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By John Manuel
(Talent Ranking: **** out of five) The Sunshine State has it all. There's off-field intrigue, in players like Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew and prep lefthander Gio Gonzalez. There are high picks out of high school, such as righthander Alan Horne (a 2001 first-rounder) and outfielder Eddy Martinez-Esteve (a 2002 third-rounder), as well as schools with multiple high picks (Florida State, Fort Lauderdale's Nova High and Jacksonville's Wolfson High) and a number of big-bodied, power-armed prep pitchers. The college ranks offer excellent depth as well, including three righthanders who could go in the first round and several solid position players in a draft short on them.
Projected First-Round Picks
• Stephen Drew, ss
Older brothers J.D. and Tim, both currently in the Braves organization, were first-round picks in the 1997 draft. Atlanta doesn't draft until 71st overall, so the Georgia natives won't all be playing for the home team, because Stephen ranks as the best position player available. J.D. was the top player available in '97, and Stephen offers some similarities in tools, though scouts agree he's more like Todd Walker, though more athletic and better defensively. Stephen is a five-tool player, average across the board but with above-average speed and well-above-average hitting ability. He has fast hands and good plate discipline, and when he's locked in can dominate a game, a series, a week or a month. As a freshman, he missed 25 games with a broken foot and then carried Florida State to a 26-game winning streak. He was hurt again in 2003, tweaking his hamstring in a super-regional against Texas. The injuries have had two effects: Drew has never played extended time with wood bats, and he's taken on some of the makeup questions that dog his brother. Some question whether he has the first-step quickness to play shortstop in pro ball. Stephen hasn't shown much leadership in college, and scouts agree he doesn't play his best all the time--only when he wants to.
• Eric Hurley, rhp
Among high school pitchers, Hurley was closing the season as well as any of his peers, and his improvement will be reflected in his draft position. Heading into Florida's all-star games in Sebring, he was pitching his way toward the middle of the first round thanks to some of the best fastball velocity in the country. Hurley has gone from pitching in the 90-93 mph range to 92-95 consistently, hitting at least 96 in eight straight outings and maintaining his velocity deep into games. Pitching for one of the nation's top teams, he went 13-1, 0.70 with 11 walks and 139 strikeouts in 90 innings. Hurley has a loose arm, and now that he's ironed out a small mechanical issue--staying more upright in his delivery and keeping his elbows in--he's put all the pieces together. He's flashed an average slider and changeup. At times he gets around his breaking ball a bit, when he drops his elbow, and doesn't command it. Detractors say he has a slight head jerk in his delivery that causes him to elevate his fastball, but with Hurley's velocity and life, he might be the kind of pitcher who can live up in the zone, even against professionals.
• Justin Hoyman, rhp
Hoyman has gained nearly 50 pounds since high school, when he was a string bean at 6-foot-3, 145 pounds. He's filled out at close to 195 and turned into a workhorse for the Gators, who start him on Saturdays so they can give their busy bullpen a day off in the middle of a conference series. Hoyman pitches off his heavy sinker, which can range from 88-91 in some games to the low 90s in others to touching 95. He's a groundball pitcher to the extreme. Against Alabama, he threw 117 pitches (98 fastballs) and had just two strikeouts but 17 groundball outs. Hoyman, who wasn't drafted as an eligible sophomore last year, also has a curveball that can be slurvy but has tight spin and good tilt, and he's shown feel for a sinking changeup. He's had back spasms that were traced back to an old football injury; a broken leg left one leg longer than the other. He now wears a lift in one shoe to even them up, solving the problem.
• Gio Gonzalez, lhp
Gonzalez entered the year as Florida's top prep talent but slipped to No. 2 after Hurley's performance and his own missteps. Gonzalez was kicked off the Monsignor Pace High team that spent several weeks ranked No. 1 in the country after an argument between his mother and Pace's coach over younger brother Max' playing time. Similar issues prompted Gonzalez to transfer from Hialeah High, where he had pitched in two state title games, winning once and losing once. His track record on the field, as well as his stuff and great feel for pitching, still have him poised to go late in the first round. Gonzalez pitches in the 87-90 mph range, touching 93-94, and complements it with what may be the nation's best curveball, a tight spinner that he commands well. He's also shown good feel for a changeup. He has polish and could move quickly. His build (6 feet, 170 pounds) gives some scouts pause about his durability.
