Early Draft Projections: 2006 First Round

Last year, Senior Writer Todd Morgan made some bold projections regarding who would go where in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft. He returns again this year to make some early predictions about where the chips might be falling in regards to the first round of the 2006 amateur draft. Find out where he thinks the top high school and college players will go come June in the latest in Scout.com's continuing coverage of the 2006 amateur draft.

The college and prep seasons are underway, which means it's time to start thinking about the 2006 draft class. Last year, I decided to project the first round based not only on player talent, but also on predicted 2006 performance, June draft order and organizational need. I was successful in some places (Jeff Clement to the Mariners at #3 overall and Mike Pelfrey to the Mets at #9) and not so successful in others (Sean O'Sullivan to the Devil Rays at #8 and Stephen Head to the Pirates at #11). For the second consecutive year, I've gone through scouting reports and watched a lot of video to bring you my early edition of the 2006 first round. Somewhere around the halfway point of the college and prep seasons I plan to write an updated first round projection, with a final projection to come in the week preceding the draft.

1. Kansas City Royals - LHP - Andrew Miller, R-L, 6'6, 210, North Carolina

Heading into the 2006 collegiate season, Miller is the consensus number one pick. He has everything going for him: Blazing fastball that sits at 94 mph and can touch the high 90s, and a ridiculous slider that appears to start behind a left-handed hitter's knees before it breaks out over the plate. I've seen a few that actually end up on the outside corner that are still clocked in the mid-80s. That's the definition of ‘nasty'. On top of that Miller has a great pitcher's build (6'6, 210), a smooth wind-up and clean arm action; think Mark Mulder with Randy Johnson's velocity. The one thing he shares with the young RJ that isn't so good is a tendency to miss his spots for stretches in the middle of a start. He still dominates his competition, but he will need to improve his command in the pros. Considering how far along Miller already is in the other facets of his game, it isn't a stretch to imagine him in the Royals rotation on Opening Day 2007. The Royals didn't flinch at Alex Gordon's contract demands last year, so they're not going to pass up a near-ready ace this year.

2. Colorado Rockies - Dellin Betances, RHP, R/R, 6'9, 210, Grand Street HS, Brooklyn, NY

I expect to get more feedback on this pick than any other, but Dellin Betances is the most impressive prep pitcher I've seen so far. He has ridiculous tilt on his fastball thanks to his height; almost every heater crosses the plate at or below the knees unless he buzzes someone. Even more impressive, he repeats his delivery and has good command of three pitches – including a sharp-breaking curve and a promising changeup, which is unusual for a pitcher of his size and experience. Finally, he owns the game when he takes the mound. He is quietly intimidating, both through his size and his stony composure, and I expect him to add velocity in 2006 and have a huge season. The Rockies will look for a pitcher in this spot, but won't feel comfortable with Max Scherzer's representation (rumored to be Scott Boras) or Daniel Bard's Coors Field outlook. Ultimately, I think it's very possible that they'll turn to Betances and his grounder-inducing fastball.

3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays - Max Scherzer, RHP, R/R, 6'2, 200, Missouri

The Rays have the makings of an incredible offense on the verge of cracking the show, which is why they've focused on pitching early in the last two drafts. 2006 will be more of the same as they try to add a third arm to round out a trio including Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel. A lefty would be ideal, but they won't find a lefty worthy of this pick, so they'll go with the best guy on the board. Scherzer's works in the mid-90s with his fastball and has been clocked as high as 99 on several different occasions. His slider is good and could get a lot better, and his command within the strike zone is solid. Scherzer's name is connected with Scott Boras as of early February, so he could fall based on signability. Still, I think Tampa Bay's new ownership will swallow the Boras pill to get Scherzer if they have to, and Scherzer could be ready by late 2007.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates - Drew Stubbs, OF, R/R, 6'4, 200, Texas

Pittsburgh will consider Daniel Bard here, but, in the end, the package Stubbs offers will be too hard to pass up. Stubbs is a five-tool talent who has drawn comparisons to Rocco Baldelli, though with more power. Like Baldelli, Stubbs swings early and often, so he doesn't draw many walks. Ideally the team that drafts him will make plate discipline the focus of his developmental path, because if he doesn't get himself out he's going to make life miserable for a lot of pitchers. Hopefully, Stubbs won't be Chad Hermansen-redux, another five-tool Pirate centerfield prospect with a problem taking walks. Ultimately, I think the extra experience Stubbs gained in college will help him avoid a similar fate.

