Texas had more premium prospects come out of nowhere this spring than any other state. Flamethrowing righthander Colt Griffin and polished lefthander Trey Taylor both now project as first-rounders. Their emergence added to a high school class that's a bit deeper than usual, taking the edge off a lack of college talent. Rice aces Kenny Baugh and Jon Skaggs are the only collegians who figure to go in the first three rounds, and 25 of the state's best 30 prospects are high schoolers.
Texas does have the best junior college prospect in McLennan CC lefthander Sean Henn, who would be a first-round pick if he doesn't sign as expected as a draft-and-follow with the Yankees. Henn has been clocked as high as 97 mph this season.
Projected First-Round Picks
Colt Griffin. Unknown before this season, Griffin became the most talked-about high school prospect in the country. Coming into this spring, he was mainly a first baseman/outfielder. He committed to Louisiana Tech and wasn't considered a huge catch, though one recruiter says he saw Griffin hit a homer 500 feet. Given a chance to pitch in Marshall's rotation, he had an audience of scouts for his second startthough they were there to see his opponent, Natchitoches (La.) High righthander Calvin Carpenter. Griffin, who threw 91 mph in sporadic outings in 2000, won them over immediately, throwing 98 mph as he unveiled a new high three-quarters arm angle. He became the first high school pitcher clocked at 100 mph, and there are reports that he reached 101. At this point, he's all fastball and body (6-foot-4, 220 pounds). His second pitch is a hard slider that's inconsistent. He'll need to develop better command and an offspeed pitch, and a two-seamer would give hitters something else to think about. No one can remember seeing a high school arm like Griffin's, which is why he won't last past the first 10 picks.
Kenny Baugh. A 2000 fifth-round pick by the Athletics, Baugh opted to return to Rice. That decision will pay off as he'll jump into the first roundbased on talent, not his status as a senior. He repeated as the Western Athletic Conference pitcher of the year and became the 10th college pitcher to reach 40 victories and 400 strikeouts in his career. More important from a pro standpoint, his stuff got better. Last year he had a solid average repertoire enhanced by his feel for pitching. This spring, he boosted his fastball from 87-91 mph to 93-95, while maintaining his deceptive changeup and enhancing his curveball. He continued to throw all three pitches for strikes at will. He could go as high as 10th overall to the Astros, who hit it big with another local Rice star in Lance Berkman four years ago. Baugh should be one of the first players from the 2001 draft to reach the majors.
Trey Taylor. Taylor didn't blossom as dramatically as Griffin, but he made huge strides to become the top lefthander in the Midwest. After showing an 84-86 mph fastball as a junior and dropping as low as 81 last summer, he suddenly developed heat that rises to 92-93, outstanding velocity for a high school pitcher, particularly a lefty. Because he couldn't overpower hitters in the past, he has made good progress developing a curveball and changeup. He trusts his changeup so much that he lost a no-hitter on one. He also has nice size at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. Taylor is committed to Baylor but probably won't make it past the sandwich round.
Donald Levinski. Levinski's talent alone would make him a candidate for the supplemental first round, and his name has surfaced as a possibility for clubs with early picks that are looking to cut a below-market deal. He's a terrific athlete, which worked against him early in the spring, as he struggled with his control because he was late coming out from the basketball team. It's tough to get a read on Levinski because he faced 2-A competition in Texas. But his low-90s fastball and hard curveball are legitimate pitches, and he has a good build at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds. It's unlikely he'll follow through on his scholarship from Texas, which signed more of the in-state talent than any other school.
Possible Second- to Fifth-Round Picks
Jon Skaggs. At one point it appeared Skaggs would join Baugh and give Rice the unusual distinction of having two seniors drafted in the first round. A ribcage injury sidelined Skaggs briefly and he wasn't as consistent upon his return, so he'll probably just miss. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, he's bigger than Baugh, but Skaggs doesn't throw harder or approach Baugh's feel for pitching. He works at 92-94 mph, though he's much more of a maximum-effort guy. Skaggs' breaking stuff has potential but he can't always get it over the plate. One scout described Skaggs as a guy who always gets into jams and then works his way out, which won't be as easy at the next level. He is 23, so he may not develop much more. A fourth-round choice of the Orioles in 2000, he'll probably move up two rounds this time around.