• Eric Beattie, rhp
One scout says Beattie's fastball and command of it are so good, he could pitch with it in Double-A right now. He's the rare college pitcher who can pitch off the fastball and command it to all quadrants of the plate, and he's confident enough with the 88-92 mph pitch to go inside on hitters and tie them up. At the Division II level, which he led with 15 wins in 2003, and in the Cape Cod League, where he led the league with a 0.39 ERA last summer, he overmatched hitters using his fastball, which has plus sinking action, and slider. Some scouts would like to see more of a third pitch. They agree Beattie's competitiveness and clean arm action are major assets, and that he has a sound feel for his craft.
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Matt Fox, rhp
A sixth-round pick out of high school, Fox spent the first two seasons of his college career trying to be a two-way player. In so doing, he posted a 6.36 ERA over 52 innings. Once he left hitting behind and added a slider to his pitching repertoire, his career blossomed, and he was having one of the nation's best seasons with an 11-2, 2.02 record and 100 strikeouts in 89 innings. He has been closely scouted by all the organizations that place a premium on performance. Fox has excellent athletic ability, which helps him command his fastball, curveball, slider and changeup, making him a four-pitch pitcher. His delivery has some length to it, and though his quick arm makes up for it, he lacks deception. He's gaining experience using all his stuff, and his fastball is a little straight, but he has shown velocity in the low 90s, touching 96.
• Billy Butler, 3b/rhp
Butler looks best in the batter's box, and scouts are eager to see him with wood instead of metal in his hands. He'll have to move across the diamond to first, or with plus arm strength that helps him throw 93 mph off the mound, move to a corner outfield spot, but he has the raw power to make the move work. Butler has a mature approach. He trusts his quick hands and allows balls to get deep in the zone, giving him excellent loft power. He has natural rhythm to his swing and excellent hand-eye and body coordination. He hasn't always stayed patient this year while being pitched around--he hit .597-10-39 a year ago, and only .419-4-13 this year--but like his teammate Hurley, he performed well down the stretch. He's a Florida recruit but is considered signable and could get in to the first two rounds.
• Eddy Martinez-Esteve, of
An unsigned third-round pick of the Mariners out of a Miami high school in 2002, Martinez-Esteve might improve on that standing, considering the paucity of power bats in the '04 draft. He became one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's top sluggers this year, hitting .377 with 14 homers, and has some of the best raw power in the country. He's stayed healthy after a severe hamstring pull short-circuited his freshman season. Martinez-Esteve has lost some life in his lower half since the injury, and is a well-below-average defender who appears indifferent about getting better. Scouts invoke Manny Ramirez when describing his defensive play. His best position is the batter's box, where he punishes mistakes with brute strength. The consensus is that Martinez-Esteve has slider-bat speed, can be beaten inside by a good fastball and will have to make adjustments at the plate as a pro.
• Anthony Swarzak, rhp
Expected to be a difficult sign, Swarzak could go high enough--in the second or third round--to justify it. He has a scholarship offer to Louisiana State. Swarzak has the look of a big leaguer. He has an excellent pitcher's frame at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds and has drawn comparisons to John Smoltz. He pitches in the low 90s with his fastball, sitting at 93-94 in relief outings, and has shown the ability to move his fastball, curveball and changeup in and out of the zone, never catching too much of the plate. He went 12-2, 0.33 with 19 walks and 140 strikeouts in 87 innings for Nova High, one of the nation's top high school teams. Swarzak has good command for a high school pitcher and sound mechanics, staying tall in his delivery. With physical maturity, his solid-average stuff could improve across the board down the line, making him a No. 2 or 3 starter eventually.
