College National Team: Top 20 Prospects

USA Baseball’s college national team is ordinarily the amateur baseball
fan’s dream team. There’s the obvious element of American collegians
competing against their counterparts from Asia, South America, Canada
and talent-packed Caribbean countries. Team USA competition also offers
the purist a chance to see college stars competing with wood bats,
where hitters legitimize their abilities and pitchers come right after
hitters with their best fastballs.

For some of those same
reasons, it’s an excellent evaluating stage for scouts in preparation
of future drafts, which is why dozens of crosscheckers and scouting
directors make sure they take in at least a handful of the college
national team’s games each summer.

What they saw in 2007, however, was largely uninspiring, by their accounts, in regard to draft-eligible talent.

The lack of a true trials didn’t help, and Team USA got underwhleming
performances by many of its position players, which was reflected in
the team’s record, as it lost 12 games, its highest total since 1999.
The summer included a second-place finish at the Pan American Games in
Brazil and third-place at the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands.

“We
know (Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro) Alvarez and (South Carolina first
baseman Justin) Smoak are going to be premium drafts, but whether it
was a product of (USA Baseball’s inability to hold) trials–with having
to pick the team based on performance in the spring–or guys opting to
play in the Cape (Cod League), there wasn’t much to get excited about,”
said a scouting director with a National League team. “Last year you
had (first-rounders David) Price, (Ross) Detwiler, (Daniel) Moskos and
position guys like (Julio) Borbon and (J.P.) Arencibia. Go back to
(2004) when they had Ryan Zimmerman, Alex Gordon, (Troy) Tulowitzki and
that crowd. There have always been talented Team USAs, but for whatever
reason, this group just doesn’t compare.”

We take a closer look
at this year’s college national team, ranking them in order of their
overall professional potential with some consideration to their
performance this summer.

1. Pedro Alvarez, 3b (Jr., Vanderbilt)

Smoak
followed Alvarez in Team USA’™s lineup, and he now follows him on most
draft boards as Alvarez outplayed him in every phase of the game on the
same diamond.

His .315 average was tops among Team USA regulars, as was his .551
slugging percentage. Alvarez has plus bat speed and power, and his
likelihood of reaching his high ceiling as a hitter is enhanced by his
feel and instincts at the plate. He lets pitches travel deep and uses
his strong wrists and loose hands to drive balls out of all parts of
the park.

His lone shortcoming as a hitter is his tendency to chase balls out of
the strike zone, but the bigger question is his defense at third base.
While he doesn’™t necessarily look like a fluid athlete, his hands and
actions at third base are fine, and he’™s an average runner underway who
will take an extra base whenever possible. He has a solid-average arm,
though he was limited to DH duties the final four games because of a
sore arm.

“You think he’™s a thick-hipped, soft Latin guy, but he has better
movement than you think initially,” an NL scout said. “He’™s an
instinctual third baseman with power to his throws and running. He’™s
not Bobby Bonilla. He’™s more of a complete player than you realize.”

2. Justin Smoak, 1b (Jr., South Carolina)

Based
solely on performance, Smoak would not have cracked the list. After
collecting three doubles and three home runs during Team USA’™s six-game
tour of the New England Collegiate League, Smoak went 20-for-102
without any more homers, finishing with paltry .223/.291/.380 numbers.
The performance was atypical for Smoak, who tore up the Cape Cod League
last summer and batted .315/.434/.631 as a sophomore at South Carolina.
He has plus raw power from both sides of the plate and a swing that has
leverage.

Changeups gave him fits this summer, and he didn’™t adjust quickly,
often lacking balance spinning off the ball and failing to recognize
pitches consistently. He’™s a poor runner, but has good hands and
playable arm strength and footwork at first base.

“I couldn’™t pick out anything mechanically in his swing that was an
obvious concern,” an American League scout said. “We expect the world
from this guy because he set the bar so high. In the end, it’™s one
summer and I think you can give that type of player a pass because he’™s
done so much.”

3. Brian Matusz, lhp (Jr., San Diego)

Although
Team USA’s lineup lacked punch, the pitching staff more than held its
own, albeit while most of it seemed to be running on empty. Matusz and
righthanders Jacob Thompson and Lance Lynn were penciled in as
America’s top three starters, but all of them spent the summer trying
to get by without their best stuff. Shortly after the team returned
from Rio de Janeiro, the trio left the team, citing fatigue as the
primary reason.

The coaching staff lauded Matusz and Thompson
for their perseverance, which was evident in the Pan Am Games during
the semifinals when Matusz held Mexico to one run in a 2-1 win that
helped the team advance to the gold-medal game against Cuba. Matusz’
fastball velocity was mostly 86-89 mph, touching 92, and his command
wasn’t as sharp as it was this spring when he went 10-3, 2.85 with 37
walks and 163 strikeouts in 123 innings for the Toreros.

