Will Work With Wood

JUPITER, Fla.–As we have done for the past year or so, Baseball America is attending another major wood bat amateur tournament and providing insight and highlights here on the Draft Blog.

We’ve reviewed our notes from the summer and spent hours on the phone breaking down the next class of draft-eligible high school, junior college and four-year college prospects, and this weekend’s World Wood Bat Association fall championship in Jupiter provides us with one final firsthand look at the top prep players for the 2008 draft.

I knew I was in the right place for baseball when, sitting behind the desk at the Enterprise Rent-A-Car yesterday when I arrived was none other than Justin Saltalamacchia, the former UNC Greensboro standout whose older brother Jarrod made a splash in the big leagues with the Braves this summer before being traded to Texas.

This event features 80 teams from the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and a smattering of other Latin American countries, and is held at the expansive Roger Dean Stadium spring training complex of the Cardinals and Marlins over the next three days. Each morning at 8 a.m. (weather permitting), 12 games begin simultaneously on 12 back fields at the complex, with a handful of marquee games, including Monday’s noon championship tilt, held at Roger Dean Stadium, home of the Marlins’ and Cardinals’ high Class A Florida State League teams. Most of the teams are composed of players from the same general region, though this year there are a handful of all-star teams in the field that are assembled just for this event and feature some of the top players from across the country.

Over the past eight years, this tournament has played host to a number of today’s top pro and college players, and it’s become a must-stop on the scouting and recruiting trail for more than 200 professional scouts–including more than half of the 30 major league scouting directors–and enough college coaches to hit fungos to a small country. The 2004 tournament was the second one I covered personally, and looking back at that event’s top 20 prospects provides an idea as to what kind of impact these players could potentially have in pro ball in the not-so-distant future.

Thursday evening provided a taste test of the action to come as nine games were played, and right off the bat, a handful of the class’ top players got off to strong starts. Tim Beckham is the highest-ranked player in attendance this week, and the all-everything shortstop from suburban Atlanta doubled in three at-bats Thursday evening. He looks like he’s in good shape, which is one of the main things a lot of the scouts here are looking at.

"There hasn’t been a draft held in October that I can remember," an American League scouting director said Thursday night. "It’s great to come in here and see these guys and measure up their body against what we saw during the summer, or maybe get to see some guys we might have missed this summer. No one is going to make or break their draft stock by what happens in the fall. How do they approach the game, what kind of shape are they in, how seriously will they take their conditioning between now and the next time we see (many of them in the spring)? Those are some of the things to look for."

By the time the evening’s featured game began, a steady rain was falling, but Michael Palazzone was undeterred. This event is typically heavier in East Coast talent, and like Beckham, Palazzone’s another Georgia product who could be drafted in the first round next June. He tossed two innings in relief of lefty Brett DeVall (Niceville, Fla., High), and showed feel for three pitches, including a pair of splendid changeups at 80 mph and a 87-90 mph fastball with late life. DeVall wasn’t as sharp as Palazzone, as he walked three, struck out six and did not allow a hit in three innings. His stuff is comparable, however, and he was up to 91 mph.