Brewers tab high school pitcher at No.1
Right-hander Jeffress clocked in triple-digits on radar gun
MILWAUKEE -- The way Jeremy Jeffress describes it, "good ole' South Boston," Va., is a quiet little place near the Virginia-North Carolina border. It was not so quiet on Tuesday.Jeffress, an 18-year-old right-handed pitcher from Halifax County Senior High School, learned just after noon CT that the Brewers had made him their first-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. Jeffress went at No. 16 overall on Day 1 of the two-day draft. "Excitement," he said, when asked to describe the scene at the family home when the news came. "Yelling around the whole house." There was also a bit of surprise. Jeffress said he expected to go to the Nationals at No. 15, but Washington, which Jeffress said had showed a lot of interest, instead selected high school third baseman Chris Marrero. That meant Jeffress was available to take his game to Milwaukee. "I bring intensity," said Jeffress, who apparently also brings unbridled confidence. "I get people scared. As soon as they come up to bat, I look them dead in the eyes. I'm very aggressive and I come at everybody as hard as I can." Undaunted by past swings and misses with high school pitchers in the first round, the Brewers took the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, who was 5-1 with an 0.19 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 37 innings in his senior season. Jeffress has been clocked in the triple-digits but reportedly sits more comfortably in the mid-90 mph range. Sound familiar? Jeffress is the third high school power arm nabbed by Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik in the past six years, joining Mike Jones in 2001 and Mark Rogers in 2005, two pitchers who remain works in progress. Jones has struggled through multiple arm injuries and is currently on the disabled list at Class A Brevard County, and Rogers continues to work on a revamped delivery designed to limit the chances of future injury. But that did not deter the Brewers from selecting Jeffress at No. 16, the lowest they'd picked since taking another high school power arm -- Jeff D'Amico -- at No. 23 in 1993. Other notable players selected 16th overall include Scott Kazmir by the Mets in 2002, Lance Berkman by the Astros in 1997 and Shawn Green by the Blue Jays in 1991.
"One good thing about him is that he has a very good delivery," general manager Doug Melvin said. "Very little work needs to be done with his delivery, if any at all. ... We're starting to stockpile some good young pitchers here." Zduriencik saw Jeffress twice in person, and agreed. "The projection on this guy is just learning how to pitch, refining his pitches and things like that," Zduriencik said. "The delivery is pretty much in place. It's solid." Signability is not expected to be an issue. Jeffress is not committed to any four-year colleges, and he is represented by Len Strelitz, who served as the Rangers scouting director when Melvin was that team's GM in the late 1990s, and Jim Lentine, who served as the team's roving hitting instructor. "I'm ready to sign," said Jeffress, who expected Brewers officials at his home Tuesday night for a first official meeting. Once they sign him, the Brewers likely will assign Jeffress to the team's rookie Arizona League affiliate. He pitched in just six games during his senior season but did not have any injuries, Zduriencik said. Zduriencik has had some personal success with high school arms. He was a member of the Mets' scouting team in 1982, when that club made high schooler Dwight Gooden the fifth overall pick. Gooden was the first player in the draft to make it to the Majors. "There were college players taken ahead of him, and he ended up in the big leagues before a lot of guys," said Zduriencik, who quickly backtracked from comparing Jeffress to Gooden, a comparison made by at least one national publication. "I don't like to put handles on guys, by any means," Zduriencik said. "But my point was that there are high school kids who get to the big leagues quicker than college kids. The theory that you have to take the college kid to get a guy there quicker is not always true." What about that Gooden comparison? "I know Dwight had problems off of the baseball field, but I know that on the baseball field he's a real aggressive guy like I am," Jeffress said. "He's tall, long, and he goes right at batters the same way I do." Like Rogers, who starred in baseball, hockey and soccer before the Brewers made him the fifth overall pick last season, Jeffress was a multi-sport star in high school. A point guard, he led his school's basketball team in scoring and three-pointers. "His athleticism is something that will help him develop into a solid Major Leaguer," Zduriencik said. The Royals owned the top pick in this year's draft, and kept everybody guessing until they selected right-hander Luke Hochevar just after the draft began via conference call at noon CT. Draft order was determined by the clubs' reverse order of finish at the close of the previous regular season.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.