05/18/05 9:00 AM ET
Draft stars can be found on the corners
Several corner infielders expected to be taken among top 10
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
"I think this year will be a pretty decent draft," one National League scouting director said. "Last year was such a year for pitching. This year there just seems to be a better flavor of college position players and that's been unusual in recent years. Every draft gives you its own flavor as it unfolds but this one, right now, has recognizable names as position guys."
Many of those position players are currently corner infielders. Here's a closer look at some of the players on whom many organizations are keeping a close eye as the draft nears.
Alex Gordon, 3B, Nebraska: Considered by many to be the potential top pick this year, Gordon has done little to hurt his stock. A former Big-12 Player of the Year, the left-handed hitting Gordon continues to hit for power and average this season, displaying an impressive feel for the strike zone. According to one Major League scout, there are some who think Gordon has a bit of improving to do defensively but any work he has to put in at the hot corner is minimal. Gordon is expected to remain at third base until proven that he can't play there at the professional level. He was a member of Team USA, for whom he actually played first base, giving a hint of his potential versatility. Don't expect him to be around past the fifth or sixth selection.
"He's a good third baseman who can hit for power and average," one Major League scout said. "He has very few flaws. I think he squats too much in his stance and occasionally chokes the bat with his top hand but those are two flaws that are easily corrected. I think he's squatting because he's seeing a lot of junk-ball pitchers in college. They're pitching around him more so he has to be patient at the plate. In pro ball, they're going to challenge him and he's going to be free to do more of what comes naturally.
"I think he'll definitely move fast through the minors. He's a true third baseman that can make the plays, especially on the slow rollers. That's the sign of a legitimate third baseman. A lot of times amateur third basemen have problems with the slow rollers, whether they are dunks or slowly hit balls. He makes those plays very easily."
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Virginia: A solid year in the Atlantic Coast Conference has actually raised Zimmerman's stock, which was already high. He continues to wield a smoking hot bat and will give Gordon a run for the top spot in this year's draft. Because of his soft hands and great ability with the glove, there is some talk that he may actually get moved to shortstop depending upon which team selects him. Zimmerman was named USA Baseball's Athlete of the Year in 2004. His.468 average was the highest in Team USA history after helping his club win the World University Championships in Taiwan.
"He's a great makeup kid and very good defensively, probably better than Gordon," one National League scout said. "He doesn't have the raw power and the swing of a Gordon but he's a good hitter and he makes good contact. He's going to have some power down the road and he doesn't strike out a lot."
John Mayberry, Jr., 1B, Stanford: The son of former big leaguer John Mayberry appears poised to pick up where his dad left off after a 15-year career. The elder Mayberry hit 255 homers and Mayberry the younger has shown the same propensity for the big fly though his power numbers are down this year. A first-round pick out of high school by Seattle, it seems certain that Mayberry will once again go in the opening round again this year. At 6-foot-5, he uses a long, muscular frame to hit for power and average. He hits for power to all fields and has a strong arm, which rarely gets a workout at first base. Mayberry also could play some outfield.
"You can dream what you want with him at 6-foot-5 and that right-handed power," one National League scout said. "He's raised some questions with everybody this year and teams are going to have to filter through that. He hasn't had a lot of power this year but someone is going to bite on that one pretty big."
Ryan Braun, 3B, Miami: A notch below Gordon and Zimmerman, Braun still provides exceptional power and production. He's hitting over .400 this season with a slugging percentage close to .800. He's proven to be aggressive at the plate and can with power to all fields, particularly center. Braun broke Pat Burrell's freshman RBI record in 2003 and drove in 45 runs as a sophomore despite missing 18 games with a ribcage injury. He also can play shortstop and some have gone so far as to compare him to Nomar Garciaparra. His versatility on the left side should be a strong consideration have helped earn him the coveted 'five-tool" tag and propel him into the late first round. He is considered to be an exceptional leader but average arm strength may cause teams to look at him as more of a second baseman or left fielder.
"He's a good athlete and will be a high consideration for a lot of people," one scout said. "He's also an excellent runner."
Justin Bristow, 3B, Mills Godwin HS (Va.): He's already committed to Auburn but who knows at what position he'll end up. He's been dominant as a right-hander pitcher in high school but his bat and his glove make him coveted on the left side of the infield. His strong arm, he brings it in the low-to-mid 90s as a pitcher, have some scouts salivating at the prospect of him playing third base, especially since his glove is exceptional. He has a quick bat and possesses an ability to drive the ball to all fields. His strong upper body accounts for his raw pull power. He's also got exceptional discipline at the plate for a youngster. Scouts have said that it's his bat that will get him to the Major Leagues. Bristow's poise and maturity also makes him attractive, leading to the notion that he won't see the second round.
"As a pitcher he has good arm strength," one Major League scout said. "He throws over 90 consistently and he's a good-sized kid. As for third basemen, he'll go after Zimmerman and Gordon and I haven't heard much about him in the first round. As for what teams will do with him, I think it's split. Of course as a pitcher, it seems you move through the system faster though good hitters are hard to find. Whatever club takes him is going to have to make a decision."
Henry Sanchez, 1B, Mission Bay HS (Calif.): Surgery on his left hand this spring proved only to be a minor setback to the player some consider the best high school prospect in the western part of the country. He has a quick, powerful stroke, the product of strong arms, wrists and forearms. The ball explodes off his bat with power to all fields. He is very aggressive at the plate, which contributes to his strikeout totals. He's proven that his hand is fine and he's likely reclaimed his status as a first-round pick. Sanchez is very confident and is smart, sporting a 3.5 GPA with a commitment to San Diego State in his pocket should he chose not to sign. He's easily the best high school first baseman in the country with a huge upside in terms of development.
"He's a big, strong kid with a lot of power," one National League scout said. "There's a big risk there but he could be one of those big payoffs. I don't hear him going that high, though."
Stephen Head, 1B, Mississippi: Head can pitch and he can hit but the likelihood is that he'll leave his spot on the mound once he's drafted despite being one of the better closers in Southeast Conference in recent years. An All-American in 2004 and a veteran of the prestigious Cape Cod League, Head has a fluid swing which produces excellent bat speed. He has above average power with one scout saying the ball "rockets off his bat". He's also got sure, soft hands at first base and is adept at handling throws in the dirt. Scouts have likened his build to that of Travis Lee, very muscular with a strong lower body. He's expected to be a run producer at the Major League level will go neck and neck with Mayberry in terms of which first baseman is chosen higher. Head is also a nominee for the Golden Spike Award.
"I'm sure a lot of clubs are going to like him in different ways," one National League scout said. "He's successful from both sides [pitching and first]. That's the first thing teams will have to decide, where they like him best. Sometimes you take those kinds of guys because there's always a fallback position. But you set yourself up for failure that way. But he's a very competitive kid, a now performer who should be able to move up fast."
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.