Mike Piazza. Andy Pettitte. John Smoltz. Roy Oswalt.
Besides having MLB stardom in common with each other, they also have another thing in common - they were all selected after the 20th round in the amateur draft.
While not necessarily having the glamour or recognition of the top picks, good players certainly come out of the second day of the MLB draft, and are in some cases vital to the depth of any team's minor league organization. Some players sign right away, others go unsigned and re-enter the draft, and more are DFE (draft, follow and evaluate) candidates that teams will select now and monitor their progress through their next year of amateur ball (the Manny Parra situation is a perfect example of this process).
While many of the top prospects have information about them through sites like Baseball America and MLB.com, many of the lower-round draftees go unnoticed and information about them is hard to find, giving casual and die-hard fans alike little clue as to who these guys are.
Below are some snapshots of some of the players the Brewers took on day two of the MLB draft. Let me preface this article by saying "thank you" to the coaches who took time-out of their day to provide me with some of the information you will read below. (I was not able to receive information on all the players of day two, mostly those who were out of high school. In most of those cases, those players will be DFE candidates.)
Keep an eye on these guys... some of them just may be future major leaguers.
Josh Alliston, RHP, 21st Round Pick
Alliston was drafted by the Mets last year in the 19th round but opted not to sign. He is second all-time in Long Beach State history in appearances and saves. This past season he was 2-4 with a 4.63 ERA and 6 saves. He has above-average velocity and a strong K:BB ratio. At 6'4", 220 pounds, he is a strong presence on the mound. He has already signed with the Brewers and is a likely relief pitcher prospect.
Lendon Willis, 3B, 22nd Round Pick
Willis is a toolsy player that should help an organization that is certainly lacking third base talent. He has above-average speed and a decent power stroke that could improve with maturity. Willis is very consistent on defense and fields his position well. He led Motlow State CC in home runs (13) and stolen bases (24) last season while batting .318. He has signed with the Brewers.
Keith Bohanon, 3B, 23rd Round Pick
Similar to Willis one round earlier, Bohanon is a third baseman with both speed and power that will help replenish the organization's thin third base ranks. He hit .400 with a .485 OBP to go with 11 HR, 66 RBI, and 17 SB in 19 attempts for Oklahoma City University. Bohanon walks nearly as much as he strikes out and could turn out to be a good top-of-the-order hitter. He has a solid 6'2", 190 pound frame that is very durable. Only major drawback is his glove... Bohnanon did commit 30 errors for a .900 fielding % last season.
John Vanden Berg, C, 25th Round Pick
Being the son of Brewers groundskeeper Gary Vanden Berg and attending UW-Milwaukee made this selection much more special for John - but he wasn't drafted based on his name alone. He had an outstanding season for the Panthers this past year, hitting .409 with 6 HR and 57 RBI. While his bat is definitely his top asset, he has well above-average speed for a catcher and shows good instincts behind the plate. He has already signed with the Brewers.
Craig Breslow, LHP, 26th Round Pick
The Brewers began looking at Breslow last season while scouting a fellow Yale Bulldog, 2001 third-round choice Jon Steitz. After a fine junior season, Breslow turned in an equally strong senior year, emerging as the ace of the Yale staff. Because of a lack of offensive support among other things, Breslow was only 1-5. However, he posted a 2.56 ERA and four complete games in his 8 starts. The 6', 165 pound lefty definitely has good stuff - he allowed only 46 hits in just under 60 innings of work - but is somewhat inconsistent and will struggle at times with his control (29 walks). He did not allow a HR this past year and opposing batters only hit .204 off him. He is versatile - he was a closer for Yale his sophomore season before moving into the Bulldog rotation his junior year.
Eric Thomas, RHP, 28th Round Pick
To say that Thomas had a strong year for Southern University A&M in 2002 would be an understatement. Eric was 7-0 with a 2.68 ERA as the stalwart in the rotation of the 45-6 Jaguars. Thomas throws a fastball that will touch 90 mph to go along with a curveball and slider. His control will have to be harnessed somewhat, as he threw 8 wild pitches and hit 7 batters in 53 innings of work. At 6'3", 200 pounds, he has a strong build and a very fluid motion to the plate. He has already signed with the Brewers.
Justin Gabriel, LHP, 30th Round Pick
Gabriel is a lefty who was a workhorse for Louisiana-Lafayette this past year. He was 10-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 131 innings of work, with 111 strikeouts and 5 complete games. Gabriel has exceptional velocity for being just 5'9" and 160 pounds, with a fastball that reaches the upper 80's to go along with a curve and a changeup. He has big-game experience, starting in the College World Series against Stanford in 2000.
