With a little more than a month left before major league baseball’s amateur draft, scouts in the Southland are busy finalizing reports on the top high school seniors.
And for the first time in several years, there does not appear to be a surplus of talent to be selected in the first few rounds.
“Texas looks like it’s the best area of the country this year,” said Allan Simpson, editor of Baseball America magazine. “California has some kids expected to go high in the draft, but many of them are in the San Diego area and Northern California. There are some in Southern California, but it’s probably not as strong overall as it has been in recent years.”
Nevertheless, Southern California by virtue of its size and weather is expected to produce players selected June 2-4.
Last year, most of the 30 major league teams drafted into the 50th round. The expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays didn’t stop until the 92nd.
Three players signed for bonuses of $2 million or more. Fifteen others received more than $1 million, including J.J. Davis of Baldwin Park High, who received $1,675,000 from the Pirates; and Jon Garland of Granada Hills Kennedy, who received $1,325,000 from the Cubs.
Third baseman Sean Burroughs of Long Beach Wilson, pitcher Nick Neugebauer of Riverside Arlington and catcher Gerald Laird of Westminster La Quinta are regarded as the top three prospects in Southern California.
Here is a look at 10 Southland high school players who are under particular scrutiny as draft day approaches.
* Sean Burroughs, Long Beach Wilson, 3B, 6-2, 190: The son of former major leaguer Jeff Burroughs came onto the national scene when he helped lead a Long Beach team to consecutive World Series titles.
The heavy-set boy has grown into an angular young man.
He entered the week batting .442 with three homers and 17 runs batted in in 17 games.
“He’s really trimmed up his body, improved his footwork defensively and he obviously can swing the bat,” said an American League scouting director. “He also has the pedigree. He was born in a bat bag.”
Burroughs has signed a letter of intent with USC. But he is expected to be selected in the first or second round.
“Besides his tools, his instincts to play are better than most high school kids,” said a National League scouting director. “Because of his background, you see him make adjustments at times that kids his age probably wouldn’t make.”
* Nick Neugebauer, Riverside Arlington, RHP, 6-3, 225: Going into the season, Neugebauer was projected as a high pick because of his strong arm and outstanding breaking pitches. Many scouts still believe he has the most growth potential--or “highest ceiling"--of any high school player in the Southland.
Elbow problems, however, sidelined Neugebauer for part of the season, so a strong finish could do much for his draft status. He has signed a letter of intent with Cal State Fullerton.
“He certainly has a chance to be overpowering with the breaking stuff he brings to the table,” one scout said. “He’s going to be a decent draft for someone.”
* Gerald Laird, Westminster La Quinta, Catcher, 6-1, 185: Scouts like his body, his defensive skills, his bat and his make-up.
He began the week batting .635 with five homers and 27 RBIs for the Times’ top-ranked team.
“He’s a good catching prospect in a year that has a real dearth of catchers,” Simpson said. “That will elevate him some.”
Laird has signed a letter of intent with Arizona State.
* Tim Lemon, La Mirada, OF, 6-2, 185: The nephew of former major leaguer Chet Lemon doesn’t yet have the polish, but he has the physical potential to become an impact player in the major leagues.
“He’s fun to watch because you never know what you might see,” one scout said.
Lemon, who is batting .325 with three homers and 13 RBIs, is also an outstanding football receiver and has signed a letter of intent with Washington State.
* John Ennis, North Hills Monroe, RHP, 6-5, 210: Scouts like him, but several say he needs three years of college before turning professional.
No one disputes that his size and arm strength make him a prospect.
Ennis, who has signed a letter of intent with UCLA, began the week 3-2 with a 1.11 earned-run average. He had 41 strikeouts and 18 walks in 38 innings.
* Ryan Madson, Moreno Valley Valley View, RHP, 6-6, 180: Another tall pitcher with decent velocity that scouts are eager to see again three years from now after his junior year in college.
Madson has signed a letter of intent with USC, but some organization will draft him.
* Tony Garcia, Temecula Valley, SS, 5-9, 155: Garcia, who has signed a letter of intent with Pepperdine, has “some of the best hands for a high school player that I’ve seen in a long time,” one scout said. “He’s a little guy, so you have to wait and see if he has the strength to hit, but he might be a guy who could get there on skill alone at his position.”
* Brett Kay, Santa Ana Mater Dei, Catcher, 6-1, 195: Kay has signed a letter of intent with Cal State Fullerton and most organizations expect he will honor it.
“Defensively, he’s as good as there is in high school, and he has a chance to hit,” said an American League scouting director. “But I think given the history of [Mater Dei] and [the number of players who opt for college rather than pro contracts], he’s not a great draft. His upside is probably three or four years out.”
* Eric Powell, Long Beach Millikan, OF, 6-0, 160: “He’s another guy where you show up and you never know what he’s going to do,” said an American League scouting director of Powell, who has signed a letter of intent with Long Beach State.
“He could be something in three years if he works at it.”
* Gary Schneidmiller, Chino Don Lugo, SS, 6-0, 185: Schneidmiller did not receive the preseason attention that others did, but he’s gaining notice.
He plays solid defense and began the week batting .493 with 11 homers and 30 RBIs.
He has not signed a letter of intent, so the ability to sign him is a factor working in his favor.