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2005 Draft Scouting Reports: Tennessee

By John Manuel
June 1, 2005

***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
The story in Tennessee last year was a high school class that produced first-round pick Kyle Waldrop and several top freshmen in the Southeastern Conference, such as Alabama shortstop Cale Iorg, Tennessee pitcher James Adkins and Vanderbilt pitcher David Price. This year, the story is the much-improved Tennessee Volunteers roster, which should produce three draft picks in the first five rounds. Vanderbilt’s impact in the draft will outstrip its disappointing season, which kept the Commodores from making back-to-back regional trips.

(National ranking in parentheses)
Potential First-Round Picks

1. Luke Hochevar (6), rhp, Tennessee
2. Bryan Morris (44), rhp, Tullahoma HS

Potential Second-Fifth Round Picks
3. Ryan Mullins (73), lhp, Vanderbilt
4. Eli Iorg (75), of, Tennessee
5. Jensen Lewis (120), rhp, Vanderbilt
6. Chase Headley (128), 3b, Tennessee
Others Of Note
7. Warner Jones, 2b, Vanderbilt
8. Caleb Moore, rhp/c, East Tennessee State
9. Ryan Rote, rhp, Vanderbilt
10. Jeff Seus, rhp, Vanderbilt
11. Mike Baxter, 1b, Vanderbilt
12. Matt Lea, rhp, Houston HS, Collierville
13. Jon Kirby, rhp, Lee College
14. Brent Gabel, rhp, Tusculum
15. Scott Hawkins, c, Collierville HS
16. Rowdy Hardy, lhp, Austin Peay State
17. B.J. Church, rhp, Lee College
18. Mark Goforth, of, Covington HS
19. Brian Hernandez, c, Vanderbilt
20. Antoan Richardson, of, Vanderbilt

1. LUKE HOCHEVAR, rhp (National rank: 6)
School: Tennessee.
Hometown: Fowler, Colo.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 205. Birthdate: Sept. 15, 1983,
Previously Drafted: Dodgers 2002 (39).
Scouting Report: Hochevar comes from an athletic family, with a father who was an accomplished basketball player and junior college baseball coach and a sister who is a professional volleyball player. Hochevar should turn out as the most accomplished of the three, if his luck holds out. He missed part of his sophomore season when he was struck by a batted ball on two separate occasions, once on the leg and once on the head. He still finished 2004 strong, though, dominating in the Southeastern Conference tournament and finishing the summer as Team USA’s top starter, winning the gold-medal game of the World University Championship in Taiwan against Japan. He started 2005 with a strong outing at Minute Maid Park and was the most consistent starter in the nation for much of the season, putting together an eight-game win streak. At his best, Hochevar has a fastball that sits in the 93-95 mph range with a mid-80s slider, but more often he pitches at 89-92 with his fastball and in the low-80s with the slider. He also throws a changeup and curveball for strikes, and both can be average pitches. He commands his pitches well thanks to an athletic frame and smooth delivery. His combination of stuff, his knack for pitching and a loose, long frame that offers hope of still more projection makes him one of the top two pitching prospects in the draft. A Scott Boras client, he’s a candidate to be the Diamondbacks’ selection with the No. 1 overall pick.

2. BRYAN MORRIS, rhp (National rank: 44)
School: Tullahoma HS.
Hometown: Tullahoma, Tenn.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 185. Birthdate: March 28, 1987.
College Commitment: Motlow (Tenn.) JC.
Scouting Report: Morris could be the highest-profile player from the 2005 draft who becomes a draft-and-follow. His father Ricky, who played professionally, is an assistant coach at nearby Motlow Junior College and has told scouts he wants his son to play for him for at least one season. Morris has shown a fresh arm this spring after pitching in fewer showcases than most other top prep pitchers. Teams were trying to gauge his signability all spring as he piled up strikeouts (including 33 in his first two playoff starts, one in front of 42 scouts) and reminded locals of fellow Tullahoma High product Dewon Brazelton, the No. 3 overall pick in 2001. Morris has other similarities to Brazelton, including a fastball that touches 95 mph while sitting at 92-93, and a knee surgery in his past. He probably has a higher ceiling, however, because he complements his fastball with a power curveball that is one of the best in the draft. It’s a powerful, 74-78 mph pitch with depth, bite and a quick, hard break down in the zone. It has drawn comparisons to the curves of recent top draftees such as Nick Adenhart and Gavin Floyd. He also shows a slider that is sometimes a plus pitch in the 80-84 mph range. Area college coaches and scouts consider him more polished than Brazleton at the same age, and while he doesn’t have Brazelton’s plus-plus changeup, he has a feel for the pitch.

