By Jim Callis
(Talent Ranking: **** out of five) Position players may be hard to find in most states this year, but that's not the case in Louisiana. A year after producing first-round picks Rickie Weeks, Michael Aubrey and Aaron Hill plus eye-opening prospects Xavier Paul and Tony Giarratano, the Bayou State has an abundance of outfielders, led by Jon Zeringue and J.C. Holt. Louisiana also has several power college arms who can reach the mid-90s, topped by Thomas Diamond, Jason Quarles and Jim Miller.
Projected First-Round Pick
Thomas Diamond, rhp
Diamond was Louisiana's top high school pitching prospect three years ago, but he lasted until the Devil Rays took him in the 38th round because no team was willing to buy him away from New Orleans. Clubs began to regret that early last year, when he popped a 96 mph fastball early in his sophomore season. Diamond has continued to unleash explosive heat ever since. He dominated the Northwoods League last summer, tied a school and Sun Belt Conference record with 17 strikeouts against Arkansas State in March and ranked fifth in Division I with 125 strikeouts in 98 innings. With a strong 6-foot-2, 231-pound frame and solid mechanics, Diamond holds his mid-90s velocity deep into games. His secondary pitches have room for improvement. His slider is better than his curveball, but if he could refine the curve he could wreak havoc by changing hitters' eye level. His changeup shows promise, though he rarely uses it. Diamond could go as high as sixth overall to the Indians and won't last past the middle of the first round.
Second- To Fifth-Round Talent Jon Zeringue, of
Zeringue turned down the White Sox as a third-round pick out of E.D. White Catholic High in Thibodeaux, where he won four 3-A state titles, and he should go a round higher three years later. A prep catcher who has moved to right field, Zeringue profiles well at his current position. He's country strong, thanks to working in a sugar cane factory as a teenager, and few players in this draft can crush pitches to all fields like he can. Though he strikes out some, Zeringue has made nice adjustments since his freshman year, when he batted .245 and had difficulty with offspeed pitches. Until a late-season slump dropped his average to .396, he was well ahead of Russ Johnson's Louisiana State-record .410. Solidly built at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he moves well and has a good arm in right field. Jason Quarles, rhp
Quarles' rise is one of the more improbable stories of the draft. After hitting .397 at Glen Oaks (Mich.) CC in 2003, he transferred to Southern but was unable to crack the Jaguars' outfield last fall. Noting his arm strength, Southern's coaches moved him to the mound, a move Quarles initially was reluctant to embrace. In his first intrasquad game, Quarles touched 93 mph and showed an average curveball, and his stuff continually got better. He pitched in the mid-90s all spring, reaching 98 mph in three consecutive outings, and his curveball is just as overpowering. It's a devastating 12-to-6 breaker that, along with his 6-foot-1 build, has earned him comparisons with Tom Gordon. Southern's schedule doesnt provide the greatest competition, but Quarles proved himself with a 1-2-3 inning against Louisiana State. He started by retiring J.C. Holt on a groundout and finished with a called strikeout of Jon Zeringue. He's still raw and pitched just 21 innings this spring, but there's no denying Quarles' pure stuff. Some teams are considering him as a supplemental first-rounder. J.C. Holt, of
Teams looking for a speedy top-of-the-order hitter will be attracted to Holt. Though he's just 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, he has enough strength to keep pitchers honest. Using an opposite-field approach, he won the Cape Cod League batting title at .388 last summer and was hitting .397 with an SEC-leading 66 runs through 58 games. Once he gets to first base, Holt is a basestealing threat with his plus-plus speed and stole 18 bases in 20 attempts. He won state high school titles in the 100 meters, 200 meters and triple jump, and he can go from the left side to first base in 4.05 seconds. He draws walks, and if he can show more patience he'll be a perfect leadoff man. Defensively, Holt has plus range but a below-average arm in center field. He played second base as a freshman and could get a look there as a pro. Blake Johnson, rhp
Scouts have known all year that the state's top high school prospect resides in Baton Rouge. They just haven't been always sure which pitcher merits that honor. Johnson came into the year as the best, was surpassed by Matt Walker at midseason, then moved back ahead of Walker as he compiled an 8-3, 1.31 record and struck 116 in 64 innings. Johnson is more polished than Walker and should be better more quickly. His size (6-foot-4 and 195) and easy delivery are assets, and he throws an 89-93 mph fastball and a hard breaking ball. Johnson was inconsistent this spring, but he finished strong by leading Parkview Baptist to its third consecutive state 3-A title. He allowed just one run in two playoff starts and provided three hits in the championship game. Johnson has committed to Louisiana State but isn't considered a tough sign.Matt Walker, rhp
Before this spring, Walker was better known as a quarterback who drew interest from NCAA Division I-A programs. Then he came out throwing 92-94 mph with a hard 77-80 mph curveball, and scouts flocked to see him. Walker tired later in the season, pitching at 86-90 mph with a lesser curve when crosscheckers came in, and has gone from being a possible supplemental first-rounder to more of a third- or fourth-round choice. The raw potential is clearly there, however, and it's in an athletic 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame. On the season, he went 11-1, 1.56 with 148 strikeouts in 78 innings. Walker is expected to sign rather than attend Southeastern Louisiana. Reid Brignac, ss
