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By Allan Simpson
(Talent Ranking: *** out of five) This was supposed to be the year Notre Dame's ballyhooed recruiting class of 2001 would make its impact on the draft. None of the six players that formed the nucleus of that group will be drafted as high as originally thought--mainly because injuries have taken a toll. Indiana's high school crop also is a little thin, particularly in pitching, but that should change a year from now as scouts have identified at least 10 or 11 juniors already throwing 90 mph.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Grant Johnson, rhp
Of the six players who formed the core of Notre Dame's 2001 recruiting class, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Johnson was the only one who wasn't drafted out of high school. He immediately asserted himself as the marquee player in the group with a big freshman season (9-5, 3.46) and a strong summer with Team USA. His fastball was clocked at 95 mph--and it wasn't even as good as his slider. Then Johnson had labrum surgery, missed 2003 and came back slowly this season. He had worked just46 innings this spring, though he was 5-0, 1.58. He's had no major lingering problems from the surgery, other than his velocity has ranged from 89-93 mph. He's been on a strict pitch count--50 to start, 85 in a mid-May complete-game win against Rutgers--and was limited to 10 sliders per start. Even though he's at about 80 percent, he has flashed his freshman stuff. Johnson remains the top prospect in Indiana and should go no higher than the third round. He's a real risk/reward pick, and he could be a steal if he's healthy and returns to his freshman form.
• Eric Campbell, ss
Campbell showed the best consistent raw power of any high school player on last year's summer showcase circuit, but he's not expected to be one of the first 100 players drafted. His power potential is unquestioned; his other tools are average or worse. He was hitting .525-6-20 through his first 59 at-bats this spring. The biggest question about Campbell is the position he'd play as a pro. His infield actions are stiff and his arm strength is barely adequate for the left side of the infield. He could eventually settle in at second base and become a power-hitting middle infielder in the image of Jeff Kent. Campbell has committed to Alabama but is said to have little interest in attending college.
• Jesse Hoover, rhp
Hoover has been one of the surprise names in Indiana this spring, as he's progressed from a junior-varsity pitcher on an NAIA team, to going undrafted as a junior, to becoming a possible fourth- to sixth-round pick as a senior. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder has gained 10 mph on his fastball in his college career and topped out at 97 this spring. He normally works at 94-95, but the pitch gets on hitters quickly and has explosive life. It was his primary weapon as he set a school record this year by striking out 137 batters in 84 innings--14.7 strikeouts per nine--while going 7-2, 2.47. His curve was a tighter, more consistent pitch this year, but the rest of his stuff was below-average. He projects as a closer in pro ball, his role as a sophomore and junior at Indiana Tech before he moved into the rotation this year.
• Matt Macri, 3b
Macri might have been the first Iowa high school player ever drafted in the first round if he hadn't had a strong commitment to Notre Dame. He's had an up-and-down career with the Irish--he missed most of his freshman season with Tommy John surgery--and no longer projects as a first-rounder, or even a draft pick at all for some clubs. He's healthy again and a more polished player than in high school, but none of his tools, with the exception of power, have progressed. He's even been bumped from shortstop to third base to accommodate a superior defender. Macri hit seven home runs last summer in the Cape Cod League--second in the league--but his .172 average might have been the more telling number. He hit a more well-rounded .377-12-51 this spring. He also has not had an opportunity to showcase his superior arm strength, which had some teams considering drafting him as a pitcher out of high school, as he hasn't pitched for the Irish.
• Cody Strait, of
A transfer from Ranger (Texas) JC, where he played third base and shortstop in 2003, Strait settled in as a center fielder at Evansville. His speed (6.5 seconds over 60 yards), arm strength (88 mph from the outfield) and athleticism so impressed area scouts that some said he was the only true center fielder in their coverage area. He also led Evansville with a .374 average and hit 10 home runs. A handful of scouts see Strait as a third- or fourth-round pick, while others believe he's no better than a fourth outfielder.