3. RYAN MULLINS, lhp (National rank: 73)
School: Vanderbilt.
Hometown: Nashville.
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 175. Birthdate: Nov. 13, 1983.
Previously Drafted: Never.
Scouting Report: Mullins emerged as a prospect as a freshman, flashing a big curveball to earn No. 1 prospect status in the New England Collegiate League in 2003. He also dominated in the Cape Cod League last summer, and his resume against wood bats will come in handy because he had a less-than-stellar spring. He pitched behind Jeremy Sowers—the No. 6 pick in 2004—for two seasons in the Commodores rotation, but stumbled as a junior trying to replace Sowers as the staff ace. By the time Southeastern Conference play came around, righthander Jensen Lewis had overtaken Mullins as the Friday starter, due in part to Mullins’ six-game suspension for a DWI arrest. Mullins’ stuff has been a bit off all year. Typically he pitches with an 87-91 mph fastball and hard curveball in the low to mid-70s, but this year he's been in the upper 80s with a slower, though still 12-to-6, curveball. Even when it’s not on, the curveball is an average pitch because he locates it and can change its shape, throwing a shorter, quicker version of the big bender at times. He has not filled out physically as scouts had hoped, though he remains deft at using his height to get a good downward angle on his fastball. Mullins’ arrest this spring won’t keep a team that liked him the last two summers from taking him high.

4. ELI IORG, of (National rank: 75)
School: Tennessee.
Hometown: Knoxville.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Birthdate: March 14, 1983.
Previously Drafted: Cubs 2004 (14).
Scouting Report: The middle child of former Blue Jays infielder Garth Iorg, Eli has an older brother who played at Brigham Young and in the Braves system, while younger brother Cale (considered by some scouts the best player in the family) is a freshman at Alabama. The Iorgs are Mormons, and Eli was draft-eligible last year after taking the 2003 season off for a church mission to Argentina. While he was toolsy but raw last season, Iorg made major strides in most eyes in 2005, translating his raw bat speed into game power to help Tennessee reach the top 10. He was leading the Volunteers in the triple crown categories, and his 26 stolen bases paced the Southeastern Conference. He’s a true power/speed prospect—a plus runner under way, plus raw power and an improving hitter who is making more consistent contact against good pitching. Defensively, he has enough arm for right field, though he needs to improve his accuracy. A strong, mature athlete, Iorg has high expectations in the draft but at 22, he doesn’t have much leverage, making it important for clubs to get a read on his signability.

5. JENSEN LEWIS, rhp (National rank: 120)
School: Vanderbilt.
Hometown: Cincinnati.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 185. Birthdate: May 16, 1984.
Previously Drafted: Indians 2002 (33).
Scouting Report: Lewis supplanted Ryan Mullins as Vanderbilt’s top pitcher, and has the athletic ability and stuff to be either a third or fourth starter or quality relief pitcher. He’s filled many roles at Vanderbilt, where he was virtually a one-man bullpen in 2003 and then a late-season replacement at closer as a sophomore. Lewis proved he could handle the pressure of being the No. 1 starter, taking over when Mullins was suspended and never giving up the role. He doesn’t have a plus pitch, but he has a cerebral approach and excellent command of his fastball, changeup and slider. He throws in the 88-91 mph range, touching a 92 but getting more movement and better location in the 87-89 range. He has the savvy to add and subtract from the pitch, and his loose arm and pitcher’s frame leads scouts to believe he has more velocity to come. Lewis’ best secondary pitch is his changeup; it has decent sink and looks like his fastball coming out of his hand. If he improves his servicable slider, a fringy pitch by pro standards, Lewis’ competitiveness and developing frame should allow him to remain a starter as a pro.

6. CHASE HEADLEY, 3b (National rank: 128)
School: Tennessee.
Hometown: Fountain, Colo.
B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Birthdate: May 9, 1984.
Previously Drafted: Never.
Scouting Report: After two years of relative obscurity, Headley became a big name in SEC circles this year as he helped lead Tennessee’s turnaround, joining ace Luke Hochevar as Volunteers from Colorado. Headley headed to Pacific and hit .330 as a freshman before deciding to transfer. His sophomore year was dogged by a hamstring injury, but he returned healthy as a junior and confident after a solid showing in the Cape Cod League. Headley’s advanced plate approach is his best asset; his discipline led to 59 walks, second in the nation, and helped him rank in the top 10 in home runs (12) as well. He’s solid from both sides of the plate, with more power from the right side and greater consistency as a lefthanded hitter. One SEC coach who saw Headley earlier in his career was shocked by his improvement, crediting his excellent work ethic and makeup. Defensively, Headley is just adequate, lacking in lateral movement but coming in well on bunt plays and showing an average arm.

