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Compiled By John Manuel
Conference tournaments are going on around college baseball this week, and fans aren't the only ones turning out for the games.
The stands are crawling with scouts at most of the power conference tournaments, such as the Ballpark at Arlington for the Big 12 Conference, or the Hoover Met in suburban Birmingham for the Southeastern Conference. And some scouts had a long workday Wednesday at the Atlantic Coast Conference tourney in Salem, Va., which didn't end until Stephen Drew's two-run single gave Florida State a 6-5 victory against North Carolina State--at 1:36 a.m.
Drew has a history of coming up with big hits, so his performance might reinforce scouts' opinions of him. But scouts agree that putting too much emphasis on one weekend like this--or in regional play just before the draft, which is June 7-8--would be a mistake.
"It's a big deal for area scouts, because we all have our guys," said an area scout at the SEC tournament. "I have a lot of guys turned in who are playing in this tournament. Your scouting director or a crosschecker is coming in because there are eight teams in one place, and they get their look-see at the players we have turned in, and they make the final decision on who gets drafted.
"For a lot of organizations, the majority of the players they are going to sign are going to be playing in these conference tournaments this weekend."
Some organizations already have had their draft meetings, putting their draft boards together and assembling a game plan for draft day. Others still have meetings to come after this weekend, so this could be the last chance for players to shine. Scouting directors and crosscheckers keep their cell phones at the ready and bounce between airports, trying to catch as many players as they can in one weekend. That might mean being at three tournaments in four days spread across the country.
However, there's only so much a player can do to improve his stock at this point. Most of the decisions at the top of the draft have been made, according to one scouting director.
"We just use it as a last look; if you're making a decision based off one weekend, you're probably not going to make a good decision," he said. "It's just such a small sample size. You're making decisions on players you're going to take in the fifth to 15th round more than anything, differentiating between those kinds of players."
Calling An Audible
Football players often factor into the baseball draft, with Princeton outfielder/wide receiver B.J. Szymanski and Oklahoma State third baseman/quarterback Josh Fields the most obvious examples in this year's proceedings.
The least obvious example is Matt Moore, a former quarterback at UCLA who threw for more than 900 yards and four touchdown passes in two seasons for the Bruins. He quit the football team after the fall season, though, after disagreements with first-year coach Karl Dorrell, and is no longer in school.
That has made him eligible for the baseball draft, according to Major League Baseball, which has investigated his case. And Moore's ability makes him an attractive raw talent, even though he hasn't played the sport since his junior year in high school.
Just 19, Moore was working last summer at the Line Drive baseball academy in Santa Clarita, Calif., helping feed pitching machines for minimum wage. Former big leaguers Bret Barberie and Rene Gonzalez help run the academy along with Mark Webb, who says Moore decided to grab a bat and join in an end-of-the-night hitting contest as a lark.
"He was working that night, and he just decided to pick up the bat and started just smoking line drives," Webb said. "That got Rene and Bret pretty interested."
The group kept in touch with Moore, telling him he had potential to have a professional baseball career. After quitting school, Moore started working with Barberie and Gonzalez and playing in an adult league in Southern California (the Victory League). The league gave him game experience and an opportunity for scouts to see him in action for the first time since he played shortstop and hit 12 home runs as a junior at Hart High in Newhall, Calif.
At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, Moore projects better as a third baseman or outfielder than at short. He's shown plus arm strength and a strong lefthanded stroke with raw power potential, and his talent has attracted plenty of interest. The Major League Scouting Bureau turned in a report on him, and scouts from several West Coast organizations have been in to see him in the Victory League as well as in a private workout at Cal State Fullerton's Godwin Field.
"He hasn't even used a metal bat in seven or eight months--it's been all wood," Webb said. "He's got a big, beautiful lefthanded swing, and he likes baseball. His dad (Don) played pro ball in the minors with the Cardinals, so he'll know what he's getting into."
• The scouting buzz of the last week has revolved around the decision the Padres have to make at the top of the draft. Even after Rice righthander Jeff Niemann got knocked out of his latest start before the fifth inning of a loss to Fresno State, talk persists that the Padres could take him first over Long Beach State's Jered Weaver. The Padres had their organization meetings last weekend to put their draft board together. With several Padres scouts in attendance, Niemann gave up 10 hits and seven runs in 4 2/3 innings against Fresno State. Still, his 6-foot-9, 260-pound frame, plus fastball (and command), and wicked slider give Niemann several advantages over Weaver.
• Speaking of the top of the draft, Old Dominion righthander Justin Verlander has fallen out of consideration for one of the top spots with his continued struggles. Verlander lost his final start during the Colonial Athletic Association tournament in a 6-4 loss to UNC Wilmington Wednesday. (Old Dominion's season ended Thursday with a loss to George Mason.) Verlander gave up six runs and eight hits in seven innings, but more telling, he lost his composure on the mound, hitting four batters in a game in which he walked just two and had shown good control. "He's got three pitches that would be at least a 70 grade," said one scout who saw his last start, "but the pieces don't come together for him. He's just not mature enough on the mound and off it to put it all together yet." Verlander finished the season 7-6, 3.49 with 151 strikeouts in 106 innings.
• Two fifth-year seniors signed with pro clubs after their college seasons ended. Kansas first baseman Ryan Baty signed with the Devil Rays as a free agent, while the Expos signed Indiana shortstop Seth Bynum as a 38th-round draft-and-follow. Baty finished second in Kansas history with 273 career hits. Bynum was the Big 10 Conference first-team shortstop this season, hitting .387-10-65 with 19 stolen bases. He's expected to report to low Class A Savannah or high Class A Brevard County.
Louisville, which swept South Florida to earn the eighth and final spot in the Conference USA tournament, went 0-2 in the event to end its season. That means the Braves can begin negotiations with outfielder Mark Jurich, whom they drafted in the 13th round last year.
Two fifth-year players in limbo, however, are San Diego's Tom Caple (under control to the Red Sox) and UC Riverside's Tony Festa (Diamondbacks). Both teams are done with their regular seasons, but both are hoping for regional bids.
"The Red Sox have been classy about it and have Tom's best interests in mind," said Toreros coach Rich Hill, who noted Caple's 55 walks and .498 on-base percentage make him a good fit for stats-savvy organizations like Boston's. "Tom really took off when we stopped pitching him and just let him focus on hitting."
Festa hit .367-8-51, leading the Highlanders in batting and RBIs and was a first-team all-Big West selection.
• A clarification on righthander Christian Garcia of Miami's Gulliver Prep High. He missed only one game down the stretch of the season, contrary to a prior report, and it was because he was ill with food poisoning.
Contributing: Jim Callis.