Initially, Trevor Mallory was concerned. The phrase sounded more like a medical condition than a compliment. "People are always telling me I've got a loose arm," said Mallory, Lakewood High's standout pitcher. "I'm like, "Whoa, what does that mean, I have a loose arm?' I still don't understand it. I guess it's something baseball people know. I guess I'll find out some time. All I know is that it's good to have one."
Thanks to that loose right arm, Mallory is looking good entering today's opening rounds of the 27th annual major-league amateur draft. Rated the nation's 34th-best overall prospect among Baseball America's Top 100, Mallory is the Tampa Bay area's hottest draft commodity and stands a chance of becoming Pinellas' first-ever first-round high school selection.
While area scouts are predictably tight-lipped about their exact projections, the most likely scenario has Mallory going anywhere in the top three rounds of what is considered a somewhat weak draft. Mallory, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound power pitcher, possesses more potential than polish.
"A guy like Trevor is what scouting is all about," said Russ Bove, the Florida supervisor for the Major League Scouting Bureau. "It's strictly projection where he ends up. He's very green and very raw, but he's got those long loose arms, that loose delivery, and that size. Things you can't teach. The other things he needs are all teachable. And professional baseball is the best baseball school of all."
But Mallory is merely the centerpiece of a number of local pitching prospects. Other Suncoast hurlers who might be among the chosen few today include New Port Richey-Ridgewood's Dave Doorneweerd, Dixie Hollins' Brian Williard, Largo's Dennis Slininger, and Eckerd College's Jim Mecir.
Position players whose numbers could be called early in the three-day draft include University of Tampa outfielder Ozzie Timmons, Brandon High outfielder Bruce Thompson, University of South Florida left-hander Mark Hubbard and Dunedin catcher Mark Gipner.
In crowning Mallory the area's premier catch, the scouts keep returning to the theme of possibilities outweighing production. A three-sport star at Lakewood, Mallory drew Division I interest in basketball (forward) and football (quarterback). Turning his attention to baseball for only part of the year, Mallory arrives at the draft's doorstep with plenty of the game's finer points still new to him.
"I know I've got a lot to learn," said Mallory, who went 3-4 with a 1.95 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 43 innings for a Lakewood club that finished 7-16. "But I'm ready to go out and learn all those little things that are going to help me a lot."
Mallory didn't know how much he didn't know until last winter, when he attended a local baseball camp run by Milwaukee Brewers scout Ed Durkin. It was there that his raw talent, for once, took a lesson.
"Just a couple minor mechanical things and I picked up some speed on a few of my pitches," said Mallory, who has been consistently clocked in the 86-to-90-mph range on radar guns. "I was like, "Oh, gosh. That's great. I wonder what else they can show me?' I trust the scouts' judgment that I've got a long way to go. I'll do anything they tell me if it'll help."
Though Mallory last month signed a baseball letter of intent with Lake City Community College, his intentions are to turn professional unless his draft status drops below the fifth round _ an unlikely turn of events. Two disappointing performances in recent high school all-star games likely didn't lift his stock, but he remains the nation's eighth-best high school pitching prospect according to Baseball America.
"He's the area's top pick, but if he's a first-rounder, it means it's real weak all over the country," said Lou Garcia, a Tampa-based Kansas City Royals scout. "I think there's at least four pitchers better than him in the state. But he's got that live arm and the velocity you look for. The lack of experience is really his only drawback so far."
Like Garcia, San Francisco Giants scout Tom Zimmer considers this year's amateur crop a lean one by previous standards. Then again, he doesn't expect Mallory to still be around when the Giants' first pick comes up 33rd in today's precedings.
"A high school pitcher is always a gamble, and a lot of teams will shy away from that," Zimmer said. "By no means is Mallory a Dwight Gooden coming out of high school. But we're interested. We'd be considering him if he were still there. Basically, what you want are the great athletes. And he's a great athlete."
Weak draft or not, the presence of Mallory, Williard and Slininger make this year one of the most bountiful in Pinellas County's history. Were Mallory to go in the first round, he could likely command a signing bonus in the range of $250,000. In last year's draft, first-round picks averaged $250,000 _ a 37-percent raise over 1989.
With his 19th birthday last Friday, the draft today, and graduation ceremonies this Thursday, Mallory's dream week has once-in-a-lifetime written all over it.
"That's all I've thought about the past few weeks, ever since the season got over," he said. "All I can think about is, "What am I going to do when they call me? Who's going to call me? What am I going to do with all this money I'm going to get?' Sometimes I wonder if this is really happening.
"I know one thing, it's going to feel good. I'll think of something crazy to do. Nothing that'll get me in trouble, but I'm going to celebrate."
Pinpointing where Doorneweerd, one of the area's highest-rated players, might wind up is a tougher task. A University of Georgia preseason signee, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander came on as the season progressed and climbed in many scouts' estimations.
Early projections had him going somewhere in the middle rounds (sixth through 20th), but his 13-1 record, 0.27 ERA, and 196 strikeouts in 102 innings could induce a club to take a chance in a lower round.
"David's going to get drafted. He's a guy who has made some real progress," Angels scout Joe Caro said. "He's added 3 miles per hour to his velocity from last year (up to 85-86 mph). What round will he go in? Who knows, it's a crazy game."
_ Times staff writer Jim Carson and correspondent Wayne McKnight contributed to this report.
AREA DRAFT HOPEFULS
Name School Round Pos.
Trevor Mallory Lakewood 1-3 RHP
Scouting report: Above major-league speed, excellent poise. Will get better with time and instruction.
Jim Mecir Eckerd 2-5 RHP
Scouting report: Throws hard, major-league changeup. Could be a sleeper.
Ozzie Timmons Univ. of Tampa 3-8 OF
Scouting report: Major-league arm and power.
Mark Hubbard USF 3-8 1B
Scouting report: Could develop as hitter or left-handed pitcher.
Bruce Thompson Brandon 4-10 OF
Scouting report: Line-drive hitter; runs well and has average arm.
Brian Williard Dixie Hollins 4-10 RHP
Scouting report: Big hard-thrower. Good potential.
Dave Doorneweerd Ridgewood 4-10 RHP
Scouting report: Major-league breaking ball. Good poise. Average speed.
Brad Radke Tampa Jesuit 7-10 RHP
Scouting report: Excellent control, average breaking ball, major-league speed.
Mark Gipner Dunedin 6-12 C
Scouting report: Great potential. Runs well and hits from both sides.
Ryan Griffin Dunedin 6-12 OF/C
Scouting report: Good projected power, throws well; projected as a catcher.
Dennis Slininger Largo 6-12 RHP
Scouting report: Average arm, good size and good potential.
Ryan Dedmon Gaither 15-20 1B
Scouting report: Major-league power and potential. Excellent projection as a hitter.
Joe Lis USF 20-25 2B
Scouting report: Knowledgeable about the game; good hands, average speed.
Jeff Javinett Gaither 25-30 SS
Scouting report: Excellent hands and good speed.
Paul Reynolds East Lake 25-30 Inf.
Scouting report: Quick hands. Swings the bat well and has pop. Excellent potential as a hitter. Could play first or third.
Ygenio Booker Manatee JC 20-25 OF
Scouting report: Major-league power. Good arm and runs well.
Joey Urso Univ. of Tampa 25-30 2B
Scouting report: Good hands.
Steve Livesey Davidson College/ 25-30 3B
Scouting report: Good size and potential.
_ Compiled by Times correspondent Wayne McKnight.