By Kevin Askeland
When it comes to high school baseball, the consensus is that no one can play it like Beckham.
That’s Tim Beckham a shortstop out of Griffin, Ga., not to be confused with soccer star David Beckham or even fellow Georgian Gordon Beckham, a college shortstop who is also expected to go somewhere near the top of the Major League Baseball amateur draft, slated to begin at 2 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday.
While college players are expected to dominate the first 10 picks in Thursday’s draft, Tim Beckham is the one high school player with enough tools to warrant a possible No. 1 overall selection. Some mock drafts, including one by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, have Beckham going to the Tampa Bay Rays with the No. 1 overall pick. Others see Beckham possibly slipping a few spots, but not getting past the San Francisco Giants with the No. 5 selection.
Beckham was tabbed as the No. 1 overall prospect in the country at the start of the season by Baseball America. Possessing all of the tools necessary to play shortstop at the big league level, Beckham has reportedly talked to only the Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates, who hold the No. 2 pick, indicating that he will be chosen among the top two selections in the draft.
Beckham is fresh off an outstanding season in which he led his team to the Georgia 5A state finals before falling to Brookwood in the championship series. Although not the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year (which went to Ethan Martin), Beckham batted .480 with six home runs.
While Beckham is expected to be the top high school player chosen in Thursday’s draft, others who could sneak into the top five include catcher Kyle Skipworth of Patriot (Calif.) and first baseman Eric Hosmer of American Heritage (Fla.).
Following is a look at the top prospects for the 2008 Major League Baseball amateur draft.
The list of top lefthanded high school pitchers includes Kyle Lobstein of Coconino (Ariz.), Brett DeVall of Niceville (Fla.), Jarret Martin of Centennial (Calif.), Robbie Ross of Lexington Christian Academy (Kent.) and Nick Maronde of Lexington Catholic (Kent.).
DeVall is the only one of the lot who figures to go in the first round and that will most likely be near the end of the top 30 picks. He has a 90-91 mph fastball and reportedly had 140 strikeouts and a 13-1 record this year.
Lobstein went 6-2 with 75 strikeouts in the regular season for Coconino. He is expected to land somewhere in the second round. Martin had an outstanding year at the plate, finishing as the nation’s leading home run hitter, according to MaxPreps.com, with 18 homers and 52 RBI to go with a .438 batting average. On the mound, Martin had just nine starts and finished 5-2 with 57 strikeouts in 32 innings and a 3.72 ERA.
Ross defeated both DeVall and local rival Nick Maronde in head-to-head duals earlier this year, although he lost to Maronde in the state playoffs late last month. Maronde, meanwhile, led his team to a regional title and has posted a 36-2 career record. All four hurlers are expected to go somewhere in the late second to third rounds.
Heading into the season, the top four right handed pitchers were Tim Melville of Holt (Mo.), Gerrit Cole of Lutheran (Calif.), Alex Meyer of Greensburg (Ind.), and Sonny Gray of Smyrna (Tenn.).
Melville, Cole and Gray have all seen their stock slide a bit or have been sidelined with injury. Melville got off to a rocky start this year with control issues, however his fastball has been clocked in the mid 90s. The top-ranked high school pitcher at the start of the season, according to Baseball America, Melville is projected to land somewhere in the middle of the first round. A University of North Carolina signee, Melville was 8-1 for Holt with a 2.56 ERA and 89 strikeouts.
Cole, meanwhile, was the No. 4 player by Baseball America at the beginning of the season, thanks to a fastball that reached close to 100 mph. However delivery mechanics have reportedly led to Cole dropping toward the bottom of the first round. With Scott Boras as his agent, Cole’s signability has also been a factor in his fall.
Meyer, a 6-foot-7 hurler with a mid-90s fastball, is seen as a second round pick. Although his Greensburg team is still competing in the Indiana state playoffs, Meyer is 7-0 on the season with a 0.95 ERA and an average of 2.1 strikeouts per inning, according to the Indianapolis Star.
Gray saw his season come to an early end with an ankle injury. A two-sport star who quarterbacked Smyrna to a state championship in football, Gray has indicated that he plans to fulfill his obligation with the Commodores. In fact, according to the Tennessean, Gray has sent a letter to the MLB scouting bureau instructing teams not to draft him. Gray was 4-0 on the year with 78 strikeouts in 35 innings while batting .518 with three home runs prior to his injury.
Two pitchers who have seen their stock rise are Ethan Martin of Stephens County (Ga.) and Jake Odorizzi of Highland (Ill.). Originally projected as a third baseman, Martin has been outstanding on the mound with an 11-1 record, a 0.99 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 79 innings pitched. He is also considered a strong candidate in the field after batting .540 with 33 RBI and 14 home runs.
Like Martin, Meyer, Gray and Melville, Illinois standout Odorizzi was named the Gatorade state player of the year. He was simply spectacular this year with a 12-0 record that included an astounding 0.09 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings pitched. He also had a scoreless innings streak of 59 2/3 innings pitched. At the plate, Odorizzi batted .445 with 13 home runs and 38 RBI.
