Mike Hessman, Minors Home Run Leader, Retires
The greatest home run hitter the domestic minor leagues have ever seen has decided that 19 seasons is enough. First baseman/third baseman Mike Hessman, the U.S. minor league career home […]
By Allan Simpson and John Manuel
(Talent Ranking: ** out of five) Southern California is a little thin by its considerable standards, yet it may produce the first college (Jered Weaver) and high school players (Matt Bush) in the draft. The University of Southern California, a traditional power, is almost devoid of premium prospects, as is prospect-rich San Diego. The one area of strength is Orange County, where Philip Hughes, Mark Trumbo and Brad Meyers--three of the nation's top prep righthanders--have kept scouts busy.
Projected First-Round Picks
Jered Weaver, rhp
Cubs righthander Mark Prior set the standard for excellence in college pitching at USC in 2001, but not even Prior was as consistently excellent as Weaver has been this season. The 6-foot-6, 200-pounder won his first 14 decisions while averaging 13.8 strikeouts (against 1.1 walk) per nine innings, before he slipped up against Miami in his final start before NCAA regional play. He twice struck out the first 10 hitters in a game and didn't have a bad outing all year, extending a streak that began last spring when he went 14-4, 1.96 for Long Beach and continuing through the summer when he reeled off 45 2/3 scoreless innings for Team USA. Weaver is an intense competitor with an excellent feel for his craft. He can throw strikes with Prior-like precision--in, out, up, down. He is so advanced in all areas of pitching that he could hold his own in the big leagues right now. He may already be better than his brother Jeff, a starting pitcher for the Dodgers. On raw stuff, though, Weaver is a step behind Prior--and even Justin Verlander, a teammate last summer with Team USA. Like everyone at Long Beach State, Weaver pitches off his fastball, which has been clocked as high as 95 mph. He normally throws it at 91-92, but even at that speed it looks like 95 because of the deception in his delivery and his ability to locate it. His curve is just an average offering. He also throws two kinds of sliders, one with greater depth that he added just this year. While his brother is a sinker/slider pitcher and generates more arm-side movement with his pitches, Jered uses his whole repertoire much better. He also holds his velocity deeper into games and keeps his emotions in check better. Both throw from the same three-quarters arm slot. Weaver is a heavy favorite to be the first pick in the draft because he could help a big league team immediately. But he won't come cheap. He reportedly is seeking more than the $10.5 million deal Prior received in 2001.
Matt Bush, ss
The Padres still had Bush in their mix for the No. 1 overall selection this year as late as early May. It may have been for local PR value, but Bush is a legitimate talent and easily the best player in San Diego. He's been a high-profile prospect throughout his high school career, both as a shortstop and pitcher, and he spent 2004 just polishing his game. At 5-foot-10, his size would be an issue if not for his exceptionally strong arms and legs. His arm is also a special tool. On the mound, his fastball has been clocked consistently at 94 mph and up to 96. His best asset may be his glove. He has outstanding lateral movement, lays out for balls in the hole and is quick at turning the double play. His presence, instincts and makeup also are unquestioned. Not everyone is as sold on his bat or his speed, however. He's more of a contact hitter than a power hitter, but scouts say he should hit better with wood than aluminum. He projects as a .270-.290 hitter. Though he lacks first-step quickness out of the batter's box and is just an average runner, he has good acceleration on the bases.
Philip Hughes, rhp
Orange County has three prep righthanders with first-round potential, and the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Hughes has emerged as the best prospect. He has the complete package, including a power arm that can generate 93-95 mph heat. He also has excellent body control for a pitcher his size, a fluid delivery and an advanced feel for his craft. Some scouts say he's ahead of Mark Prior at the same stage of development. In a seven-inning perfect game this spring against Laguna Hills High, Hughes struck out 13 and threw just 74 pitches; his first and last pitches were clocked at 95. On the year, he went 8-1, 0.78 with three walks and 75 strikeouts in 54 innings. Hughes isn't a big strikeout pitcher because his fastball lacks movement, and he was more concerned with tightening his mechanics and developing his offspeed stuff, which ranges from a tight slider to a slurvy breaking ball. But he throws all his pitches for strikes and is projectable. Hughes has committed to Santa Clara, just like Jared Hughes (no relation), who was one of the top pitching prospects in Orange County a year ago but fell to the 16th round amid concerns about signability. Philip is considered less likely to attend college, paving the way for his selection in the middle of the first round.
