By Michael Levesque
(Talent Ranking: ** out of five) After producing outfielder Chris Lubanski in the first round last year, Pennsylvania should have another first-rounder this year in switch-hitting catcher Neil Walker. The college ranks are weak again.
Projected First-Round Pick
• Neil Walker, c
A preseason BA High School All-American, Walker got off to a hot start this year, hitting .580-9-26 in 38 at-bats before he was suspended for three games after attending a party and consuming alcohol, a violation of his high school team's rules. Walker assumed full responsibility, and it looks like a minor bump in the road for the top-ranked catcher in this year's draft. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Walker has a large frame with a strong build and room for development. He has a sound approach at the plate, starting from a balanced stance, and shows a fluid uppercut stroke from both sides. He has a little more lift from the right side and projects to hit with above-average power. Behind the plate, he is an excellent receiver, blocks balls well and has an average arm with a quick release. He has good speed for his size, running a 7.0-second 60-yard dash and getting down the line in 4.4 seconds from the left side. Walker comes from a family of athletes. His father Tom and his uncle Chip Lang pitched with the Expos in the 1970s. His oldest brother Matt was an outfielder in the Tigers system, while his other brother Sean pitched at George Mason. His sister Carrie plays basketball at Wagner.
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Randy Dicken, rhp
Dicken, who was drafted by the Expos in 2002, put up stellar numbers this year against mediocre competition, going 9-2, 1.59 with 104 strikeouts and 19 walks 74 innings. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound righthander has some arm strength, topping out at 92-93 mph, but has a max effort delivery and poor command. Dicken throws a decent splitter, but his slow curve needs work.
• Michael McGuire, rhp.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pound McGuire looked like a potential early pick a year ago and slowly returned to that status this spring. He tossed a 14-strikeout no-hitter to begin his junior season in 2003 and was so impressive that the Major League Scouting Bureau graded him out as a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale--the highest grade for a high school player in the 2004 class. After his first start, however, he felt pain in this shoulder and ended up having surgery to repair a tear in his labrum. He returned to the mound this April, but was only 1-3, 5.36 in his first four starts. The 6-foot-7, 230-pounder started out throwing in the mid-80s this spring, but was up to 94 mph with a decent slurve by his fourth outing.
Others To Watch
• Dicken's Shippensburg teammate, RHP Evan Englebrook, was the other half of a strong Division II pitching tandem. The 6-foot-8, 225-pounder went 11-1, 1.78 with 113 strikeouts in 86 innings. With a long, lanky frame, he was a star freestyle swimmer in high school. He has a loose arm and solid delivery, and can run his fastball into the 88-92 mph range. His change is an average pitch and he has a poor feel for his breaking ball.
• Six-foot-4, 175-pound RHP Kurt Houck has a projectable arm with a fastball in the low 90s. He throws a soft curve, and has limited command of his secondary pitches. Another projectable high school pitcher is RHP Tyler Flail. The 6-foot-3, 180-pounder has a skinny frame that has produced a high 80s fastball. His breaking ball has the potential to be an above-average pitch. He's not a great student and should be an easy sign.
• Senior RHP Matt Daley caught the attention of scouts last summer in the Central Illinois Collegiate League when he flashed a 94 mph fastball, and he didn't give up a run in 32 innings while allowing only 19 baserunnners. He followed that up by throwing a no-hitter this spring. He's a Tommy John surgery alumnus who also throws a curve, slider and good change.
• Most of the other top college players in the state are senior pitchers, led by RHPs Clay Hamilton and Nick Evangelista. Hamilton, 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, projects as a bullpen guy. He has a fastball that has been up to 92 mph this spring, and a good 12-to-6 curve. Evangelista was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 24th round last year. He has a big frame but has a maximum-effort delivery, and his arm slot tends to wander. Evangelista starts out throwing in the low 90s, but his velocity generally drops a few ticks after a couple of innings.
• SS Russell Canzler has an athletic build, but scouts project him more as a third baseman. He has above-average arm strength with soft hands and quick feet, and he reacts well to the ball off the bat. At the plate, the Richmond signee has a level stroke with strength and quickness in his hands, which enables him to drive the ball with gap power. He lacks discipline at the plate, and is a below-average runner. A long strider, he runs 60 yards in 7.1 seconds.
• RHP Will Romanowicz has a commitment to Stetson and could be a tough sign. He doesn't have a projectable frame, but has shown some arm strength, topping out at 93 mph and pitching in the 87-90 mph range. His curve has good spin and bite, and has a chance to be an above-average pitch.
• Scouts like RHP/OF Jordan Ellis better as a pitcher. He has a quick arm and runs his fastball into the 90-92 mph range from a three-quarters slot. He shows the makings of a decent slider and change. Ellis has signed with Virginia.
• LHP Nick Francona is the son of Red Sox manager and former big leaguer Terry Francona. The 6-foot-3, 160-pounder has a skinny frame and needs to add weight and strength. He throws in the mid-80s and is likely headed to Penn State.