05/23/05 12:33 PM ET
The real deal
Georgia Tech stars expected to go quickly in draft
By Jon Cooper / Special to MLB.com
All three juniors, key players on the fifth-ranked Yellow Jackets, were drafted right out of high school -- Greene by the Atlanta Braves and Neighborgall by the Boston Red Sox in 2002, and Slayden by the San Diego Padres in 2001 (he was also drafted by the Oakland Athletics last year).
What's different this time around is that each is ready to make the jump to the pros and probably won't need to wait much past the first round to find out who their suitors will be.
The trio should add to Georgia Tech's Draft Day tradition of excellence. Last year, 10 Yellow Jackets were drafted with eight of them signing Major League contracts, raising the list of alumni in the Majors to 39.
Greene means go
Greene was the highest-selected draftee to choose Georgia Tech over the pros when he was selected by the Braves in the second round of the 2002 Draft out of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The 6-3, 190-pound native of Plantation, Fla., said he has no regrets about his decision to use college to improve his game and raise his stock.
"One of the biggest things is maturing, maturing my whole game," said Greene, who continued the tradition of superb Tech shortstops who've worn No. 5. "Then just working hard at every little part and improving it."
The work paid off in 2005 as Greene was at the top of every facet of his game.
With three games left in the regular season, the three-year starter at shortstop was hitting .362, almost 70 points higher than his career average, with career highs in home runs (equalling a team-high 11), runs scored (66), RBIs (60, including equalling a team season-high eight on April 3 against Maryland), hits (77) and total bases (126).
Much like his baseball hero, Cal Ripken Jr., Greene is the complete package at the plate. He can hit to all fields and for average and power, as evidenced by his .592 slugging percentage, third on the club.
His range and hands on defense have never been in question, as he's fielding a solid . 949, with 13 errors.
Perhaps Greene's biggest improvement this season has come on the basepaths, where he has swiped 28 bases in 29 attempts. That combination of speed and instinct should work to his advantage come Draft day.
"It's not something everybody has," said Greene, who was named shortstop of Baseball America's Midseason All-America team. "Speed is also something that you can't really teach, so it's great to have that aspect of your game."
Third time's the charm
Although he's been drafted twice before, Slayden has a healthier outlook for 2005, which stems directly from his healthy right shoulder.
"I've been through [the First-Year Player Draft] two other times, but both times I didn't expect much because I'd had shoulder surgery," recalled the 6-0, 195-pound native of Murfreesboro, Tenn., who attended Oakland High School in Murfreesboro. "This time is a lot different, just being a lot more healthy."
After missing all but nine games in 2004 following his second -- and he says more thorough -- surgery to repair a tear in his right shoulder, Slayden resumed the form that had earned him 2002 Freshman All-America accolades. That season, he hit .348 and set a school freshman record with 18 home runs and 66 RBIs.
He started 2005 with a bang, going 5-for-9 with two home runs and six RBIs on Feb. 12 and 13 at Georgia Southern. A month later, he earned Conference and National Player of the Week honors for his performance in four games against William & Mary, Georgia Southern and Wake Forest, in which he hit .786 (11-for-14) with four home runs and 17 RBIs (including a career-high eight against Wake Forest on March 12), with a 1.714 slugging percentage and a .850 on-base percentage.
He led the team in homers for most of the season but was slowed by a cyst on the bottom of his right foot, which first limited his ability to regularly play the outfield then required season-ending surgery on May 11. He finished with 38 career home runs, ninth on the school's all-time list.
While the premature ending to 2005 dampened Slayden's spirits, the majority of the season was encouraging and points to a bright future in right field.
"When I'm in good shape, I know I can get good jumps on the ball and have a good arm to throw guys out," he said. "Recently, referring back to that foot injury, that's my back foot, so I'm having a hard time pushing off it and that's made it tough to make good throws, but right field is what I'm used to and when my arm is healthy I have a good enough arm to play there."
Belying the numbers
A team looking for a pitcher with eye-popping numbers probably won't draft right-hander Jason Neighborgall. A team looking for a pitcher with eye-popping stuff certainly will.
Armed with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball (voted the best by Baseball America in its 2005 preview), a sharp curveball and a devastating changeup, the 6-5, 215-pound righty from Hillsborough, N.C., has come a long way since he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the seventh round in 2002 straight out of Riverside High School in Durham, N.C.
"Anyone's going to mature over three years," said Neighborgall. "I've developed a changeup, which has helped a lot, and I'm able to get my curveball over for more strikes. My mechanics obviously have improved, so there are a lot of things."
Coming into 2005, Neighborgall boasted a 3-1 record and held opposing batters to a .217 average. Yet he owned a 6.94 ERA. Control was his biggest issue, as he'd walked 60 in 48.0 innings over two seasons -- 24 of the free passes came in 6 2/3 innings in 2004, when he was used as a reliever.
His effective summer work with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod League and the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League, where he allowed only 11 hits in 26 2/3 innings, served as a springboard into 2005.
Another factor working in Neighborgall's favor in 2005 was being part of the starting rotation. He was 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA (7 earned runs in 31 1/3 innings) and 22 Ks in seven starts as a freshman, but split his time as a starter and reliever that year and only relieved in 2004 in which he struggled (0-1, 27.00 ERA -- 20 earned runs in 6 2/3 innings).
After an opening day no-decision in 2005, Neighborgall won his first five decisions, including a March 4 win against Duke, in Durham, when he struck out a team season-high and career-best 12 batters.
He finished the year with a seven-start winless streak that included four no-decisions, but Neighborgall remained difficult to hit, as his .241 average against led all Tech pitchers and he chalked up 71 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings.
"Experience has played a part in it," he said. "My defense plays great behind me, they pick up a lot of hard-hit balls. But I just try to throw it in there and see what happens."
Unfortunately, he still has bouts with his control, as he also set career highs for hit batsmen in a game (four against Florida State on April 16), and wild pitches (three in 1/3 of an inning against Miami on March 25).
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.