Brignac is a solid third-round talent, and the Yankees are said to have even stronger interest, but his strong commitment to Louisiana State may cause him to slide. A center fielder in the past and a shortstop this spring, Brignac projects as a pro third baseman or corner outfielder. He generates a lot of bat speed from the left side and drilled a long homer off Walker in late April. Brignac's loose, athletic build (6-foot-2, 170 pounds) leaves plenty of room to add strength, and he runs well. He finished his high school career by hitting .417-11-58 and helping St. Amant win the state 5-A championship. Jim Miller, rhp
Though Louisiana-Monroe was just 27-26 during the regular season, the Indians unquestionably had the best collection of arms in the state. For sheer arm strength, Miller ranks with Thomas Diamond and Jason Quarles, pitching at 92-94 mph and scraping 95-96. Undrafted last year as a junior, mainly because he wanted to complete his degree in mathematics, Miller turned down free-agent offers after pitching at the National Baseball Congress World Series. A two-pitch guy who works out of the bullpen now and will continue to do so as a pro, he backs up his fastball with an average curve. When he throws strikes and works down in the zone, he's difficult to hit. Jonathan Garrett, rhp
One scout calls Garrett the most improved player in the state. A former catcher who was throwing 86-87 mph a year ago, he's now up to 88-92 and has a plus slider. He throws with little effort and there's probably more velocity in his 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame. He may be tough to sign, however. Garrett has a partial academic scholarship from Tulane, and even third-round money might not be enough to entice him to turn pro. Joe Pietro, of
Pietro is one of the fastest players in the draft, regularly getting to first base in less than four seconds from the left side of the plate. A transfer from Creighton who broke out by hitting .385 as a sophomore, Pietro hasn't been as explosive this spring while recovering from a sprained ankle that cost him a month of playing time. Though he understands speed is his ticket, he needs to tighten his strike zone. Pietro is compact and muscular at 6 feet and 198 pounds, and he has pop in his bat. He's a plus center fielder, albeit with a below-average arm.
Others To Watch
RHP Ricky Fairchild, who showed a 91-94 mph fastball and plus slider last summer in Alaska, figured to be Tulane's top 2004 draftee until he required Tommy John surgery last winter. Now that honor will go to one of two transfers, former Miami C Greg Dini or former Florida OF Wes Swackhamer. A career .258 hitter for the Hurricanes, Dini has batted .364 with 11 homers this spring. His swing might be a little long, though. Defensively, his arm is more accurate than strong but he receives and blocks well. Swackhamer has a strong lefthanded bat and is a good athlete for a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder. He's such a strong student that he may be a tough sign as a junior.
RHP Dan Lonsberry drew the early draft hype at Northwestern State, but fellow Demons RHP Clayton Turner passed him. Turner is just 6 feet tall, but he throws a nasty combination of 88-91 mph sinkers and sliders from a low three-quarters angle. He ripped off a nine-game winning streak and had 103 strikeouts in 100 innings. He's a senior, making him even more attractive to budget-minded clubs. Lonsberry has a better body (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and similar velocity, but he lacks Turner's command and breaking ball. The Rockies drafted him in the 31st round two years ago out of Northeast Texas CC.
2B Joshua LeBlanc bided his time for two years as Rickie Weeks' backup at Southern, going 30-for-71 (.423) in limited playing time. After Weeks signed with the Brewers as the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, LeBlanc made a name for himself this spring. Though he tailed off late in the season, he still should get picked in the first 10 rounds. He has plus-plus speed and sprays line drives from gap to gap. Sound defensively at second base, he also could get a look in center field.
Southern went 27-14 this year, a far cry from last year's Weeks-led 47-7 club, but the Jaguars still are loaded with pro talent. 3B Andrew Toussaint has quick hands at the plate, plus power and speed. He'll move back to the outfield or over to second base as a pro. He shifted to the hot corner because Southern had three outfielders who could get drafted: Alfred Ard, Marcus Townsend and Jason Trim. Ard was an all-Southwestern Athletic Conference wide receiver last fall after making 50 catches, including a league-best 11 touchdowns. He may not be willing to give up his senior year of football, but teams covet his speed, which rates an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Townsend has been drafted three times, most recently by the Reds in the 14th round a year ago. He's a 6-foot-4, 200-pound package of power and speed. Trim's best tool is his power. LHP Vince Davis played with Trim at New Mexico JC. He's a 6-foot-6, 240-pound lefty with a lively high-80s fastball and an improved breaking pitch. Besides Toussaint, the rest of this group is raw and will need time and patience to develop in the minors.
