Scouting Reports: Nebraska

2007 MLB Draft Scouts have had a hard time figuring out the Cornhusker State in 2007, in large part because of turmoil surrounding the Nebraska program. Shortstop Ryan Wehrle, by far the top position prospect in the state, had a horrible season before he was kicked off the team. Charlie Shirek and Drew Bowman have the most upside on the Cornhuskers pitching staff, but Shirek was suspended at one point and neither had pitched well enough to earn regular work.
*****One for the books
****Banner year
***Solid, not spectacular
**Not up to par
*Nothing to see here

National Top 200 Prospects

1. Tony Watson, lhp, Nebraska
2. Phillips Orta, rhp, Western Nebraska CC (SIGNED: Mets)

Other Prospects Of Note

3. Matt Foust, rhp, Nebraska
4. Drew Bowman, lhp, Nebraska
5. Travis Mortimore, lhp, Wayne State (Neb.)
6. Sean Yost, rhp, Lincoln (Neb.) Southwest HS
7. Pat Venditte, rhp/lhp, Creighton
8. Charlie Shirek, rhp, Nebraska
9. Ben Kline, ss, Omaha (Neb.) Central HS
10. Chris Gradoville, c, Creighton
11. Andy Masten, rhp, Creighton
12. Brett Scarpetta, rhp, Bellevue (Neb.)
13. Andrew Brown, 1b, Nebraska
14. Marc Lewis, lhp, Creighton
15. Johnny Dorn, rhp, Nebraska

Scouting Reports

1. Tony Watson, lhp (National rank: 131)
School: Nebraska. Class: Jr.
B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 223. Birthdate: 5/30/85.
Scouting Report: One of the top draft-eligible sophomores in last year's draft class, Watson lasted until the Orioles took him in the 17th round because of worries about his signability. He turned down a six-figure offer after a solid summer in the Cape Cod League, and his stuff has gone backward a little this spring. His fastball has sat at 86-88 mph, down from 88-89 a year ago, and he hasn't touched the low 90s as often. He has added 13 pounds and now carries 223 on his 6-foot-4 build, so the drop in velocity is surprising. Watson still can paint the corners of the plate, in part because he's athletic and repeats his delivery. His plus changeup is his top pitch, but he hasn't thrown his slurvy slider much, and that offering still needs consistency. Watson was Iowa's top high school pitching prospect in 2003, when he threw three no-hitters and set a state record with a 0.10 ERA. But he tore his labrum before he got to colllege and redshirted during his first year at Nebraska. Coming back from major shoulder surgery earns him points for makeup. Despite his downturn as a 22-year-old junior, he still should go in the first five rounds.

2. Phillips Orta, rhp (National rank: 150)
School: Western Nebraska CC. Class: So.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Birthdate: 5/9/86.
Scouting Report: It has been a year of firsts for Western Nebraska Community College. Last May, Orta became the first player ever drafted out of Western Nebraska in the six-year history of the program. Then this year, the Cougars won their first regional championship, though they fell short of the Junior College World Series. Orta went to the Mets as a 10th-rounder in 2006, and he's the best prospect produced by the Cougars, surpassing outfielder Francisco Leandro, who reached Double-A in the Devil Rays system. Western Nebraska has a pipeline of talent from Venezuela that has yielded both Orta (who pitched for his nation at the 2004 World Junior Championship) and Leandro, as well as three other Venezuelans on its current roster. Orta is athletic and uses an efficient delivery to pitch at 88-94 mph. At times he'll show a plus slider, and he also has a changeup. The Mets signed him as a draft-and-follow within a week of Western Nebraska's season coming to an end.

Foust Gets Serious

Righthander Matt Foust had major shoulder surgery and redshirted in 2004, then pitched just 13 innings in the next two years at Nebraska. At the end of the 2004 season, Cornhuskers coaches told him he needed to improve and stop squandering his potential. Foust dropped 20 pounds--he now carries 223 on his 6-foot-3 frame--and has become a much better pitcher. His fastball ranges from 89-93 mph, and he has developed a hard slider.

