Neither Mike Jones nor Jon Switzer played to their talent this spring and their stock slipped--though only marginally. Jones, the No. 1 high school player in the nation at one point, won't be the first prep player picked, while Switzer's once secure position as a first-rounder is in jeopardy. There was more reshuffling among top prospects in Arizona this spring than most states. A handful of high school and junior colleges prospects moved from obscurity into early-round consideration, while a couple of the bigger names went backward.
Projected First-Round Picks
Mike Jones. Jones climbed to the top of the list of the nation's high school prospects last summer when he wowed scouts at the major high school showcases. He showed superior athletic ability, loose arm action, excellent mechanics, tremendous makeup, above-average velocity and life on his fastball. He still has those qualities but didn't make advances in other parts of his game as scouts hoped he might. He still lacks a quality second pitch. He throws a curve but gets under it too much, resulting in a flat, slurvy plane. He also showed little progress on a changeup. It's nothing that advanced instruction won't correct. Even Jones' signature fastball, which he threw at 94-97 mph last year, dipped to as low as 91 on occasion. Jones had stiffness in his shoulder this spring and made a series of starts 10 days apart to ease the strain. He wasn't impressive in his final start of the year, a loss. Jones is an accomplished power hitter and played shortstop for his high school team when he didn't pitch. He would be a high-round pick as a position player, too, but it's clearly as a pitcher that he commands high first-round attention. Some scouts say he's no sure thing and point to Matt White, who received a $10.2 million bonus as a can't-miss prospect in 1996. White had a lot of the same traits as Jones--and still hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues.
Jon Switzer. An 11-game winner as a sophomore and a success last summer with Team USA, Switzer struggled to be a .500 pitcher this spring. He lost his spot as Arizona State's No. 1 starter after a string of starts in which he didn't get beyond the fifth inning. All the attention and pressure that accompanies a potential first-round pick--and a drop in velocity to 88-91 mph--affected Switzer's performance. He still made progress in a number of areas. He added a splitter and slider to give him a third and fourth pitch, and the location of his pitches generally was better. In the final analysis, he has a lot of selling points: he's lefthanded with a fastball that has been clocked as high as 93 mph and has big-game experience with Team USA.
Projected Second-Fifth Round
Shelley Duncan. Duncan is the son of Cardinals pitching coach Dave and older brother of Chris, a Cardinals supplemental first-round pick in 1999. That would seem to make the 6-foot-5, 210-pound outfielder a likely target of the Cardinals in this draft. Duncan has legitimate major league power potential to all fields and set school records for season and career homers in 2001. Overall as a hitter, he is vulnerable at the plate and can be pitched to. None of his other tools ranks above-average. He once was clocked at 90-91 mph off the mound, but he hasn't regained full strength in the arm after Tommy John surgery following an ill-fated pitching stint in 2000. Scouts project him as a left fielder because of his arm, and possibly a first baseman because of his below-average speed.
J.J. Hardy. Hardy comes from athletic stock. His father Mark is a former professional tennis player and his mother Susan once played on the LPGA tour. Hardy has the kind of athletic skills that have enabled him to play almost any position on the field, and he ranks as one of the top two-way players in the draft. Teams agree that he is a third-round talent but are divided whether he's more appealing as a pitcher or a hitter. He was used at shortstop (.455-8-34, 15 SB) and closer (4-1, 2.03, 8 SV, 41 IP, 5 BB, 57 SO) this spring. His own preference is to be a position player. His tools are average to slightly above-average across the board. He has been clocked at 6.5 seconds in the 60-yard dash and at 89-92 mph off the mound.
Scott Hairston. Hairston is the son of former big leaguer Jerry and represents the latest in a long line of family members who have enjoyed success in baseball. His brother Jerry Jr. starts at second base for the Orioles. Scott was rated the best prospect at last year's National Baseball Congress World Series as he led Liberal (Kansas) to the title, and he was ranked the top junior college player in the country at the start of the year. He lived up to the hype by hitting .503-18-77 while becoming the first player to win the Arizona junior college triple crown. Balls jump off Hairston's bat, but he's limited to second base or left field because of a below-average arm.