5. Seattle Mariners - Daniel Bard, RHP, R/R, 6'4, 200, North Carolina

Bard's so-so sophomore season (7-5, 4.22 ERA, 43 BB, 77 K in 89 IP) was mitigated by an impressive summer on the Cape, where he struck out 82 batters in 65 innings and was named the #2 prospect in the league behind fellow Tarheel Miller. As evidenced by his sophomore walk total (43 against 77 K in 90 IP) , Bard's command needs polish. However, his velocity (94-95 mph, touching 98), plus curveball and workhorse build should help him have an excellent 2006 campaign. Seattle has had a long list of injuries on the pitching side of its farm system, so Bard's durability and performance against top college competition will be attractive to them.

6. Detroit Tigers - Evan Longoria, SS, R/R, 6'2, 185, Long Beach State

Evan Longoria enters the 2006 season trying to become the next Long Beach State infielder to be taken in the first round after Bobby Crosby (Athletics, 2001) and Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies, 2005). He came of age last summer when he was named MVP of the Cape Cod League, hitting .299/.331/.500 with eight homers and 35 RBI with wooden bats. He generates tremendous loft with his swing, but doesn't have the polish of his Dirtbag predecessors. Still, his power is special and the Tigers will take him as a third baseman and look forward to seeing him reach Comerica Park's left-field seats on a regular basis.

7. Los Angeles Dodgers - Matt Latos, RHP, R/R, 6'5, 200, Coconut Creek (FL) HS

I'm torn over which prep righthander will be the better prospect come June: Jordan Walden or Matt Latos. My gut says Latos, but right now the consensus is that it will be Walden. And since part of this exercise is to project without the benefit of 2006 performance, I'm going to go with Latos. He hasn't hit 99 on radar guns like Walden, but he has touched 97 and sits in the 92-94 range with excellent movement. His curve is improving and he has good mechanics and athleticism, especially at his size. Reports say that he is still growing, so he may add even more velocity by the time he begins his pro career. It will be interesting to see how new GM Ned Coletti influences the Dodgers' draft, though he'd be crazy to alter Logan White's strategy. Latos fits here if he does what I think he will in 2006.

8. Cincinnati Reds - Brett Anderson, LHP, L/L, 6'4, 215, Stillwater (OK) HS

The Reds are going to be looking for top-tier pitching prospects at number eight, and they'll have a few to choose from with Walden, Anderson and Kyle Drabek still on the board. The lefty will stand out thanks to his big frame, consistent low-90s fastball and his shrewd use of three pitches. Among the 2005 class of AFLAC All-Americans, Anderson was by far the most advanced pitcher, showing an impressive ability to use both sides of the plate and change planes on hitters with his heater, a sharp-breaking curve and a changeup that tumbles late. He reminded me a bit of Barry Zito, but clearly features a bit more velocity. His curve isn't as 12-to-6 as Zito's either, but it induces the same flinch in opposing hitters. I think that he will be the quickest through the minors of any of this draft's prep arms.

9. Baltimore Orioles - Chris Marrero, 3B, R/R, 6'3, 205, Monsignor Pace HS, Opa Locka, FL

Let's play a game. Name the last third baseman the Orioles drafted who became a regular in Baltimore's lineup for consecutive years. Give up? Would you believe it's Cal Ripken, Jr., who was taken in the second round of the 1978 draft? And that really doesn't even count because he wound up at shortstop. Before him you have to go back to 1970 when the Orioles took Doug DeCinces in round three. That's a long 3B drought. This year they may have an answer in Chris Marrero, a gifted athlete with a classic ballplayer's build and the baseball skills to match. On defense, he is quick with good hands and a strong, accurate throwing arm. At the plate he is already a disciplined hitter. He waits for his pitch and isn't afraid of taking a walk. When he gets his pitch he can deposit it anywhere from one foul pole to the other. Before I saw him, I read several reports that compared him to Alex Rodriguez. I never saw A-Rod play as an amateur, but the physical similarities are definitely there. Marrero will be a keeper and a good bet to fill the Orioles' need for a legitimate 3B prospect.

