SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ****
One thing is certain: Mark Prior will be the first player drafted from the region. Few players in college baseball history have matched the dominant season he has put together. He separated himself from every player in the state and the nation.
The high school class also has its share of impressive pitchers, none more than righthander J.D. Martin and lefthander Matt Chico, who weren't projected as high-round picks when the season started. With signability always a key issue, scouts have split the elite members of the high school crop into players that are deemed easy to get under contract--Chico, Martin, Brian Pilkington and Scott Shapiro--and those that are expected to be tougher, including Tyler Adamczyk (California), Marc Jecmen (Stanford) and Brett Smith (UC Irvine).
A wild card is Matt Harrington, a potentially dominating righthander who didn't sign as a Rockies 2000 first-rounder and is back as a prospect after a year on the sidelines. A number of quality college seniors have surfaced in the region, led by Cal State Fullerton righthander Kirk Saarloos, who went undrafted a year ago.
Projected First-Round Picks
Mark Prior. All the superlatives come out when Prior's name is mentioned in coaching and scouting circles, including "best college pitcher ever," and "could be a No. 3 starter on a lot of big league clubs right now." The 6-foot-5, 220-pound righthander has been dominant from his first pitch and led the Pacific-10 Conference in wins, ERA and strikeouts entering regional play. That he could reach 200 strikeouts before walking 20 batters says it all about his stuff and command. He dominated hitters with a 94-97 mph fastball with exquisite location on both sides of the plate, and outstanding command of his quality breaking ball. And it all happens with a free, easy, effortless delivery. His success this season is a culmination of hard work, maturity and experience. Prior, a supplemental first-round draft pick of the Yankees in 1998, struggled with command in his first two years in college. He put it all together last summer with Team USA. He has significantly improved his control and his breaking pitch. He also has a solid changeup, but rarely threw it this year. For all his physical attributes, Prior's makeup is one of his greatest strengths. Those who know him say he wouldn't be intimidated by going directly to the big leagues--a feat that has happened only 18 times in draft history.
Josh Karp. The sky's the limit for Karp. He has a prototype pitcher's body (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) and three quality pitches: a 91-94 mph fastball, an outstanding changeup (his best pitch) and a solid curveball. But through high school, Team USA and three years at UCLA, he has shown only flashes of fulfilling his considerable potential. He didn't make the progress this spring that scouts were hoping to see. He either came out of games early because of pitch counts or missed starts with minor injuries. Unlike the other top college pitching prospects, he didn't attack hitters with his fastball often enough. Rarely did Karp pitch with a game on the line, which is a key part of the learning experience for a pitcher. "It's like he was saving his tank," one scout remarked. For his lack of dominance in college, scouts expect Karp to turn it up a notch and dominate against the wood bats he'll see in the pro ranks.
Matt Harrington. Harrington was the consensus best talent in last year's draft, and the lone first-rounder not to sign. Agent Tommy Tanzer and the Rockies engaged in one of the most bitter negotiations of the draft era, with bad feelings all around. Rather than attend college, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Harrington elected to sign with the independent Northern League's St. Paul Saints and was scheduled to make three starts before the draft. He'll attract a throng of scouts, anxious to see if Harrington has the same stuff and command he had in 2000 before almost a year away from competition. As a high school senior, he had an explosive fastball that routinely clocked at 94-96 mph and touched 98.
J.D. Martin. Few players made more strides this year than this slight righthander, who dominated with a 9-1, 0.24 record, 111 strikeouts and 11 walks in 59 innings. In one five-inning outing, all 15 outs were strikeouts. His polish and command of four pitches are rarely seen in a high school pitcher and had scouts comparing Martin to a young Greg Maddux. Martin isn't overpowering, as his fastball registered only 87-89 mph and peaked at 91-92, but the pitch has Kevin Brown-like sinking action. The best may be yet to come for the 6-foot-4, 160-pound Martin, who projects to add another two inches and 50 pounds as he matures.
Matt Chico. One of the better two-way high school players in the country entering the season, Chico became an elite pitching prospect this spring. He dominated the strong prep competition in San Diego, winning his first nine games while compiling a 0.80 ERA and a strikeout-walk ratio of better than 5-1. His status as a potential first-round pick is clouded because of his size (5-foot-10), but he has command of two excellent pitches: a 91-93 mph fastball and a sharp curveball. Scouts point out Jim Parque (White Sox), Randy Wolf (Phillies) and the emerging Chris George (Royals) as examples of smallish lefthanders who were early draft picks and have backed it up.
