By John Manuel
(Talent Ranking: ** out of five) The state's two-year streak of first-round picks should end, though North Carolina State righthander Michael Rogers has the attention of performance-based team and could sneak in the back end. Like the state overall, its best team, East Carolina, is known more for its depth than for any singular talents. While North Carolina's high schools have produced two No. 1 overall picks (Brien Taylor in 1991 and Josh Hamilton in '99), they may yield just two players in the first 10 rounds this year.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Michael Rogers, rhp
Scouts and coaches alike admire Rogers for a number of reasons, even though he doesn't have a classic profile for a first-round righty. Just 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he has the command and moxie that many clubs like the Athletics and Rangers covet. Rogers has a strong track record, including a dominant turn in the Cape Cod League in 2002, when he was recovering from a broken right fibula that short-circuited his freshman season. He took a medical redshirt that year and was an All-Freshman selection last season. Rogers got scouts' attention when he shut out then-No. 1 Texas in Austin in a duel against another potential first-round pick J.P. Howell. Rogers struck out 10 and walked one in a three-hitter, then followed it up with a complete-game win at North Carolina. He has improved his velocity as a sophomore, pitching in the 90-92 range and touching a tick or two higher. His fastball has excellent arm-side run and good life down in the zone, and he commands it exceedingly well. He has solid-average secondary stuff (curveball and changeup) that plays up a grade because he pounds the strike zone with all his stuff.
• Josh Horton, ss
A North Carolina signee, Horton has earned comparisons to such players as Russ Adams and Brent Butler, former North Carolina high school standouts, as an athletic middle infielder. Area scouts remain split on Horton, a high-energy player whose signability is a question. For some, he's an impact talent playing a premium position. Few question his glove--he has a strong arm, is an above-average runner, has good hands and natural infield actions. Some scouts question the bat, though Horton showed a heavy top hand that allows him to turn on good fastballs using a wood bat last summer at the East Coast Professional Showcase in Wilmington. He hit .382-5-21 this spring.
• Chris Iannetta, c
Iannetta could go as high as the third round after a stellar junior season. He reminds scouts of Joe Girardi, though he's lost some life in his lower half and doesn't run like Girardi did. Like Girardi, Iannetta has a short, compact stroke and a mature approach to hitting, leading to consistent, hard contact. His other tools are unspectacular, but he's an average receiver and has an average arm that might play up a bit because of his quick release. His younger brother Matt is a Rhode Island prep player who has signed with North Carolina.
• Mitch Atkins, rhp
Atkins, part of a solid Elon recruiting class, has caught the eye of scouts in a down year for the state's prep class by having the best fastball in the area. Some scouts see a mature high school pitcher, strong and sturdy at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, but others see some projection left. He throws an 88-92 mph fastball from a three-quarters slot that gives him good sink. The arm angle also makes his 77-80 mph breaking ball rather slurvy, and at times he struggles to stay on top of it. His feel for a changeup comes and goes, but teams that like him see him as a power sinker/slider pitcher down the line.
• Darryl Lawhorn, of
A package deal in the middle of East Carolina's potent lineup, the Lawhorns are twin brothers with similar tools who could slip into the fifth round. Scouts consider Darryl the better prospect because he's a lefthanded hitter and has more arm strength and defensive versatility. Darryl, who was initially recruited as a pitcher, also has more of a track record, having played for the Pirates for three seasons. His production has dropped since his freshman season as he's moved around the diamond from first base to third and now right field, but he was having a strong second half for the Pirates and batting .318-10-45. He played shortstop last year in the Cape Cod League and showed enough infield actions to profile best as an offensive second baseman. He has good hands that generate a short swing with pop from the left side. Trevor, who sat out last year as a transfer from Division II Barton (N.C.), was among the national leaders in home runs with 20, though many scouts doubt his over-the-fence power will carry over with wood. He's a solid defender at second base, though some scouts wonder if his tools would profile better behind the plate. Neither Lawhorn uses his lower half enough in his swing, so they have room to improve offensively.
• Tim Layden, lhp/1b
While Layden has hit in the middle of Duke's lineup for three years, he's a much better prospect on the mound and could sneak into the first five rounds. He has good velocity, at times throwing in the 91-92 mph range, and throws an excellent hard slider, a potential plus major league pitch. It's in the 83-86 mph range--his last one in a no-hitter against Old Dominion was 83--and has good depth. Layden, a 16th-round pick out of a New York high school, lacks fastball command because of a severe head jerk in his delivery, which could be difficult to fix without overhauling his mechanics completely. He fits the profile of a lefty bullpen specialist.
