2007 Player Draft: How About A Prep Pitcher?

Tim Alderson

The strength of this year's draft is in high school position players and there seems to be an unusual dearth of right-handed pitchers. The Indians have only one pick in the first three rounds (No. 13 overall) and have gone on record as saying they would not be adverse to "gambling" in order to get an "impact" player. Will it be a high school pitcher? Chances are good that's where they're looking.

In the past 10 drafts, the Indians have had 18 selections before the second round (including "sandwich" picks given for compensation after losing free agents). They have selected five prep pitchers during that time -- with completely mixed results.

In 1997, they took right-hander Tim Drew out of a Georgia High School with the 28th overall pick. In 1999, he went 13-5 at Class A Kinston and appeared on course for a good career. It never materialized. He went 2-4 with a 7.02 in 35 games at the big-league level with the Tribe, Montreal and Atlanta. His biggest asset to the Indians was being used in the trade that also sent Bartolo Colon to the Expos for ... Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore.

At least Drew made it to the majors. Three prep pitchers picked in the first 40 selections in 2001 have never made it to Cleveland.

Dan Denham was so-so in six years in the Tribe organization and sold to Oakland last month. Alan Horne didn't sign, went to college and hurt his arm, but was drafted again by the Yankees and is in their farm system. J.D. Martin has put up impressive numbers in the Indians' system -- when healthy. He had Tommy John surgery in 2005 and is currently on Akron's disabled list.

Also sidelined right now is right-hander Adam Miller, a sandwich pick in 2003 regarded as the top prospect in the Tribe organization. Picked No. 31 overall, he's been very impressive, but also had some injury woes. He missed time in 2005 with a strained elbow and is currently out with a finger injury.

The only prep pitcher picked by Cleveland in recent memory to make it is current staff ace C.C. Sabathia, selected 20th overall in 1998.

There have been many more misses than hits when it comes to selecting high school pitchers in the first round over the years. Still, the lure of getting a great talent leads organizations to take the plunge, year after year.

Here's a look at a few of the prized prep pitchers the Indians are considering as their first-round selection this year:

Blake Beavan, right-hander
6-7, 210 pounds
Irving (Texas) High School

He's more than a pitcher, as his .379 batting average during his senior year attests, and any player with that all-around athletic ability (such as Chuck Lofgren, now at Double-Akron) always intrigues Indians scouts.

Beavan participated in the prestigious AFLAC showcase event and has international experience, pitching for the U.S. in the 2006 World Junior Tournament when he went 3-0 with a 1.10 ERA that included a complete-game shutout over traditional powerhouse Cuba. In his first 11 high school games this spring, he allowed only 23 hits and four walks over 73 innings while striking out an eye-popping 139.

He did it with a fastball consistently timed at 94 mph, though he was clocked at 98 in a playoff game this spring. He mixes in a slider and changeup, but both need a lot of work.

Beavan admires fellow Texan Roger Clemens, but many scouts call him a right-handed Randy Johnson. That means he's got plenty of natural ability, though it may take longer to harness it and tame some of Beaven's youthful exhuberence.

An intense player with a bit of an edge to him, Beavan could be the high-risk, high-reward player the Indians are seeking in the first round. There's no doubting his high-reward profile as he's been on scouts' radar for several years. They love his willingness to compete, but some question his emotional development. He has rubbed many people the wrong way. During his junior year, he would make a 'K' sign with his fingers after every strikeout.

Beavan said he did it to pump up his teammates, but stopped when some opponents complained. He said that he now prefers just watching them walk back to the dugout. In a recent interview, Beavan gave a tell-tale sign into his thoughts off the field. Asked what his first purchase would be after signing what is likely to be a rich pro contract, his reply wasn't exactly one that fits with Indians owner Larry Dolan or general manager Mark Shapiro's family-oriented organizational philosophy:

"It will be a black [Cadillac] Escalade EXT truck," he said. "I'm going to deck it out. It's gonna be pimpin'."

