There has been a lot of upheaval in Illinois, where several players have fallen after sitting near the top of follow lists at the beginning of the year. Others have risen to take their places, most notably righthander Dave Crouthers. The high schools were a bit more stable than the colleges, and righthander Kris Honel remained the state's top prospect after a slow start.
Projected First-Round Picks
Kris Honel. Honel opened the year as the fourth-ranked high school pitching prospect in the nation and missed a month with a strained ligament in his wrist. His velocity was way down when he returned, temporarily alarming scouts, before he returned to his old self and cemented his status as a first-rounder. His knuckle-curve is the best breaking ball in the prep ranks. He throws it at 79 mph, and it combines power and bite. Honel also has the requisite fastball, averaging 90-93 mph and reaching 95. He has smooth mechanics, especially for a 6-foot-5 youngster. He's expected to go in the middle of the first round and could prove tempting to the local White Sox, who pick 16th.
Possible Second- to Fifth-Round Picks
Dave Crouthers. Crouthers bats cleanup for SIU-Edwardsville's Division II College World Series team and broke the school record for RBIs this spring, but scouts want him as a pitcher. He barely pitched as a freshman and had little success last year, but he has ranked among the Division II ERA leaders this spring and broke the school record for strikeouts. He's an athletic 6-foot-3, 190-pounder with an 89-95 mph fastball and an above-average slider. His transformation has been swift, as he has been consistent throughout the year.
Neal Cotts. Cotts shows why movement matters as much as velocity. He's not a soft tosser by any means, as his 88-89 mph is plenty good for a lefthander. He gets outs with his fastball because it runs in on lefties and away from righties, and it also will explode down or show a little hop at times. His curveball has nice break but is inconsistent, and his changeup is a decent third pitch. He's durable, too, having thrown five consecutive complete games at midseason. Included in that run was a 2-0 shutout of Southwest Missouri States in front of several scouts there to see Cotts match up with lefty John Rheinecker, a possible second-round pick.
Matt Vorwald. Vorwald had an unimpressive 5-4, 6.22 record this spring, yet the arm is there. He has an 89-93 mph fastball with sink, a hard but inconsistent slider and a good changeup. His biggest need is improved command. He issues too many walks and misses too often in the strike zone, as evidenced by his nine homers allowed in 51 innings. More of a reliever in his first two seasons, he alternated between the bullpen and rotation in 2001. He has the repertoire to start and the competitiveness to pitch late-inning relief as a pro.
Others To Watch:
RHP Grant Johnson briefly moved ahead of Honel in the minds of scouts until Honel got straightened out. Johnson is 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, and he throws 88-93 from a three-quarters arm slot. He'd go as high as the second round if he weren't committed to Notre Dame . . . Six-foot-4, 215-pound RHP Jason Kiley improved dramatically this spring, throwing as hard as 90 mph with a plus curveball. One drawback is that he throws straight over the top and hitters don't have difficulty picking up the ball . . . OF/RHP Jacob Dixon was known more for his 88-89 mph fastball before his senior season, but now teams like him more as a hitter. At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, he reminds scouts of Brewers slugger Richie Sexson . . . RHP Steve Ellis didn't have a strong season and may go lower than the 12th round, where the Athletics drafted him last year as a sophomore. He'll touch 94-95 mph and show a hammer curveball, but not with any consistency . . . Scouts were flocking to see 3B Jacob Blair, who surfaced late after the Major League Scouting Bureau turned in a favorable report on him. He's a lefty hitter with a nice swing . . . A pair of high school lefthanders helped themselves with late-season gems. Chris Tierney was four outs away from no-hitting Providence Catholic High in a matchup against Honel and lost 1-0 on a couple of singles and a wild pitch. He showed a 90 mph fastball and sharp breaking ball that day. Tierney, who's projectable at 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, also has an easy arm action. Tim Morley, who has an 86-88 mph fastball with life, tossed a no-hitter in the state regional playoffs. He also has a good body at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds . . . Though 6-foot-9, 220-pound RHP Andy Sigerich and 6-foot-4, 220-pound 3B/RHP Dustin Bensko are two of the state's better basketball players, baseball is their ticket. Sigerich throws in the high 80s and is raw. Bensko has a nice, whippy swing and at least one college recruiter thinks he's the best hitter in Illinois. But he has slipped in scouts' eyes for some reason . . . SS Jeff Gremley, a wide receiver/defensive back, is a standout football player. Athletic and strong-armed, he's still learning to hit . . . RHP Gabe Ribas is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and he had his fastball up to 91 mph in his final state start of the spring. His teammate, RHP Zach Schara, is five inches shorter and more of a maximum-effort guy, so he might wind up back at Northwestern for his senior year . . . RHP Brian Blomquist's 87-88 mph fastball should jump in velocity once he strengthens his 6-foot-3, 171-pound frame . . . Two inner-city players from Chicago's Harlan Community Academy have attracted scouts: C Kenyatta Davis, a raw athlete who probably will move to left field at the next level, and RHP/OF Lonnie Patterson . . . RHP Brock Keffer is just 6 feet tall and thus not projectable, but he throws 90-92 mph . . . At times RHP Pete Martin shows two average pitches, an 88-90 mph fastball and a curve, but scouts aren't enamored of his makeup.
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