Bobby Crosby. Crosby didn't have a breakthrough season with the bat but still ranks as one of the best shortstops in the draft. He's projected to go in the first round, though 10-12 spots lower than originally thought. The son of former big league infielder and Diamondbacks scout Ed Crosby, he put a lot of pressure on himself early and struggled offensively. He picked up his pace in the second half and entered regional play batting .343 with eight homers, second on the club. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he's long and loose like a young Cal Ripken, and most scouts believe he has the tools to remain at shortstop. He can pick it and throw it with the best.
Projected Second-Fifth Round Scott Shapiro. Shapiro has a lot of positives and a few negatives. He is one of the best physical specimens in the draft at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, but he needs to tone up his body. He has only one workable pitch, but it's a 92-94 mph fastball that tops out at 96. Despite his big frame, Shapiro is surprisingly athletic. He swings the bat well and plays first base and right field when he doesn't pitch. His uncle is former big leaguer Tim Foli, the No. 1 pick in the 1968 draft. Shapiro has committed to Vanderbilt, the same path Mark Prior took out of a rival San Diego high school before returning to California after his freshman year. Scouts are betting that Shapiro never plays in college, though.
Tyler Adamczyk. Adamczyk has an impressive package. He's 6-foot-6 and 190 pounds with a quick arm and a good sinking fastball that varies between 88-92 mph. An inconsistent season hasn't taken away from the upside of his physical talent. It's not difficult to see a mid-90s fastball in his future, and he should become more effective when he refines a breaking pitch. Adamczyk's immediate future is somewhat clouded because he has a large price tag--reportedly $1.5 million. He'll end up at California if he doesn't sign.
Noah Lowry. Lowry got better every year in college--from being undrafted out of high school, to a 19th-round pick as a freshman at Ventura (Calif.) JC, to a possible second-round pick this year. He pitched well as half of a lefty-righty tandem with Dan Haren, the West Coast Conference player of the year. Lowry was pitcher of the year as he led the conference in wins, ERA and strikeouts entering NCAA tournament play. He developed three solid pitches, including a fastball that normally ranged from 86-90 mph but reached 92.
Dan Haren. The righthanded half of Pepperdine's dynamic 1-2 punch, Haren was dominant at times with a fastball that touched 96 mph but more frequently was 90-93. He has a good approach with three pitches--fastball, curve and a dominating splitterthat he routinely threw for strikes. He projects as a No. 3 starter in the big leagues and is viewed by area scouts as a poor man's Mark Prior or Josh Karp. He's a horse at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and played a dual role for Pepperdine as the team's DH.
Brian Pilkington. Of all the premium high school players in southern California, Pilkington is the most likely to sign. He's the only one who hasn't committed to a major college, so he should agree to terms quickly and willingly. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound righthander went 10-2, 0.90 this spring while allowing only seven walks and striking out 97 in 72 innings. He has a quick arm with a fastball that normally is clocked from 89-92 mph. Control of all three of his pitches is his biggest strength.
Brett Smith. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Smith has two-way potential as a college player, but his pro future is on the mound. He has a power arm with a fastball that touches 94 mph and a slider that runs up to 87. His delivery and offspeed pitches need work, but his size is an asset and his athletic ability should enable him to work out his mechanical problems. Smith is a strong student and a centerpiece of a strong recruiting class at UC Irvine, which will resurrect its baseball program in 2002.
Kirk Saarloos. Saarloos to play pro ball after his junior year at Cal State Fullerton, but no team drafted him. So the 6-foot, 180-pound righthander joined Team USA and was spectacular as the team's closer, going 3-0, 0.34 with four saves. That performance, on a team full of first-round talent, ignited confidence in Saarloos. He had a senior season the equal of any pitcher in college baseball. He led the Big West Conference in almost every pitching category as the Titans entered regional play as the national No. 1 seed. He doesn't have the dominant stuff expected of a high-round pick, but he'll be drafted in the second or third round by a team that's looking for a bargain and someone who can move quickly. Saarloos' stuff has not changed much since last year, but he has become a master at keeping hitters off balance with an 86-88 mph fastball that has excellent sink and run, a fine slider and a changeup. More than one scout described Saarloos as Doug Jones with more velocity. He projects as a set-up man in pro ball.
