Pluses and Minuses
For those following the upcoming June amateur draft, 2006 has been a year of cynicism. While no one ever proclaimed the '06 class to be top-heavy, the preseason talk centered around one of the best and deepest group of pitchers in recent memory.
After a 2005 draft in which no pitcher was chosen among the first five picks, the tables were set to be turned in 2006. However, one by one, the wheels have come off for many of the junior blue chippers. Max Scherzer, injured. Daniel Bard, inconsistent. Dallas Buck, ineffective.
With the draft just about two short months away, player's stocks seem as volatile as ever. Take Ian Kennedy as an example. Early in the season, we saw the player many had labeled the safest pick in the draft, dominant through three starts.
However, what followed was a string of mediocrity, when Kennedy proved as flappable as anyone in the country. He hadn't suffered such a slump in all his years as a Trojan.
But with one start, the stock of Ian Kennedy was back. Pitching against Brandon Morrow and the rival California Bears, Kennedy went ten innings to earn his first win in quite a few outings. He showed great control and pitchability in addition to proving his valuable "innings-eater" label.
This week, unfortunately, Kennedy could not keep scouts' spirits high. Pitching in the thin air of Tempe, Arizona, Kennedy had his worst start of the year: 11 hits and 8 earned runs in 5.1 innings. Despite his best efforts, Kennedy has been pronounced a first rounder through all of 2006's trials and tribulations. But as the last two weeks have shown, single starts will have plenty of impact on how much slot money Ian is allotted.
Without question, each member of this year's draft class comes with a serious number of caveats. Here's one attempt at balancing the positives and negatives with a few players making movement on draft boards...
Tim Lincecum, RHP: Washington
If the season ended today, no player would be more deserving of the Golden Spikes trophy. It took Lincecum a while to get going, but since he has not looked back. A quick glance at his last four starts, in which he has not yielded an earned run:
During this streak, Lincecum has struck out about 45% of the hitters he has faced. He has been so dominant, in fact, that just 16.4% of these batters have reached base via a hit or walk. Once full of control problems, Lincecum has been on point since rocky starts against Santa Clara and Cal Poly.
Statistically, Lincecum is at the top of college baseball. He could very well enter an organization with the nation's most prestigious prize. In addition, he will come with maybe the most devastating two-pitch combination out there, with a mid 90s fastball and devastating curve. Everything rosy?
Not exactly. While scouts fixate on Lincecum's tiny frame, others point to a workload that would run most pitchers ragged. In four straight starts the Huskie faced more than 30 batters, during which time he also pitched in relief on short rest. The best player on an overachieving team, Lincecum is ridden very hard.
While some pitchers can thank a rubber arm for endurance, some see Lincecum as a ticking time bomb. His herky-jerky delivery, mixed with that small frame and heavy workload, seems to be a definite sign of arm trouble down the road. Once considered a third round pick because of this red flag, Lincecum's dominance has some teams hoping to play roulette.
Matt Antonelli, 3B/2B: Wake Forest
I have been tooting Antonelli's horn in this space for quite some time now, as I fell in love with his patience-athleticism combination display in the Cape last year. Even while Antonelli started to show newly-developed power this year, I said the former football and hockey star could handle a move to the middle of the diamond.
Someone was listening. After showing his offensive versatility with a move from the middle of the order to the leadoff slot, Antonelli started to show versatility in the field this past weekend. For the first time in his career, Antonelli helped the Demon Deacons at another position, playing half the series at second base. Certainly, this will not help alleviate the long-standing comparison to Edgardo Alfonzo.
Entering the season as a definite early round selection, many think his newfound power (hitting his 11th homer on Sunday) will undoubtedly lead to a first round selection. But be careful, as teams are not afraid to look at context. At his site, Boyd Nation ranks the Division I baseball teams each week, top to bottom.
According to Nation's rankings, Wake Forest has played nine top 100 teams this year, playing 18 games against the group. More of his games have been against worse teams, including six games against club's ranked below the 200 slot. Against the 11 schools he has faced ranked below 100, Antonelli has been dominant, hitting .430 with 20 of his 25 extra-base hits.