• Joe Bauserman, rhp
Bauserman's story is roughly similar to that of J.R. House, a Pirates catching prospect whose father moved him between West Virginia and Florida to maximize his exposure as a football and baseball player. Bauserman is a premium football quarterback with baseball aspirations. His father moved the family to Florida from Virginia so that his son could face better baseball competition. Bauserman, with an Ohio State football commitment that some consider leverage for his baseball negotiations, came out of the gates throwing hard with a strong, mature body at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. While he was throwing 91-95 mph early, though, Bauserman wore down over the spring, losing velocity and struggling to command his breaking ball, which has gone backward in the opinion of most scouts. Some also questioned his makeup and didn't like his body language on the mound.
• Devin Ivany, c
Drafted in the ninth round out of high school as a shortstop, Ivany has spent most of his three years at South Florida behind the dish, with short stints in the outfield. He's an aggressive player, both at the plate and behind it. He started calling pitches and taking charge of games for the Bulls this season. His superior athletic ability also gives him good footwork and agility behind the plate. Reviews of his arm are mixed, and he'd thrown out 18 of 40 basestealers this season after nabbing 31 of 53 last year. His maturity, versatility and solid, line-drive swing have him projected to move in the third round. He hit .357 with five homers this spring, but not all scouts are convinced he'll hit nearly as well with wood.
• Michael Branham, rhp
Still growing into his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame, Branham has attracted sufficient early-round interest to make Florida nervous about him passing up a scholarship. It could take third-round money, and Branham has pitched his way there by improving his fastball to go with an outstanding curveball, a true 12-to-6 hammer. After pitching at 85-86 mph as a junior, Branham flashed the occasional 93-94 this spring while pitching consistently in the 89-92 range. He performed well against good competition, earning district MVP honors and going 9-1, 1.07 with 18 walks and 134 strikeouts in 66 innings for Tampa Jesuit, one of the nation's top high school teams. He also earns praise for a good body, competitive mound presence and ability to maintain his stuff over the course of a game.
• Christian Garcia, rhp
A South Carolina recruit, Garcia was once expected to replace Landon Powell as the Gamecocks' catcher. That's not likely to happen now. Garcia's new coach at Gulliver Prep, former University of Miami pitching coach Lazaro Collazo, put the projectable 6-foot-4, 175-pounder on the mound this spring after seeing his arm strength and his struggles offensively. Garcia hit the mid-90s with his fastball and zoomed into first-round consideration. Scouts say he may throw 97-98 mph one day. His inexperience shows, but he's athletic enough to repeat his delivery and command his fastball. Scouts expect him to clean up his mechanics and hone his secondary stuff as he gains pitching experience. Garcia was hobbled in a late start in the state playoffs by food poisoning, lowering his velocity into the 80s, but he was back in the mid 90s a start later.
• Alex Garabedian, c
Three catchers garnered the most attention in South Florida's prep ranks, with Garabedian edging catch-and-throw specialist Jonathan Arencibia and bat-first Brian Van Kirk on most draft boards. Garabedian has a more mature body, and his balanced package needs less projection than his peers. He also has the best power tools of the trio, with the strongest throwing arm (a 60 on the 20-80 scale) and good raw power at the plate. He makes receiving look easy with soft hands. Scouts aren't convinced he'll hit for average, but he could become a better hitter if he was more selective at the plate. He hit .443-10-38 this spring. He's part of a loaded Miami recruiting class and may need to go by the third round to pass up college.
• Michael Taylor, of
Taylor has overcome juvenile diabetes to own one of the draft's most impressive bodies. He's an imposing 6-foot-6, 233 pounds and looks like a linebacker, but with grace. He's intelligent and has committed to Stanford, and like many Cardinal recruits that might keep teams from drafting him altogether. The other big reason he may not get picked is that for all his tools--he runs well for any size, owns a plus-plus arm and shows impressive power in batting practice--he hasn't performed where it matters most, at the plate. He hit a soft .424 with five homers this spring. He was inconsistent driving the ball in games, and few scouts have seen his raw power translate in games. Teams probably will get three more years to judge him 3,000 miles away.
