2004 Draft: High School Midseason Update
By Jim Callis
The Devil Rays kicked off the 2003 draft by selecting Delmon Young, igniting a run on high school position players that saw three go in the first six picks and five in the first 12 selections.
A year later, scouts are left wishing they could find that kind of talent again in the prep ranks. It's a very ordinary high school group, heavy on pitching and extremely light on hitting, and it may not produce more than 10 first-round picks.
"There's some depth to the pitching, but there's not any serious quality at any phase in the high school crop," an American League scouting director said. "There aren't any position players at all. There's Matt Bush, and that's about it."
Many teams have grown leery of taking prep righthanders in the first round, scared off by the failures of former überprospects such as Todd Van Poppel and Matt White. Yet righties are the lone area of depth, with two destined to battle down to the wire of being the first high school draftee in June.Adenhart Vs. Bailey
Williamsport (Md.) High's Nick Adenhart entered 2004 as the top-ranked high school prospect, but he has been passed--ever so slightly and perhaps only temporarily--by LaGrange (Texas) High's Homer Bailey. They couldn't be more similar.
They have almost identical lanky 185-pound builds, with the 6-foot-4 Bailey an inch taller. Both have fastballs that sit in the low 90s, with Bailey reaching 96 mph and Adenhart touching 95 mph this spring.
Bailey's power three-quarters breaking ball might be the best among high schoolers, but Adenhart's curveball is no worse than second-best. Adenhart's changeup is more effective than Bailey's because of its late tumbling action. Both have extremely sound and easy deliveries, as well as plus command.
Bailey's current advantage may be more geographic than anything. Because Texas' climate is kinder than Maryland's, he has gotten much more exposure this spring. Bailey had pitched nine times to Adenhart's two by early April.
"Bailey has got to be at the very top of everybody's list," an American League scout said. "That's how you make them if you're looking for a high school righthander. He's exactly what you want. I know that there are a lot of teams that aren't going in that direction anymore, but to me, if he comes your way, you can't pass on him."
Though Adenhart hasn't pitched much, his season debut couldn't have been any more spectacular. BA's 2003 Youth Player of the Year threw a seven-inning perfect game with 15 strikeouts. He still has his share of supporters who prefer him to Bailey.
"Adenhart has separated himself a little bit," the AL scouting director said. "He has more polish, more chance to do it now. Bailey is more of a projection. Bailey may have more pure stuff, but Adenhart is a better pitcher. It's more usable, a better mix. He's able to pitch at a higher level and have success right now."
Two other righthanders, Jay Rainville (Bishop Hendricken High, Rocco Baldelli's alma mater in Warwick, R.I.) and Mark Rogers (Orr's Island, Maine), could give New England its first multiple high school first-rounders since 1966. Other pitchers in the first-round mix include lefthanders Scott Elbert (Seneca, Mo.) and Giovani Gonzalez (Miami) and fast-rising righty Yovani Gallardo (Fort Worth, Texas).
No prep pitcher has made a more meteoric ascent than righthander Matt Walker (Baton Rouge), who has moved into second-round range. Previously known more as a quarterback, his 92-94 mph fastball, hard curveball and athleticism are attracting scouts. Other pitchers who have surged into the first two or three rounds include Mark Trumbo (Orange, Calif.), Michael Schlact (Marietta, Ga.), Anthony Swarzak (Fort Lauderdale) and Brad Clapp (Kirkland, Wash.).Gore After Bush
Great Bridge High (Chesapeake, Va.) shortstop Justin Upton is the best high school position player in the nation. But the younger brother of B.J. Upton--the top prospect in the minor leagues--isn't eligible for the draft because he's only a junior. That leaves Bush without a challenger among the prep position players in the Class of 2004.
A two-way star at Mission Bay High in San Diego, he has hit 94 mph with his fastball and also owns an above-average curveball. But with an utter lack of middle infielders available, teams aren't going to overlook his fluid actions, cannon arm and soft hands at shortstop. There's some debate as to exactly how much impact Bush will have with his bat, but he's deceptively strong for his size (5-foot-11, 175 pounds).
"Bush is clearly the best position player in high school," a National League scouting director said. "(Florida State's) Stephen Drew will probably hit more and have more power, but with all the questions you have to deal with Drew, Bush could be the first position player drafted."
After Bush, only athletic outfielders Greg Golson (Austin) and Dexter Fowler (Alpharetta, Ga.) project as first-rounders. But they're not without risk, as they're somewhat raw and leave questions about their true hitting ability.
It's possible that shortstop Chris Nelson (Decatur, Ga.) could pass them both. A two-way star whose package of tools rivals Bush's, Nelson blew out his elbow last summer and had Tommy John surgery in September. He has played DH this spring and hoped to return to the field in mid-April.
Chuck Lofgren (Serra High, Barry Bonds' alma mater in San Mateo, Calif.) and Neil Walker (Gibsonia, Pa.) also could push themselves into the first round by June. Lofgren, an outfielder/lefthanded pitcher, is a safer bet to hit than Golson or Fowler but started slowly this spring. Walker, whose father Tom pitched in the majors, is easily the best all-around high school catcher.