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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS: PREP EXTRA

Weaver Aiming for Lofty Ground

Baseball: Former Simi Valley pitcher expected to be taken in first round of amateur draft.

June 02, 1998|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jeff Weaver knows this feeling all too well. He shouldn't anticipate too much. His expectations shouldn't go off the charts.

"It's all a mystery," he said. "That's what makes you more nervous. You can't believe what you hear."

The amateur baseball draft begins today and Weaver, a junior right-handed pitcher from Fresno State who attended Simi Valley High, is projected to be selected by the middle of the first round.

Magazines that predict such things have Weaver going to either the Milwaukee Brewers with the 13th overall pick or to the Detroit Tigers with the 14th.

Scouts, too, are telling him his stock is at an all-time high. And why not? Weaver was selected an All-American for the third year in a row after going 10-4 with a 2.98 earned-run average and 156 strikeouts in 123 2/3 innings.

But maybe that's what makes him nervous.

Last season as a draft-eligible sophomore, he had nearly identical numbers yet slipped to the end of the second round, where the Chicago White Sox took him with the 62nd overall pick.

"I really thought I should have been a first-rounder last year," Weaver said. "I was very disappointed."

So much so that he spurned the White Sox' final offer of a $750,000 signing bonus--well above the norm for a late second-round pick--and returned to Fresno State.

It appears the move was sound financially. As a mid-first-round pick today, his signing bonus should exceed $1 million, meaning that he pitched his last college season for several hundred thousand dollars.

In addition, the extra year of school has left him only six classes from a degree in biology.

"I had that extra year of education, and now I hope to be the first-rounder I always wanted to be," Weaver said. "All that is significant."

Scouts say a reason Weaver was picked so late last year was that a few days before the draft he announced controversial agent Scott Boras would represent him.

Weaver hasn't wavered.

"Last year I didn't come out and say I was going to use [Boras] until right before the draft, and that was a bad decision on my part," Weaver said. "But all the teams I've talked to are comfortable with him as my representative by now."

The 6-foot-5 Weaver is a late bloomer who barely made his high school team and walked on at Fresno State. He holds the Bulldogs' career record with 477 strikeouts in 412 innings, and has a 33-15 record and 3.12 ERA.

As a three-time All-American and proven power pitcher, scouts believe he can begin his pro career in high Class-A or even double-A and advance quickly to the major leagues.

An encouraging sign is the rapid advancement of two pitchers from the region drafted last year who are the same age as Weaver and who he considers counterparts. Jim Parque is already in the White Sox starting rotation and Randy Wolf is in triple-A.

"I like to think I have the same ability, and they've done really well," Weaver said.

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Besides Weaver, scouts say the only other player from the region who will be drafted in the first or second round is Pierce College left-hander Barry Zito, who transferred from UC Santa Barbara to make himself eligible for this year's draft.

Projections on where Zito (6 feet 4, 200 pounds) will be taken vary dramatically. Baseball America magazine rates him the 53rd prospect, putting him somewhere in the second round, but Collegiate Baseball magazine predicts he might be among the first 15 players drafted.

"He knows how to pitch," a scout said. "His fastball is 86 to 89 mph, and he has a good curve and change-up. He is left-handed and loose."

Left-handed pitchers are always a hot commodity. Other left-handers from the region projected to be drafted include Pepperdine's Will Ohman and Paul Avery, Ryan Earl of Thousand Oaks High and David Hawk, formerly of Chatsworth High.

Neither Earl nor Hawk gained much experience in high school but both are 6 feet 5 and have exhibited good velocity and command of their pitches in recent days throwing in front of scouts.

Newbury Park center fielder Barry Tolli, whose arm, speed and raw power scouts say are major league tools, should be the first high school player from the region selected. Tolli, who accepted a scholarship to Loyola Marymount, is projected as a fourth-round pick.

Other high school players who have drawn interest include Monroe right-handed pitcher John Ennis, pitcher-outfielder Traviss Hodge of Highland, hard-hitting catcher Joe Yingling of Camarillo, fleet Monroe center fielder Victor Hall and Burroughs shortstop Tommy Perez.

Fewer players will be taken because for the first time teams cannot draft for as many rounds as they desire. The draft is scheduled to end after about 50 rounds.

Draft Day

Players from the region scouts say might be taken in the amateur baseball draft that begins today. Listed in alphabetical order.

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