4. Tampa Bay | Jeff Niemann | RHP | Visalia (A)
The Rays finally inked Niemann to a five-year deal in January and were thrilled to have him in camp. He hadn't pitched competitively since last May, yet tossed four scoreless innings in big league camp before being reassigned. The Rays want to make sure he's comfortable as he begins his pro career, but they'll also want to challenge him in order to get him ready for the bigs sooner rather than later. The first-rounder is pitching for the Rays Class-A advanced affiliate in Visalia, where he's made four starts going 0-1, with a 4.86 ERA. Niemann has a high ¾ to overhead delivery. He has an extreme downhill plane and a fastball comfort zone of 90-93. His curveball has a down bite and a sharp two-plane slider. Niemann shows command and has a feel for four Major League pitches. The 6-foot-9 right-hander has intimidating physical size.
5. Milwaukee | Mark Rogers | RHP | West Virginia (A)
The Brewers have worked with their No. 1 pick to smooth out his mechanics. The Maine right-hander has a tendency to throw across his body. Once he gets that worked out, the sky could be the limit. Rogers has a power arm and could be a workhorse in the future. Catchers already have trouble catching his plus stuff. The right-hander is pitching for the Brewers' new class-A affiliate, West Virginia. Rogers has a record of 0-2 with a 4.32 ERA in five games with three starts. Rogers gets good extension and a fastball of 91-92 that he likes to cut to left-handed hitters.
6. Cleveland | Jeremy Sowers | LHP | Kinston (A)
The negotiations to sign Sowers took too long for the college lefty to make his pro debut, but he did go to instructs to acclimate somewhat. The big concern, as with any first-year pitcher, is adjusting to making 28 starts and throwing 150 innings or so. So far the 6-2, 175-pounder is off to a great start with Class-A Kinston, where he is 3-1 with a 2.70 in five starts. Sowers has three solid-average pitches with above-average control and goes after hitters. He has a slight arm side run and a slurve-curve ball, which is tight and flashes down rotation. Sowers will have a chance of getting a look at Double-A Akron if all goes well.
7. Cincinnati | Homer Bailey | RHP | Dayton (A)
Arguably the best high-school arm in the draft, Bailey has a plus fastball with a plus breaking ball. He's 100 percent after off-season knee surgery, and the Reds are glad he's part of their tandem (eight-man, four-day) rotation in Class A Dayton (Midwest League). The tall, lean righty (6-4, 170) has a 1-1, 3.31 record in five games, three starts and is among the league leaders in strikeouts. Bailey has excellent mound presence with a loose, effortless arm. His fastball has a comfort zone 93-95 with late sink. His fastball explodes out of his hand and his curveball is 11-5 with tight rotation.
8. Baltimore | Wade Townsend | RHP | Not signed
The Orioles and the Rice product couldn't come to terms. Townsend tried to test the system by enrolling in classes, but giving up his playing eligibility. However, it was no dice -- the O's no longer hold his rights, and he'll re-enter the draft this June. The right-hander is physically mature. Townsend has a no windup, overhead delivery with effort. He has plus raw arm strength and throws downhill. At 6-4, 225 pounds, he's an intimidating physical presence on the mound.
9. Colorado | Chris Nelson | SS | Asheville (A)
The only 2004 draftee on the 2005 Top 50 Prospects list, Nelson was used mostly as a DH in his debut with Casper last summer. When he's 100 percent healthy, he has a plus, plus arm from shortstop. And even with the remarkable offensive potential he has, no one foresees a need to move him out of the middle of the infield. He's an impact player in the middle of the field and someday could hit in the heart of the lineup. He's off to a slow start with Asheville having just two hits in six games, missing a chunk of time with a hamstring injury. Nelson has a quick bat with a short line drive stroke. He hits the ball hard to all fields and will drive gaps. Defensively he has quick, soft hands, good feet and is athletic with baseball tools.
