Hurlers likely to dominate first round of First-Year Player Draft
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Pitching is always at a premium. This draft year is no different.
In fact, looking at the 2006 draft class, if there is a strength, it's pitching. Last year saw some terrific depth in terms of college position players. This year, the college ranks will provide a great number of arms taken in the opening rounds of the draft. It's possible that more than half of the first round will be filled with pitchers coming from campuses. Most are starters, though in keeping with the recent trend, a few college relievers could go early in the hopes they'll reach the big leagues quickly.
One wild card is Luke Hochevar. The former University of Tennesee ace was drafted by the Dodgers last year, but hasn't signed. Los Angeles officially retains his rights until the week before the draft, but there's a strong chance he'll re-enter the draft and could be a top 10 choice this year.
Who are the names to know on the mound from college campuses? Here's a breakdown.
Andrew Miller, North Carolina
Considered by most to be the best choice for the No. 1 overall pick, Miller uses his 6-foot-6 frame to throw from a downward plane. He's got plus stuff, particularly a slider that could probably get big league hitters out now. He hasn't been as dominant as some would have hoped, but still picked up just his first loss of the season on May 12. Overall, he's 10-1 with a 1.87 ERA, racking up 87 Ks in 81 2/3 IP while holding hitters to a .217 average.
Scout says: "If Kansas City doesn't take him, they're fools."
Wade LeBlanc, Alabama
The other college lefties don't have the stuff Miller does and fit more into the "pitchability" lefties who have become popular as "safe" first-round picks. LeBlanc has gone a perfect 8-0 with a 3.00 ERA as Alabama's Friday starter, using a fastball in the 88-90 mph range and a big sweeping curve to hold hitters to a .199 average. He's got a terrific 101/36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 102 innings of work.
Scout says: "He's a fast-track guy, a guy who's going to get there quick. But I don't think he's going to be a [No.] 1 or a 2. More of a 4 or a 5. He's got a good off-speed pitch, but if he doesn't have that, he's got nothing to get guys out at the big league level. In a good year, he's a third- or fourth-round pick."
David Huff, UCLA
Huff has bounced around a bit, going from UC-Irvine to Cypress Community College and then to UCLA. He's a touch-and-feel lefty with a plus changeup and average fastball to go along with good command. He's gone 6-2 with a 2.77 ERA, striking out 90 and walking 21 in 107 1/3 IP.
Scout says: "He's got the same type of stuff as LeBlanc. He knows how to pitch. He's got a little better fastball than LaBlanc. LeBlanc has better command of his off-speed pitch. That's the difference."
Nathan Culp, Missouri
Culp put himself more on the map when Missouri ace Max Scherzer missed time with an injury. Culp uses a fastball in the upper 80s, a breaking ball and a changeup with outstanding command (13 BB in 96 IP) to put together a 9-5 record and 3.19 ERA. He doesn't miss a lot of bats (64 Ks), but Culp posted a 2.88 ERA since taking over as the full-time Friday starter on March 17, before getting ripped by Texas Tech in his most recent outing .
Tim Lincecum, Washington
One of many "undersized" right-handers in the college class, Lincecum has pitched his way to the top of draft boards. He's gone 11-3 this season with a 2.06 ERA. He's the Pac-10 career leader in strikeouts and leads Division I baseball with 174 Ks in 109 1/3 innings pitched. Opposing hitters have managed just a .168 batting average against the Huskies' ace. A draft-eligible sophomore a year ago who decided to return to school, Lincecum has seen a big increase in his command of the strike zone. Listed generously at 6 feet, some worry about his durability because of his size and his unorthodox delivery. He's thrown over 270 pitches in his last two starts, with a mid-week relief outing thrown in for good measure, making many a scouting director cringe. Many see him as a reliever, one who could get to the big leagues as soon as this year.
Scout says: "I like the guy. He's got two big-league pitches. He attacks hitters. There's no third pitch and I don't see him as a 200-innings-a-season guy. He's hard, harder, hardest. I like his attitude on the mound."
Brandon Morrow, Cal Berkley
Morrow has used his fastball and splitter to go 7-3 with a 1.74 ERA over 93 1/3 innings as the Bears' Friday starter. He's struck out 96 in that span while holding hitters to a .200 batting average. He's got experience in the bullpen, and excelled in that role during the Cape Cod League season last summer. His two-pitch power repertoire, along with his diabetic condition could make a permanent move to a relief role more possible.