• Wade Davis, rhp
Another Florida signee, Davis may be drafted shortly after Branham in the fourth- or fifth-round range. But he could also slip beyond the 20th round as his signability appears to be more of a factor than with Branham. His performance during the spring was inconsistent, and it may be a case of which scout saw him on which day that determines where he's picked. Davis showed good velocity on his best days, touching some 93s and 94s while pitching in the 88-91 mph range. He has excellent size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), commands his average curveball and fastball equally well, and profiles as an innings-eater in the middle of a rotation.
• Erick San Pedro, c
While traditional power Miami has ranked among the top college teams all season, it doesn't have a premium draft pick. San Pedro, the team's leader on the field and in the clubhouse, should be the top pick, possibly in the third or fourth round. He's a pure catch-and-throw backstop, showing a plus arm and soft hands. He blocks everything in the dirt, so his pitchers trust him, and he handles the staff well. Offensively, San Pedro has gotten stronger and has raw power, but his approach is poor and his numbers slipped during the season to .310-7-42. He drifts and lunges in his swing and lacks offensive instincts. His glove could get him to the major leagues quickly, while his bat might limit him to a reserve role.
• C.J. Smith, 1b/of
A sixth-round pick a year ago by the Pirates as a draft-eligible sophomore, Smith seems likely to improve on that, if only by one round. Tall and gangly, Smith generates good bat speed and excellent power--he had 17 extra-base hits in the Cape Cod League. He plays the game with enthusiasm, in contrast to his teammate Ben Harrison, an unsigned fourth-round pick in 2003 whose stock has slipped as a senior. Smith also has more power potential than Harrison. A first baseman in 2003, Smith played more outfield this year, and while he looks more like a first baseman at 6-foot-3, he has poor actions around the bag. His below-average arm will limit him to left field.
• Bill Layman, rhp
The state's sleeper, Layman was the best college pitcher in Jacksonville this spring, as injuries sidelined Jacksonville University righty Josh Deel. Deel's teammate, Dennis Robinson, ranked second in the nation in wins (12) but lacks a plus pitch. Layman, a draft-eligible sophomore, has a plus pitch--a 91-93 mph fastball that touches 95. He uses his 6-foot-4 frame to get good leverage on the pitch and has a loose arm. He took a redshirt year in 2002 to iron out his mechanics, and while he's not a strike-thrower yet (14-40 BB-SO ratio in 26 innings), he has a better idea of where the zone is now. His curveball and changeup have potential. What Layman needs most is innings, as he worked as a reliever exclusively this season.
Others To Watch
• Alex Garabedian got the consensus nod as the best prep catcher in the state, but Westminster Christian's Jonathan Arencibia and Westminster Academy's Brian Van Kirk had their supporters as well. Arencibia has a ways to go offensively and physically, and reminds some scouts of Indians farmhand (and fellow Miami native) Javi Herrera. Following Herrera's lead, Arencibia signed with Tennessee. Van Kirk, a Florida Atlantic signee, has a polished bat for his age and has shown power potential, but most agree he's too rough behind the plate to help anyone right now as a catcher.
• The state's college ranks are deep in players who should get picked on the first day, aside from the premium drafts listed above. RHP Matt O'Brien could sneak into the first five rounds as a budget pick and is the state's best senior sign. He ran his fastball up to 94-95 mph consistently early in the year and has settled into the low 90s; he commands the pitch well, but at times it comes in flat. He's shown a loopy curveball and inconsistent split-finger fastball. He's pitched to contact more this season, and scouts would like to see him develop a pitch that makes hitters swing and miss more often.
