As expected, Southwest Missouri State has the state's top prospectthough not the guy scouts figured. While first baseman Ryan Howard had a mediocre junior season, senior lefthander John Rheinecker returned from a knee injury and moved ahead of him. Outside of shortstop Joe Simokaitis and catcher Joe Muich, Missouri's high school players didn't progress as hoped.
Projected First-Round Picks
Possible Second- to Fifth-Round Picks
John Rheinecker. Rheinecker would have been a mid-round pick in 2000 if he hadn't torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing the outfield. He has continued to pull two-way duty this spring, though he has been strictly a DH on offense. He throws five pitches, all with precision and plenty of life. His best offering is a slider, and he throws his fastball in the high 80s. Though a sore elbow sidelined Rheinecker late in the year, scouts weren't too concerned. He's one of six college seniors with a chance to get drafted in the first two rounds.
Ryan Howard. Howard seemed primed for a big junior year after batting .379 and leading the Missouri Valley Conference with 18 homers as a sophomore. Instead he regressed, batting just .271 with 13 longballs and 74 strikeouts in 58 games. He had trouble turning on fastballs and lifting pitches. It may have been a bad case of draftitis, but his performance has raised a red flag, especially following his .231 average using wood bats with Team USA last summer. Nevertheless, his tools shouldn't allow him to slide past the fourth round. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he resembles a young Frank Thomas. He offers lefthanded power and patience at the plate, and he has average speed despite his size.
Others To Watch:
SS/RHP Ryan Stegall was expected to go in the first five rounds before he struggled at the outset of the season. His swing got long, perhaps because he was trying to bash home runs in order to impress scouts. He threw 88-91 mph as Missouri's closer and probably will focus on hitting as a pro, likely as a second or third baseman . . . Athletic SS Joe Simokaitis surged past several players to become the state's top high school prospect. He's from St. Mary's High, which also produced Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. Simokaitis will play at Nebraska if he doesn't sign . . . C Joe Muich, another St. Louis high school product, also improved significantly. He has arm strength and pop in his bat. He's committed to Wichita State . . . RHP Todd Pennington led Division I with a 1.33 ERA this spring. His best pitch is a devastating changeup, and he has an 86-87 mph fastball . . . OF Tyrone Roberson, the state's top running back recruit, has accepted a football scholarship from Missouri. He was limited this spring after injuring his knee in a pickup basketball game in late April. It's not a long-term concern and won't detract from his speed, his best tool . . . RHP Jerome Foster was the top-rated Missouri prep player coming into the year. He's 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, and he throws 87-89 mph with a decent curveball.
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