That remark coming from an 18-year-old could be enough to make other clubs pass on Beavan. It may even make the Indians consider other prospects such as:

Phillippe Aumont, right-hander
6-7, 225 pounds
Ecole Du Versant, Gatineau, Quebec

The Indians probably know more about him than other clubs since Aumont spent a good deal of time working out at Cleveland's spring camp. What they saw is what other clubs suspect -- there's a lot to like, but it may take time and patient instruction to bring out all the potential.

The big guy could be a right-handed version of Sabathia. But as raw as the Indians' ace lefty was when he was Cleveland's first-round pick in 1998, Aumont makes the young C.C. look like a seasoned veteran.

His high school didn't have a spring season this year and hailing from the snowy climate of Quebec, he hasn't spent a great deal of time on the mound anyway. But when he has, Aumont has been very impressive. His fastball tops out at 96 mph, and those who have caught him report that it has a heavy sink ... meaning that he gets a lot of broken bats and intimidates hitters just by the unpleasant feeling they get when they do make contact -- it's like hitting a shot put.

Aumont's secondary pitch is a sharp slider, though he's very inconsistent with it. Big fellas (remember Jason Davis?) often struggle to repeat their delivery, timing and release point. When they do, the results can be spectacular. Getting there consistently is the frustrating part.

John Mirabelli, the Indians' assistant general manager in charge of scouting has gone on record as saying he's willing to push the envelope a bit with the club's only pick in the first three rounds at No. 13 overall. He's also said that the club would not shy away from a cold-weather player in light of failing with a few picks in that area of late. Aumont could be the high-risk, high-reward type player that Mirabelli was describing when he said, "You have to be aggressive if you want to make a splash."

That's all well and good ... as long as the organization is able to make it back to the surface and come up for air after jumping in with both feet this year.

Madison Bumgarner, left-hander
6-5, 220 pounds
South Caldwell High School, Hudson, N.C.

He's a typically stylish lefty with a smooth delivery, but what separates him from other high school pitchers is his ability to throw three pitches for strikes.

Like Beavan, he's much more than a pitcher. When he went 1-2 with a 0.99 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 84 innings as a junior a year ago, he also hit .392 with 14 homers and 39 RBI. In the first game of the best-of-three state finals, he hit two homers and pitched a shutout.

In his first 10 starts this spring, he went 7-2 with an 0.72 ERA, fanning 100 in 58 innings and allowing only 24 hits and eight walks.

Though he has signed a letter of intent with the University of North Carolina, he'll likely turn pro and has the emotional maturity to likely rise rapidly through a farm system.

Scouts compare him to current big-league stars Mark Mulder or Andy Pettitte. Bumgarner's fastball is clocked from 89 to 95 mph and has good, late movement. He throws both a slider and curve and gets them over for strikes, but many scouts question whether those pitches have enough sharp break to be effective in the pro ranks. It is one thing to sneak a 73 mph breaking pitch past a high school kid with 20 career at-bats and another to try and throw it against a hitter like Gary Sheffield.

Bumgarner is poised on the mound, but doesn't have much of a competitive background. Some scouts believe that a good organization willing to teach proper mechanics can boost the lefty's fastball to the upper 90s and get some sharp break to the curve and slider. But it's going to take time.

Michael Main, right-hander
6-2, 180 pounds
Deland (Florida) High School

He's considered an exceptional athlete, but missed much of his junior season with tendinitis in his rotator cuff.

He came back this spring to go 10-1 with a 1.03 ERA in his first 11 starts, striking out 103 and allowing 38 hits and 12 walks in 68 innings.

He's batted over .380 with more than 40 stolen bases during his high school career and some teams are considering him as a future outfielder. But he throws 94 mph, too, and pitchers with that stuff are more uncommon.

He's got plenty of big-game experience. Two years ago, he helped lead Team USA's Youth National Team to a second-place finish in Mexico in a Pan-American qualifying tournament for the 2005 World Youth Championship. He also played on four national AAU championship teams at ages nine, 10, 11 and 14.

Main needs work on his breaking pitches, but that's usually the case with all young pitchers.

Jarrod Parker, right-hander
6-1, 175 pounds
Norwell (Indiana) High School

He won all of his first seven starts this spring with a 0.20 ERA, but that's in a limited amount of innings because of the weather conditions in Indiana. In 34 innings, he gave up 10 hits and six walks, while striking out 68. That was enough to make many scouts rate him as one of the top pitching prospects in the nation.