After not being considered first-round pitchers prior to the start of the season, both Martin and Odorizzi project to somewhere in the middle of the first round and will probably be the second and third high school right handers selected after Melville.
Kyle Skipworth of Patriot High School in Riverside, Calif., recently received the Gatorade National Player of the Year award after batting .543 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI. Skipworth is the top-rated catcher in the country and could even go as the No. 1 pick in the entire draft to the Tampa Bay Rays. Bill Chastain of MLB.com reported on May 29 that Skipworth is still one of the Rays’ top five players for consideration when they make their selection on June 5.
Mock drafts have also shown Skipworth sliding a bit due to average fielding skills, however his talent at the plate, where he had a state record streak of 18 consecutive hits this year, will be too much for the top teams to overlook.
No other high school catcher projects as a first round pick. American Heritage backstop Adrian Nieto is the most likely choice to go second behind Skipworth, but likely in the second or third rounds. Nieto batted .362 with seven home runs and 43 RBI for the Patriots this year.
While Tim Beckham is considered the top high school prospect in the country, the talent level for shortstops at the high school level is not as high as years past.
Beyond Beckham, the top prospect is Casey Kelly of Sarasota, Fla. The son of Cincinnati Red executive Pat Kelly, Casey is considered a four-tool player, lacking only power at the plate. An all-around athlete, Kelly, a high school quarterback, has already committed to play football at Tennessee next year.
Kelly batted .473 with 13 doubles, 5 home runs, 31 RBI and 47 runs scored. He was also a standout on the mound with an 8-1 record and 77 strikeouts with a 1.16 ERA. Most mock drafts put Kelly anywhere from No. 7 to the Reds and as low as No. 19 to the Chicago Cubs.
Rolando Gomez of Flanagan, the Broward County Player of the Year, is projected to play somewhere in the infield, either second base or shortstop. The University of Miami signee batted .474 with 27 RBI and eight home runs his senior year. He could go somewhere in the second or third round.
Harold Martinez of Braddock, regarded as one of the top 10 players in the country last summer following the AFLAC All-American game, has dropped considerably due to a less-than-stellar senior season. That does not mean that Martinez won’t be drafted, although mock drafts no longer position him in the first round.
Among high school first baseman candidates, Eric Hosmer of American Heritage is the top candidate and no one else is even close. The Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida, Hosmer led the Patriots to the 3A state championship while batting .471 with 11 home runs, six doubles and three triples. Hosmer is considered the second-best high school player available behind Georgia’s Tim Beckham, according to Keith Law of ESPN.com. Mock drafts predict Hosmer to go as high as No. 3 to the Kansas City Royals while other baseball blogs point out possible signability issues for Hosmer, whose agent is Scott Boras, which could drop the Patriot standout to the lower end of the first round.
Aaron Hicks of Long Beach Wilson appears to be the top outfield candidate along with Zach Collier of Chino Hills. The dilemma for Hicks is choosing which position he would like to play at the next level. Regarded as an outfielder with all of the tools necessary to play at the Major League level, Hicks has also developed into one of the country’s best pitchers with a fastball reaching into the mid-90s.
At the plate, Hicks batted .473 with 12 doubles, five triples and four home runs. He scored 50 runs and had 37 stolen bases in leading Wilson to the Southern Section Division 1 championship game, where it fell to Simi Valley. On the mound, Hicks posted an 8-2 record with 112 strikeouts in just 72.1 innings pitched.
Collier, meanwhile, has seen his stock soar in recent months. Not listed among the nation’s top 100 players by Baseball America at the beginning of the year, Collier has elevated his play to the point where he is considered a top 15 draft pick. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior is considered to have good power and speed with plenty of athleticism. Collier batted .450 with seven home runs and 24 RBI in leading Chino Hills to a 19-10 record this year. One of the highlights of the season for Collier was a home run off of Hicks at the Anaheim Lions Tournament. It proved to be the only home run Hicks allowed this year.
Other outfielders who could go in the first several rounds include Robbie Grossman of Cy-Fair (Texas), Isaac Galloway of Los Osos (Calif.), Anthony Gose of Bellflower (Calif.) and Xavier Avery of Cedar Grove (Ga.).
Gose batted .443 for the Buccaneers this year with six doubles, five triples and three home runs. According to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, Gose’s stock has dropped this year due to injury and signability issues. Galloway is seen as a potential five-tool player after batting .359 with five home runs and 16 RBI this year. Mock drafts have Galloway going as high as No. 4 to the Baltimore Orioles, but others have him falling out of the first round.
Avery is one of the top athletes coming out of the South, having already signed to play football at the University of Georgia next year. Avery has plenty of athletic ability, but is seen as a player with potential rather than one with already polished skills. Avery batted .561 with eight home runs, six doubles and four triples for Cedar Grove.
Grossman, meanwhile, has already committed to the University of Texas. He is considered the No. 3 overall recruit out of the state of Texas with solid all-around skills.