By Jim Callis
(Talent Ranking: * out of five) Nebraska is never a talent hotbed but has been disappointing this spring, as most of the prospects have gone backward. Righthander Phil Shirek is still the top guy, but his fastball and slider have slipped a notch from the Cape Cod League last summer. He may not go earlier than the eighth round.
Projected First-Round Picks
Second- To Fifth-Round Talent
Others To Watch
• RHP Phil Shirek is the top prospect in the Cornhusker State, and his younger brother Charlie is the cream of the crop in North Dakota. But Phil spent much of the spring pitching at 86-88 mph after throwing 92-93 in the Cape Cod League last year. His slider and command also were inconsistent.
• After setting a Creighton career record with 23 saves in his first three seasons, RHP Steve Grasley moved to the rotation as a senior and went 11-4, 2.86 to lead the Missouri Valley Conference in wins entering the league tournament. Grasley is only 6 feet tall and has an 83-87 mph fastball, but his savvy and command (97-23 strikeout-walk ratio in 110 innings) will attract a team that believes in performance. His best pitch is his slider, and he could make it as a sinker/slider reliever in the pros.
• A pair of Cornhuskers, RHP Dustin Timm and LHP Justin Pekarek, would be much more attractive if they had better medical histories. Timm redshirted in 2002 with elbow problems and made just two appearances last year before requiring Tommy John surgery. He has a good frame at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, and he'll reach 90-91 mph with a decent slider at times, but there's still a lot of effort in his delivery. He's a fourth-year junior whose rights can be controlled through next season. Timm's brother Cory is a reserve offensive lineman on the Nebraska football team. Pekarek was as hot as any pitcher down the stretch, throwing 33 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, a streak that extended into his win over No. 1 Texas in the first round of the Big 12 Conference tournament. A fifth-year senior who can sign as a free agent before the draft, Pekarek pitched just 23 innings in his first four years at Nebraska. He redshirted as a walk-on in 2000, hurt his elbow in 2001 and missed all of 2002 after having surgery that included a titanium screw being placed in his elbow. His elbow and his age (23) are worrisome, but he's a lefthander with a strong build (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) who can reach the low 90s and show a hard slider when he's right. He's probably best off as a reliever at the next level.
• SS Ryan Wehrle is the state's best prepster and top position player. His bat, arm and hands are all assets, but his well-below-average speed probably will preclude him from being drafted and could necessitate a position change.
• Wehrle has committed to Nebraska, as have the state's other top high school talents. LHP Michael Storey has a projectable 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame. He has a quick arm, an 85-88 mph fastball and a promising curveball. RHP/3B Johnny Dorn had the best spring of any Nebraska prepster. He's a projectable 6-foot-3, 195-pounder who could play both ways for the Cornhuskers. He has a brighter future on the mound, where he shows an 86-88 mph fastball, a nice curveball and an advanced feel for pitching.
• LHP Ron Madej helped pitch Bellevue to the NAIA World Series, going 6-1, 2.63 with 87 strikeouts in 62 innings. A draft-eligible sophomore, he's more deceptive than overpowering.
• C Alex Hale has a strong arm and an athletic body (6-foot-2, 190 pound), but he needs to improve his hitting and the accuracy of his throws.
• RHP Brandon Bird became Creighton's co-closer when Grasley moved to the rotation. He has height (6-foot-5), a deceptive delivery and an upper-80s fastball.
• Wayne State RHP Travis McCarter drew early interest from scouts when he showed an 88-91 mph fastball and a plus curveball, but his season ended early because of elbow problems.