Draft notebook: Final impression time
Players' stocks rise and fall during the homestretch
We're less than a week away and things are really heating up. The rumor mill is going full tilt, and players are rising and falling -- or perceived to be.
Teams have a few days, via college regionals, a few high school playoffs finishing up and some personal workouts, to get last looks at players before putting the finishing touches on their boards. Last impressions, it's often been said, can be the most important ones in terms of the Draft, so some good -- or lackluster -- performances in the homestretch could change a player's fortunes one way or the other.
With that in mind, here is the fourth -- and final -- edition of the Draft Notebook.
Canada has given us so many things, like hockey, Bryan Adams, cheap pharmaceuticals. In the baseball world, there's Justin Morneau and Russ Martin, to name two. It looks like there might be a need to make room for another bat from North of the Border: Brett Lawrie.
It's often difficult to scout Canadian players simply because there are only so many times during the spring when scouts can see them. Getting to British Columbia isn't exactly convenient, either. But Lawrie has been able to get his name out there in showcases and tournaments, and while playing for Team Canada.
Between working out for various clubs and his most recent national team stint in the Dominican, Lawrie's name is about as hot as anyone's in the first round.
Scouts have long liked his bat plus his raw power as well as his overall athleticism. They just hadn't been able to see it in action all that much. He certainly helped his stock in the Dominican, reportedly hitting eight home runs and driving in 23 runs over five games as the Canadian Junior National Team played against Major League Baseball Dominican Summer League teams.
The one question about Lawrie in the past has been about at what position he may best profile. He's gaining more steam as a catcher, with a plus arm, though some see him as a third baseman or perhaps even an outfielder. That may be a concern to some, but most believe the bat will likely play wherever he's put defensively. For that reason, his name has reached conversations about the middle of the first round, and who knows, he may not be done climbing yet.
Lead balloon update
It's always a question of what gets the most attraction come decision time: track record or most recent performances. As mentioned above, even scouts will admit that sometimes those last impressions carry a little too much weight.
Case in point might be Tulane's Shooter Hunt. There's no question the right-hander has a pretty good track record, with a solid sophomore season in 2007 (2.62 ERA, 30 BB, 104 K in 99 2/3 IP). He's pitched twice on the Cape and while command has been an issue -- and sometimes continues to be one -- he still was considered one of the best prospects in the elite summer college league each time. Even this year, he's 9-3 with a 2.45 ERA overall, with 119 strikeouts and a .156 batting average against in 91 2/3 innings pitched.
What's held him up some all spring is the concern with command -- while some scouts have seen him just fine, he has walked 51 this year -- and the thought by some that he'll be a reliever in the future. Still, he was a top-half-of-the-first-round kind of guy and when Fresno State's Tanner Scheppers got hurt, it seemed that Hunt could benefit by being the next best college arm.
But in the "What have you done for me lately?" frame of mind, Hunt picked a bad time to stumble a little. In his final regular-season start against conference rival Rice on May 15, he wasn't bad, but he did give up four runs (three earned) and walked four over eight innings. He pitched again on May 21 -- less than the week-long rest he was used to getting -- he pitched poorly on the much bigger stage of the Conference USA tournament. Hunt went six innings, allowing six hits and six runs (five earned) and while he struck out nine. He also walked five.
Perhaps it was the larger stage. Maybe it was because the nine walks over 14 innings put a magnifying glass over the issue some had with him. Whatever the reason, while Hunt still seems to be in the mix as high as No. 11, it's not as strong as it once appeared to be and many people believe he could slip down as far as 20, where he was in the latest MLB.com mock draft.
Hunt's got one more chance to change the last impression he makes. He'll get a regional start in Tallahassee over the weekend. A strong start there could stop the slide and help him reverse the trend.
Something to prove
It'd be easy enough to stick with Hunt here, but instead we'll go with another college right-hander, one who might be using last impressions to his advantage.
Ole Miss ace Lance Lynn has had an up-and-down season. The extremely competitive right-hander has a 4.21 ERA and while he's struck out 103 and walked just 29 in 83 1/3 innings, he's given up 81 hits with reports earlier in the year that his velocity was a tick lower than it had been in the past (he had a 2.95 ERA as a sophomore).
His last regular-season start was a clunker, as he allowed eight runs in 3 1/3 innings at Kentucky. But then came the SEC Tournament, where Lynn has never lost. He stepped up in a big way against top-seeded Georgia, striking out a career-high 12 and allowing one run on four hits and four walks over 6 2/3 innings for the upset victory. His velocity was also reportedly back up into the mid-90s at times. And there were a lot of important eyes watching him in that start.
Lynn's makeup is one of his best traits; he's one of the best competitors in the class, so he's likely up to the challenge of showing that he can duplicate the effort in his next start. The fact that it's in regional play, in Ole Miss's opener against Missouri on Friday -- perhaps against Mizzou ace and top Draft talent Aaron Crow -- only raises the stakes more. It's the last chance for clubs to see Lynn -- who's worked his way into the end of the first-round conversation -- and how he responds to the big stage. Another start like the one at his conference tournament and he'll likely cement his standing as a first-rounder.
On the Shelf
It hasn't been a great season for high school pitching and the class took a hit when Tennessee prepster Sonny Gray went down with a sprained ankle about a month and a half ago.
The Smyrna High School right-hander seemed to be pitching his way into first-round consideration with a very good fastball/breaking ball mix. But then he suffered a pretty bad sprain of his right ankle and that shut him down for what turned out to be the rest of the season.
If Smyrna were still in action, Gray would be as well. He was cleared by doctors about 10 days ago to start rehabbing and he'd likely be back on the mound, albeit with a limited pitch count.
Obviously, you can't miss that much time and not have it affect your status, but since it was an ankle and not, say, an elbow, it might not be as bad as one would think. The teams that were so-so on Gray likely dropped out. But teams that may have been considering him as first-round material -- word was that may have been teams like the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox -- weren't turned off by the injury. The rationale was that his arm was fine. Ankle sprains heal nicely and those teams may still have been interested based on what they saw from Gray before the injury.
But here's the thing. Though Gray is right on schedule in terms of coming back, MLB.com has learned that his family has sent out letters to all teams asking not to be drafted. Instead of seeing where he went and setting a round and/or price that would be enough to get him to sign, they've made it clear that he is headed to Vanderbilt in the fall.
Perhaps the injury led to that decision. Without a first-round guarantee, the Grays decided not to play that game. Now we'll have to wait for the 2011 Draft to see what happens with Gray, who likely wouldn't mind following the path of another Tennessee high school standout who went to Vandy: David Price.
Where to be
Coral Gables, Fla.
So many regionals, so little time. As teams lined up their respective boards, scouts will fan out to the various regional sites in the NCAA Tournament. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better site this weekend than the University of Miami.
It starts off with the Mizzou-Ole Miss matchup that could be a Lynn-Crow showdown. Lynn's not the only one worth seeing from Mississippi. There's closer Scott Bittle, disappointing, but live-armed pitcher Cody Satterwhite and even third baseman Cody Overbeck to check out one last time.
Then, of course, there's host Miami. First baseman Yonder Alonso is a sure-thing first-round pick and second baseman Jemile Weeks has a good chance to crack the top 30 as well. Outfielder Dennis Raben and his power will go pretty well and there are a few other draftable players (Blake Tekotte, Mark Sobolewski, Carlos Gutierrez) who should be making plenty of scouts pack extra sunscreen and head for Coral Gables.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.