Mark Trumbo, rhp
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Trumbo already has the polished look, presence and demeanor of a Double-A pitcher. He is mature beyond his years. His arm works smooth and easy, and his fastball explodes out of his hand--up to 94 mph, but mostly in the 90-91 range. He has a good feel for his other pitches, a curve with late bite and a changeup with sinking action. Trumbo also is a power-hitting first baseman who batted .425-6-25 this season. He impressed scouts with his well-rounded game in April at the National Classic, as Villa Park High won the nation's most prestigious high school tournament; Trumbo was the event's outstanding player. He has a solid chance to go in the first round, and may have to because signability could become an issue. His father is a big Southern California fan and determined for his son to become a Trojan. He could slide if teams aren't prepared to buy him away from school.
Justin Vargas, lhp
Vargas has been overshadowed at Long Beach State by Jered Weaver, the projected No. 1 pick, but has commanded plenty of interest himself. In fact, his velocity has often topped Weaver's. He has been clocked up to 95 mph, a vast improvement from 2003 at Cypress JC, where his fastball ranged from 86-90. Scouts said Vargas was always capable of throwing harder, but it didn't happen until he took extra measures to tone up his 6-foot, 215-pound frame. Also an accomplished hitter, he was used more in a DH role this spring to conserve his energy. He was hitting .368-5-32 while going 7-6, 4.25 with 81 strikeouts in 97 innings on the mound. Vargas, who spent his freshman year at Louisiana State, doesn't have an especially fast arm, and there are questions whether he profiles better as a reliever or starter because he lacks a dominant second pitch. But he's a lefthander with a mid-90s fastball, and that alone should make him a sandwich pick or high second-rounder.
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
Brad Meyers, rhp
Mindful of the early success that Greg Miller, a tall, lean, unheralded pitcher from the region, had with the Dodgers out of the 2002 draft, scouts have been diligent in getting a full look at Meyers. The 6-foot-6, 180-pounder wasn't even on the radar of scouts or colleges last fall. He was recruited by two schools and signed with Loyola Marymount. Though he threw four pitches for strikes, his fastball topped out at 86-87 mph. But like Miller, Meyers made a quantum leap forward, with his velocity jumping to 92-93 and the potential for more as he fills out his loose, wiry frame. He also has the makings of an outstanding slider. He's not as refined or ready to pitch at the next level as Philip Hughes and Mark Trumbo, but scouts say his upside is considerable. One scout even said Meyers could have better stuff one day than Jered Weaver if it all comes together for him. At worst, Meyers should be a sandwich pick in this year's draft.
Trevor Plouffe, ss/rhp
One of the nation's most accomplished two-way high school players, Plouffe could be a dominant force at the college level if he chooses that path. Committed to Southern California, he could hit in the top three spots in the batting order for the Trojans, start at shortstop and take a spot in the rotation. It's unlikely he'll end up on campus, however, as he's targeted to go no worse than the second round. Scouts remain divided on Plouffe's future position, but most say he'll be a shortstop in pro ball. He prefers to be an everyday player. He has a wiry frame, soft hands and fluid middle-infield actions in the mold of Robin Yount, and he's been clocked at 91 mph off the mound. His range and arm strength are a notch below Matt Bush, the nation's top prep shortstop, but Plouffe may be a better hitter. He has a flatter swing path and the wrist action needed to drive balls. He's also a better runner.
Brett Smith, rhp
Smith was the cornerstone of John Savage's first recruiting class at UC Irvine when the school reinstated baseball in 2002. He led the upstart program to a national ranking this year by going 8-4, 2.19 with nine-inning averages of 2.1 walks and 9.0 strikeouts. He has first-round stuff with a four-pitch assortment that includes a sharp, late 86-88 mph slider. He also has a 90-92 mph tailing fastball and curveball, but his changeup is straight and soft. At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, he has a good downhill plane on his pitches. He performed like a first-rounder this season, with a knack for making big pitches in key situations. His delivery is a little rough, as the ball doesn't come easy out of his hand and he leaves too many pitches up in the zone. But he gives hitters a deceptive look with a mid-stride hesitation in his delivery. Smith projects as a sandwich pick or second-rounder. He also is one of the many players in this year's draft being advised by Scott Boras.
Kurt Suzuki, c
A native of Wailuku, Hawaii, Suzuki enrolled at Cal State Fullerton in 2001 as a recruited walk-on. He'll leave as a possible sandwich pick. Most clubs see the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder anywhere from a second- to sixth-round talent, but he's been one of the hottest hitters in the country this season and teams have paid close attention. He was batting .438-13-74, all team-leading totals, and his 43-23 walk-strikeout ratio makes him a prime target for a "Moneyball" team like Oakland, which has four picks before the start of the second round. Suzuki is a personal favorite of A's general manager Billy Beane. He routinely has good at-bats and rarely gets cheated at the plate. He's a solid defender and is particularly skilled at blocking balls. A quick release compensates for average arm strength. He also plays with a lot of energy.
