The University of North Carolina is used to having scouts visit the campus during the spring, although most usually head inside the Dean Smith Center to watch the Tar Heels play basketball.
That will change next spring, as everyone from area scouts to general managers will be in to see two of the top pitchers in the country in left-hander Andrew Miller and right-hander Daniel Bard.
Miller has been the top prospect in the Cape Cod League for the last two years and is the early favorite to go as the top pick to Kansas City. As a prep player in Florida, he was a candidate to go to the Tigers as the third pick in the draft back in 2003, but he struggled late in the season and when he didn't back down from his bonus demands, he fell to Tampa Bay in the third round.
At 6-foot-6 and 195 pounds, he offers projection and overpowering stuff, reaching 96 with his fastball and a power slider. He needs to refine his command and mound presence, but with two plus pitches, he shouldn't need much time in the minors.
Like his teammate Miller, Bard had first-round stuff as a prep hurler, but he needed a lot of refinement and his price tag was deemed too steep by clubs, so he fell to the 20th round to the Yankees. Bard also has overpowering stuff, sitting in the 93-95 range with his fastball with a good slider. He also has a great pitcher's frame at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds.
How good of a prospect is Max Scherzer of Missouri? Well, according to his coach Tim Jamieson, "He is the best prospect I have seen since the inception of the Big 12." Very high praise indeed, but Scherzer has the tools to back it up. He may have the best power arm of anyone in the draft and has a solid frame at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. He loves to compete and has the desire and work ethic to continue improving. He holds his velocity deep into games, hitting 99 on his final pitch of the sixth inning in a start for Team USA this summer. His slider is also a plus pitch and he has a feel for a straight changeup, but he will need to be more consistent with it to stay as a starter. As a sophomore, his numbers were unbelievable. He allowed just 59 hits in 106 1/3 innings, while fanning 131. Like the others above him, Scherzer was a tough sign and slid to the 43rd round where the Cardinals couldn't sign him away from Missouri.
Drew Stubbs, a center fielder at Texas, could be the first position player to go off the board next June. He is a five-tool player, who has an explosive speed/power combination with a strong arm. Stubbs has drawn comparisons to Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli, but he projects to have more power. Stubbs was considered very raw because he didn't face quality pitching while playing at a small school as a prep star, but the Astros drafted him in the third round and would've signed him had MLB not talked ownership out of giving Stubbs a much bigger bonus than most third-round picks receive.
Dallas Buck was a big reason why Oregon State reached the College World Series for the first time since 1952. He generates a lot of sink on his 87-92 fastball and has a solid slider, which has drawn a few Derek Lowe comparisons and some scouts think he may be better suited to the bullpen. He was originally set to play football at Oregon State as well, but is now focusing solely on pitching. However, he is very aggressive on the mound and isn't afraid to pitch inside as evidenced by the 32 batters he hit as a sophomore. Buck was drafted by the Pirates in the 19th round in 2003, but should be a first-rounder either as a starter, or a reliever next summer.
Ian Kennedy of USC may be the fastest player to reach the majors from the '06 draft crop. Kennedy may not have the sheer arm strength, or the projectable frame as the other pitchers mentioned, but his command of four solid average pitches allows him to dominate and be efficient. Kennedy has spent the last two summers pitching for Team USA and this past summer, he tied for the team lead in wins and was a captain. Kennedy allowed only 85 hits in 117 innings and struck out 158 as a sophomore. The only potential drawback on Kennedy is his association with Scott Boras, who advised him as a prep star and is expected to do so again next year. Kennedy is certainly good enough to be one of the first 10 players taken, but with many teams wary of Boras, he may be a player that slides.
A name that shot up the draft charts this summer was Evan Longoria of Long Beach State. The Cape Cod League MVP slammed eight homers and had a slugging percentage of .500. He has an effortless swing, which led to a .299 average on the Cape and a .320 average as a sophomore. Longoria is expected to move to third base for the Dirtbags next year, and scouts feel he has the arm and the hands to stay there, or move to second base, where he would have a premium bat for the position.
Some other names to watch for next year are first baseman Matt LaPorta of Florida, who led the nation in homers last year with 26, and Mark Hamilton of Tulane, also a first baseman, who also provides big power potential.
