They are selected in conjunction with major league scouting directors and major college recruiters, whose main focus is less on past performance and more on trying to establish what a player can do both this year and in the future. While scouting directors and recruiters factor performance into their evaluation, their emphasis is on physical tools and overall future potential.
The most informed opinions in the industry have expressed mixed sentiment on this year's class of high school prospects. In 2005, prep hitters such as Justin Upton, Andrew McCutchen, Cameron Maybin and Jay Bruce displayed the tools and ability that made plenty of clubs comfortable considering them as first-round draft picks. With less than four months remaining before the 2006 draft, this class lacks any position players who appear to be first-round locks.
The high school crop of pitchers is more defined and populated with hard-throwing, projectable righthanders, as well as a collection of advanced lefthanded pitchers who piqued the interest of scouts last summer. The southpaws could rapidly climb draft boards with strong performances as seniors.
Here's how the best—and most objective--minds in the scouting industry see the cream of the crop among this year's prep talent.
Scouts never seem satisfied with the depth and quality of amateur catching, and sentiment regarding this year's crop is no different. Typically, the depth chart offers at least a couple of strong college candidates, but this season high school backstops Hank Conger and Max Sapp (Bishop Moore HS, Orlando) are the consensus best options overall--and there's considerable doubt either one of them will make it to the majors as a catcher. Both have playable defensive skills, but power is their trademark.
Sapp doesn't look much like a ballplayer. Last summer he performed well on major showcase stages, but his barrel-chested, heavy frame leads to concerns about his conditioning and athleticism. By the fall, he had slimmed down and improved his agility. His lefthanded power is awesome, however, and might catapult him over Conger on draft boards.
HANK CONGER, Huntington Beach (Calif.) HS
Conger's name has been mentioned in baseball circles since he hit 34 home runs with the Ocean View, Calif., Little League team that fell one win shy of reaching the 2000 Little League World Series. A native of Korea, Conger's grandfather gave him the nickname Hank, after Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, and the moniker remains appropriate, as the switch-hitting slugger has plus raw power from both sides of the plate. He has an aggressive approach at the plate, but also has a good feel for the strike zone and good pitch recognition.
Behind the plate, Conger shows playable hands, serviceable receiving skills and above-average arm strength.
This year's crop of prep first baseman is underwhelming. Chris Parmelee might be the classes' best pure hitter, but scouts have not given up hope he can hold down a spot on an outfield corner. Cody Johnson also features plus hit and power tools, but would upgrade his profile if he could prove he can handle the outfield, as well. "I'd start (them) somewhere else," a scouting director said. "I think of first base as the final frontier. You hate to have to start (them) there."
Of course, if the raw power Parmelee, Johnson, Dustin Dickerson (Midway HS, Hewitt, Texas) and third-team selection Andrew Clark (New Palestine, Ind., HS) possess translates into games, where they play becomes more of a caveat than a dilemma in their evaluation.
CHRIS PARMELEE, Chino Hills (Calif.) HS
Parmelee has been well known as one of Southern California's best rising prospects since competing in a skills competition at the 1998 All-Star Game in Denver. His swing has balance and fluidity, and he has an advanced feel for the strike zone. He sprays line drives to all fields, and many scouts believe those doubles will turn into home runs as he fills out and gets stronger.
"If he'll show us his plus power, he's going to be (a first rounder)," the scouting director said. "Everyone assumes because he's such a good hitter that the plus power will come, which is a giant assumption to make."
Organizations targeting high school infielders in the early rounds of the draft in recent years have been rewarded. Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects (See Pages 10-18) are littered with both corner and middle infielders that were not without their faults as preps, but have developed steadily since signing.
Few scouts have proclaimed this year's class of infielders as the next crop of Brandon Woods or Ian Stewarts, but players such as Ryan Adams, Marcus Lemon, Chris Marrero, and third-teamers such as Ryan Jackson (Florida Christian, Miami) and Stephen King (Winter Park, Fla., HS) possess several above-average tools and enough present ability to project similar success.
RYAN ADAMS, Jesuit HS, New Orleans
Adams is an avid ping-pong player, which likely accelerated his outstanding hand-eye coordination and has helped him become an above-average, offensive-minded middle infielder. He's patient at the plate and will use the whole field. He doesn't have much present power, but can drive balls into both alleys when he keeps his weight back and allows pitches to travel deep into the hitting zone. He lacks the range and arm strength to profile as a shortstop down the line, but he has soft hands and good instincts.
Adams was uprooted from Jesuit High last fall because of Hurricane Katrina, but was back on campus this spring and preparing to help his school defend its Louisiana Class 5-A state title.
