OMAHA—Another great season of college baseball is almost in the books, so I want to take a few moments to thank the players and coaches who make covering the sport such a joy. College baseball is close-knit community, and I am very fortunate to cover a sport where teams enjoy dealing with media, rather than viewing interactions with the press as a burden.
It's time to roll out my annual All-Fitt team—the players I most enjoyed watching and/or interviewing in 2012:
C: Tyler Heineman, UCLA
There was a ton of competition for this spot—I hated omitting North Carolina's Jacob Stallings, Stony Brook's Pat Cantwell, Creighton's Anthony Bemboom and Clemson's Spencer Kieboom(!). But UCLA's strong schedule and proximity to my home meant I watched the Bruins more than any other team this year, so I came to really appreciate Heineman's leadership, catch-and-throw skills, grit and personality. Florida State's Sherman Johnson told me during the CWS that Heineman was cracking all kinds of jokes when Johnson stepped into the box against the Bruins—that's a guy who has fun playing baseball, and it shows.
1B: Matt Snyder, Mississippi
Snyder hit some of college baseball's most majestic home runs this season, several of which set off wild beer showers in the student section beyond right field at Swayze Field. That made for some quality YouTube clips, and I also enjoyed chatting with Snyder and teammate Bobby Wahl during my swing through SEC country this year. They seemed like a fun-loving pair.
2B: Tony Renda, California
I never got to see my man Tony Kemp of Vanderbilt play in person this year, so I'm giving the nod to Renda over Virginia's Keith Werman and Pepperdine's Joe Sever—all of whom ranked among my favorites this season. Renda is the All-Fitt prototype: undersized, exceedingly scrappy and a great quote. Coaches and scouts love him—it's hard not to.
3B: Sherman Johnson, Florida State
I love the way Johnson knows his game: he is the ideal leadoff man, working counts and drawing walks better than anyone. FSU coach Mike Martin admiringly called him a "pest" last week, and that label fits nicely. He's also undersized (5-foot-10), which is always a plus for All-Fitt candidates, and has plenty of charisma on the postgame dais.
SS: Jimmy Rider, Kent State
Like the battle for first-team All-America honors at shortstop, this spot came down to Rider against Arizona's Alex Mejia. Both have great personalities and play the game the right way, but I'm giving Rider the nod for giving us a couple of great quotes over the last two weeks, including his refreshingly candid (and good-natured) line about being annoyed with the Golden Flashes' pitchers when they couldn't find the strike zone against Florida. On the field, Rider is a Nolan Fontana type—as steady as it gets at shortstop, with a knack for providing big hits. Great player.
OF: Evan Marzilli, South Carolina
Marzilli makes this team primarily for his electrifying defense in center field. He somehow gets to balls that look like sure-thing doubles off the bat. His South Carolina predecessor in center, Jackie Bradley Jr., was a fixture on this list over the last two years, and Marzilli is a worthy successor. He also gives this team some much-needed Northeast flavor.
OF: James Ramsey, Florida State
Ramsey does it all on the baseball field—hits to all fields, hits with power, is a menace on the basepaths, plays a great center field. He is a joy to watch, and I appreciate that he goes out of his way to make conversation when we see him around the park. Like Michael Roth, Ramsey is one of those guys who could do just about anything he wants in life, and he'll have a bright future whenever his playing days wind down. That won't be for quite a while, though.
OF: Robert Refsnyder, Arizona
As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, Refsnyder's presence reminds me of former Oregon State great Darwin Barney—he has a similar confidence and charisma. Like Barney, he has also shined on the big stage of the College World Series, where he's been the most dangerous hitter and also changed the game with his defense. I've always like Refsnyder's swing, but he's become a fantastic all-around player, and I've enjoyed talking with him in Omaha.
DH: Trea Turner, North Carolina State
For my money, Turner is the most electrifying player in college baseball. He has game-changing speed and knows how to use it (57 stolen bases in 61 tries). His instincts on the basepaths are uncanny—he knows when to take the extra base and does so liberally. Every time you watch the Wolfpack, there's a chance Turner will do something that makes you say, 'Wow.'
SP: Kevin Gausman, Louisiana State
In addition to having some of the filthiest stuff in the nation, Gausman stands out for having a very unique personality. It goes far beyond the donuts he eats between every inning he pitches. I sat down for a conversation with him in Baton Rouge, and it went in a bunch of different directions I did not expect. He's wonderfully goofy and free-spirited; it made for one of my favorite interviews of the season.
SP: Michael Roth, South Carolina
Surprise! College baseball's poster boy is a slam dunk for this list once again. Like Gausman, Roth marches to the beat of his own drummer; I had a blast spending the day with him in Columbia back in January for our College Preview cover story. I'm glad I'll get one last chance to watch him ply his craft at the CWS tonight.
SP: Marcus Stroman, Duke
I'm a sucker for a player I can stand eye-to-eye with—Stroman is 5-foot-9. He's also a fellow Northeasterner, and a great Twitter follow. And, of course, I love watching him pitch—his arm is electric. He'll be in the big leagues in a hurry.
SP: Andrew Triggs, Southern California
Hanging out with Triggs while he was charting pitches behind the plate at Dedeaux Field was fun this spring. The ultimate baseball rat, he has a great handle on the goings-on all around college baseball. When he told me that he has been a Baseball America subscriber for many years, well, I was sold. He's also a fierce competitor on the mound, the consummate team leader. I could see Triggs making a great pitching coach when his playing days are over.
RP: Ryan Connolly, Coastal Carolina
I've enjoyed Connolly's work since his freshman year. John Manuel and I caught the Big South title game at High Point this spring, and we were treated to a brilliant 5.1-inning relief outing from the submariner, who baffled Liberty hitters with curveballs in the high 50s, sliders in the 60s and sinking fastballs in the high 70s. "Crafty" doesn't do Connolly justice; he's downright nasty.
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