By Allan Simpson
(Talent Ranking: *** out of five) As always, Michigan's brisk spring weather played havoc with the draft standing of many of the state's prospects. Catcher Billy Killian and shortstop Brian Bixler excelled in spite of the elements, but most of the remaining candidates to go in the early rounds, notably righthanders Kyle Boehm, Jim Brauer and Will Jostock, did not.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Billy Killian, c
Pardon Padres area scout Bill Killian if he pushes his team to draft the top-rated player in Michigan--his son. The younger Killian is a baseball rat with solid tools and the athleticism to play any position on the field. His game stepped up a level this spring as he hit with more power and showed a more skilled, complete package. He's an accomplished switch-hitter whose hands work well, and he hit .766-4-12 in his first 30 at-bats. He can run 60 yards in 6.7 seconds. His work behind the plate needs improvement, but his arm strength is sufficient for him to remain a catcher. He projects as a second- or third-round pick. If not for his slight 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame, he might even have been a first-round candidate.
• Brian Bixler, ss
Bixler raised red flags when he hit.120 last summer in the Cape Cod League, but he quieted his doubters with a breakout 2004 season at Eastern Michigan. He hit .443--one of the best averages in the country--while compiling a .520 on-base percentage. The rest of Bixler's tools have never been an issue, nor has his enthusiasm for the game. He has above-average speed and stole 31 bases in 37 attempts this spring. He's a solid, dependable middle infielder with quick feet. Bixler projects as a third- or fourth-round pick.
Others To Watch
• RHP Jim Brauer was supposed to be the University of Michigan's best draft prospect in 2003--and again in 2004. But just as he was disappointed to be picked in the 17th round after pitching only five innings a year ago, he was slow to round into form this season. The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder missed most of 2003 with a sore arm, and his four pitches lacked consistency and sharpness this season, leading to a 6-3, 4.54 record with 64 strikeouts in 77 innings. He teased scouts with an occasional 93-94 mph fastball and plus slider, but he generally threw his pitches from a lower slot, causing them to flatten out. Brauer and draft-eligible sophomore RHP Derek Feldkamp (5-5, 3.36) posted similar numbers, but Feldkamp's stock is on the rise after he added 7-8 mph to his fastball over the course of a year and topped out at 95. He has excellent arm speed and a good feel for three pitches, though his slider is not as good as Brauer's. Feldkamp's signability could become an issue because some say he could become a first- or second-round pick in 2005 if he shows the same rate of improvement.
• Six-foot-2, 225-pound OF Travis Gulick has a prototype big league body and excellent bat speed, but he may have bulked up too much. Scouts say his actions have become a little stiff, and he no longer runs or throws as well as he once did. He hit .370 with 13 homers in 2003, better numbers than he posted this year. As the Big 10 Conference's top returning hitter, he was pitched around and had trouble with breaking pitches down and away. Gulick reminds area scouts of former Eastern Michigan slugger Ryan Goleski, one of the top hitters in low Class A in his first professional season after being drafted by Cleveland in the 24th round a year ago. Gulick also is expected to make a smooth transition to wood.
• LHP J.R. Mathes should be one of the draft's more attractive seniors. He showed much better command of his pitches, including a sinking fastball that peaked at 89 mph, in assuming the role of ace of the Western Michigan pitching staff. Adam Rosales showcased the strongest arm of any player at Western Michigan--and one of the strongest arms in the Great Lakes--from shortstop and auditioned his arm off the mound a couple of times in anticipation of a position switch in pro ball. He touched 92.
• 3B Derrick Peterson should be a good senior draft after hitting .345-12-63 and making his share of big league plays at the hot corner for Eastern Michigan. His teammate, 1B/LHP Ryan Ford, has intriguing two-way talent. He hit .311-5-42 while going 9-4, 3.10 as the Hurons' top starter, and a majority of scouts see his future on the mound. He has good control of three pitches, including an 86-88 mph fastball.
• Scouts may have gotten confused this spring following Oakland RHP Kyle Boehm and Michigan 1B Kyle Bohm, but they soon discovered they are different kinds of players. Boehm has power stuff--a 91-92 mph fastball, 87-88 cutter and 82 slider--but he struggled to get hitters out. Bohm, an Auburn transfer, carried Michigan with his bat, hitting .368-6-51. He may be a tough sign, however, as he has designs on becoming a doctor.
• C Doug Pickens swings a better bat and has more power than Billy Killian, the state's best catching prospect, but the rest of Killian's tools are superior. Pickens lacks the size and tools of a true catcher, but he's a gamer and should adapt well if a position switch is in the works. He has committed to Michigan.
• Six-foot-6, 190-pound RHP Will Jostock was the state's best pitching prospect entering 2004 but did not perform well enough this spring to warrant being an early-round selection. He has a projectable frame but is more likely to develop it in college at Tennessee. He was clocked at 92 mph last summer, but didn't show that velocity consistently.
• RHP Ben Jensen sprung onto the Michigan high school scene this spring with a fastball in the high 80s that touched 92.
• Five-foot-11 LHP Eric Niesen has a compact build and enough fastball velocity and movement to succeed now at the next level, but he lacks a quality breaking pitch.
• RHP Michael Powers would be best served by attending college at Michigan. He needs time to develop his stuff and fill out his 6-foot-3, 165-pound frame. His fastball tops out at 86 mph, but there's plenty of room for improvement and he also has the makings of a good breaking ball.
• Mike Hart is another 6-foot-3 righthander with a mid-80s fastball in need of time to develop.
• Six-foot-5 LHPs Travis Doyle (White Sox) and Joe Welsh (Orioles) are both projectable draft-and-follows from Grand Rapids CC. Doyle has a tailing 89-90 mph fastball with a good slider for a lefthander, while Welsh throws his fastball at 88 and relies more on control.