There were many of the same names in Joplin as there were just the weekend before in St. Petersburg at the Perfect Game Showcase. It was an excellent field of 2003 graduates and there were probably 100 scouts and college coaches in attendance to watch them.
The purpose of the Tournament of Stars is essentially to serve as a tryout for the 18-and-under USA Junior National Team. There are eight all-star teams present representing the various classifications: AABC, NABF, RBI, Pony, Babe Ruth, Dixie, and two USA teams.
There were quite a few 2002 HS graduates and I posted their Top-10 a few days ago. But the 2003 group was even more talented if not as refined.
There will be a lot of first-rounders in this group, perhaps as many or more than any assembled group I see this summer. Iím sure Iíll see all of these players again over the next year, at our Team One events and elsewhere.
The rankings and evaluations are strictly my opinions based on live observation. The intent is to evaluate the players as pro prospects at this time. A lot can and will change over the next 11 1/2 months before the 2003 Draft, but itís fun to start thinking of the top players amongst each other.
Top-10 2003 Draft Prospects at USA Baseballís Tournament of Stars
1. Jeff Allison, RHP, Peabody (MA) HS 6-2, 195 R/R
I ranked Allison as the #3 Prospect at Perfect Game the weekend before. But after watching him pitch seven innings, Iím even more impressed. Allison has a power arm and uncanny command of his stuff for a high school kid. He threw 91-93 MPH consistently (two and four-seamer) and delivered a 78-82 MPH hammer. It was like watching Mark Prior minus a few MPH. He has a strong pitcherís frame and easy arm-action. Allison has strong early-first round possibilities for 2003. The only thing I can see holding him back for scouts is that thereís nothing in particular thatís superlative (ie. being 6-10, being lefthanded, throwing 100 MPH) aside from command. He just has a very strong overall package.
2. Lastings Milledge, OF, No HS (FL) 6-0, 185 R/R
Milledge didnít produce as much in the games as Iíve seen in the past, but the tools are unquestioned. His bat-speed is exceptional for a high school player and he has all the skills to become a gold glove-type MLB centerfielder. Heíll need to wait better on good breaking balls, but there arenít many holes in his game that repetitions wonít patch. He doesnít have the long, lanky build of the prototype high school outfielder, so he may be close to his max.
3. Delmon Young, OF, Camarillo (CA) HS 6-2, 210 R/R
Iíve watched Young play the last four years and he continues to improve. He may have been the most polished hitter in Joplin; he has major league bat-speed and raw power right now, plus the innate ability to make adjustments. An average runner, Young gets good jumps and has ďplusĒ lateral agility in the outfield. He also has a major league rightfielderís arm. Young may be physically mature and there is at least some question about his projectability; then again, does he need to project?
4. Chris Lubanski, OF, Kennedy-Kenrick (WA) HS 6-3, 180 L/L
Lubanski ran a 6.42 and 6.51 60 yd and made some courageous jaunts around the bases. Heís a long-strider who swallows up ground. But what makes him much more than a track star is that he has a sweet lefthanded stroke. When his body matures, I can see him both getting faster (believe it or not) and hitting for power. Right now itís loft power and not ďmuscleĒ power. Lubanskiís arm is his weakest tool, but has improved considerably since the winter and might be playable for center field. David Krynzel is the closest same-age comparison I can make, and I think Lubanskiís swing is a lot more projectable. Heíll need to cover the outer half better, though, to make consistent contact.
5. James Houser, LHP, Sarasota (FL) HS 6-5, 190 L/L
Houser has a scary package for a lefty. Heís a long, lean 6-5, with a lot of arm-strength, a three-quarter slot, and a big, hard curveball. He threw 86-88 MPH in Joplin, which is a few MPH slower than what Iíve seen in the past. His curveball is a 78 MPH two-planer with impressive depth and MLB knockout potential. Heís as good a prospect as any high school lefty Iíve seen in the 2003 class so far. A polished change-up against righthanded hitters and perhaps more consistency with his delivery will be in order for improvements.
6. Craig Whitaker, RHP, Lufkin (TX) HS 6-4, 180 R/R
Iíd never seen Craig Whitaker before this event, but he really showed me a lot. Heís a projectable and well-proportioned 6-4, 180, who can already throw 90-92 MPH for a few innings and will surely throw harder by maturity. Whitaker has fluid arm-action and a three-quarter slot which adds ďrunĒ to his heater. His roundhouse curveball has big league knockout potential, but heíll need to throw it harder than his current 72 MPH to miss big league bats in 5-6 years.
7. Charles Benoit, LHP/1B, Southlake Carroll (TX) HS 6-2, 235 L/L
The first thing I saw Benoit do was take five batting practice swings and I thought he had the most raw power in Joplin. Thatís saying a lot, when Delmon Young, Lastings Milledge, and Jeff Francoeur are in the house. He didnít bat at all in the games I watched, but he did pitch and showed a lively 88-90 MPH fastball and the makings of a big league curve. His pitchability was impressive as was his arm-action and delivery. Benoit has a thick build and wide hips and will have to be careful with his weight as he gets older. He might also need to slow down his delivery so he can get on top of his curveball with more consistency.
8. Chad Billingsley, RHP, Defiance (OH) HS 6-0, 195 R/R
Billingsley can show as good a stuff as anyone in Joplin, including Jeff Allison. He doesnít have quite the same command, but he can make his 91-92 MPH heater move and heís shown a live arm capable of throwing a number of different pitches. Billingsleyís arm-action and delivery are healthy and athletic. Heís nearing physical maturity and Iím not sure how far heíll project physically beyond what he is now. I think scouts will be happy if he just develops consistency and carries his stuff into the later innings as he ages.
9. Philip Stringer, SS, Klein Oak (TX) HS 5-9, 175 R/R
Stringer is my early favorite as the top HS shortstop prospect in the nation. He is quick, athletic, and sure-handed on the infield which allows him to make a lot of plays. Despite a lack of height, he has strength in his forearms and can hit line-drives around the yard. Could he be a leadoff hitter in the making? He doesnít have a prototype shortstopís arm and that might incline some scouts to look at him at second or in the outfield. He may be close to physical maturity as well, leaving less upside to his final product.
10. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Royal Palm Beach (FL) HS 6-4, 195 S/R
Saltalamacchia is the foremost ďtoolsĒ catcher in the country (that Iíve seen) and heís gradually refining. He has a well above-average major league arm right now and strong swings from both sides of the plate. He needs just a little bit of mechanical work to take advantage of his arm and agility as a catcher. At the plate, Saltalamacchia still has a ways to go with hitting good pro off-speed.