Perennially-strong Louisiana is as loaded as ever. Rickie Weeks is a possible No. 1 pick, and he, Michael Aubrey and Aaron Hill could be the first three college position players selected. Weeks is far from the only prospect on Southern, as 10 of his teammates could be drafted, most of them in the first 10-15 rounds. Even with Louisiana State's pitching staff getting riddled by injuries, there are plenty of good arms available.
1. Rickie Weeks, 2b, Southern U.
2. Michael Aubrey, 1b, Tulane U.
3. Aaron Hill, ss, Louisiana State U.
4. Xavier Paul, of, Slidell HS, New Orleans
5. Tony Giarratano, ss, Tulane U.
6. Jeffries Tatford, 3b/c, St. Thomas More HS, Lafayette
7. Jordan Mayer, rhp/3b, Alexandria Senior HS
8. Brandon Belcher, lhp, Ruston HS
9. Wade LeBlanc, lhp, Barbe HS, Lake Charles
10. Billy Sadler, rhp, Louisiana State U.
11. Marcus Townsend, of, Southern U.
12. Justin Brashear, c, Barbe HS, Lake Charles
13. Dewan Day, rhp, Southern U. (CONTROL: Blue Jays)
14. Robert Lane, ss, Neville HS, Monroe
15. Corey Coles, of/lhp, U. of Louisiana-Lafayette
16. Cain Byrd, rhp, Southwood HS, Shreveport
17. Jonny Kaplan, of, Tulane U.
18. Damian Ursin, rhp, Southern U.
19. Josh Rainwater, rhp, DeRidder HS
20. Michael Schubert, 1b/lhp, Holy Cross HS, New Orleans
21. Andrew Toussaint, of, Southern U.
22. Derrick Thomas, rhp, Captain Shreve HS, Shreveport
23. Chris Provence, rhp/3b, Slidell HS
24. Anthony Garibaldi, 3b, Southeastern Louisiana U.
25. Alex Presley, of, Neville HS, Monroe
26. Chuck Hickman, ss, Nicholls State U.
27. Josh Boop, of, Northwestern State U.
28. Antoin Gray, 3b, Southern U.
29. Kevin Vital, 1b, Southern U.
30. Alfred Ard, of, Southern U.
31. James Stevens, rhp, Neville HS, Monroe
32. Cory Hahn, rhp, Tulane U.
33. Jordy Templet, rhp, U. of Louisiana-Lafayette
34. Matt Overman, rhp, Nicholls State U.
35. Daniel Latham, rhp, Covington HS
36. Bo Pettit, rhp, Louisiana State U. (CONTROL: Rockies)
37. Jake Tompkins, rhp, Louisiana State U.
38. Fernando Puebla, ss, Southern U.
39. Cody Poche, c/rhp, Slidell HS
40. Jim Miller, rhp, U. of Louisiana-Monroe
41. Matt Varner, rhp, Louisiana Tech
42. Jose Lado, lhp, Delgado CC (CONTROL: Rockies)
43. Vince Davis, lhp, Southern U.
44. Rusty Begnaud, rhp, McNeese State U.
45. Walt Nolen, rhp, McNeese State U.
Projected First-Round Picks
Rickie Weeks, 2b
Southern could join Arizona State as the only schools to produce multiple No. 1 overall picks. Weeks would follow Danny Goodwin (1975, Angels), though the Devil Rays were undecided whether they would take Weeks or California high school OF Delmon Young; the odd-man out likely would go third to the Tigers. Weeks has the best tools and is the purest hitter in college baseball. His hands are so quick that he generates amazing bat speed and can turn around any inside fastball. With back-to-back .495 and .493 seasons, he's virtually assured of becoming only the second repeat batting champion in NCAA Division I history. His career .469 average is the best Division I mark ever. Though his quality of competition is suspect, scouts think Weeks will only have to develop a little more pitch recognition to mash as a pro. Besides hitting for average, Weeks also has plus power and speed. After scuffling at shortstop earlier in his career at Southern he has settled in at second base. He's still a little raw there, but he has more than enough arm strength and athleticism to play there in the majors.
Michael Aubrey, 1b
He may have to take a back seat to Weeks in Louisiana, but Aubrey is a better pure hitter than any other college player in the nation. He projects as a .300-plus hitter with lots of doubles and 15-20 homers in the majors. He has a great approach at the plate and rarely gets fooled. He also has solid average speed and tremendous baseball instincts. He projects as a possible Gold Glove first baseman, though he also played the outfield and threw 90-92 off the mound when he was Baseball America's 2001 Freshman of the Year. Some teams will try to move him to a corner outfield spot, but he doesn't show the arm strength he once did. The Conference-USA player of the year, Aubrey will go in the upper half of the first round, probably between No. 6 (Cubs) and No. 13 (Blue Jays).