10. San Francisco Giants - Wes Hodges, 3B, R/R, 6'1, 200, Georgia Tech

Brian Sabean must be pretty upset that his team's poor performance locked him into a first round pick in 2006. Not being able to escape the pick via another Michael Tucker free agent signing, the Giants will be forced to look around for a player who will sign quickly for slot money or less. I'm tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt and predict that they will realize how important a smart first round pick is to the future of their franchise. Unfortunately, I just don't think much of their developmental foresight, which makes me think that they'll look for a college reliever here who will give them a quick turnaround on their investment, or a college position player who is safe and projects as an easy sign. Hodges fits the bill as the latter with a compact stroke, good plate discipline and top-flight defensive skills. The concern with Hodges right now is that he hasn't shown much power in his career, and he doesn't have a build that promises development in that area. It's going to be a learned skill if it develops at all, and until he does he projects as a third baseman in the mold of Sean Burroughs or Bill Mueller.

11. Arizona Diamondbacks - RHP - Jordan Walden, R/R, 6'4, 200, Mansfield (TX) HS

Arizona enters 2006 having drafted two advanced pitching prospects (Matt Torra, first round and Micah Owings, third round) in last year's draft and with a dearth of lower-minors hitting prospects. The organization is thin in its pitching ranks there too, and with no premium hitters worthy of the 11th pick, they'll settle on Jordan Walden and his mid- to high-90s fastball, sick curve and durable, workhorse frame. He wowed scouts by touching 99 mph several times last year, though he routinely works in the 90-93 range with an occasional inning where he'll kick it up to 95. His size makes scouts I've talked with certain he'll stabilize in the mid- to high-90s as he matures physically. The curve is nasty at times even if it isn't very consistent, but his body control and easy delivery will help him improve in that area.

12. Texas Rangers - Kyle Drabek, RHP, R/R, 5'11, 175, The Woodlands (TX) HS

The Rangers will be thrilled to see Drabek available here, as he is a Texas kid with a Major League pedigree who was far and away the most impressive all-around player at the AFLAC All-American Classic game. He is an accomplished hitter and shortstop, but his destiny is to follow in his father's footsteps leading up the hill. His fastball is solid in the 92-93 range with an occasional bump to 95, but his curveball is the pitch that gets him noticed. It is a sharp-breaker that never looks loopy even though it is definitely in the 12-to-6 category. When I saw him throw it well (which he does more often than not) I couldn't help but do a double-take because it falls so hard so quickly. In the five or six years I've been following prospects closely, it is the best curve I've seen from a high school pitcher.

13. Chicago Cubs - Brandon Morrow, RHP, R/R, 6'3, 185, California

There are several pitchers in the Cubs pipeline who have the potential to fill big league roster spots, but none without major question marks except for 2005 first rounder Mark Pawelek. Pawelek is still several years away from pushing for a big league job, so the Cubs will likely look for a college pitcher who can move quickly at #13. At the same time, they'll want a bit of upside, which will lead them to Morrow over USC's Ian Kennedy. Morrow's bigger frame, sizzling fastball (96-99 mph) and wicked splitter will be more attractive in that regard. Morrow began the 2006 campaign by striking out 12 in 6 1/3 innings of scoreless ball against U.C. Irvine, which I feel is a prelude to a strong season that will build upon his 2005 success in the Cape Cod League.

14. Toronto Blue Jays - Matt LaPorta, 1B, R/R, 6'1, 215, Florida

The Blue Jays system has a great deal of pitching but little in the way of position players with power potential. LaPorta brings more power to the table than any other 2006 draft prospect. He hit 26 homers in 2005 to lead the nation and should be a monster home run threat throughout his pro career. The concern with players like LaPorta is how much their power is mitigated by their other skills (or lack thereof). In LaPorta's case, things don't look too bad. He was a catcher in high school and plays an adequate third base, though his future is at first base or at a corner outfield position. Reports say that his footwork at first is good, and his strong arm will help him should he convert to the outfield. He struggles to make contact at times, but he also works enough walks to make up for the holes in his swing. Ultimately, his power should play well enough to get him to the big leagues.

