Compiled By John Manuel
Talent, depth from Northern states makes up for down year in usual hotbeds
The general consensus among scouts working the 2005 draft is the talent is at least average, if not above-average for a draft year.
Scouts are basing that assessment as much on depth as on star talent. But the stars aren’t necessarily coming from the usual places. The consensus is that the nation’s three hotbed states—California, Texas and Florida—have average crops at best.
“Florida is as bad as I’ve seen it at the top, and it’s not too deep either,” an American League scouting director said. “Texas and California are just so-so, just OK. It’s not an exceptional year in either place.”
So if the traditional talent hotbeds aren’t making this an average or above-average draft, where are the players coming from? One place to look is Virginia, which one scouting director said was “better than it’s ever been.” Top prospect Justin Upton, from the fertile Tidewater region, headlines Virginia’s outstanding crop.
But perhaps the biggest factor in the draft’s perceived solid talent base is the caliber of players Northern climes are contributing. The top college hitter (Alex Gordon, Nebraska) and one of the top two college pitchers (Mike Pelfrey, Wichita State) are from the Midwest. Oregon State outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Washington righthander Tim Lincecum give scouting directors plenty of reasons to visit the Pacific Northwest. St. John’s righthander Craig Hansen looks like a first-rounder, and his teammate, Anthony Varvaro, is moving up the single-digit rounds.
“Varvaro is interesting, he’s really throwing well,” an American League scout said of the righthander, who had 80 strikeouts and 17 walks in 55 innings while sporting a 6-2, 2.60 record. “He’s a slight guy (6 feet, 170 pounds), but he’s got a quick arm and everything he throws has life.”
High school players also are coming from non-hotbeds, such as Utah’s Mark Pawelek, the top prep lefthander in the draft, and Michigan two-way talent Zach Putnam. Righthanders Michael Bowden and Mike Broadway, (Illinois), Jeremy Hellickson (Iowa), Chaz Roe (Kentucky) and Josh Zeid (Connecticut), as well as lefthander David Duncan (Ohio), add to the deep group of projectable high school pitchers.
“I think the high school pool is better than what people thought it was going to be in the beginning of the year,” a scout with an American League organization said. “From Ohio to Illinois, even Indiana and Michigan, I think it’s going to end up being pretty good. You already knew about the Putnams and Duncans, but it’s that next group behind them that’s going to be better.
“There’s not one guy that’s suddenly jumped to the top of the list, but every team has a guy they’ve latched onto and they think he’s going to be a second- or third-round pick. There’s a bigger pool of guys that will go in that three-to-five (round) range than we’ve seen in the past.”
The strength of the North has affected Mike Rizzo’s travel schedule. Arizona’s scouting director has visited new locales to scout players for the No. 1 overall pick.
“Players are coming from all over nowadays,” Rizzo said while traveling in Virginia. “It’s a different dynamic. When you pick number one, you need to go to places like Wichita, Lincoln and Great Bridge, Va.”
• Duncan, a 6-foot-8, 190-pounder, had his draft status clouded after he was issued a citation for underage alcohol consumption March 28, an event that came out three weeks later in a newspaper report. He was suspended from the New Richmond (Ohio) High team, reinstated three days later, suspended again for the remainder of the season and finally reinstated. The matter was confusing for scouts trying to make travel plans to evaluate Duncan.
“The whole thing is real unfortunate,” a National League scout said. “I’ve met with the kid a couple times. He seems like a real good kid with good parents. He relates well with people. It’s just a shame.”
Scouts in Ohio considered Duncan’s makeup a plus before the incident. The lefty was having a strong season, showing a fastball that hits 90-91 mph consistently. He also throws a split-finger fastball, changeup and curveball.
• North Carolina outfielder Cameron Maybin, ranked second in the high school draft class, commited to Southern. “Obviously if Maybin goes pro, we won’t have his services,” Jaguars coach Roger Cador said. “But he has promised that if things don’t work out with the draft, then he could very well end up in a SU uniform.”
Contributing: Alan Matthews.