Andrew Romine, ss
Romine is the son of Kevin Romine, a former Arizona State all-American and seven-year major league outfielder. The family has put out word that Andrew wants first-round money or he'll follow in his father's footsteps. The Sun Devils are counting on Romine to replace shortstop Dustin Pedroia, a possible first-rounder himself. Romine's situation will bear watching, as he's projected to be a second- or third-rounder on talent. He's a steady, fundamentally sound shortstop who makes every play look easy. He has a knack for positioning himself and playing under control. His range, hands and arm strength all rate as 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He's also a better runner than either Matt Bush or Trevor Plouffe, the two area shortstops who grade out ahead of him. It's Romine's bat that holds him back. A switch-hitter, he's a 40 hitter with 40 power, and scouts question whether he'll develop enough strength to become a productive offensive shortstop.
Mark Reed, c
Reed is the younger brother of White Sox outfield prospect Jeremy Reed, who led the minor leagues with a .373 average last year. Both are lefthanded hitters and have similar approaches at the plate. Mark, at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, may have more power than his brother, who was a singles hitter in college and has become a gap hitter in pro ball. Both play the game hard. Mark's arm and receiving skills are a little short for an everyday catcher. He has the versatility and speed to play almost anywhere but prefers to catch. Like his brother, Reed has committed to Long Beach State, and it may take at least the same $650,000 bonus Jeremy received from the White Sox in 2002 to entice him to sign. Reed is projected to be a third- or fourth-round pick, but the White Sox or Angels, who have made the signing of local high school players a priority, could overdraft him.
Wes Whisler, lhp/1b
Whisler led the Pacific-10 Conference in home runs in 2002 as a freshman and was the Cape Cod League's top prospect that summer. The 6-foot-5, 227-pound Indiana high school product looked then like a candidate for the top of the first round in the 2004 draft. How things have changed. Whisler has regressed so much as a hitter that his greater worth is now on the mound--even after he went 2-4, 5.26 this season. He shows plenty of power in batting practice, but his bat speed has slowed and most of his power is to the opposite field. He hit .275-5-39 this spring. Whisler has also fallen short of expectations as a pitcher, but he has recognized that his future is on the mound. On a good day, he has been clocked at 93-94 mph with a good, hard slider. He has a four-pitch repertoire, but rarely does the sum of his stuff equal the parts. He throws everything too hard, his command is shaky and hitters have an easy time reading pitches out of his hand. Yet Whisler still has a lot of positives, in addition to being lefthanded. He has a big frame and above-average arm strength, and he's never been hurt. Scouts know the talent is there and are banking that he'll do better as a pro, once he can concentrate on one role. He projects as a third- to fifth-rounder.
Greg Burns, of
Burns is all about speed. He's been compared to Mickey Rivers, Vince Coleman and Juan Pierre--all center fielders who could fly. Burns has been clocked at 6.4 seconds in the 60-yard dash and 3.6 second to first base on a drag bunt. He glides to balls defensively. At 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, he has a long athletic body and could add power as his lanky frame fills out. Scouts question whether he'll hit for average but he made major strides with the bat this spring, hitting .462 with four homers. His arm was also suspect in the past, but it's gotten much stronger since he stopped pitching. The 2004 season not only saw a marked improvement in Burns' tools, but his work ethic. He played with much more energy than in the past. Burns seemed like a sure bet to attend college when he committed to Hawaii last fall, but that now seems like a longshot. He's expected to be drafted in the first four or five rounds.
Jared Clark, rhp/of
Clark had a strong 2004 seasons both as a hitter and pitcher. The consensus is he'll be a better draft pick as a pitcher, possibly as high as the fourth round. A 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, he can run his fastball as high as 93 mph and projects to throw in the mid-90s, though he works most effectively in the 89-91 mph range. He has two other effective pitches. A Kevin Brown-style delivery adds deception to his pitches. He went 8-1, 1.05 with 92 strikeouts in 67 innings this spring. Clark still appeals more to some scouts as a hitter, however. He has above-average power and slammed several long home runs this spring. He is Cal State Fullerton's top recruit and could slide in the draft if signability becomes an issue.
Brad Davis, c
As the catcher for projected No. 1 pick Jered Weaver, Davis has had ample opportunity to showcase his defensive skills. His opportunity to catch a year ago was limited because he was an understudy to Todd Jennings, a second-round pick of the Giants. He spent most of the 2003 season at first base and in right field and was the utility player on the all-Big West Conference team. Given a chance to catch regularly this season, the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder evolved into an above-average receiver. With a better exchange and quicker release, his arm improved significantly and now ranks as his best tool. He hit a respectable .332, second-best on the team, but has a ways to go with the bat, and it will ultimately determine if he becomes an everyday big leaguer or a backup. Cal State Fullerton catcher Kurt Suzuki has gotten more notoriety for his superior bat, but some scouts prefer the more athletic Davis.
