Early-season performances pay off

As we get closer to conference play, which starts later this month for the SEC and ACC, early next month for the Big 12 and is already under way in the Pac-10, scouts are gearing up for the long stretch drive that leads up to the draft. Until that point, it's merely a "first-look" period for area scouts who are just starting to put together their assessments.

"I'll see pitchers three or four times if I can," said one AL club's area scout, "and the better bats I'll track down eight or 10 times, depending on the depth of the class and where we are (in the draft order). Right now, yeah, I'm kind of here and there. The real work starts in a few weeks when the prep kids get it going full board and the (college) conferences get it going."

The big numbers some of the top talents put up versus smaller schools aren't useless, because it's not all about statistics in the first place. Sure, players have to perform, but they don't mean everything, and it's typically more about the body of work and a player's projectability than anything else.

So when do clubs decide which players they like best? As they gather the data all spring, the decision isn't ultimately made until the week of the draft when each team has meetings to put together their draft board. But an early impression left on an area scout can have a lasting effect.

"I saw a college kid not long ago -- several years back -- that I wasn't high on," explained one assistant scouting director, formerly an area scout. "I wasn't even there to see him, in fact. But his game just stuck out to me, and he did it again the next day and the next day. That stayed with me, and I made a point to see him a few more times. I fought pretty hard for him in [the draft room], and we ended up missing him by about five or six picks. But it was that first set of at-bats that got my attention, and if I'm not mistaken he only went like 3-for-10 that weekend."

So the hot starts by the likes of West Virginia's Jedd Gyorko, Florida State's Tyler Holt and Arkansas' Andy Wilkins do mean something. It may very well get them an extra look or two down the road.

On the Diamond

&#8226; Gyorko reached base five times Monday -- two doubles, a single, a home run and a walk -- and is hitting .370/.485/.741 with six extra-base hits and a 6-1 BB/K ratio in seven games. He's not going to play shortstop as a pro, but someone will draft him, sign him and a find a place for him on the field.

&#8226; Holt had two hits but finally struck out and did so three times on the night. He still boasts a .545 OBP through the first seven games of the year.

&#8226; Wilkins stays red hot, doubling twice in three at-bats, and is hitting .435 with three homers, three doubles and 10 walks. Some scouts aren't too keen on Wilkins' power swing, but he's going to be a first-day consideration if he keeps punishing the baseball. "He can hit the fastball, that's for sure," said an area scout. "But I think anyone will tell you that he's got to prove himself in the SEC to make a move (up the draft boards)."

&#8226; Texas catcher Cameron Rupp hit his first home run of the year Tuesday and has now reached base 17 times in 34 plate appearances. He's also fanned nine times (26.5 percent), which is high for a Division I bat during nonconference play.

&#8226; Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal hit three doubles and walked to improve to .385/.541/.538 on the season. Grandal's chances at the first-round are strong or, as one scout called it, "likely, barring a nightmare of a year."

&#8226; It worked. I said Monday that I was done talking about Rice's Rick Hague until he did something positive, and the jinx is lifted. Hague hit his first home run of the year Tuesday and also walked twice in a win over Houston. He did strike out for the 12th time this season, but we'll focus on the homer in our draft dreams tonight.

&#8226; San Diego's A.J. Griffin was battered around for 2 2/3 innings by Fullerton State, though none of the damage was by Titans shortstop Christian Colon, who went 0-for-3. Teammate Gary Brown, a center fielder, had three singles but failed to draw a walk for the seventh straight game. He's hitting .419 with five extra-base hits and four steals, but it'd be nice to see some patience from a hitter who will have to be a table setter in pro ball. Griffin left after surrendering eight earned runs on four hits and four walks. He did fan five but also hit four batters and balked.