Mark Jecmen. Described as a righthanded version of a young Randy Johnson, the 6-foot-7 Jecmen has well-above-average velocity but little idea of where his pitches are going. He's the kind of pitcher who should be better than he is now. He has been slow to develop because he hasn't had a lot of quality instruction. Scouts believe his mechanics can be fixed and that he has only scratched the surface of his potential. He might have been a first-rounder with a better senior year, but he sprained his elbow, tried to do too much and was wild. His velocity fell from a high of 96 mph in 2000 to a more pedestrian 90-94. He probably ranks as no better than a second- or third-rounder, which raises signability questions. A solid student, he has a commitment to Stanford.
Ryan Wing. Wing is a converted outfielder who never pitched until attending Riverside CC last fall. He picked up a lot in a short period of time. He throws three pitches for strikes, including an 88-90 fastball and a tight curve, and he has an uncanny sense of how to pitch for a teenager with little experience. Scouts see plenty of upside. At 6-foot-2 and 150 pounds, he hasn't begun to fill out. His rise to prominence as a pitcher is compared to former Riverside CC pitcher Derrick Van Dusen, who went in the fifth round to the Mariners last year.
Jake Woods. Woods was overshadowed a year ago by Phil Dumatrait, another Bakersfield JC lefthander who was a first-round pick of the Red Sox. Woods took a little longer to develop than Dumatrait but made huge strides again this year. He added 3-4 mph to his fastball after adding 5-6 a year ago. He topped out at 92, though his best pitch is still his power breaking ball. With all his improvement, Woods broke Dumatrait's single-season school strikeout record of 121.
Donny Lucy. Lucy may be the best high school athlete in San Diego County. He excelled as a two-way player on the gridiron last fall and is one of the most accomplished young catchers in the country. He got more exposure than he might have deserved because batterymate Matt Chico was making a pitch for the first round. Lucy projects as a second- or third-rounder, though a Stanford scholarship offer may make him unsignable. Lucy's bat is his weakest tool and he has holes in his swing. He has solid catch-and-throw skills and is a well-above-average runner for a catcher.
Justin Nelson. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Nelson has the raw tools to be a premium pick, but his bat never came around this spring. He hit.256 and struck out 24 times in 78 at-bats, though he played on a weak team and was pitched around. He's a pure center fielder with a plus arm and has 6.6-second speed in the 60-yard dash.
J.T. Stotts. Stotts may be the best pure shortstop in the state. He's shorter (6 feet) and quicker than Crosby, who received more attention, and has outhit Crosby by a considerable margin throughout his career. He batted .409 this spring, the second time in three seasons he eclipsed the .400 mark. Crosby has better raw power while Stotts, the leading basestealer in Cal State Northridge history, is the faster runner.
Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco's best attribute is a power arm. He can maintain a 90-93 mph fastball deep into games. He's not big and his body is a little soft, but he has a good feel for pitching and developed a plus changeup to keep hitters off balance. In 71 innings this spring, he walked 21 while striking out 110. The complicating factor is a commitment to Long Beach State. Nolasco has indicated he'll attend school if he's not picked in the first three rounds.
Jared Hemus. Hemus spent his freshman year at the University of San Diego and was dismissed from the team after striking out 85 in 77 innings and posting the seventh-best ERA in the West Coast Conference. He resurrected his career this spring in junior college. Hemus has a good slingshot arm with an above-average fastball and changeup, but he needs better command of his pitches.
Danny Garcia. On tools alone, Garcia grades out as a future major league utility player. He can't be underestimated because his intangibles are so strong. He's an excellent competitor with above-average instincts. Garcia was a solid center fielder who showed above-average speed in his first two years at Pepperdine, but he recognized his future was at second base. Rather than spend last summer as a fourth outfielder with Team USA, Garcia instead trekked to Alaska where he enjoyed an all-star season as he made the transition to second. He excelled there this spring. His range improved enough to draw comparisons to former Southern California second baseman Bret Boone. Garcia's double-play partner Tony Garcia (no relation) generated some lukewarm interest. He's a solid defensive shortstop, but he's also 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds and offers little speed.
Mike Frick. Frick has the physique to be a dominant closer. He's 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and he has long, thick legs. He excelled as a finisher early but wore down as the season went along. Frick has an excellent slider that he can throw for strikes all day. His fastball, once clocked at 91 mph, lost velocity as he tired.