Others To Watch
• RHP Garry Bakker has been in North Carolina's rotation for three years and has made strides but lacks a true strikeout pitch. He has average stuff across the board, a good 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame and has pitched well against wood bats in the Cape.
• Fellow RHPs Greg Bunn and Carter Harrell (East Carolina) and Vern Sterry (North Carolina State) throw two pitches for strikes as opposed to Bakker's three, but each has a plus offering. Bunn has a good curveball, a true 12-to-6 pitch to go with an 87-89 mph fastball. His small stature (6-foot, 190 pounds) and questionable durability hinder his profile as a middle reliever. Harrell's fastball command remains inconsistent and his curveball isn't quite as good as the 6-foot, 195-pound Bunn's, while his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame is better suited for pro ball. Sterry's changeup is the best pitch among this trio, with excellent movement and deception from a high overhand release. He has dominated college hitters for two years with it, as his fastball sits around 87 mph but plays up thanks to his deception. His curve is a show-me pitch. Sterry was Oakland's highest unsigned draft pick a year ago, a 16th-rounder. He could be a good senior sign this year.
• The state's position-player ranks are slim in power, with North Carolina OF Marshall Hubbard, East Carolina 1B Ryan Norwood and Charlotte 1B Jamie Rusco the best bets after the Lawhorns. Hubbard showed power with wood last summer in the Coastal Plain League, and ranked as that league's No. 1 prospect. He showed no rust after sitting out a year as a transfer from William & Mary. His other tools are below average and he struggles against southpaws, but he has average or above lefthanded power and an average hit tool. Norwood, unique in that he bats righthanded and throws lefthanded, also has some power but lacks athleticism and has a long swing. Rusco is a bad-body lefthanded slugger who has pounded mediocre pitching this season, slugging near .700. His swing gets long and he lacks athleticism. The same can be said for N.C. State 1B David Hicks, but he hasn't shown the consistent power Norwood or Rusco have.
• Another intriguing position player is 5-foot-7 senior OF Ryan Jones, who was leading the nation in on-base plus slugging (1.394) deep into the season. He was doing it while being forced to DH due to an elbow injury. His size and performance level make him a natural for stats-savvy organizations.
• Wake Forest's fast-fading program should have two solid drafts in SS Ben Ingold, a three-year starter with solid tools, and RHP Justin Keadle. Ingold, whose defensive tools are fringy for a big league shortstop, has improved in all areas in his college career, adding strength and a better awareness at the plate. At .375, he was Wake's top hitter. Keadle entered the year with a high Major League Scouting Bureau grade, but durability concerns and poor performances dimmed Keadle's star for most scouts. Drafted in 2002 by the Yankees out of Cypress (Calif.) JC, he touched 93 mph with his fastball last summer, when he finished second in the Cape Cod League in strikeouts. He didn't show that velocity this spring, pitching in the 88-90 range. His slider was better last summer and his command has been inconsistent as well. He had trouble getting his arm loose early in the season and had pitched better down the stretch.
• Some liken Surry CC LHP Tony Harris to a smaller version of Dontrelle Willis. He has touched 92-93 mph from a three-quarter slot and has shown a plus slider. When he has command, he dominates, but that hasn't happened with much consistency.
• UNC Greensboro pitchers Jarrett Santos, a righthander with a good cutter, and Ryan Gordon, a talented but injury-prone two-way player, also should be solid senior signs. Santos, who led the Cape Cod League in saves last summer, has shown a durable arm under a heavy workload, carrying the Spartans' bullpen. Gordon, who was North Carolina's prep player of the year in 1999 over Josh Hamilton, has plus speed and a knack for making consistent, hard contact. However, he's not physical enough to hold up as an everyday player, and scouts like him better on the mound, where he throws 88-90 and spins a good breaking ball in short relief appearances. He's a fifth-year senior whose rights belong to the Blue Jays until the beginning of the closed period May 31.
• Most of the state's top prep players would be best served going to college. RHP Zach Phillips has a power arm but lacks projection; he's expected to be a top draft-and-follow candidate at Louisburg JC, the state's top junior college program. 3B Chad Flack might be the state's best power prospect, and he's polished enough with the bat to make an impact with North Carolina next season as a freshman. His lack of athleticism (and the ensuing lack of a defensive position) should mean he'll get there. Duke also expects athletic SS Brett Bartles, a plus runner with a strong arm, to sail through the draft unscathed due to his unpolished bat.