Jason Baker, RHP, 31st Round Pick
After having a very solid season for George Washington University in 2001, Baker has mixed results in 2002, going 5-7 with a 5.00 ERA. Baker showed very good command, allowing just 16 walks in 95 innings, while striking out 72. His career BB:K ratio is about 3:1. The 6'2" RH throws a fastball, changeup, and started developing a slider with fairly good success in the Cape Cod League last summer. Baker's fastball tops out in the low 90's while consistently in the upper 80's, and his changeup is very effective, especially against LH hitters. The key to his progress will be the continued development of his breaking stuff.
"If he dedicates himself to a year-round strength and conditioning program for his body and his arm, and his breaking ball develops, he could find his way in the big leagues some day," said GWU baseball coach Tom Walter.
Simon Beresford, RHP, 32nd Round Pick
Arm troubles prevented Beresford, a sophomore who hails from Austrailia, from any major action in 2002, as he appeared in just 3 games and threw 11 innings for Tyler JC. According to coach Jon Groth, Beresford's fastball tops out at about 91 mph and he has a strong work ethic. At 6'5" and 210 pounds, he is an intimidating presence on the mound. An obvious DFE candidate who may turn out to be a steal should he regain his form on the mound next year.
"Simon is a very hard worker, and was a great presence in our dugout despite not being able to pitch much due to off and on minor arm trouble," said Groth.
Jeff Housman, LHP, 33rd Round Pick
The Brewers continued their emphasis on selecting college LHP on day two with Housman, who worked mostly out of the bullpen for Cal State - Fullerton in 2002. He appeared to struggle a bit with the jump up in competition from the College of the Sequoias to CSF early on, but as the season went along he made solid improvements. In 35 innings he allowed 50 hits, walked 15 and struck out 32. He has good command of his pitches, which includes a fastball, curve and changeup. Housman has above-average velocity which could be increased as he fills out his 6'4", 180 pound frame.
Tim Dillard, C, 34th Round Pick
Dillard, who was selected last year in the 15th round by the Brewers out of HS, is a likely DFE candidate for next year out of Itawamba CC. He is built very well at 6'4" and 215 pounds. Dillard features a strong arm behind the plate that is also used on the pitching mound from time to time.
David Hancox, RHP, 38th Round Pick
With another year of eligibility left at Pasco-Hernando CC, Hancox obviously falls under the DFE list of the Brewers. As the P-H closer this past season, Hancox went 5-2 with a 5.68 ERA and 5 saves. He allowed 58 hits and struck out 39 in 44 innings pitched. He throws a fastball that hits the mid to upper 80's, a good slider, a curve, and a changeup. Hancox also played a little bit of second base and hit .231 with 2 HR and 8 RBI in 91 AB's. At just 5'11" and 157 pounds, added velocity and movement on his pitches could certainly come with maturity and a workout program.
"He is a very competitive person between the lines, but laid back, down to earth person outside the lines," says coach Steve Wonderling.
Hunter Pence, OF, 40th Round Pick
A very interesting DFE candidate, to say the least. Pence had an outstanding freshman season at Texarkana CC, hitting .390 with 12 HR and 57 RBI. However, Pence's best asset his is speed - he stole 32 bases and legged out 7 triples. Those base running numbers are even more impressive after you learn that he is 6'5", 210 pounds. Pence is a free swinger and will accumulate his fair share of strikeouts. Certainly a player worth keeping an eye on, even though he was the Brewers third to last pick.
"He is in the same mold as Vladimir Guerrero," says coach Matt Deggs. "He can really run and is a great bad ball hitter with fierce aggression."
Jonathan Shapland, OF, 41st Round Pick
Shapland, a DFE candidate out of St. Petersburg CC, had a solid 2002, hitting .356 with 7 HR and 39 RBI. He is a free-swinger who will strike out a good deal but also has above-average power to all fields.
Neil Avery, LHP, 42nd Round Pick
Avery is a lefty who compiled back-to-back seasons of sub-1.00 ERA's in his final two years of competition for Dartmouth HS. In his senior season, Avery was 10-0 with a 0.85 ERA and allowed just 45 hits and struck out 100 batters in 66 innings. He is a DFE candidate that will attend the University of Connecticut at Avery Point next year.
Out of the players selected on day two, a few have at least a shot of making it to the major leagues, whether it be for the Brewers or for another major league squad. The position player with the best shot may indeed be Bohanon, simply because of the lack of depth at third base in the Milwaukee minors. He will certainly get every opportunity. Of the many pitchers selected, Alliston, Breslow and Baker appear to be the best of the bunch.