Mitch Einertson, of/2b
In a normal year in San Diego, Einertson's talents wouldn't stand out. He's a 5-foot-9, righthanded-hitting outfielder--hardly a profile that excites scouts. But it's not a normal year for the traditional hotbed and only one player, Matt Bush, ranks as a better prospect. Einertson is a gritty player with fine defensive instincts. He has an outstanding arm, and his fastball has been clocked at 92 mph, though he has little feel for pitching. Finding the right position has been a challenge, and most teams seem to think he could settle in at second base in pro ball. Einertson's bat is solid by high school standards, but he has holes in his swing and there are questions how he'll hit with wood. Along with Bush, he's a San Diego State recruit, but he's considered signable--especially if he's selected in the first five rounds.
Joey Metropoulos, 1b
Metropoulos led the Cape Cod League in home runs last summer and was expected to be the top slugger in the college ranks this spring. But teams pitched around the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder on an underachieving USC team and he fell short of expectations, hitting just nine homers, while batting .286. His lack of production has cost him in the draft. He projected among the first 100 players at the start of the year, but may be hard-pressed to go in the first five rounds. Despite his big, powerful frame, Metropoulos moves well defensively.
Collin Balester, rhp
The 6-foot-6, 180-pound Balester made huge strides this spring, improving his stock from a probable mid-round selection. With no college options, he may become a desirable selection for a team looking for a bargain in the fifth or sixth rounds. Balester didn't dominate at the high school level, going 6-4, 1.63 with 63 strikeouts in 64 innings, but he's a projectable righthander with a loose arm. He works at 91-92 mph with his fastball and has touched 94-95. He has issues with his delivery but has shown a capacity for spinning a breaking ball, though his curve is just adequate.
Travis DeBondt, of
The Indians saw the 6-foot-4, 190-pound DeBondt on the mound at a tryout last year and were sufficiently impressed to spend a 25th-round pick on him. Though he didn't pitch all spring at Bakersfield JC, he elevated his stock as a lefthanded-hitting center fielder with an impressive power/speed package. He hit .417-5-40 and stole 20 bases while running the 60-yard dash in 6.7 seconds. He should add power as he fills out his lanky frame. The Indians needed to sign DeBondt before the closed period or risk losing him to this year's draft.
Others To Watch
Consistent with the rest of the country, college pitching offers the most depth in the area. Senior RHPs Casey Janssen (UCLA), Jason Windsor (Cal State Fullerton) and Scott Shoemaker (San Diego State) were workhorses as Friday starters for their respective teams and should all go in the first six to 10 rounds--and more than as just budget picks for economy-minded teams. Windsor, in particular, hit his stride late, going 7-0, 1.14 in Big West Conference play and was named the league's co-pitcher of the year with Long Beach State ace Jered Weaver. Windsor went undrafted last year (he was picked twice during his prep and junior college career) despite an 11-2, 1.89 season, and got off to a slow start before finding his pinpoint command (38 walks in 214 career Division I innings) down the stretch. Overall, he went 8-4, 2.12. His fastball is below-average in the 86-88 mph range, but he spots it well and has an above-average changeup while also throwing his breaking ball for strikes. Janssen was a two-way player for the first three years of his career at UCLA and has an athletic 6-foot-4, 210-pound body. He gave up hitting this season, and the lesser workload paid immediate dividends as went 9-4, 3.40 after entering the season with a 5.28 career ERA. He has slightly better stuff than Windsor, particularly a harder fastball that at times touches 92 mph. His slider and changeup improved, and he commanded all his pitches well. He walked just 29 in 109 innings, while striking out 96. Shoemaker, who opened San Diego's Petco Park with a 14-strikeout complete game in front of 40,106 fans, is not overpowering with a fastball in the 88-91 mph range but be knows how to pitch and spots his slider well. A transfer from Long Beach State, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound righthander wanted a chance to start regularly and responded with a 9-6, 3.99 record and 110 strikeouts in 113 innings
RHP Jayme Torres was counting on a big senior season at UC Riverside after going 10-2, 3.59 in 2003, but he was ineligible until April 1 because of grades, ended up in the bullpen and never got untracked this year despite improved velocity. Junior RHP A.J. Shappi became UC Riverside's undisputed ace and went 8-2, 3.54. He's not overpowering with a fastball in the 86-89 mph range that touches 90, but he's sound mechanically and has command of three piches. His slider is his best pitch. Shappi is extremely intelligent and was a Rhodes scholar candidate before his GPA slipped below the minimum standard of 3.60 this year
RHP Kyle Huddy was projected to go in the top three or four rounds before a back problem caused him to miss the season. His fastball ranged from 89-93 mph a year ago. It's possible a team could take a flier on him as he was close to being ready to pitch again when Loyola Marymount's season ended
