By Jim Callis
(Talent Ranking: **** out of five) The Sooner State has been churning out pitchers during the last few years, but in 2004 position players take center stage. Josh Fields is one of the draft's best hitters, while teammate Jason Jaramillo should be the first college catcher selected. The state still has plenty of nice arms too, led by lefthander David Purcey.
Projected First-Round Picks
Josh Fields, 3b
Thanks to Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew and possibly Princeton center fielder Jason Szymanski, Fields won't be the first college position player drafted, but in some ways he's more attractive than either. Unlike with Drew, no one questions Fields' desire. And while Szymanski is a better all-around athlete, Fields is no slouch and more of a sure thing at the plate. He has starred at quarterback for Oklahoma State, setting school records for touchdown passes (55) and a Cotton Bowl mark for passing yards (307), yet Fields prefers baseball. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, he doesn't have prototype NFL quarterback size and isn't a big-time football prospect. Fields should hit for average and power (though his homers are down from 12 in 2003 to six through mid-May), and he's patient enough to take walks when he's pitched around. The Cowboys thought about moving him to first base last fall because he's raw at the hot corner, but he has stayed at third and should be a solid defender in time. He moves well, has good hands and a strong, accurate arm. He just needs more repetitions, which will come when he gives up football, in order to improve his reads and instincts. It's easy to project Fields as an all-star third baseman, which is why he'll go in the middle of the first round.
David Purcey, lhp
Purcey came down with draftitis as a high school senior in 2001 and against as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2003. He tried to overthrow at the beginning of last season, then started aiming his pitches and wound up in the bullpen. Though he's a 6-foot-5, 240-pound lefthander with a 90-95 mph fastball, he earned a reputation as a one-pitch pitcher who lacked consistency. Purcey started to shed that tag last summer in the Cape Cod League, causing the Yankees to make a late run at signing him as their 17th-round pick. He turned them down, which will pay off in a big way when he's drafted in the first round this June. Purcey still has the big fastball, and now he can hit both sides of the plate with it. His curveball and overall command are much improved, if still inconsistent. He also has answered questions about his mental toughness by showing first-round stuff every time out this spring. He's a vastly better pitcher in 2004, and Purcey has the best pure arm among lefthanders in the draft.
Second- To Fifth-Round Talent
Jason Jaramillo, c
Jaramillo is solid in all phases in the game, which is why he'll likely go in the second round as the first college catcher. He combats the running game with solid arm strength, a quick release and an accurate arm. His receiving and blocking skills are also assets. He has called his own games this spring and has grown into a leadership role. Add it all up, and Jaramillo is the best defender among the top college prospects in the draft. He's no slouch offensively, either. A switch-hitter, he's sound from both sides of the plate and has some juice in his bat.
Grant Hansen, rhp
After pitching a total of 38 innings in his first two seasons, in part because he had biceps tendinitis as a sophomore, Hansen has put up gaudy numbers for an Oklahoma City team with one of the gaudiest records in college baseball. He was 12-0, 2.55 with 93 strikeouts in 81 innings for the Stars, who were 70-5 and entered the NAIA World Series as the No. 1 seed. Hansen threw well for scouts in March, then tailed off a little bit before rebounding. At his best, he throws 90-94 mph and shows a knuckle-curve that drops off the table. At other times, he sits at 88-91 with a more ordinary breaking ball. Hansen has a classic pitching build at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. His delivery is clean and there aren't many miles on his arm. He could be a fourth- or fifth-rounder for a club that saw one of his better outings.
Others To Watch
SS Grant Plumley passed RHP Dennis Bigley as the top prospect on an Oral Roberts team that dominated the Mid-Continent Conference and fared well against a strong nonconference schedule, finishing the regular season with a 45-9 record. The draft is short on position players, especially middle infielders, and Plumley had a stellar year with the glove, committing just two errors for a .993 fielding percentage at short. His hands, speed and arm are all plus tools, and he has solid range despite slightly below-average speed. While his bat is a question mark, Plumley has the hand-eye coordination to hit and needs to make minor mechanical adjustments.
Bigley, the Mid-Continent pitcher of the year (11-1, 2.58, 94 strikeouts in 105 innings during the regular season) and player of the year (also factoring in his .301-7-29 contribution as a first baseman), is considered strictly a mound prospect by scouts. His velocity has been erratic this spring, down to 86-89 mph from 88-92 in the past, and his slider has been inconsistent as well. His strong suits remain his location and command, which haven't wavered, and he has turned in consecutive strong summers against wood bats in the Alaska and Cape Cod leagues.
RHP Mark Roberts broke the Sooners' career strikeout record that had been shared by Mark Redman, boosting his total to 326 with a career-high 12 whiffs against Texas Tech in the Big 12 Conference tournament. He has better stuff than would be expected from a 5-foot-11 frame, with an 88-93 mph fastball and a plus slider, and he has outpitched teammate David Purcey this spring. Undrafted in 2003, he'll be an excellent senior sign.
Pitching is a strength for the Sooners. Behind starters Purcey and Roberts, Oklahoma's bullpen has three prospects in RHPs Daniel McCutchen, Jarod McAuliff and Mike Swindell. McCutchen had elbow problems at Grayson County (Texas) CC last spring, but has stayed healthy and shown a 92-94 mph fastball in 2004. A 47th-round pick by the Yankees in 2003, he also has a slider that ranges between slurvy and effective. McAuliff, the second-best closer in the Big 12 behind Texas' Huston Street the last two seasons, flashes three average or better pitches. He throws a lively 89-92 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup. Swindell, a senior, can freeze hitters with his curveball and was pitching in the low 90s in May.
