State Reports: Mississippi




THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
College pitching buoys the 2008 draft class in Mississippi, and all the arms in the state gave scouts plenty to watch. Between Mississippi and Mississippi State alone, four pitchers rank in Baseball America's Top 100 and seven pitchers have legitimate chances of being drafted. The most intriguing prospects are the closers: Aaron Weatherford at Mississippi State and Scott Bittle at Ole Miss have been lights out this spring, dominating Southeastern Conference hitters and putting up video game numbers, combining for 15 saves and 180 strikeouts during the regular season.

While the college talent is deep, finding prospects from the high school and junior college ranks has been more challenging. The juco programs are unlikely to have anyone drafted in the first 10 rounds.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Aaron Weatherford, rhp, Mississippi State (National Rank: 67)
2. Cody Satterwhite, rhp, Mississippi (National Rank: 77)
3. Lance Lynn, rhp, Mississippi (National Rank: 83)
4. Scott Bittle, rhp, Mississippi (National Rank: 97)
5. T.J. House, lhp, Picayune HS (National Rank: 100)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

6. Rashun Dixon, c, Terry HS, Jackson
7. Tyler Conn, lhp, Southern Mississippi
8. Cody Overbeck, 3b, Mississippi
9. Brandon Turner, ss/2b, Mississippi State
10. Justin Cryer, rhp, Mississippi
11. Brian Dozier, ss, Southern Mississippi
12. Rickey Noland, c, Delta State
13. Ricky Bowen, rhp, Mississippi State
14. Devin Jones, lhp, Europa HS
15. Brett Basham, c, Mississippi
16. Michael Guerrero, of, Mississippi
17. Josh Billeaud, rhp, Southern Mississippi
18. Logan Power, of, Mississippi
19. Brian Leach, rhp, Southern Mississippi
20. B.A. Vollmuth, ss, Biloxi HS
21. Cortez Cole, c/of, Jackson State
22. William Beckwith, 3b, West Lowndes HS, Columbus

SCOUTING REPORTS

1. Aaron Weatherford, rhp, Mississippi State (National Rank: 67)

Undrafted out of high school, Weatherford's role upon arriving at Mississippi State was unclear. As a freshman he pitched mainly out of the bullpen, totaling two saves, but did make two starts late in the season. He then began his sophomore year as the Bulldogs' Friday night starter but moved back to the bullpen after six starts and helped lead the Bulldogs to the College World Series. This season Weatherford has taken on the closer role, and has seemed comfortable there, striking out close to two hitters per inning. He ranks as one of the top closers in an SEC loaded with talented relievers. Even at 6-foot-1, Weatherford has an imposing presence on the mound. His fastball reads between 92-94 mph and comes from a high, over-the-top, arm slot. He throws downhill and commands it to both sides of the plate. He also throws a hard curveball and split-finger with late break. While his split-finger is an out pitch, he rarely throws it for a strike. Weatherford does have durability concerns as he has been plagued with various injuries while a Mississippi State. He has a live arm but has a max-effort delivery, likely limiting him to a relief role as a pro.

2. Cody Satterwhite, rhp, Mississippi (National Rank: 77)

Satterwhite has been a confusing prospect for scouts since his high school days in Jackson, Miss. Blessed with a first-round arm and electric stuff, Satterwhite has made a reputation for being a projectable righthander with at least three above-average pitches but with inconsistent command and lacking pitchability. At 6-foot-4, and 205 pounds, Satterwhite has the ideal pitcher's body. As a starter, his fastball stays between 90-93 mph, but as a reliever he consistently throws between 95-98. He has done both for Ole Miss since opting not to sign with the Indians after being drafted in the 37th round of the 2005 draft. After pitching primarily as a reliever in his sophomore season, Satterwhite was selected to the U.S. National Team. This season, the Rebels put Satterwhite back in the starting rotation where he has not been as successful. Scouts believe Satterwhite will eventually end up back in the bullpen once he reaches the pros. To complement his fastball, Satterwhite offers a curveball, changeup and hard slider. He has the ability to flash all three as plus pitches but with little consistency. Due to his delivery, Satterwhite has a tendency to leave pitches up in the zone causing his fastball to become hittable and his breaking balls to flatten out. Satterwhite is lightning in a bottle as if he ever figures out how to harness his natural ability and he could quickly be an impact pitcher in the big leagues.

