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Published: Wednesday, June 02, 2010

When Perfect Game USA created its annual Pre-Draft Showcase and the Iowa Spring Wood Bat League well over a decade ago, the compelling reason was to give young baseball prospects in Iowa a fair chance to showcase their tools and ability to professional scouts prior to the draft, as Iowa is one of the few states that does not play a spring high-school schedule.
There have been few years, if any, where the two entities have played a more important role in exposing legitimate players for the draft than in 2010.
There are several solid examples of area players whose positioning in this year’s draft should be impacted by their performance in either one, or both, of the PG sanctioned events. Most obvious involves the acknowledged top three prospects in Iowa, all high-school players with something to prove.
For shortstop Kellen Sweeney (younger brother of Oakland A’s outfielder Ryan Sweeney), it was an opportunity to prove that he had fully recovered from Tommy John surgery last August, which he has done.
For righthander Jon Keller, it was a chance for him to take another step forward in his development as a power pitcher. With a fastball consistently up to 95 mph, he has accomplished that.
For righthander Jonathan Musser, it was a chance to show that his highly projectable build, arm action and solid three-pitch mix have continued to develop. Until Musser sprained his right shoulder in a freak rundown incident during a pre-season high-school practice in early May, he had shown scouts tremendous progress.
Another top high-school prospect from the area, Missouri lefthander Jordan Shipers, whose high school does not field a baseball team, also spent much of the spring in Iowa. While he did not help his stock this spring as much as the three Iowa natives did, he at least had ample opportunity to showcase his skills to the scouting community, something he otherwise would have been hard-pressed to do before the draft.
Similarly, the first Iowa college player likely to be selected didn’t play baseball in a structured setting this spring, though only because Northern Iowa disbanded its baseball program after the 2009 season.
Six-foot-6, 255-pound Lucas O’Rear was considered a top pitching prospect out of high school, but was a better basketball player and played a key role in UNI’s surprising run to the Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. He pitched sparingly for UNI as a sophomore, before the plug was pulled on the program, but showed both a strong arm and a surprisingly polished approach to pitching at PG’s Pre-Draft Showcase and in other workouts for scouts leading up to the draft. O’Rear has one more year of basketball eligibility remaining, but seems anxious to start a professional baseball career, as well.
With the loss of baseball at Northern Iowa, combined with the abolishment of the Iowa State program in 2001, the state’s only remaining D-I program is at Iowa, which rebounded from a 16-35 record in 2009 to go 30-28 this year, including a 13-11 mark in the Big Ten. But the Hawkeyes do not feature any prospects projected to go in the top 10 rounds.
There are also fewer top-level junior-college prospects in Iowa this year, especially when compared to 2009. Last year’s crop included the likes of lefthanders Cole Nelson (now Auburn) and Mike Strong (now at Oklahoma State), and righthanders Mitch Mormann (now at Louisiana State) and Patrick Cooper (Bradley). All were solid draft prospects a year ago, though they ended up at prominent Division I schools instead. A year earlier, righthander Jacob Petricka played at Iowa Western and has since emerged at Indiana State as a premium-round pick in this year’s draft.
Iowa Western continued to shine on the field this year—if not necessarily in the evaluation of scouts. The Reivers went 46-11 and gained their fourth consecutive berth in the Junior College World Series. Even with a robust .398 team batting average, Iowa Western may not have a single player drafted.

STRENGTH: Premium high-school talent.
WEAKNESS: College prospects.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 4.

BEST HIGH-SCHOOL TEAM: Dowling Catholic HS, West Des Moines.
PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Jon Keller, rhp, Xavier HS, Cedar Rapids. Improving in every appearance, he sat at 93-95 mph in his first high-school start in late May; his secondary pitches are still below-average.
PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Jon Musser, rhp, Dowling Catholic HS, Waukee. He challenged Keller for state top pitching-prospect honors early, but sprained his shoulder in a freak rundown incident in practice, and won’t pitch again until after the draft.
WILD CARD: Lucas O’Rear, rhp, Northern Iowa. The 6-6, 255-pound O’Rear stayed at UNI for basketball after the baseball program disbanded last year, and has been impressive in workouts this spring.

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Iowa Connection: Cole Nelson, lhp, Auburn U. (Attended junior college at Des Moines Area CC).
TOP 2011 PROSPECT: Jason McMurray, ss, Dowling Catholic HS, West Des Moines.
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Alec Rash, rhp, DeSoto-Minburn HS, Minburn.
Draft History: Mike King, lhp, Morningside College (1980, Athletics/1st round, 4th pick).
2006 Draft: Zach Jevne, rhp, U. of Northern Iowa (Orioles/27th round).
2007 Draft: Jon Gilmore, 3b, Iowa City (Iowa) HS (Braves/1st round, 33rd pick).
2008 Draft: B.J. Hermsen, rhp, West Delaware HS, Manchester (Twins/6th round).
2009 Draft: Steve Turnbull, rhp, U. of Iowa (Blue Jays/17th round).

Full scouting reports available on players ranked on national Top 500 list (click on National Top 500)
GROUP ONE(Projected ELITE-Round Draft / Rounds 1-3)
1. KELLEN SWEENEY, ss, Jefferson HS, Cedar Rapids                               National Top 500 (Rank 59)
Recovered from August TJ surgery, polished LH hitter/surprising power, plus makeup, position TBD

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