Scouting Reports: Nebraska

***** One for the
**** Banner
*** Solid, not
** Not up to
* Nothing to see

Scouts have had a hard time figuring out the Cornhusker State in 2007,
in large part because of turmoil surrounding the Nebraska program.
Shortstop Ryan Wehrle, by far the top position prospect in the state,
had a horrible season before he was kicked off the team. Charlie Shirek
and Drew Bowman have the most upside on the Cornhuskers pitching staff,
but Shirek was suspended at one point and neither had pitched well
enough to earn regular work.

National Top 200

1. Tony Watson,
lhp, Nebraska
2. Phillips Orta, rhp, Western
Nebraska CC

Other Prospects Of

3. Matt Foust, rhp, Nebraska
4. Drew Bowman, lhp, Nebraska
5. Travis Mortimore, lhp, Wayne State (Neb.)
6. Sean Yost, rhp, Lincoln (Neb.) Southwest HS
7. Pat Venditte, rhp/lhp, Creighton
8. Charlie Shirek, rhp, Nebraska
9. Ben Kline, ss, Omaha (Neb.) Central HS
10. Chris Gradoville, c, Creighton
11. Andy Masten, rhp, Creighton
12. Brett Scarpetta, rhp, Bellevue (Neb.)
13. Andrew Brown, 1b, Nebraska
14. Marc Lewis, lhp, Creighton
15. Johnny Dorn, rhp, Nebraska


1. Tony Watson, lhp
(National rank:

Nebraska. Class:
B-T: L-L.
Ht.: 6-4.
Wt.: 223.
One of the top draft-eligible sophomores in last
year’s draft class, Watson lasted until the Orioles took him in the
17th round because of worries about his signability. He turned down a
six-figure offer after a solid summer in the Cape Cod League, and his
stuff has gone backward a little this spring. His fastball has sat at
86-88 mph, down from 88-89 a year ago, and he hasn’t touched the low
90s as often. He has added 13 pounds and now carries 223 on his
6-foot-4 build, so the drop in velocity is surprising. Watson still can
paint the corners of the plate, in part because he’s athletic and
repeats his delivery. His plus changeup is his top pitch, but he hasn’t
thrown his slurvy slider much, and that offering still needs
consistency. Watson was Iowa’s top high school pitching prospect in
2003, when he threw three no-hitters and set a state record with a 0.10
ERA. But he tore his labrum before he got to colllege and redshirted
during his first year at Nebraska. Coming back from major shoulder
surgery earns him points for makeup. Despite his downturn as a
22-year-old junior, he still should go in the first five

2. Phillips Orta,
rhp (National rank:

Western Nebraska CC. Class:
B-T: R-R.
Ht.: 6-2.
Wt.: 180.
It has been a year of firsts for Western
Nebraska Community College. Last May, Orta became the first player ever
drafted out of Western Nebraska in the six-year history of the program.
Then this year, the Cougars won their first regional championship,
though they fell short of the Junior College World Series. Orta went to
the Mets as a 10th-rounder in 2006, and he’s the best prospect produced
by the Cougars, surpassing outfielder Francisco Leandro, who reached
Double-A in the Devil Rays system. Western Nebraska has a pipeline of
talent from Venezuela that has yielded both Orta (who pitched for his
nation at the 2004 World Junior Championship) and Leandro, as well as
three other Venezuelans on its current roster. Orta is athletic and
uses an efficient delivery to pitch at 88-94 mph. At times he’ll show a
plus slider, and he also has a changeup. The Mets signed him as a
draft-and-follow within a week of Western Nebraska’s season coming to
an end.

Foust Gets Serious

Righthander Matt Foust
had major shoulder surgery and redshirted in 2004, then pitched just 13
innings in the next two years at Nebraska. At the end of the 2004
season, Cornhuskers coaches told him he needed to improve and stop
squandering his potential. Foust dropped 20 pounds–he now carries 223
on his 6-foot-3 frame–and has become a much better pitcher. His
fastball ranges from 89-93 mph, and he has developed a hard slider.