• Florida OF Ben Harrison and South Florida SS Myron Leslie also are solid senior signs, but scouts seemed to like them less as the years went on. Leslie, an 11th-round pick in 2003, doesn't have a tool or ability that stands out but does everything solidly; he's going to move off shortstop as a pro and looks like a solid organizational player. Harrison, an unsigned fourth-round pick a year ago, works out too much and begins each season too stiff, then shows better bat speed and a looser, stronger throwing arm as the year goes on. He has performed well, hitting .363-14-54 this spring for Florida, and has some tools, though some scouts question his passion for the game. That's not true of his teammate Jeff Corsaletti, a scrappy center fielder in the Len Dykstra mold. Corsaletti runs well (less than 4.2 seconds to first base consistently), has good strength in his 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame and makes consistent contact. He's the best athlete on the Gators roster.
• OF-C Jeff Fiorentino, after playing outfield his first two seasons at Florida Atlantc, has mixed in some catching this year. His arm is fringy behind the plate, but he's taken to the position pretty well, showing good hands and athleticism. Most scouts expect him to be adequate behind the plate as he gains more experience, if his 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame can handle the position. Fiorentino has a short, line-drive stroke, surprising power (42 college homers) and profiles best as a lefthanded-hitting reserve because of his versatility.
• Another versatile possible mid-round draft is Miami senior Adam Ricks, who has played second base and some shortstop for the Hurricanes but whose tools profile best at catcher. Miami (and Sacramento City CC before it) has given him a few innings there so scouts can see him catch and throw. He's a lefthanded hitter that makes contact consistently.
• Miami's deep roster lacks a star, but scouts agree OF Brian Barton, the team's leading hitter this season, has the best tools among draft-eligible players. The Loyola Marymount transfer was draft-eligible last year and wasn't picked and won't be an easy sign; he's on a full academic scholarship (mostly funded by Boeing) and hopes to pursue a career in flight, perhaps aimed at being an astronaut. Barton has shown baseball aptitude this season by taking over in center field for the Hurricanes after an injury to Danny Figueroa, who was a possible early-round pick. Figueroa will be a good draft next year if he shows he's recovered from Tommy John surgery. Barton's best tools are his speed and throwing arm, but his swing needs to be reworked if he's going to drive the ball with wood bats. He could end up as a fifth-year senior draft-and-follow for 2005, a risky proposition because of the late completion date of the college season and Miami's 31-year streak of regional appearances.
• The 'Canes have several pitchers who could be drafted, including big-bodied RHP Vince Bongiovanni and LHP Brandon Camardese. Bongiovanni's lack of command cost him a spot in Miami's rotation this season, and scouts question his toughness. However, he's shown a 90-92 mph fastball and good 12-to-6 curveball in the past. Camardese, a seventh-round pick out of high school, spots his average stuff (fastball, curve, changeup) in and out of the zone and pitches well with a lead.
• One of the state's more intriguing college drafts will be Bethune-Cookman's top player, OF Sebastien Boucher. The Canadian is one of the state's burners, a 6.6-second runner over 60 yards, and has a feel for running the bases. He's improved his swing, showing the ability to drive the ball, and has a solid body for pro ball. He could move in the first 10 rounds.
• Stats-savvy teams will covet Stetson C/DH Chris Westervelt, who's hitting this season after an ankle injury crippled him as a junior. Westervelt, a 40th-round pick last year of the Athletics, still runs with a limp but mashes from the right side, having hit with wood (.336 in the Valley League in 2002) and with metal, hitting .403 in 2002 and .380 this season. In those two years, he's drawn 66 walks against 66 strikeouts. He's not considered even an average defender at any position.
• While Matt Fox was the biggest reason for Central Florida's success this year, he had help from RHP Kyle Bono, who was tied for the national lead in shutouts with five. Bono works with an 88-91 mph fastball; he commands it and his secondary stuff (slider, changeup) well, but most scouts say his signability could be tricky as he's a draft-eligible sophomore. Teammate OF Clay Timpner has been a three-year starter in center field for the Golden Knights and has some tools at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds. Timpner runs average or a tick above, and his arm also is major league average. He's got a line-drive swing, knows how to draw a walk and steal a base, and plays the game with grit.
