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scene in the Southland

Get the Pitcher?

Baseball Draft Picture Isn't as Clear-Cut This Year, but Southland's Best Arms Should Be Near Top of List

May 04, 2000|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the June 5 major league baseball draft approaches, the top high school players in Southern California have one more month to impress local and national scouts who are descending on area diamonds for final looks at prospects.

The stakes are high.

Last year, the average signing bonus for first-round draft picks was a record $1,809,767, said Allan Simpson, editor of Baseball America magazine, which has tracked the draft since 1981.

Last year's average easily surpassed the 1998 average of $1,637,667 and broke the record of $1,794,383 set in 1996 when four players came out of the draft and were declared free agents.

Josh Hamilton, last year's No. 1 overall pick, signed for $3.96 million.

"There's not a real star at the top of the draft like there has been," Simpson said. "There's a lot of mixed opinion about who the top guys are."

Catcher Scott Heard and pitcher Matt Wheatland of San Diego Rancho Bernardo High are considered to be among the top high school players in the nation. But Palmdale pitcher Matt Harrington is regarded as a definite first-round pick and has been discussed as the potential No. 1 pick overall.

"The [Florida] Marlins don't know at this point, but he is in the mix," Simpson said.

Here is a look at the top 10 prospects from the Southern and City sections:

1. Matt Harrington, Palmdale, right-handed pitcher, 6 feet 3, 180 pounds: Harrington, who has signed with Arizona State, has what one American League scouting director calls "probably the rawest power arm available in the draft."

Harrington's fastball has been clocked as high as 98 mph.

"He combines size, strength and velocity," a National League scout said. "Everybody knew about him, but he really put himself into the next level last year at the Area Code games."

Said an American League scout: "The sky is the limit."

2. Michael Stodolka, Corona Centennial, left-handed pitcher/first baseman, 6-2, 195: No local player has improved his stock more during the season than Stodolka, who has signed with UCLA.

"He is moving up real fast," Baseball America's Simpson said.

Stodolka has impressed by combining a fastball that occasionally reaches 93 mph with a good curveball.

And with left-handed pitchers considered a premium in the major leagues, he becomes all the more valuable.

"He's been doing it week in and week out," an American League scout said. "He needs to refine his curveball a little bit, but there aren't a lot of kids that throw with his velocity."

3. Mike Davern, Brea Olinda, right-handed pitcher, 6-4, 190: The buzz about Davern before the season has dissipated somewhat because of Stodolka's emergence and the feeling among scouts that Davern is inclined to go to UCLA rather than sign.

Still, with a fastball in the 94- to 95-mph range, he is regarded as potential high pick.

"He needs to work on his command and tighten up his curveball, but he definitely has a power arm," one scout said.

4. Conor Jackson, Woodland Hills El Camino Real, infielder, 6-4, 195: Jackson is another player who raised his stock during the Area Code games and has continued to impress this season.

He is playing shortstop for El Camino Real, but many scouts project him as a third baseman.

Jackson has signed with California, and his signability is a question mark for scouts.

"He's a protection kid," a scout said. "It just depends on which ballclub wants to gamble on him early enough to take him, work with him and watch him grow."

5. Sean Swedlow, San Dimas, catcher, 6-3, 220: Swedlow was a player on scouts' "follow" lists that has come on strong with a powerful swing from the left side of the plate.

"There are definitely some teams that have moved him way up because of that power," one scout said.

"He's a big strong kid that can hit it far," another said.

6. Matt Parris, Palmdale Highland, right-handed pitcher, 6-1, 200: Parris transferred this season from Lancaster Paraclete and started gaining attention during the fall when his fastball began touching the low 90s.

"He's a school-year find," one scouting director said. "He began to really turn it on."

Parris has signed with UC Santa Barbara.

7. Darric Merrell, Temecula Valley, right-handed pitcher, 6-5, 215: Scouts were in heaven a few weeks ago when they saw Merrell match up against Stodolka in a tournament in Riverside.

Stodolka struck out 19 in a 1-0 victory, Merrell struck out 12.

"[Merrell] put himself on the map in that game," a scouting director said.

Scouts like Merrell's body and his arm action. He is one of four players from Temecula Valley who has signed with Cal State Fullerton.

8. Jason Kubel, Palmdale Highland, outfielder, 6-0, 180: Kubel is projected as a potential second- to fourth-round pick because of his swing, which reminds some of Milwaukee Brewer outfielder Geoff Jenkins, a former All-American at USC.

Kubel has signed with Long Beach State.

9. Jamie Shields, Newhall Hart, right-handed pitcher, 6-3, 190: A back injury that forced Shields to miss most of the season and the scholarship that awaits him at Louisiana State may have tempered some of the interest in Shields.

"There's a wait-and-see attitude until he builds up some innings," a scout said. "I wouldn't say the injury scared anyone off, but they will be looking into it."

Shields throws in the low 90s, has a good curve and "has a chance to be three-pitch pitcher," the scout said.

10. Michael Moon, Rancho Cucamonga, infielder, 6-1, 185: Moon gets the slight nod from scouts over Compton Centennial catcher Andrew Touissant and Playa del Rey St. Bernard outfielder James Tomlin.

Moon is a switch-hitter with power who also has good speed. He has signed with USC.

Touissant has good power, but scouts do not project him as a catcher. He has not committed to a college.

Tomlin, who has committed to Fresno State, is fast and covers a lot of ground in the outfield.

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