2009 MLB Draft: Names To Follow, P. 1

With college and high school baseball seasons starting up again, it is a good time to start thinking about the 2009 June amateur draft. In each article, we will profile 10 players to watch for the first round in this year's draft. Our first profile begins with the man who is considered the consensus number one pick right now: San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg.

As a reminder, the Oakland A's are slotted to pick 13th in this year's draft. They also had the 13th selection in the 2008 draft. Note that these names appear in no particular order and aren't rankings. (The A's are actually the 12th team to select, but the Washington Nationals have an extra pick after pick nine because of their failure to sign Aaron Crowe out of last year's draft.)

Stephen Strasburg: Right now, Strasburg is the consensus choice for number one pick in the 2009 draft. The San Diego State right-hander received national attention when he was the only college player selected to participate on Team USA's Olympic squad. The hype only increased surrounding Strasburg when he showed himself to be the best pitcher on the Stars-and-Stripes staff.

Strasburg has a starter's build at 6'5'', 220 and a clean delivery. He has a hard fastball that sits in the upper-90s and has been clocked in the triple digits on occasion. He also has a good slider. Given his experience in Beijing last summer, Strasburg could move quickly once he signs. Look for him to be on a similar timetable to the one that 2007 top pick David Price was on with Tampa Bay.

Barring an injury or a catastrophically poor 2009 season for the Aztecs, it would be a shock to see the Nationals announce any other name with the first pick in June. Bonus for Washington – they actually have two picks in the first 10 slots in this year's draft thanks to their failure to sign 2008 first-round pick Aaron Crowe. This could be a franchise-changing draft for the Nats.

Donovan Tate: Strasburg is the top collegiate player on the board (and the draft's best prospect at this moment), and Tate is arguably the top high school prospect at the moment. The Georgia outfielder is in a similar position that 2008 A's draft pick Rashun Dixon was in during last year's draft. Like Dixon, Tate is a two-sport star, excelling at both baseball and football. Tate's father played in the NFL and Tate currently rates as one of the top high school recruits at the safety position. He is reportedly courting scholarship offers from a number of top Division I football and baseball programs, including the University of Southern California.

Tate is a similar prospect to Dixon, although Tate is more polished than Dixon was at this time last year. Tate is a plus athlete with great speed and the strength to hit for power. He has the range to play centerfield, although he already stands at 6'3'', 200 pounds, so he could be in danger of growing out of the position as he gets older.

Tate should go early in the draft, but he could slide on draft day if teams fear he will be difficult to sign because of the football scholarship offers. He has expressed a preference for baseball over football in the past, however. One benefit: teams can offer Tate a bigger bonus without going "over slot" because he is a two-sport athlete.

Tyler Matzek: Matzek is one of the top high school pitchers on the board. The California native (Capistrano Valley High School – Mission Viejo) was on most scouts' radars early in his high school career. The lefty has four pitches already in his arsenal: a low-90s fastball, a slider, a curveball and a change-up. He features a clean, conventional over-the-top delivery. At 6'3'', 190, Matzek has a starter's build.

Matzek is an excellent athlete and a good hitter, although his future is almost certainly on the mound. He is thought to prefer turning professional over going to college, so he should be a relatively safe bet to sign despite being a high school selection.

Aaron Crow: Crow seemed like a safe bet to sign last year before the draft, but, somewhat shockingly, he and the Washington Nationals were unable to come to terms. The Missouri right-hander is repped by Hendricks Sports Management. Although the negotiations with the Nationals were contentious, teams aren't expected to shy away from taking Crow, perhaps with an even higher pick than he was taken at in 2008 (he was selected ninth). He is currently signed to pitch for the Fort-Worth Cats in the independent American Association, a career route identical to the one taken by Luke Hochevar, who went unsigned in 2005 only to become the top pick in the draft in 2006. Crow is hoping for similar results.

Crow has a similar pitching repertoire to his former Missouri teammate, Max Scherzer, who debuted with the Arizona Diamondbacks last season. Like Scherzer, Crow has a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider. Crow also features a change-up. Because he is a draft re-entry, Crow will be one of the oldest players selected in the first round. He is already 22 years old. However, he is a polished pitcher, so he should move quickly through the minor leagues. His delivery is mostly clean, although he has have a wrist-turn before he brings his arm to the release slot that could put a strain on his shoulder or elbow. That being said, he has a clean health track record. In a year without Strasburg (and without the Nats picking number one), Crow could be a candidate to go first overall, but given those two factors, it is more likely that he goes in picks two through five.

Grant Green: Green's stock as a prospect rose considerably this summer when he tore up the prestigious Cape Cod League. The USC shortstop hit .348 with six homers, 21 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 161 at-bats at the Cape this past summer. That followed a sophomore campaign that saw him hit .390 with a 1082 OPS and 10 stolen bases in 50 games for the Trojans.

