A hot draft for hot-corner prospects

A hot draft for hot-corner prospects

Between players already there and those who will move and profile well there, it looks like 2007 will provide a bumper crop of corner infielders.

Almost all of them will be at the hot corner, with not nearly as many first basemen coming from this year's draft class. That's fine by scouts, who often have a lot of trouble finding bona fide third basemen each year.

"It is a strength of the draft," one National League scouting executive said. "To find a legitimate, profile third basemen in the draft is very difficult.

"This year, there are legitimate profile third basemen, and that's a rarity. There are guys you think can play the position, have the traditional bat for the position."

Most of them come from the high school ranks, though there are a few intriguing college bats. Not only are there several guys already playing third, but even the ones who'll have to move from the shortstop position they played in high school or college have the stuff to be solid players at third base.

"There are guys who often move off of shortstop," the NL scout said. "You see them play shortstop, but you hope they can develop into that caliber of player. They have size, strength and power. They can play defense."

Just who are these up-and-coming corner infielders? Lets take a closer look:

Kevin Ahrens, 3B, Memorial High School, Houston
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A shortstop in high school, Ahrens is one of those amateur players who will change positions almost immediately upon becoming a pro. That being said, he has all the tools to be a pretty good third baseman.

Ahrens just started switch-hitting, and while he's much better right-handed, he's made great strides from the other side and should eventually be able to hit well from both sides of the plate. He's got an advanced approach and will have plenty of power from both sides in the future.

Defensively, he has the arm and hands to play shortstop, but his range and projected growth likely mean a move over to the hot corner. His range isn't a strength now and scouts think he's going to grow into a fairly physical infielder, limiting that range even more. That shouldn't concern anyone, as Ahrens, who has been compared to a young, if less speedy, Chipper Jones, will hit.

Matt Dominguez, 3B, Chatsworth High School, Calif.
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Scouts aren't often effusive with praise of amateur players, but anyone who's seen Dominguez play defense can't help but gush.

Nearly everyone agrees he's a Gold Glover in the making. One scout said he was the best defensive third baseman he'd seen in years.

And just because his glove work draws raves doesn't mean he can't handle the bat. Dominguez is a good all-around third baseman with solid hitting skills and average power. There's room for growth, too, so he could evolve into an excellent run-producing corner infielder with a shelf full of Gold Gloves.

Sean Doolittle, 1B, University of Virginia
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A two-way player throughout his college career, Doolittle did initially get interest as a first baseman and as a pitcher. Now, however, it seems more likely that he'll get drafted for his bat.

If you want a power-hitting first baseman, then Doolittle isn't your guy. If you want a Dave Magadan, or maybe a Mark Grace-type, then he could be a good fit. Doolittle makes good contact from the left side of the plate and should hit for average. He won't hit for a ton of power, but could develop more than he's shown.

Defensively, he's outstanding. A benefit of being a pitcher, he's got above-average arm strength and plays first more like an agile third baseman. He has good range and soft hands. Put the package together and he's a solid, if unspectacular, draft pick on June 7.

Todd Frazier, 3B, Rutgers University
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Frazier has played shortstop for Rutgers, but if you take one look at his size and offensive tools, he screams third baseman.

For starters, he is 6-foot-4 and has a lot of pop. He's got excellent bat speed that generates plus raw power. He should have at least above-average gap power as a professional.

That skill set fits well at third, as does his defensive ability. He's got a very good arm and hands good enough to handle the hot corner. His range at short is below-average, the biggest reason he'll have to make the move. It's been well-documented that this isn't a strong class of college hitters, so Frazier should hear his name called early on draft day.

Matt LaPorta, 1B, University of Florida
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LaPorta entered last season as the best college power bat in the country. Injuries hampered him for much of his junior season and he never got going. He wasn't drafted until the 14th round by the Red Sox, but never really considered signing.

That looks like a good move for the first baseman. Healthy and in excellent shape, LaPorta has put up monster numbers in his senior season and was named the Southeastern Conference's Player of the Year. He has plus plus power and could be a fine middle-of-the-lineup hitter in the future.

