Class of 02 has no real favorite
By Josh Boyd
Unlike a year ago, when Southern California righthander Mark Prior and Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira had already separated themselves from the rest of the draft pack, scouting directors dont expect the class of 2002 to sort itself out until the season is well under way.
Photo: David Schofield
"Last year by March 1, if you were in the top five, you knew you only had to see these five guys: Prior, Teixeira, (Dewon) Brazelton, (Joe) Mauer and (Gavin) Floyd," an American League scouting director said. "This year if youre in the first five, each guy might have his own personal preference of which five he wants to see. I just dont think theres a consensus."
Though Rutgers righthander Bobby Brownlie and Texas high school lefthander Scott Kazmir are the two names atop most early draft boards, they are far from sure things. Neither has the prototypical size of a workhorse, and at No. 1 teams want something close to a sure thing. Both are listed at 6 feet, though Kazmir is closer to 5-foot-10.
"Thats the perception out there, that those guys dont have the size," said Pirates scouting director Ed Creech, whose team has the No. 1 pick. "But you go tell that to (Greg) Maddux. You can find so many guys without the size. Stuff wins. Pitchability wins.
"Sure, in the ideal situation you want that big, imposing guy with the stuff, but there are too many exceptions out there."
And while last years crop was loaded with polished college hitters such as Teixeira, Jake Gautreau, Gabe Gross and John-Ford Griffin, that area could be one of the weaknesses of this years draft class.
Class of 2003
1. Richie Weeks, ss/of, Southern
2. Michael Aubrey, of/lhp, Tulane
3. Darric Merrell, rhp, Cal State Fullerton
4. Matt Macri, ss/rhp, Notre Dame
5. Paul Maholm, lhp, Mississippi State
6. Carlos Quentin, of, Stanford
7. Aaron Hill, ss, Louisiana State
8. Kyle Sleeth, rhp, Wake Forest
9. Bob Zimmerman, rhp, Southwest Missouri State
10. Javi Herrera, c, Tennessee
11. Chad Cordero, rhp, Cal State Fullerton
12. Matt Murton, of, Georgia Tech
1. Lastings Milledge, of, Northside Christian HS, St. Petersberg
2. Delmon Young, of, Camarillo (Calif.) HS
3. Jarrod Saltamacchia, c, Royal Palm Beach HS, West Palm Beach, Fla.
4. Jeff Flaig, ss/rhp, El Dorado HS, Placentia, Calif.
5. Xavier Paul, rhp/of, Slidell (La.) HS
6. Jeff Allison, rhp, Veterans Memorial HS, Peabody, Mass.
7. James Houser, lhp, Sarasota (Fla.) HS
8. Chuck Tiffany, lhp, Charter Oaks HS, Covina, Calif.
9. Cain Byrd, rhp, Southwood HS, Shreveport, La.
10. Chris Lubanski, of, Kennedy-Kenrick HS, Schwenksville, Pa.
11. David Winifree, c/3b, Greenbrier Christian Academy, Virginia Beach, Va.
12. Chad Billingsley, rhp, Defiance (Ohio) HS
"This year its really hurting for pure athletes," a National League scouting director said. "There are some solid college arms, but not a lot of premier athletes."
With no clear-cut No. 1 choice, many are wondering which direction Creech will go. Creech, who has also been scouting director for the Expos, Cardinals and Dodgers, has never picked first overall before.
Last year the Twins were able to narrow their search for No. 1 to Mauer, Prior, Teixeira and Brazelton early on. Creech wont have the luxury of focusing on just four prospects, at least not yet.
"I dont think theres a definitive No. 1 guy yet," the NL scouting director said.
The Pirates had the eighth overall pick last year and made a solid selection in Kent States John VanBenschoten, who led Division I in home runs. Then they shocked everyone by making him a pitcher.
The team is under a new regime this year with Dave Littlefield as general manager. The baseball staff is almost completely changed, including Creech and several who followed Littlefield from the Marlins.
Dont expect any surprises from Pittsburgh this time around. It is critical that they begin to replenish one of baseballs weakest farm systems.
"In general, were looking for the best player available who can help the Pirates as soon as possible," Littlefield said. "Everybody looks at the draft with that general philosophy. You want talent and tools, but were also looking for guys who can play the game as well."
At this point, though, no one is sure who the best available player is.
With Brownlie working in the 94-95 mph range with a hammer curve, and Kazmir throwing 95-96 mph with a good breaking ball, their stuff is not in question.
"The thing with Brownlie is hes so good, Ill be shocked if he doesnt have a big year," another AL scouting director said. "Hes strong and fit and should dominate. Hes brings his best stuff to the park every game. Some guys might go see Kazmir, and hes a little guy and in a long high school season, some crosschecker is going to see 89-90 on his fastball one day. That wont happen with Brownlie."
As Creech points out, "Anything can happen at this point. Somebody always rises to the occasion. Last year (Texas high school righthander) Colt Griffin popped up late. You just never know whats going to happen. I like having a lot of choices, though. Its like when you go out to eat at a buffet."
Several other factors that could affect the way players are positioned as June 4 nears include the looming collective bargaining agreement and Scott Boras, who represents several highly regarded prospects.
