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By Michael Levesque
(Talent Ranking: ***** out of five) With three potential first-rounders and a dozen candidates for the first 10 rounds, Virginia shapes up as one of the best states in the country for the second year in a row. Justin Verlander is a near lock to go in the top five picks, while Justin Orenduff and Bill Bray are first-round candidates. While the high school crop is relatively thin, it should be outstanding in 2005, especially with Chesapeake high school shortstop Justin Upton already targeted as the possible No. 1 overall pick.
Projected First-Round Picks
• Justin Verlander, rhp
Verlander might have the best pure stuff in the draft, and looks like a good bet to go in the first three picks. Dozens of scouts, crosscheckers and scouting directors turned out in mid-April when Verlander faced off against Justin Orenduff, and Verlander was dominant as he punched out 16 batters and flashed consistent mid-90s heat. The dominance continued all spring, with a 7-5, 3.19 record and 145 strikeouts in 99 innings. He broke his own Old Dominion season strikeout record of 139, set last year, and his 421 (and counting) career strikeouts are a school and Colonial Athletic Association record. He has a lean, lanky frame with long arms and legs, and room for added strength. He has a tall, upright delivery with a lighting-quick arm, and a fastball that tops out at 99 mph with hard run and sink. He complements it with a curveball that has good late depth and sharp bite, and a deceptive changeup that has fastball arm speed and late fade and sink. Verlander's biggest obstacle is his lack of command. He rushes his body and lands on a stiff front side as he struggles to repeat his delivery.
• Justin Orenduff, rhp
Orenduff started his college career with George Washington, going 10-2, 1.68 as a freshman. He transferred to Virginia Commonwealth and bolstered the staff, going 9-3, 2.27 with 120 strikeouts in 90 innings as a sophomore. He pitched last summer for Team USA, where he was part of a dominant staff that won a silver medal in the Pan American Games. Orenduff went 6-0, 1.31 for Team USA on the summer, with 40 strikeouts in 41 innings, and started two of the team's four shutouts in the tournament. That performance and his three solid pitches put him in the mix to go in the first round, and he didn't hurt those projections with a 4-5, 2.49 performance so far this spring. He had 123 strikeouts against 31 walks in 94 innings for the Rams. He has a prototype pitcher's body, compact delivery, and loose, easy arm action. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder works off a heavy 87-93 mph sinker, and supplements it with a deceptive changeup and a slider with cutter action.
Second- to Fifth-Round Talent
• Bill Bray, lhp
Bray had a solid Cape Cod League season in 2003, going 2-1, 1.44 with four saves and 29 strikeouts in 25 innings. He followed that up by going 4-4, 2.54 with eight saves this spring, with 81 strikeouts and 12 walks in 57 innings. Opponents were batting just .220 against him. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder projects as a solid second-round pick but could sneak into the first round if teams continue the trend of drafting polished college relievers and moving them quickly to the majors. Bray has two above-average pitches, a 90-94 mph fastball with riding life and occasional sink, and an 82-84 mph slider with sharp tilt and late bite. He has a herky-jerky delivery with a loose arm action and a big pitcher's body, but some scouts worry about his mechanics and the softness of his build.
• Andrew Dobies, lhp
Dobies boosted his draft stock with a solid summer in the Valley League. The Pennsylvania native went 4-1, 2.25 with 92 strikeouts in 56 innings as he developed a cutter that became an effective pitch. He also experimented with different grips for his changeup, and toward the end of the summer it had improved enough that he was using it in key situations. He became the Friday starter for a resurgent Virginia program this season and had a 6-2, 3.24 record with 97 strikeouts and 28 walks in 94 innings. He is a strong competitor on the mound with good arm action from a mid-three-quarters slot and solid delivery. He works off his change, which makes his 85-88 mph fastball look a lot faster, and he works in his 78-79 mph cutter as an occasional out pitch.
• Mike Butia, of
Butia struggled last summer in the Cape Cod League, batting .230-2-12, but surged this spring at James Madison, hitting .373-18-60 with an .807 slugging percentage and .459 on-base. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound lefthanded hitter has added 20 pounds of muscle to his athletic frame since last year, and now shows above-average raw power. Butia is aggressive at the plate, with good bat speed, a smooth stroke and good leverage. He is an average runner and shows decent defensive skills in the outfield with average arm strength. He takes medication for a thyroid condition, which some scouts say has caused his weight to fluctuate.
• Jim Fasano, 1b
Fasano is a one-dimensional player, but that dimension is quite impressive. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder is not athletic, grades out as a 20 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and is poor defensively, with a below-average arm. But scouts love the way he swings the bat from the left side. He was the Atlantic-10 Conference player of the year last year after batting .344-16-68, and he was batting .307-15-47 so far this spring, with a better on-base percentage (.440) and slugging percentage (.645) than last year. Fasano has been compared to former Richmond first baseman Sean Casey by some scouts, and he would be a good fit for an organization that drafts with the "Moneyball" approach. He has a solid stroke with good bat speed, and displays above-average power.
Others To Watch
• C Wyatt Toregas had a chance to go in the fourth or fifth round but may slip because he struggled with the bat this spring. He batted .280-4-39 after hitting .319-10-60 last year. He's a solid defensive catcher with a sturdy, compact frame and solid catch-and-throw skills. Toregas has soft, sure hands, polished receiving skills and above-average arm strength. At the plate he has an upright stance and line-drive stroke with gap power. He needs work at the plate because he has a slow trigger and is late getting his barrel out at times, and he opens up his front side and pulls off the ball.
