SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA *****
In a region that could produce 10 or 11 first-round picks, Orange County/Long Beach--generally acknowledged as the biggest talent hotbed in the country--is relatively thin this year. That area has been upstaged by a mother lode of college talent at UCLA, which could produce up to 14 draft picks itself, and a plentiful supply of high school talent in San Diego.
Projected First-Round Picks
Adrian Gonzalez, 1b. Gonzalez is one of the rare players in whom scouts can find little fault. His stock has soared this spring, and he's even been mentioned as a possible compromise No. 1 pick overall. Gonzalez is seen as a Mark Grace clone with a little more power. He put up outstanding numbers, hitting .645-13-34, and may be the best pure hitter in the draft. He has excellent hand strength and quickness and drives balls to all fields. Like Grace, he is also an accomplished defensive first baseman who's agile around the bag. Gonzalez is a likable young man who acts like an assistant coach on his high school team, routinely helping run practice. He has committed to nearby San Diego State, Grace's alma mater, but it's unlikely he'll ever put on an Aztecs uniform.
Matt Harrington, rhp. On raw talent, Harrington is the top player in the country. He has an explosive fastball that he brought to the park every outing this spring. He routinely threw the at 94-95 mph and frequently had his best velocity in the sixth and seventh innings, when he topped out at 98. He also showed excellent command, resulting in a 10-0, 0.59 record with 113 strikeouts and 20 walks in 59 innings. His breaking ball is erratic, but everything else scouts look for in a pitcher is there: outstanding body (6-foot-3, 180), outstanding arm action and excellent projection. Arizona State has long since abandoned hope that Harrington is keeping college as an option.
Scott Heard, c. Heard has been not only one of the most visible players in the country this spring, but also one of the most hotly debated. He was mentioned as one of the top four or five players all year, but scouts scratched their heads as his batting average slid all spring and stood at .284 as the draft approached. He hasn't looked comfortable or natural at the plate and regularly chased pitches out of the strike zone. Behind the plate, Heard is a Gold Glove winner in waiting. He has outstanding catch-and-throw skills. But it will take a team that sees offensive potential to take him near the top.
Rob Henkel, lhp, UCLA. Henkel surged into the first round at midseason when he struck out 16, 16 and 18 batters in consecutive starts. Through 79 innings, he had struck out 121--a nine-inning rate of 14.4, second best in Division I. Henkel's pace slowed as he got into the heart of the Pacific-10 Conference schedule, raising questions about his durability. He didn't pitch last year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. Henkel has three above-average pitches, including a sharp knuckle-curve that's one of the best breaking pitches in the draft. His fastball was a consistent 90-93 mph before tailing off slightly at the end of the season. Scouts say he's not as polished as Barry Zito, the Southern California lefthander who was picked ninth overall last year, but he has a good feel for his craft and should move quickly.
Adam Johnson, rhp. Johnson has been a model of consistency all year and had moved near the national lead in strikeouts with 130 in 94 innings, while walking just 22. He is Cal State Fullerton's career strikeout leader. He has command of three solid pitches, including a dynamite 85-86 mph slider that has a late, hard break. Scouts aren't sold on his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame or his maximum-effort delivery, but he has won them over with his pitching savvy, bulldog approach and ability to hold his velocity deep into games. He projects to the middle of the first round, though a team near the top of the draft may take him earlier and try to cut a deal.
Dane Sardinha, c. Sardinha, a second-round pick out of high school, is so skilled defensively that scouts say he is already the equal of at least half the catchers in the big leagues. He has a middle-infielder's actions behind the plate and plays the position effortlessly--a mixed blessing because it has raised questions about his fire and passion. Sardinha's bat is a concern, even as he hit .403 with 13 homers in West Coast Conference games this year. He has trouble getting the bat head out front against top-notch pitching and projects as a .250-.260 hitter in the big leagues. In front of a throng of scouts at Loyola Marymount in April, he went 0-for-13 with nine strikeouts against a staff that features two premium draft picks.
Robert Stiehl, rhp. Could Stiehl be the second coming of Troy Percival? More than 80 scouts who saw him make his first start of the season in late April think so, after clocking him at 97 mph. Stiehl was almost exclusively a catcher until this year, when he began closing games for his junior college team. He often caught the first eight innings of a game and pitched the ninth. Because he has minimal experience on the mound and lacks a second pitch, he is a high-risk pick but would be attractive to a team with extra picks, like the Angels. The Angels drafted Percival 10 years ago as a catcher and converted him to take advantage of his superior arm strength.