Jayson Nix. Nix is a better prospect than his older brother Laynce, an outfielder drafted in the fourth round by the Rangers last year. Jayson was under consideration as a supplemental first-rounder earlier this year but now projects as a second-rounder. His best tool is his bat. He has a short, quick stroke that generates surprising power for a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder. His enthusiasm is another plus. He reminds scouts of Rangers second-base prospect Jason Romano. A high school shortstop, Nix has the arm to play there as a pro but only average speed. He could wind up at second base, third base or even catcher.
David Purcey. As a sophomore, Purcey looked liked he'd be the top prospect in Texas' 2001 high school class. A big lefthander who's now 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he threw in the low 90s with life and command. Two years later, he's still a prospect but won't go in the first round. His velocity hasn't improved and at times has dipped, possibly because he throws from a low three-quarters arm angle. His control may have regressed, and he has yet to come up with an effective secondary pitch. Some scouts say he lacks mental toughness. He's committed to Oklahoma, where he would be draft-eligible in 2003 as a 21-year-old sophomore.
Michael Hollimon. Advised by Scott Boras and reportedly seeking a $2 million bonus, Hollimon didn't have an overwhelming senior seasonfactors that could steer him to college at Texas. He doesn't have the speed teams want in a shortstop, but otherwise is a polished defender with great hands and the requisite arm. He's thin at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, so his offense is a potential concern. But he's a switch-hitter who works hard, so he could develop at the plate. Like Purcey, he'd be a draft-eligible sophomore in 2003 if he doesn't sign now.
Bobby Livingston. Texas has cornered the market on tall, hard-throwing lefthanders this year. Livingston is 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds, and he has a loose arm capable of delivering low-90s fastballs. He doesn't always show that velocity, sometimes pitching in the 86-87 mph range. He also lacks consistency with his command and breaking ball. His Major League Scouting Bureau grade in March trailed only Griffin's among Texas high schoolers, but Livingston has slipped a few notches. There are some concerns about his makeup.
Josh Baker. Baker may have the best bloodlines in the draft. His father Johnny spent five seasons as an NFL linebacker, his uncle Frank was a big league infielder for four years, his brother Jacob was an outfielder in the Royals system before retiring this spring, and his brother-in-law Lance Berkman is a rising star with the Astros. Josh is a gifted athlete in his own right. He has a strong body (6-foot-4, 205 pounds), solid fastball (89-91 mph) and a plus splitter. He's a tough competitor who hasn't begun to approach his ceiling. He's another potential draft-eligible sophomore for 2003, in this case committed to Alabama.
Jose DeLeon. DeLeon doesn't have much projection but also doesn't require much. Listed at 6 feet and closer to 5-foot-10, he can touch 95 mph and is one of the hardest throwers in the state. His curveball also is a potential plus pitch. He'll need refinement, as he simply blew away lower-level competition with his fastball. As the draft approached, DeLeon had to deal with tragedy. His girlfriend, the mother of his child, was killed in an automobile accident in May.
Alan Moye. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Moye is a bigger version of Lamar High outfielder Vincent Blue, who was more highly touted entering this spring. No longer. Moye has a live body and offers both power and speed. He began switch-hitting this year and showed pop from both sides of the plate. He also has a strong arm. The Reds have shown a lot of interest and could pop him in the third round, but both of Moye's parents are educators and they may steer him to Baylor.
Trey George. George was a feared hitter on the undefeated Bellaire High team that is ranked No. 2 in the nation. He also saw time on the mound, topping out at 91 mph while going 6-0. Teams are focusing on him as a corner outfielder, as he was one of the most feared high school hitters in south Texas. His compact power stroke is reminiscent of Kevin Mitchell's. He's a below-average runner and marginal outfielder, so he's an offensive player all the way. The team that drafts George will have to buy him out of a rare full ride to Tulane.
Gerrit Simpson. The Reds drafted Simpson after each of his two years at Connors State (Okla.) JC but weren't able to sign him. He'll move up considerably from his 33rd-round status of 2000, as he transferred to Texas and became the ace of the rotation. Simpson likes to pitch at 91-93 mph and can touch 97, but he's better when he uses a less stressful delivery and operates at 89-91. His slider is an effective second pitch, and at times he shows a decent changeup.
