05/20/08 10:34 AM ET
Middle-infield pool fair at best
After highly touted Beckhams, dropoff in talent perceptible
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
OK, so maybe it's not that dire, but the dropoff after the top two middle infielders in the class, the Beckham boys, is perceptible. All signs point to Tim Beckham, the high school shortstop out of Georgia, and Gordon Beckham, the University of Georgia shortstop, going in the top 10 picks of the Draft. And no, they are not related.
After that, it's anybody's guess. There are some late risers from the high school ranks and a couple of solid if unspectacular college guys who'll be drafted pretty well, but likely not within shouting distance of Beckham squared.
"It's not a great year for middle infielders," a scouting director said. "Some of the college guys we hoped would step up haven't. There isn't a great, great number of premium high school middle-infield guys, either. It's certainly not a great shortstop year."
Case in point is a pair of shortstops one would have automatically assumed would be on this list but aren't. UCLA's Brandon Crawford may end up being a steal, but he's followed up a rough Cape Cod season with a subpar junior campaign and played himself down to later in the Draft. Ditto for high schooler Harold Martinez, who at one point was considered one of the better prep position players in the country. He looks the part, but the performance hasn't been there, and college could be in his future.
But enough about those not on the list. It's time to examine those who are.
David Adams, 2B, University of Virginia: A good, hard-nosed player who's not afraid to get dirty, Adams hasn't had the kind of year with the bat some hoped for, seeing his average dip under .300. But he does all the little things to help a team win, plays a pretty good second base and players coming out of Virginia have had a tendency to perform better offensively as professionals after leaving the spacious confines of their home park in college. He's not Ryan Zimmerman, mind you, but it's likely he'll be drafted pretty well because of what he might be able to do at second at the next level.
Tim Beckham, SS, Griffin (Ga.) H.S.: If you're looking for the best all-around toolsy player in the Draft class, this probably is your guy. Beckham can do everything, with the potential to do it all well in the future. He may not be as advanced as the Upton brothers were coming out -- the players with whom he's most often compared -- but unlike B.J. and Justin, most people feel that Beckham will be able to stay at shortstop for a long time. When you consider the complete package of offensive skills combined with the ability to stay at that premium position defensively, it's no wonder that the high schooler is being considered among the first few picks and very well could be the No. 1 overall pick on Draft day.
Gordon Beckham, SS, University of Georgia: There may not be another player who's helped improve his Draft status more with his performance this spring than this Beckham. He's hitting over .400 and has been at or near the top of all Division I hitters in homers, currently with 23. He has an advanced approach at the plate, will draw walks and not strike out a ton. He's the kind of infielder who'll probably get every opportunity to play his way off of shortstop, and though some feel that second base might be his best spot long-term, he also could be the type to defy expectations and play a solid, fundamentally sound shortstop. Don't expect this Beckham to make it out of the top half of the first round, either.
Ryan Flaherty, SS, Vanderbilt: One of the slightly underperforming college middle infielders referenced earlier, Flaherty still has a fair share of admirers. He has a good swing from the left side of the plate. He hadn't shown much power in the past, though he does have 13 homers this year. He has a gun for an arm, though he probably doesn't have the range to be a shortstop long-term. If some power does start to come, he might make for a pretty good left-handed-hitting third baseman as a pro. Despite not hitting quite as well as some would have hoped, if he finishes strong in postseason play, he'll still find a home fairly early in the Draft.
Reese Havens, SS, University of South Carolina: It may sound cliched, but Havens gets lots of praise from scouts as being a real "baseball player," meaning he knows how to play the game the right way. While making strides offensively, he hadn't hit all that much until this year, when he's really stepped it up, hitting .357 with 16 homers for the Gamecocks. He's solid defensively, but his lack of foot speed may mean he'll need to move to third. If scouts are convinced that he can continue developing his bat, he might be just fine there. It's a year when being a solid college infielder might mean a lot, and Havens' name was creeping into first-round conversations as Draft day moved closer.
Anthony Hewitt, SS, Salisbury (Conn.) School: A bit of a late riser -- perhaps because playing in the Northeast means a later start and fewer looks that scouts can get -- Hewitt is a terrific athlete with raw tools to spare. He can run, throw and has some serious strength, and he may have as high a ceiling as anyone in this group, if not the entire Draft class. He's still rough around the edges, though he's improved tremendously this spring, and the consensus is that his long-term home will probably be in the outfield. Even so, he's worked his way into serious first-round consideration. At this point, the only thing that might hold him back is his commitment to Vanderbilt and the bonus it might take to keep him from going there.
Tyler Ladendorf, SS, Howard Junior College, Big Spring, Texas: Twice drafted previously, Ladendorf has had a monster season at Howard, one of the higher-ranked junior colleges in the nation. He's hit .542 and driven in 82 runs in 53 games, thanks to 29 doubles and 16 homers. He's also got 31 steals to give you an idea of his package of tools. He's big -- some think he may eventually be too big for shortstop -- but he's athletic enough that he probably can stay there for the time being, making him a very attractive possibility in the first few rounds.
Casey Kelly, SS, Sarasota (Fla.) H.S.: Will he want to play football? Is he willing to pitch? There are many questions surrounding the son of one-time Reds bench coach Pat Kelly, but there's little doubt about his ability. Though he can crank it up to the mid-90s on the mound, he has considerable skills as an infielder. He's a big guy, but there's been nothing to point him away from being an exciting, athletic shortstop in the future. The biggest question has always been about his bat, whether he'd hit enough for the pro game. It's looking as though he's answered those questions, as he's being mentioned as a first-round possibility. Whether that's enough to stop him from heading to the University of Tennessee as one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation remains to be seen.
Niko Vasquez, SS, Durango H.S., Las Vegas: When watching Vasquez for any length of time, two things jump out right away: his above-average power and his plus arm. He's not the most physically imposing guy in the world, but he does have some pop and should be an even better hitter with some tweaks to his swing. He has a cannon for an arm, and even though he has below-average speed, he has all the actions you want to see from a shortstop.
Jemile Weeks, 2B, University of Miami: That's right, it's Rickie's brother, and the guy has used an outstanding junior season to improve his Draft status considerably. He's hit for average, stolen a bunch of bases and even shown some surprising pop. He doesn't have the overall power his brother has, but it's been a nice surprise nonetheless. He's not a great defensive player, and there are those who think his eventual home will be in center field, where he can use his speed to track down balls. Wherever he carries his glove, what he's shown offensively this spring is likely enough to get him drafted in the first couple of rounds.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.