Aaron Hill, ss
In a draft thin on shortstops, Hill is one of the few with legitimate offensive potential. There are questions as to whether he can handle that position all the way up to the majors, but he'll get the shot to prove he can't. His instincts and gritty makeup get the most out of his toolswhich aren't lacking. He has enough arm to make plays from the hole, along with range and quickness. He's not flashy but gets the job done. At worst, the Southeastern Conference player of the year will be an all-around second baseman. Offensively, he has a beautiful swing, above-average speed and control of the strike zone. He doesn't have plus home-run power, but he can hit the occasional longball and line balls into the gaps. In a lot of ways, he is similar to former Clemson star Khalil Greene, who went 13th overall to the Padres last year. Hill could go in the same spot to the Blue Jays and won't make it past the Athletics, who choose 25th and 26th.
Possible Second-Fifth-Round Picks
Xavier Paul, of/rhp
Paul would have been an early-round pick as a high school sophomore in 2001, and being under the microscope for that long has diminished him in the eyes of scouts. He hasn't grown bigger than 5-foot-9 and he didn't run well this spring, and while he's a polished two-way player he's not appreciably better than he was two years ago. Paul has been throwing in the low 90s since he was a freshman, but he'll be an outfielder as a pro. He's a gifted hitter with a quick bat and some juice in his 195-pound frame. He has the instincts but maybe not the speed for center field, and he's more likely to play in right. Paul is now more of a third-round choice than the first-rounder he figured to develop into, and that might not be enough to sign him away from Tulane.
Tony Giarratano, ss
While Hill may have to switch positions, Giarratano is a pure shortstop. Among the college players who can make that claim, he may have the best all-around package of tools. Defensively, his hands and arm rate a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He made just nine errors during the regular season and used his agility to make several outstanding plays. After a disastrous 2002 in which he batted .238 for Tulane and .187 in the Cape Cod League, Giarratano has remade himself offensively. After gaining weight a year ago, he got into better shape and batted .347 during the 2003 regular season. He should be a contact hitter who can hit in the .270 range while providing a few doubles and stolen bases. With his glove, that would be enough to earn him a big league starting job. Because he's a college player and can stay at shortstop, Giarratano could be overdrafted in the late second round.
Jefferies Tatford, 3b/c
Unknown as a baseball player before this year, Tatford has the best body among Louisiana prospects: 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds of pure muscle. He could be a third- to fifth-round pick for a high school-oriented team looking for power. Tatford uses a short lefthanded stroke to punish baseballs, though he's still raw at the plate. He's a tremendous athlete who quarterbacked his football team to the state quarterfinals. He has touched 92 mph on the mound, and also has good hands and quick feet. He should be able to play third base and possibly even catcher.
Jordan Mayer, rhp/3b
Mayer is a raw, strong 6-foot-4, 215-pounder who has put on batting-practice shows at national showcases for the last two years. He also has a strong arm that throws heavy fastballs in the low 90s, though he's still learning to pitch and his curveball is only marginal at this point. While Mayer can make all the throws from third base, he's not the most agile fielder and may wind up at first base. There's also talk of converting him into a catcher when he turns pro. He's Louisiana State's top recruit.
Brandon Belcher, lhp/of
Belcher is the best lefty in Louisiana but scouts backed off of him as the draft approached. His 6-foot-0, 175-pound frame turns them off and makes it unlikely he'll get the money to lure him away from the University of Alabama. Belcher is a quality pitcher, however, with a plus curveball, 86-89 mph fastball and solid changeup. He also swings the bat well and could be a two-way impact player in the SEC. Belcher's versatility extends to the gridiron as well. After starting at quarterback for Ruston High as a junior, he moved to wide receiver last fall to accommodate former Pro Bowl passer Bert Jones' son Beau.
Wade LeBlanc, lhp
With LeBlanc and Justin Brashear, Barbe High has the best all-prospect battery in the nation. LeBlanc won his first 16 decisions this spring before losing on three unearned runs in the state 5-A quarterfinals. He's very comparable to Belcher and has similar stuff. LeBlanc has a better body (6-foot-3, 185 pounds), more projection and is more signable, while Belcher has better secondary pitches and command. LeBlanc is more raw and will need more time to develop.
