Every team wants to be solid up the middle. It's a philosophy that's been preached for generations and has only taken on greater importance over the last decade as the role of the middle infielder has evolved.
With the First-Year Player Draft rapidly approaching, MiLB.com is taking a look at some of the players who'll get close looks to fill those gaps in the middle of the infield. Will the next Stephen Drew or Justin Upton be coming out of this draft? Based on what scouts are saying, the selection is thin, so the answer to that question is probably not. But surprises do happen and with that in mind, here's a look at some of the middle infielders worth watching on draft day.
Emmanuel Burris, SS, Kent State
The junior speedster has been a force on the basepaths for some time and has continued to dominate once again this season. He's leading the Mid-American Conference in steals, swiping twice as many bases as his nearest competitor. Some consider him the fastest player in college today -- a tough claim to prove. What is known, though, is that he gets on base and causes trouble when he's there. He was the Most Valuable Player of the Cape Cod League playoffs last season after leading the circuit in hits (52) and stolen bases (35). He also finished third in runs scored (28). Defensively, he's sound and looks as though he'll get gobbled up somewhere in the second or third round.
"Obviously, he's a speed player but I don't think he's going to stay at shortstop," one Major League scouting director said. "He plays on turn now, so he has that going for him. I see him down the road as a second baseman or a center fielder. The attraction with him, though, is that you know you have a slam-dunk Major Leaguer. The insurance with him is pretty good. I feel pretty good about all the signs with him. He's a good player."
Jason Donald, SS, Arizona
It seems as if the Angels were ahead of the curve in 2003, taking Donald in the 20th round after his senior year at Buchanan High School. He opted for college, though, and proceeded to set Arizona freshman records for hits (84) and at-bats (261). A scrappy player, he's not afraid to take a pitch in the back, either. He set a then-school record for hit by pitches in a season last year (19) and has been plunked eight times through 45 games this year. He appears to be cut from the Craig Biggio mold in that regard, which certainly isn't a comparison.
"I'm not a fan," one Major League executive said. "He's a good athlete and he can run and throw and play defense but I have a lot of questions about his bat. I've been seeing this guy since high school and he hasn't made a lot of progress offensively. He has some tools, but I don't know if there's enough every day offense there. He sees some pitches and he gets on base OK, but that's more a product of mediocre pitching than his ability. He is similar to Biggio body-wise, but his power and hitting ability are big question marks".
Adam Davis, 2B, Florida
The junior came into this season high on the charts of most scouts based on what he had accomplished through two years of college ball. He hit .320 as a freshman and hit .306 with 63 RBIs last season, during which the experience of going deep into the postseason should have helped him become the leader many expected he could be. It hasn't happened. Davis' stock has taken a big hit as this season heads into the final weeks. He was hitting .260 with five homers and 35 RBIs through 49 games, leaving many to wonder what happened.
"He's had a very disappointing year, almost to the point of catastrophic," one National League executive said. "It's hard to figure out. Everyone in the industry realized what kind of player he was his first two years. He has pluses in terms of his arm strength and he's a switch-hitter, so where he went wrong I can't figure out. He's chasing strikes and he's gotten out of his game of getting on base and creating havoc. It's really snowballed on him.
"He's reached a point where he's hitting .260 with an aluminum bat. That's hard to do even if you are putting pressure on yourself. It's been a perfect storm for this guy; everything has gone south. He hasn't laid down or been lethargic, but I think those that don't perform move down. I think the guy has fallen, and he's maybe pushing the fifth round now. His stock has taken a tremendous hit."
Marcus Lemon, SS, Eustis High School (Fla.)
Lemon is the son of former Major Leaguer Chet Lemon, who is also the Eustis coach. Lemon has a good glove and excellent range at shortstop, though his arm has been a question mark at times. He's got good gap power at the plate and projects to have average or slightly better-than-average power once his 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame fills out. Lemon, who has played on the USA Junior National Team, has committed to the University of Texas. He's a smart kid, sporting a 4.1 GPA while working in Eustis' advanced art program. His desire to play pro ball is well documented, but his intelligence would suggest he'll be heading to Texas unless he goes relatively high in the draft.
"He's an interesting athlete and there's no doubt about his ability to play short," one scout said. "The question is, like it is with other high school kids, will he hit? I think he's shown enough and he's had a good spring. He's probably solidified himself for the top two rounds. It's a very thin talent pool this year and I think that will help Marcus Lemon. He has an outside chance at the first round, but my guess is the top 50."
Bill Rowell, SS, Bishop Eustace Prep (N.J.)
Rowell has made a commitment to the University of Alabama but that will more than likely go for naught since most experts predict that he'll go within the top 20 picks. He's exceptional in all facets of the game, dominating at the plate with power and average while showing excellent range at shortstop. He has a plus arm and strong footwork, leading some to think he'll eventually wind up at third base.
"He's gotten hot at the right time," one Major League scouting director said. "His stock is going through the roof. He's a virtual certainty to be a first-rounder, maybe even the top half of the first round. He's playing shortstop now but he's more of a third baseman. It's all about power and he has big-time power."
John Shelby III, 2B, Kentucky
Also the son of a former big-leaguer, Shelby combines power and speed -- he's been clocked at 4.0 seconds from home to first. He's worked on recognizing off-speed pitches and has become even more dangerous at the plate. Whether he remains in the infield is a question as the draft nears.
"He's interesting," one Major League scouting director said. "He's very athletic, but he's very raw. He has power and speed but he has some holes at the plate. He's playing second base now, but it's hard to envision him playing there long term because he's not real smooth. He's kind of a developmental guy. He's a good player but he has some work to do."
Ryan Jackson, SS, Florida Christian High School (Fla.)
Say this about Jackson -- he's well traveled. Florida Christian is his third high school in four years following stops at Westminster Academy and Gulliver Prep. But he can claim the moniker of "Have Glove, Will Travel," because he's clearly the cream of the defensive crop among this year's prep stars. Jackson, who has committed to Miami, has a strong, accurate arm and good, soft hands. He makes all the routine plays look boring and the tough plays look routine. While he doesn't have the type of bat that has become synonymous with the position in recent years, his reputation as a defender will earn him high consideration.
"He didn't have a great year and I think his upside is limited," one scout said. "I don't sense there's a lot of action on him. He's expressed a desire to go to college and I think he's headed in that direction."
Kyle Drabek, SS/P, The Woodlands High School (Texas)
Yes, yes, we know, Drabek, like his former Major League dad, is an accomplished pitcher. He touches the mid-90s on the gun and his off-speed stuff is better than his years. But he also has upside as a shortstop. He has a potent bat and is strong defensively, two factors that may lead some teams to try to entice him to stay in the infield and off the mound. Drabek will likely go in the first round either way, though he is a better pitcher than a shortstop.
"He'll be a pitcher," one scout said. "He may be the best arm in the draft. He's certainly the best high school arm in the draft."
Others on whom to keep an eye include Stephen King, SS, Winter Park High School (Fla.); Steve Englund, SS, Bellevue High School (Wash.); Scott Sizemore, 2B, Virginia Commonwealth.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.