RHP Jimmy Shull, a converted shortstop in just his second year of pitching, made rapid strides this spring and won a team-high nine games for Cal Poly while striking out 102 and walking 26 in 100 innings. His fastball lived in the upper 80s and low 90s, and he also threw a slider and a splitter
Six-foot-5 RHP Kea Kometani, the latest product in a pipeline of Hawaii high school players to Pepperdine, became a starter this year after closing in 2003. He took to the role, going 7-6, 3.94 while pitching Pepperdine to the West Coast Conference title. He has better stuff--an 87-91 mph fastball, a slider and a splitter--than most of his peers in the area, but less command because of a max-effort delivery. RHP/DH Steve Kleen led Pepperdine with a .373 average and 55 RBIs, while saving a team-high eight games. He has good command of his fastball and an improving breaking ball, and his future is on the mound
RHP Mike Ekstrom might have the best combination of stuff and command of any pitcher in San Diego, normally a hotbed of talent, but he's just 6-feet tall and that may suppress his draft standing. The Oregon State transfer pitched well when Point Loma Nazarene faced D-I opponents and he led his team to a berth in the NAIA World Series, going 11-4, 1.80 with 117 strikeouts in 120 innings. He throws three pitches for strikes--an 89-91 mph fastball that touches 93, a power slider in the low 80s and a newly developed changeup
LHP Glenn Swanson went 5-1, 2.14 and averaged a strikeout an inning last summer in the Cape Cod League, credentials which earned him the nod to start the league's all-star game. He was having a junior season as a complement to ace RHP Brett Smith, before an untimely late-season slump. With velocity in the 84-88 mph range and a drop-down slider, he projects as a situational lefthander
As experienced college closers, RHPs Neil Jamison and Ryan Schroyer could make immediate impacts in the minor leagues. Schroyer had two strong seasons at Arizona State, going 9-3, 1.93 with 17 saves before transferring to San Diego State as a senior. He helped the Aztecs win the Mountain West Conference's regular-season title in coach Tony Gwynn's second season by going 2-3, 2.85 with 13 saves while striking out 50 in 41 innings. He commands a lively 89-90 mph fastball and has a durable (if less than ideal) body befitting a high school catcher. However, he lacks a solid secondary pitch and the mid-90s heat to be a closer, so projects as a setup man. Jamison was a setup man before this year, when he became Long Beach State's closer. He has a bit more fastball velocity (89-92 mph) than Schroyer and has a true strikeout pitch with a plus slider. But he's pencil thin, so durability may be an issue
Six-foot-2, 210-pound RHP Kyle Wilson has a better combination of stuff and body type to be a closer in pro ball than either Schroyer or Jamison, but he lacks their experience and command. Wilson was unknown to scouts before his velocity jumped to 94-95 mph this spring. He also showed feel for a curveball but needs to shore up his delivery to have better control. With less than 70 innings in three seasons at UCLA, he has an intriguing fresh arm
Cal State Fullerton has one of the more interesting fifth-year seniors in RHP Mike Martinez, who is under control to the Yankees but will be forced to re-enter the draft if the Titans win a regional and continue their season through the draft. A former starter at third base, Martinez took a redshirt year in 2003 due to a hip injury, then transformed himself into a pitcher last summer in the Great Lakes League. He failed in the role of closer for the Titans but came on as a starter, showing solid stuff with an 88-91 sinking, running fastball and plus changeup. He's still gaining experience and learning his craft
UC Riverside 3B Tony Festa is also a fifth-year senior, and likely to sign with the Diamondbacks. He's a solid, though inconsistent, lefthanded hitter with an instinctive feel for the game
While Cal State Fullerton teammate Kurt Suzuki had a breakout year while again splitting time behind the plate with senior C P.J. Pilittere, Pilittere also grew on scouts after not being drafted last year despite hitting .380, best on the Fullerton team. He hit .339-4-41 this year. He is a solid receiver with an average arm and plays with a lot of energy. 3B Ronnie Prettyman is a quality defender, but may lack the power to remain at third base
Long Beach State OF John Bowker has power potential and good bat speed, and led the 49ers in hitting most of the season, though hit just six homers. His power numbers are masked a bit by spacious Blair Field. He's a redshirt sophomore due to a right wrist injury that ended his freshman season after three at-bats. He's also limited to left field, so teams that like him are drafting him for his bat