15. Washington Nationals - Blair Erickson, RHP, R/R, 6'1, 205, U.C. Irvine

Blair Erickson opens the 2006 season as the nation's top college closer, and Nationals scouting director Dana Brown was quoted by Baseball America as saying the club wanted to take a college starter, a prep starter and a college reliever, in that order, with the team's three first rounders. I'm skeptical that anyone but Erickson will be worthy of a first round pick by the time June rolls around, though it's always possible someone will come out of the woodwork during the season. Erickson, however, is a ‘can't-miss' barring injury, and that will force the Nats to grab him as soon as they can. His stuff gets a lot of swings and misses and hitters rarely center the ball on the bat, resulting in scattered singles but very few extra-base hits. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he complements it with a hard slider that shows promise as a potential out pitch.

16. Milwaukee Brewers - Hank Conger, C, B/R, 6'0, 210, Huntington Beach (CA) HS

Milwaukee's system doesn't have much in the catching department, and Conger offers both potential behind the plate and prodigious power in the batter's box. A switch-hitter, Conger favors the left side but is improving from the right. Most reports state that his defense needs work, though his arm is above average and he has the physical ability to improve. Even if he doesn't improve as a catcher, his power will find him a spot in the lineup. He shows good leadership skills on the field which bodes well for his work ethic and future defensive development.

17. San Diego Padres - Cody Johnson, OF/1B, L/R, 6'4, 200, Mosley HS, Lynn Haven, FL

No prep position player is talked about more than Cody Johnson, the Florida slugger who was named the best player in the nation for 2005. His power potential is on the same level as LaPorta's, though Johnson is more athletic and projects as a better all-around player. As a pitcher, he throws in the low-90s, which, along with above average running skills, makes him a strong candidate to play right field in the future. No matter what he is able to do in the field, his fortunes will be determined by his success at the plate. He takes enough pitches to draw walks and consequently will post a good on-base percentage, but he also strikes out a great deal. The Padres will consider pitching here as well, but their system lacks premium hitting prospects, making Johnson a very good fit.

18. Philadelphia Phillies - Ian Kennedy, RHP, R/R, 6'0, 195, USC

Kennedy was out-dueled by Long Beach State's Jared Hughes in the 2006 season-opener, though he did strike out seven in six innings of work. His lack of size always comes up in discussions with scouts, as do concerns about the workload he has had at USC. He is a classic scouting quandary because his stuff isn't overwhelming (high-80s to low-90s fastball, solid curve with good bite) but his results against good competition are excellent. If his arm holds up all year and he continues to win games and shut down opposing hitters he could go in the top ten. Unfortunately scouts are going to be looking for reasons to discount him, so any perceived weakness will cause him to drop quickly. I expect that the fall will end here and that the Phillies will get a pitcher who can move through their system quickly.

19. Florida Marlins - Jared Mitchell, OF, L/L, 6'1, 195, Westgate HS, New Iberia, LA

Mitchell is one of the players whose 2006 performance will force a Jay Bruce-like rise up draft boards in the coming months. He is an incredible athlete who also displays blue chip baseball instincts. He understands the importance of taking pitches and can hit the occasional homer to go along with bucket-loads of doubles and triples. He's a threat to steal whenever he reaches base and can run down just about anything hit his way in centerfield. I was very impressed with his athleticism but even more impressed with his quick, short swing and approach at the plate. Those latter skills bode well for his baseball future, and the Marlins won't hesitate to call his name come June.

