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PREP EXTRA

Prospects Are Good

Top-Flight Southern California Preps Will Be in Demand at Baseball's Amateur Draft

May 06, 1999|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Crowds at certain Southland high school baseball diamonds have been growing larger the last few weeks as local and national major league baseball scouts make final evaluations of professional prospects.

The annual amateur draft will be held June 2-3. And once again, Southern California is expected to produce many of the players that the 30 major league teams will choose in a selection process that will be limited to 50 rounds.

But the hotbed of the country this year is Washington and Oregon, which one National League scout described as "off the map."

Outfielders B.J. Garbe and Jason Cooper of Moses Lake, Wash., for example, are considered potential first-round picks from a town with a population of about 12,000.

Allan Simpson, editor and founder of Baseball America magazine, which has tracked the draft in depth since 1981, said Southern California is considered average for high school and college players this year.

"But the area does have the two best catchers in the country," Simpson said. "That's a good starting point because it's such a premium position."

Simpson is referring to USC junior Eric Munson and Riverside Arlington High senior Ryan Christianson, both of whom are certain first-round picks.

Twenty-three of the 30 first-round picks last year signed for bonuses of $1 million or more, Simpson said, including four that received bonuses valued at $3 million or more and five that received $2 million or more.

Sean Burroughs of Long Beach Wilson, the only Southern California high school player selected in the first round last year, signed for $2.1 million as the ninth pick overall by the San Diego Padres.

Christianson, Glendora pitcher Chad Clark and Santa Ana Mater Dei infielder Pat Manning are regarded as the top three high school prospects in Southern California this year.

Here is a look at 10 high school players who are getting the most attention from scouts as draft day nears:

* 1. Ryan Christianson, Riverside Arlington, C, 6-1, 215: Last year, Christianson caught and played in the shadow of Arlington pitcher Nick Neugebauer, a second-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers.

This year, the spotlight has been on Christianson. Scouts like his build, his mechanics behind the plate and his attitude.

They also like his swing.

Christianson began the week batting .526, with six home runs and 30 runs batted in. He had 24 walks, 12 intentional.

"He's really developed physically in the last eight or nine months and his skills have developed as well," said an American League scouting director. "He does a lot of things well now and projects to do even more. He has power, he can throw and it looks like he loves to play the game."

Christianson has signed with UCLA, which has a recent history of wresting top prospects from the pros. Pitcher Josh Karp, an eighth-round pick by the Atlanta Braves last year, turned down $2 million and is playing for the Bruins.

The dollars could be even bigger for Christianson.

* 2. Chad Clark, Glendora, RHP, 6-6, 210: Clark planned to skip his final year of basketball eligibility to avoid injury and get an early start on his baseball workouts. But he opted at the last minute to rejoin the 1998 Division I-A champion Tartan basketball team and played through March.

The wear-and-tear and late start has not affected Clark, who relies mainly on a fastball, changeup and split-finger pitch. Clark began the week with a 7-1 record and 58 strikeouts in 57 innings. Last week, Tommy Lasorda was reportedly among the onlookers at one of his games.

"Clark's got a great body that's still developing and great arm action," one scout said. "He's one of those guys that has shown flashes of what most scouts thought he could be."

Clark has signed a letter of intent with USC.

"Chad seems to relish the opportunity and attention," Glendora Coach Lee Spengler said. "He's not fazed by it."

* 3. Pat Manning, Santa Ana Mater Dei, SS, 6-1, 185: Manning, who has signed with USC, began the week batting .509 with nine homers and 28 RBIs.

Scouts debate his tools but not his makeup.

"You like what he brings to the park every day--he's a real baseball player--but his future position is undetermined," one scout said. "Some see him as an offensive second baseman and some people think he'll develop power and turn into a third baseman. Some even see him as a catcher."

* 4. Todd Gelatka, Mission Viejo Trabuco Hills, RHP, 6-3, 180: Gelatka is 6-2 with a 2.90 earned-run average and 87 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings for a team that began the week tied with Mater Dei for first place in the South Coast League.

Some scouts questioned his development early this season, but he has come on in recent weeks.

* 5. Mike Snyder, Chino Hills Ayala, 1B/3B, 6-4, 220: No other player in the Southland has seen his stock rise more during the season. Snyder has signed with Cal State Fullerton.

Snyder's power potential is his main draw.

"He's a big strong kid," one scout said.

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