Mike Stodolka, lhp. Stodolka has made a steady progression up the draft ladder this spring, inching into the first half of the first round with a string of solid outings. He came out of the gate throwing 90-92 mph, topping at 93, after being around 88 a year ago when scouts weren't sure whether he had more value as a pitcher or hitter. That debate has been settled. He went 10-0, 0.67 with 111 strikeouts in 52 innings, while displaying two above-average pitches and sound mechanics. Stodolka has committed to UCLA but is almost a cinch to sign.
Billy Traber, lhp. On a team with three probable picks in the first two rounds, Traber's stock has risen the most. He was a 58th-rounder out of high school but has climbed into consideration for a compensation or even a late first-round pick. Aside from being lefthanded, nothing really stands out. He's solid in all areas, has ideal size and competes well. A fastball in the 88-91 mph range and an above-average split-finger gave him 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Chase Utley, 2b. Utley is the spitting image of Angels second baseman Adam Kennedy, a lefthanded-hitting middle infielder who was a first-round pick out of Cal State Northridge in 1997. Kennedy was a hitting machine in college, twice leading the nation in hits. Utley, a .394-18-61 hitter, has similar hitting skills, though his tendency to be pull-conscious has resulted in teams effectively using a Ted Williams shift on him a number of times this spring. He has excellent hands to hit, enabling him to wait on balls until the last moment to make adjustments. Like Kennedy, Utley lacks a true position. He was drafted in the second round out of high school as a shortstop, but he lacks the range, hands and ability to read hops to be a true middle infielder--even as he switched to second base.
Matt Wheatland, rhp. With Heard as his batterymate, Wheatland pitched in front of a throng of scouts every time out this spring. He didn't pitch well in April when his velocity dropped and he left too many balls up. He still should be a solid first-round pick, though going to his hometown Padres at No. 9 might be a little rich. He developed a forkball this spring, and some scouts say he overused it to the detriment of his fastball. Overall, he was 8-1, 2.39 with 84 strikeouts in 67 innings. When he's at his best, Wheatland compares favorably to a young Kevin Brown. He has similar size (6-foot-5, 210) and great sinking action on a 92-93 mph fastball.
Projected Second-Fifth Round
Jared Abruzzo, c. He's not in the class defensively of fellow San Diego catcher Heard, but Abruzzo has been steadier across the board. He showed solid arm strength while hitting for power from both sides of the plate (.390-12-34). A commitment to Louisiana State will go by the board if he's picked in the second round, as projected.
Garrett Atkins, 1b/3b. Scouts cooled on Atkins, a 10th-round pick out of high school, this spring amid concerns that he's a one-dimensional player. He can hit (.356-18-60), but no one is sure whether he'll do so for power--which is essential because his lack of speed limits him to an infield corner. He has alternated between first base and third his whole career at UCLA, to mixed reviews.
Shaun Boyd, of. Like projected first-rounders Stodolka and Wheatland, Boyd is a UCLA recruit. The Bruins' chances of keeping him are a little better because he had a poor year defensively and moved from shortstop to the outfield. He has two plus tools--speed and hitting--and scouts admire his all-out approach to the game.
Ryan Carter, lhp. On performance, Carter doesn't rank in the second or third round. He has never performed on a consistent basis--he was 2-1, 5.26 with 53 strikeouts and 29 walks in 38 innings this year--and still is learning how to pitch. Still, he was a 14th-round pick out of high school and scouts always have been intrigued by his size (6-foot-7, 235) and raw (lefthanded) arm strength.
Beau Craig, c. Craig is a quick, agile receiver with a solid lefthanded bat (.294-16-56) who frequently outplayed Sardinha and Scott Walter, two college catchers of note in his own backyard. His lack of size (5-foot-10, 180) may drop him below the third round, where he was chosen in 1998 out of high school by his hometown Padres.
Mike Davern, rhp. He was mentioned as a first-round pick at the start of the season, but teams were scared off because the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Davern rarely pitched to his sophomore form, when he was clocked at 92-93 mph. Most teams think he'll move on to UCLA, but it's possible someone will take a run at him in the third or fourth round.