20. Minnesota Twins - Riley Cooper, OF, R/R, 6'3, 200, Clearwater Central (FL) HS

From everything I've seen of Cooper he fits the Twins organization both in his physical assets and the organization's needs. The one sticking point here is that Cooper's status as one of the top football recruits in all of Florida could make him a tough sign for whatever team selects him. The Twins aren't known for laying out much more than slot money for draft picks, so Cooper might not be their pick. Still, I think his five-tool nature fits well with Minnesota's draft strategy and organizational bent. His downside is that he is raw in terms of baseball skills and to date has gotten by on athletic ability alone. The Twins are good at developing raw ability and refining baseball skills, so this seems like a perfect match.

21. New York Yankees - Mike Ambort, C, B/R, 6'1, 215, Lamar

Mike Ambort was a star coming out of South Side High in New York, but chose Lamar University over a pro career after the Expos drafted him in the 44th round in 2003. It turned out to be a good move because after a solid freshman season Ambort turned in a monster 2005 campaign. He set a school record with 18 homeruns to go along with a .414 OBP and a .654 SLG. A switch-hitter, Ambort is a big-time power guy who doesn't show much weakness at the plate. He doesn't strike out much (24 in 217 ABs), sees a lot of pitches and crushes mistakes. Behind the plate, he is an above average defender, and off the field he was an All-Conference Academic, so his makeup is a plus. The Yankee farm system is thin just about everywhere, so a switch-hitting college catcher who also happens to be a native New Yorker makes a lot of sense.

22. Washington Nationals - Kyle McCulloch, RHP, R/R, Texas

Like Kennedy, McCulloch will fall a bit due to circumstances beyond his control; in this case, the order in which teams draft, various organizational draft strategies and his perceived lack of upside. He is the prototypical polished college pitcher; average to above-average stuff (88-91 mph fastball, good changeup and a good curve), solid amateur track record and good experience. He is also close to his ceiling which means he projects as a number three starter at best in the majors. Still, the likelihood that he will reach his ceiling is better than most players who will be taken in the first round this year, so the Nationals will spend a pick on him here and hope his advanced feel for getting hitters out will get him to The District in short order. The Nationals get their college starter, which leaves only a prep starter on Dana Brown's wish list.

23. Houston Astros - Brad Lincoln, RHP, L/R, 6'0, 200, Houston

Brad Lincoln is a productive two-way player for the University of Houston who had a brilliant season in the Cape Cod League last summer, going 3-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 56 strikeouts against only 10 walks in 54 innings as a pitcher; .243/.341/.477 with six homers as a hitter. He returns to Houston in 2006 as their ace on the hill and their top power threat at the plate. His future is on the mound, where he uses a 90-95 mph fastball and a mid-80s power curve that has been compared to the curve thrown by Ben Sheets. Sheets is more consistent in terms of velocity, but otherwise the comparison is a good one since he and Lincoln have similar stuff coming out of six-foot frames. The Astros don't discriminate against undersized pitchers, and Lincoln's hometown status makes this a good match.

24. Atlanta Braves - Devin Shepherd, OF, R/R, 6'4, 220, Oxnard (CA) HS

Devin Shepherd is an impressive physical specimen who reminds me of another Braves draft pick, White Sox outfielder and World Series MVP Jermaine Dye. If anything, Shepherd is already bigger than Dye. On the field Shepherd is fast for his size, though only slightly above average overall, and his arm is just as accurate as Dye's but a tick below in terms of strength. In short, Shepherd should make a fine rightfielder in the professional ranks. But his defensive skill isn't what is going to get him drafted. That distinction belongs to his bat, which is powerful if not quite on the level of Johnson. He was named MVP of the AFLAC Classic after going 2 for 3 with two singles, two walks, one RBI and two runs scored. He's disciplined at the plate for a prep hitter, gets raves for his makeup and has good baseball instincts. I expect a fine 2006 that will propel him into the first round.

25. Los Angeles Angels - Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, R/R, 6'0, 174, Halifax County HS, South Boston, VA

The downside to Jeremy Jeffress's stuff is that his fastball ranges anywhere from 88 up to 96 mph. The upside is that his fastball can sit at 96 mph for long stretches. If Jeffress can find a way to maintain that velocity throughout his starts, he's going to make some team very happy. If he can't, he still could be a marvelous late-inning reliever. As a starter he draws comparisons to Dwight Gooden and Tom Gordon due to his size, windup and velocity. His slider needs work but can be nasty at times, and his energetic demeanor is a breath of fresh air. With a farm system full of talent, the Angels can afford to take a chance on a player with Jeffress's upside.

