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Compiled By John Manuel
College baseball doesn’t have a common starting date like other college sports. For scouts, though, the annual Minute Maid Classic in Houston, played in the Astros’ Minute Maid Park, is fast becoming the unofficial starting date for the scouting season.
Other early-season college tournaments, such as the Disney Blast in Orlando, have come and gone, but this tournament is in its fifth year and draws hordes of scouts (and fans, including a tournament-record 44,714 this year) for several reasons. First, the field is always stout, with top teams from Texas as well as one or two intersectional rivals thrown in each year. Second, Houston is an easy travel destination, and third, Minute Maid Park’s retractable roof guarantees the games will be played, no matter what kind of weather is going on outside.
This year’s event featured two of the hardest throwers in college baseball as well in Tennessee’s Luke Hochevar and Baylor’s Mark McCormick. Both righthanders showed why they project as first-round picks in the event, according to scouts who saw them in action. Hochevar, who started his push toward the front of the ’05 draft class last summer with Team USA, continued to gain momentum based on his performance in Houston.
Hochevar took a loss against Texas A&M but was a victim of poor defense. He allowed five runs in as many innings, but only one was earned as the Volunteers committed six errors in the game. He walked two, struck out six and allowed four hits. Still, his combination of stuff and poise impressed two scouts with American League organizations.
“Hochevar showed a plus fastball up to 94, (and) a very good changeup,” one said. “His breaking ball was not as crisp as I've seen it in the past. Plus, his team had five or six errors behind him, and that took a toll on him and they scored some (unearned) runs, but he stuck to it.”
The other scout added, “I remember when Tennessee had R.A. Dickey, who was just a warrior-type of guy who never wanted to give up the ball. Hochevar is a warrior like that too; he just competes. His slider was 85-86 and can be nasty. I’ve seen him top out at 96 mph with his fastball, and his changeup was solid average (in Houston). Then he broke out his curveball in the fourth or fifth inning, started mixing it up for strikes, and that showed he had a plan.”
McCormick has less of a plan, but his fastball—which registered 100 mph last summer in the Cape Cod League—gives him some margin for error. He allowed four earned runs on three hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out five and did not earn a decision in Baylor's 8-6 win against Houston.
“McCormick was inconsistent but at times (showed) a good, plus fastball up to 97,” one of the scouts said. “His breaking ball was hard but inconsistent. He got in trouble in the fifth inning and gave up a home run and they had to pull him. He needs to learn to get himself out of some innings when the wheels fall off.
“That's the difference between the two: Hochevar can fix something when it goes wrong. He did as good as he could do; they just couldn't catch the ball. He's done it in the past, but he again showed the ability to get away when he gets into trouble. Hochevar has a lot more control of what he's doing. McCormick has the stuff but not the command.”
Movement With Drew
• Former Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew, whom the Diamondbacks drafted him 15th overall, remains unsigned. One obstacle cleared in those talks when Boras' former rival in the agent business, Jeff Moorad, was cleared by Major League Baseball to become the Diamondbacks' managing general partner. Moorad said his top priority was to re-open negotiations with Drew, and his agent, Scott Boras met, with Arizona scouting director Mike Rizzo in early March. While neither would go into details about the talks, Rizzo said he remained optimistic that Drew would eventually sign. As was the case with Jered Weaver, Boras contends Drew should not be compared to a recent top contract, that of Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, who was drafted No. 2 overall in 2003. Boras' contention is that while Weeks is an excellent player in his own right, Drew has similar offensive talents while bringing the added dimension of playing a premium position, shortstop.
• Outfielder Jarred Bogany, a third-team preseason high school All-American, has been limited this spring to one game. Bogany, a senior from George Bush High in Houston, fouled a ball off his left big toe in the team’s first scrimmage of the season on Feb. 14, and the injury has been slow healing. Bogany was expected to return by mid-March.
• Cold weather and rain in February and early March forces scouts to be opportunistic. Lefthander Beau Jones of Destrehan (La.) High worked out in a gym that was packed with as many as 22 scouts, according to his coach Marty Luquet. “They didn’t care where he was throwing,” Luquet said. “We worked him out in the gym and he looked good as usual.” Jones threw a week later in a more conventional scrimmage game, tossing 61 pitches, the first one at 92 mph and other fastballs sitting between 88-90 mph.
• Two players who began the year at Texas instead have transferred to Navarro (Texas) Junior College due to grades. Sophomore righthander Drew Johnson, who was the No. 1 prospect in the Texas Collegiate League last summer, is at Navarro but is academically ineligible to play. Freshman Chris Davis, who was the Yankees’ 50th-round pick last June out of Longview (Texas) High, is Navarro’s regular third baseman, coach Skip Johnson said. Both are eligible for the 2005 draft because they dropped out of Texas more than 120 days before the draft. “Davis is a big, strong kid who’s getting better every day, but he has some adjustments to make,” coach Johnson said. “Drew’s throwing well on the side, but he’s still shaking some of the rust off and has to get in shape. He hasn’t pitched since last summer, but at times he’s showing a crisp slider.”
• In a year full of intriguing two-way talents at both the college and high school levels, two players at South Carolina colleges already were giving scouts tough choices to make come draft time. Clemson’s Kris Harvey, son of ex-big leaguer Bryan Harvey, has a power bat, athleticism and an 80 arm that profiles him as either a third baseman or corner outfielder. However, his fastball sat in the 93-95 mph range in his first start, and his slider was consistently in the 86-87 mph range. In the same tournament at Myrtle Beach , S.C., Coastal Carolina’s Mike Costanzo showed more aptitude on the mound than one National League area scout expected, touching 92 mph with his fastball and throwing three pitches for strikes. “He’s got a sweet, clean delivery and a big, strong body,” the scout said. “I thought he was going to walk off the mound, grab four seams and start throwing. Nope—his upper body was still, his arm was clean, and he threw a two-seamer, a wicked slider at times for strikes, and he also showed the ability to throw it off the plate and get guys to chase. Plus, he wants the ball.”
Contributing: Will Kimmey.