Wes Hodges of Georgia Tech and Matt Antonelli of Wake Forest are third basemen who should be premium picks. Brendan Morrow of California brings high-90's heat with a vicious splitter and Greg Reynolds of Stanford reaches the mid-90's with a hard curveball.
Besides Stubbs, the defending national champs could have several premium players in pitchers Kyle McCullough, Randy Boone, and Adrian Alaniz, who is eligible as a sophomore.
The national runners-up, the Florida Gators, could also have several premium picks after LaPorta. Catcher Brian Jeroloman, second baseman Adam Davis, and third baseman Brandon MacArthur (sophomore eligible) all could go in the early rounds.
Kyle Drabek has been considered the top prep player in his class for quite some time now, and he would've been the first prep pitcher drafted this past June had he been eligible. Drabek has a fastball that routinely hits 95-96 and his curveball is an absolute hammer that elicits many swings and misses. His changeup should give him a third solid pitch. He has good bloodlines, as his father is former NL Cy Young award winner Doug Drabek, so he has an understanding of what professional baseball is like. Drabek should be among the first five players selected, unless his bonus demands are deemed excessive, or he decides that college is best for him presently, although he is more than ready for the pro ranks. If he does sign, he could be the rare prep pitcher that moves quickly because of his dominant repertoire and polish.
Matt Latos is another right-hander who offers a power arsenal. The Florida native can reach 96 with his fastball and his curveball has sharp bite. He will need to work on his changeup and he needs to command his curve better so hitters just don't sit on his fastball. He has a projectable frame, so he could throw harder in time. He has drawn comparisons to A.J. Burnett, but he ranks behind Drabek because his stuff is a notch down from his and he doesn't offer the polish Drabek has. Latos could go in the first 10 picks, his performance and signability will be big factors for him.
Chris Marrero is the top prep infield position prospect available. Another member of what is a loaded class of Florida players available next year (college & HS), Marrero is a third baseman and only his speed keeps him from being a five-tool player, but his bat separates him from the rest of the class. He struggled in the AFLAC Classic with three errors at third base, but his arm and footwork will get better with more repetitions. Marrero's polished and powerful bat will be very enticing for teams picking at the top of the draft.
Kasey Kiker is one of the top lefties in the draft. Even though he lacks size (5-foot-11), his stuff is outstanding. He tops out at 94 with his fastball and his curve and change are also plus pitches. He locates all three well for strikes and has plenty of polish. A member of the Russell County (Ala.) team that went undefeated this past spring, he got plenty of exposure, as scouts came in to see first-round pick Colby Rasmus, who went to St. Louis.
Kiker's teammate, Cory Rasmus (Colby's brother), is also a first-round candidate as a two-way player. As a right-handed pitcher, he profiles similarly to Jeremy Bonderman. He also could be drafted as a third baseman.
Cody Johnson is a true five-tool performer, who won the Jackie Robinson Award at the AFLAC Classic in Maryland this summer. He has natural loft in his swing that produces lots of power, which is his best tool. He has a solid frame to grow into and should be a prototype right fielder as he progresses. Johnson and Marrero are considered 1A and 1B when it comes to the prep hitters and both shouldn't last long next June.
A few other names to watch from the prep ranks are Jordan Walden, a right-hander from Texas, who has touched 97 with his fastball that has great sink as well. Colton Willems and Chris Tillman are two right-handers who touch the mid-90's with good breaking balls.
Dellin Betances is a giant at 6-foot-9, but the right-hander reaches 94 with natural boring action because of the plane he throws the ball from. He also has a good breaking ball and is very coordinated for someone his size.
Max Sapp is a hard-hitting catcher from Louisiana, who also has lots of power in his bat.
A potential wild card is John Tolisano, who is the top hitting prospect among the class of 2007, but because he is home schooled, he may follow Bonderman's lead and get his GED early, which would allow him to be draft eligible.
On the surface, the pitching at the top of the draft should rival that of the ‘04 crop, where eight of the first 10 picks were pitchers, with some solid position players perhaps falling through the cracks and providing excellent value with later selections. It's a long time between now and next summer when draft time rolls around again, and this list certainly will change, and perhaps maybe even the draft itself will change, but this should whet the appetite of those who want to know who the Tigers will be looking at next spring.