Ira Brown. Brown was more of a basketball standout before 2001. A junior-varsity outfielder a year ago, he became a varsity pitcher this spring and showed a 90-93 mph fastball despite having little grasp of pitching. At this stage, he does little more than rear back and fire, so he'll need a lot of development. Plenty of teams will take the chance because the hulking 6-foot-5, 225-pound Brown reminds scouts of Lee Smith. Brown's only college commitment is to San Jacinto (Texas) JC, so he won't be hard to sign.
Vincent Blue. Blue is the best of three legitimate prospects on a Lamar High team that includes righthanders Jeff Niemann and Shawn Ferguson. Blue is a pure center fielder who can run a 6.6-second 60-yard dash, and he'll add power to that speed once he bulks up from 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds. He lacks plate discipline and didn't have a strong senior year, so there's some doubt about his ability to hit. A Galveston (Texas) JC recruit, he's expected to turn pro.
Kelly Shoppach. The college catching crop depresses scouts this year. Shoppach would get the nod as the top prospect over Oklahoma State's Ryan Budde and Tampa's Mike Rabelo, though he's by no means a unanimous choice and gets mixed reviews. He takes just 1.9 seconds to deliver the ball from home plate to second base, though his arm was stronger in 2000. Some scouts see him as a solid catch-and-throw guy, while others don't think he's anything special. He has a tough, durable body reminiscent of Kelly Stinnett's and had by far his best season at the plate, earning Big 12 Conference player-of-the-year honors. But he hasn't learned to turn on pitches and has holes in his swing. Shoppach figures to go in the fourth or fifth round, though the scarcity at his position might work in his favor.
Cedrick Benson. One of the top tailback recruits in the country, Benson is compared to Ricky Williams, who won the Heisman Trophy while at Texas and spent four summers in the Phillies system as an outfielder. Benson, who signed with the Longhorns, led Lee High to three consecutive 5-A state titles, the highest level of play in Texas. A three-time 5-A offensive player of the year, he scored 128 touchdowns in his career (46 as a senior) to rank third all-time nationally. In baseball, he's a center fielder whose speed and power potential both get the maximum 80 grade on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. He needs a lot of development time and may find it difficult to get it. He won't give up football, meaning any team that signs him will have to share him with the Longhorns and eventually risk losing him to the NFL. George Steinbrenner covets athletes like this, so perhaps his Yankees will draft Benson, just as they did with John Elway, Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Daunte Culpepper.
Quan Cosby. Baseball is Cosby's third-best sport at the moment. He quarterbacked Mart High to the Texas 2-A championship game as a junior and senior, winning the state title in 1999. He was his classification's offensive player of the year and all-state quarterback/defensive back/kick returner in 2000, when he accounted for 48 touchdowns. One of the best athletes in the 2001 football recruiting class, he accepted a scholarship from Texas, which would make him a wide receiver. In May, he won Texas 2-A titles in the 100 meters (10.46) and 200 meters (21.31). Cosby is the fastest legitimate prospect in the draft. Scouts compare his speed to Deion Sanders in his prime. He's a sculpted 5-foot-11, 190-pounder who could develop power once he refines his baseball instincts. He'll be a long-term project for whichever team chooses him.
Jeff Niemann. At 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds, Niemann is the most imposing of the state's pitching prospects. He also may be more raw than any of them. He's so inconsistent that he would throw 91 mph one pitch and then 85 the next. He's projectable but will need a lot of time to develop into a pitcher. His fastball is straight, and he needs to improve his other pitches and his location. He seems set on attending Rice, so there's no telling where he'll be drafted.