His
changeup has potential to be a legitimate put-away pitch, and his 75
mph curveball has nice deception, as well. He’s pitched closer to
90-92, touching 94 in the past, and because of his 6-foot-4 frame and
three-quarters arm slot, he has the tools to become a
middle-of-the-rotation starter and one of the top college pitchers
drafted next year.

4. Brett Hunter, rhp (Jr., Pepperdine)

When
asked if there was an outing of Hunter’s that stood out from the rest,
Team USA pitching coach Bob Kinneberg, Utah’s head coach, responded, “I
don’t think there was an outing from the Pan Ams on that didn’t stand
out.”

A stocky righthander with a fearless approach, Hunter went
3-0, 0.66 with 31 strikeouts and 10 walks in 27 innings, seizing a role
as a late-inning door-slammer for Team USA midway through the summer.
He struck out three of the four Japanese hitters he faced in the World
Port Tournament opener, a 1-0 U.S. win.  His delivery and arm
action aren’t pretty, but when he keeps his weight back over the rubber
and stays on top of the ball, he gets to a power release point. What
comes out is a 94-96 mph fastball, short, tight slider at 81 mph and an
87 mph two-seamer. His fastball has heavy life and sink, especially to
the arm-side. He works quickly and attacks hitters, throwing inside to
both righthanders and lefties.

“He’s a little erratic and he’s
going to struggle to repeat that delivery, but you look at the draft
and guys with good bodies throwing 95 usually don’t last real long,” an
AL scout said.

5. Jacob Thompson, rhp (Jr., Virginia)

Like
Smoak, Thompson’s performance this spring was much better than his
summer. For the second year in a row, he eclipsed the 100-inning mark
in college, posting a 1.50 ERA with a strikeout-walk ratio of better
than 3-1 as a sophomore in ’07.

His lack of command was the
most notable difference during his truncated tour with Team USA, as he
pitched deep in counts and walked eight in 21 innings with 13
strikeouts before leaving the team. He was lifted after being roughed
up by Cuba in four innings during the Pan Am Games in his most
important start of the summer.

His coaches described Thompson
as a perfectionist with a Type-A personality, and they were confident
Thompson would bounce back and again show the ability to command three
pitches like he has at Virginia. His stuff and command fall somewhere
in the range of pitchers such as Kevin Slowey and James Simmons. This
summer, his fastball ranged between 87-90 mph. His curveball showed
occasional plus break with 11-to-5 shape and depth, and his changeup is
a third weapon.

6. Tyson Ross, rhp (Jr., California)

The
starter that picked up the slack for the worn-down staff was Ross. He
was the team’s most consistent pitcher, and earned a reputation as the
go-to guy when it needed a strong start. He struck out seven with four
hits in six-plus innings against the Dominican Republic in Rio de
Janeiro, then came back and worked two shutout innings of relief
against Cuba with three strikeouts in the gold-medal game after
Thompson was chased in the fifth inning.

His mechanics belie his
stuff, because he’s upright in his delivery and doesn’t get much
extension. Ross has a hard time landing his fastball to his glove side
and struggles with the consistency of his slider. But Ross got plenty
of empty swings, racking up 39 strikeouts with just seven walks and a
0.82 ERA in a team-high 44 innings. His fastball sat between 86-88 mph
with occasional life and plus movement and his 78-81 mph slider has
short, hard break at times. He mixes all three of his
pitches–including a fair changeup–effectively, works quickly and is
also a very good athlete.

“The challenge of pro baseball will be
to change him or leave him the same,” Kinneberg said. “Is he a reliever
or starter? At the beginning of the summer I would have said ‘we need
to lengthen you out and change some things.’ But at the end of the
summer, after seeing how dominant he was, I’m not sure you have to
change a thing.”

7. Brett Wallace, 1b/dh (Jr., Arizona State)

The
Pacific-10 Conference Triple Crown winner and a first-team All-American
as a sophomore, Wallace knows how to handle the bat. He spent most of
the summer batting behind Alvarez and Smoak, and made consistent
contact, posting a .312 average and .345 on-base percentage. He joined
the team after Arizona State was eliminated in the College World Series
and homered in his first at-bat, but managed just one more homer and
four doubles the rest of the summer.

He’s a mature hitter who
drives balls to both gaps and has mastered the backside single. He’ll
show above-average bat speed and average raw power in batting practice,
but it didn’t translate to games with wood. All his value lies in his
bat, as Wallace is a below-average runner and lacks the mobility to
play the outfield as a professional, so he’s likely locked into a role
as a first baseman or designated hitter. As a result, the development
of his power will dictate his draft stock.

8. Lance Lynn, rhp, (Jr., Mississippi)

Lynn
opted to shut it down along with Thompson and Matusz when the team
returned from Rio de Janeiro, citing fatigue and a nagging groin
injury. His 25 innings for Team USA brought him to 110 for the year,
compared to 143 for Matusz and Thompson’s 135. Lynn’s velocity was also
down from the spring, as he pitched near 88 mph, touching 92
occasionally, and fared well working primarily off his fastball,
posting a .136 opponents’ average.