• Playing AAU baseball last summer, 6-foot-1, 215-pound 3B Brandon Guyer had an impressive performance at the Virginia Commonwealth Games and followed it up with a decent showing at the East Coast Showcase in Wilmington, N.C. He was hitting .500-6-16 this year. The righthanded hitter has a strong, athletic build with good upper-body strength, above-average power potential and speed. He is below-average defensively at third, and some scouts see him moving behind the plate or to the outfield. Guyer is also an accomplished running back and is reported to be a tough sign with a strong commitment to Virginia.
• RHP Donnie Smith was making a late push to go in the first 10 rounds after throwing 94 mph this spring with a nasty slider. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder was rated the top prospect in the Atlantic Collegiate League last summer, going 5-0, 0.66. In 41 innings he allowed three earned runs, striking out 60 while walking 12. He was named the league's outstanding pitcher and was the winning pitcher in the league's all-star game. He was 6-2, 2.03 this spring for Old Dominion--leading the Colonial Athletic Association in ERA--with 97 strikeouts and 23 walks in 80 innings, but he was tough to scout because he started and pitched out of the bullpen with no set schedule. Smith also has great makeup.
• RHP Cla Meredith led the CAA with a 1.19 ERA in 2003, and he came in second to Smith this spring after going 7-3, 2.43 with 79 strikeouts against 11 walks in 63 innings. He has a funky crossfire delivery from a low three-quarters, almost sidearm delivery and touches 87-90 mph with lots of movement.
• 3B Anthony Granato is a strong-bodied kid with a solid-average arm and plus instincts in the field. He is a good runner with first-step quickness and swings the bat well from both sides of the plate, spraying line drives to the gaps. He led the Rams with a .368 average and 45 RBIs, but had only five homers and doesn't have enough power to stay at third, but scouts like the way he plays the game, and he could be a solid utility guy down the road.
• SS Mark Reynolds has good actions, with average arm strength and range, but most scouts think he will have to move to second base in pro ball. He is decent with the bat (.288-10-43) but has a slow trigger and tries to play a big man's game instead of playing to his strengths.
• SS Jeff Palumbo is a baseball rat whose makeup is off the charts. He led the CAA in batting this spring at .404 and was voted the league's defensive player of the year as well. He has fringe-average tools across the board but makes good contact at the plate and can run, field and throw. Scouts compare him to a more talented David Eckstein.
• Big 6-foot-5, 225-pound RHP Jason Jones is a four-pitch guy with solid arm action. He can get his fastball up to 91-92 mph and shows an average slider at times, but struggles with his command because his delivery gets out of sync.
• LHP Thomas Martin missed last season after Tommy John surgery, but was fully recovered this spring. He went 6-2, 3.65 with 58 strikeouts against 21 walks in 62 innings, earning all-Atlantic-10 Conference honors. He was 88-93 mph this spring with a nasty slider and needs to improve his change.
• LHP Chris Shaver returned to William & Mary for his senior season after the Devil Rays took him in the 24th round last year. He worked hard in the offseason and is physically stronger this year, but went 4-3, 5.62 with 73 strikeouts in 72 innings. He has an 86-90 mph fastball and good slider.
• As a two-way player last spring, LHP/1B Joe Koshansky led Virginia in wins (seven) and tied for the club lead in home runs (nine) but wasn't drafted. He didn't pitch last summer but won the home run derby during the Valley League's all-star game festivities. He returned as a two-way player this spring and was outstanding, becoming the first UVa player to win Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year honors in baseball. He went 7-2, 2.78 on the mound and hit 15 home runs with a .613 slugging percentage. Most scouts say his professional future is as a hitter. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Koshansky is a physical specimen with above-average raw power. He is a lefthanded hitter who likes to pull the ball. He has a long swing but has shown the ability to make adjustments.
• OF Jared Kubin looked like a potential early-round selection earlier in his high school career, but he's rarely shown the consistent power scouts want to see. He has committed to Florida and could be a tough sign. He has a strong body and aggressive approach at the plate with above-average raw power, but the rest of his tools are below-average.
• Coming into the year, some clubs saw RHP/3B Ryan Pond as a third- or fourth-round pick. He touched the low 90s last summer with a decent curve, but was sidelined this spring with tendinitis and was in the 83-85 mph range when he did pitch. He also is an accomplished hitter. He was a top quarterback recruit who received a scholarship offer from Clemson to play football, but he committed to North Carolina State for baseball.
• OF Jamar Walton may be the best all-around athlete in the state. He was all-state in football and basketball and received a lot of late attention on the diamond. He is an above-average runner with a good arm who has some juice in his bat.
• LHP Brian Logan is smallish at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, but athletic with a strong upper body in the mould of Braves lefthander Mike Hampton. He touches 90 mph with an above-average curve.
• LHP Jacob Glanzmann entered the season with a chance to go in the first 10 rounds but struggled this spring. He has a good frame and can run his fastball into the 87-91 mph range with late life. He mixes in a downer curve.
• RHP Jeff Dagenhart also stumbled this spring. He has a projectable frame and can get his fastball into the 86-89 mph range but has trouble repeating his delivery. His arm also drags, and he tends to guide his fastball. He has a good feel for his curve, but his changeup is still in the developmental stages.