By Allan Simpson
(Talent Ranking: *** out of five) As is normally the case, high school pitchers are Colorado's most attractive commodity. At least three could go in the early rounds and as many as 20 players could be drafted overall--a high number by Colorado standards. The figure is even more impressive because the state's only Division I programs are Air Force, which produces drafted players only under special circumstances, and Northern Colorado, a transitional D-I program. The usual exodus of high school talent will continue, as Colorado's best players have committed to major out-of-state programs.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Drew Bowman, lhp
The top prospect in the state at the start of the year, the 6-foot-4, 175-pounder temporarily lost that status when his velocity slipped into the mid-80s. His fastball returned to its customary 90-92 mph, however, when the spring weather warmed up and went on to compile an 8-3, 0.85 record with 116 strikeouts in 74 innings. Bowman still might not be a premium draft pick, however, because he's reportedly asking for first- or second-round money. Most clubs regard him as a third- to fifth-round talent, so it's likely he'll slide in the draft and head to college at Arizona State.
• Ben Krosschell, rhp
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Krosschell outperformed the state's two best prospects, Drew Bowman and Luke French, early in the spring and elevated his stock in the draft significantly. He went 6-2, 2.20 with 80 strikeouts in 46 innings. He threw much harder this year, up to 93 mph, and complemented his lively fastball with a hard slider. He had trouble commanding his stuff in the past because his arm action was so quick, and he still needs to develop a slower pitch to give hitters a different look. Scouts say he'd be an ideal draft-and-follow candidate because he's too frail to compete at the professional level now. Krosschell has committed to New Mexico State.
• Luke French, lhp/1b
French, 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, is a legitimate two-way talent who could play both ways in college. He has an 88-90 mph fastball that touches 92 and can mash. Scouts say his greater upside is on the mound, but he'll need mechanical adjustments and a more refined breaking ball to get lefthanded hitters out. He loves to hit and has above-average power potential. French has committed to UNLV but may be the most attractive draft pick in Colorado because he's considered the most signable of the state's elite talent.
Others To Watch
• Colorado has some of the most prolific offensive teams in NCAA Division II, with Mesa State (.374), Regis (.373) and Colorado State-Pueblo (.372) leading the nation in batting. Oddly, the best prospects for each club are pitchers. Six-foot-3, 230-pound senior RHP Shawn Martinez led Colorado State-Pueblo to the best season in school history by going 12-1, 2.89 with 95 strikeouts in 93 innings. His fastball generally was 89-90 mph and topped at 92, and he supplemented it with a curveball and changeup. Two other senior RHPs, Joey Newby and Don Clement, also drew scrutiny from scouts. Newby used a fastball that peaked at 94 and a splitter to go 10-3, 3.67. Mesa State's best prospects are 6-foot LHP Jason Martinez and 6-foot-6 RHP Jared Ferrans, who combined to win 21 games. Martinez, a fourth-year junior who was forced to sit out the 2002 season after transferring from Arizona, throws 88-90 mph with a workable curve. Ferrans throws his fastball at 90-91 but the rest of his pitches are works in progress. Regis senior RHP Frederic Carney has the best pure arm in the state, according to some scouts, with a fastball at 92-93.
• Colorado's college ranks obviously have their share of hitting prospects. The best is lefthanded-hitting OF Tony Wittmus, who hit .504-13-73 with 47 stolen bases as Colorado State-Pueblo's leadoff hitter. He showed flashes of all five tools, except arm strength. As a fifth-year senior, Wittmus was eligible to sign as a free agent before the draft. C Danny Cummins also put up prodigious numbers for a 44-10 Colorado State-Pueblo team, hitting .429-17-81.
• Northern Colorado, in its first year of reclassification to Division I after 13 years in D-II, features two draftable players who enjoyed big offensive seasons: junior C Patrick Perry (.478-13-87, 27 doubles) and senior OF Trevor Allen (.379-11-52). Perry's average would lead Division I if the school had full D-I status. He set four school records and had an attractive walk-strikeout ratio of 26-16.
• Lamar CC was the most prolific offensive team in the junior college ranks a year ago, with the nation's top three home run hitters. That onslaught did not continue this year as the Runnin 'Lopes joined the legion of juco teams throughout the country that have scrapped aluminum in favor of wood bats. RHP Josh Cooper was Lamar's best prospect at the start of the year and went 9-1, 2.14, but didn't throw his fastball as hard as a year ago. He was passed by C Jesse Shriner, who led the team with a .432 average, 10 homers and 82 RBIs.
• Among the state's top remaining high school players, the draft status of RHP Mike Koons and RHP/OF Luke Wertz may come down to signability because Koons is committed to Arizona and Wertz to Nebraska. Koons has good stuff, including an 88-89 mph fastball, but lacks command, while Wertz is a legitimate two-way talent with slightly more appeal on the mound. His fastball is in the 89-91 range.