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Stetson, Central Florida could surprise

By PETE YOUNG, BOB PUTNAM, Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 3, 2001


Sunshine state baseball followers are accustomed to Miami and Florida State having numerous high draft picks, but Stetson and Central Florida have perhaps the state's two best college prospects this year.

UCF right-hander Jason Arnold was a 16th-round selection last year. He turned down the Reds' offer of $60,000 and returned to UCF, where he developed two other pitches to go along with his mid-90s fastball. He's expected to be gone by the end of the second round Tuesday.

"This year he's used his hard breaking ball, more of a slider, and a (palm ball) changeup, and he's improved his stamina," UCF assistant coach Greg Frady said. "A cross-checker told me he had him hitting 95-97 (mph) with his fastball all day during one of his starts, so he's going to be drafted pretty quick."

Stetson left-hander Lenny DiNardo was projected as a first-rounder before the season but his velocity tailed off slightly and he's now expected to go between the second and fifth round.

Of course, FSU and Miami have top prospects as well. Seminoles outfielder John-Ford Griffin and Hurricanes right-hander Chris Sheffield will be high selections.

UCF could be a contender to have the most players drafted. After Arnold, expect Golden Knights right-hander Justin Pope to be snapped up quickly.

TC WASN'T IMPRESSED: Marianna right-hander Alan Horne is expected to go in the first round. Baseball America has Horne rated the No. 2 prospect in Florida, behind Seminole's Casey Kotchman. This season he totaled 147 strikeouts in 81 innings.

The final inning of his high school career, however, might have been his worst. In a Class 3A state semifinal last month at Legends Field in Tampa, Horne allowed six runs in the seventh inning as Tampa Catholic rallied for an 8-7 win.

TAKE A CHANCE?: Seminole's Ryan Dixon, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-handed pitcher, is one of the draft's most intriguing prospects. A Miami signee, the fireballing Dixon was projected as a first-rounder until a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder early this season. His recuperation is going well (he was a designated hitter in Seminole's final two games), and he anticipates pitching by mid-summer.

Though Dixon's recovery is expected to be swift and complete, he could be perceived as a risk. Since he has signed with Miami, the team that drafts him must sign him before classes start or it loses his rights, then he can't be drafted again until after his junior season.

I WILL FOLLOW: Players who are drafted but don't sign and instead attend junior college are subject to the "draft-and-follow." Teams retain their rights until the next draft, and after the juco season ends the player can sign with the team that drafted him or be redrafted.

Third baseman Joe Jiannetti of Daytona Beach Community College opted for the former. The 2000 St. Petersburg High graduate signed with the Mets last week. He was a 40th-round choice last year but was expected to go higher this year.

RECORD-SETTERS: Seminole could break the record for players drafted from a high school team. Six Warhawks (Kotchman, Dixon, Bryan Bass, John Killalea, T.J. Large and Bobby Wilson) are projected selections, tying the record. Errol Blumer, Jon Riggleman and Jon Skorupski also could be selected.

THE END?: Wellington High's run of first-round pitchers could end.

Right-hander Bobby Bradley and left-hander Sean Burnett were first-rounders in the 1999 and 2000 drafts, respectively, by the Pirates. It seemed Wellington would push the streak to three, but ace Brian Stitt has had elbow problems for the second straight year.

First-year player draft

WHO: All high school seniors, two-year college players and four-year college juniors and seniors are eligible. Any player whose 21st birthday comes within 45 days of Tuesday is eligible.

WHEN: Tuesday-Thursday.

THE RULES: Clubs retain the rights to draftees until the week before the 2002 draft. Teams lose all rights to players who enroll in four-year colleges in the fall; rights to players who enroll in a two-year college are retained until the next draft, but the player cannot be signed until after his season.

DURATION: 50 rounds, 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, noon to 6 Wednesday and at 1 p.m. Thursday if necessary. There are 13 supplemental/compensatory picks, so-called "sandwich" picks, between the first and second rounds.

ORDER: The top 10 teams drafting are: 1. Minnesota, 2. Chicago Cubs, 3. Tampa Bay, 4. Philadelphia, 5. Texas, 6. Montreal, 7. Baltimore, 8. Pittsburgh, 9. Kansas City, 10. Houston.

LOCALLY: Seminole's Casey Kotchman is expected to go in the first round. The polished, 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman, who was named Gatorade's national high school player of the year, could go as high as No. 3 to the Rays, or perhaps drop until the second half of the round. Six players from Seminole's national and state champion team are considered sure-fire draft picks: Kotchman, RHP Ryan Dixon, SS Bryan Bass, LHP John Killalea, RHP T.J. Large and C Bobby Wilson. All could be gone by the 20th round.

INFORMATION ON THE WEB: www.majorleaguebaseball.com will provide live audio coverage and round-by-round updates; www.baseballamerica.com and www.teamonebaseball.com have extensive information on top draft prospects for a subscription fee.

-- Compiled by Pete Young.

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