The "first-year player draft" begins Tuesday. I will have a quick analysis on the first round as soon as possible on Tuesday afternoon, but to whet your appetite, here is a look at some players expected to have their names called on the first day.
The concentration here is on potential first-round picks. I've included a few "sleepers to watch," guys who could go earlier than expected, for your interest. All players are listed alphabetically within each category.
This is not a comprehensive list of everyone who could be drafted in the first round, but it looks at the players most likely to be selected, especially early in the round. The '03 draft class isn't considered one of the best ever, but it has good depth. Several teams have expressed an interest in college players, and while there's no "sure thing" out there like J.D. Drew or Troy Glaus, there's a good balance of choices. Teams that prefer college players have many to pick from, while clubs that like high school players also have intriguing options.
Top 10 candidates
Jeff Allison, RHP, HS -- Peabody, Mass.
Rated as the best high school pitcher in the draft by most experts, Allison combines a mid-90s fastball and good command into an attractive package. He also doesn't have as much mileage on his arm as most top high school prospects, but that also means he has a bit less polish. Risky as all high school pitchers go, but has a very high upside.
Mike Aubrey, 1B-OF, Tulane University
Aubrey is the exact opposite of Allison: a refined college position player with a lot of experience. He also presents the exact opposite risk profile, and he won't get past the top 10. Everyone thinks he'll hit for average, but some scouts aren't sure how much power he'll show, or if he'll be able to play the outfield.
Sleepers to watch
Jamie D'Antona, 3B, Wake Forest University
A third-round pick on scouting merit, but his power/patience approach means he could go in the second round to a team that likes those things. Questions about his defense have hurt his stock, but his bat is very strong.
Ryan Feierabend, LHP, HS -- Grafton, Ohio
A projectable southpaw without a ton of mileage on his arm, Feierabend looks like a third-round pick, but could end up being a much better pitcher than some guys who will be drafted earlier. Possibly an attractive pick to Cleveland, who has multiple draft slots due to free-agent defections, and may want an Ohio kid.
Stuart Pomeranz, RHP, HS -- Collierville, Tenn.
Big 6-7 intimidator on the mound, would be a first-round candidate in some drafts, but relative wealth of high school pitching, plus college emphasis of many clubs, will push him down. Like Feierabend, he is low-mileage compared to many top prep pitchers, but will need refinement time.
Brian Snyder, 3B, Stetson University
No relation to Brad Snyder (listed above), Brian Snyder has been closely linked with Toronto in pre-draft rumors. He has excellent strike zone judgement, but doesn't have the classic third-base home-run stroke, though he could be a Joe Randa-style player. Most teams see him as a third- or fourth-round pick, which presents the Blue Jays and other interested teams with both an opportunity and a risk.
You can overdraft him and be sure of getting him, at the risk of losing out on someone better unnecessarily. Or you can slot him in the third or fourth round with everyone else, and risk losing him to a team that may not value him as much as you do.
John Danks, LHP, HS -- Round Rock, Texas
Rated the top pitcher in a fairly deep class of high school southpaws. Would be a top-five candidate some seasons, but many teams have expressed a reluctance to draft high school pitching this year, which may drop his status just a bit. Above-average velocity for a lefty and has a good breaking ball.
Ryan Harvey, OF, HS -- Palm Harbor, Fla.
A tools monster, Harvey is projected to go among the top-five picks, with an outside chance of being the first player chosen. He has everything: power, speed, arm strength, good personality and work ethic. A knee injury from last winter is fully healed. His swing might be a little long, and I'm concerned about his contact/plate discipline at higher levels, but I'm notoriously paranoid about such things, and they are very hard to project/predict at this level.
Chris Lubanski, OF, HS -- Schwenksville, Pa.
Doesn't have Harvey's pure power, but has decent power himself, is better defensively, can play center field, and has a sharper, shorter stroke at the plate. Has proven himself against top competition while playing for Team USA, so cold-weather background won't hurt his status. Will go in the top 10, maybe the top five.
Lastings Milledge, OF, HS -- Palmetto, Fla.
Rated the top high school player in this draft class by most experts six months ago, his stock slipped a bit, due to some off-the-field issues as well as the great play of other guys on this list. But Milledge remains a great prospect, with good power, tons of speed, athleticism, and strong performance against tough competition.
Vince Sinisi, 1B, Rice University
His supporters compare him to a young Rafael Palmeiro. His detractors compare him to Travis Lee, and worry about his sophomore status, as well as ties to agent Scott Boras. He has far more supporters than detractors scouting-wise, but other issues may get in the way. Sinisi could go in the first 10 to a club that thinks they could sign him; otherwise, he could fall to the second round.