Phil Dumatrait, lhp. Dumatrait came out of nowhere this spring, adding 12 mph to his fastball and two pitches to his repertoire. He was clocked at 94 mph and drew a large number of curious scouts to Bakersfield. He went undrafted a year ago.
Conor Jackson, 3b. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Jackson has an interesting resume. His father plays an admiral in "JAG" (the CBS television series) and he has Hollywood looks himself. Scouts say he may be the best-looking player in the draft, if not one of the most talented. But teams may pass on him if signability continues to be a major issue. He is slated to succeed Xavier Nady at third base at California. His bat is his best tool, but he projects as a better defender than Nady. He hit .459-7-31 this spring as a high school shortstop.
Darric Merrell, rhp. Scouts came out in droves when Merrell hooked up against Stodolka in a premium pitching matchup this spring. Stodolka struck out 19 against one of the nation's top high schools, but the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Merrell had 13 himself and boosted his stock considerably. A Cal State Fullerton signee, he showed scouts an 88-90 mph fastball with good movement to go with an easy delivery and a sound working knowledge of pitching.
Matt Parris, rhp. Largely unknown before his senior year, Parris transferred to the same high school as outfield prospect Jason Kubel to gain exposure for the draft. His wish came true when he matched up against Harrington, the nation's top high school pitching prospect, and fared well before a large group of scouts. He has a long, lean body (6-foot-3, 185), and displayed a 90-92 mph fastball and plus slider.
Mike Schultz, rhp. A ninth-round pick out of high school and the West Coast Conference player of the year as a freshman, Schultz has been a target of scouts for years. He has the right stuff--size (6-foot-7, 195) and a fastball in the 92-96 mph range--but was plagued this season by inconsistency. He needs to get straightened out mechanically and develop better command of his curve and changeup.
Bill Scott, of. Scott was one of the premier hitters in college baseball, leading the nation in hits, the Pac-10 in average (.435) and total bases, and his own team in home runs (21). He is a below-average outfielder and runner, and some think his aluminum-bat swing may be a little long and slow for the next level.
Jamie Shields, rhp. Scouts say the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Shields has the arm to go in the first two rounds, even if they didn't see it this spring. He was laid up with a back problem, limiting him to six innings of work entering the homestretch of the season. When he did pitch, he wore a brace on his back. With a scholarship to LSU to compete with, teams may consider him too big a risk to squander an early pick.
Sean Swedlow, c. Swedlow is considered a diamond in the rough. He has a powerful lefthanded bat with a prototype catcher's body, but he's raw behind the plate and has shown a reluctance to play the position. First base becomes the likely alternative.
Scott Walter, c. Walter is the third-best college catcher in the country after fellow Californians Sardinha and Mike Tonis. He slugged 17 home runs this spring and has a higher offensive upside than Sardinha, though he isn't in the same class defensively. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Walter has shown he can handle two pitchers with above-average stuff. He has good arm strength but needs to improve his footwork to get balls to second base more accurately.
UCLA should have a greater impact on the first 10 rounds of the draft than any other college. C Forrest Johnson helped himself more than any other Bruin this spring by hitting .357 with a team-leading 21 home runs and 70 RBIs--all while learning to catch. He is athletic and hit several balls farther than former Bruins first-rounder Troy Glaus, though not as frequently . . . Switch-hitting SS Seth Davidson was expected to be one of the first three college shortstops drafted but had a disappointing season with the bat, especially from the left side. His defensive skills are still top-notch. He shows good range, but a lack of arm strength may push him off shortstop to second base, further dropping his value . . . If 6-foot-6, 235-pound RHP Tanner Eriksen threw strikes consistently, scouts say he might be a first-round pick. Eriksen has unmatched arm strength but hardly pitched in three years at USC. . . In addition to Heard and Wheatland, talented Rancho Bernardo High has two more players projected to go in the first 10 rounds: 3B/OF Haas Pratt and OF David Giorgis. Pratt, a Miami signee, has excellent power potential but moved off third base this spring when he didn't get the job done defensively. The switch-hitting Giorgis also has above-average power. He hit three home runs in a game with a number of scouting directors on hand to see his more celebrated teammates.
Copyright 1998-2000 Baseball America. All rights reserved.|
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.