Picking the best outfielders
Stubbs appears best, but others are worthy of consideration
The prognosticating and predicting that accompanies the First-Year Player Draft is evident once again this year as pundits, including those from MiLB.com, endeavor to enlighten the populace as to where certain players will be calling home once they are selected next month.
Each mock draft differs from the next but most seem to agree on one fact -- Texas' Drew Stubbs will likely go in the top 10 and is considered the cream of the outfield crop available this year. Whether he actually turns out to be is for history to determine. As for what we're determining, it's which outfielders we believe will join Stubbs on the watch list come next month.
Drew Stubbs, University of Texas
A multi-sport athlete throughout high school, Stubbs has done little to diminish his reputation as a top-flight player at Texas. His defense is considered to be unequaled in college baseball by some and will probably earn him a Gold Glove in the Major Leagues someday. He's a five-tool guy with a big-time arm and a tremendous ability to get on base. While he's able to make things happen at the plate there is a small question as to how much he'll be able to produce offensively in the Major Leagues.
"He's a Gold Glove center fielder right now," one Major League executive said. "The bat is the question. He's come on this year and made strides offensively, though, so we'll see. He's a sure-fire Major Leaguer. It's just a matter of how much offense he'll provide. He'll go in the top 15 picks, maybe 20 [at] the latest.
"And, playing at Texas will help him in terms of competition and the pressure of the crowd. He's already done the things you have to do to perform at the highest level of college baseball, so he's better prepared to play pro baseball. The track record there [Texas] and the success of Major Leaguers from that program will certainly help his draft status."
Travis Snider, Jackson High School (Wash.)
Snider hasn't been tucked away in the Pacific Northwest toiling anonymously as the draft approaches. In fact, his progress has made him one of the most sought-after high school players in the country. His ability at the plate and his big frame have some scouting directors eager to get him camp where he can begin mashing the baseball the way he's done in high school. He's belted a few 450-foot homers in his day and that can't be taught.
"He's got a big bat," one Major League scouting director said. "It's a big, big bat but he's not a great athlete. He's a good hitter with power but he's not your prototypical guy for the National League. He's an American League player, a good first base, DH type. He's not just a hitter, he's a good hitter. He might be the most advanced high school hitter in the draft, a sure-fire first rounder.
"Whereas the kid [shortstop Bill] Rowell from [Bishop Eustace High in] New Jersey is more about power, Snider is more about hitting and he has some power. But I think you have to look at him as a first baseman only. Ryan Howard, Sean Casey, guys like that aren't great athletes. First basemen come from everywhere, whether it's a converted catcher or third baseman. So you have to be careful with how high you take him if you're a National League team because if he doesn't play first base, you have nothing."
Colin Curtis, Arizona State
Curtis hit .342 as a sophomore but has seen his average fall off a bit this season. While he's still a tic above .300, at least one scout told MiLB.com he believes Curtis hasn't made the kind of progress he should have by his junior season. He's a cancer survivor, though, and has a fighting attitude that may make up for any perceived lack of ability. Curtis was drafted by the Reds in the 50th round out of high school in 2003.
"He's kind of a very overrated guy for me," one Major League scout said. "He's a slap hitter with no power and he hasn't stepped up much. He's been kind of a disappointment for me. Maybe he'll go high, but he's not a guy I think is worthy of a big investment. And I think he's been pretty much like that straight through. He has the ability to hit for power, but he's never showed it.
"He's had an OK year this year, but he hasn't taken the next step. It's like with Minor League players, as they get older they should be progressing. When guys have to repeat a level, we hold that against them. College guys have to take that step forward, too, and he hasn't done that. I think he has the tools to be an extra outfielder."
Jon Jay, Miami (Fla.)
Jay is one of the more intriguing outfielders expected to go in the first few rounds of the draft. He's strong at the plate and doesn't have any obvious flaws in the field. Whether that translates into an early selection remains to be seen, but he's certainly worth watching closely.
"He's got a very unorthodox hitting approach," one National League scout said. "He has a lot of moving parts, but the bottom line is that he really knows how to center the ball. He hits, there's no doubt about that. But there's a question of how much power he'll have. He plays center field, but where you run into questions is that he's not a true center fielder. If he moves to the corner, will have enough power? I don't know."
Jason Place, Wren High School (S.C.)
Place, who has played five years of varsity ball in high school, closed out the prep season on the sidelines with a serious leg injury. He's committed to the University of South Carolina, but a lot will depend on where he is selected. Place is devoted to baseball, forsaking other high school sports. The work has paid off because he has decent power and can hit for average.
"He's kind of an enigma guy," one scout said. "He's a right-handed power corner guy, but he's a risky bet for a high school hitter. There are some people who like him, but I'm waffling on him a little. I can see a lot of Kevin Mench in him. He can drive the ball and has a good swing. I can't say anything negative about him and I know there are teams on him in the first round."
Cedric Hunter, Martin Luther King High (Ga.)
Hunter hit .450 as a sophomore, .584 as a junior and is pushing .600 again this season, so suffice to say he needs some challenges on the diamond. He'll start getting them next month in rookie ball because he's expected to go within the first few rounds of the draft. He still has some holes in his swing that high school pitchers aren't able to expose, but once he gets some time in the Minor Leagues, those holes should begin to close.
"He's a raw, raw athlete and I think he has a long way to go with the bat," one Major League scouting director said. "He can do things athletically, but teams are going to have to wait for his bat to develop. I think it's a five or six-year path with this guy. The sooner you get a wooden bat in his hands and he sees better pitching, getting to see stuff like a better slider and he'll be better off. A guy like Hunter needs a lot of at-bats and development time. To me, a hitter like that is better off signing if he gets the right situation."
Shane Robinson, Florida State
If there was a major award being handed out following the 2005 college baseball season, it's a good bet that Shane Robinson was among the finalists vying for the trophy. He was all-everything last season, setting records and causing scouting directors to salivate at the chance to get him in their respective lineups. His numbers are down slightly this year -- it would have been tough to hit .427 again -- but his ability and desire are certainly without question. How that scrappy attitude will translate on the next level is the big question.
"He's the ultimate overachiever and he knows how to play the game," one scout said. "It's [hard] to profile a guy like him, though. You can't come up with any comparables, so maybe he breaks the mold. He does have a lot of intangibles and the secondary tools make him a sure-fire fourth outfielder at least. But you can't take a leap on a 5-foot-8 center fielder to be an everyday guy."
Brennan Boesch, California
Boesch was on the preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes and Brooks Wallace Awards -- emblematic of the nation's top collegiate player -- but hasn't exactly had the type of season to warrant such an honor. He's performed well for the most part, but several scouts have commented that he seems to be missing a certain something this year in his game. His average is off some 50 points this year from last, but he has good power potential and could develop into a 15-20 homer player in the pros. Still, he needs to have a strong finish to the regular season if he's going to reclaim his spot near the top of the draft.
"I think this guy is undervalued," one area scout said. "He's had an off year and hasn't performed the way that I and others thought he would. But he is better than what he's shown. He can run and play center field and he can definitely play right field. He has all the ingredients, but he just hasn't put it together this season. He might be one of those guys whose stock is down a little, but he'll go in the second or third round and from there he'll be a pretty good buy."
Others on whom to keep an eye include: Chris Errecart, The University of California; Derrick Robinson, P.K. Yonge High (Fla.); David Christensen, Douglas High (Fla.), Devin Sheperd, Oxnard (Calif.) and Kyler Burke, Ooltewah High (Tenn.).
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.