2005 Draft Preview: Who's No. 14?

Jed Lowrie completes a double play for Team USA.

In the perfect world, one of the two highest-ranked shortstops or the top-rated second baseman would be available when the Indians make their first-round selection in next month's First-Year Player Draft.

Unfortunately, by the time the Indians make the 14th overall selection, Justin Upton and Troy Tulowitzki, both blue-chip shortstops, and Jed Lowrie, a standout second baseman from Stanford, will probably be long gone.

On the other hand, all three might still be available. History shows us that the best players aren't always the first ones taken. The baseball draft, unlike football and basketball, often produces many surprises because of two factors not applicable in the other sports.

The order in which players are selected is often determined by signability, based either upon the player's option to go to college if he is a high school prospect, or return to college if he is drafted after his junior season.

Last year, for example, Jared Weaver and Stephen Drew might very well have been among the top five prospects available in the draft. But Weaver dropped to No. 12 and Drew to No. 15 because teams feared having to work with hard-line agent Scott Boras.

Those fears were realized as the Angels, who selected Weaver, and the Diamondbacks, who picked Drew, still are involved in contract negotiations. Boras says both players are likely to go back into this year's draft, although industry insiders believe either one or both will be signed before the draft.

No team wants to waste a first-round draft choice on a player who, even though he has indicated publicly he wants to turn pro, will instead honor a college commitment.

The Indians, like most teams, have been burned. The most recent example is pitcher Alan Horne, who was supposed to be the Tribe's fifth member of the highly-regarded Class of 2001 high school pitchers. Horne, the 27th overall choice in 2001, opted to attend the University of Mississippi instead of signing with Cleveland.

In hindsight, it was a very bad decision by Horne. He hurt his arm, underwent Tommy John surgery, transferred to Chipola (Fla.) Junior College and is now attending the University of Florida, where he is in the Gators' starting rotation.

At one time, Horne's fastball topped out in the mid to upper 90s. It now is in the 88-93 mph range. He has improved his command of his slider, but scouts say he will likely only be a third-to-fifth round draft choice this year because he has shown inconsistent control and has a very slow delivery to the plate.

Obviously, it is impossible to say what might have happened had he signed with the Indians, but there's no doubt the signing bonus he would have received in 2001 would have far outweighed what he will likely get this year even if he goes in the third round. At this point, he has no option other than to sign with the teams that selects him.

You should never say never, but I would be stunned if the Indians picked him again. There were clearly hard feelings when he refused to sign the first time and the same people, general manager Mark Shapiro and scouting director John Mirabelli, are still in charge of the draft just as they were in 2001.

In most instances, the size of the signing bonus offer will often dictate whether a player signs. However, it also not all that unusual for a high school player simply to say he wants to go to school rather than sign. In many of those cases, the high-schooler doesn't consider himself mature enough to jump into pro ball as a 17 or 18-year-old.

That's not the case for Upton, younger brother of B.J. Upton, the second overall pick in the 2002 draft. Justin Upton not only is the highest-rated shortstop in the draft, but probably the highest-rated player overall.

The Great Bridge (Chesapeake, Va.) High School product is considered a five-tool player who could end up in center field if his throwing accuracy doesn't improve.

Tulowitzki is a product of Long Beach State, where he took over for current Oakland A's star Bobby Crosby, last year's American League Rookie of the Year.

Some consider Tulowitzki a better prospect than Crosby, although that is subject to debate. Others believe he is getting more respect than he would have had he not followed Crosby at Long Beach State.

Lowrie is having a very strong offensive season for Stanford this year to improve his draft stock considerably after a very disappointing tour with Team USA last summer. He hit just .230 for Team USA, but scouts will likely point to the fact he hit 29 homers over the past two seasons for Stanford.

The Indians often fall in love with Stanford players, evidenced by the recent selections of Jeremy Guthrie (first-round, 2002), Jason Cooper (third-round, 2002), Ryan Garko (third-round, 2003), Mark Jecman (seventh-round, 2004) and trading for Stanford product Jody Gerut.

Don't be surprised if Lowrie is the choice based upon that past association and also the Tribe's need to add blue-chip middle infield prospects to its farm system. Shapiro has been spending quite a bit of time on the west coast and it hasn't been to audition for American Idol.

The Tribe will take a long look at this year's top shortstop and second base prospects because middle infield might very well be the weakest area of the Tribe's minor-league organization. Other than Brandon Phillips, who is currently playing shortstop at Buffalo, there really isn't a blue-chipper in the bunch.

Lowrie, if he pans out, could move up quickly through the system, making him a candidate for the major leagues within two or three years.

After Upton, Tulowitzki and Lowrie, the middle infield talent level suffers a noticeable drop-off. There doesn't appear to be any other player who would be a worthy choice at No. 14 overall. The one thing Mirabelli and his staff will not do is "reach" for a player just to fill a certain position.

Players such as Georgia Tech's Tyler Greene, who has had an up-and-down career since being a second-round draft choice by the Braves three years ago, could possibly be the choice because of his potential.

Otherwise, look for the Indians to go in a different direction if they don't happen to get one of the aforementioned players.

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