Drew Bowman entered 2004 as one of the top high school lefties in the nation, but his velocity dropped and a commitment to Arizona State clouded his signability, so he fell to the Brewers in the 21st round. He redshirted in 2005 and pitched sparingly in 2006, prompting his transfer to Nebraska. Scouts have seen him touch 93 with his lively fastball this spring, but they'd like to see more of him to know if he's legitimate. In the last seven weeks before the NCAA regionals, he made two appearances and retired just one of the seven batters he faced. Bowman's secondary pitches are inconsistent, and there are questions about his mental toughness.

Righthander Charlie Shirek is an even bigger enigma at Nebraska. He has the best pure stuff on the staff, with a fastball that has reached 96 mph and features good sink and run, as well as a solid slider and changeup at times. But his delivery is shaky and he hasn't fooled hitters, getting touched for a 6.39 ERA entering the NCAA regionals. After losing his spot in the Cornhuskers' weekend rotation in mid-April, Shirek was arrested. Police charged him with vandalizing a bike and a car and said his blood-alcohol level at the time of his arrest was .158. He was briefly suspended and has pitched just three times since rejoining the team. He strained his oblique muscle in the Big 12 Conference tournament.

The biggest disappointment at Nebraska, however, was Ryan Wehrle. A draft-eligible sophomore in 2006, he was the most improved player in the Big 12 last year and could have gone in the third to fifth round had he been considered signable. He had power potential in a strong 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame, and had a chance to stay at shortstop in pro ball. One scout compared him to Michael Cuddyer for his bat and versatility. But after turning down the Reds as an 18th-round pick, he returned to the Cornhuskers and looked sluggish and out of shape.

"He was doing us a favor by being on the field," a rival Big 12 coach said. Wehrle was hitting just .241 and refusing to make adjustments when he was pulled in the middle of a game against Coastal Carolina on May 4, and he was dismissed from the program the next day. Coach Mike Anderson said Wehrle was let go for an accumulation of problems, not the one incident. As a freshman, Wehrle was cited for driving while intoxicated and being a minor in possession of alcohol. A team could take a chance on Werhrle in the draft, and he shouldn't be tough to sign. If he wants to try to regain his previous status at another school, he'd be 23 when he entered the 2008 draft.

Lefthander Travis Mortimore went just 3-6, 5.22 at NCAA Division II Wayne State, but he ranked sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (11.8) before the D-II College World Series. His size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), athleticism and 90-91 mph sinker appeal to pro teams. He also throws a slider and projects as a pro reliever.

Righthander Sean Yost is the best of a lean Nebraska high school crop. He's a projectable 6-foot-6 and 185 pounds, and unlike many pitchers his size, he repeats his delivery and has good command of his secondary pitches. His fastball velocity sits in the upper 80s and should increase as he gets stronger. A good athlete who also plays basketball, he's considered tough to sign away from a Nebraska scholarship.

The Cornhuskers also have locked up the top prep position player in the state. Shortstop Ben Kline also plays basketball and helped Omaha Central win state Class A hoops titles in 2006 and 2007. He also led the baseball team to its first state tournament appearance since 1983 this spring. Kline is a polished hitter for a high school player and should have good pop once he fills out his 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame.

Pat Venditte was one of the best stories in college baseball. Not only is he an ambidextrous pitcher, but he strung together a 43 2/3-inning scoreless streak that's believed to be an NCAA Division I record. He may have set another NCAA mark by working 89 1/3 innings in relief. He was named MVP at the Central Illinois Collegiate League all-star game last summer and at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament this spring. Venditte, who has thrown with both arms since he was 3, set school records for single-season (1.88) and career (2.61) ERA. From the right side, he has a high-80s fastball that can touch 91 mph when he's a fresh, and a 12-to-6 curveball.

As a lefty, he throws from a lower arm slot and has an 81-85 mph fastball and a sweeping slider. Venditte is the best prospect among the handful of ambidextrous pitchers in college baseball history, but how high that will get him drafted remains to be seen. He's a walk-on who should be rewarded with a scholarship if he returns for his senior year, and he may not get drafted high enough to make it worth his while to delay the completion of his business degree.