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By Jim Callis
North Dakota, South Dakota
(Talent Ranking: ** out of five) The two best prospects in the Dakotas could blossom into nice picks after three years of college, but neither is ready to turn pro out of high school. South Dakota's top player is athletic catcher Jason Smith, an advanced defender who needs to fill out before he'll hit. North Dakota's is righthander Charlie Shirek, who's not yet as physical as his brother Phil, the top prospect in Nebraska.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- To Fifth-Round Talent
Others To Watch
• C Jason Smith's father Lyle was the head coach at Iowa State before the Cyclones disbanded their program. Now he's president of the Sioux Empire Baseball Association, a youth organization. It's obvious that Jason grew up around baseball because he's a polished defender and knows the game well. Athletic for a catcher at 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, he needs time to grow into his body and develop offensively. He'll probably do that in college at Northern Iowa rather than turn pro.
• RHP Charlie Shirek also is an unfinished project. He's 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, and he throws 85-89 mph. His best pitch right now is a hard three-quarters breaking ball. He's considered a lock to attend Nebraska, where his older brother Phil is that state's top prospect.
• OF Deacon Burns transferred from McLennan (Texas) CC to Northern State on a football scholarship and served as the Wolves' No. 2 running back and kick returner last fall. He was explosive on the diamond this spring, batting .476-16-49 with 13 steals, including a five-homer doubleheader against Minnesota-Crookston. At 5-foot-7 and 190 pounds, he looks like a young Kirby Puckett. Burns has strength and speed and runs the gaps in center field with reckless abandon.
• SS Jeremiah Piepkorn has an athletic 6-foot-3 frame and holds several North Dakota State records, including those for single-season (21 this spring) and career (58) homers. His swing gets too long, and he'll need to adjust as a pro. A fifth-year senior, he signed with the Reds as a free agent before the draft.
• LHP Owen Hoegh established several Augustana records this spring, including single-season (eight) and career victories (20), plus single-season (78 in 81 innings) and career (209 in 236 innings) strikeouts. His stuff isn't as exciting as his numbers, as he throws in the mid-80s despite being 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds.