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Up the middle, total package hard to find

Up the middle, total package hard to find

Scouting directors will always say they like to draft up the middle if they can. If they can find a catcher, a center fielder or some middle infielders of the future, that's a very good thing.

They're going to have to look pretty hard in 2007 for that last group. It is not a particularly strong class for shortstops and second basemen. Even those who play there now may not play there in the future.

"There aren't many true shortstops in this year's class," an American League scouting director said. "Most of them are high school bats that will have to move to another position."

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The biggest of those prep names are Chatsworth (Calif.) High School's Mike Moustakas and Kevin Ahrens out of Memorial High School in Houston. Add in college shortstop Todd Frazier (Rutgers), who most think will have to move to third (the likely home of Moustakas and Ahrens, although some think Moustakas could end up catching), and several of the better offensive options eventually may not even end up middle infielders.

Then there are the players who don't really profile as shortstops, but don't really have the right offensive skills for third base. That leaves second base or maybe the outfield as a future home. Many will end up having careers as utilitymen as a result.

"If a guy shows he can stay in the middle of the infield, you leave him there," the AL scouting director said. "You have to measure everything, after projections, whether their bat will profile at third base. Sometimes guys fall in between."

Here's a sampling of what scouting directors will have to choose from on June 7:

Christian Colon, SS/2B, Canyon HS, Anaheim, Calif.
Read his Draft Report

Colon is a solid, yet unspectacular, middle infielder. He draws the ultimate compliment by being called a "real baseball player" because of his excellent instincts on the field and the fact he plays the game the right way. But none of his tools truly stand out.

Offensively, he's a decent contact hitter who can spray balls to all fields, though he doesn't have much power to speak of. He runs well, but he's not a burner.

In the field, he's got a good arm, decent hands and average range. It's that range that has some thinking he'll move to second as a pro. He's not a high school player you'd project a lot with. He is what he is and likely isn't going to change much.

Zack Cozart, SS, University of Mississippi
Read his Draft Report

There is no question about Cozart's hands. He can flat out catch the ball. It's the bat that has some scouts divided.

At the plate, Cozart tends to inside-out the ball, though he does make consistent contact. Some see him as a No. 2 hitter with the ability to bunt, hit behind a runner, etc. Others think he'll be a No. 9 hitter, at best. He doesn't hit for power and doesn't run particularly well for a middle infielder.

That could hurt his range as the game speeds up in the professional ranks. Right now, he catches anything he can reach and has good arm strength to get the ball across the diamond. He should be able to stay at shortstop, but he'll be the kind who relies on positioning and instincts more than above-average range to get to the ball.

Drew Cumberland, SS/2B, Pace HS, Fla.

If you're looking for the best pure athlete among middle infielders, Cumberland might be your guy.

This all-state football player brings an aggressive approach to the baseball diamond. He doesn't get cheated at the plate and has some power from the left side. He gets down the line in a hurry and is an outstanding baserunner.

There are more questions about his defense. It's unclear whether his arm will play at shortstop, though he tries to make up for it with good range and a quick exchange. His offensive skill set and all-out attitude are enough to make him a high draft choice, even if some teams think he'll have to move to second.

Ryan Dent, SS/2B, Wilson HS, Long Beach, Calif.
Read his Draft Report

Scouts love Dent's speed and athleticism as well as his hitting potential. But he's another one who may have to move to second as a professional.

The reason for that is his defensive skills. He doesn't have a bad arm, but it may not be enough for a shortstop at the next level. He uses his speed to his advantage, covers ground and can catch the ball fairly consistently. That being said, some think he may be destined for the outfield because of his speed.

He's got plenty of it to spare. He maximizes it on the basepaths as well, but he's not one of these guys who can run but can't hit. He makes consistent contact and even has a little pop. In the end, he profiles as a leadoff-hitter type regardless of what position he plays.

Josh Horton, SS, University of North Carolina
Read his Draft Report

Every draft class has college shortstops like Horton, guys who get the job done, help their team win, but don't necessarily have any tools that jump out at scouts.

Horton's best skill is his bat. He's got terrific bat control and makes good, consistent contact to all fields. He's not a great runner, but good baserunning know-how should allow him to swipe some bases in the future and take the extra base. He's never going to be confused with a power hitter.

He grades out defensively in much the same manner, without a plus tool, but an overall nice package. He throws well enough, catches the balls he can get to and has average range. The speed he does have doesn't really help him defensively all that much. He's the kind of guy who could overachieve and become an every-day shortstop down the line -- or he could end up being a very nice utilityman.

Justin Jackson, SS, TC Roberson HS, Asheville, N.C.
Read his Draft Report

Jackson's stock has fallen this spring with some scouts concerned about him hitting at the next level.

He does have good bat speed at the plate, and with some room to get stronger, that could translate to a little power as a pro. He's not a speedy middle infielder, but does run better once under way, meaning he won't steal bases, but could do well in going first-to-third on a base hit.

Defense is where he usually shines. He's got plus arm strength and is pretty accurate with his throws. His other defensive tools get mixed reviews, but enough people have seen him with decent hands and range that the consensus is he'll be a shortstop. How much scouts think he'll hit will determine when he's drafted.

Peter Kozma, SS, Owasso High School, Okla.
Read his Draft Report

Stop me if you've heard this one, but Kozma is a high school shortstop with good instincts, outstanding makeup and good, but not great, tools.

Compared to the other prep middle infielders, Kozma does have some offensive skills that stand out. He's a very good hitter with some surprising pop and the chance to grow into more power. He's a pretty good runner and his plus instincts make him even better. The bat and the speed are an enticing combination up the middle.

And he will be able to stay up the middle, and most likely at shortstop. He's got at least an average arm, his speed helps his range and he can make all of the routine plays. He's not a flashy player, but scouts feel he can get the job done as an everyday shortstop, a reason why he's moved up on draft charts some of late.

Nick Noonan, SS/2B, Parker High School, San Digeo
Read his Draft Report

Noonan is, you guessed it, a high school shortstop who may end up moving to second. But it's his bat that makes him stand out.

He can flat out hit from the left side of the plate and has a good chance to hit for average as a leadoff guy or, more likely, as a No. 2 hitter. He runs well, but it's not a plus tool, though he should be able to swipe some bases with his good baserunning instincts. He's probably not going to be a huge power hitter, but there is some pop there and he could develop into a 10-15 homer guy.

Defensively, he's pretty solid in most facets of the game, save one: arm strength. There's a split among scouts as to whether he can stay at short for that reason. He's got good hands and pretty good range, so a shift to second base would make a certain amount of sense. Whichever side of the bag he ends up on, there is confidence that Noonan's bat will translate well at the professional level.

Tony Thomas, 2B, Florida State

Every year, there are a few college bats who rise up the charts. That's especially true in a year like this one when there is a dearth of college position players. No one has done that more than Thomas.

One of the few actual second basemen who should hear his name called early on June 7, Thomas has had a huge junior year offensively for Florida State. He's put up numbers that compare with just about any collegian, showing outstanding extra-base power.

Defensively, he's fine for second base, with decent range and good hands. That being said, whoever drafts Thomas will be doing so for his bat.

Danny Worth, SS, Pepperdine
Read his Draft Report

Worth might be the best defensive shortstop in the draft class. His bat, while behind the glove, has improved to make him a much more interesting all-around package.

He is incredibly sure-handed and nothing gets by him. While his range is average, he makes up for any deficiencies with excellent instincts, positioning and anticipation. He's got a good arm that seems even better because of a quick exchange and release. There is no doubt he can play the position at the next level.

He's not known for his offense, but he has shown some signs this year that he may not be an empty bat in the lineup. He does make consistent contact and has improved, spraying the ball to all fields. Still, even with some ability to hit into the gaps for extra bases, there's no doubt it's his glove that will carry him through the pros.

Other names to know: Darwin Barney, SS, Oregon State; Matt Cusick, 2B/3B, Southern California; Brian Friday, SS, Rice; Jon Gilmore, 2B/3B, City HS, Iowa City; Brandon Hicks, SS, Texas A&M; Garrett Nash, SS/OF, Jordan HS, Draper, Utah; Andrew Romine, SS, Arizona State; Eric Sogard, 2B, Arizona State; Nefi Soto, SS, Colegio Maristas HS, Puerto Rico; John Tolisano, 2B/SS, Estero HS, Fla.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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