05/23/08 12:40 PM ET
Draft notebook: Nieto swats stock up
Catcher reportedly draws Theo's attention in state title game
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
It's last look time, ladies and gentlemen, as teams start trying to figure out their draft boards in earnest with two weeks to go before the big event. And while perhaps too much can be put into a final impression, getting that last idea on players through the intensity of postseason play or from an all-star event with tons of scouts on hand can say a lot about how a player deals with pressure.
Who'll take advantage of the opportunities and continue to rise up charts? Who'll get one more shot to prove doubters wrong after a subpar season? Who's returning from injury and who's now on the sidelines? Let's take a look in Week 3 of the Draft Notebook.
There are some obvious choices, like high school shortstop Anthony Hewitt, projected right here on MLB.com to go No. 1. Or how about Canadian high schooler Brett Lawrie, who's playing his way into the middle of the first round as well. Or perhaps another of the college relievers, like a Daniel Schlereth, who lit up radar guns big-time with tons of eyes on him during Arizona's weekend series against Stanford. Instead, let's go with a high-school catcher.
Adrian Nieto isn't playing his way into the first round. But he's showing that the First-Year Player Draft season is unlike most other aspects of life. In his case, the last impression could be the most important.
Scouts will admit, sometimes regrettably, that they are guilty of adding too much weight to the last time they saw a potential draftee, letting that sway a decision more than an overall body of work at times. If that's the case, then Nieto is peaking at just the right time.
Coming into the spring, he was considered one of the top high school backstops in the country. Playing for powerhouse American Heritage High School in Florida, along side top prospect Eric Hosmer, among others, ensured he'd get plenty of looks. For most of the year, though, he was just kind of average. But earlier this week, in American Heritage's state title-winning game, Nieto homered twice.
Now that would be all well and good, had it not been in front of important people. Not only were there plenty of scouts there, but Red Sox GM Theo Epstein reportedly was in attendance.
It's hard to say what one performance will do, but it's not out of the question to think that Nieto's late surge moved him from the second round up into the sandwich round (the Red Sox pick at No. 45, the next-to-last selection of the supplemental first round). And Nieto has the chance to build off the championship game: he'll be in Sebring (see below) at Florida's high school All-Star Game this weekend.
Lead balloon update
One look at Harold Martinez and you think, "ballplayer." He simply, as more than one scout has put it, looks the part. Unfortunately for his draft status, he hasn't played the part all that well this spring.
He's played in all the big showcases, events like the AFLAC All-American Game and the Cape Cod High School Classic. He was on everyone's radar as one of the top prep talents in south Florida, but he hasn't lived up to the hype, and has appeared to lack confidence at the plate at times.
There's no doubt there are some who will still project away on his potential. It does seem there are fewer who are sure he'll reach it, at least enough to make him an early pick. If he slides too far -- and what "too far" is will be up to Martinez -- he could easily spend the next three years at the University of Miami. That certainly isn't a bad thing, especially if he needs time to allow the performance to catch up to his raw tools, but it's a far cry from the guy who seemed poised to be a first rounder when the season began.
Something to prove
Last week, the "something to prove" subject was Stanford catcher Jason Castro, who needed to show that the buzz around him was worth it. The lefty-hitting catcher went a combined 7-for-15 with two doubles and four RBIs in a well-attended series at Arizona.
For this week -- and for the "On the Shelf" section below -- we'll head to the Coast and Pepperdine University. Pitcher Brett Hunter was going to be the subject for "On the Shelf," but he was just dusted off, perhaps just in time to make an impression.
The right-hander started this past Tuesday against UC Riverside -- after a relief appearance last Saturday against Santa Clara -- going 1 2/3 innings and allowing two earned runs (four total) on three hits and three walks. Obviously, the rust was thick. According to a report on Baseball America, he was throwing around 92 mph and it did not look like he was really just letting go.
There isn't a whole lot of time for Hunter to prove himself to the scouts. He was, prior to his arm injury, an exciting prospect with electric stuff highlighted by a plus, plus fastball. But he's missed nearly all of the college season. Pepperdine had a series against San Diego for the West Coast Conference Championship this weekend and there was a chance that the former ace could see some action. If Pepperdine wins on Friday, he could get the start on Sunday, if that game is necessary (it's best two-of-three). If the Waves lose the opener, Hunter could be available for relief work on Saturday. After that, Pepperdine should get into regional play, giving scouts one last look at the righty.
There's little Hunter would be able to do in terms of results at this point that would help him very much. But if he can get into another game or two, even in relief, and give scouts a sense that he's healthy -- he didn't look too healthy on Tuesday -- and able to throw all of his pitches, they might be more likely to go on track record in determining when to draft him.
On the Shelf
While Hunter was getting back to action, Pepperdine was losing outfielder Eric Thames. He initially got hurt last Friday against Santa Clara while running to first. It seemed unclear what the extent of the injury was, though BA had reported the feeling was he'd be lost through Pepperdine's run in the postseason and, obviously, through the Draft.
MLB.com has learned that Thames, who'd moved himself into possible supplemental first round consideration with the year he was having, suffered a slight tear of the quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He was scheduled to have surgery on the leg on Friday and is expected to be out at least six weeks. How much that affects his draft status remains to be seen.
Where to be
Sebring, Florida: Florida Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Game
Sure, it'd be easy to pick any number of big college tournaments, but there's sure to be plenty of juice in Sebring, Florida, at the annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Game.
Every year, Florida has some of the best prep talent (the ability to play year-round certainly doesn't hurt) and this season is no different. Scheduled to be at the game are a number of American Heritage's top prospects like Hosmer and Nieto.
But that's not all. Want to get a last look at some talented lefties? Brett DeVall and Anthony Ferrara (scheduled to throw on Friday), among others, will be there. D.J. Hicks and Wesley Freeman will be taking some hacks. So will Rolando Gomez and even the aforementioned Harold Martinez, who'll get one more shot to show what he can do in front of decision-makers.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.