Of course, they saw plenty of Parker when he went 1-0 with an 0.77 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 12 innings for the U.S. National Team that finished runner-up to Korea in the World Junior Championship in Cuba.

He's signed a letter of intent with Georgia Tech, where coach Danny Hall said the right-hander would move right into his starting rotation as a freshman. It is more likely that he'll be pitching professionally later this month, displaying a fastball that regularly hits 94-97 mph.

He commands both sides of the plate with his fastball and is not in the least bit fazed about pitching inside on hitters. He does it with a fluid delivery, though scouts wonder if his breaking pitches, still in the developmental stage, will have enough downward movement from a pitcher who stands only six-foot-one. Then again, all-stars Roy Oswalt and Tim Hudson are about that size and don't have that problem. Tom Gordon, at 5-foot-9, has been throwing a devastating curve to big-league hitters for 19 years.

There are times when scouts do something they dislike about some of their prospects: they over-analyze and think too much.

Josh Smoker
6-2, 190 pounds
Calhoun (Georgia) High School

Going 8-0 with an 0.76 ERA in nine starts this spring has boosted this stylish lefty's stock into a potential first-rounder. He's struck out 100 in 44 innings, allowing 12 hits and 17 walks.

As with most pitching prospects, he's got a good fastball, averaging 89-93 mph. Scouts like his ability to mix it in with a good breaking pitch, though Smoker has had times struggled to command the strike zone because of the late movement on his pitches.

He's solidly built, has good poise, and appears a little more polished than some high school pitchers who may have a little more raw ability.

What team wouldn't want a pitcher whose a real Smoker, though?

Tim Alderson
6-7, 210 pounds
Horizon High School, Scottsdale, Arizona

He's signed a letter of intent with Oregon State, but the pros want him first. In the All-American Baseball Game showcase this past weekend in New Mexico, he was the MVP after pitching two scoreless innings and going 2-for-3 at bat, with a three-run homer and four RBI.

What gets scouts talking is his curveball, which projects as his best pitch. His fastball is usually timed at 89-93 mph -- not what you would expect from such a big pitcher.

That also may make Alderson even more intriguing. He never uses a windup and has a funky motion. He's a conglomeration of arms and legs jumping at you at once, then out pops an ordinary fastball ... or a killer curve. Such stuff has made Tom Mastny successful, but the Indians' right-hander was only an 11th-round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2003.

Pitchers with funky motions don't go in the first round. Guys with only nine walks and 173 strikeouts over two seasons do, however. And that's what Alderson has done in 2006 and 2007. In his first 13 appearances this year, he went 11-0 with an 0.64 ERA and even picked up two saves. In 65 innings, he allowed 34 hits and four walks -- striking out 111.

Many of those strikeouts came from the big curve, with which few high schoolers know what to do. Pro players do. They'll let it drop out of the strike zone, force the pitcher to come in with the so-so fastball, then hit it out of the park. But a big pitcher who can develop a changeup then swings the pendulum back in his favor. They'll swing and miss when expecting the fastball ... or be late on the mediocre heater if they look for the change. And when that happens, then they start jumping at the curve again, making it an effective pitch.

Isn't baseball a wonderful sport? And isn't it darn near impossible to project whether a big guy like Alderson can effectively make all those adjustments two, four, six or eight years from now?

It could happen, and Alderson could be the biggest star to come out of this draft. Or he could be just another high school player who put up big numbers and years from now is working in a bank, ad agency or ... gasp ... as a sportswriter.

Who do the Indians pick?

Any of these 18-year-olds could be gone by the time it is Cleveland's turn to select at No. 13. But two or three of these pitching prospects likely will still be on the board. Lefties are tougher to find than right-handers, so that may bring it down to Bumgarner or Smoker. Yet Aumont is potentially the bigger prize, although he has the least experience ... though Mirabelli has hinted that the organization is willing to take a risk.

Get ready to say: "Bienvenue vers Cleveland, Phillippe. Quel nombre aimez-vous sur votre uniforme?

(Welcome to Cleveland, Phillippe. What number would you like on your uniform?"

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