By Matt Remsberg, Special to SI.com, SchoolSports.com
By the time Bishop Eustace (Pennsauken, N.J.) senior shortstop Billy Rowell takes the field Tuesday for the South New Jersey Non-Public championship game, his life will be very different.
Expected to be the first high school positional player selected -- possibly in the top 10 overall -- when the 2006 MLB Draft kicks off Tuesday at 1 p.m., Rowell won't get to celebrate his first-round selection as a player in the NBA or NFL drafts would. Instead, he'll be on the field with the Crusaders as the team looks to move one step closer to a second state title in three years.
"There's so much excitement around Billy and the draft, and there's so much about the team trying to win another state title," says Bishop Eustace coach Sam Tropiano. "Put those two together and it makes for a crazy atmosphere around school. And for Billy, it's been a hectic few weeks to say the least."
From working out for Major League teams to signing autographs for throngs of fans following high school games, Rowell isn't alone in attempting to balance a run at a state championship with the chaos of being a potential first-round draft selection. A pair of Texas hurlers were both on the mound within the past week trying to lead their teams to the state tournament as well.
Kyle Drabek of The Woodlands (The Woodlands, Texas) was successful in his quest, as the righty hurled a no-hitter Friday night to send the Highlanders into the Class 5A state tournament, which begins later this week. Clayton Kershaw of Highland Park (Dallas, Texas) also picked up an impressive victory last week, but his team ended up dropping its three-game series to fall short of the Class 4A state tourney.
Drabek might end up with a championship ring, but Kershaw could boast bragging rights when the pair reaches the professional ranks. That's because the 6-foot-3 left-hander is the odds-on favorite to be the top prep player selected Tuesday.
Kershaw opened his senior season ranked the No. 22 senior recruit by SchoolSports.com, but a phenomenal campaign vaulted him into position to be a top-10 pick and earn a hefty signing bonus. He went a perfect 13-0 this spring with a 0.67 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 62.1 innings pitched (better than two strikeouts per inning).
Drabek is another first-round talent who matched Kershaw's record (13-0) and posted a similarly impressive 0.91 ERA with 147 strikeouts in 77 innings this season. The son of 1990 Cy Young winner Doug Drabek, Kyle boasts a fastball that has been clocked at 97 and a nasty knuckle curveball.
Other high school arms expected to be picked in the first few rounds Tuesday include lefty Brett Anderson of Stillwater (Stillwater, Okla.), righty Jeremy Jeffress of Halifax County (South Boston, Va.), righty Jordan Walden of Mansfield (Mansfield, Texas), righty Colton Willems of John Carroll Catholic (Fort Pierce, Fla.) and righty Dellin Betances of Grand Street Campus (Brooklyn, N.Y.).
For the first time since 2002, a high school positional player probably won't be the No. 1 overall pick. (That honor is likely to go to University of North Carolina lefty Andrew Miller.) Justin Upton (2005), Matt Bush (2004) and Delmon Young (2003) were drafted first overall out of high school the past three seasons but it's possible a prep positional player won't even go in the top 10 picks overall in '06.
Rowell, who was hitting .557 with six home runs going into last week's South New Jersey Non-Public semifinals, has plenty of competition for the honor of being the top high school positional player off the board on Tuesday. Among the others in the running are catcher Hank Conger of Huntington Beach (Huntington Beach, Calif.), third baseman Chris Marrero of Monsignor Pace (Opa Locka, Fla.) and first baseman Chris Parmelee of Chino Hills (Chino Hills, Calif.).
But Rowell probably won't have much time Tuesday to worry about where in the first round he ends up. He has a game to play.