Dennis Sarfate. A 15th-round pick out of an Arizona high school in 1999, Sarfate pitched just eight innings as an Arizona State freshman. When he found out in the fall he would be used sparingly again in 2001, he transferred to nearby Chandler Gilbert CC. Sarfate had a dominating spring with a fastball that was consistently in the 90s and topped out at 95 mph. His second and third pitches need work, but a live arm, sound mechanics and a good mound presence all translate to a pitching prospect with a good upside.
Josh Smith. An unknown at the start of the year, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound righthander stirred interest with a 94 mph fastball and reports of it reaching 97. All other aspects of his repertoire are raw, though his arm action is sound. He needs a lot of work at developing secondary pitches. Because his options are limited to pro ball, he has moved ahead of more established Arizona high school products such as Joe Mather and Kevin Guyette.
Lincoln Holdzkom. Holdzkom became an immediate hit when the Major League Scouting Bureau saw his first outing of the year and slapped a 57 on him--a grade reserved for first- and second-round picks. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound righthander touched 95 mph that day and showed a major league-quality breaking ball. That performance turned out to be an aberration as Holdzkom never showed the same stuff or command again, and by March he was off the team at Arizona Western. He has little sense of baseball protocol and didn't follow team rules, didn't work and even failed to show up for a game he was scheduled to pitch. He has been working out on the side for a few scouts whose teams emphasize physical talent. But he comes with an obvious "buyer beware" label.
Others to watch:
RHP Rich Harden (Athletics, 17th round) and 1B Jesus Cota (Diamondbacks, 14th round) were attractive draft-and-follows in Arizona's rich junior college crop, but both were expected to sign. Harden, one of three Canadians at Central Arizona JC, touched 97 this spring while Cota has the best bat speed in the area. His hitting style has been compared to that of the Diamondbacks' Erubiel Durazo . . . Arizona State's early- to mid-round influence extends beyond Switzer to 2B Brooks Conrad, RHP Erik Doble, OF Chris Duffy, LHP Drew Friedberg and C Casey Myers--all possible picks in the first 10-12 rounds. Conrad didn't have a good junior season, as his average dropped 50 points from a year ago. Scouts remember his all-star season last summer in Alaska using a wood bat. At 5-foot-9, he's a generic middle infielder with good actions and limited arm strength. Doble was a 10th-round pick by the Red Sox in 2000, when he was the Sun Devils' closer. He chose to return for his senior year and ruptured a ligament on his middle finger, hurting his performance in the bullpen at the beginning of the season. He was moved into the rotation and his velocity returned to its customary level of 88-90 mph. The switch-hitting Duffy had excellent speed, arm strength and defensive skills when he was recruited by Arizona State out of South Mountain (Ariz.) CC, but a knee injury slowed him at the start of the year and he struggled to regain his previous form. The Brewers drafted Friedberg, a Wisconsin native, and Myers with consecutive picks in 2000, but both came back for their senior years. Friedberg responded with a breakout year in the bullpen. He stepped up the velocity on his fastball from 87-88 mph to 90 while complementing it with a quality slider and better command. Myers has been one of the best players in college baseball the last two years, but hasn't ever impressed scouts with his physical tools. His intangibles are his calling card. Besides closing in on a number of Pacific-10 Conference career batting records, he has been like a coach in the way he has helped nurture Arizona State's pitching staff. As a 30th-round pick in 2000, he could sneak into the first 10-12 rounds this year. His younger brother Corey was the fourth overall pick in the 1999 draft . . . 2B Matt Abram was a surprise pick as a 10th-rounder in 1999 but isn't projected to go that high again as a draft-eligible sophomore. His bat is his best tool, but he hasn't established a true position . . . SS Joe Mather wasn't a name to watch coming into the year, but he ended up challenging Corey Myers' state record of 22 home runs. He slumped late and finished with 17. Tall and lanky at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, he doesn't profile as a shortstop in pro ball and likely will end up on an infield corner. He has a below-average arm . . . RHP Kevin Guyette didn't move into the top tier this spring and likely is headed to Georgia Tech. His fastball peaked at 87-88 mph . . . SS/RHP Jason St. Clair played second base on the U.S. team that finished second at the World Junior Championship last summer. He's an Arizona signee and plays like he has been in college for two years already. His tools are average but he has a mature approach to the game . . . SS Jeff Larish has a quick lefthanded bat and power potential. He needs another year or two to develop the other parts of his game before he is ready for pro ball.
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