Scout says: "I like him a lot. I think he's going to be OK. He's never had a history of being successful. That's the flip side. You have to have some kind of success, and he hasn't had a whole lot in his career. That's always a concern when you're talking about taking a guy up there [at the top of the draft]."
Complete coverage >Brad Lincoln, Houston
Few college pitchers have performed better than Lincoln heading into the final weeks before the draft. A two-way player who serves as Houston's DH when he's not pitching (he's got 11 homers this season), he's now 11-1 with a 1.67 ERA, holding hitters to a .197 batting average while striking out 141 and walking just 26 in 113 IP. He tossed a three-hit shutout against No. 1 Rice in his last start, striking out nine. He hasn't lost since Feb. 18 and has allowed more than two earned runs in a start just once all season.
Scouts: "He's a good athlete. I think he'd make a hell of an NL [draftee] because he can hit, too. He's got power. He's like a Jason Jennings-type of guy. That's who I can compare him to."
Greg Reynolds, Stanford
The 6-foot-7 Stanford ace has rocketed up draft boards of late after beating Morrow and Lincecum in back-to-back starts. His fastball sits in the low 90s, though he can crank it up when he needs a little extra. He also throws a two-seamer with sink, a curve and a changeup. Fairly consistent all year, Reynolds has gone 6-3 with a 3.17 ERA, striking out 80 in 96 2/3 IP for a fairly pedestrian Cardinal team.
Scout says: "He's another fast-tracker. He throws strikes, has a quality breaking ball and his fastball moves. Size-wise, he's one of the better ones. If someone's taking at the top and they want a 200-IP guy, he's the guy. He's big and strong, can throw 93-94 mph, has a good breaking ball and a changeup that has a chance."
Daniel Bard, North Carolina
There may be no one who mystifies scouts more than Bard. He began the year as someone who could battle his teammate Andrew Miller for top pick honors, pitched well as the Saturday starter for a while to even draw a Friday start. But then the wheels fell off and he struggled so much he got moved to Sundays. He was so-so for a while before he opened some eyes with a four-hit shutout on April 23. People started to get excited when he followed that up with another superb start until he regressed last Sunday by not getting out of the fourth inning. Still, he's got an easy and fluid motion that enables him to throw in the mid-90s without too much effort. His breaking ball is a curve that isn't consistent, and his fastball can lack movement. Despite his ups and downs, he does have a 3.75 ERA and .220 batting average against with 78 Ks in 72 IP.
Scout says: "He has great stuff all across the board. He's what a pitcher is supposed to look like physically. But his pitching performances have been like mood swings. I would say it will be interesting to see which club steps up and thinks they can make him a consistent performer with his stuff. His stuff belongs in the first five picks."
Brooks Brown, Georgia
Even though he's Georgia's Saturday starter, he leads the Bulldogs in virtually every pitching category. He hits 95 mph with regularity and has 94 Ks in 81 2/3 innings while holding hitters to a .234 average. It's his first year as a full-time starter and he's taken to it with a 3.53 ERA. Starting with a three-hit, 14-strikeout shutout on April 22, Brown has reeled off three straight wins, with a so-so no-decision thrown in the middle, to move his name into the first-round picture.
Scout says: "He's a sinker-slider guy, with a very good slider. His velocity was up to 94. Late in games, he has the tendency to elevate the ball. It flattens out some. But he's a solid guy."
Joba Chamberlain, Nebraska
The only thing keeping Chamberlain from the upper third of the draft is health. He put himself on the map with a big 2005 season as he helped pitch Nebraska to Omaha and the College World Series. When 100 percent, he's got a three-pitch arsenal: fastball, changeup and plus-plus slider. Even being a little off his game this season (3.75 ERA), he's struck out 83 in 69 2/3 innings.
Scout says: "It depends on when you see him. Early, he had very dominating stuff, with plus velocity and breaking ball, average change and command. He went through a spell where he had some setbacks physically, had a couple of bad outings. He's been inconsistent."
