05/16/05 11:34 PM ET
Plenty of upside in the middle
2005 draft is rich in shortstop and second base prospects
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Once upon a time, speed was the name of the game in the middle infield. If a guy didn't have wheels at shortstop, he wouldn't even get a sniff in the upper rounds.
But times have changed. Now, being a good "baseball player" -- perhaps the highest compliment from scouts for players who just play the game the right way, but perhaps without a lot of individual tools -- is enough to get first-round consideration.
"You would never draft a shortstop who was a below-average runner," one scouting director said. "Now, it's morphed into guys who are good baseball players, and you look past that [they aren't fast runners].
"Like Bobby Crosby: He can't run, but he can play the game. Some of those guys will be able to stay at shortstop."
That's not an issue for the guy who is the consensus No. 1, not only at this position, but in terms of overall talent, in next month's First-Year Player Draft. Justin Upton is a high school phenom who some think is even better than his older brother B.J., who went No. 2 overall in the 2002 draft. Whether or not he stays at short is up for some debate, but there's no argument over his tremendous upside.
Troy Tulowitzki is the other shortstop often mentioned in the top five or so picks of the draft. The Long Beach State star definitely benefits from the change in philosophy, and teams looking for someone to move through their system quickly may decide to go with "Tulo."
There's a definite drop-off after that, with most other middle infielders projecting in the second half of the first round and beyond.
It should be noted that "middle infielder" is a general term for both shortstops and second basemen. But there's only one actual second baseman -- Stanford's Jed Lowrie -- worth noting among the top draft prospects up the middle.
"That's normal," the scouting director said. "There are several shortstops on there who'll become second basemen."
Here's a look at the top names to watch in the middle infield on June 7:
Justin Upton, SS, Great Bridge HS, Chesapeake, Va.
There is no question about Upton's overall ability. He's considered to be the best overall talent in the draft, with the strong possibility that he'll go No. 1 overall to the Diamondbacks. He's a future five-tool player, the kind that makes scouts drool. He can drive the ball to all fields, runs well and has soft hands at short. The only problem comes with his throws to first; he's been struggling with accuracy of late. But even as a center fielder, he's still the top guy in the class.
Scout's view: "The obvious thing is that you start him at short, because you're not going to move him from center field to shortstop. If he's spraying the ball around, then you move him."
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Long Beach State
"Tulo" has been an outstanding college player, one who could make it to the big leagues quickly. He's compared frequently to Crosby, and not just because Crosby was LBSU's shortstop, too. They have similar body types and games. Tulowitzki will be able to stay at shortstop defensively and should show some power at the position. The comparison could be a positive and a negative. It's never bad to be compared to an American League Rookie of the Year, but there might be some who think Tulowitzki gets overhyped because of the apparent similarities. He played very well for Team USA last summer, beating out Georgia Tech's Tyler Greene for the starting job.
Scout's view: "He's a good player, but you hope he's not getting a free pass because Bobby Crosby went to Long Beach State."
Tyler Greene, SS, Georgia Tech
Greene has been on the radar for a long time now, as he was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Braves out of high school three years ago. Greene's had an uneven college career, though he's put together some good numbers this season with a .343 average, nine homers, 50 RBIs and 25 steals. He's got excellent baserunning skills and a nice, fluid stroke at the plate. Defensively, he's much improved with easy throws that carry and fairly soft hands. It must be noted that Greene is advised by Scott Boras, which could affect his draft status.
Scout's view: "Having his agent is going to hurt him. He's not a premium guy that you have to have. When you have that guy and he's going to ask for premium dollars, it has to enter the equation. He didn't play with the confidence I was hoping to see."
Jed Lowrie, 2B, Stanford
The lone second baseman on this list, Lowrie has helped himself with a terrific offensive season. A preseason All-American, he's a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and is on the watch list for the Golden Spikes Award. He's hit 29 homers over the past two seasons, providing rare pop at this position. He only hit .230 for Team USA last summer, but most consider that a blip on the radar.