Joey Metropoulos. The muscular 6-foot-2, 215-pound Metropoulos is one of the best power hitters in the draft. When he makes contact, he's capable of crushing balls 450-500 feet. He hit 12 homers this spring despite being pitched around. Power is his only plus tool. He's big and lumbering, and he may move from third to first base at the next level. He has committed to Southern California, but there is interest from big league clubs as early as the second round.
Jonathan DeVries. In a draft short on quality catchers, DeVries may be overdrafted because of his position. He projects as a second- to fourth-round pick. His bat is his best tool and he hit a convincing .471 with six homers this spring. His catching skills are adequate. His thick body reminds scouts of Mets backup Todd Pratt. DeVries has committed to Louisiana State, making him one of the few top players to consider a school outside the region.
Mike Rouse. A redshirt sophomore, Rouse missed the 2000 season when he transferred from San Jose State to Cal State Fullerton. He was a rare college player who wasn't released from his scholarship so he could play immediately at his new school. He shook off the rust last summer in the Cape Cod League and had a strong season. He got off to a slow start as he battled to win the starting shortstop job, but he seized the role with his bat and became the team's top hitter and RBI man. He had a solid year defensively, but his lack of lateral movement probably will push him to second base in pro ball. He projects as a fourth- to eighth-rounder.
Greg Sain. Sain, whose father Tommy reached Triple-A in the Twins system, led the West Coast Conference in homers entering the NCAA postseason. He has split his career between catcher and third base for the Toreros, and scouts are divided on which position he's best suited for in pro ball. He's more accomplished at third base now, but his value would be greater if he could demonstrate an ability to be an everyday receiver in pro ball. His bat plays well at either position.
Skip Schumaker. UC Santa Barbara could have as many as 10 players drafted, none higher than the sophomore-eligible Schumaker. He transferred after his freshman year at Loyola Marymount and missed last season with a dislocated shoulder that required surgery. A lefthanded hitter, he flirted with .400 all season and showed above-average speed and arm strength in center field. Though he made just four pitching appearances, a number of scouts find Schumaker more attractive as a pitcher. He has been clocked as high as 95 mph in intrasquad games, and at 92 in game appearances.
Chris Sedden. A bad year on a bad team sent Sedden's stock down. He had projected as a potential first-round pick off his performance at last summer's Area Code Games, when he showed a 90 mph fastball with good sink and a plus slider. His velocity slipped as low as 84 this year and the command of his other pitches faltered. His Area Code performance isn't likely to be forgotten, though, so he could go in the first four to six rounds. A commitment to Loyola Marymount isn't expected to be an obstacle to signing.
Others to watch:
LHPC.J. Wilson went 2-10, 6.87 for rebuilding Loyola Marymount but is expected to be that team's first pick a year after the Lions produced a first-rounder and two second-rounders. Wilson lacked command of all his pitches, but scouts saw an intriguing arm with an 88 mph fastball and the makings of a respectable curve and changeup . . . Six-foot-5, 200-pound RHP Dustin Miller demonstrated better pitching acumen than his more celebrated teammate Jecmen, without Jecmen's considerable upside. Miller, a Cal State Fullerton signee, has a solid curveball but only an 88-89 mph fastball. He projects as a fifth- to eighth-round pick . . . LHP Chad Bentz didn't pitch well in a starting role for Long Beach State and appears to have dropped out of the early rounds. Born with a badly deformed right hand, Bentz pitches and fields balls with the same hand, like Jim Abbott, but he lost the feel on his changeup prior to the season and floundered. The Alaska native, eligible as a sophomore, eventually regained his form in a relief role. He felt more comfortable in three- and four-inning stints, after which his command would desert him. Still, he's a lefthander with a 90 mph fastball, and that's always an attractive commodity . . . OF Jordi Szabo was unknown to San Diego area scouts at the start of the year, but his blazing speed soon caught their attention. He displayed all the classic skills of a leadoff hitter, including 3.9-second speed from home to first . . . SS Terry Jones profiles as a third baseman because of power potential and a lack of speed, but he didn't show a lot of power in an otherwise average season. He appears headed for college at California . . . At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, RHP Kyle Huddy has a big, strong frame. He had scouts scurrying to the desert east of Los