06/06/2002 7:17 pm ET
Mr. Don't Count Him Out, 2002
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
The announcement of Bryan Bullington being selected with the first overall pick of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft was met with anticipation, excitement and a flurry of media requests.
The announcement of John Powell being selected with the last overall pick of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft was met with a "ho-hum."
That inlcudes Powell himself, who became "Mr. Don't Count Him Out" of this year's draft when the Cardinals took him with pick No. 1482, the final pick of the 50th round.
"I didn't know that I would get drafted. It really was a surprise to me," said Powell, a 17-year-old right-handed pitcher from McGehee High School in Arkansas. "People say, 'You're supposed to be happy.' They thought I should be jumping up and down or something. But it was very exciting."
Don't mistake Powell's reaction as a lack of enthusiasm. This is just who he is, an extremely polite teenager who responds to most questions with a sincere "Yes sir" or "No sir."
"You're not going to find a kid who's more polite than John Powell," said Powell's high school coach, Jason Huggins. "He's more mature than what his age is. Just because he's 17, he doesn't act like it. But then again, he's only 17 and his future is bright."
One only has to look at Powell and see why Huggins sees such a high ceiling. Powell stands at 6-5, 200 pounds, "a tall, lanky kid," said Huggins, who hits 90 mph on the radar gun. And his stats -- 7-2, 2.10 ERA, 78 K in 47 IP -- don't really tell the story.
Powell just started pitching a couple of years ago and hasn't even started to scratch the surface of his ability on the mound. Despite being a novice, he does throw a number of pitches including a nasty change-up that falls off the table when he's on his game. He also throws something that looks a lot like a split-finger fastball, but really isn't.
"It's not really a splitter," Huggins said. "It has a splitter effect, but it's not really a splitter. His hands are so big, he can suck that baseball up into his hand and choke it down.
"His fastball has so much movement on it, that's what makes him effective."
So does his athletic ability. When he wasn't pitching, Powell played right field. He hit .422 with six homers and displayed a tremendous arm in the field.
"He can throw 320 feet on a rope, on a line, no problem," Huggins said. "Some scouts saw him and said Vlad [Guerrero] doesn't even have an arm like that."
Still, his future in baseball will come on the mound. He'll head to Carl Albert College in Oklahoma this fall, on a basketball scholarship. Powell also played football and ran track in high school, but will stick to hoops and baseball at the next level. That will give him the time even he admits he needs to develop.
"I need to work on my technique, [things like] following all the way through," Powell said. "I'd like to work on a couple of more pitches."
He'll be able to do that at the college level, where he'll get the opportunity to pitch regularly and get guidance from a pitching coach. The tools are there, it's just a question of refining them.
"He's real raw," Huggins said. "Being raw, he hasn't learned how to use his legs as well. He uses his upper body right now. He can sit on 92-93 [mph] some day, once he learns to use lower body.
"I think he'll need a couple of years in college for a pitching coach to sit on him and work with him. Give him a couple of years in college. I definitely think he can pitch in the minor leagues. Whether he makes it, we'll have to wait and see. But if he gets to 94-95, the potential is there."
The Cardinals evidently agreed, hoping that although it may seem like it'll take Powell a while to be ready for the pros, it's possible things could click quickly and he can sign before next year's draft. It's called a draft-and-follow, with St. Louis holding his rights for one year.
"You never know," Huggins said about Powell being ready in one year. "If he goes out and busts his butt, it could happen. But I think it'll take at least two years before anything happens."
For now, Powell isn't too concerned with whether he can get the most out of himself. He's concentrating on the potential of a group of seventh graders who are looking to him for guidance. Powell is serving as a counselor at basketball camp in Oklahoma this summer, where he gets to worry about playing skills other than his own.
"I like working with kids," Powell said. "I'm coaching kids, too. I want to be a coach some day. Basketball, baseball, it doesn't matter. I just want to be a coach."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
|The last pick: A look back
John Powell obviously isn't the first guy picked last in the baseball draft. And he's not even the first Mr. Don't Count Him Out. The "award" was created on MLB.com following the 1999 draft, when it became clear the First-Year Player Draft needed its version of the NFL's "Mr. Irrelevant." What's become of the three previous holders of this prestigious honor? Lets take a look:
1999: Scott Leitz
The originator of the award, and the player who came up with its name, Leitz' other nickname "Last but not," was hung on him during his first year at Central Florida Community College. Taken by the Atlanta Braves with the final pick of the '99 draft, Leitz pitched one year, missed a year with injury, then came back this past season. The lefty went 2-4 with a 5.32 ERA in nine starts. Over 44 innings, he allowed 48 hits and struck out 34.
2000: Drew Jackson
The Braves took Jackson, an outfielder from University High School in Morgantown, W. Va., with the final selection of the 2000 draft. Jackson attended Potomac State College, a junior college in West Virginia. This past season, Jackson hit .423 with 19 doubles, six homers and 42 RBIs in 196 at-bats. He slugged .633 for the season and was named third-team All-American among Junior College players. He may attend Clemson University in the fall.
2001: Patrick McGinnis
McGinnis, taken by the San Francisco Giants last year, finished his career at Central Missouri State by going 7-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 games. He struck out 45 and walked 13 in 46.1 innings and finished with career marks of 21-3 with a 3.41 ERA. He was not re-drafted in this year's draft.