MARCUS LEMON, Eustis (Fla.) HS
Advocates of Lemon grew exponentially last summer and fall when he displayed his all-out, hustling approach to the game and solid-average toolset at numerous national showcase and tournaments. The son of former major leaguer Chet Lemon was not off to a great start this spring, but his pedigree and championship-caliber makeup are two reasons scouts might be reluctant to let his name slide down their follow list.
Lemon's best tool is his glove. He makes all the routine plays at shortstop and has average range in the hole. His arm is erratic. He's a catalyst at the plate, making consistent contact and spraying the ball to both alleys, with the potential for average power as he gets stronger.
CHRIS MARRERO, Monsignor Pace HS, Opa Locka, Fla.
After Marrero struggled last summer, missing significant time with a hamstring injury, he reestablished himself as possibly the best high school hitter in the class with a strong showing in the fall. His strong, sinewy body can easily be envisioned filling a big league uniform. When he gets his arms extended and front foot down on time, he can put a charge into balls, with tremendous loft and carry. He's an adequate defensive third baseman with well above-average arm strength.
Marrero, whose brother Christian is an outfielder at Broward (Fla.) Community College, will have plenty of opportunities this spring to prove his mettle, as he plays on a nationally-ranked team in a traditional hotbed for high school talent.
There's no matching last year's incredible depth and quality in high school outfielders.
Maybin (Tigers), McCutchen (Pirates) and Bruce (Reds) all went off the board in the top half of the first round of the draft, and Colby Rasmus (Cardinals) and John Drennen (Indians) were popped later in the first round or supplemental first-round. Throw in Austin Jackson (Yankees), Jordan Schafer (Braves), Daryl Jones (Cardinals) and Jordan Danks, who opted for college, and the class filled out nicely.
Johnson, Drew Rundle and Travis Snider rest atop this year's crop of outfielders at the season's outset, but the picture could look considerably different by June. Johnson's raw power is awe-inspiring, but his performance has been inconsistent, and Snider and Rundle will be faced with the challenge of the climate in the Pacific Northwest. Florida's Jonathan Pigott (Seabreeze HS, Ormond Beach) and third-teamers David Christensen (Douglas High, Parkland) and Derrick Robinson (P.K. Yonge HS, Gainesville) offer considerable upside but lack polish at the plate.
"There's decent depth with high school outfielders," an AL scouting director said. "I really don't see any sure-fire first rounders in the group."
CODY JOHNSON, Mosley HS, Lynn Haven, Fla.
Johnson established a reputation as the prep ranks’ most feared hitter last summer when he racked up accolades at tournaments and showcases using a wood bat. He has excellent plate coverage and quick wrists, allowing him to whip the bat head through the hitting zone with fierce speed and power. Young for the class (with an October, 1988 birthday), he’s still learning how to maximize the leverage his wiry-strong, 6-foot-5 frame lends.
He doubles as his high school's closer and can generate low-90s heat from the mound. That arm strength, as well as slightly above-average speed, fills out an impressive package of tools that makes Johnson a solid candidate to be the first high school position player drafted with a strong showing this spring.
DREW RUNDLE, Bend (Ore.) HS
Rundle fits the prototype of the raw, projectable high school hitter. He's rail-thin but extremely athletic, as he showed on the gridiron as a receiver on Bend's high school football team. He has good arm strength and shows good instincts in the outfield. While he's an above-average runner presently, he profiles to play a corner outfield position down the road.
Rundle has good looseness to his swing, although it does have some length. He's shown a knack for centering balls consistently with wood, as well as promising raw pop.
TRAVIS SNIDER, Jackson HS, Mill Creek, Wash.
Some scouts don't believe it was a coincidence last year when three college outfielders with Northwest backgrounds--Trevor Crowe (Portland), Jacoby Ellsbury (Madras, Ore.) and Travis Buck (Richland, Wash.)--were drafted in the first round. All three were underrated coming out of high school, which might help raise the profile of players like Rundle, Snider, third-team infielder Stephen Englund (Bellevue, Wash., HS) and righthander/infielder Jake Locker (Ferndale, Wash., HS).
Snider was considered one of the best all-around hitters at the 2005 Area Code Games. He's got a fluid lefthanded stroke with the ability to hit for average and power.
"He's a have-to-see guy up there, and I think he's that way with every (scouting director)," an AL scouting director said.
On many high school and college All-America teams, the "utility" category provides an extra spot to slide an extra player onto the team. On the contrary, not only does this category have a more distinguished designation—it’s home to the country's top two-way players--but its candidates are legitimate future stars.
