Posted by: bhyman | June 1, 2008

Position breakdown: Middle infield

The draft is only four days away. If you haven’t ordered your copy of our 2008 Draft Manual, you’re missing out on our exclusive rankings of the 450 best draft prospects plus a first-round mock draft and scouting reports on our top sleepers (none of whom have been previously mentioned on this website). To order, click on the 2008 Draft Manual tab at the top of the page and follow the instructions to pay via PayPal.

This post is the third in a series where we’ll breakdown the top available talent by position and describe consensus first-rounders and sleepers alike. Today, we’ll discuss middle infielders. The shortstop position has undergone new demands in the last 25 years. Until the mid 1980s, teams were satisfied if their shortstops were slick fielders and didn’t care how well they hit. Cal Ripken ushered in a new era in the 1980s. He was taller at 6-foot-4 than most shortstops of a previous generation. Not only did he win two Gold Gloves, Ripken won eight Silver Slugger awards as the best hitter in the American League. Now teams demand that shortstop prospects pair solid glove work and a strong arm with at least average hitting ability. Prospects who aren’t skilled enough defensively or don’t have the arm strength are moved to second base, where more offense is demanded. Shortstops are typically asked to be power hitters while second basemen are usually leadoff types who can get on base. But even this stereotype is changing. Chase Utley of the Phillies and Jeff Kent of the Dodgers break the mold. Here are the top five middle infielders on our board:

Top 50 overall

  1. Tim Beckham, SS, HS Sr., Griffin HS (Georgia)
  2. Gordon Beckham, SS, Jr., Georgia
  3. Ryan Flaherty, 2B, Jr., Vanderbilt

51-100 overall

  1. Johnny Giavotella, 2B, Jr., New Orleans
  2. Jose Lozada, SS, Sr., Bethune-Cookman

Tim Beckham, SS, HS Sr., Griffin HS (Georgia)

Tim is the best high school prospect in the country. Scouts expect him to be an above-average hitter in the major leagues and the speed and athleticism to be at least a solid runner. In the field, he shows good awareness and a strong arm. He’s not a spectacular athlete, but he’s steady and gets the job done. Tim is committed to Southern California, but it would be a major upset if he ever steps foot on campus. He’s the No. 1 player on my draft board and he’s on the Rays short list with the first overall pick. If the Rays don’t draft him, Tim will be selected by the Pirates or Royals, who hold the #2 and #3 picks, respectively.

Gordon Beckham, SS, Jr., Georgia

Gordon has seen his draft stock rise more than anyone else. Playing in the strong Southeastern Conference, Gordon hit .392/.504/.793 with 24 home runs and 61 RBI through the end of May while playing his home games at spacious Foley Field. Gordon has the best career stats of any position player in this year’s draft by our measures. While some teams feel that he doesn’t have the defensive aptitude to remain a shortstop as a professional, others are more confident and Gordon will have every opportunity to prove himself in the middle of the diamond. The Orioles are rumored to be considering selecting Gordon with the #4 overall pick. At the very worst, he should be gone by the middle of the first round.

Ryan Flaherty, 2B, Jr., Vanderbilt

Flaherty has a chance to be the next Dustin Pedroia. Like Pedroia, Flaherty has a strong track record against elite competition. Pedroia went to Arizona State; Flaherty plays at Vanderbilt. In 2008, he hit .327/.415/.550 with 14 home runs. Not only has he been challenged by tough SEC pitchers, he plays his home games in a pitcher’s park. He doesn’t hit for much power, but he should hit for average and draw a few walks in the pros. Both he and Pedroia were shortstops in college, but Pedroia moved to second base and Flaherty will likely have to do the same. Flaherty’s dad coached Southern Maine to two Division III national championships and that baseball intelligence and makeup has rubbed off on his son. He will probably be drafted in the third round.

Johnny Giavotella, 2B, Jr., New Orleans

Giavotella has been overlooked by scouts — literally. The Privateers’ second baseman is only 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, but he packs a punch. In his junior campaign, he hit .361/.476/.601 with 12 home runs. It was his second consecutive season when he recorded a OPS that was at least 1.000. He draws plenty of walks and should be able to stay at second baseman as a pro. He’ll likely be drafted between rounds 5 and 10.

Jose Lozada, SS, Sr., Bethune-Cookman

Lozada is a sleeper who you should keep your eye on. After spending one season at Miami-Dade Community College and two at Benedictine College, Lozada transferred to Bethune-Cookman before the ’08 season. He has put up startling numbers, hitting .398/.500/.635 with 7 homers for the Wildcats. Lozada has beat up inferior MEAC pitching, so his stats should be taken with caution. Lozada will probably have to move to second base because he made a team high 23 errors in 2008. Few players get on-base in half of their plate appearances like Lozada and he should continue to hit in pro ball. As a senior, he’ll be easy to sign.

Tomorrow, the series continues with a look at third basemen.

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