10. Texas | Thomas Diamond | RHP | Bakersfield (A)
Diamond already ranks as one of the top arms in the Rangers' system. Primarily a fastball-changeup guy, he didn't need much in the way of secondary pitches while at the University of New Orleans. He's working on a breaking pitch this spring and so far he has put it to good use at Class A Advanced Bakersfield. The 6-3 right-hander is off to a great start at Bakersfield going 3-0 with 3.16 ERA in five starts and is among the league leaders in strikeouts. He has a solid delivery with good extension on his release. His fastball explodes late in the zone, rides in on right-handed hitters. He also pitches in to left-handed hitters. Diamond's curveball has a big 12-6 break and he has a very good mound presence with an aggressive approach. If he can master a curve or slider, he could see Double-A sooner rather than later.
11. Pittsburgh | Neil Walker | C | Hickory (A)
After getting his feet wet in the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues last summer, Walker was very impressive in his first Spring Training, both in Major and Minor League camp. Walker swings the bat well from both sides of the plate, and he's already shown marked improvement in every facet of his defensive game. In 26 games at Hickory, he's hit eight doubles, two home runs and has 14 RBIs. Standing at 6-3, 205 pounds he has excellent physical make-up. Walker is an outstanding all-around athlete. He has some growth potential and has line drive contact from the left side. Walker has a quick bat and with potential power. Walker is in rare company, as he is the Pirates' first, first-round selection in the draft that wasn't a pitcher since 1998.
12. Anaheim | Jared Weaver | RHP | Not signed
Once thought to be the top overall pick in the draft, Weaver dropped to No. 12 because of concerns he wouldn't sign. Those proved to have some basis in truth as the Angels have yet to bring the Scott Boras client into the fold. After much back and forth, the Angels broke off talks in early March and seemed resigned to the fact he wouldn't sign and would re-enter the draft in 2005.
13. Washington | Bill Bray | LHP | Potomac (A)
The Nationals had some internal discussion of whether to move the former William & Mary closer into the rotation. This came about because he displayed a good changeup in a bullpen session, a pitch he never threw in college. Eventually, the Nationals decided to leave Bray in the bullpen in a role that should enable him to move quickly, a la Chad Cordero. His fastball and slider are both plus pitches. If he develops the change, it could be a third above-average pitch. He was slated to pitch for Potomac, however he experienced back stiffness and the Nationals decided to error on the side of caution by allowing him to rehab in Florida.
14. Kansas City | Billy Butler | 3B | High Desert (A)
It's hard to have a better debut with the bat than what Butler did last season in Idaho Falls. During the offseason, he was on a strict program for speed and agility. He lost weight and gained muscle. He seems to understand the mechanics of playing third a bit more, though he still has a ways to go there. The Royals will find a place to play him one way or the other because he is wise beyond his years at the plate. Butler's playing at age 19 this season and is putting up some impressive numbers with Class A Advanced High Desert (California League). The 6-2, 225-pound third baseman ranks among the top ten in the California League in batting at .349 and in doubles, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
15. Arizona | Stephen Drew | SS | Not signed
Another Scott Boras client, Drew and the Diamondbacks have not been able to come to terms. The club has until the end of May before J.D.'s brother goes back into the draft pool. He's currently playing for the Camden RiverSharks in the independent Atlantic League.
16. Toronto | David Purcey | LHP | Dunedin (A)
After throwing a lot of innings at the University of Oklahoma, the Blue Jays took it very slowly with Purcey, allowing him to barely get his feet wet in the New York-Penn League last summer. He was clearly fatigued during instructional league play, but he came back this spring and learned a lot in big league camp. Considering he's just starting his first season of pro ball, he has an advanced understanding of what he needs to work on. He's taken his plus fastball and curve to Blue Jays' Class-A affiliate Dunedin of the Florida State League, where he's currently 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA in six starts. At 6-5, 240 pounds, the left-hander is physically imposing to hitters.
