Andrew Miller of North Carolina was the top player in the country coming into this season and he has done nothing to lose that title. The left-hander is 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA in five starts, and that includes his first bad outing of the year, which came on Saturday against Maryland. Miller went five innings and allowed six runs on nine hits. In 33 innings, Miller has recorded 39 strikeouts and issued just eight walks.
Daniel Bard, a teammate of Miller's at UNC, had a 13-strikeout performance against Purdue earlier this year, but was torched by the Terps on Friday night, allowing 10 runs (nine earned) in 5 1/3 innings. He allowed 10 hits and walked four in taking his first loss of the year. Despite having a 4.05 ERA, Bard has an outstanding BB/K ratio, with eight walks against 41strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings.
Max Scherzer may have the best stuff of any pitcher in the draft, but he has been more hittable then one would think with his stuff. He has given up 14 hits in 18 innings of work, walked five, and fanned 23. He also owns a win over Florida, but missed his start on Friday against Texas A&M with what was described as a twinge in his shoulder. Whomever drafts Scherzer will also have to contend with Scott Boras, who is representing the right-hander.
The MVP of the Cape Cod League from last summer is Evan Longoria from Long Beach State and he raked early on, posting a .426 average with three homers and 11 RBIs through March 5, but went 4-for-23 over the last two weeks before homering on Sunday. He also has drawn 19 walks and has struck out 10 times in 82 at-bats. Longoria presently plays third base, but could move to second as a pro, where his bat would be even more of a premium there.
Drew Stubbs may be the toolsiest player in the draft, but the outfielder has had trouble making consistent contact in his career at Texas and so far this year, he has fanned 26 times in 92 at-bats. Stubbs is hitting .315 with three homers and 16 RBIs through the weekend and is 10-for-12 in stolen bases.
Perhaps the safest player in terms of reaching his ceiling and getting to the majors is third baseman Wes Hodges of Georgia Tech. Hodges is hitting .398 so far this season and smacked a pair of homers in Sunday's win over N.C. State. Some scouts believe he will have more power in time, but he figures to hit for a solid average and provide good defense as he develops.
The following just might me the strangest case of how to enhance your draft stock. Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta has the top power bat in the country and was hitting .308 with two homers and 10 RBIs in just 26 at-bats before straining his oblique muscle. When he was healthy, LaPorta led the Gators to a sweep in Miami, which was a first for the school. In the second game of the contest, LaPorta took a changeup down and away from him and smashed it halfway up the scoreboard in left-center for a home run that proved to be the game-winning hit. LaPorta's absence was immediately felt, as the Gators lost six of their next eight games before going on a winning streak against lesser opponents. LaPorta returned this weekend against Arkansas and showed some rust at the plate, going 1-for-10.
Not many high school players have had the chance to get their season started, but Chris Marrero of Monsignor Pace in Miami has stood out to scouts, even though he has pressed at the plate and has struggled with a recurring hamstring injury. Several teams have already brought Marrero and teammate Adrian Cardenas (already with 11 homers, a school record) in for private workouts.
Jordan Walden of Mansfield (Texas) was considered the top pitching prospect in the country after hitting 99 last summer. His velocity was inconsistent as he threw more innings at showcases and he also came down with a sore elbow, but after resting in the offseason, Walden has come back and is throwing in the 93-95 range.
Kyle Drabek of The Woodlands in Texas has big-league bloodlines, as his father, Doug, won a Cy Young Award while with Pittsburgh and he has been spectacular this spring, throwing one no-hitter by himself and combining with a teammate for a second no-no. He threw a one-hitter in last outing and recorded 14 strikeouts.
Brett Anderson of Stillwater (OK.) is the top prep lefty in the country and like Drabek, he got off to a blistering hot start, throwing gems against the first and fourth ranked teams in the state, and had 28 strikeouts combined in those starts, including 16 in one outing. Anderson will have a difficult choice to make in June, as he is committed to play for his father, Frank, at Oklahoma State.