(Numbers in parentheses indicate rank in Tennessee)

Commodores' Conundrum

Vanderbilt has made an impressive turnaround as a program under coach Tim Corbin, but the Commodores were relative underachievers in 2005, failing to qualify for the Southeastern Conference tournament with a 13-17 league record despite a roster with at least seven players who figured to be drafted, starting with Mullins and Lewis.

The next Commodores picks should be RHPs Ryan Rote (9) and Jeff Sues (10), both of whom were drafted last year. Rote, the closer much of the last two years, has struggled with command and his mechanics out of the stretch, a difficult problem for a reliever. He's thrown more consistent strikes out of the windup, scouts say, harnessing his 94-95 mph fastball. Rote's secondary stuff is ordinary, however. His grandfather Tobin Rote played quarterback for Rice and later in the NFL for parts of 13 seasons, making two Pro Bowls.

Sues' velocity is similar, 92-93 mph, but he also has a power slider and average curveball. With such a repertoire, Sues--a 14th-round pick last year who failed to sign--still hasn't broken through as a consistent starter in college due to his command struggles and inability to consistently pitch out of jams. He also has durability questions due to past medical issues.

The Commodores also have several position players who could be drafted, with fast-emerging 1B Mike Baxter (11) attracting the most attention for his line-drive bat. Baxter might be athletic to give the outfield a try, though he has a below-average arm. Some question whether he has the bat speed to develop pull power. He was challenging more-established 2B Warner Jones (7) for the honor of being the first Vandy position player drafted. Jones' hand-eye coordination is exceptional and made him an All-American as a sophomore; it also leads to his aggressive approach. Jones needs to be more selective and realize he could drive the ball more consistently if he didn't swing at the first fastball he saw. He has some strength in his hands and can punish mistakes for a smallish player. While some aren't sold on his defensive ability, he makes all the routine plays and has the arm strength to turn the double play effectively.

C Brian Hernandez (19) and speedy OF Antoan Richardson (20) both could be drafted as well; Richardson's unconventional swing prompts Corbin to bat him in the lower half of the order and has scouts thinking he'll never be more than a fifth outfielder. Hernandez has ordinary tools but could be drafted due to the need for catchers.

Small College Contributions

The other colleges in the state might combine to contribute as many players as the Commodores. RHP/C Caleb Moore (8) could be the state's most accomplished player, a two-way slugger and power reliever who has put up big numbers for consecutive seasons. Moore touches 93-94 mph with his fastball, but it's fairly straight due to his high arm slot, and he hasn't shown a consistent breaking ball. His arm strength might attract attention, and so might his bat. He makes consistent contact. Scouts think he won't hit for power with his current swing, but he's a solid enough receiver and has enough arm strength to merit a look behind the plate. Which position he'll play depends on the team.

Small-college pitchers who will get drafted include RHP B.J. Church (17), who dominated NAIA competition after getting kicked off the team at Middle Tennessee State. Church has solid-average stuff, touching 93-94 mph but pitching at 88-92 with a curveball he can throw for strikes. Area scouts like the Blue Raiders staff and question Church's makeup because of his conflicts at East Tennessee. Church's teammate, Jon Kirby (13), is on his third college program. He has a soft, blocky body that offers little projection. He still should get drafted late in the draft's first day because he can spin a breaking ball and throw it for strikes while throwing an 87-91 mph fastball.

Other college players in the state who could be drafted include LHP Rowdy Hardy (16), a fourth-year junior and proven winner with an unconventional approach. Long and lean, he lacks the strength to throw harder than 83-87 mph consistently, but pounds the bottom half of the strike zone with his sinking fastball and a good changeup. His fringy breaking ball will have to improve. RHP Brent Gabel (14) has shown low-90s velocity at times in his career but more consistently sits in the upper 80s. His clean arm action offers some projection and the promise that his secondary stuff will improve.

It's Not 2004

Tennessee's high school ranks were fertile last season and are back in a down cycle this year. Scouts and college recruiters say the 2006 class looks deep and strong at the top, though. Morris' chief competitor for top prep honors in the state this year, RHP Matt Lea (12), is the son of former big leaguer Charlie Lea and was on every scout's radar because of his bloodlines and strong, physical body. He's fairly similar to his father, whose big league career was cut short by injuries, but he's bigger and stronger already. Lea didn't improve this spring, though, sitting in the 84-88 mph range early on. He was bumping the low 90s later in the spring and might go in the first 10 rounds if scouts think they can sway him from his Mississippi State commitment. Lea's not a bad hitter and should be able to contribute to the Bulldogs as a two-way player.

The state's next-best prep player coming into the spring was C Scott Hawkins (15), who has a chance to get drafted because he doesn't have a strong college option and has athletic ability and tools. Hawkins has arm strength, size and a strong body ready for pro ball. He was kicked off his high school team midway through the spring, making it harder for scouts to see him. Scouts aren't likely to gamble on him early.