Kyle Sleeth, RHP, Wake Forest University
Likely the best raw arm in the college ranks, although not as polished as Tim Stauffer (see below). Sleeth will probably be the first college hurler drafted. He is big, throws hard, and has pitched well in college. Hard to go wrong with that package.
Tim Stauffer, RHP, University of Richmond
Stauffer doesn't throw as hard as Sleeth, but his velocity is respectable and his command is exquisite. He posted a 135/16 K/BB ratio in 106 innings this year. Most people think he'll be ready for the majors within a year, though he doesn't have Sleeth's long-range physical upside.
Ryan Wagner, RHP, University of Houston
If you like strikeouts, this is your guy. Wagner fanned 130 in 70 innings, while saving 13 games for Houston. He throws as hard as you'd expect with those numbers, and has a killer slider. Main worries are his command, which can waver, and the poor historic track record of college closers in pro ball.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Southern University
An electric power/speed player who has threatened to hit .500 for two years, Weeks will likely go with the first or second pick in the draft. He hits the ball with authority to all fields, and has a strong combination of tools and skills. Only question is his defense at second base, but if that doesn't work out, he'd be fine in the outfield.
Delmon Young, OF, HS -- Camarillo, Calif.
"Little" brother of Dmitri Young, Delmon is a tool-laden masher who has grown up around the game and has more polish than most players his age. Like his brother, he doesn't have a lot of speed and won't be a Gold Glove player, but he has more raw power than his sibling, and projects to be a better hitter. Will go first or second in the draft.
Other potential first-round picks
Aaron Hill, SS, Louisiana State University
A refined hitter, Hill attracts teams like Oakland and Toronto, or possibly any team looking for a guy who can make a fast impact. May switch to third base as a pro, but his gap power, speed, and mature approach appeal to a lot of people.
Conor Jackson, 3B, University of California
Lacks Hill's speed and defensive versatility, but has much more power. Jackson draws a lot of walks, giving him a lot of appeal to the sabermetrically-inclined organizations. His defense is questionable, and he may have to switch positions.
Paul Maholm, LHP, Mississippi State University
Aside from Stauffer, Maholm is the college pitcher closest to the majors, and someone looking for fast help will pick him quickly. He has decent stuff, throws strikes, and knows what he's doing on the mound. He has a chance to sneak into the top 10.
Mitch Maier, C, University of Toledo
Another hitter tracked closely by Toronto, Boston, and Oakland, Maier swings an authoritative lefty stick. He also has power, much more speed than most catchers, and excellent strike-zone judgment. Two sticking points are his defense and competition. His catching skills need work, and some people think his big numbers are a product of playing non-premium competition. My personal opinion is that he's better than most of the other guys projected to go in the first round, but I'm not running a draft.
Andrew Miller, LHP, HS -- Gainsville, Fla.
Miller throws harder than John Danks (listed above), but is not as refined and will take a lot more work getting adapted to pro ball. But his huge upside as a hard-throwing 6-6 southpaw will tempt someone into snagging him.
Carlos Quentin, OF, Stanford
Well-known to college baseball fans, Quentin has power, patience, and surprising speed, and will likely be drafted late in the first round. He's had some injury problems this year, but it hasn't seemed to hurt his performance or his stock in the eyes of scouts.
Brad Snyder, OF, Ball State University
A solid all-around performer, Snyder has patience and power, making him attractive to the usual suspects. He also runs well, and would possibly be considered a top 10 pick if he'd gone to one of the big baseball schools in California or Florida and received more exposure.
Ian Stewart, 3B, HS -- Garden Grove, Calif.
Similar at the same age to Brad Fullmer or Eric Chavez, Stewart has excellent power from the left side of the plate. Main concerns seem to be about his glove. Some people think he'll have to move (a la Fullmer), while others think he can stay at third and even prosper there (a la Chavez). Everyone thinks he'll hit, and he appeals to teams looking for a young high school bat with juice.
Ryan Sweeney, OF, HS -- Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Sweeney is the Brad Snyder of high school players. If he'd grown up in California or Florida, rather than cold-weather Iowa, he'd be a lock for the top 15. As it is, given his relative lack of exposure to good competition, he'll "merely" go in the first or early second round. Sweeney has plus power from the left side, a strong arm, and a solid overall package.
Chris Whitaker, RHP, HS -- Lufkin, Texas
Every year, there's a hot prep right-hander from Texas who makes scouts drool. This year it is Whitaker, owner of a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a very good curve, and a projectable body. Whether he is Kerry Wood, Todd Ritchie, or something else remains to be seen.
Brandon Wood, SS, HS-Horizon, Ari.
An excellent defensive shortstop, Wood started to knock this year, hitting over .500 with power and speed, thus boosting his draft stock significantly. One of the biggest "sleepers" in the draft despite being a likely first-round pick, since he is still maturing physically and should only get stronger.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his website, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.