MLB Draft Preview

Who will forget the two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year taking the bat and drawing a cross in the dirt before he stepped into the box, as “La-Porta” rang throughout McKethan Stadium? Tomorrow afternoon, he’ll hear his name without that flair and he should know that Gators fans will still be cheering for him. He has powered his way into the Florida record books and our fond memories. If there were ever a player deserving of a first round selection it is senior Matt LaPorta.

The Major League Baseball Draft will be held tomorrow with coverage beginning at 2pm on ESPN2.

Senior Matt LaPorta is expected to be taken during the first round in today’s Major League Baseball draft. Obviously, when you think of LaPorta, you think of power. But, the big guy hits for average too. LaPorta hit for a .402 average, while pounding out 20 home runs. He would have added significantly to that total had he not been intentionally walked 30 times, while drawing an additional 25 more that really didn’t seem to bother opposing coaches if you know what I mean.

He is also a tremendous locker room guy. He is rarely the cheerleader on the top step clapping and rallying his teammates to victory. Rather, LaPorta is the first guy into the on deck circle passing advice along to teammate. They gravitate toward him with good reason- Matt LaPorta is an everyday leader who comes to the ball park looking for the win, without getting lost in himself when they lose. There are plenty of part-timers out there. LaPorta is simply not one of them. 

The Boston Red Sox drafted him in the 14th round last year and failed to sign him. Big mistake. He is now a first round guy. You could have possibly had him for mush less. The knocks on the two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year are injuries and defense. I can perfectly understand the injury concerns. He has struggled with an array of injuries throughout his Florida career. However, I am a bit puzzled by the lacking defensive reputation attributed to LaPorta. He amassed a fielding percentage of .991 despite playing down the stretch with a leg injury. He made several nice plays at the bag digging balls out of the dirt or hauling it into his mitt and applying the tag.

He is represented by Scott Boras, who is hardly the most loved agent among general managers and owners. That is not likely to matter though, because most of the other first round players are also represented by Boras.

Junior Bryan Augenstein did not relive his sophomore success and that is expected to reflect in the draft. His innings totals were on par with last years’ totals 112/103. Ditto with the strikeout totals, 105/97. However, opponents batted .282 against Augenstein this season compared to just .241 last year. His pitches did not overwhelm batters as they did so often in 2006. He did pitch a beauty in his last outing against Alabama. There was a large contingent of major league scouts on hand. It was an impressive performance, but was it enough to get him a relatively early call? 

After a subpar 2006, right fielder Brian Leclerc picked up right where he left off- struggling. In fact, Leclerc was worse hitting a horrendous .043. However, the hard work paid off just in time for conference play as Leclerc completed one of the greatest turnarounds in Florida baseball history. For much of the season he was among the ten best hitters in league play. He finished with a highly respectable .313 average. One aspect of Leclerc’s game that definitely improved was his defense. He made several stellar plays throughout the season that tremendously benefited the Gators. It’s not clear in the least as to where Leclerc might be selected, if at all. The most likely scenario is that Leclerc will have to work from the bottom of the barrel.

The first Florida baseball signee expected to be taken during the draft is John Talisano of Estero High School. Talisano is a shortstop who exploded onto the scene as a freshman when he batted .532 and 30 RBI’s. He ripped 10 doubles, eight home runs, and four triples. He also recorded 20 stolen bases. For his efforts, Talisano was named to the 2004 USA Baseball Junior National Team.  He hit .441 during his sophomore season at Estero. Talisano pounded out a .610 average as a junior with 41 RBI’s, 10 doubles, nine home runs, and two triples. As a senior, Talisano hit .518 with 42 RBI’s. He belted out 10 doubles and eight home runs.

Some teams do not think that he has the footwork to make it at shortstop or second base at the major league level. Others project him at second base or potentially moving to the outfield. The switch-hitter is expected to be taken in either the second or third round. It’s doubtful that he’ll ever see the Florida campus.

Right hander Tommy Toledo has the flashy name, but it’s his stats that give major league clubs the juice to pull the trigger on the Tampa Alonso graduate. He recorded a 9-1 record with 78 strikeouts and 20 walks in 69 innings pitched. Toledo possesses good movement on a 90+ miles per hour fastball. He locates his pitches very well and throws an above average slider, while continuing to develop a change-up that caused plenty of problems for hitters at the high school level.

Toledo stands 6-3 and weighs 175, so there is plenty of room for physical development. His brother attends the University of Florida. Toledo told me that he is very excited about playing at Florida and things would have to be right for him to pass up the opportunity. If he falls too far and a team fails to make him feel comfortable, the Gators stand an outstanding shot of watching him take command of the mound at The Mac next season. Toledo is expected to be selected in the 3rd to 5th rounds.

Rumor has it that buses picked up the seniors at Lakeland High School on the last day of school and dropped them off in front of Criser Hall on the University of Florida campus. Among them was Evan Chambers, who is slotted to do an awfully lot for the Florida Gators baseball team. Chambers is a duel threat, who is still in the developmental stages of amassing lethal power with above average speed. He is widely considered to be takne in the first 10 rounds of the draft.

Williston signee Jiwan James is another player who figures to draw some late round draft notice. The former Class 3A Dairy Farmers Player of the Year brings athleticism and speed to a Florida team while potentially filling a dual role. James hit .554 for the Red Devils as a junior and stole 27 bases. He was lights out as a sophomore when he ran his record 9-0 with a 0.82 ERA. He was 3-3 with a 1.75 ERA as a junior for Williston. This season, James fanned 14 batters in a game against Chiefland that was played under the watchful eyes of a Philadelphia Phillies scout. James is the nephew of former Florida football player Curtis Stacy (1982-1985).

Orlando Evans star first baseman/pitcher Ryan Mathews, Texas A&M Consolidated High School pitcher Travis Lawler, and Palatka pitcher Cody Barnes are also expected to be selected.