Billy Sadler, rhp
Louisiana State lost Lane Mestepey to shoulder surgery during the offseason, then Brian Wilson (Tommy John surgery) and Brandon Nall (torn labrum) during the spring, leaving Sadler as the Tigers' best pitching prospect. He had Tommy John surgery himself while he was at Pensacola (Fla.) JC. Sadler has electric stuff at times, showing a 94-96 mph fastball and a hard slider. But his mechanics aren't the best-he's just 6 feet tall and throws with maximum effort-so his command comes and goes. When he's on, he has the weapons to be a major league closer.
Marcus Townsend, of
Weeks isn't the only Southern player with a huge ceiling. Townsend is a chiseled 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, and his speed and power are both plus-plus tools. His arm strength is another positive. He gets compared to Fred Lewis, a Giants' second-round pick off the Jaguars last year, but is much more raw. Townsend barely played in two years of junior college at Texas-Brownsville, in part because he broke his hamate bone last year. Though he was one of six Southern regulars batting at least .360 entering NCAA regional play, he's still learning to hit. Judging fly balls in right field can be an adventure for him at times. But he has improved over the course of the spring, giving glimpses of his huge upside.
Others To Watch
Justin Brashear, LeBlanc's catcher, has played better at showcases than he has in high school. Power is his best tool, and he turned a 94-mph fastball from projected first-rounder Jeff Allison into a line-drive homer at last June's USA Baseball Tournament of Stars. Brashear's swing is a little long and slow, but catchers with lefthanded pop and arm strength are hard to find.
Tightness and a pinched never in his arm limited RHP Dewan Day to 17 innings in 2002 after he transferred from Jackson State. Healthy again this spring, he has pitched anywhere from 87-95 mph and become Southern's ace. His curveball and condition are improved, and he can be intimidating at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. The Blue Jays took a 26th-round flier on him last year and control his rights as a fifth-year senior.
Southern is known for its potent offense, which led NCAA Division I with a .360 average and 10.6 runs per game heading into the regionals, but could have as many as four pitchers drafted. RHP Damian Ursin, who's shorter than his listed 6 feet and resembles Tom Gordon, has a 92-95 mph fastball. LHP Vince Davis usually pitches in the mid-80s but has lots of life on his pitches and projection in his 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame. RHP Justin Sanchez, who transferred from Texas-Brownsville with Townsend, has pitched just two innings because of tendinitis but attracted interest during fall practice.
As for the Jaguars' hitters, a total of seven should get picked. OF Andrew Toussaint, a sophomore-eligible draftee who was a 10th-round pick out of high school by the Dodgers, has power, speed and hands almost as quick as Weeks'. 3B Antoin Gray finished fourth in Division I with a .449 average last year and projects as an offensive second baseman. 1B Kevin Vital is a bad-bodied (6 feet, 245 pounds) slugger who bats cleanup between Weeks and Toussaint. Recruited as a pitcher, he has enough arm strength to give catching a try. OF Alfred Ard has a raw package of tools that includes more speed than Townsend and the aptitude to play center field. He also caught 20 passes for Southern as a wide receiver last fall. SS Fernando Puebla is built like Luis Sojo, but he handles himself well defensively and makes contact at the plate.
SS Robert Lane was also the nation's third-rated quarterback recruit. He signed with Mississippi after accounting for more than 9,000 yards and 106 touchdowns in four years of high school. There may be a club or two that covets his raw tools, but most didn't even bother crosschecking him after he looked stiff and slow in front of area scouts early in the season. The consensus is that Lane's impressive physical tools don't translate well for baseball and won't unless he gives up football, which likely would take a seven-figure bonus. He has great power potential but also a long, sweeping swing. He runs well for a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder but takes a while to get going on the diamond. He obviously has a cannon arm but negates it somewhat with a slow release. While Lane moved to shortstop as a senior, he'd have to play third base as a pro. Josh Booty, another ballyhooed Bayou State quarterback who failed miserably after the Marlins gave him a then-record $1.6 million as a 1994 first-rounder, remains a cautionary tale that few teams want to buck.
Scouts disappointed by Lane didn't come away empty-handed, however, as they spotted two other prospects on the Neville roster. OF Alex Presley is a plus runner whose lefthanded swing reminds scouts of Mike Fontenot, a Louisiana State project drafted in 2001's first round by the Orioles. RHP James Stevens, who's 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, has an 87-91 mph fastball and low-80 slider.
