NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ***
This year's crop doesn't match up with last year's five-star group, but righthander Dan Denham is one of the top prep pitchers in the country and Stanford's top two pitchers--Mike Gosling and Jeremy Guthrie--have first-round ability. After Denham, the high school ranks fall off. Chris Carter, one of the nation's best position prospects at the start of the year, has plummeted.
Projected First-Round Picks
Dan Denham. Armed with a 94-96 mph fastball, Denham has emerged as the cream of the crop in Northern California, not to mention as one of the top high school pitchers in nation. In addition to maintaining his low- to mid-90s velocity deep into games, he has a hard-biting curveball that's among the best in the country. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthander is noted for his competitiveness on the mound. He manages to throw on a downward plane with good command, though he'll catch the middle of the plate too frequently. Denham is part of Pepperdine's strong recruiting class, but reportedly prefers to start his pro career.
Mike Gosling. The top lefthander in the draft, Gosling had trouble harnessing his lively repertoire during his freshman and sophomore seasons--as evidenced by 76 walks in 96 innings. After being shut down with a tender elbow for six weeks this spring, the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder returned with improved mechanics and much sharper control. He regularly pitches at 92-93 mph, and has touched 94-95 with command of a solid breaking ball and changeup. Gosling has been nearly unhittable everywhere he's pitched. Opponents batted .146 off him last year and just .191 entering NCAA tournament play in 2001. He's getting better now that he's learned to repeat his delivery and throws strikes with all three pitches.
Jeremy Guthrie. A sophomore-eligible transfer from Brigham Young, Guthrie returned from a two-year Mormon mission and established himself as Stanford's ace early when he handed Southern California's Mark Prior his only loss of the season with a six-hit shutout. A month later, he matched Prior pitch for pitch, going the distance again only to lose a 2-1 decision. He didn't pick up a baseball while on his mission and that inactivity, as well as his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame, may account for his late-season drop in velocity from 90-94 mph to the high 80s. As his effectiveness faded, questions came up about his durability. Guthrie demonstrates sound control, but most of what he delivers is hard with a short, quick arm action and comes in on a straight, flat plane. Because of his religious beliefs, he hasn't pitched on Sundays for the Cardinal.
Projected Second-Fifth Round
Trevor Hutchinson. Trevor's 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame resembles that of his older brother and former Stanford righthander/quarterback Chad, now in the Cardinals system. While Trevor's raw stuff doesn't match Chad's, he shows a much better feel for pitching by repeating his delivery and locating his 90-91 mph fastball, plus curveball, splitter and developing changeup. Interest in Hutchinson diminished after he was shelled and lost five straight starts, but he stood out against top competition, striking out 10 against Stanford and allowing one earned run to UCLA. He's been less than dominant in his three years with the Bears, having allowed more than a hit per inning.
Jesse Foppert. A recruited walk-on as a first baseman, Foppert's draft status skyrocketed with his conversion to the mound. He didn't take to pitching until last summer, and he still plays first base and DH between starts. Scouts love his fresh arm and how effortlessly he throws and locates his 92 mph fastball. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound righthander has touched 94 mph, though his heater loses its movement at that speed. He gets better life on his two-seamer. His slider has the potential to be a plus pitch, and he shows the makings of a reliable changeup.
Taggert Bozied. Drafted 42nd overall last June, Bozied returned for his senior season when he couldn't agree to terms with the Twins. He didn't help himself with an ordinary season, and he hasn't approached the power numbers he posted when he tied for second in Division I with 30 home runs as a sophomore. He moves surprisingly well for a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder and has shown dramatic improvement with the glove at third base. Raw power is his calling card, but some question his bat speed as he has trouble catching up with good fastballs.
Tommy Nichols. A 6-foot-4, 185-pound beanpole, Nichols has exciting raw power potential and draws comparisons to Richie Sexson. He's a good athlete and a solid defensive first baseman who runs well, but he's a one-dimensional talent. He's a pure projection pick, and if his wide shoulders are any indication, he's nowhere near being physically mature.
Nick Moran. He didn't have a defined role until midseason, yet Moran and his lanky 6-foot-6, 200-pound frame can't be ignored. A broken thumb slowed him until a three-hit shutout of Rice showed he had recovered. He significantly improved his command of a plus curveball and projectable 89-91 mph fastball. He emerged at Fresno State when lefthander Beau Hintz, a projected fourth- to sixth-round pick, quit the team in midseason.
