Few scouts had heard much about John VanBenschoten or Brad Hennessey at the start of the college season, but they know them now. Both should be among the first 70 players drafted, with VanBenschoten possibly going in the upper half of the first round. A number of other Ohio college prospects made significant strides this spring, while the high school crop generally was disappointing.
Projected First-Round Picks
John VanBenschoten. VanBenschoten was undrafted as a righthander out of high school, and area scouts never paid more than passing interest until this spring when he blossomed into a sensation as a five-tool position player. By adding 20-25 pounds onto a 6-foot-5 frame in a rigorous offseason weight-training program, his strength caught up with his body. With better bat speed to go with a loft swing, he hit long home runs with regularity and led the nation with 30 homers heading into NCAA regional play. He was the Mid-American Conference player of the year and led Kent State to the conference title by winning MVP honors in the MAC tournament. Each of his tools is average or better, including speed (6.6 in the 60, rare for a player his size), arm strength (93 off the mound) and power. Scouts grade his power at 75 on the standard 20-to-80 scouting scale. He was used at first base and in the back end of the bullpen this spring at Kent State, but his destination in pro ball will be right field, where he can take advantage of his speed and arm strength. He has as much raw ability as any player in the draft.
Projected Second-Fifth Round
Brad Hennessey. Once the No. 3 starter on his high school staff, Hennessey made the conversion to full-time pitcher and the result was dramatic. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound righthander now projects as high as a second-round pick. Hennessey split time as a pitcher and middle infielder in 2000 and never performed well in either role. As a pitcher only, his fastball jumped from 85-87 mph to 91-92 with a high of 95. He added a hard slider that became his best pitch when he bumped up the velocity to an impressive 85-87 mph. His record was 6-5, 4.06, but he improved every time out and his nine-inning average of 12.8 strikeouts was one of the best in Division I. Scouts like his athleticism and graceful, fluid actions, and see a lot of untapped potential.
Joe List. Scouts are mixed on List. Some like his ability enough to draft him in the first four rounds, while others don't see him in the first 10 rounds. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound lefthander was dominating at times with a 90-92 mph fastball that he kept down in the zone. A herky-jerky delivery makes the pitch look even quicker. Those who don't care as much for List call him a pitcher with poor arm action who has never found a way to win or throw strikes consistently.
Others to watch:
Ohio's high school crop never took shape this spring, with only RHP Nick Wagner given a chance of going in the first five rounds. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Georgia Tech signee was clocked mostly from 88-90 mph, but threw in a few pitches at 95. He also had above-average velocity on his slider . . . Most of Ohio's other top high school prospects appear earmarked for college. That includes LHPs Scott Lewis and Trent Luyster, and RHP Justin Myers--a trio of Ohio State signees who probably won't warrant bonuses sufficient to keep them away from school. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Lewis is polished with three pitches he can throw for strikes, but his size and a mid-80s fastball work against him. Myers is a 6-foot-6 and projectable, but his velocity slipped this year from 90-91 mph to the mid-80s. Luyster was a good two-way high school player with an 89-90 mph fastball who made greater strides this spring than any Ohio high school player, but he isn't advanced enough yet to make an immediate transition to pro ball . . . Six-foot-3, 230-pound C Bart Hunton was the No. 1 high school player in Ohio at the start of the season. He attracted his share of crosscheckers, who see a big kid with power potential and improving catching skills . . . Six-foot-4, 220-pound Canadian RHP Judd Richardson is draft-eligible as a college sophomore. He has all the raw tools to excel, including an 89-91 mph fastball, but needs to develop better command . . . OF Tony Miller, better known at Toledo as a defense back prior to this spring, became dynamite in a small package on the diamond. He hit .368 while showing bat speed, a compact swing, good center field skills and 6.6-second speed in the 60-yard dash. He set a Rockets record with 29 steals this season . . . Justin Knoedler, a 13th-round pick of the Giants in 2000 and a heralded junior-college transfer, was considered a solid catching prospect. Not only was he upstaged by his twin Jason, but he also ended the season generating more interest as a pitcher. Unable to swing the bat or go behind the plate when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand, Knoedler took to the mound and was clocked up to 93-94 mph, demonstrating the arm strength that had been his best tool as a catcher. With little experience on the mound, his mechanics are raw. He has more tools than his brother, but scouts say Jason is the better player. He took to switch-hitting immediately and batted .402 with 17 homers. He runs well and excels in the outfield . . . Six-foot-4, 215-pound RHP Craig Menke is expected to go after the 10th round. He pitches at 89-91 mph now with a plus curve, but is expected to add velocity in pro ball . . . 3B Kevin Youkilis and C Chris Hamblen led Cincinnati to one of its best seasons ever and should be rewarded in the draft. Youkilis, a senior, gained the attention last summer in the Cape Cod League after not being drafted as a junior. He was one of the top hitters in Conference USA. The sophomore-eligible Hamblen, an 18th-round pick out of high school, returned to his Freshman All-America form after missing all of 2000 following Tommy John surgery. His arm strength returned to normal but scouts say he only has scratched the surface as a hitter.
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