UC Irvine 3B Matt Anderson is also eligible for the draft as a sophomore after missing the 2003 season with a back injury. Healthy again, he hit .327 and led the Anteaters with six homers and 40 RBIs. He has played both first and third base at UCI, but lacks the power inherent in the profile for those positions. He makes consistent hard contact, though, in a draft where that's the exception rather than the rule. He might be a tough sign if he's not picked in the first 10 rounds. OF Erik Johnson, yet another draft-eligible sophomore, is a power/speed package in an athletic body. A high school draft pick of the Phillies, Johnson missed a season at UC Irvine with a wrist injury. Six-foot-3, 200-pound OF Jordan Szabo, a draft pick of the Brewers out of high school, has the best pro body, speed and athletic ability of all UC Irvine's draft candidates. He'd be a premium pick if he hit for any power at all; his five homers in three seasons haven't impressed scouts
OF John Voita has steadily improved in three seasons at Cal State Northridge, particularly in power and pitch recognition. None of his tools stand out, but some scouts continue to have an interest in him as a catcher, his high school position
Switch-hitting 2B Chris Malec made headlines when he hit a grand slam home run off Long Beach State ace Jeff Weaver in a Big West Conference game in April, propelling the Gauchos to an extra-inning win. Though he doesn't run well and lacks agility and range in the field, Malec can hit. He had a poor 2003 season when he twisted his knee and never got untracked with the bat, but bounced back strongly in the Cape Cod League and his performance carried over to 2004
3B Freddy Sandoval, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior who hails from Tijuana, Mexico, has power from both sides of the plate. He also recognizes pitches well and had more walks (26) than strikeouts (19). He's a poor runner with little range at third, but he has sure hands with good arm strength
SS Ryan McCarthy's stock has been on the rise all spring. A lifetime .261 hitter at UCLA, he bumped his average over .300 this year while leading the Bruins with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs. McCarthy reminds some scouts of former Long Beach State star Chris Gomez. He is a steady, reliable infielder with average tools and makes all the routine plays. He committed just five errors this spring--an impressive feat for a college shortstop. C Chris Denove is also a solid defender with an outstanding arm and was one of UCLA's top run producers. He's from an academically-oriented family--his father is a professor at UCLA--and that may factor in his willingness to sign as a draft-eligible sophomore. Few players love to play the game more than OF Billy Susdorf, who was the Bruins best hitter and all-around player until he broke a kneecap in March. Slow and unathletic when he entered school, Susdorf now runs the 60-yard dash in 6.8 seconds and his defense and arm strength have improved considerably, though he'll probably be limited to left field
Former UCLA quarterback Matt Moore may be the area's most intriguing talent. He was ranked among the nation's 10 best quarterback recruits when he enrolled at UCLA and was on the Bruins' football roster for two seasons, passing for 967 yards and four touchdowns, before quitting the team. He hit 12 homers as a junior at Hart High, but didn't play baseball his senior year or for the Bruins but began to work out privately at a baseball academy run by former big leaguers Bret Barberie and Rene Gonzales, showing off an athletic 6-foot-4, 195-pound body with impressive raw power. He's still rusty in the field after a three-year layoff but the arm strength he nurtured as a college quarterback is readily apparent. There'sno telling how high this talented athlete could be drafted, or what position he'll play though he profiles as a third baseman
SS Sam Orr and 1B Carl Galloway, Biola College teammates, were the only underclassmen position players named to the 2003 NAIA All-American team. Orr, an athletic lefthanded hitter with juice in his bat, hit .407-24-74 on the season. He was on pace to repeat that performance this season when he pulled a groin, missed several games and saw his average tumble when he returned at less than 100 percent. He finished the year at .303, though led the team with 12 homers. Orr comes from an athletic background, as his father was the former soccer and wrestling coach at Biola and continues to work in the school's physical education department. Orr doesn't run particularly well, even when healthy, and projects as a second baseman as a pro. Galloway added 84 points to his average this year, finishing at .444 with 11 homers, and was named the Golden West Athletic Conference co-player of the year along with Point Loma Nazarene's Mike Ekstrom. According to John Verhoeven, the ex-big league pitcher, Galloway is the best hitter he's had in 15 years as the coach at Biola. He makes adjustments at the plate that allows him to make consistent, hard contact, and at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, he's strong enough to put a charge into balls. He's a below-average runner who's limited to first base
RHP Casey Mutter throws 88-91 mph consistently and is another small college player almost certain of being drafted
