TigsTown MLN: Draft Notebook

The draft is quickly approaching, and the Tigers are likely narrowing down some of their targets for their selection next month. Who is emerging as a top selection that might entice the Tigers to make him their top pick, and what other players are stepping up their games this spring?

With only a month to go before the draft, it appears that North Carolina right-hander Daniel Bard is emerging from his month-long slump.

After throwing a four-hit shutout against N.C. State, Bard allowed just four hits and one run over six inning of work in a win over Duke on Sunday. He allowed only four hits. Bard will have two more starts in conference play against Virginia and Boston College, before UNC starts play in the ACC Tournament. Before his hot streak, Bard had been slipping on most draft boards, but with a strong finish, he could still be among the first 15 players selected.

The hottest team in all of college baseball is Notre Dame, who has won 25 out of their last 27 games with only a loss to Bowling Green and a tie on Sunday against Connecticut as their only blemishes. Pitching has been a big reason for their success, as the Irish have a team ERA of 3.33. Two prospects to watch for the draft in June are right-handers Jeff Manship and Jeff Samardzija.

Manship was one of the more highly-touted pitchers coming out of Texas back in 2003, but his price tag scared teams away, and he missed all of 2004 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. After throwing 22 2/3 innings last year, Manship has gone 6-1 with a 2.42 ERA in 10 starts. In 67 innings, Manship has given up just 50 hits and has fanned 77 batters against 17 walks. Manship uses a nasty curveball as his go-to pitch.

Samardzija may be better known as one of the top wide receivers in the country, but he also has a shot to make it in professional baseball, thanks to a sinking fastball that can reach the mid-90s. His secondary stuff is still raw due to his football commitments, but even with a 4.06 ERA, Samardzija has risen up the draft boards due to having one of the few power arms available this year.

However, Samardzija will return to Notre Dame for his senior year in football, and with him being a potential first-rounder next April, he will have a tough decision to make, and if teams feel they can't break him away from football, his stock will drop.

Another story to watch over the next month is how Luke Hochevar fares with the Fort Worth Cats of the American Association. The right-hander was selected by the Dodgers with the 40th overall pick last year out of Tennessee, but he remains unsigned after negotiations suffered a complete breakdown after Hochevar switched agents and agreed in principle to a deal, but then changed his mind and went back to Scott Boras. Hochevar will get a chance to make several starts in front of scouts before the draft, but his makeup took a serious hit during the contentious negotiations, not to mention he has to show that his stuff is back after a long layoff. If he performs well, Hochevar could be the ultimate wild card in the draft.

The Tigers may be leading the majors in home runs (as of Tuesday's play), but it pales in comparison to what Walters State (Tenn.) Community College has done this spring. The Senators have hit an astonishing 118 homers in their first 56 games played this season, and have six players in double figures, including third baseman Stephen Shults, who leads the country with 21 homers. In addition to his power, Shults is very strong and athletic, and could be either a premium draft-and-follow for next year, or a potential solid sign on the first day of the draft.

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