By Alan Simpson
(National ranking in parentheses)
1. JUSTIN MAXWELL, of (National rank: 89)
Hometown: Olney, Md.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 225. Birthdate: Nov. 6, 1983.
Previously Drafted: Rangers 2004 (10).
Scouting Report: Maxwell was a potential first-rounder entering the 2004 season coming off a breakthrough summer in the Cape Cod League. An imposing physical specimen, he offered solid tools across the board, with the possible exception of arm strength. But nothing has gone right since then and Maxwell has been dogged by a succession of injuries. He was hit by a pitch in a preseason intrasquad game last year and missed the season with a broken right forearm. After slipping to the 10th round, where he was picked by the Rangers, Maxwell went back to the Cape League to get his game back on track but broke a bone in his little finger when he was hit by a pitch, sidelining him for the summer. Bad luck struck again this spring when he broke the hamate bone in his hand while hitting a ball on the barrel of the bat seven game into the season. He was still wearing a soft cast on the even of the draft. Maxwell still should be an early-round pick, though teams are hesitant to take him in the first two rounds. Even though he graduates this year with a near-perfect 4.0 GPA in animal sciences, he has a year of eligibility remaining because he was granted a medical redshirt last year. He turned down a reported $390,000 a year ago, and he may want a similar bonus to sign this year—if not significantly more because he still believes he’s a first-round talent. Scouts got a brief glimpse of Maxwell early in the year, when he hit .455-3-5, but the last time they got an extended look was the summer of 2003, when he showed sound hitting ability with loft in his swing and 6.6-second speed over 60 yards. 2. BRANDON ERBE, rhp (National rank: 165)
School: McDonough HS.
B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 195. Birthdate: Dec. 25, 1987.
College Commitment: Miami.
Scouting Report: Erbe is the best product from Baltimore’s McDonough High since ex-big leaguer Ken Cloude, a sixth-round pick of the Mariners in 1993. He was outdueled in an early-season showdown with righthander Steve Johnson that attracted more than 50 scouts and was overshadowed by Johnson most of the spring. While Johnson spun several low-hit games and dominated his competition, Erbe went just 2-5, 1.86 with 86 strikeouts and 23 walks in 49 innings. But scouts say Erbe has a better arm and better pitcher’s frame, making him the stronger candidate to be selected in the first four or five rounds. He was clocked at 83 mph as a high school sophomore, 90 as a high school junior and elevated his velocity into the 93-96 range last summer playing against 21-and-under competition for the Maryland Orioles. Erbe had expectations of being picked in the first two or three rounds at the outset of 2005 but he’s had difficulty repeating his mid-90s arm strength this spring. He also has three other workable pitches, a slider, circle change and curve, but his breaking balls lack consistency. Erbe committed to Miami and could be a major signability risk if he should fall below the first three or four rounds.
OTHERS TO WATCH
(Numbers in parentheses indicate rank in Middle Atlantic)
Prep Picks Could Be Headed For College
Erbe may be a better pro prospect than 6-foot-1, 190-pound RHP Steve Johnson (3), but Johnson outpitched him this spring. That included a head-to-head matchup in the season opener, when Johnson struck out 20 of 21 batters, tying a Maryland high school record, and went 3-for-3 off Erbe. On the season, Johnson threw a perfect game, another no-hitter, two one-hitters and two two-hitters. He finished the season with a 10-1, 0.45 record and 121 strikeouts in 71 innings to move into second place on Maryland’s career wins list (34) and fifth place with 325 strikeouts. Johnson, whose father Dave pitched for the Pirates, Orioles and Tigers from 1987-93, isn’t overpowering at 90-91 mph, but has a plus curveball to go with a cutter and changeup. He is poised and polished, and moves the ball around like a seasoned veteran. He plays third base when he doesn’t pitch and set a state record for doubles in a season (19) and a career (41), while hitting .452. Johnson has committed to Boston College and may be a tough sign if he’s not picked in the top six or eight rounds.
OF Marcus Jones (4), the top high school player in the Washington, D.C., area, also will be a tough sign. He plays at a private school attended by the children of Washington’s elite, and his father put out the word early that Jones needed to be picked in the first two or three rounds or he would attend school at North Carolina State. That scared most teams off, especially when Jones didn’t play to a level that might cause a team to buy him away from college. At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, he reminds scouts of Justin Maxwell at a similar stage of their careers, though Jones is more advanced. He has average tools across the board and could be a top draft in three years, if he should end up in school.
LHP John Dischert (8) is the best high school talent in Delaware. He went 10-0 this spring, but isn’t considered a premium prospect. He lacks arm speed, with a fastball in the 84-87 mph range. Delaware’s best college prospects are RHP Peter Henyan (7)--who has a fastball in the 89-91 mph range and could have been attractive to a team looking for a bargain in the first 10 rounds until signing with the Phillies before the draft as a fifth-year senior--and 6-foot-3, 200-pound C Brian Valichka (10), an excellent defender who flashes power at the plate
RHP Chorye Spoone (5) was drafted in the 36th round by the Padres last year, but didn’t sign as a draft-and-follow in the hopes he might be picked in the top 10 rounds. He has an excellent arm with a fastball that has been clocked at 94 mph, but clubs are wary of his makeup.
With Maxwell sidelined most of the season at Maryland, RHP Ben Pfinsgraff (6) became the Terrapin scouts came to see. He’s only 5-foot-11, but Pfingsgraff has excellent command of four pitches, including an 88-91 mph fastball that touched 93, a slider, curve and change. He beat Atlantic Coast Conference champion Georgia Tech on the road, 2-1, in a game when scouts said he threw just two pitches over the heart of the plate.