• RHP Kyle Schmidt transferred to South Florida after two solid seasons at Georgia Tech, and ranked second in the Cape Cod League last summer with a 0.55 ERA. He also had 63 strikeouts in 49 innings. However, his stuff and command were wildly inconsistent this spring for the Bulls. When he's on, Schmidt throws in the 89-90 range with a plus curveball.
• Jacksonville RHP Dennis Robinson and Florida International LHP Jon Banke, who started their careers elsewhere, are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Robinson, a North Carolina transfer, ranked second only to Long Beach State's Jered Weaver in the nation in wins, using a fastball-changeup mix and rarely if ever hitting 90 mph. Banke, formerly of Liberty, flashes average fastball velocity and arm strength for a lefthander but lacks pitchability. His teammate, RHP Derek DeCarlo, has been the Golden Panthers' ace for most of the last three seasons (ceding the job to Blue Jays second-rounder Josh Banks last year) but has an extensive medical history and may just be a good senior sign next year.
• Florida high schools produce their share of position players, and this year also feature a plethora of power arms. RHPs Gaby Hernandez and Eduardo Morlan both have shown fastballs that touch the 93-94 mph range. Hernandez, a talented hitter as well, profiles better on the mound because he has a quick arm and strong 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame that helps him hold his stuff. Morlan also has a good, durable body and profiles as a workhorse.
• OFs Stephen Chapman and Warren McFadden both have questions going into the draft, but have undeniable tools. McFadden, a Tulane signee, may not be picked at all despite being a solid runner and excellent athlete, and having a strong throwing arm. His bat trails his other tools. Chapman, a key recruit for Auburn, has raw power potential and can hit the best fastball thanks to good bat speed. He's an average runner and thrower, but his bat is a question because he doesn't handle offspeed stuff well or recognize breaking balls.
• Clemson signee RHP David Kopp has shown one of the state's better breaking balls, a sweeping slider that handcuffs lefthanded hitters. His 87-89 mph fastball, three-quarters slot and projectable 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame reminds some of Cardinals starter Jason Marquis.
• Scouts say RHPs Raudel Alfonso and Bryan Augenstein will be better drafts in three years. Alfonso missed much of the 2004 spring with an elbow problem but didn't have surgery. He has power stuff (92-94 mph fastball, hard slider) when healthy and could join the Miami Hurricanes' tradition of top closers. Augenstein, part of a large Florida recruiting class, has improved his feel for a curveball but it's still a below-average pitch, leaving him with just a playable fastball for now. However, he has easy velocity, throwing 90-91 mph with a sound delivery, and is coordinated for his 6-foot-6, 205-pound body. His father played college basketball at Ohio State, and Augenstein may not be done growing.
• Two other Miami recruits, SS Walter Diaz and LHP Emmanuel Miguelez, have strong commitments that could drive down their draft stock. Diaz excels defensively thanks to quick feet, good range and a strong arm that allows him to touch the low 90s off the mound. Miguelez has solid average stuff across the board and a 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame that could use more strength.
• SS Josh Johnson, the son of ex-major leaguer Larry Doby Johnson, is part of Texas' surprising haul of Florida talent, along with St. Augustine prep product Chase Fontaine. Scouts often lump them together with SS Ian Desmond of Sarasota because of their similarities. Johnson's ability from both sides of the plate, along with his savvy, solid arm and good infield actions, make him the best draft of the three. Fontaine, who has some juice in his lefthanded bat, will need to move off shortstop at the college level. Desmond, a South Florida recruit, also has shown some pop and average tools across the board.
• 1B Jorge Castillo has drawn comparisons to Andy D'Alessio, one of the state's top sluggers a year ago. D'Alessio ended up at Clemson despite being a 10th-round pick, and Castillo is expected to go to Louisville rather than sign. He's shorter than D'Alessio and not as athletic, but like D'Alessio he has a power lefthanded bat, and his short swing helps him make consistent contact.
