Baseball BeatApril 12, 2008
Previewing the Draft
By Rich Lederer

The motto of Baseball Analysts is "examining the past, present, and future," which means covering everything from baseball history to high school, college, and minor league prospects.

With the amateur draft less than two months away (June 5 and 6), we want to give progress reports throughout the next few days on a number of the top players, starting with a college pitcher who could very well be selected first by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Missouri's Aaron Crow, who entered last night's start versus Texas with a consecutive scoreless innings streak of 42 2/3, allowed five runs in the first frame and nine overall yet still picked up the victory as the Tigers beat the Longhorns by a football score of 31-12 in the opening game of their weekend series at Taylor Stadium. The nine runs allowed by the junior righthander were the first that he had given up in six weeks and the most of his college career.

According to Missouri's Sports Information Director Josh Murray, Crow's streak was the fifth longest in NCAA Division I history. The unofficial record is held by none other than Todd Helton, who hurled 47 2/3 scoreless innings for Tennessee in 1994. Ben McDonald (LSU, 44 2/3, 1989), Pat Venditte (Creighton, 43 2/3, 2007), and Eddie Bane (Arizona State, 43, 1972) also rank ahead of Crow. Kyle Jones of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville pitched a Division II-record 54 consecutive scoreless innings in 2006.

Helton won the Dick Howser Trophy as National Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year and was also honored by Baseball America as its College Player of the Year in 1995. A two-sport athlete, Helton played quarterback for the Volunteers and started several games during his junior season but was replaced by Peyton Manning when he suffered an injury. The rest of the story is history.

Crow, an undrafted pitcher out of Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kansas when his fastball peaked in the mid-80s, has worked hard to improve his conditioning, strength, and mechanics since his freshman season when he was a teammate of Max Scherzer, the 11th overall pick in 2006. Now 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Crow works in the low- to mid-90s and has reportedly touched 98 on the radar guns. Baseball America has called his heater the "best fastball in college baseball" while noting that he "owns the best slider and arguably the best command as well."

Baseball America ranked Crow as the top prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer when he went 3-1 with a 0.67 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 40 innings while pitching for the Falmouth Commodores. Along with Pedro Alvarez (3B, Vanderbilt), Brian Matusz (LHP, San Diego), and Tim Beckham (SS, Griffin HS, GA), Crow is one of the Fab Four in this year's draft and could go first if Tampa Bay shies away from Alvarez due to questions about his position or bonus demands.

Here are Crow's college stats, including his nine hits, two walks, nine runs outing on Friday:

GS  CG  SHO  IP   H   R  ER  BB  SO  W-L  ERA
 8   3   3   57  45  13  13  13  71  8-0  2.05

Crow's college teammate Jacob Priday slugged four home runs in that 31-12 rout of Texas last night. He set a Big 12 Conference record and tied for third most in NCAA history while moving within one of the school record with 44 for his career. Priday, who went 5-for-5 with six runs and nine RBI, is hitting .410/.500/.914 on the season. Undrafted in high school and college, Priday was ranked No. 20 among seniors in Baseball America's Top 50 College Prospects by Class. A 6-1, 215-pound outfielder, Priday's future will be dependent on how far his bat takes him.

Kyle Russell, who was profiled on these pages last year, also cranked two home runs in the slugfest last evening. Selected in the fourth round last summer by the St. Louis Cardinals as a draft-eligible sophomore, Russell didn't sign a professional contract and returned to the Forty Acres for his junior season. The left-handed-hitting rightfielder got off to a horrific start this season (.230 with 1 HR in his first 24 games) and has only gone yard five times after leading the NCAA and setting a school record with 28 dingers in 2007. Questions abound as to whether Russell can hit with a wood bat, something he has failed to do during summer leagues in the past.

Teammate Jordan Danks (.344/.472/.547) is hitting for average and extra bases but still has not exhibited the home-run power expected of him when he was a high school star. The brother of Chicago White Sox lefthander John, his stock has slipped a bit but the 6-5, 209-pound outfielder was still rated by Baseball America as the 37th-best junior heading into this season.

Be sure to check back on Monday for additional updates on college propects.


John Danks is no longer Rangers property...

I made that fix. Thanks.

Noticed Pat Venditte's name is spelled wrong. And I'm real curious where he'll be drafted with his uniqueness and good numbers but lack of top notch competition in the MVC.

I fixed the spelling of Pat's last name. Thanks.

You may have already noticed that Venditte was selected as the MVC Pitcher of the Week yesterday. He earned two saves and a win while striking out 14 batters in 7 2/3 innings of relief. The ambidextrous pitcher leads the conference in strikeouts with 61 and is tied for fourth nationally in appearances with 21.

I asked Jim Callis of Baseball America for his take on Venditte, and he told me that the then junior "wasn't signable last year for what teams would pay him, which is why he went so late." Jim thinks he's a "longshot" to pitch in the majors. Says he has "fringy to decent stuff as a righty, and he's a low-angle, low-80s guy with a sweepy slider from the left side. Tremendous weapon in college, but he's going to have his work cut out for him in pro ball."