J.P. Howell. What Howell lacks in size and velocity, he more than makes up for in pitching savvy. He's a lefthander with four major league pitches: an 86-89 mph fastball, a nasty 83 mph cutter, a plus curveball and a plus changeup that he locates with precision. One of the most advanced hurlers on the board, he stands at 6-foot-1 and is still growing. Howell carved up high school competition, not allowing an earned run in 49 innings during the regular season.
Jeff Bruksch. Coming off of a record-setting season as Stanford's closer, Bruksch stepped into the rotation this spring and won his first eight decisions. His stuff isn't overwhelming, but he uses four pitches, including an above-average changeup. A transfer who spent his freshman season at Southern California, he has a fastball that tops out at 88-89 mph. His breaking pitches need work.
Others to watch:
1B/OF Chris Carter headed into the year as one of the hottest high school prospects in the country, but a lackluster performance tempered interest in him for much of the spring. He's not the most athletic player in the draft and is regarded as a pure line-drive hitter. He stands right on top of the plate and is primarily a pull hitter now. He's slow out of the box because he takes such a big cut. When he wasn't seeing a lot of good pitches, he fell into a slump and got frustrated. Carter has proven himself in events like the World Junior Championship and the Baseball America/Perfect Game World Wood Bat Championships. His makeup is off the charts and he is an excellent student with a Stanford scholarship in hand, which makes him a tough sign . . . RHP Matt Durkin has generated a lot of late interest with his 6-foot-5, 220-pound body, increased velocity (90-92 mph) and improved offspeed pitches . . . RHP Sean Smith has been a pleasant surprise with a developing, loose and athletic body that scouts think will boost his velocity from an already impressive 92-93 mph to 94-95 . . . An Astros fourth-round pick out of high school in 1998, OF Jason VanMeetren didn't have much of an opportunity to flash his considerable ability thanks to a nagging elbow injury and sporadic play until this season. He entered the spring as a career .186 hitter and hit .316 in the regular season as a healthy everyday player. One knock against him is an inability to hit breaking stuff due to his long swing, shown by his 43 strikeouts in 49 games. An above-average defensive outfielder with a strong arm, he had promising power potential but needs to be more consistent . . . OF Fehlandt Lantini, a product of Division II Sonoma State, is 23 but offers intriguing tools in the outfield with a strong arm and good speed . . . SS Josh Labandeira made a run at the Western Athletic Conference triple crown and was named WAC player of the year. A 5-foot-7 shortstop with a strong arm, he's a heady player and a conversion to catcher could be forthcoming at the pro level . . . Senior RHP David Cash throws an average 86-89 mph fastball with good movement, and he touches 91 on occasion. He has an above-average curveball, is tenacious on the mound and projects as a solid middle reliever with a resilient arm . . . RHP Jon Asahina stands above the rest of the area's junior college prospects. A draft-and-follow by the Marlins, he is an outstanding two-way player with a good bat and a fastball that has reached 95 mph. If he doesn't sign with the Marlins, he has a scholarship to Louisiana State waiting . . . RHP Jake Tompkins is a distant second behind Asahina. His 91 mph fastball and good curveball should get him picked in the top 10 rounds . . . 1B/3B David Gordon has the size and speed to accompany his bat, but he'll need to show more power to remain at a corner position. . . RHP Paul French had Tommy John surgery before transferring from Arizona State to Sacramento CC. Drafted in the third round by the Angels in 1998, he's back up to 90-91 mph on the radar guns . . . Senior RHP D.J. Houlton's fastball (88-92 mph) and size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) have attracted attention. He no-hit UC Riverside in mid-May, helping his cause . . . RHP Mike Wodnicki was overshadowed at Stanford, but he did get a chance to showcase his live arm in the Cape Cod League last summer. He went 4-0 and struck out 36 in 43 innings, including a dominating start in which he struck out seven and allowed five hits to clinch the league championship . . . RHP Nick Thomas was one of the top pitchers in California coming into the season, but suffered from the effects of too much weightlifting in the fall. He had a tender arm all year and probably will take his chances as a draft-and-follow.
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