In the first preview, players such as potential top pick Jared Weaver and a trio of top pitchers from Rice were featured. However, they are not the only college prospects that appear on top of team's draft boards.
Two other college pitchers that project to be taken early, albeit for very different reasons, are Justin Verlander of Old Dominion, and Huston Street of Texas. While Verlander combines raw power and enormous potential, Street relies on deception, movement, and polish. Verlander is the prototypical power pitcher; he throws hard, and often struggles with his control. Justin features a mid to upper 90s fastball, a power curve, and a change-up that is slowly developing. He has struck out 135 batters in only 92 innings, but concerns abound about the level of competition he has faced at the collegiate level. Despite the lack of polish and control, Verlander has been projected by many to be taken by the Tigers with the second overall choice. No matter where he goes in the draft, Justin will have to work very hard to realize his potential and be successful in the major leagues. On the contrary, Huston Street is nearly ready to step into the big leagues right now. Having served as Texas' closer, Street has faced many high-pressure situations throughout his collegiate career, including becoming the only player to save four games in one College World Series Tournament. With outstanding numbers in 21 appearances this season (35 IP, 1.53 ERA, 9 BB, 35 Ks), combined with his apparent major league readiness, Street is climbing draft boards quickly. It's possible that those teams looking for some immediate bullpen help could take Street in the upper reaches of the first round. As it appears now, Street could follow the lead of last year's first round reliever selections, David Aardsma, Chad Cordero, and Ryan Wagner, seeing time in a major league bullpen this season.
One of the few college position players to make his way up draft boards this spring, Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew has put early season injuries behind him to put up spectacular numbers heading into the postseason. The younger brother of current major leaguers JD Drew (Braves) and Tim Drew (Expos), Stephen has some lofty footsteps to follow. Another Pre-season All American, when healthy, Drew has warranted such accolades. In 157 at-bats this spring, Drew is hitting .338 with 12 HR, 38 RBI, and 38 walks. Not known for his speed, Drew is still an outstanding base stealer. Coming into the 2004 season Drew was the most successful steal artist in FSU history, having only been caught 5 times in 51 attempts. With a strong performance over the next several weeks, Drew could solidify his spot in the draft's top 5.
The top three high school prospects in the draft are shortstop Chris Nelson, and pitchers Homer Bailey and Nick Adenhardt. Adenhardt is falling rapidly after leaving his most recent start in the first inning due to pain in his pitching arm. Even if an MRI shows no damage, this one instance of pain could be enough to scare away many teams. With the current free-fall of Adenhardt, Homer Bailey has stepped right in as the top prep prospect. Bailey has posted absolutely sickening numbers so far in 2004. In 59 innings, Bailey is 10-0 with a 0.24 ERA, 7 walks, and 138 strikeouts. Despite a commitment to the University of Texas, Bailey is likely to sign with a team that takes him in the first round. Combined with his low to mid-90s fastball, Bailey sports an outstanding curveball that is very advanced for his age. Chris Nelson is another player who is quickly climbing draft boards; with some teams feeling Nelson could go in the top 5. After offseason Tommy-John Surgery, Nelson has come back strong this season, re-establishing himself as one of the top high school players in the nation. Despite his pitching prowess and ability to throw as hard as 97 miles per hour, Nelson is thought of as a shortstop with enormous potential. Although he lacks the overall power potential of the Devil Rays BJ Upton, some feel his bat is more advanced at this stage than Upton's was at a similar time. Like many high school position players, Nelson is a little rough on defense, but experience and coaching throughout the minor leagues should provide the appropriate polish to his game.
While many consider Weaver and Verlander to be a lock for the first two spots in the draft, there are still many players making a final push to improve their draft position. With a talent base that is widely consistent throughout the first round, this could prove to be one of the most unpredictable drafts in recent memory. So let's buckle up, enjoy the ride, and hope the Tigers can add some much needed talent to the minor league system.