Baseball America: Best by Position
1. J.M. Gold, Toms River, N.J.
2. Pat Strange, Springfield, Mass.
3. Alex Hart, Chambersburg, Pa.
4. Nate Cornejo, Wellington, Kan.
5. Nick Neugebauer, Riverside, Calif.
6. Brian Sager, Branford, Conn.
7. Marcus Sents, Cookeville, Tenn.
8. Chris George, Klein, Texas
9. C.C. Sabathia, Vallejo, Calif.
10. Josh Karp, Bothell, Wash.
Analysis: High school pitchers appear to be the opposite of high
school hitters this year. Pitchers from cold-weather regions dominate
the list, with four of the top eight projected picks coming from the
Northeast. Only George and Neugebauer have thrown anything approaching
year-round schedules as high schoolers, and Neugebauer's senior season
was handicapped by injury concerns.
Scouts think the proliferation of summer leagues, high school fall
programs and winter scouts' leagues has hurt young pitchers in the
warm-weather states. The theory is that these pitchers are throwing
in game situations virtually year-round and are more susceptible to
injury or burnout. Baseball executives have used the same theory
regarding young Latin pitchers and winter leagues.
George, a lefthander, is the most interesting pitcher on this list for a
variety of reasons. He is at least two inches shorter and 20 pounds
lighter than any of the other pitchers listed. His fastball usually
registers in the 88 mph range, a click or two slow for a potential
first-rounder. Some scouting directors stare in disbelief at his
mention as a first rounder, while others wish they had a higher pick
to have a chance at him.
But George has all the intangible and secondary skills of a successful
big league pitcher: an outstanding changeup, two breaking balls,
command of four pitches and the ability to sink the ball and pitch
inside. He is an interesting counterbalance to the 95 mph heaters of
pitchers like Gold, Sager, Cornejo and Neugebauer.
1. Mark Mulder, Michigan State
2. Ryan Mills, Arizona State
3. Jeff Austin, Stanford
4. Chad Hutchinson, Stanford
5. Kip Wells, Baylor
6. Brad Lidge, Notre Dame
7. Jeff Weaver, Fresno State
8. Seth Etherton, Southern California
9. Matt Burch, Virginia Commonwealth
10. Nate Bump, Penn State
Analysis: College pitchers are generally considered the
safest picks in the draft, with good reason. They have spent three
or four years proving they can stay healthy and get hitters out.
About 71 percent of college pitchers selected in the first round
play in the big leagues. More impressively, 58 percent of college
pitchers picked in the second round eventually reach the majors.
Interestingly, only three of these pitchers were considered premium
prospects out of high school: Mills, Austin and Hutchinson. The
others, along with many of the other top college pitchers, have grown
into prospects as they have matured.
Weaver and Bump weren't drafted out of high school. Mulder (a
55th-round pick by the Tigers in 1995), Wells (58th round, Brewers)
and Lidge (42nd round, Giants) were all afterthought picks.
Weaver was so unheralded that he walked on at Fresno State and
redshirted, and Wells wasn't even the top pitcher on his high school
No junior college players are on this or any of the top prospect lists,
which may be shortsighted given the success that junior college
pitchers have had in the majors. Roger Clemens, Alex Fernandez,
Darryl Kile, Randy Myers, Andy Pettitte and Curt Schilling are just a
few of the pitchers who played at junior colleges before entering pro
1. Gerald Laird, Garden Grove, Calif.
2. Trent Pratt, Tooele, Utah
3. Ryan Bundy, U. of Washington
4. Jeff Winchester, Metairie, La.
5. Jeff Goldbach, Princeton, Ind.
Analysis: Scouts can't remember a year when there were so
few quality catchers available, so this is a combined list of high
school and college prospects. Laird is the only one who is a consensus
choice to go in the first two rounds.
Many in baseball think this is more than a talent cycle. The answer
could lie at the lower levels of amateur baseball, where coaches are
hesitant to put their best athletes behind the plate out of fear of
injury and diminished offensive production.
The Expos' conversion of 1995 first-rounder Michael Barrett from
infielder to catcher highlights the trend of players becoming catchers
later in their careers (BA, April 13-26).
Some of the top prospects in this year's draft, such as Mark Teixeira,
Brandon Inge and Austin Kearns, fit the tools profile for catchers:
strong arm, power, intelligence, good hands, limited mobility. Don't
be surprised if the best catchers from this draft class don't know
they're catchers yet.
1. Drew Henson, Brighton, Mich.
2. Ben Diggins, Dewey, Ariz.
3. Sean Burroughs, Long Beach, Calif.
4. Mark Teixeira, Severna Park, Md.
5. Austin Kearns, Lexington, Ky.
Analysis: Third base has hardly been a glamour position in
the first round of the draft. Just six high school third basemen
have been selected in the first round in the past 20 years, and three
of those were supplemental picks. The best infielders in high school
play shortstop and move later. Travis Fryman, Willie Greene and Chipper
Jones are three recent examples.
This year could be an exception. Henson, Burroughs and Teixeira are
all legitimate first-round candidates as third basemen, and some
scouts say Kearns' best position will eventually be third.
The most comparable player to Diggins in draft history may be Dave
Kingman. Many forget that the 6-foot-6 Kingman, who could reach
the mid-90s from the mound, was drafted as a pitcher out of high
school and threw four innings for the Giants early in his career.
Diggins reached 96 mph early in the year, but more importantly has
the same power and build that Kingman used to hit 442 home runs.