LaPorta will never win a Gold Glove and is likely a first baseman only or designated hitter as a pro. There tends to be a bias about right-handed-hitting first basemen, but his pure power bat should help cancel that out come draft day. Seniors tend to be "easy signs," but LaPorta is represented by Scott Boras, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Matt Mangini, 3B, Oklahoma State
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Mangini entered the year as the probable second-best college hitter in the draft class behind Matt Wieters. While there will still be some who will look closely at his left-handed swing, it's clear his stock has dropped some.

Mangini really made a name for himself in the Cape Cod League last summer, where he won the batting title in the wood bat league. He moved from North Carolina State to Oklahoma State for this season, but didn't take his approach with him. There was some concern he had some bad aluminum bat habits this season, though he still managed to hit .340 heading into postseason play, albeit with less pop than in the past.

Defensively, he's fine at third and is fairly agile for a guy his size. Although, he hasn't always been a consistent defender, so his bat will have to carry him come draft time. Teams that think he can return to the form he showed with wood last summer on the Cape will give him a try.

Beau Mills, 3B, Lewis-Clark State
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It's as if Beau Mills saw the vacuum created by the lack of impact college bats and single-handedly went about filling it.

Transferring from Fresno State to Lewis-Clark State in the NAIA, the son of Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills has set the world on fire. Stats don't tell the whole story, but Mills' are worth noting: .459 average and a 1.000 slugging percentage, thanks to 21 doubles and 33 homers. He also drove in 113 runs. This isn't just the case of a guy punishing pitching in a weaker division of college ball. He can flat-out hit, for average and power, from the left side of the plate.

His defense brings about slightly more mixed opinions. There are some who think he'll be an adequate third baseman, never a Gold Glover, but a guy who'll be OK enough to stay there and let his bat do the talking. Others don't see any way he can stay at third and will end up being a first baseman or designated hitter in the future. That obviously can impact his draft status, but it's clear his offensive potential should help get his name off the board early.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, Chatsworth High School, Calif.
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Mike Moustakas is riding an historic season into the draft this year.

The Chatsworth High slugger has obliterated the California high school home run record, both for a season and for a career. He has the chance to be a very special left-handed hitter with tons of power.

But where will he play defensively? He's played shortstop in high school, but only because Dominguez is Moustakas' teammate. Still, most see him as a third baseman as a professional. He's got OK hands and an above-average arm, but he's going to be too big and physical to play up the middle. Some think he'd make a good catcher, a position he has played some in the past. Normally, an offensive talent like this gets snatched up very early. But Moustakas is likely hearing his name all over the board leading up to the draft because his agent (Boras) and perceived bonus demands cloud his signability.

Brad Suttle, 3B, University of Texas
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There are a few things that make Suttle an interesting draft prospect. One is that he's a draft-eligible sophomore, giving him some leverage in the negotiating process. The other is that he is a Type 1 diabetic, though it certainly hasn't hurt his performance at all with the Longhorns.

After playing all over the infield as a freshman, Suttle settled in at third this year and had a successful season at the plate. He's a switch-hitter who hasn't shown a ton of power, but could develop some more with some tweaks to his swing.

Defensively, the former high school pitcher has good arm strength, his hands are OK, but he has limited range. He's not the prototypical corner infielder in terms of his set of skills, but he should be a guy who at least hits for average and can stay at third at the next level.

Josh Vitters, 3B, Cypress High School, Calif.
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Vitters came into the season as the top high school position player in the country. Nothing has happened to change that consensus.

Not even a bout with pneumonia, which kept him out of action for a couple of weeks and slowed him for some time thereafter, has hurt his status. He's one of the most polished high school hitters to come around in a long time. He makes strong, consistent contact with plenty of power. He's shown an innate ability to make adjustments at the plate and he could be the rare prep star who's bat can move quickly through a system.

His glove is a bit behind his bat. His best tool is his arm and he does have above-average arm strength. His range and hands are average, at best. There is some thought that the holes in his defensive game come mostly from not working at it as hard as he does his hitting. With some pro instruction, most believe he'll be fine at third. If not, his bat will play anywhere and should land him near the top of the draft.

Others to watch: Travis Mattair, 3B, Southridge High School, Wash.; Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Liberty-Eylau High School, Texarkana, Texas; Kevin Patterson, 1B/C, Oak Mountain High School, Birmingham, Ala.; Matt Presley, 3B, Cheyenne Mountain High School, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Victor Sanchez, 3B, Gahr High School, Norwalk, Calif.; Matt West, 3B, Bellaire High School, Texas.

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