Big league progeny Kyle Drabek was the lone underclassmen on the Preseason All-America team a year ago, and a year's physical maturation has fortified his reputation as the country's most dynamic high school prospect. Fellow Texan Aaron Miller (Channelview HS), a third-team All-America selection, also has good tools as a hitter and a pitcher. As for second-teamer Robert Stock's (Agoura, Calif., HS) tools, how many 16-years-olds pump 95 mph heat from the bump, catch and swing a powerful lefthanded bat? And he couldn’t even crack the first team.
KYLE DRABEK, The Woodlands (Texas) HS
Because scouting directors and college recruiters select BA's Preseason All-America teams, the honor is usually reserved for seniors, although each season the country's best junior typically garners enough support to find his way on the list. Last year Drabek was a first-team pick before the season, and his reputation continues to grow. The youngest son of former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek, Kyle has a mid-90s fastball, a filthy spike-curveball and is also a formidable hitter with a short, powerful righthanded stroke.
One scouting director had a matter-of-fact reply when asked whether Drabek would be a hitter or pitcher as a pro: "He's going to be real good."
There's lots more to evaluating pitching than radar gun readings, but arm strength is the most outstanding quality represented among the pitchers who fill out this year's first-team. Jordan Walden enters the season as the No. 1 overall prep prospect, based in large part on the 99 mph fastballs he unfurled last summer.
But Drabek, Dellin Betances, Jeremy Jeffress, Matt Latos, Chris Tillman and lefthander Brett Anderson could all hear their names called as the first prep pitcher selected in June if they successfully separate themselves from the deep, if not muddled pack of arms.
Jeffress has been up to 98, Drabek and Cory Rasmus 97, Latos 96 . . . the list of hard throwers is long, and the pitcher who best maintains his velocity this spring--and shows a feel for pitching--should rise to the top.
BRETT ANDERSON, Stillwater (Okla.) HS
While Anderson's low-90s fastball velocity isn't in the neighborhood of others on this list, he enters the spring as the best of a handful of promising lefthanders in the draft class. "I see more lefthanded pitchers than I've seen in 10 years," said a scouting director with an American League club. "There are four or five guys you have to have in lefthanded pitchers. Obviously you're not going to get them all but there are a lot of clubs hoping they can land one or two."
The son of Oklahoma State baseball coach Frank Anderson, Brett has a thick, durable frame and an outstanding feel for pitching. He was limited to 46 innings as a junior because of some arm tenderness but finished the summer strong.
DELLIN BETANCES, Grand Street HS, Brooklyn, N.Y.
A gangly 6-foot-9 product from New York’s inner-city, Betances belies the prototype of a first-round pick. His stuff, however, should help him overcome shortcomings and stereotypes. His fastball has movement and life at the plate, and his mid-70s breaking ball has tight rotation and nice tilt.
His mechanics need work, but most scouts see some ability to repeat his delivery and the athleticism to do so more consistently as he learns how to control his body over the rubber. "When I see a little off-the-chart delivery, I ask, 'Would you want to hit against him', and the answer is no," another AL scouting director said.
JEREMY JEFFRESS, Halifax County HS, South Boston, Va.
Virginia was loaded with prep talent in 2005, and while this year's crop in the Old Dominion State isn't as top-heavy or deep, Jeffress will make the small town of South Boston a popular stop for crosscheckers and scouting directors. He's undersized but offers a quick arm that generates a lively mid-90s fastball and a sweeping 78-79 mph slider. Jeffress led his high school basketball team in scoring and three-pointers as a senior, an indication of his premium athletic ability.
CHRIS TILLMAN, Fountain Valley (Calif.) HS
Like Latos, Tillman offers considerable upside. His delivery is smooth, simple and clean, and his arm works well. The ball jumps out of his hand, and has good, late life, thanks in part to the downhill plane generated from his 6-foot-5 frame. Tillman has good command of his three-pitch mix: a fastball that sits at 90-91 mph, a spike curveball and a changeup.
He plays in the same high school conference as Conger, the first-team All-America catcher, and has become friends with Conger since they've played with and against each other in high school and other amateur events.
JORDAN WALDEN, Mansfield (Texas) HS
As the ace pitcher on one of the top high school teams in Texas, Walden will deal with plenty of fanfare this season. He's got the even-keeled yet competitive attitude to handle the pressure, and his stuff is equally impressive. Walden locked up a starting job in the 2005 Area Code Games all-star game when he ran his fastball into the high-90s during a tryout, then pitched two scoreless innings as the West's starter in the third annual Aflac game last summer. His breaking ball has good downward bite, although his changeup requires lots of work. He gets plenty of swings and misses with his stuff but will need to improve his overall command as he advances. His frame is strong and durable, and he's very athletic. He played basketball at Mansfield High as a freshman and sophomore, and he bats in the heart of its batting order.