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Local coaches admit this year's talent poo is thinner than years past.
By JOHN C. COTEY
Published June 5, 2005
Lee Byers coached high school baseball in Pinellas County for 33 years before retiring last month, and he still can't explain the year-to-year depths of the area baseball talent pool.
He has seen dry years, and he has seen the county baseball cup runneth over, sometimes ridiculously so.
"There's no pattern to it," he said. "Sometimes you have those hard throwing pitchers and big hitters, and sometimes you don't."
This year in the Tampa Bay area?
If last year's talent pool, when only Clearwater Central Catholic's Ryan Webb was drafted (in the fourth round) from the Pinellas County high school crop and Hillsborough County had just two players taken, was considered shallow, this year scouts have seen the pool's bottom.
Pinellas and Hillsborough counties aren't alone. Baseball America writes that the ranks of high school stars were thin statewide in 2005, as were some of the smaller colleges and the junior colleges.
"Smaller colleges in the state often make a significant contribution to the draft as well," the magazine said, "but Florida offered no blockbuster players in either category this year."
It wouldn't surprise Byers if no Pinellas County players were selected in Tuesday's major-league draft.
"Not at all," he said. "There's some good players, but just not the size the scouts are looking for."
Hillsborough's top prospect, Bradley Clark, has that size at 6-6, 200 pounds. His big-league frame, 88-92 mph fastball and slider likely will make him the first area high school player selected.
Though he's not ranked in the magazine's top 200 prospects, he is listed at No. 22 in the state. The only other high school player to make the top 65 is Armwood outfielder R.J. Anderson, at No. 37.
That's quite the dropoff from 2000-03, when the two counties were hotbeds for prep talent.
In 2000, Gibbs' Boof Bonser was picked No. 21 overall.
In 2001, Seminole had six players drafted, including first-rounders Casey Kotchman (13th overall) and Bryan Bass (31st), and between Hillsborough and Pinellas, 24 high school players were taken.
In 2002, Tampa Catholic's Denard Spann was a first-round pick and Pinellas County sent four teams to the state semifinals. Among the players on those teams were eventual first-round picks Ryan Harvey of Dunedin (No. 6 to the Cubs) and Northside Christian's Lastings Milledge (No. 12 to the Mets) - both taken in 2003 - as well as nearly a dozen others.
Brian Dopirak (Dunedin) was a second-rounder in 2002, teammate Steve Doetsch was an eighth-rounder and four players on the Northside Christian team would be drafted.
"I think that stretch we had starting about 2000, that's going to be hard to match," Osceola baseball coach Steve Smith said. "And I mean for any county in the country. That was unbelievable."
That stretch will look even more impressive after Tuesday. The only player in Baseball America ' s top 200 from Tampa Bay is Mike Billek, who starred for East Lake in 2002 and is a junior at Central Florida.
Billek was not drafted out of high school, but was impressive at UCF at a freshman. After a poor sophomore season, the right-hander stood out in the Cape Cod League, hitting 95 mph on radar guns at Central Florida's fall scouts' day.
Despite an up-and-down junior season, Billek is 6-4, 235 pounds and is projected to go in the first six rounds.
Other players from 2000-03 should be drafted Tuesday as well.
Three are ranked in the top 65 of Baseball America ' s Florida prospects list, including UCF outfielder Dee Brown, a 2001 Hernando grad; and 2001 Land O'Lakes grads Brian and Jeff Baisley, now at USF.
St. Petersburg College's Todd Redmond, who pitched for Northside Christian in 2002 was also on the list but signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates (who drafted him last year) Saturday. A 2003 Dixie Hollins grad, Jesse Litsch, recently signed with Toronto but was rated No. 55 in Florida.
A number of former Hillsborough County prep stars who have some college experience are expected to be picked.
"We just haven't had that player like we had in the past, like Gary Sheffield or Kiki Jones," Armwood coach Joey Fernandez said. "We're not getting that first-round pick. Maybe they're just not ready out of high school."
Times staff writer Keith Niebuhr contributed to this report.