OF/LHP Corey Coles has had a few standout performances this season. He batted .417 during the season-opening Astros Classic at Minute Maid Park, belted three homers in one game against New Orleans and hit .400 in the Sun Belt Conference tournament. His best tools are his line-drive bat and his speed. He throws 88-89 from the mound but doesn't show the same arm strength as an outfielder.
RHP Cain Byrd positioned himself as the state's top prep pitching prospect coming into the year after showing a low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider last summer. But he didn't prepare well for his senior year and strained a forearm muscle. His velocity has dipped to the mid-80s at times and his drafting team may want to see how he performs this summer before signing him.
Entering regional play, OF Jonny Kaplan ranked second in Division I with 47 steals in 52 attempts. A Chad Curtis type of grinder, he has shown more pop this year and plays a stellar center field. As a fifth-year senior, he can sign as a free agent.
RHP Josh Rainwater's season began with consecutive 1-0 losses to top pro prospects LeBlanc, Byrd and Kelly Shearer (Elkins High, Missouri City, Texas). But he established his credentials by fanning 17 and 18 in back-to-back starts against national high school powers Barbe and Elkins. He topped out at 95 mph against Elkins, the defending national champion, and competes well. Rainwater needs to firm up his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame and refine his slider. His finish was happier than his start, as he led DeRidder to its first-ever state 4-A championship. He tossed a no-hitter in the semifinals and struck out six of the seven batters he faced to close out the finals the next day.
1B/LHP Michael Schubert, RHP Derrick Thomas and RHP/3B Chris Provence all have pro bodies and emerged as prospects this spring. Schubert's lefthanded power is more promising than his mound prowess, which is compromised by a maximum-effort delivery. Also a quarterback at Captain Shreve, Thomas is very projectable (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and getting better now that he's dedicating himself to pitching. He commands three pitches, including a 90-92 mph fastball. Provence, who benefited from the exposure Paul brought to Slidell High, showed a lively 88-89 mph in his first extended trial on the mound.
3B Anthony Garibaldi was the Southland Conference newcomer of the year after transferring from Sacramento CC. He probably will have to move to first base at the next level and may have enough bat to pull it off. He has very quick wrists.
SS Chuck Hickman opened 2003 with a 21-game hitting streak-a comedown from 2002, when he hit safely in his first 31 games. Though undersized at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, he makes contact, runs well and has a strong arm.
OF Josh Boop is Northwestern State's best prospect. He has leadoff skills but would be better off as a senior sign in 2004 if he learns to draw more walks. Boop helped North Central Texas CC win the 2001 Junior College World Series as a freshman, batting .419 with a school-record .595 on-base percentage.
Cory Hahn, Jordy Templet and Matt Overman all are solid college righthanders. They're all about 6 feet tall, compete hard, work in the high 80s and throw a breaking ball for strikes.
RHP Daniel Latham could blossom into an early 2006 pick after three years at Tulane. A top student who probably won't go high enough this June to warrant signing, he's 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds with the potential for a plus fastball and curve. He already throws strikes and has life on his 88-89 mph heater.
RHPs Bo Pettit and Jake Tompkins pitched much better in 2002 than in 2003. At their best, they both flash a low-90s fastball and a 12-to-6 curveball. More often than not, they've been in the high 80s without much command or breaking stuff. The Twins control Pettit as a fifth-year senior after drafting in the 13th round a year ago. The Rangers took Tompkins in the 28th round but relinquished his rights when he returned to school.
Slidell High has a third two-way talent in C/RHP Cody Poche. His best tool is his arm, which erases basestealers and delivers 87-90 mph fastballs. His bat is questionable, however, and at 6 feet he doesn't have desirable size for a pitcher.
The best prospects from Louisiana-Monroe (RHP Jim Miller), Louisiana Tech (RHP Matt Varner) and the state's junior college ranks (Delgado LHP Jose Lado) are all 6-footers with arm strength but little pitchability. Miller and Varner both have touched 94 mph. Lado is under control to the Rockies as a 28th-round pick from 2002.
McNeese State RHPs Rusty Begnaud and Walt Nolen have high-80s fastballs and plus curves. Begnaud earned two victories in four days to give the Cowboys the Southland Conference tournament championship and an automatic NCAA playoff berth.
A number of the state's best college pitching prospects were waylaid by injuries. Wilson, who was throwing 93-95 mph with his fastball and 82-86 mph with his slider, would have gone in the first two rounds had he not blown out his elbow. Mestepey and Nall also would have been solid picks from Louisiana State. McNeese State RHP Ronnie Baron, who can reach the mid-90s, worked just four innings before needing Tommy John surgery.