NEW JERSEY ***
Rutgers sophomore sensation Bob Brownlie isn't eligible for selection this year, leaving the state without a premier prospect until 2002. Depth isn't an issue, particularly in the high school pitching crop. The three best young pitchers are righthander Dane Mason (best arm), lefthander Chris Neylan (highest ceiling) and righthander Martin Vergara (safest pick). All have similar ability to Brownlie at the same stage, though none has Brownlie's bulldog approach to pitching.
Projected First-Round Picks
Projected Second-Fifth Round
Dane Mason. Outside of Brownlie, Mason has the best arm in New Jersey and projects as a third- or fourth-round pick. He has a lightning-quick arm with two plus pitches: a 92-93 mph fastball with little movement and an excellent curveball. He received a lot of acclaim when he beat Steinert High, handing the state's top-ranked high school team its only loss before May. Mason has a lukewarm commitment to Stetson and is considered a relatively easy sign.
Chris Neylan. The 6-foot-5 Neylan is a completely different pitcher than the shorter, quicker Mason. Neylan doesn't throw as hard--only 84-87 mph, occasionally touching 88--and has a shakier delivery. But he has a lot more projection because of his long, loose body. Neylan is one of three pitchers at Steinert High who attracted a following from scouts this spring. Righthander Mike Rodgers, who is cut from the mold of Greg Maddux, has been clocked as high as 89 mph. Both he and Neylan have committed to North Carolina State, with Rodgers the more likely of the two to end up in school. Righthander Matt Sweeney, the third Steinert pitcher, is the hardest thrower but least advanced of the three. He has reached 90 mph.
Billy McCarthy. McCarthy, a New Jersey native who returned home after playing at Radford, is easily the best draft-eligible college player in the state. He was the toughest out in the Big East Conference, leading the league with a .406 average and 61 RBIs entering NCAA regional play. His tools are solid across the board, but scouts view him as a tweener. He runs well, but not well enough to play center field in pro ball. He has a right-field arm but lacks the power expected from that position. He had just six home runs for Rutgers this season.
Wes Swackhamer. Few players in this draft have generated a wider range of opinion than the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Swackhamer, who could go anywhere from the third round to the 23rd. He's the kind of player who has a chance to either hit it big or fail miserably. He has the chiseled look of a big leaguer like Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill. But Swackhamer has such a passive approach to the game that a number of scouts question whether he even enjoys playing baseball. He's overly selective at the plate and shows little spark or discipline. When he does make contact, the ball jumps off his bat. Power is his best tool, the only one all scouts can agree on. His lack of speed and arm strength limits him to left field.
Martin Vergara. Vergara is on par with Mason and Neylan as a prospect, but may slide because of a strong commitment to Notre Dame. Vergara's fastball normally registers from 84-88 mph and will touch 90. He has an excellent slider. His size (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) is a potential obstacle to his future development, though it may be less of an issue because he's built like Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
Others to Watch:
RHP Shawn Tarkington returned to the mound after a two-year absence and should be Seton Hall's first draft pick, possibly in the eighth to 10th round. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound former catcher touched 91 mph and showcased two other solid pitches . . . C Chris Eickhorst is from a small school and has a questionable bat, but he has the defensive skills to get drafted on the first day . . . RHP/OF Jeff Frazier is not as advanced as his older brother Charles was when he was a sixth-round pick of the Marlins in 1999, or as acclaimed as younger brother Todd, 15, the star of the Toms River team that won the 1998 Little League World Series. Scouts like Frazier most as a pitcher, but probably not enough to sway him from attending Rutgers . . . SS Brian Ellerson, regarded as the best player in Montclair State history, might have been a fifth- to seventh-rounder had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury. Speed was his best tool . . . Five-foot-10, 160-pound LHP Buddy Gallagher compares favorably to crafty big leaguer Jamie Moyer. He has good command of his fastball and curve . . . 1B Tim Pahuta and switch-hitting C John Novisky were late bloomers on the New Jersey high school scene this spring. The 6-foot-3 Pahuta has one of the better lefthanded power bats in all of the high school ranks. He isn't very athletic, even as he has toned up his body by dropping 20 pounds. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Novisky is a boy in a man's body and has the power expected from a player his size. He also has been clocked in the high 80s as a pitcher . . . Six-foot-4, 220-pound RHP Jeff Sues was passed as the state's top-rated high school pitcher, in part because of his commitment to Vanderbilt. He has a good arm action and a good pitcher's body . . . RHP Kevin Barry, a 15th-round pick a year ago as a junior, didn't sign with Oakland--even though A's national crosschecker Chris Pittaro is the son of Rider coach Sonny Pittaro. There will be no questions about signability this time as Barry has exhausted his eligibility. He pitched better and displayed better velocity this year, touching the low 90s . . . OF Michael Cust is the third of the baseball-playing Cust brothers, succeeding Jack, a top prospect in the Diamondbacks organization, and Kevin, an 11th-round pick of the Braves in 2000. Like his brothers, he has above-average power potential and his other tools fall a little short . . . LHP Ryan Costello, MVP of the Division III Junior College World Series a year ago, always has generated interest because of his height (6-foot-7) and 91-92 mph fastball. Scouts are wary of drafting him again because they've been burned three times before.
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