3. Lance Lynn, rhp, Mississippi (National Rank: 83)

Lynn is somewhat the opposite of his Ole Miss teammate Cody Satterwhite. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Lynn is described as a big-bodied and durable starter who consistently produces quality starts game in and game out. None of the pitches in his repertoire are overwhelming, but he possesses three average to fringe-average offerings. His fastball is typically between 90-92 mph, and his slider comes in around 81 mph. He also throws a curveball and changeup, both of which are fringe-average at best. Lynn mixes all four pitches with command and pitchability, making him a safe bet to be a fourth or fifth starter and an innings-eater in the major leagues within a few years. Lynn was drafted by the Mariners in the sixth round of the 2005 draft and should improve on that this year. Lynn pitched for the U.S. National Team last summer, striking out 26 batters in 25 innings and compiling a 2-1,1.80 mark in four starts. While never stellar, scouts are impressed with his undeniable track record of success.

4. Scott Bittle, rhp, Mississippi (National Rank: 97)

Taken by the Yankees in the 48th round of last year's draft, Bittle elected not to sign and transferred to Ole Miss this season from Northwest Texas CC. He was thrown into the closer's role for the Rebels and has dominated SEC hitters all season, putting up Nintendo type numbers. He has tallied an almost 5 to 1 K/BB ratio, striking out close to two batters per inning pitched. Uncharacteristic for a closer, Bittle's fastball is just an average pitch, with velocity between the 88-91 mph range. However, Bittle pitches mainly off his cut fastball—a devastating late breaking pitch in the mid-80s that has two-plane movement similar to a slider. Bittle is able to command this pitch down in the zone and creates a ton of swings and misses by starting it just above the knees and having it drop just below the strike-zone. He also effectively mixes in a changeup, freezing unsuspecting hitters. At 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, and without an above-average fastball, Bittle does not fit the typical closer's profile in the major leagues. He will most likely be a long relief or setup man in the pros. Once signed, he should move quickly as his command and stuff are close to major league ready.

5. T.J. House, lhp, Picayune HS (National Rank: 100)

A lefthanded high school pitcher consistently throwing in the low-90s would typically draw constant attention from every major league scouting director. However, a high price tag and a strong commitment to play baseball at Tulane has made House unsignable, keeping most teams away. House has an above-average fastball, with a slider and curveball that are projected to be at least average. Favoring Mike Hampton, House is 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, and he's athletic on the mound. Similar to Hultzen, after three years in college, House is expected to be an impact draft prospect. A competitor on the mound, House struck out 20 batters in a game at the end of his junior year. He also won a swimming state championship in 2006.

Intriguing Tools in Mississippi

With the trio of Satterwhite, Lynn and Bittle, Ole Miss is the top team in the state and is loaded with pitching. Next in line is 6-foot-2, 215-pound Justin Cryer. A redshirt sophomore, Cryer missed his first two seasons with the Rebels due to injury. He finally got on the mound last year and assumed the set-up role in front of Bittle this season. He offers a fastball between 90-92 mph and a slider that is sometimes average but inconsistent. With a record of 2-4, 1.30 in 27 innings this spring, Cryer has been a vital part of the Rebels' staff.

The Rebels also boast a solid group of position players led by third baseman Cody Overbeck, who led the Rebels with a .350 average and 15 home runs during the regular season. An average defensive player, Overbeck might profile better at second base in the pros. He has a hitch in his swing that will prevent him for hitting for the power necessary at the next level.

Ranking just behind Overbeck in the Ole Miss lineup is catcher Brett Basham and outfielders Logan Power and Michael Guerrero. Basham has a strong arm behind the plate but sometimes struggles with the transfer between catching and throwing. He's a below-average hitter. Power and Guerrero each have athletic ability in the outfield and a chance to hit with occasional power at the professional level.

Southern Mississippi has a couple pitchers who add to the depth to the state's draft class. Lefthander Tyler Conn is a senior and was drafted by the Diamondbacks a year ago in the 36th round. At 5-foot-11, Conn is undersized but pitches at 90 mph with an above-average changeup. In 26 regular season appearances, Conn tallied 18 saves. Josh Billeaud also was selected in last year's draft, by the Rays in the 21st round. He returned for his junior season but has struggled, finishing the regular season with a 3-4, 7.39 record. Billeaud had more walks (37) than strikeouts (33) in 63 innings. He has arm strength, with a fastball in the low 90s and power slider, but is inconsistent.

Shortstop Brian Dozier is the Golden Eagles' lone position player prospect, an excellent defensive shortstop with limited range. He has a below-average bat and not much power.

The top high school position player in the state is Rashun Dixon. A football signee to Mississippi State, Dixon is athletic with raw baseball skills, highlighted by his speed and power potential. He projects to a corner outfield spot. Devin Jones and B.A. Vollmuth have baseball commitments but also should get drafted. Jones is a tall and lean righthander throwing in the low 90s and is committed to Mississippi State. Vollmuth, committed to Southern Miss, is a middle infielder now but will likely move to a corner before reaching the pros. His best tool is his raw power.