Max Scherzer, Missouri
Another top-flight starter with injury issues, Scherzer missed several starts with biceps tendinitis. He's got a fastball that touches the upper-90s and a plus slider, a combination that has some thinking short reliever. He allowed just one run in seven innings in his last start, perhaps alleviating some concern. His performance in the Big 12 tournament could determine his ultimate draft status.
Scout says: "His velocity has come back, but the quality of his secondary stuff has not. There's the obvious concern about the injuries."
Ian Kennedy, USC
One of the many "undersized" right-handers in the draft (6-foot), scouts have been on Kennedy since his high school days. A 14th-round pick in 2003, he hasn't had a breakout year in 2006. It's not that he's been bad, there just hasn't been a progression from his first two seasons at USC.
Scout says: "His stuff has been down a little bit this year, but not too far. He still pitches deep into games. Statistically, he hasn't performed as well as he has in the past, even though he's pretty much the same guy."
Kyle McCulloch, University of Texas
McCulloch put his name on the map as a big-game pitcher last year as a sophomore, helping the Longhorns win the national championship. This year, he hasn't been as consistent, but he has come on in the second half of the season. He doesn't blow people away, but he can hit the mid-90s on occasion and has an above-average breaking ball.
Scout says: "Based off his career and what this draft is like, he fits the bottom part of the first round. It's been a little up and down for him, but he's not a big strikeout pitcher anyhow. Sometimes guys like that, they don't go out and wow you. He's a good, solid, steady guy. He'll pitch in the big leagues at the bottom of a rotation. He's a solid draft."
Jared Hughes, Long Beach State
Hughes was a pretty hot commodity in high school, where he used to just try to blow everyone away. He pitches more to contact these days, relying on his height and ability to keep the ball down to induce ground balls. he can still throw a low-to-mid 90s fastball with an above-average slider and should follow in the footsteps of Jered Weaver and Cesar Ramos as Dirtbag aces who will get drafted early.
Scout says: "He's put himself in better status this year. He used to elevate his fastball and not show a downhill plane, giving in to hitters too much. He's shown a better plane this year, keeping his stuff down and his breaking stuff has been more consistent. He's a big, strong guy in a good program."
Brett Sinkbeil, Missouri State
Before getting hurt, Sinkbeil was outpitching Scherzer at Missouri. When healthy, he can crank it up to 94 mph with a nasty slider. He's been out since late April with an oblique injury and is just now planning to get back into action. A strong finish could move him back up the board.
Scout says: "He's been injured. He's throwing 40 pitches on Saturday."
Josh Butler, San Diego
Butler began the season by shutting down the then-top ranked Texas Longhorns and threw 25 consecutive scoreless innings to kick off his junior year. San Diego's Saturday starter (he began the year starting on Fridays), Butler hit a little bump in the middle of the year with an injury and subsequent subpar outings, but he's got a projectable body and can reach 94 mph with his fastball to go along with a slider and changeup.
Scout says: "Early in the year, you couldn't have had more dominating stats than he did. Then he had some physical setbacks. Then he came back and had some poor performances. He's going to be an interesting guy because people will be wanting to know if he's physically sound."
Mark Melancon, Arizona
Melancon had the best chance of being the top closer taken, and the one to move the fastest to the big leagues, but an elbow ligament strain has shelved him for about three weeks. It hasn't required surgery, but he needs to get back on the mound to show that his fastball-curve combination is still effective.
Scout says: "He's got an above-average fastball with limited life. His strikeout pitch is a breaking pitch he can throw for strikes. He's a wild card because of his elbow problems."
Chris Perez, Miami
Statistically, Perez has been outstanding as Miami's closer, posting a 1.58 ERA and .171 batting average against while striking out 49 in 40 innings. His fastball can touch the mid-90s and has a lot of life. He was suspended as a sophomore for violating team rules and has had some shoulder issues during his Hurricanes career.
Scout says: "He's got an above-average fastball and breaking ball, a little below-average control. But he's got two well-above-average pitches."
Blair Erickson, UC Irvine
With the exception of a two-start experiment this season, Erickson has been a career college closer. His velocity has dipped a little this year, but he still added 12 saves, 49 strikeouts and a 2.17 ERA in 45 2/3 IP. He's held hitters to a .214 batting average.
Scout says: "I haven't seen him since the beginning of the year, but it hasn't been the kind of spring everyone expected. He didn't take that next step."