• Florida's junior colleges were considered down this year, but several players came on strong late and could be drafted in the first 15 rounds if they are not signed as draft-and-follows. One player who is not under control and will be drafted is LHP Ray Liotta, who transferred to Gulf Coast CC from Tulane. He's a strong-bodied lefty with a fastball in the 88-92 mph range, though it tends to straighten out. Liotta's inconsistent breaking ball and changeup, as well as lack of deception in his delivery, makes him more hittable than smaller, live-armed counterparts such as LHP Jonny Venters and RHP Nick Tisone. Venters was Indian River CC's center fielder and closer, and the Braves were expected to sign him. He's improved his fastball into the 88-93 range with a quick arm and clean release. He's also shown a power breaking ball, and though he's athletic enough to command both pitches, his performance was inconsistent due in part to his inexperience on the mound. Tisone, who has attended three different schools in two years, could go back into the draft, as the Royals already had spent more than $1 million on Arizona draft-and-follow Luis Cota. Like Cota, Tisone lacks ideal size at 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, and like Liotta (and 6-foot-7, 230-pound RHP Trey Shields), he's signed with Alabama. He missed almost two months after having a ball lined off his right forearm, but when healthy Tisone has pitched up to 95 mph with his fastball and shown good life on the pitch down in the zone from a low arm slot. He struggles to command his slider, which is a power pitch in the 82-85 mph range when he's right. His changeup is coming along but is his third pitch when he's commanding his slider. Shields, under the Twins' control, has a durable body and solid average stuff, though he uses his size well to pitch downhill with his fastball.
• RHP Matt Montgomery, under control to the Expos, was one of six pitchers kicked off the roster at Young Harris (Ga.) JC in December and January--Young Harris still went 52-8. He landed at Okaloosa-Walton CC and settled in as a max-effort closer, throwing up to 92-94 mph at times. He has a strong lower body that allows him to drop-and-drive to the plate, slinging his power stuff from a low three-quarters slot. His breaking ball, a curve for now, leaves a lot to be desired, making him a project.
• Miami-Dade CC has a roster usually peppered with Latin American players, often of Cuban origin, but few have the statistics or background story of 3B Yosuany Almario, whose name appears with several different spellings and versions. What's certain is that Almario is a Cuban defector who played in the Canadian Baseball League last year, but when that indy league went under, he returned to Miami, and under the NJCAA's amateur deregulation legislation, he was able to regain his eligibility this spring. He promptly started mashing and led the state's JCs in batting and slugging most of the spring. Reports on his age fluctuate from 23 to 26, and his bat is his best tool, with a polished line-drive swing and a good idea of the strike zone.
• Florida's other big JC story this spring was at Chipola JC, where a potentially strong pitching staff was ravaged by injuries. RHP Friedel Pinkston, an eighth-round pick in 2002 out of a Georgia high school, has had shoulder surgery and now Tommy John surgery, dimming his star. LHP Danny Forrer, a strike-throwing lefthander, was the team's top prospect before shoulder tenderness affected his power slider and 88-91 mph fastball. A former Auburn pitcher, he was struggling to qualify for a four-year college academically and could be a good draft pick as a result. Chipola hoped RHP Alan Horne could help this year, but he didn't get healthy in time. Horne, whose father played at Chipola, was a first-round pick in 2001 and attended Mississippi for two years. After winning five games there as a freshman, he got hurt in 2003 and ended up having Tommy John surgery. He transferred to Chipola as a redshirt sophomore in January and did most of his throwing on the side, as a dead-arm period hindered his comeback. He touched 92 mph on the side and was working on getting his mechanics back to their smooth high school form. He's expected to pitch in the Cape Cod League this summer. Most likely, a team will draft him in a mid-round position and monitor his progress before electing to sign him.
• Athletic RHP Deunte Heath, a freshman under control to the Mets, flashed 94 mph heat in the fall but went downhill in the spring, usually throwing in the 88-91 mph range with an inconsistent breaking ball.