2004 MLB Amateur Draft Preview: Part 1

Well, it's that time of year again. We are a short time away from the annual First Year Player Draft. Unlike most years, there is not a crop of players that are clearly the top choices available. Many are saying this is one of the weakest overall drafts in years, and could be dominated by college pitchers in the early rounds. As we take a tour through some of the top prospects in the draft, keep in mind that with the balance and mediocrity of this draft class, anything can happen.

Considered by many to be a lock for the #1 pick by the Padres, Long Beach State's Jared Weaver, has put together a stellar 2004 campaign. The younger brother of Dodgers starter Jeff Weaver, the similarities in pitching style are uncanny. Armed with a low 90s fastball, pinpoint control, and above average offspeed pitches, Weaver has the tools to move quickly through any organization. Many scouts and analysts believe Jared has a much better understanding of how to pitch, and is also much more mature than his brother. The 6-foot-7, 205 pound right-hander is now 14-0 with a 1.25 ERA. In his 122 innings, Weaver has allowed only 63 hits and 14 walks, while striking out a whopping 182 batters. Padres general manager Kevin Towers saw Weaver up close as LBSU played in the brand new Petco Park earlier this season. Towers walked away more than impressed, and left no question that Weaver was sitting atop their draft board.

Weaver laughs off the competition, but does he worry about going first overall?

"Not really, whatever happens, happens," Weaver explained.

The trio of outstanding starting pitchers that helped propel Rice to the National Championship last season, are also rated very highly entering the draft. Jeff Neimann, Wade Townsend, and Phil Humber are all big right-handers who throw hard, and have a high ceiling.

Neimann was the Preseason National Player of the Year for 2004, but injuries have held him back significantly. During the offseason, Neimann underwent minor elbow surgery to "clean up" the joint, and since has been derailed by a strained groin throughout the season. Having only thrown 59 innings this spring, with comparatively moderate success, Neimann is falling on many draft boards. If he falls too far, the opportunity is there to return for his senior season at Rice.

Townsend and Humber have combined to lead Rice on the mound this season. Both have thrown nearly 100 innings, and posted ERAs below 2.00. With solid strikeout to walk ratios, both pitchers have positioned themselves to be taken early in the first round. Despite having a higher overall ceiling, Townsend is also considered a bigger risk than Humber. Many reports indicate that Townsend's fiercely competitive nature lend to his inability to control his emotions on the mound, often effecting his performance. If Townsend can prove that he has matured and can remain in control on the mound, he should be in for an outstanding professional career.

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