1. *Josh Beckett, rhp, Spring HS
RHP Josh Beckett has taken on legend status in his home state, right alongside famed Texas schoolboy pitchers of years past--Nolan Ryan, David Clyde, Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood. He has had a national following since last year, when there was talk he would have been the first pick in the draft had he been eligible. He pitched lights out again this spring, compiling a 13-2, 0.39 record with 178 strikeouts in 89 innings. His fastball was clocked routinely from 93-96 mph and occasionally reached 97-98. His breaking pitch was its equal. Scouts marvel at how easy Beckett's arm works, and yet the ball explodes out of his hand. He competes hard and has developed an arrogance that does not always endear him to people. "He knows he's good; he's been told it for three years," one scout said. For all the hype, Beckett still isn't likely to become the first high school righthander ever drafted No. 1 overall. He should be the second pick . . .OF Carl Crawford is one of the two or three best athletes in the draft. He has a rare package of speed and strength and has committed to Nebraska as an option quarterback. In tryouts for scouts, he hit a number of mammoth home runs. The downside to Crawford is that his skills are raw--and draft history is full of multi-tooled athletes with limited baseball instincts who don't pan out. He was often overmatched at the plate by ordinary high school pitching. He'll be a first-round pick, but maybe the riskiest one . . . LHP Josh Girdley is a third Texas high school player with first-round aspirations. He projected as a college-level player a year ago, then caught fire in the fall and reached a peak in a game this spring when he struck out 29 batters in 10 innings. On the season, he struck out 178 in 82 innings. He combines size (6-foot-4, 175), arm strength (92-93 mph fastball), a major league curveball and excellent arm action in a complete package . . . The 1999 draft overall features a lot of premium college arms, none so prevalent as those in Texas, which has four strong candidates for the first round . . . The least known of the four, RHP Omar Ortiz, may be the best. He pitched in relative obscurity in the southern part of the state and was unknown to most scouts until last fall, when he was clocked at 95 mph in a practice game. Soon everyone knew about him. They saw no real faults in Ortiz and admired his tenacious approach to pitching. Ortiz has a strong, powerful body and throws an assortment of power pitches . . . Six-foot-2, 243-pound RHP Jason Jennings started the season as a third- or fourth-round pick but got scouts to look past his big body and focus on his stuff, durability and competitiveness. While Jennings may not fit the conventional mold of a first-round pick, he was consistent every time out this year. In a start at the Big 12 tournament, he allowed a single to the first hitter, then retired the next 27 in order. He pitches especially well in big games and rarely gets rattled. His fastball is a solid 94 mph and he maintains it well throughout games. His hard slider separates him from other elite college pitchers. For Jennings' sake, it would be best if he was drafted by a National League club; he swings the bat with authority as Baylor's cleanup hitter . . . Six-foot-6, 215-pound RHP Chance Caple and 6-foot, 150-pound LHP Casey Fossum offered a contrasting look--and contrasting styles--to hitters as the top starters in the Texas A&M rotation. Caple, an eighth-round pick out of high school, has been slower to develop than Fossum, a seventh-round selection in the same draft. But with his bigger body, Caple projects a higher upside and should be drafted first. He started throwing a cut fastball this year to go with a solid 12-to-6 curveball, his strikeout pitch, and his new pitch gives him a different dimension when his curveball falters. Fossum's size and durability have become a concern to scouts. Most believe he was a better pitcher as a freshman than he is now. He has a whiplike arm action that produces an 88-92-mph fastball and excellent slider, his best pitch. He struggled early this season when he lost command of the slider. He continued to back right out of the first round with each inconsistent outing and now projects more as a second-rounder . . . RHP Brian Sanches sneaked up on scouts this spring. He missed the first part of the season with a pulled groin muscle and wasn't well-known to begin with. He came with a rush by showing good command of an above-average fastball and curve . . . Switch-hitting C Josh Bard is the state's best college position player. He has power from both sides and always finds a way to put up solid offensive numbers despite an unorthodox approach to hitting. Bard pressed a bit with the bat this spring and became prone to swinging at bad pitches. Defense is the strength of his game. He is solid behind the plate with an accurate, if not overly strong, arm. Scouts praise his take-charge approach . . . Rice has been one of the top college teams in the country this year and may have as many as eight players drafted in the first 20 rounds. Scouts have had a hard time identifying the team's best player . . . LHP Mario Ramos, who pitched for Team USA last year, has his supporters. He has been the leader of Rice's pitching staff all season. He's an undersized pitcher and isn't overpowering, making up for it with an advanced understanding of pitching. His velocity tops out at 89 mph, and he's adept at moving balls in and out on hitters . . . OF Charles Williams is one of the highest potential picks that nobody seems to talk about. He ranges from a first-round pick on some draft boards to no better than a 10th-rounder on others. Most scouts see his present tools as solid across the board and disagree on how projectable he is. His speed grades out highest. He also handles the bat well from both sides . . . Beyond Rice's impact, the Texas college crop is deep . . . The once-mighty Texas program, largely a non-factor in the early rounds of the draft in the last few years, may be back thanks to SS Jason Moore. The draft-eligible sophomore came on hard in the final weeks and may have pushed himself as high as the second round. He has four solid-average tools and his power continues to improve . . . RHP Scott Dunn puzzled scouts with his inconsistency. He threw as hard as 93 mph on occasion. His arm action is a little stiff and his mechanics will need reworking . . . Resurgent Houston should have multiple picks in the middle rounds. The Cougars' best bet is 6-foot-4 LHP Erick Burke, who has teased scouts with a 92-mph fastball and above-average breaking ball. Burke doesn't show that kind of stuff or even throw strikes with consistency and rarely pitched this year. He was given a chance to pitch in the second half and responded better. If he gets seen well in postseason play, he could climb into the first four or six rounds . . . Baylor's Eric Nelson, a switch-hitter and solid runner, should be the first second baseman drafted. He had a sound senior year after not being picked in 1998. He lacks an above-average big league tool. He made improvements in all aspects of his defensive game, from his range to his hands and arm . . . SS Chris Sampson has two excellent tools--speed and arm strength. He hasn't shown he can hit and is a below-average fielder. He has been used as a closer on occasion by Texas Tech and projects in that role in pro ball . . . The Astros will deplete the state's junior-college talent if they can sign RHP Bryan Edwards, the state's top juco prospect. Edwards was selected in the 37th round last year and had until May 26 to sign with the Astros or go back into this year's pool. Only 5-foot-10 with a skinny build, Edwards has a lot of similarities to Billy Wagner and Tom Gordon, in appearance and stuff. He's an outstanding athlete with a well-defined body and an exceptional arm. He has thrown 95 mph with minimum effort and has a power breaking ball. He would go back into the draft as a potential third- or fourth-round pick . . . The Astros already signed another of their draft-and-follows, OF Gavin Wright, a 33rd-round pick in 1998. He ranked right after Edwards among the state's top junior-college prospects this spring . . . If Edwards signs before the draft, RHP John Lackey would assume the position as the state's most attractive juco player. Lackey was an unknown quantity at the start of the season after transferring from Texas-Arlington, where he was primarily a first baseman. He is just learning to pitch. He is long and lanky and already has been clocked at 93-94 . . . Josh Beckett has been such a dominant presence among Texas high school pitchers that few others have gotten their due, even with several other quality arms spread through the state . . . Six-foot-3, 200-pound RHP Josh Vitek was tucked away at a small rural school and didn't really get discovered until April. He threw 88-93 with a hard, sharp slider and suddenly everyone knew about him. He's a strong, strapping kid who needs a lot of coaching . . . RHP Chris Spencer ranked second behind Beckett among pitchers at the start of the year before having a rough spring, going 5-8. He pitched with limited command and got hit hard. The tools are still there, and a team that saw him on the right day may still take a chance on him by the fifth round . . . The most intriguing arm in the state may belong to RHP/SS Andy Cavazos, who has declared that he does not want to pitch; he wants to play shortstop on a full-time basis. Cavazos worked on rare occasions this spring. When he did, he showed exceptional arm strength, flashing a 94-mph fastball. His other pitches work well, but he'll need a lot of refining--if someone can even persuade him to take the mound. Cavazos has good hands for a shortstop and an excellent swing . . . Brazoswood High had another quality pitcher at the top of its rotation this spring in RHP Jesse Harper, who can reach the upper 80s. He has a similarly high upside, though not as high as Cavazos' . . . RHP David Farren has the liveliest arm in east Texas. He throws 89-91 and is capable of touching 93 mph . . . None of the above-mentioned pitchers is considered to leaning toward college. LHP Derek Brehm and RHP Steve White are among the more unsignable Texas high school pitchers; both have committed to Baylor. Brehm has a quality lefthanded arm, pitches comfortably from 88-89 mph and occasionally reaches 91. The 6-foot-4 White, who has designs on becoming a doctor, was slowed earlier this year with tendinitis. His velocity had since returned to 93 . . . RHPs Tony Adler and Austin Mix have surfaced as the best pitching prospects in Dallas-Fort Worth. Adler increased his velocity from last summer and has dominated inferior competition. He earned acclaim when he struck out all 18 batters he faced in a game this spring. He has an athletic body, good stuff and a loose arm and projects a high upside. Some teams are wary of a commitment to Rice . . . The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Mix has a strong, thick body with an 89-90-mph fastball and hard slider . . . Adler and Mix came to the forefront in the Dallas area when LHP Ben King pitched below his previous form. King, once regarded as one of the two or three best pitching prospects in the state, was pressing early in the season. His velocity and command were both down . . . It will be interesting to see where OF Jared Doty is drafted. He played in obscurity at a small school, then reportedly declined to work out for the Major League Scouting Bureau and other clubs amid reports that two or three teams were trying to keep him under wraps. He put on an impressive show in informal workouts, running a 6.5-second 60 and hitting with outstanding power . . . Unlike Doty, C Chris Snyder and OF Kyle Smith played for two prominent, nationally ranked teams in the Houston area. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Snyder showed outstanding power for Spring Woods High. Scouts think he might eventually outgrow his position. Smith has been a high-profile player for Bellaire High since his freshman year. He slugged a team-high 15 home runs this year. Still, his tools grade out average and he has yet to emerge as a dominant player. He is likely headed to school at Oklahoma State . . . The heaviest-scouted players on the Texas panhandle have been LHP Chris Trevino and OF John Thomman. Trevino has bounced back from an early-season arm injury to throw 87-90 mph with an outstanding breaking ball.
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