Brownlie has shaky hold on top of lackluster field
By Jim Callis
No question, 2001 was a rare year for college talent. Southern California righthander Mark Prior was the latest in the line of "best college pitchers ever" who seem to come along every five years or so. Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira was a slugger following the recent tradition of Florida States J.D. Drew, UCLAs Troy Glaus and Miamis Pat Burrell.
Colleges hadnt produced a hitter-pitcher tandem of that ilk since Mississippi State first baseman Will Clark and Oklahoma righthander Bobby Witt went second and third in the 1985 draft. Beyond Prior and Teixeira, last years crop also offered righthanders Dewon Brazelton (Middle Tennessee State) and Josh Karp (UCLA), who would have been potential No. 1 overall picks in some years. Kent State outfielder John VanBenschoten emerged out of nowhere to become the eighth overall selection.
But the current group of college prospects has scouting directors longing for the past. Theres no Prior or Teixeira. There isnt even a Brazelton or Karp. And there are no must-see phenoms on the order of VanBenschoten.
"Down year? I would call it a bad year for college players," a scouting director said. "Were signing so many of the good high school guys that have any tools at all, giving them $400,000 in the eighth round, that theyre just not going to college.
"I think this will be a standard thing for the next four, five, six years. It could turn into somewhat of a trend. Next year looks pretty good, but this freshman class is not good. Theres depth and nice players in college, but not the quality of seven, eight years ago."
The lack of college talent is bad news for teams hoping to find immediate help in the June 4-5 first-year player draft. And its also going to make life difficult for teams with early selections. Prior and Teixeira signed major league contracts worth a combined $20 million, setting a new standard for agents to shoot for. The consensus among scouts, however, is that no one in the 2002 class merits half that much.
"Theres no player or pitcher like Teixeira or Prior," said a scouting director with an early selection. "Theres not a guy close to being able to justify asking for that kind of money. It aint even close."
Brownlie Still No. 1
Rutgers righthander Bobby Brownlie has maintained his standing as this years best college prospect. Following up a dominant summer performance with Team USA, he continues to throw in the mid-90s and overmatch hitters with his curveball. One scouting director likened his stuff and ability to Brewers righthander Ben Sheets. In his first six outings this season, he went 3-2, 2.72 with 33 strikeouts in 36 innings.
While Brownlie is still at the head of his class, scouts do have some concerns. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, he doesnt have a classic pitchers frame, though there isnt too much worry about his stamina or durability. What is at least mildly troubling, however, is that hes not missing bats with his fastball despite its impressive velocity.
"Overall, theres not a guy I feel like is going to be a No. 1 or 2 starter in the big leagues," a scouting director said. "Even Brownlie, and I like Brownlie. He has only average command of his fastball, and while its a big fastball on the radar gun, I see an awful lot of No. 8 and 9 hitters putting it in play. Pow! Sure, theyre using metal bats, but at the next level the hitters are better."
Said another: "Thats always been his deal. His fastball lacks plane, and its fairly straight. He can rev it up there and throw in the mid-90s, but just by itself its a very hittable pitch. It has to be in sequence with that nasty curveball. For whatever reason, hes hardly throwing his changeup now. He has to be a mix guy."
Also clouding Brownlies picture is his choice of adviser: Scott Boras, who could be linked to 10 or more of the top 50 high school and college prospects. Teams dont relish the possibility of picking Brownlie early and then having to debate his worth with Boras, who negotiated Teixeiras $9.5 million deal with the Rangers.
Boras also will counsel Clemson third baseman Jeff Baker, who remains the top offensive prospect among collegians. He has impressive raw powerthough not at the Burrell/Teixeira levelyet raised a red flag when he hit .237-2-15 in 93 at-bats with wood last year for Team USA. He has disappointed scouts this season, batting .263 with five homers in 76 at-bats as opponents have pitched around him and he has been gunning for the fences with every swing.
"Some people still have a sour taste in their mouths with Baker from last summer," a scouting director said. "You only go up against Boras with a player you feel real good about. Baker has a long swing and he drops his back shoulder."
Its safe to say nine collegians are consensus first-round talents, and another seven have a decent chance to go that high because, well, somebody must. Most of them are pitchers.
University of British Columbia lefthander Jeff Francis possibly could go No. 1 overall, and either he or B.C. high school lefty Adam Loewen will easily be the highest Canadian ever drafted. Francis still was rounding into the form he showed in the Alaska League last summer, yet he has continued to show three solid pitches and uncanny polish. He was 3-0, 1.60 with 47 strikeouts in 34 innings through six starts against primarily NAIA competition.
Stanford righthander Jeremy Guthrie also was performing well and should go two rounds earlier than he did in 2001, when the Pirates chose him in the third round. Another Boras client, Guthrie is comparable to Brownlie in terms of his build and velocity. The only pitcher to defeat Prior last season, Guthrie was riding a two-year, 11-game winning streak.
Ball States twin towers, 6-foot-5 righthander Brian Bullington and 6-foot-7 lefty Luke Hagerty, havent been as consistent as Francis and Guthrie but continue to draw favorable reviews. Kentucky righthander Joseph Blanton, who emerged when he touched 95 mph and showed a sharp curve in the Cape Cod League last summer, has further boosted his stock into the first round this spring. Blanton beat Bullington with a 16-strikeout effort in early March, and at least one scouting director thinks he could outperform Brownlie in the long run.
Scouts are particularly dismayed by the lack of quality of position players. Behind Baker, the two best are a pair of shortstops, North Carolinas Russ Adams and South Carolinas Drew Meyer.
Adams may have to move to second base as a pro, though he has continued to show the speed and leadoff ability that made him the Capes top prospect in 2001. Theres still some thought Meyer might make a better center fielder than shortstop, but in either case he offers plenty of athleticism and was using a retooled swing to bat .389, up 78 points from his first two seasons.
The best catcher (Georgia Techs Tyler Parker) and outfielder (Stanfords Jason Cooper) come with major question marks. Parkers bat and catch-and-throw skills never have looked as good as they did when he broke out in the Cape in 2000. Cooper has the most raw power among college hitters, but he has an aluminum-bat swing that isnt conducive to making contact. He also hasnt been able to play the field much while recovering from offseason arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
Top 50 College Draft Prospects
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