Matt Latos of Coconut Creek (FL.) has been compared to A.J. Burnett with his frame and stuff, but the Oklahoma signee had a disastrous performance in a key showdown with district-rival Douglas, which also features solid prospects in David Christiansen (Miami signee) and Brandon Holden (Florida recruit). With an estimated 60 to 70 scouts in attendance, Latos departed in the fifth inning after surrendering six runs and Douglas eventually won the game via mercy rule. Holden tossed a five-hit shutout and had nine strikeouts in that win and he also beat Flanagan, the defending 6-A champions who were previously undefeated, so he is a hurler to keep an eye on for later rounds as the draft draws closer.
So with all of this information, what might the Tigers be thinking with their selection? Well, lets see what the teams in from of them might be thinking.
The Royals select first and unless something very dramatic happens, they will take Miller. The Rockies select second and could go in a number of directions. Longoria could go to Colorado if they view him as a second baseman and with an infield of Ian Stewart, Troy Tulowitzki, and Todd Helton to join him, the Rockies would have a lethal offensive infield in the future, but they would also have to move 2004 first-rounder Chris Nelson to the outfield to accommodate him. The Rockies could also look at Stubbs, where his defense would be a huge asset in the vast center field Coors Field has and Bard would give them a power arm that could move quickly. In the end, I think the Rockies will opt for Stubbs and see if he can curb his strikeout totals.
Tampa Bay has shown a willingness to draft high school players early on and Marrero would fit there, but with the D-Rays loaded with position prospects that are close to contributing and a good nucleus at the major league level, the D-Rays may opt for a pitcher that could move quickly and sign in time to get some work in during the season, and Bard fits this profile to a tee. However, with the polished Longoria available, the D-Rays could grab him and have a third baseman that could be ready very quickly and I believe this is the option they will go with.
The Pirates have drafted high school players in the last two years, but neither one of those players was a top-10 pick. When the Pirates have drafted in the top 10, they have selected college pitchers. With Bard, Scherzer, and Ian Kennedy of USC available, they will go this route, but I would be stunned if they went for the last two names, because of their affiliation with Scott Boras. There may be a temptation to take Drabek, because of his father's long career with the Pirates, but I think the Pirates will go with Bard.
Seattle is a tough team to figure out because they haven't drafted this high with their recent success. They took a college player in Jeff Clement last year, and I don't think they will be afraid of taking a Boras client. The Mariners also aren't adverse to taking a high school player so Marrero is a possibility. In the end, I think the M's will take the best power pitcher in the draft in Scherzer and have him follow Felix Hernandez in their rotation.
With those picks in the books, we come to the Tigers with the sixth pick. Longoria would be a great get if he fell this far, but it's very doubtful he will fall to them. The Tigers were set to take Mike Pelfrey last year, and they signed a Boras client in Jeff Larish last year, so if Scherzer is available, the Tigers could go with him. LaPorta is another player that would be tough to pass on with his power potential, and if the Tigers think he can play third base (some scouts think he can move there, or the outfield), it would enhance his value even more, because first basemen usually aren't taken very early in the draft as it's not a priority position for teams.
Hodges is also in the mix for this selection, but I think the Tigers will look a player with more of a higher ceiling. Drabek, Walden, and Anderson lead the high school pitching crop, but I believe the Tigers have better options with the position players available.
With all of this said, I think Marrero will be the selection. He is the top position player among high school players and has the ability to be an above average five-tool third baseman with a lot of power and a solid glove. The hamstring injuries he has had are a big concern though. If you're looking for a couple of darkhorse candidates that could move up to this spot, Cody Johnson, an outfielder from Mosley HS in Florida, has arguably the most raw power of anyone in the draft and if he shows his form from last summer, when he ripped quality pitching at every showcase he attended, he will make his way into the mix.
Another name to watch is Dellin Betances of Grand Street in Brooklyn (NY.). He is immense in size at 6-foot-9 and is very coordinated and smooth with his delivery. He flashes a mid-90's fastball with a good curveball.
Brandon Morrow of California was awful as a sophomore (0-1,9.36 ERA), but has moved to the rotation as a junior and has pitched well. Morrow has hit 99 with his fastball and uses a splitter as his out pitch.
The 2006 draft doesn't have the franchise-type players like last year, but there will be a group of solid players available for the Tigers to choose from and they have just under three months to decide what they want to do with their selection.