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By Jim Callis
(Talent Ranking: * out of five) Iowa's most coveted player by far is righthander Jeremy Hellickson—a junior at Hoover High in Des Moines who can't be selected until 2005. The colleges are barren and the best high schoolers are projectable but not ready for pro ball. That leaves 6-foot-8 righthander Matt Lane as the Hawkeye State's top prospect, and he may sign with the Cardinals as a draft-and-follow.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- To Fifth-Round Talent
Others To Watch
• Six-foot-8, 220-pound RHP Matt Lane is the state's most imposing player. He throws 88-93 mph with a decent curveball. The Cardinals control his rights after drafting him in the 30th round last year.
• RHP David Conroy and OF Heath Woods both improved their stock at Perfect Game's Predraft Showcase in May. Conroy is projectable at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, touched 90 mph at the event and already shows polish with his slider and changeup. The best college player at the showcase, Woods features power, arm strength and solid-average speed.
• The University of Iowa has commitments from most of the state's top high school players. Besides Conroy, the Hawkeyes also have signed C Ben Geelan, LHP Danny Bales and RHP/SS Travis Sweet. Geelan has a 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame and should hit as he gets stronger. He throws in the high 80s off the mound and could see time there for Iowa. Bales is a polished lefthander with three pitches, and his fastball should jump up from the mid-80s as he fills out his 6-foot-3, 185-pound build. Sweet isn't as projectable as the other three because he's 5-foot-10, but he throws 88-90 mph with a good curveball. He could play both ways for the Hawkeyes. All four recruits could be tough signs because they figure to go higher in the draft three years from now.
• RHP Nathan Johnson helped himself by dropping from 250 pounds to 210 this year and by pitching well against Minnesota's Glen Perkins, a likely first-rounder, in front of several scouts in early May. Johnson is just 6-foot-1 and lacks an out pitch, but he's a good senior sign because he works well with an 87-91 mph fastball and a cutter.
• The state's junior colleges have more impressive talent than the four-year colleges. RHP Jason Schutt's size (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) and fastball (89-93 mph fastball) are more attractive than his ERA this spring (6.06). LHP John Sokoll struck out the first 13 batters he faced in a win over Southwestern (Iowa) CC. He's 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds with an 88 mph fastball and a feel for pitching. The Royals signed him as a draft-and-follow after taking him in the 35th round last year. Iowa Central RHP Justin Sokol hasn't shown the 92 mph heat he displayed in 2003, but it's in there. He'll go to Texas A&M if the Padres don't sign him as a draft-and-follow. They selected him in the 17th round a year ago.
• OF Michael Harrington is the best offensive prospect in the state. He hits for power and average and has done well with wood bats on the showcase circuit.
• The state's strongest position is catcher. Beyond Geelan, Sioux Central High's (Sioux Rapids) Kyle Rehnstrom and North Iowa CC's Drew Harris have arm strength and power potential.
• I-35 High (St. Charles) SS/RHP Brandon Douglas is Iowa's top infield prospect. He has plus speed and arm strength, though there are questions with his bat. Douglas and his twin brother, OF/RHP Brett, who is just as quick, have committed to Northern Iowa.