• Seth Bynum, ss
The Expos drafted Bynum in the 38th round last year, almost solely because of his defensive skills. They liked his actions and thought he was the best middle infielder in the Great Lakes region. They probably didn't expect Bynum's offensive game to take a quantum leap forward in 2004. A .257-7-34 hitter a year ago, Bynum improved to .387-10-65 with 19 stolen bases in 21 attempts. There are questions how his bat will play in pro ball, but his improvement at the plate this season has enhanced his value significantly. The Expos still have the rights to Bynum because he's a fifth-year senior, but if they can't sign him and he goes back into the draft, he's a possible fifth- to eighth-round pick.
Others To Watch
• Unlike the other pitchers in Notre Dame's celebrated 2001 recruiting class, RHP Chris Niesel never had a significant injury. But he did not pitch as well this year as in his first two years, when he went 13-1, 2.95. His command, normally his strong suit, was off slightly and he went 7-2, 4.02. Size and a maximum-effort delivery have always been issues for the 6-foot, 205-pound Niesel, and with his mechanics a bit out of whack--he slows his delivery down when using a slide step--his pitches flattened out. A three-pitch pitcher with an 89-92 mph fastball, Niesel projects as an eighth- to 12th-round pick.
• C Javi Sanchez started at shortstop for Notre Dame in the 2002 College World Series before taking over as the team's regular catcher the last two years. His versatility makes him an ideal utilityman at the next level and an attractive senior sign. He's a decent hitter (.304-2-38) but projects little power.
• 2B Steve Sollmann hit .384-4-40 with 38 stolen bases in 2003, yet was only a 32nd-round pick of the A's. He figures to go 15-20 rounds earlier as a senior, despite hitting .328-2-20 with 16 steals. He spent several weeks on the shelf after a collision in the outfield that left him with a concussion and broken jaw. Sollmann compensates for average tools by being a smart, aggressive player, and his 2-1 walk-strikeout ratio will appeal to teams that emphasize plate discipline.
• RHP Mike Zaleski is Indiana State's best prospect. He goes right at hitters with three pitches he can throw for strikes, including a fastball in the high 80s.
• 1B Brad Miller has obvious power potential in his 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame and hit .386-14-49 this spring for Ball State. But he has a long swing and is limited to first base, depressing his draft stock.
• Purdue has three players who warrant being drafted: junior RHP Scott Byrnes, senior 3B Simon Klink and junior OF Mike Coles. Byrnes, the Boilermakers' No. 1 starter, has good control of an 88-90 mph fastball and an average breaking ball. Klink is a sound defender with an above-average arm and average power. Coles, drafted out of an Indiana high school by the Orioles, has above-average speed but a below-average arm.
• The Marlins surprised people last year when they drafted Cole Seifrig, an athletic but raw Indiana high school talent, in the fourth round. Six-foot-5, 210-pound OF Zach Barrett has a similar background with the same risk/reward tradeoff, and a team could pop him several rounds earlier than his present talent warrants. Scouts say Barrett has the size, strength and athleticism to be a star if it all comes together.
• C Edwin Roman moved to Indiana from Puerto Rico before his sophomore year in high school, and his high school coach is his guardian. Roman can play multiple positions and has flashed power potential in the past, but arm problems and an inconsistent swing hurt his draft chances this spring. A switch-hitter, he showed more power from the right side. He is an average runner, but scouts are unsure if he projects behind the plate, at third or in the outfield.
• 1B Jeff Cunningham has been frequently compared to Adam Lind, Indiana's best high school hitter in 2002. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Cunningham has similar lefthanded power potential and limitations defensively, and like Lind has committed to South Alabama.
• With 89-90 mph fastballs and limited college options, RHPs Mike Ryan and Dan Dollison generated interest this spring as solid draft-and-follow candidates. Ryan struggled with the command of his breaking ball, while the 5-foot-11 Dollison touched 92 but didn't display the consistent arm speed scouts prefer.