 185) and a better present fastball (91-93 mph at his best vs. 87-89). Oliver has been inconsistent this spring with his velocity and his curveball, and he hasn't had much use for a changeup. Then again, there aren't many high school lefthanders who can pitch in the low 90s. Oliver is considered signable, especially if he's selected in the first five rounds. If he turns down pro ball, he'll attend Oklahoma State and could be a first-round candidate in 2009.
5. Joe Smith, rhp (National rank: 127)
School: Wright State. Class: Jr.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Birthdate: 3/22/84.
Scouting Report: Smith is one of the more improbable success stories in college baseball. He had shoulder surgery as a high school senior in 2002 and couldn't crack the Wright State roster in his first year at college. When he made the team as a walk-on in 2004, he used a high three-quarters arm slot and pitched at 85-87 mph. After Rob Cooper took over as head coach before the 2005 season, new assistant coach Greg Lovelady suggested Smith drop down to a sidearm delivery. That usually adds movement and subtracts velocity, but Smith's fastball now sits at 88-91 mph and reaches 94. He also throws a nasty slider and his changeup has improved this spring as well. Hitters have trouble picking up his pitches, as evidenced by his regular-season 0.75 ERA--which would lead NCAA Division I if he weren't five innings short of qualifying. Smith could move quickly as a pro reliever. Because he's a redshirt junior, he'll become a draft-and-follow if he doesn't sign this summer.
6. Kyle Smith, rhp (National rank: 159)
School: Louisville HS. Class: Sr.
Hometown: Louisville, Ohio
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 190. Birthdate: 9/5/87.
Scouting Report: Ohio has several intriguing, projectable high school prospects this year, perhaps none more than Smith. He's an extremely athletic 6-foot-6, 190-pounder who was a standout wide receiver at Louisville High. He has such good body control that he's able to play a solid shortstop despite his size. Smith's future is definitely on the mound, however. He obviously throws on a steep downhill plane, and he has a loose arm. He throws 85-88 mph with little effort, and it's easy to envision him throwing in the low to mid-90s in a few years. He also has good rotation on a hard breaking ball, as well as the makings of a good changeup. He's committed to Kent State and may not be signable because he has the potential to go much higher in the 2009 draft than he will this year.
7. Keith Weiser, lhp (National rank: 185)
School: Miami (Ohio). Class: Jr.
Hometown: Hamilton, Ohio
B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Birthdate: 9/21/84.
Scouting Report: After going 10-0, 2.73 as a sophomore, Weiser projected to go as high as the second or third round, but an up-and-down junior season has dropped him down a few notches. Matt Long blew by him as Miami of Ohio's top prospect, and Weiser was demoted to the third spot in the Redhawks conference rotation for two weeks. Weiser owns four solid pitches: a fastball that sits at 87-88 mph and tops out at 91-92, a slider that's the closest thing he has to a plus pitch, a curveball and a changeup. He has run into trouble by pitching up in the zone this spring, and at times he has relied too heavily on his breaking pitches. Though he hasn't lived up to expectations, Weiser is still a lefthander who throws strikes with a variety of pitches, and that could get him drafted in the first five rounds.
Plenty More To See In Ohio
The Big 10 Conference player of the year, third baseman Ronnie Bourquin led the league in hitting (.416), hits (91), RBIs (66), total bases (134), on-base percentage (.492) and slugging (.612). He raised his batting average 148 points from a year ago, when a broken left thumb affected his swing. He's a good athlete for a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder, though he needs to keep working on his defense. His power is more evident in batting practice than in game situations. One area scout saw some Dave Hollins in Bourquin, who should be selected in the fourth to eighth round.
The best all-around athlete in the state, outfielder Aaron Opelt may slide through the draft because he's headed to Toledo to play quarterback. He threw for 2,148 yards and 16 touchdowns while rushing for 600 yards last fall. Opelt, who also will play baseball for the Rockets, is a five-tool player on the diamond. He runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash and has a powerful 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame. He obviously has arm strength and is a fine defender in the outfield.
Righthander Mike Eisenberg shared MVP honors at the Division III College World Series after pitching Marietta to the championship. He fanned 23 in 16 innings while winning both of his starts, finishing the year as the D-III leader in wins (13-2, 1.33) and strikeouts (138 in 115 innings). Crosscheckers have been in to see the 6-foot-7, 195-pounder, who has an 88-92 mph fastball, a spike curveball and a decent changeup. His delivery and arm action aren't the smoothest, but he still could go in the eighth to 10th round.
Kent State has put together an impressive recruiting class, and the Golden Flashes have a good chance to keep everyone but Chad Rodgers. In addition to Rodgers and Kyle Smith, four other Kent State recruits show up on our Ohio top prospects list. Righthander Brad Stillings already throws 90-92 mph and has a lot of projection remaining in his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame. His secondary pitches need work. Stillings is also one of the best high school catchers in the state, but the Flashes won't need him behind the plate because they'll have Brandon White. He's a switch-hitter with advanced catch-and-throw skills, but he's undersized for pro ball right now at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds. Jared Bartholomew and Anthony Gallas both have power, speed and the instincts to be defensive standouts in the outfield. White and Gallas are also football stars. White rushed for 1,333 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall, while Gallas was an all-star wide receiver.
In addition to all those recruits, Kent State also offers a number of quality senior signs. Kurt Eichorn has plus power and surprising athleticism for a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder. Mostly a left fielder, he could enhance his pro chances if he could handle the defensive responsibilities at catcher, a position he has played in the past. Similarly, sweet-swinging Drew Saylor would help himself if he could move from first base back to second. Todd Balduf is a switch-hitting catcher with some pop and a solid arm. The only member of the group drafted a year ago, when the Giants selected him in the 18th round, righthander Chad Wagler stands out most for his slider and his feel for pitching. His fastball ranges from 86-90 mph. Outfielder Joe Tucker is a plus runner, teaming with Emmanuel Burriss to give Kent State perhaps the quickest 1-2 punch atop any college lineup in the nation. A contact hitter who needs to get stronger, Tucker could have a better pro future at second base, the position he played before Saylor transferred from Cincinnati a year ago.
Josh Stewart was the top position prospect in the Great Lakes League last summer as a catcher, but he logged more time in the outfield this spring at Bowling Green State. He's athletic for a backstop and threw out 42 percent of basestealers this spring, though he'll need to improve his receiving. As a hitter, he's a line-drive, contact guy with good speed but little pop. A fifth-year senior, he went in the 43rd round last year to the Devil Rays.
A draft-eligible sophomore, lefthander Cory Luebke could sneak into the first five rounds in 2007 after he has another year to develop. He has an 86-89 mph fastball and a decent slider, two pitches that should take a step forward once he fills out his 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame. He employs a slingshot delivery that hurts his command.
Shortstop Jedidiah Stephen has a solid package of tools for a senior sign. He's a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder with pop, speed and arm strength. He's inconsistent but easy to like for a club that saw him on the right day.
Not every projectable pitcher in Ohio is headed to Kent State. Kentucky-bound righthander Chris Walden (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) was the state's high school player of the year. His velocity was down at the end of the spring, but he has thrown 88-92 mph in the past. Righty Billy Kitchen (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) currently works at 86-88 mph. He's also a swift runner who could see time in the outfield at Indiana. Righty Chase Stewart (6-foot-7, 220 pounds), who's committed to Miami (Ohio), has an 87-89 mph fastball and a promising curveball. Lefthander Michael Ramlow (6-foot-7, 165 pounds) has the potential for three average or better pitches in his 88-90 mph fastball, curveball and changeup. A 24th-round pick in 2005, he signed with the Brewers as a draft-and-follow.