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2009 Draft Preview- Part One.

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You know, I'm starting to get kind of concerned about my elbow. It's been hurting for a couple of weeks now, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. I thought at first it was maybe just a touch of tendinitis, but it isn't going away, even with my earnest attempts not to use the arm much. I suppose I'll eventually have to give in and seek out some sort of professional help, but I'm not looking forward to it. I am, however, a little bit hopeful that I may end up being the first person to need Tommy John surgery who only writes about baseball, rather than playing it. Knowing my luck, though, it's probably some sort of horrible, incurable cancer of the elbow. Oh well. 

Anyhow, prospect ranking season is in full swing, as has been noted here recently. Kevin Goldstein's list is set to come out today. I'm not going to bore you with a list of my own; however, I do want to get an early start on the 2009 version of my draft preview. I started right around the end of January last year, and it gave me plenty of time to do just a few players at a time, as well as making updates and revisions along the way. With that in mind, I thought I would try to get even a little bit earlier start this year. 

I figure that when Royce Ring is news, it's time to find another avenue of discussion. So without further ado, here we go. It's 2009, and these are the draftees. Enjoy. 

To kick off this brand new year of previews, I'm going to start first at the top of the draft. The consensus top pick this year appears likely to be a right handed, college pitcher, and so that's where we're going to begin. I'll probably actually have to do two of these just on this particular segment of player, as there are quite a few college righties. 

Stephen Strasburg- RHP, San Diego State

So, what's so great about this guy? 

It's pretty tough to recall the last time a pitcher of Strasburg's pedigree came along. David Price is close, but Strasburg is even more of a sure thing than what Price was considered to be. Probably the last time we saw a pitcher with this combination of stuff, control, makeup, and track record would be Mark Prior in 2001. 

Strasburg's repertoire is close to major league ready right now. He starts with a fastball in the mid 90s, sitting around 94, and can work it up into the upper 90s, occasionally nearing triple digits. His curveball is a true hammer, and he has the ability to change the shape and speed of it if he needs to. Strasburg also features a changeup that's his third best offering, but in no way should be referred to as simply a third pitch. It has depth and fade, and he can locate it for strikes consistently. 

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Strasburg, though, isn't the quality of his stuff. His control is tremendous, with ridiculously low walk totals all through college. His strikeout to walk ratio in 2008, for instance, was better than 8 to 1, with 133 K's to only 16 BB's. Strasburg even pitched for the U.S. Olympic squad last year, the only amateur to do so. 

Let's face it. This is a pitcher who has virtually no chance of falling to the Cardinals at 19. He's almost major league ready right out of college, and has top of the rotation written all over him. In fact, I'm really only covering him for the purpose of completeness, and one other thing. I would say there was absolutely no chance he falls, except for one word. 

Boras. 

That's right. Strasburg is represented by the Scott Boras corporation. and when you look at the kind of potential he has, coupled with his nearness to the majors straight out of the draft, could very well lead to a record-setting deal for Strasburg. Adding to the intrigue, the Washington Nationals have the first overall pick; you may recall that Washington was the team burned last year by Boras and Aaron Crow, who headed off to play indy league ball rather than sign with the Nats. I still don't see much chance of Strasburg falling very far, but it should be interesting to see just where he ends up on draft day. 

Kyle Gibson- RHP, University of Missouri

So, what's so great about this guy? 

Seems like Mizzou has become quite the pitching factory here the last couple of years, doesn't it? The previously mentioned Aaron Crow was drafte in the first round out of MU last year; it was Max Scherzer two years before him. Gibson looks like he should continue the tradition in style, going in the first round this year. 

Whereas both Crow and Scherzer were power pitchers who relied heavily on power stuff, Gibson is a bit of a different animal. His calling card is outstanding control, and a devilish slider to go along with it. He throws his fastball in the upper 80s, occasionally reaching above 90 mph. His slider is his best pitch, and he uses it as his bread and butter, occasionally relying on it a bit too much. Gibson also throws a solid average changeup that has shown plus potential at times, though he's not all that consistent with it as of yet. 

The other thing about Gibson that really stands out, after his control, is the amount of projection still remaining to him. At only 195 lbs on a six foot six inch frame, it's fair to say he's a little bit on the thin side. Once he fills out, he should add a fair amount of velocity, though just how much is somewhat in debate due to his delivery. Gibson's mechanics are sound, with a free and easy motion that does add some deception. The problem with his delivery is the pace of it, which is extremely slow. While a fast delivery is in no way a guarantee of velocity, the energy to throw a ball hard has to come from somewhere, and a delivery as deliberate as Gibson's simply doesn't create a whole lot of momentum. 

Bottom line, the only thing that's really in question about Gibson is his ceiling. A pitcher with the kind of control and polish he has should be a pretty safe bet on draft day, and the possiblity of him reaching his projection is a bonus for any team considering taking him. The chances of him being around at 19 aren't particularly good either, but that could very well change, depending upon what kind of performance he puts up this spring. 

Alex White- RHP, University of North Carolina

So, what's so great about this guy? 

White was a good prospect back in 2006 out of high school, but didn't get drafted until the 14th round, largely due to a solid commitment to North Carolina. He bypassed a pro contract to attend college, and stepped in to replace the departing Andrew Miller/ Daniel Bard combo that served UNC so very well in the previous years. 

White has an outstanding, athletic pitcher's body, though he doesn't have quite the height advantage of the other two pitchers on this list. Nonetheless, his athleticism really shines through, especially in his delivery, which by all accounts is very good. He features a fastball in the 90-94 range that has excellent life and movement to it. On good days, White can simply overpower hitters with his fastball, mising bats and generating groundballs galore. Like Gibson, White's best pitch may, in fact, be his slider, which is especially effective against right handed batters. 

The knocks on White begin when you move beyond the athleticism and his two best pitches. His changeup isn't a particularly good pitch, mostly because he simply hasn't thrown it all that much. With a commitment to improving it, the pitch should become average at least, but that's certainly not a sure thing. More worrisome is White's control. He struggles to throw strikes occasionally, though his stuff has been good enough to overcome those issues to this point. Of course, higher level hitters won't be overpowered so easily, making continued development a must. 

White is probably the furthest away of the three pitchers I'm covering here, as he simply doesn't have the same polish as a Gibson or Strasburg. That being said, he certainly has a very high ceiling all the same, and is a good bet to reach it. He's also more likely to be available when the Cardinals draft, as there are more questions surrounding him. Depending on the direction the first round takes, there's a very good chance White is still sitting there when pick #19 rolls around. If he is, I could definitely see the Cardinals popping him, as he fits most of their drafting tendencies. 

Well, that's the first installment of this year's preview. I probably won't do another one for a few weeks, but I hope to get eight or maybe even ten of these in before the draft. 

Take care.