Drew Bowman
entered 2004 as one of the top high school lefties in the nation, but
his velocity dropped and a commitment to Arizona State clouded his
signability, so he fell to the Brewers in the 21st round. He redshirted
in 2005 and pitched sparingly in 2006, prompting his transfer to
Nebraska. Scouts have seen him touch 93 with his lively fastball this
spring, but they’d like to see more of him to know if he’s legitimate.
In the last seven weeks before the NCAA regionals, he made two
appearances and retired just one of the seven batters he faced.
Bowman’s secondary pitches are inconsistent, and there are questions
about his mental toughness.

Righthander Charlie Shirek is
an even bigger enigma at Nebraska. He has the best pure stuff on the
staff, with a fastball that has reached 96 mph and features good sink
and run, as well as a solid slider and changeup at times. But his
delivery is shaky and he hasn’t fooled hitters, getting touched for a
6.39 ERA entering the NCAA regionals. After losing his spot in the
Cornhuskers’ weekend rotation in mid-April, Shirek was arrested. Police
charged him with vandalizing a bike and a car and said his
blood-alcohol level at the time of his arrest was .158. He was briefly
suspended and has pitched just three times since rejoining the team. He
strained his oblique muscle in the Big 12 Conference tournament.

The biggest disappointment at Nebraska, however, was Ryan Wehrle.
A draft-eligible sophomore in 2006, he was the most improved player in
the Big 12 last year and could have gone in the third to fifth round
had he been considered signable. He had power potential in a strong
6-foot-3, 205-pound frame, and had a chance to stay at shortstop in pro
ball. One scout compared him to Michael Cuddyer for his bat and
versatility. But after turning down the Reds as an 18th-round pick, he
returned to the Cornhuskers and looked sluggish and out of shape.

was doing us a favor by being on the field,” a rival Big 12 coach said.
Wehrle was hitting just .241 and refusing to make adjustments when he
was pulled in the middle of a game against Coastal Carolina on May 4,
and he was dismissed from the program the next day. Coach Mike Anderson
said Wehrle was let go for an accumulation of problems, not the one
incident. As a freshman, Wehrle was cited for driving while intoxicated
and being a minor in possession of alcohol. A team could take a chance
on Werhrle in the draft, and he shouldn’t be tough to sign. If he wants
to try to regain his previous status at another school, he’d be 23 when
he entered the 2008 draft.

Lefthander Travis Mortimore
went just 3-6, 5.22 at NCAA Division II Wayne State, but he ranked
sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (11.8) before the D-II College
World Series. His size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), athleticism and 90-91
mph sinker appeal to pro teams. He also throws a slider and projects as
a pro reliever.

Righthander Sean Yost
is the best of a lean Nebraska high school crop. He’s a projectable
6-foot-6 and 185 pounds, and unlike many pitchers his size, he repeats
his delivery and has good command of his secondary pitches. His
fastball velocity sits in the upper 80s and should increase as he gets
stronger. A good athlete who also plays basketball, he’s considered
tough to sign away from a Nebraska scholarship.

The Cornhuskers also have locked up the top prep position player in the state. Shortstop Ben Kline
also plays basketball and helped Omaha Central win state Class A hoops
titles in 2006 and 2007. He also led the baseball team to its first
state tournament appearance since 1983 this spring. Kline is a polished
hitter for a high school player and should have good pop once he fills
out his 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame.

Pat Venditte
was one of the best stories in college baseball. Not only is he an
ambidextrous pitcher, but he strung together a 43 2/3-inning scoreless
streak that’s believed to be an NCAA Division I record. He may have set
another NCAA mark by working 89 1/3 innings in relief. He was named MVP
at the Central Illinois Collegiate League all-star game last summer and
at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament this spring. Venditte, who
has thrown with both arms since he was 3, set school records for
single-season (1.88) and career (2.61) ERA. From the right side, he has
a high-80s fastball that can touch 91 mph when he’s a fresh, and a
12-to-6 curveball.

As a lefty, he throws from a lower arm slot
and has an 81-85 mph fastball and a sweeping slider. Venditte is the
best prospect among the handful of ambidextrous pitchers in college
baseball history, but how high that will get him drafted remains to be
seen. He’s a walk-on who should be rewarded with a scholarship if he
returns for his senior year, and he may not get drafted high enough to
make it worth his while to delay the completion of his business degree.