Scout's view: "He's a very good baseball player. He looks like he's got hands of steel, but he doesn't. He's a little better than that. He didn't handle himself well on the USA team, but I'm trying to look past that. The track record on Stanford position players is [not good]."
Cliff Pennington, SS, Texas A&M
Once rumored to be part of a pre-draft deal with the Royals all the way up at No. 2, it now seems more likely that the Aggie will go near the end of the first round. Pennington is a classic overachiever, a high-energy guy with outstanding makekup. Pennington is a pest on the basepaths and has 26 steals this season, making his patience at the plate (.446) a more dangerous tool. He's also slugging over a hundred points higher than in any other collegiate season. Defensively, he has good instincts and a plus arm, though some see him more as a utility guy at the big league level.
Scout's view: "He's a nice player for the teams that are looking for that kind of stuff."
Brandon Snyder, SS/C, Westfield HS, Centreville, Va.
There is some debate over whether Snyder projects as a catcher or a shortstop. There is a chance a team may want him to play short, though many do like him better as a backstop.
Scout's view: "To me, he's a first-rounder as a catcher. He's too heavy-legged to play short."
Reese Havens, SS, Bishop England HS, Sullivan's Island, S.C.
Havens has had a tremendous senior year, moving him up many draft charts. There is some debate about whether he'll be able to stay at short or have to move to third or second down the line. His bat, however, might project into an everyday presence in a big league lineup. He should develop more home run power with his strong, compact stroke. He has very good judgement of the strike zone for a high school player, perhaps a reason why there were reports that the Red Sox -- usually a college-heavy drafting team -- have been watching him closely.
Scout's view: "He's going to have to watch his lower half if he wants to stay at short. He loves to play, put on a show for those in there to see him. He's a legit guy."
Ryan Mount, SS, Ayala HS, Chino Hills, Calif.
For a high schooler, Mount has a very polished approach at the plate. The ball jumps off his bat with his short, quick swing. Long and lean, he's got room for growth, which makes pro scouts and Cal-State Fullerton, the college he signed with, excited about the potential there. He's in the Bobby Crosby mold in terms of skills, though he's got a plus, plus arm on defense. "A good baseball player," he even tries to look like the 2004 AL Rookie of the Year.
Scout's view: "He's probably made as much progress as any kid in the draft as far as positioning himself. He was off the screen coming into this."
Brent Lillibridge, SS/OF, Washington
Lillibridge has surprising pop for someone his size (5-foot-11, 185 pounds), with double-digit homers his freshman and sophomore years and a .586 slugging percentage this year. Lillibridge added outfield to his resume to add to his versatility, which might help since some scouts see him more as a utility guy down the line. He's a smart baserunner and shows solid actions on defense as well, with a build similar to the Astros' Chris Burke.
Scout's view: "I thought he was going to be something a few years back, but he's positioned himself into being a utility type."
And a few from the baseball family tree:
Ivan De Jesus, SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
Just like his dad, who's now the manager of the Astros' Class A Advanced affiliate in Salem, the young De Jesus is a glove-first shortstop. Of course, the elder De Jesus made a living out of that, even if the bat never fully came around.
Steven Tolleson, SS, South Carolina
Not only did Tolleson's father, Wayne, spend eight seasons in the big leagues with the Rangers, White Sox and Yankees, but the younger Tolly's uncle and grandfather also played pro ball. Tolleson hit .316 as a sophomore and was hitting .291 with 19 steals this season.
Drew Thompson, SS, Jupiter Community High School, Jupiter, Fla.
He's got a similar body type to his father, Robbie, who manned second base for the San Francisco Giants for so many years. A line-drive hitter to all fields, he's shown a little power in his high school career. He's a smart baserunner and his arm strength looks like it will play at shortstop, though he also knows how to play second.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.