However, when up against the best his schedule has to offer, it has been a different story for Antonelli. Against the nine top 100 teams, Matt is just 17/69, good for a .246 average and .391 slugging percentage. While being able to pound Wright State and Virginia Tech is important, Antonelli has much to prove in upcoming weekend series against Florida State, Miami and Clemson. His performance should dictate whether or not Antonelli is among the top 30 picks in the draft.
Daniel Bard, RHP: North Carolina
For the first time in the school's history, the Tar Heel baseball team was recently given the #1 overall ranking by one outlet. This fact goes far to validate much of the preseason hype surrounding North Carolina, seen by many as the most top heavy baseball team in the nation.
"With those two, how could they lose?" one reader asked me, referring to the consensus top-six pitchers Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard. But while Miller has been fantastic, staying consistent and on pace to be drafted first overall, Bard is pitching his way out of the top ten. Instead of two sure-fire wins per weekend, extra onus has been placed on other Tar Heels, like shortstop Josh Horton, third ace Robert Woodard, and closer Andrew Carnigan.
This past weekend, Bard had his first quality start in five outings. By shutting out Virginia Tech (ranked #131 by Boyd), Bard put a temporary stop to his recent decline. Still, the right-hander walked five batters in 7 innings, bringing the five-start total to 20 in 26.1 innings.
Like Antonelli, Bard has struggled against the best on the Tar Heel schedule. In three consecutive starts against good programs in Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami, Bard failed to make it out of the fifth inning. He allowed eleven earned runs in 12 innings. Without the slider -- a potential plus pitch with the development of consistency -- Bard is just another hard thrower.
Early in the season, I claimed Bard had cemented his status as one of the nation's top three pitchers, and was challenging Scherzer for the second spot. Oops. Now, both Brandon Morrow and Brad Lincoln have firmly moved past Bard, who will be in a two-month race with a few other starters for the fifth college pitcher selected honor.
Greg Reynolds, RHP: Stanford
Personally, I have never understood it. OK, Brandon Morrow had an ERA over 9.00 his sophomore year. And Max Scherzer was a disaster as a freshman. I get that, but each balances those poor statistics with an upper 90s mph fastball. While Greg Reynolds possesses good stuff and great size, I have never understood the love for Reynolds.
Like Kennedy and Bard, Reynolds appeal is for his early season statistics. Through four starts, Reynolds was validating the preseason hype, especially after dominating Fresno State, striking out 11 in 7.2 innings. Since, Greg has only been impressive in one start, against the Cardinal's lone second half cookie-cutter opponent: San Jose State.
Reynolds is a mixed bag in every sense of the phrase. His delivery isn't fluid enough, and his head-bobbing wind up is blamed for control problems. But Reynolds also offers fantastic arm action to go with his size, indicating a lot of velocity and pitchability in his future.
But with first round picks, results are important. Without a better resume, Reynolds stands to have a more disappointing draft day than many are projecting.
Rounding out the Pitchers
After a bad couple months, Joba Chamberlain had a big weekend pitching against Texas A&M. With Bard and Kennedy, he has a chance at becoming the fifth college pitcher drafted. As do the two college closers -- Mark Melancon and Blair Erickson -- though that's probably too early for both. Melancon was out this past weekend, while Erickson had an unsuccessful attempt at the rotation. Sleeper Josh Butler has been too hittable for San Diego this past week, and now stands as a fringe first rounder. Jared Hughes is in the same boat, and with a big finish, teammate Andrew Carpenter could catch him. Falling is Dallas Buck, who finally this weekend had a good start (if not dominant) against a good team.
Other Big Hitters
Wes Hodges had a good weekend, and his numbers are sitting at the best point of his season. While I still question whether his power will make it to the next level, it's hard to imagine he slips past the middle of the first round. The same is true for Drew Stubbs, who will be worth the gamble for some team. He is the Tyler Greene, if more talented, of 2006. Slugger Matt LaPorta continues his all-or-nothing ways; I'm convinced Mark Hamilton (Tulane) will make for the better choice. Finally, look for some teams to snatch up sure-fire players like Chad Tracy and Shane Robinson around supplemental draft time.
College baseball's short season makes each weekend more important than the previous. In a world where Tim Lincecum is mentioned for the top overall pick thanks to four fantastic starts, expect major changes in common draft mentality before the next time I bring this up. Welcome to the world of "ping."