Oklahoma also has commitments from the state's top three high school prospects: RHP/SS Dallas Trahern, RHP Tyler Adkins and SS Kody Kaiser. Trahern helped Owasso High win its fifth state 6-A championship in seven years. Scouts consider him unsignable and like him better on the mound, where he shows a 90-92 mph fastball with movement and a curveball with good rotation. Adkins showed similar stuff before tweaking his elbow, sparking rumors of a serious injury, but that hasn't proven to be the case. At 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, he has a little more room for projection than Trahern. Kaiser's 5-foot-9 size works against him, but he can hit and runs well. He could contribute right away at second base for the Sooners, for whom his uncle Sunny Golloway is an assistant coach.
LHP Adam Daniels ranks sixth nationally among junior college pitchers with 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He's a Canadian with an 88-91 mph fastball and a plus slider. The Rockies will try to sign him as a 22nd-round draft-and-follow, and if they can't he'll attend Oklahoma State.
It's a fertile year for juco prospects in Oklahoma, and Connors State has three players of note, all of whom are under control as draft-and-follows from last year. OF Michael Hernandez (Royals) is an athletic right fielder with a good swing. RHPs Dusty Barnard (Indians) and Adam Hawes (Twins) both throw in the low 90s and use a slider as their second pitch. All three players have committed to top four-year programs: Hernandez to Texas A&M, Barnard to Oklahoma State and Hawes to Auburn.
Though Connors State finished the regular season ranked No. 1 nationally, Seminole State beat out the Cowboys for a trip to the Junior College World Series. Seminole State's best prospect is SS/RHP Bryant Beaver. He had more success this spring as a speedy, athletic shortstop, and he throws in the low 90s with an electric curveball off the mound. Because of makeup concerns, he wasn't drafted in 2003 and hasn't been signed by a four-year school.
SS Jonathan Malo ranked in the juco top 10 nationally in batting (.477) and homers (15) after transferring from Miami-Dade CC. Scouts don't think he'll be a big-time hitter as a pro, but he's a good defender with range and arm strength. The Mets drafted him twice and signed him as a 48th-round draft-and-follow.
Oklahoma City set an NAIA record with 70 victories and hadn't even begun play at the NAIA World Series. They're loaded with legitimate prospects, all of whom have impressive numbers of their own. RHP Joe Bisenius has the highest ERA (12-0, 3.09) on the team, but when he's on his 88-93 mph fastball runs down and in on righthanders and his slider is a good pitch. The Expos drafted him in the 21st round last year out of Iowa Western CC. OF Ted Ledbetter, who began his career at Oklahoma State, was hitting .505-16-78 with 33 walks and just 18 strikeouts. He's not loaded with tools and his swing isn't pretty, but he consistently makes hard contact. RHP E.J. Shanks was an NAIA all-American in 2003 and is a good bet to repeat after going 15-0, 2.87 with 105 strikeouts in 94 innings. When he keeps his arm angle up and doesn't flatten out his pitches, he shows an 88-92 mph fastball and an effective slider. RHP Joey McLaughlin wins with his curveball and competitive nature. He's 12-2, 2.67 with 96 strikeouts in 91 innings. His father Joey pitched in the majors, while his brother Jeff, a sophomore, has 19 saves as the Stars' closer. SS Denver Kitch never hit in three years at Oklahoma, but he has batted .410-17-61 with 35 steals. Scouts say Kitch hasn't just taken advantage of less competition, and has made good adjustments with the help of Oklahoma City batting coach Keith Lytle. Kitch's hands, arm and range are assets at shortstop. All but Bisenius are seniors and should be inexpensive signs.
OF Matt VanDerBosch may be undersized at 5-foot-8, but he plays big. His plus-plus speed is his best tool, and his instincts make him even more effective on the bases. He has a knack for drawing walks and surprising power for his size. Defensively, he plays a decent center field and saw time at second base as a junior in 2003. He's the nephew of 1979 American League rookie of the year John Castino.
1B Ole Sheldon was leading the Big 12 in hitting (.378) at the end of the regular season. He doesnt have the requisite power for the position because he doesn't lift the ball, but he has exceptional hand-eye coordination and keeps his bat in the zone for a long time. He's also a slick fielder.
RHP Rene Recio projected as an early pick before he started coming down with arm problems at the end of 2002. He battled shoulder tendinitis, then sustained a stress fracture in his elbow that required surgery and wiped out most of his 2003 season. He pitched at 89-93 mph and touched 95 in the past but has worked at 86-87 this spring. His formerly sharp slider also has lost velocity, and he pitched just 11 innings this spring. A redshirt junior, he'll probably be a draft-and-follow.
RHP/OF Brandon Timm is Oklahoma State's top in-state recruit. He's a strong 6-foot-2, 195-pounder who touches 90-91 mph on the mound and is an athletic outfielder.
OF Rod Allen was impressive in the Cape Cod League in 2002, then slumped and lost his job at Arizona State as a junior in 2003. He rebounded by reaching double figures in homers (12) and steals (14) this spring, though he never has hit for average since batting .389 as a freshman. Six-foot-two and 215 pounds, he has all the tools and is a good defender. His father Rod Sr. played briefly in the majors and is a television broadcaster for the Tigers.
LHP Spencer Grogan and Oral Roberts RHP Adam Lesko have had two of the best pitching years in the state, a tribute to their ability to pitch with ordinary stuff. Grogan went 11-2, 2.93 during the regular season, walking just 15 with 69 strikeouts in 117 innings. He's 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds but relies on finesse, pitching to both sides of the plate with an 84-86 mph fastball, a cutter and a curveball. Lesko, the MCC newcomer of the year after transferring from Nevada-Las Vegas as a senior, has gone 7-1, 1.98 with a 46-18 strikeout-walk ratio in 73 innings. He has an average fastball and tricks hitters with his splitter.