1. Pat Burrell, Miami
2. Carlos Pena, Northeastern
3. Josh Hochgesang, Stanford
4. Andrew Beinbrink, Arizona State
5. Mike Lentz, Washington
Analysis: College corner players are rarely selected in the
first two rounds of the draft - usually it's about one of each per
year. With Burrell and Pena locks to go in the first round and the
rest of the field questionable for the first two rounds, this should
Five of the last six college first basemen selected in the first
Round -- Lance Berkman and Glenn Davis in 1997, Danny Peoples in 1996,
Todd Helton and David Miller in 1995 and Brian Buchanan in 1994 --
have been moved to the outfield. Only Helton remains at first,
though he has seen time in the outfield. Pena could be moved there,
depending on which team selects him.
Between 1984 and 1989 a string of five straight college first
basemen were drafted in the first round who probably won't be
topped: Mark McGwire ('84), Will Clark ('85), Tino Martinez ('88), Mo
Vaughn and Frank Thomas (both in '89).
1. Felipe Lopez, Lake Brantley, Fla.
2. Josh McKinley, Downington, Pa.
3. Ivan Reyes, Bayamon, P.R.
4. John Jacobs, Rohnert Park, Calif.
5. Victor Menocal, Gainesville, Ga.
Analysis: Every draft has included the selection of a high
school middle infielder in the first round. Although Felipe Lopez
is likely to be picked in the second half of the first round, 1998
could join 1981 (Dick Schofield), 1983 (Kurt Stillwell) and 1989
(Willie Greene) as the drafts with the fewest first-round high school
middle infielders. While a steady stream of middle infielders
continues coming out of the United States, the past few drafts have
lacked shortstops of the Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter or Chipper
1. Adam Everett, South Carolina
2. Derek Wathan, Oklahoma
3. Zach Sorenson, Wichita State
4. Scott Pratt, Auburn
5. Damon Thames, Rice
Analysis: Somewhere along the line, the myth was spread that
the middle of major league infields was reserved for players from Latin
America. The facts reflect something different.
Almost half of the starting middle infielders in the major leagues (14
shortstops, 15 second basemen) were drafted out of college. Another
15 were signed out of high schools. Overall, 73 percent of the starting
middle infielders in the big leagues entered professional baseball
through the draft.
While an incredible 17 of 18 first-round college shortstops since
1983 have played in the major leagues, look between the fifth and
10th rounds for the real bargains. The 1988 draft may have been the
best example of that. John Valentin and Mickey Morandini went in
the fifth round, Gary DiSarcina went in the sixth, and Tim Naehring
went in the eighth.
1. Corey Patterson, Kennesaw, Ga.
2. Chip Ambres, Beaumont, Texas
3. Choo Freeman, Mesquite, Texas
4. Rick Elder, Marietta, Ga.
5. Andy Brown, Richmond, Ind.
6. Ben Cordova, Chula Vista, Calif.
7. Arturo McDowell, Jackson, Miss.
8. Mamon Tucker, Austin
9. Adam Dunn, New Caney, Texas
10. Jorge Padilla, Melbourne, Fla.
Analysis: This year is one of the best in memory for quality
high school outfielders. At least 10, and perhaps more, should go in
the first two rounds. Four of the 10 high school outfielders listed
above are from Texas.
Even so, the numbers provide overwhelming evidence that high
school outfielders are the worst risk of any type of first-round pick.
Just 51 of 104 high school outfielders (49 percent) drafted from
1965-94 have played in the major leagues.
The reason for this is fairly evident and simple. High school
outfielders are generally the best athletes in the draft. Each one of
the players listed above has a high ceiling with several outstanding
tools. Scouts love this type of player, with good reason.
But outfielders reach and succeed in the majors for one reason: They
can hit. Speed, batting-practice power, arm strength and body type
are great, but if you can't hit, you can't play.
Just ask former premium picks such as Shawn Abner, Earl Cunningham,
Jeff Jackson, Mark Merchant and Al Shirley.
The list of high school outfielders who have succeeded and who have
failed also shows a marked trend. Players from California and
Florida, where players have more games and better coaching, have a
high success rate. Players whose fathers played in the major leagues
also have a high success rate as hitters.
On the other hand, raw, dual-sport athletes from other states have a
poor success rate. They haven't had enough repetitions and
experience to show whether they can hit. Because hitting is often
called the most difficult thing to do in sports, it makes sense that
most fail. But many scouts also fail in not taking this into
1. Bubba Crosby, Rice
2. Eric Valent, UCLA
3. Brad Wilkerson, Florida
4. Jody Gerut, Stanford
5. Jason Tyner, Texas A&M
Analysis: From Reggie Jackson in 1966 to Darin Erstad in
1995, the draft has been good for first-round college outfielders
over the years. Looking at the top ones this year, one trend is
evident. All are 6 feet tall or shorter. All hit left-handed. Three
(Crosby, Gerut and Tyner) weren't drafted out of high school.
That they are all left-handed hitters is most significant. If you include
last year's first-round picks Lance Berkman and Glenn Davis as
outfielders, since each has been converted from first base since
signing, 10 of the 11 college outfielders picked in the first round the
past three years have been left-handed hitters or switch-hitters.
This reinforces a general perception that a right-handed-hitting
outfielder needs a plus offensive tool (power, speed, hitting for
average) to have a shot at playing in the major leagues.
Left-handed hitters are a bit different because most major league
managers want an extra left-handed pinch hitter to face right-handers
in late-inning situations.
It's also worth noting that the majority of outfielders picked in the
10th round or later who have recently gone on to successful major
league careers are left-handed or switch-hitters. Examples include
Steve Finley (taken in the 13th round in 1987), Bob Higginson (12th
round, 1992), Darren Bragg (22nd round, 1991), Rusty Greer (10th
round, 1990) and Chad Curtis (45th round, 1989).