After Jim Miller, Louisiana-Monroe has three more righthanders who should go in the middle of the draft in Matt Guillory, Matt Green and Ryan Schwabe. Guillory has the best curveball, changeup and control of the group, and his 87-90 mph fastball could pick up steam if he beefs up his 6-foot-4, 175-pound frame. Green can nearly match Miller's velocity, pitching at 90-92 mph and touching 94, and his curveball can be a plus pitch at times. He's also projectable at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, but his inability to get ahead of hitters usually costs him. He's a redshirt sophomore who missed all of 2002 after getting drilled by a line drive during offseason workouts. He got hit after throwing a changeup and he's been reluctant to use the pitch ever since. Schwabe, a senior, is more of a finesse pitcher. He operates with an 86-88 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup.
SS/RHP Michael Hollander would be an early pick if he were taller than 5-foot-11. His size and signability will work against him, however, so he'll likely wind up at Louisiana State. He should make an immediate impact as a middle infielder with an advanced bat and above-average speed. While scouts view him as a pro infielder, the Tigers also may use him on the mound, where he shows an 88-92 mph fastball.
RHP Devin Scott opened the season as the No. 3 starter and No. 3 prospect in the Denham Springs rotation, but he surged past RHPs Ryan Byrd and Brett Durand on the strength of his low-90s fastball.
Thomas Diamond isn't the only New Orleans pitcher who can pile up strikeouts. RHP J.P. Martinez fanned 110 in 100 innings through the Sun Belt Conference tournament, though he was hit harder as the season wore on and saw his ERA swell to 5.47. Early in the spring, he'd show three average to plus pitches at times: an 88-91 mph fastball, a cutter and a curveball.
OF Ryan Reed, the state's best junior college prospect, helped Louisiana State-Eunice reach the Division II Junior College World Series. He's a 6-foot-3, 205-pound right fielder with lefthanded power and plus speed. He'll transfer to Bethune-Cookman if he doesn't turn pro.
OF Ryan Patterson had pulled ahead of Jon Zeringue for LSU's home run (13) and RBI (60) lead entering NCAA postseason play. He has average speed and doesn't stand out in left field, but his bat alone could carry him in pro ball. Another Tiger, 3B/1B Clay Harris was more of a pitcher as a freshman, slammed 16 homers as a sophomore and has tailed off mightily in 2004. He might be left alone as a senior sign for 2005, but some team could buy into his size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) and believe it could quicken his bat by shortening his swing. His younger brother Will, a sophomore first baseman at LSU, is a similar player.
Louisiana-Lafayette's two best prospects are its powerful corner infielders, 1B Phillip Hawke and 3B Dallas Morris. Hawke is a massive (6-foot-2, 250-pound) lefthanded slugger who has drawn more walks than strikeouts in each of his three college seasons. Morris is more athletic and has a quicker bat, but his size (5-foot-10, 197 pounds) works against him. He's a redshirt junior who can be draft-and-followed.
Teams that place a premium on command will be interested in senior RHP Cory Hahn, who has one of the best strikeout-walk ratios (66-11 in 82 innings) in NCAA Division I. With an 87-89 mph running fastball and average secondary pitches, he projects as a middle reliever at the next level. He turned down the Athletics as a 24th-round pick in 2003.
1B Ben Jones leads the Southland Conference in slugging percentage (.623) and RBIs (56). Six-foot-three and 195 pounds, he's enough of an athlete to make moving to the outfield a possibility. He's another redshirt junior with DFE potential.
A part-time player at Oklahoma in 2003, 3B Jay Yaconetti hit 17 homers as a senior this spring after transferring to New Orleans. He has some arm strength, so while he struggles at the hot corner, he could be an intriguing possibility as a catcher.
The state's college shortstops didn't shake out as expected. Tommy Manzella and Blake Gill had rough years at the plate and have been ordinary on defense, meaning they'll probably be senior signs for 2005. Anthony Hatch had a much better spring, batting .379-8-33, though he'll have to be a second or third baseman as a pro.
LHP Lane Mestepey joined Todd Walker as the only LSU players to earn first-team all-SEC honors as a freshman and sophomore, winning 11 games each in 2001 and 2002. But Mestepey missed all of 2003 following shoulder surgery and his stuff hasnt come back. His fastball is down to 82-83 mph from the mid-80s and his command has fallen off. He did turn in his strongest outing of the year in the SEC tournament, a complete-game 1-0 loss to Georgia. Given what he was two years ago, he'd be a good gamble as a redshirt junior draft-and-follow.
LHP Paul Faulkenberry had a chance to go early in the 2004 draft. He had a good pro body at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, and he threw 91 mph last fall. Then he put on 25 pounds, his body got soft and his fastball eroded to 82-84 mph. Mississippi State will try to put the pieces back together.
OF Josh Boop offers speed and athleticism but has been nothing more than solid in two years at Northwestern State. He helped North Central Texas CC win the 2001 Junior College World Series as a freshman, batting .419 with a school-record .595 on-base percentage.
RHPs Robby Hebert and Rusty Begnaud could draw late-round interest with their upper-80s fastballs and plus curveballs.