After a light year in the 2001 draft, Boras is advising three of the top 10 high school prospectsrighthanders Jason Neighborgall, Mark McCormick and Mike Pelfreyas well as three of the top 10 collegians in Brownlie, Baker and Jeremy Guthrie.
One scouting director says that could raise signability issues that will make it tougher to scout players. But others expect it to be a calm year on the signability front.
"I kind of think it will be a normal draft," an NL scouting director said. "Most will go where theyre supposed to go. Im sure some will price themselves out of the first round, though."
This years draft is unlikely to be significantly affected, but at least one proposal in the current labor negotiations between players and owners includes a significant restructuring of the draft. Signing bonuses are expected to be targeted and the creation of a worldwide draft is on the horizon.
Draft Top 25
Since Canadians became eligible for the draft in 1991, shortstop Kevin Nicholson has been the highest-drafted player, selected 27th overall by the Padres in 1997. That record should fall twice next June when lefthanders Jeff Francis and Adam Loewen, both from British Columbia, are expected to be early- to mid-first-round selections. A list of the 10 highest-drafted Canadians to date:
1. Bobby Brownlie, rhp, Rutgers U.
A 6-foot-1 bulldog, he has the best stuff in college baseball: a 95-96 mph fastball and hammer curve.
2. Scott Kazmir, lhp, Cypress Falls HS, Houston
He overcomes size with a dynamic package: poise, athleticism, lightning-quick arm, two plus pitches.
3. Adam Loewen, lhp/of, Fraser Valley Christian HS, Surrey, B.C.
Six-foot-5 Canadian has talent to be a first-round pick as both a power pitcher and slugging outfielder.
4. B.J. Upton, ss, Greenbrier Christian Academy, Chesapeake, Va.
Drafts most talented position prospect has power/speed package, plus arm and true middle infield skills.
5. Jeff Francis, lhp, U. of British Columbia
Francis and fellow 6-foot-5 lefty Loewen live close to each other and will shatter Canadian draft records.
6. Jason Neighborgall, rhp, Riverside HS, Durham, N.C.
Six-foot-5 righthander has touched 98 mph, but nagging back problem caused him to miss 01 prep season.
7. Mark McCormick, rhp, Clear Creek HS, Clear Lake Shore, Texas
Like Neighborgall, hes been clocked at 98; his fastball is straight but he complements it with a plus curve.
8. Jeff Baker, 3b, Clemson U.
He has plus power and solid corner infield skills, but scouts question his ability to hit for average with wood.
9. Jeff Francoeur, of, Parkview HS, Lilburn, Ga.
Outstanding football player also has well-rounded baseball skills; the only question is whether hell hit.
10. Sergio Santos, ss/3b, Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif.
Has speed for shortstop, but powerful bat and defensive ability should push him to third down the road.
11. Russ Adams, 2b/ss, U. of North Carolina
He showed speed, arm and an ability to drive the ball into gaps in breakout Cape Cod League summer in 2001.
12. Jeff Clement, c, Marshalltown (Iowa) HS
Powerful lefthanded hitter is closing in on Drew Hensons national prep home run record; also has plus arm.
13. Mike Pelfrey, rhp, Wichita Heights HS, Wichita, Kan.
Six-foot-6 righthander has 92-95 mph fastball with good life, plus slider, changeup and split-finger.
14. Denard Span, of, Tampa Catholic HS
He plays much bigger than his 6-foot, 170-pound size; has surprising power, a big arm and good speed.
15. Anthony Reyes, rhp, U. of Southern California
New Trojans ace is a stocky 6-foot-1 and has command of three solid pitches, including a low-90s fastball.
16. Kiki Bengochea, rhp, U. of Miami
Third-round pick in 99 draft has solid sinker/slider combination and likes the ball in big-game situations.
17. Jeremy Guthrie, rhp, Stanford U.
Highest unsigned pick from 01 has a fastball that touches 94 and good command of secondary pitches.
18. Bryan Bullington, rhp, Ball State U.
Six-foot-5 righty with mid-90s fastball should combine with Luke Hagerty to lead Ball State to its first regional.
19. Clint Everts, rhp, Cypress Falls HS, Houston
A solid two-way talent, hell combine with Scott Kazmir to give Cy Falls a powerful 1-2 pitching punch.
20. Friedal Pinkston, rhp, Hart County HS, Harzwell, Ga.
With solid command of a 90-93 mph fastball, he reminds scout of Dewon Brazelton, third pick in 01 draft.
21. Christian Madson, rhp, Bloomingdale HS, Valrico, Fla.
At-6-foot-8, he shows surprisingly good body control and an improving fastball that peaks at 94 mph.
22. Joe Saunders, lhp, Virginia Tech
Not overpowering, but projectable at 6-foot-3, 170 and had 1.02 ERA in Cape Cod League last summer.
23. Luke Hagerty, lhp, Ball State U.
Six-foot-7 lefthander with 88-92 mph fastball struggled in college last year but came of age in summer ball.
24. Tyler Parker, c, Georgia Tech
Injuries in 2001 stunted his development, but he has solid catch-and-throw skills and plus power potential.
25. Jason Cooper, of, Stanford U.
He needs to make better contact and stay healthy to take advantage of his unlimited power potential.
Compiled by Allan Simpson