Others To Watch:
LHP/OF Chase Wright is the state's best two-way player. He has a higher upside as a pitcher because he has a projectable body (6-foot-3, 175 pounds), throws in the neighborhood of 90 mph, spins a curveball pretty well and has mound presence. As an outfielder, he can run a 6.6-6.7 second 60-yard dash and has power potential . . . Opinion is divided on C Josh Ford. Some love his arm strengthhe has been clocked as high at 94 mph, though he didn't pitch this yearhis offensive potential and his size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds). Others think he's overrated, a marginal catcher who probably will have to move to third base. He broke his hand during the season, which affected his power, and interest seemed to slacken at that point. Committed to Baylor, he's considered a tough sign . . . SS Brooks Shankle batted cleanup on a Dallas Christian High team that won its sixth straight Texas 4-A title this spring. The son of Jimmy Shankle, the head coach at NAIA power Lubbock Christian (Texas), Brooks has good power but struggles to hit curveballs. He projects as a third baseman. Two other Dallas Christian players, 1B/RHP Dennis Bigley and OF Quinn Stewart, also have attracted scouts . . . RHP Jimmy Schultz' makeup has been questioned and he had shoulder surgery before the season, two strikes against him. He touches 90 mph, is projectable at 6-foot-3 and 160 pounds, and is considered signable . . . RHP/1B Wade Townsend is versatile, pulling double duty in baseball and playing basketball. He has size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), a 90 mph fastball and good arm action . . . Two Austin righthanders could get drafted in the first 10 rounds. Ross Ohlendorf's received limited exposure before this season because he pitches for a private school. He's 6-foot-4 and throws 89-91 mph with little effort, meaning he could reach the mid-90s as he matures. Chas Taylor had an up-and-down spring. Some scouts saw him throw 88-90 mph with a promising breaking ball, while others saw him in the low 80s. He also missed time when he was declared academically ineligible . . . RHP/SS Joey Guajardo could be a two-way star at the University of Texas next year. His size (5-foot-11) works against him in the draft, but he throws 90 mph and touches 94. That strong arm also is an asset at shortstop . . . Rice infielders Eric Arnold and Hunter Brown project as second or third basemen at the next level. Arnold will go higher in the draft because he has shown more power than Brown this year. Both may be tough signs because it's tough to get juniors from Rice to turn pro . . . Six-foot-3 LHP Grant Gregg showed an upper-80s fastball with life, plus command and smooth mechanics in a stint in the Cape Cod League last summer. He transferred to Abilene Christian this spring after it became apparent he wasn't going to pitch much at Texas A&M . . . With Gregg gone, RHP Khalid Ballouli was unquestionably Texas A&M's best pitching prospect, but he too was missing in action. Ballouli took the mound just twice before elbow surgery. When healthy, his strong suits are a low-90s fastball and command . . . 3B Greg Porter didn't get hurt or transfer from Texas A&M, but he might as well have. Porter hit just .202-2-10 after going homerless in 2000. A wide receiver and tight end for the Texas A&M football team, he has regressed since the Reds made him a third-round pick in 1998. Some thought he was the best athlete in the Cape Cod League last year . . . RHP Ryan France was Texas' Opening Day starter but didn't pitch much down the stretch. A team that saw him on one of his better days could take him as early as the seventh round . . . OF Jarred Ball is a switch-hitter with 6.6-second speed in the 60-yard dash and a solid arm. His bat looks a little slow, however . . . OF Matt Esquivel was the best football player in the San Antonio area last fall and will walk on at Nebraska as a running back. He runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, and has power and athleticism . . . RHP/SS Paul Janish is learning to pitch but has a quick, easy arm that can deliver fastballs in the low 90s. He has good hands at shortstop, though he needs to get stronger to contribute offensively. Once he does, he should throw harder as well . . . RHP/1B Tyler Jones has a tantalizing body (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and already throws in the low 90s. He's wild and may be tough to sign away from Notre Dame . . . Lamar RHP Wes Cooksey has a strong arm and probably will sign as a fifth-year senior before the draft . . . Baylor 1B Mike Higgins is a draft-eligible sophomore who hasn't tapped into his power potential, and teams may just wait until the 2002 draft to go after him . . . Pflugerville High lefthander Marcos Ramos is the younger brother of emerging Athletics prospect Mario Ramos. He's a soft-tossing strike thrower, just like his brother was at the same stage, and may follow Mario's path to Rice . . . Louisiana State landed the two best juco players in the state but neither Henn nor San Jacinto JC LHP Zach Parker is likely to set foot in Baton Rouge. Parker, whose under control to the Rockies, has touched 93 mph this spring.
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