State Reports: Nebraska
|THIS YEAR'S CROP
||One for the books
||Solid, not spectacular
||Not up to par
||Nothing to see here
The Cornhusker State doesn't have a prospect of the caliber of Alex Gordon or Joba Chamberlain this spring, though Aaron Pribanic emerged from anonymity to pitch his way into the first three or four rounds. As usual, most of the state's top prospects play for or have committed to Nebraska. The state hasn't had a high schooler drafted since 2004, a streak that may continue because the top prep talents are raw and strongly tied to the Cornhuskers. The draft class got a boost with the arrival of righthander Jason Jarvis, who joined the independent American Association's Lincoln Saltdogs after losing his eligibility at Arizona State.
|NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS
1. Aaron Pribanic, rhp, Nebraska (National Rank: 89)
2. Dan Jennings, lhp, Nebraska
3. Jason Jarvis, rhp, Lincoln Saltdogs (American Association)
4. Nick Love, rhp, Bellevue
5. Johnny Dorn, rhp, Nebraska
6. Thad Weber, rhp, Nebraska
7. Jake Opitz, 2b, Nebraska
8. Jake Kuebler, 3b/rhp, Lincoln Southeast HS
9. Darin Ruf, 1b, Creighton
10. Pat Venditte, rhp/lhp, Creighton
11. Brett Scarpetta, rhp, Bellevue
12. Kash Kalkowski, rhp/ss, Grand Island HS
13. Mitch Abeita, c, Nebraska
14. D.J. Belfonte, of, Nebraska
15. Nick Ludemann, rhp, Creighton Prep, Omaha
1. Aaron Pribanic, rhp, Nebraska (National Rank: 89)
Pribanic showed a strong arm at Hutchinson (Kan.) CC in 2007, but he didn't have enough command or secondary pitches to attract any draft interest. That won't be the case this time around, as Pribanic has shown some of the best stuff among Sunday starters in college baseball. Strong and physical at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, he sits at 91-94 mph and tops out at 96 mph with his fastball. His arm works very well and it's fresh, because he redshirted his first year at Hutchinson and has pitched roughly 160 innings since leaving high school four years ago. Pribanic has developed some feel for a splitter that he uses as a changeup. He's still fiddling with both a curveball and a slider, and while they're not reliable, both breaking pitches have decent shape. The curve is the better of the two breaking balls, though it still has a long ways to go. He has thrown more strikes but still has bouts of inconsistency. He loses balance in his delivery, a fixable problem that could lead to further improvements. The grandson of former all-star pitcher Jim Coates, Pribanic won't rush through the minors but could deliver a nice payoff to a team that can clean him up. He was making inroads on the sandwich round at one point, but a late-season slump could knock him down to the third or fourth round.
Jarvis Resurfaces With Saltdogs
When Arizona State ruled him academically ineligible in mid-March, righthander Jason Jarvis became eligible for selection this year because he withdrew from the university more than 45 days before the draft. He found a home with the Lincoln Saltdogs of the independent American Association, the league that Luke Hochevar and Max Scherzer used as a springboard to major league contracts the previous two years. With the Sun Devils, Jarvis relied primarily on a lively low-90s fastball. With the Saltdogs, he has cleaned up his delivery and used an improved changeup more often. He uses his slider mainly as a chase pitch, and his repertoire and aggressive nature fit best in the bullpen. Jarvis' fastball velocity has been inconsistent with Lincoln, sometimes dipping into the high 80s. Scouts have questioned his makeup since he was in high school, but the Saltdogs have praised his composure.
Lefthander Dan Jennings has more projection remaining than most college juniors. There's room to add strength on his 6-foot-3, 183-pound frame, and he has a quick arm and clean mechanics. His best present pitch is his slider, which is more of solid offering than a swing-and-miss weapon. His fastball ranges from 86-90 mph and he keeps it down in the strike zone. Jennings, who has shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen for Nebraska, projects as a reliever in pro ball. He had a streak of 30 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings at midseason.
Righthander Nick Love wasn't as dominant as a reliever in 2008 as he was as a starter in 2007, though he helped pitched Bellevue to the Division II College World Series both seasons. Love hit 94 mph and didn't dip below 90 at last year's CWS, but he lost velocity this year when he started cutting his fastball too often. Six-foot-5 and 210 pounds, he throws both a big-breaking curveball and a hard slider. His extra leverage as a sophomore and off-field concerns from his past further cloud his draft status.
Righthander Johnny Dorn may not overwhelm hitters, but he wins. His 36 victories entering the NCAA playoffs led all active Division I pitchers. He has plus-plus command and a feel for mixing four pitches. Dorn strained his elbow as a freshman at the 2005 College World Series, and he pitched with diminished velocity for two seasons before moving back up to 86-89 mph this spring. His slider may be his best pitch, and he also throws a loopy curveball and a changeup.
Along with Dorn, righthander Thad Weber and second baseman Jake Opitz are two other good Cornhuskers senior signs. Weber was the only one of the three who was drafted in 2007, turning down the Reds as a 37th-rounder. Recruited out of Hutchinson (Kan.) CC as more of a first baseman than a pitcher, he has a legitimate out pitch in his curveball. He gets hit a lot harder than Dorn, though, because his high-80s fastball is straight. Opitz is an outstanding defender who also has a good offensive approach and bat speed.
Third baseman/righthander Jake Kuebler not only is Nebraska's best high school prospect, but he also has the best bloodlines. Alex Gordon's cousin has a projectable 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame and could grow into a slugging third baseman. He shows a quick arm and a high-80s fastball on the mound, though his fastball is in the remedial stages. He's considered unsignable and will likely follow in Gordon's footsteps at Nebraska.
Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte couldn't match his 43 2/3-inning scoreless streak and 1.88 ERA from 2007, but he still had an amazing season nonetheless. Venditte appeared in 37 of Creighton's 58 games, leading he team in wins (nine) and saves (seven) while posting a 101-21 K-BB ratio in 86 innings. The former walk-on has thrown ambidextrously since he was 3, and he recorded a strikeout with each arm 17 different times this year. Scouts consider him more of a novelty than a true prospect, as his stuff is ordinary from both sides. As a righthander, he works with an upper-80s fastball and a curveball, slider and changeup. As a lefty, he drops his arm angle and utilizes a low-80s fastball and a slow, sweepy breaking ball. The Yankees drafted him in the 45th round last year, and someone will take him as a senior sign in the middle rounds this time.