17. Los Angeles | Scott Elbert | LHP | Columbus (A)
All Elbert needs to do is continue to mature and command his stuff. His velocity will increase as he grows and his curve is already a plus pitch. After pitching in the Pioneer League, Elbert is pitching for Columbus, the Class-A affiliate of the Dodgers in the South Atlantic League, starting off 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in two starts. The 6-2 right-hander has a loose, quick arm and commands both sides of the plate. He has a quality slurve with a tight, sharp break and has a feel for his change-up that sinks and fades.
18. Chicago (AL) | Josh Fields | 3B | Birmingham (AA)
Fields hit .285 straight out of Oklahoma State in the Class A Advanced Carolina League, putting him firmly on the fast track. He's got plus power potential and makes excellent adjustments at the plate, impressive considering this is the first time he's been a baseball-only guy. With great leadership and tremendous work ethic at his position, he reminds some of former OSU star Robin Ventura. He's currently trying to live up to that comparison in his first full season of pro ball with Double-A Birmingham (Southern League). The former OSU quarterback is batting .273 with two home runs and 18 RBIs in 25 games.
19. St. Louis | Chris Lambert | RHP | Palm Beach (A)
Lambert is a 6-1, 205-pound right-hander with tremendous arm strength and plus velocity on his fastball. He has the makings of a good breaking ball and changeup, but it's clear he has some work to do on his secondary pitches. He may be raw compared to other college guys because he's newer to the sport as a former hockey stand out. The flip side, of course, is that he may have more upside than the typical college pitcher. After holding his own in Peoria during his debut last summer, he's off to a great start with Palm Beach going 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA in five starts with Palm Beach. His four wins tie him for second in the Florida State League and his 25 strikeouts rank among the league leaders.
20. Minnesota | Trevor Plouffe | SS | Beloit (A)
The 18-year-old performed well against predominantly college competition in the Appalachian League last summer. He's got enough range and arm to stay at short, and the Twins are confident he'll hit, too. He stayed with the program even though he clearly tired at the end of the summer. The 6-1 shortstop is currently playing for the Twins' new Class-A affiliate in Beloit (Midwest League) and got off to a slow start with 10 hits in 85 at-bats. He has one home run and with eight RBIs in 23 games.
21. Philadelphia | Greg Golson | OF | Lakewood (A)
Golson is a pure center fielder, with a power potential dimension to the position. Golson had 14 extra-base hits in 47 games in his Gulf Coast League debut last summer, and the Phillies are confident a lot of those doubles and triples will become homers when Golson fills out more. He has a plus throwing arm and could profile as a top- or middle-of-the-order guy down the line with a speed/power combination. At 6-0, 190 pounds, Golson has a strong stroke with raw pull power. He's an explosive runner with sprinter type speed and has a strong arm with good carry. He's roaming center field for Class A Lakewood (South Atlantic League) and is hitting .267 with four RBIs in 22 games.
22. Minnesota | Glen Perkins | LHP |Ft. Myers (A)
The local product out of the University of Minnesota was the last of the Twins' first rounders to sign. Once he did, he went to the Appalachian League and quickly showed he was better than that. So the Twins moved him up to Class A Quad City, and he posted a 1.30 ERA in 48 1/3 innings. His fastball touches 90 from the left side, he's got a good curve, which is occasionally his best pitch and a plus changeup with control to go along with it. A polished college arm, Perkins is pitching for Fort Myers (FSL) and is 1-0 with an impressive 0.82 ERA in three starts for the Miracle. He has allowed one earned run in 11 innings pitched with 12 strikeouts.
23. New York (AL) | Phillip Hughes | RHP | Charleston (A)
After barely getting his feet wet last summer, Hughes is ready for his first full season. So far, he's everything the Yankees hoped: a big, strong power arm with front of the rotation potential. He can crank the fastball up to 96 mph and throw it to both sides of the plate. His secondary pitches are coming quickly. He continues to work on becoming a complete pitcher for the Yankees' new Class-A affiliate in Charleston, South Carolina (SAL). The big 6-5, 220 pound right-hander is 2-1 with a 1.07 in five starts for the River Dogs, allowing just three earned runs in 25 1/3 innings pitched with 27 strikeouts.