26. Washington Nationals - Chris Tillman, RHP, R/R, 6'7, 185, Fountain Valley (FL) HS

Chris Tillman is a lanky righthander who reminds me of Mike Pelfrey on the mound. His mechanics are smooth and he throws in the 90-93 mph range with little visible effort. It isn't hard to envision him adding velocity as he adds bulk to his frame. In addition to the fastball, the Fountain Valley High product also sports a very strong curve of the 12-to-6 variety that looks loopy but gets a lot of flinches from opposing batters. With a strong 2006 and increased velocity Tillman is someone who could wind up in the top half of the draft. I don't see the velocity increase coming right away, so I see him going somewhere in the bottom third to a team looking for a projectable high schooler. Dana Brown and company complete their wish list and Tillman starts his pro career with the Washington organization. Then again, I've never heard a scouting director telegraph a team's intentions so blatantly before, so I may have just blown three predictions on a clever, pre-draft ruse.

27. Boston Red Sox - Matt Antonelli, 3B, R/R, 6'0, 200, Wake Forest

Matt Antonelli is a good fit for the Red Sox, who just traded away a great 3B prospect in Andy Marte and can use a player with polish. Furthermore, Antonelli displays excellent plate discipline and top-notch athletic ability. His homerun power is still developing, but he does have the ability to pile up impressive doubles totals right now and post a high average and OBP thanks to a compact swing and advanced approach. On defense he is more than solid. I've read several scouting reports that say he could play centerfield if necessary, and his footwork and lateral quickness at third base are very good.

28. Boston Red Sox - Jared Hughes, RHP, R/R, 6'7, 235, Long Beach State

The Sox follow up their Antonelli pick by taking another collegiate standout. Coming out of high school in 2003, Jared Hughes was a power pitcher with first round talent who consistently threw in the mid-90s. He didn't get the signing bonus he was after and wound up heading to college rather than signing with Tampa Bay after they took him in the 16th round. Since transferring to Long Beach from Santa Clara Hughes has learned to pitch. He now works in the low-90s with good sink on his fastball, changes speeds and uses all four corners of the strike zone to put hitters away. His height allows him to throw down at hitters and he's adept at keeping the ball around the knees when necessary. At the same time, he is effectively wild, hitting 19 batters but walking only 23 against 87 strikeouts in 89 innings last season. Six-foot seven and willing to come inside? That's pretty intimidating. He probably doesn't have a lot of room to improve, but he should make quick work of the minors on his way to a big league rotation spot.

29. Chicago White Sox - Max Sapp, C, L/R, 6'1, 225, Bishop Moore HS, Orlando, FL

Aside from having a great baseball name, Max Sapp also has tape measure power from the left side of the plate. While he throws well and has a reputation for being good with pitchers, his athleticism is a concern for some scouts. From what I've seen he has what it takes to remain behind the plate as a pro, but whether he will or not remains to be seen. Even if he has to move to first base, his lefty power and on-base skills should play well there. Chicago doesn't have a lot of catching depth in its system, so Sapp will be a perfect addition.

30. St. Louis Cardinals - Dallas Buck, RHP, R/R, 6'3, 210, Oregon State

The Cardinals need to improve their farm system in all areas, and Dallas Buck's super-sinker and plus slider, arguably the draft's best, will give them an advanced pitching prospect with upside who could find his way to the big leagues quickly. Buck doesn't light up radar guns but he does get outs and prevents big innings by keeping the ball on the ground. Last summer in the Cape Cod League he posted a 3.86 ERA, 38/7 K/BB and .205 OAA in 33 innings. He did have trouble with composure during last year's College World Series so there are concerns about his ability to keep his cool in pressure situations, but the Cards will call his name and hope he can learn to shake off mistakes and maintain focus in the middle of games.

Thoughts or questions about Todd's projections? Email him at toddybaseball@comcast.net.

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