The University of Southern California's impact on this year's draft is minimal, but the Trojans have several recruits, particularly Mark Trumbo and Trevor Plouffe, who could become early-round selections and lost to the draft. The Trojans are confident of hanging on to their remaining recruits, with the possible exception of 1B/RHP Lucas Duda. He was a revelation last summer at the Area Code Games and emerged as one of the top power hitters in the prep class of '04. But he faded from the scene this spring as his power rarely was displayed in games and he showed questionable plate awareness. He hit only three homers in 63 at-bats, though he drew 35 walks as he was pitched around all year. His best displays of raw power from the left side have come in batting practice. Scouts are betting wholly on the bat as he doesn't run at all and is limited to first base. Some scouts and coaches, however, think he'll be better on the mound, where he's touched 90 mph. He should at least be a solid two-way player for the Trojans if he doesn't sign. RHP Anthony Encinas was sidelined for several weeks with an elbow problem and may no longer be drafted. He has a 90-92 mph fastball and hard slider from a three-quarters slot, but lacks a representative third pitch. Shortstops Matt Cusick and Doug Reinhardt are teammates at Santa Margarita High and scheduled to play together at USC. Reinhardt is big and strong, and profiles as a third baseman, while Cusick is an effective little lefthanded hitter who should be at home at second base. 3B Robert Lopez has a smooth swing with good bat speed and should settle in at third or possibly in center field
Pepperdine has a number of recruits who could factor in the draft. RHP Adam Olbrychowski was expected to be the highest selection before he tweaked a muscle in his forearm and missed several weeks. He's an old-style pitcher in that he rears back and lets it fly, and his fastball has been clocked between 88-93 mph. He has no defined secondary pitch, though he continues to try and develop a curve and changeup. OF/RHP Jason Dominguez has been a two-way mainstay for Chatsworth High, which set a California high school record for most consecutive wins and was closing in on a second straight No. 1 ranking in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll. He's gone 21-0 as a pitcher over the last two years but he runs well and can swing the bat, and his greater upside is as an everyday player. RHP Doug Konoske is projectable at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds. He has a good spike curveball and a decent change, but his fastball is only 87-90. LHP Drew Saberhagen is not a prospect in the order of his father Bret, the ex-major leaguer, so he's almost certain to fulfill a commitment to Pepperdine
Fresno State made good inroads on southern California high school talent by signing SS Brian Chavez, LHP/OF Jamie Arnesen and RHP Brandon Burke. Chavez is a polished middle infielder with gap power but not good enough yet to be bought of his college commitment. The 6-foot-5 Arnesen, an honors student, has been clocked at 90-91 but has a history of not throwing strikes consistently. RHP Brandon Burke, the most draftable player on the perennially-powerful Rancho Bernardo High roster, has good sinking action on an 88-90 mph fastball
Chavez is a high school teammate of UCLA's top recruit, SS Matt Ware, who has the hands and arm strength to remain at shortstop but not the speed, possibly prompting a move to second base. He's also been clocked at 93 on the mound. UCLA's recruiting efforts have been hampered by the uncertain future of the program with longtime coach Gary Adams set to retire at the end of the season
OF/RHP Jason Corder has appeal as both a power hitter and power pitcher, but he's no longer as good a prospect as he was as a high school sophomore, when he threw easy 92-93 mph heat. He still has significant arm strength but he's now more of a short-armer who searches for the strike zone. He also lacks consistency at the plate. On ability, he's probably a fourth- or fifth-round talent, but it probably would take a much larger bonus to buy him out of California
3B Randy Molina is equally committed to Stanford. His tools are a little short and he lacks the prototype body for pro ball, but he should be a solid college player. There are concerns whether he has the arm strength to be a third baseman and can catch up to 90 mph fastballs consistently
RHP Ryan McKibbon, a UC Riverside recruit, caused a stir when radar-gun readings caught him in the mid-90s this spring. He's very raw on the mound, though, as he was used more in the outfield throughout his high school career and pitched only about 20 innings in high school as a closer. Opinion is so mixed that he could go anywhere from the second round to the 10th
1B Daryl Jones, a Cal State Fullerton signee, has excellent raw power in an impressive 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame. He hit seven home runs this spring, but scouts expected more after routinely seeing him put on mammoth shows in batting practice
2B Joe Spiers gained notoriety when he broke Jason Kendall's California high school record of hitting safely in 44 straight games. Beyond his ability to hit for average, he's a polished high school shortstop who plays the game with a lot of energy. But his tools and 5-foot-9 build are best suited for college and he could be an impact player for Hawaii as a freshman
Size is not on the side of 5-foot-10, 180-pound OF/LHP Chad Boyd either, but he swung the bat exceptionally well this spring, with power, after a poor 2003 summer. Scouts say Boyd lacks the raw power for a corner outfield position, and the speed for center. In all likelihood, he'll pursue his career in college at Nevada-Las Vegas