Green is a shortstop in the Bobby Crosby-mold in that he is long and lanky at 6'3'', 195 pounds. He is a good athlete who moves side-to-side well and he has a strong arm. Some scouts feel that when he fills out his frame completely, he may be too big to play shortstop. As a shortstop, he should have a plus-bat for his position, both in terms of hitting for average and for power. He should also have the speed to steal double-digit totals in bases, as well. Teams don't often select players in the draft based on organizational need, but of the top 10 teams picking in the 2009, all but the Braves and the Rockies have glaring holes at shortstop, so he doesn't figure to get past pick 10, and maybe not past pick three.

Matthew Purke: If Matzek isn't the top high school pitcher on the board right now, then Purke is the man with that honor. The Texas left-hander has excelled at the national all-star showcases. He is 6'3'' and utilizes a lower release slot that creates deception. His fastball has been clocked as high as 95 MPH and he comfortably throws it in the low-90s. He also has an above-average slider and a change-up.

Purke has received high marks from scouts for his competitive nature and his ability to pitch in pressure situations. He has a commitment to Texas Christian University, but it is believed that if he is selected in the first half of the first round, he is going to sign.

Kentrail Davis: Davis is a draft-eligible sophomore, which gives him a little more leverage than most college draft picks in negotiations. The Tennessee centerfielder has a similar skill-set to that of Donovan Tate. He is much smaller than Tate (he only stands at 5'9''), but he is very muscular and has good power for a player of his size. He also has plus speed. Davis is patient at the plate and found his way on base more than 43 percent of the time for Tennessee in 2008.

Davis is reportedly tied to Scott Boras, so that combined with his draft-sophomore eligibility status could make him a hard sign. He has had some injury problems during his young career. Davis missed a month of his senior season in high school after being in a serious car accident that resulted in whiplash. He also saw his season with the Team USA summer squad cut short this past summer by a wrist injury. Davis has drawn comparisons to Kirby Puckett in terms of his build and his combination of speed and power. He has the speed to stay in center, but Davis has a ways to go in polishing his routes.

Alex White: White is right-handed starter out of the University of North Carolina. He has excelled with the Tar Heels at a young age, starting 18 games in 2007 as an 18-year-old and starting 15 games (while appearing in 20) for UNC at age 19. He posted a 2.83 ERA in 2008 in 101.2 innings with 113 strike-outs and 42 walks.
Trevor Cahill (although instead of a knuckle-curve, White features a split-finger fastball) and former A's number one starter Dan Haren. Like Cahill and Haren, White's sinker is his best pitch. He keeps it in the low-90s and has a heavy bite to it. White also features a slider and a change-up. He stands at 6'3'' (that seems to be a common height among pitchers in this draft) and he uses a clean delivery. White isn't likely to fall to the A's at pick 12, but if he is still on the board, it is hard to imagine the team not choosing him.

Dustin Ackley: Ackley is White's teammate at UNC. A left-handed hitter, Ackley is one of the most accomplished college hitters on the draft board. He has had an OPS above 1000 in each of his two collegiate seasons and in 2008, Ackley walked 53 times while striking out only 27 times. He has a career batting average that is better than .400.

Ackley runs well and could be a double-digit stolen base threat in the pros. He isn't likely to ever lead the league in homeruns, but he has enough power that he projects to hit 20 or more homeruns a season. Ackley had Tommy John surgery on his right (throwing) elbow in July and that makes it likely that he will move from being an outfielder to a first-baseman, which does affect his value as a player some. Over time, he may recover enough arm strength to return to the outfield. Like Green, Ackley has shown well with a wooden bat at the Cape Cod League, hitting .415 with a 1293 OPS in 12 games before being shut-down with the elbow problem this past summer. Where he falls in the first round will have a lot to do with how well teams believe he has recovered from that elbow problem come June.

D. J. LeMahieu: If Green is the first shortstop off of the board, LeMahieu might very well be the second one to go. The LSU draft-eligible sophomore also had a strong summer at the Cape Cod League, where he was his team's MVP and he hit .290 with six extra-base hits and 13 RBIs in 28 games. In 2008, he hit .337 with an 843 OPS and 10 stolen bases in 68 games for the Tigers.

LeMahieu has received good marks for his glove at short and it is believed that he will be able to stick at the position. He figures to have an above-average bat for a shortstop. Like Green, LeMahieu has a tall (6'4'') and lanky build. He has good speed for a big man and good baseball instincts. LeMahieu was thought of as a lower-half of the first round or second-round pick before the Cape Cod League, but he has been slowly moving up the draft charts since this summer. A strong season for LSU could push him into the top-15.

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