Pitt Baseball Draft Preview

For six consecutive years and eight of the last nine the University of Pittsburgh has had a player selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Pantherdigest.com takes a closer look at this years prospects with analysis from Baseball America writer Aaron Fitt.

"I think it has a lot to do with the outstanding coaching staff that believes in what they are doing," head coach Joe Jordano explained. "It's an environment that if [our players] follow the plan it allows them to maximize their talents and the result is enabling to play at the next level."

So despite the Pittsburgh Panthers' 19-34 record, many of Jordano's players are considered prospects to play professional baseball this summer.

This year's draft will take place from June 5-6. While the following players are likely second day picks if selected, don't be surprised to see one or more of the following players in a pro league soon.

SEAN CONLEY- Outfield- Bats Left Throws Right- 5-11/205. DOB: 6/26/1986.

Conley, a Blackhawk graduate, has been a four-year starter for the Panthers. His power has markedly improved, going from a punch-and-judy hitter with no home runs as a freshman to leading Pitt with 11 home runs and a .540 slugging percentage as a senior.

"He's had a gradual power increase because he's grown into his body," said Jordano. "[I think he has a chance to be drafted] because he's had so much consistent success."

Aaron Fitt, a writer for Baseball America who may be the baseball draft's equivalent of Mel Kiper Jr., also thinks Conley could be looked at as a prospect.

"Conley gets a little interest," Fitt says. "His name has come up with scouts. He's a guy who can help your minor league system somewhat."

Conley, often a leadoff hitter, stole 31 bases and accumulated 20 assists during his Pitt career, normally playing left field.

He hit .317 with 48 runs batted in as a senior and posted a .382 on base percentage.

DAN WILLIAMS- Second Base- Bats Right Throws Right- 6-2/210, DOB: 4/24/1986

Williams improved markedly during his four years at Pitt. Like Conley, Williams also has been a four-year starter for Pitt, but during his freshman season he struggled mightily with a .212 batting average and .860 fielding percentage at third base.

But this past year Williams was slotted fourth in Pitt's batting order and did not disappoint, batting .275 with 6 home runs and 30 RBIs after batting .301 with similar power numbers as a junior.

"He showcases very well," Jordano said, referring to the fall workouts Pitt had for major league scouts. "He has a good arm, hands, and power; the tools scouts like.

"His hard work built confidence. He worked extremely hard in the weight room. His work ethic was impeccable; taking ground balls, working on his swing."

Shortening a player's swing is perhaps the toughest thing for a player to correct according to Jordano.

"It takes thousands of swings."

Williams also had a .961 fielding percentage playing second base as a senior.

"He was a little uncomfortable at third base but when we moved him to second he did a nice job," Jordano said.

Fitt looks at Williams as a player who could "fill out a roster, especially on a short season team."

This is where playing at Pitt, or being a native of the Eastern Pennsylvania town of Berwyn, might help Williams, as big league franchises tend to be receptive to choosing local players.

NICK MULLINS- Catcher- Bats Right Throws Right- 5-10/205, DOB 11/03/1985

It may seem odd a player who hit .224 as a junior and .276 as a senior with 5 home runs during his entire Pitt career would be considered a major league prospect.

Except his catch-to-throw time to second base consistently has been timed at 1.93 to 2.0 seconds.

"Just because of the scarcity of the position, senior catchers will get a look," Fitt said. "Obviously it would be very late, but there's always room for a guy with good catch-throw times."

ROB BRANT- Pitcher- Bats Left Throws Left- 5-10/180, DOB 10/14/1985

As a freshman Brant established himself as the No. 2 starter in the Pitt rotation, behind only current Chicago Cubs prospect Billy Muldowney, as he went 7-2 with a 2.07 ERA for the 2005 Big East Tournament runners-up.

Unfortunately since then Brant's statistics have gone into decline. He was just 1-6 with a 5.94 ERA in 2008, though with a 70-69 2/3 hits-to-innings pitched ratio and 68 strikeouts there is an implication he could improve.

And the potential to improve is what every scout looks for.

"It's been surprising to all of us," Jordano said of Brant's decline. "He's had tough breaks.

"He's struggled with command," the coach continued. "But he pitches 87-89 miles per hour and can even hit 90."

Brant also has a strong breaking ball, so he may yet wind up on a professional roster.

"He's not a great pro prospect because of his size," Fitt said, though he added "Brant will get a look somewhere."

One side note for baseball fans to consider is according to the late former New York Yankees executive George Bradley, the Yankees were forbidden by George Steinbrenner from signing pitchers who stood less than 6 feet tall.

Should Brant, a Mansfield native, sign with the Yankees, it would provide a further indication of the changing of the guard at the top of the New York franchise.

RICKY BREYMIER- Pitcher- Bats Right Throws Right- 6-1, 215, DOB 8/9/1986

Breymier was the only underclassman named by Jordano as a potential draft prospect. The junior posted poor statistics in 2008, 2-2, 7.20 ERA, 35-25 hits-to-innings pitched ratio with 18 walks and 17 strikeouts.

But Jordano thinks scouts will look at his arm.

"He's a hard thrower, anywhere from 92-94 miles per hour. He struggled with control and throws the ball a bit straight, but does he have an arm people should look at? Absolutely!

"When he stayed with a breaking pitch it broke well and his fastball was sharp."

Fitt, however, believes most scouts will say he needs another year of amateur seasoning.

"His name didn't come up with scouts. He had some control issues."

JORDAN HERR- Ooutfield- Bats Right Throws Right- 6-1, 190, DOB 6/16/1986

Jordano did not mention Herr, but he was selected in the 41st round by the Cubs in 2007.

Still, most underclassmen are drafted after their junior season, and Herr just completed his redshirt sophomore season with a .274 average, 5 home runs, and 32 RBIs despite an alarming propensity to strike out (57 in 168 at bats).

"He didn't have a great season," Fitt said. "Nobody expects to buy him out at Pitt just because of his stats."

NOTES- College baseball, once dominated by southern universities, has become less of a regional sport in recent years.

"The Big Ten and Big East are considered sleeping giants for baseball," Fitt said. "The Big Ten used their influence to push for a later starting date for schedules."

Gone are the days when Florida schools would begin their schedules in January (remember the College Baseball Game of the Week on ESPN in the 1980s?), allowing them to schedule games primarily on the weekend and utilize a short pitching staff.

"There is a uniform schedule start of February 22," Fitt said. "The schedule is to be completed in 13 weeks for everyone.

"More teams have put money into their programs. Cincinnati and Penn State put lots of money into their programs, and Louisville's run to the College World Series last year indicated you can be a Big East team and be highly successful."

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