Clemson's Lamb, U.Va.'s Hultzen improve draft stock with memorable senior seasons

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Clemson's Will Lamb

Clemson's Will Lamb (Todd J. Van Emst, Associated Press / June 4, 2010)

Will Lamb should be an open-and-shut case for Major League scouts. He is 6-foot-6, left-handed and throws 90 mph.

So you need not be fluent in sabermetrics or a descendent of Branch Rickey to project Lamb's baseball future.

He's a pitcher.

Or so he, and most bird dogs, thought.

Except Lamb is also a first-rate center fielder, so good this season at Clemson that scouts are telling him he's likely to begin his professional career there.

With the Major League draft set for Monday-Wednesday, that career could be close at hand for Lamb, a 2008 York High graduate.

While Lamb figures to be selected in the first five rounds, Virginia pitcher Danny Hultzen is likely to be among the first five picks, possibly No. 1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hultzen, too, is left-handed, a more polished, experienced and accomplished pitcher than Lamb, but not Lamb's equal as an everyday player. Lamb made second-team All-ACC, Hultzen first-team All-American, and both insist that the ongoing NCAA tournament — Virginia is the No. 1 seed, and Clemson is hunting a second consecutive College World Series trip — trumps their draft concerns.

The draft "hasn't entered my head yet," Hultzen said. "There will be a time to think about that. But that time is not right now."

If the money is right, each will forgo his senior season and head to the pros.

"I have no clue how it's going to shake out," Lamb said of the draft. "(Scouts) ask what my (signing bonus) number is, and I try to avoid the question. I tell them, 'I want to be drafted as high as you guys think I deserve.' "

Lamb is more concerned about the contract offer than the draft round. He wants a "fair amount," and being a shrewd negotiator, isn't defining fair.

"Most of the scouts I talk to, they want me to go out and play center field," Lamb said.

That's an about-face from last season, when Lamb didn't even play the outfield for Clemson. He was a first baseman, designated hitter and pitcher.

But Lamb's speed — he's stolen 31 bases in 36 attempts for the Tigers — and arm make him a natural center fielder, as Peninsula Pilots fans can attest after watching him the past two summers in the Coastal Plain League.

With more arms than last year, Clemson coaches pitched Lamb less and moved him to center, where he's yet to commit an error and has thrown out four baserunners. Plus, Lamb is batting a robust .341 courtesy of a late-season, 25-game hitting streak.

"I guess I'm just seeing the ball better," he said, not wanting to overanalyze a hot spell that's raised his average more than 70 points.

Few batters see the ball well against Hultzen, who pitches precisely and with a quirky motion. Entering Saturday's start, he was 10-3 with a 1.59 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 96.1 innings. Opponents were hitting a meager .193 against him.

Given Hultzen's status — the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him out of high school in the 10th round, and he's followed up with three All-America seasons — he easily could have morphed into a me-first guy. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Virginia coach Brian O'Connor.

"Danny Hultzen has handled his situation this year as (well) as any player I've seen," O'Connor said. "He's completely focused his attention on his teammates here at Virginia, and he's never been derailed from that. The fact that he's going to be a high draft pick Monday hasn't changed Danny. That's what separates him from a lot of people. There is no selfishness."

Scouts and general managers have flocked to observe and speak to Hultzen. Media from Major League cities such as Pittsburgh have traveled to Charlottesville to profile him.

"It is additional pressure," O'Connor said. "No question."

If the Pirates don't draft Hultzen No. 1, they may opt for UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole. The Bruins and Cavaliers are bracketed to collide in a Super Regional next weekend, where we could have a pitching duel between the Nos. 1 and 2 draft picks.

Talk about cool.

O'Connor believes Hultzen, the Cavaliers' designated hitter, could be drafted in rounds 5-10 strictly on his offense. His career average is .318, and he drove in three runs in Friday's NCAA tournament victory over Navy.

"Danny's so athletic, the guy could play center field for us," O'Connor said. "He just knows how to play the game."

Lamb has similar instincts, and like Hultzen, he's about to reap the rewards.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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