24. Oakland | Landon Powell | C | Injured
Powell got his feet wet in Vancouver (Northwest League), and then had a great instructional league. But he tore his ACL during winter workouts and will miss the entire 2005 season.
25. Minnesota | Kyle Waldrop | RHP | Beloit (A)
Waldrop may be a high-school product, but he sure doesn't look or pitch like one. He's 6-foot-5 and has command of all his pitches. He clearly overmatched the Gulf Coast League last summer (30 K, 4 BB, 1.42 ERA in 38 IP), then more than held his own in the Appalachian League (25 K, 3 BB, 3.24 ERA in 25 IP). He gets ahead in the count, moves the ball in and out with velocity and changes speed well. He has serious arm side run and a slight sink. He has an easy delivery and features a hard, sharp downer curve. His polish has allowed him to move up to full-season Beloit this season, where he is 1-3 with a 4.64 ERA with one complete game in six starts and 33 innings pitched.
26. Oakland | Richie Robnett | OF | Stockton (A)
Robnett may have been the strongest guy in A's camp this spring, with great power potential. One of the more talented players in the A's system, Robnett is one of those guys for whom the ball sounds different coming off of his bat during BP. After playing in Vancouver in the Northwest League, he went up to Kane County (Midwest) and won two games for them during their playoff run. He's already made the jump up to Class-A Advanced Stockton (California League) where he's hitting .257 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 18 games. The Fresno State product has very good bat speed and makes hard, frequent contact. He seems to roam the outfield with ease and has a quick release with accurate on-line throws.
27. Florida | Taylor Tankersley | LHP | Injured
Tankersley pitched well in Jamestown (New York-Penn League) in 2004, holding hitters to a .210 batting average against. He'll be getting a late start in 2005, out until mid to late May with shoulder tendonitis. Once healthy he should start the season in Class-A Greensboro (SAL) but may not stay there that long. A college lefty who has experience as both a starter and reliever, he could move through the system quickly.
28. Los Angeles | Blake DeWitt | 3B | Columbus (R)
DeWitt moved from short to third upon making his pro debut and immediately showed he may have the bat for the hot corner (12 homers, 47 RBIs in 299 at-bats). Equally important, DeWitt's offense wasn't affected by the position switch. He came up with some big hits for Ogden while working tirelessly at getting comfortable at third. His bat will carry him through the system and could someday move back to the middle of the field as an offensive-minded second baseman. De Witt has a line drive type swing with lift for power. He has a sound hitting approach and is aggressive at the plate. He's playing for Columbus where he has two home runs with 17 RBIs in 26 games.
29. Kansas City | Matt Campbell | LHP | Burlington (A)
Campbell barely got his feet wet last summer, arriving late and leaving early to go back to school. He's one of those crafty lefties, with stuff that plays average at the Major League level. He's got an average fastball, perhaps a tick above average, a 12-to-6 curve and an effective change when he can throw it down in the zone. More of a pitcher than a thrower, Campbell had to learn fastball command after relying on the breaking ball so much in college. He began the year in Class-A Burlington (Midwest), where he got off to an 0-3 start with a 3.71 ERA in six starts. The University of South Carolina product ranks among the Midwest League leaders in innings pitched and strikeouts.
30. Texas | Eric Hurley | RHP | Clinton (A)
The high-schooler impressed the Rangers in his brief debut last summer. Long and lanky with wiry strength, Hurley throws a fastball, slider and changeup, though he needs to refine his command of all three. He has an easy, loose, whip-like arm action and locates his pitches down in the zone. He was pushed a little into the Northwest League last year, and the Rangers will continue to challenge him without putting him too far over his head. With his arsenal of pitches, he is off to a strong start to his season with Clinton of the Midwest League. The 6-4, 195-pound, right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA in six starts for the LumberKings and ranks among the league leaders in innings pitched and strikeouts.