Casey at the Plate

If experts are correct the next Tennessee football player to be taken in the first round of the draft is quarterback signee Casey Kelly of Sarasota, Fla., who projects as a middle of the first round choice in Thursday's Major League Baseball Draft.

One service has him going to the Chicago Cubs at No. 19, another projects him to Milwaukee at No. 16. St. Louis has been mentioned as a possible destination at No. 13, as has Los Angeles at No. 15 and Toronto at No. 17.

Most teams are interested in him as a position player, but others like him as a pitcher. Either way he's a virtual certainty to be selected in the first round. He's regarded as a four-tool talent with a plus arm, speed, glove and hitting for percentage. He doesn't hit for a lot of power at this point but he generates excellent bat speed with a sweet swing and could develop a lot of pop, particularly for a shortstop.

He could also grow into a third baseman or maybe even an outfielder. As a pitcher he has already has a Major League average fast ball, a plus late-breaking curve and good command of the strike zone. He dominated the best high school batters the Sunshine State had to offer in a senior season in which he recorded a 1.06 ERA and anchored the middle infield on Sarasota's state title team.

ESPN Insider offers the following appraisal of the two-sport star who could be the second or third shortstop selected on Thursday during a Draft held at The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex from 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

SUMMARY: "Kelly is among the best athletes in the draft, a potential first-round pick as a pitcher and a definite one as a position player. He has a deep load, almost barring out front, but has good bat speed and his swing looks almost effortless, which is true of a lot of what Kelly does on the field. He doesn't show much power at present, but that should come into more as he fills out. Aside from hard stuff in on his hands, Kelly has good plate coverage. At shortstop, he has very soft hands, a plus arm and makes the transfer from glove to hand extremely easily; he could outgrow the position, but otherwise has the ability to stay there and be an above-average defender. On the mound, he sports an average fast ball in the 89-92 mph range, a plus curve ball with tight rotation and a sharp downward break, and above-average command and control; there are teams that prefer him on the mound, although most still see him as a hitter."

After Casey is taken, he'll either negotiate a deal or go to Tennessee and not be eligible for the Draft again until the completion of his junior season in 2011. It makes sense he'll probably sign and begin playing minor league baseball at the instructional league level. He has more leverage now and won't likely improve his status significantly in three years when he's already a first rounder who can command a nice bonus. He also runs the risk of injury by not signing now, especially playing two sports and possibly three positions. His father has a long history as a Major League assistant and bench coach so Casey will get good guidance.

"I do have an opportunity in June to get drafted," Kelly told IT in an April interview. "You just don't know. Some say you'll go in the first round, just like Matt Holiday, he signed to go to Oklahoma State and he was supposed to be a first rounder and he didn't get picked until the fifth round. There's a lot of scenarios we've been going over. You don't know really until that day. That's why I'm focusing on picking the college I want to go to for four years, and play football, play baseball and if everything works out it works out. Definitely getting a degree is very important. My focus has been on picking a college that fits me best."

Kelly can probably get his college paid for by the team that drafts him and going to school around playing minor league baseball couldn't be any harder than going to school and playing two sports especially when you have a few milion in the bank.

That's why Casey Kelly will likely be gone before he ever arrives on campus, and Tennessee will be all the more motivated to get a commitment from Josh Nunes.

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