Angeles when the Major League Scouting Bureau pinned an early-round grade on him, but his stuff was ordinary. He's a maximum-effort pitcher with a firm 88-90 mph fastball, limited breaking ball and average command . . . RHP/OF Richie Martin has two-way appeal, but scouts seem more impressed with his 93 mph fastball . . . C/RHP Nelson Caraballo is another solid two-way prospect. Scouts prefer him as a pitcher, but Caraballo has stated a preference for catching, even though he struggled to hit .250 this spring . . . UCLA OF Brian Baron made national headlines by hovering around .500 for the first half of the college season. He settled for a Bruins-record .443. All the attention didn't have much effect on scouts, who see him as a one-dimensional singles hitter. Baron is a tough out and has a great approach at the plate but lacks a position. His arm and speed are also below-average . . . Baron is one of many seniors who stand out, but he probably won't be drafted before SS Josh Canales, RHP Rik Currier or SS Seth Davidson. Canales got stronger and showed solid improvement in all aspects of his game this spring, establishing himself as a prospect in the eyes of scouts. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Currier deserves to be drafted for the first time in his career after four productive seasons at Southern California. He's an accomplished college pitcher with an 88-90 mph fastball and an outstanding slider, his best pitch. The issue with him will always be size. His teammate Davidson remains a steady college player, but he still doesn't fit the profile of a pro shortstop because he lacks arm strength and durability. He holds the school record for career hits, a significant feat considering the Trojans' tradition, but he has a weak bat by pro standards . . . Long Beach State's impact on the draft extends beyond Crosby and Bentz. Six-foot-4, 220-pound RHP Josh Alliston had success as a closer for the Dirtbags, but he has only one pitch: a fastball that ranges from 88-91 mph. 2B Kaulana Kuhaulua, son of ex-big leaguer Fred Kuhaulua, is a dependable middle infielder. Six-foot-5, 220-pound LHP Russ Rohlicek rarely pitched because he had no command of his pitches. But he has an outstanding arm and may become the Tanner Eriksen of this year's draft. Eriksen saw almost no action at Southern California in 2000 because he was so wild, but was picked in the ninth round and ended up signing the largest bonus in that round ($190,000) after he went to the Cape Cod League, got a chance to pitch and excelled . . . UC Santa Barbara's second tier of prospects behind Schumaker is led by LHP Jim Bullard, RHP James Garcia and 1B Tyler Von Schell. Bullard has three solid pitches and throws strikes, but needs to add 10-15 pounds to his 6-foot-7 frame to develop better stamina. A closer in 2000, he was used as a starter this year and faded in the late innings. Garcia, the ace of the Gauchos staff, has excellent pitching savvy and went 10-2, 2.63 in the regular season, but he lacks the quality raw stuff to dominate in pro ball. Von Schell is an impressive physical package at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, but power is his only marketable tool and he's limited defensively to first base . . . Five-foot-10 LHP Marcos Mendoza struck out 17 batters in a Mountain West Conference game and generally pitched beyond his tools. Mendoza lacks size and a dominant fastball, and his strikeout pitch is a 78-79 mph slider . . . LHP Kurt Birkins pitched lights out in the fall and ranked among the best junior college players in the country at the start of the year. But the UCLA transfer's velocity slipped 3-4 mph this spring at Los Angeles Pierce JC to 90. He was expected to sign with the Orioles, who controlled his rights, but would be a significant pick if he reenters the draft . . . RHPs Sean Tracey and Sergio Mitre made significant progress among the better junior college prospects not under control. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Tracey, a converted catcher, has been described as a Darren Dreifort clone because he gets violent action on a 90-92 mph sinking fastball and 80-83 slider. He projects as a closer. Mitre has almost the same size and stuff as Tracey . . . OF Danny Putnam was described by a San Diego scout as the best hitter in the area, but he probably won't be a premium draft because he's 5-foot-10 and he's committed to Stanford. Putnam had 16 homers as a leadoff hitter for national power Rancho Bernardo High . . . OF Bill Susdorf was the heart of nationally ranked Hart High's lineup. Like Putnam, Susdorf is an above-average hitter with limited overall tools, and a UCLA scholarship probably will take him out of the early rounds . . . SS Michael Garciaparra--yes, Nomar's little brother--was a name to watch at the start of the year, but he missed the season after he blew out his knee last fall playing football.
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