Long Beach State's best prep recruit is stocky LHP Brandon Parillo, whose worth climbed steadily during the spring as he showed an ability to maintain velocity on a 90-91 mph fastball and spin a breaking ball
San Diego State got a commitment from Matt Bush, California's best high school prospect, and augmented it with RHPs Andres Esquibel and Charles Nolte. Esquibel has been clocked up to 92, but was more commonly at 89-90 and didn't demonstrate a good feel for pitching. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Nolte was a high profile pitcher at the start of the year, but didn't show a lot of improvement, working mostly in the high 80s
Other top prospects from the area who have committed to college are Texas A&M-bound RHP/OF Chris Jones, UC Davis-bound 1B Kevin James and UC Irvine-bound OF Brock Bardeen. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Jones has a power arm with a fastball at 90-92 mph, but he has a maximum-effort delivery with suspect command. James can swing the bat and handles his defensive responsibilitiy adequately. Bardeen, a lefthanded hitter, showed good power potential with a number of home runs this spring at Fallbrook High, one of southern California's top high school teams
RHP Henry Barrera is one of the few top high school players without a four-year college option (he's committed to Rio Hondo, Calif., JC), so scouts consider him more apt to sign than some of his peers. He has a lightning-quick arm in a 6-foot body and has touched 95 mph, though his velocity was more frequently between 89 and 93. He has received little coaching to date and it will take a lot of work to iron out his mechanical flaws. He has trouble repeating his delivery, leading to command issues
Six-foot-5, 215-pound RHP Brooks Walling is a prime draft-and-follow candidate. He worked most of the season at 86-88 mph but stepped it up to 90 and showed the potential for more
OF Jeremiah Luster is more of a football player than baseball player at this stage of his development. He's so raw that he would require two years at the Rookie league level in pro ball, if he were to sign. Luster is extremely athletic, however, with above-average speed and arm strength
The California juco ranks are solid, as always, but there may not be a player selected in the first five rounds, with the possible exception of Bakersfield JC OF Travis DeBondt. Righthanded pitching is an obvious strength, with Golden West JC RHPs Cody Evans and Ricky Steik, who were not drafted in 2003, considered the best of the crop. Evans, a red-shirt sophomore, has a projectable 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame and with an 88-93 mph fastball that he occasionally cuts. His secondary stuff is fringy though he's shown a feel for a changeup. He's committed to Long Beach State and is expected to be a tough sign. Steik, who went 11-0 this spring and outperformed Evans, has a bulldog approach to pitching and profiles as an innings eater. He has average stuff, starting with an 88-90 mph fastball
Six-foot-5 RHP Kris Krise, a UC Irvine transfer, was expected to be the top junior college pitcher in southern California, especially after pitching effectively in the Cape Cod League last summer. He started out throwing 88-89 but became tentative as the spring wore on, lost his place in the rotation and went just 3-5, 4.73. By leaving UC Irvine, he missed out on an opportunity to polish his mechanics under John Savage, who mentored Seth Etherton, Barry Zito and Mark Prior, among others, in his days as pitching coach at USC. Teammate Jacob Coash, a 6-foot-5 lefthander under control to the Diamondbacks, fared considerably better than Krise after missing the 2003 with Tommy John surgery. He threw three pitches for strikes, including a 92-93 mph fastball
RHP/OF Eddie Baeza is also a Tommy John survivor. He was one of the top hitters in California this spring but scouts like his above-average arm strength and see his future on the mound. He's already been drafted twice previously as a pitcher
With DeBondt attracting early-round interest at Bakersfield, scouts got more reason to check out RHPs Wayne Foltin and Jacob Wild. Neither was drafted a year ago, though both were clocked at 92-93 mph this spring. Wild, a freshman, is relatively new to pitching after making only three appearances in high school, where most of his energy went to playing point guard on the basketball team and wide receiver on the football team. He was used as a closer at the start of the year but worked his way into a starting role
RHP Jake Renshaw earned a lot of attention early in the year when his velocity was at 90-92 mph, but he was overused as the year went along and his velocity dropped to 87
LHP Alex Hinshaw, a redshirt sophomore under control to the Marlins, had an up-and-down season. He struck out a lot of hitters with an 86-91 mph fastball, but also walked his share as he struggled with an inconsistent curve. He has committed to Texas
Cypress Junior College earned a trip to the California community college final four behind C Joey Huskins (Indians) and 3B Kevin Smith (Yankees), two players under control from the 2003 draft. Both have quality lefthanded bats and good defensive skills
Switch-hitting SS Daniel Nelson and lefthanded-hitting OF Kris Kasarjian are the best prospects at Los Angeles Pierce JC. Both are above-average runners
OF Trevor Mortensen, a Cal State Fullerton transfer, was one of the top power hitters in the California juco ranks.