The big-bodied righthander
has solid-average fastball command, moving the ball around the zone
effectively. His 11-to-5 curveball has good shape and deception, but
like his fastball, isn’t a separating offering. His fringe-average
changeup completes a repertoire that fits in the back of a rotation.

“This
guy knows how to get empty swings,” an AL scout said. “I’m not
completely sure how, but he’s jamming bats at 87-88. Is it deception?
He has some finish to his fastball, and if he takes his conditioning
more seriously I could see him being drafted as high as the
supplemental round.”

9. Preston Paramore, c (Jr., Arizona State)

A
career .353/.473/.496 hitter with metal in two years as ASU’s starting
catcher, no player epitomized this team’s offensive struggles more than
Paramore. He was a key figure in the Sun Devils’ run to Omaha during
the spring, but batted .111–the lowest average of any Team USA regular
this decade–and was hitless in his last 25 at-bats on the summer. He
was one of two everyday players to walk (20) more than he struck out
(16), but Paramore’s patience at the plate too often found him behind
in counts, and he managed just one extra-base hit in 63 at-bats. He’s
shown solid-average bat speed and raw power in the past, but his swing
was long and he didn’t make consistent hard contact this summer,
possibly because of fatigue.

“I think you have to go back to
their spring stats–I can’t tell you how many times I must have said
that when analyzing these hitters,” an NL scout said. “He’s a
switch-hitting catcher that has some idea what he’s doing behind the
plate, so while he’s played poorly (this summer), I don’t think
anyone’s giving up on him.”

Paramore has average arm strength
with a clean release. His footwork and receiving should become adequate
as he develops. He could play with more energy.

10. Ryan Flaherty, 2b (Jr., Vanderbilt)

Flaherty
started his summer on a tear, just missing hitting for the cycle
against Keene, but batted just .235-1-8 after the team’s six-game stint
in New England. He’s an exceptional college player who has outstanding
feel for all phases of the game and fringe-average tools across the
board.

He has a sound approach at the plate, with a willingness
to work counts and use the middle of the field and an ability to put
the ball in play with regularity. He lacks the bat speed to hit for
plus power with wood, and doesn’t have the foot speed or range to stick
at shortstop, his position with the Commodores. He has an average arm
and has average speed underway. His savvy, instincts and quick first
step should allow him to handle second base, and ultimately he has
value as a reliable utility man in the big leagues who could hit for
average.

11. Cody Satterwhite, rhp (Jr., Mississippi)

During
a summer that saw three of Team USA’s top pitchers leave the team
early, Satterwhite made a strong impression with his resiliency and
willingness to take the ball under any circumstances. He saved both
ends of a doubleheader in Rio de Janeiro during the Pan Am Games,
including a 2-1 win against Mexico that earned the team a trip to the
gold medal game.

Satterwhite has plus arm strength and a body
pro scouts adore. His fastball was reaching the mid-90s by the time he
was a senior in high school, but he’s always had a hard time repeating
his delivery. He sat between 92-94 mph this summer, and he pitched off
his fastball. Satterwhite has below-average command and below-average
secondary stuff. His breaking ball is slurvy, and every fifth one he
throws will show good three-quarter break with good spin.

“He
might have the most upside of anyone we had because of the body and arm
strength,” Kinneberg said. “He’s going to be a man pretty soon, and
he’s going to be a force to deal with.”

12. Mike Minor, lhp (Soph., Vanderbilt)

Minor
was Vandy’s Saturday starter as a freshman in 2007, and thanks to his
poise and feel for pitching, he figures to replace David Price, the
2007 No. 1 overall pick and College Player of the Year, as the
Commodores’ ace in 2008. He finished second to Ross in strikeouts with
37, and with just four walks in 33 innings, Minor showed that he could
carve up international competition primarily off two pitches and plus
command.

His fastball sat between 88-90 mph this summer, and he
can spot it to all four quadrants of the strike zone. He maintains his
arm speed on his 79-80 mph changeup, which has above-average fade and
sink. He’ll use it in all counts and double up with it. Minor’s
breaking ball is a below-average offering that he’s struggled with
since his days in high school. It’s an 81-83 mph slider that lacks
depth and breaks across the zone.

“He has a special feel for
what he’s doing out there,” an AL scout said, “He has plus command and
plus pitchability. His lack of a breaking ball was a problem out of
high school and his breaking ball still sucks. He’s a Wade LeBlanc
type. The lack of breaking ball will be his Achilles’ heel the rest of
his career.”

13. Logan Forsythe, of/3b (Jr., Arkansas)

Due
to the injury of Miami second baseman Jemile Weeks, the college
national team sorely missed the presence of a table-setter to reach
base in front of Alvarez, Smoak and Wallace, but Forsythe did his best
to fill that role. Team USA’s best righthanded hitter, he also came up
with his share of clutch hits, such as the two-run single against
Mexico in the medal round of the Pan Am Games.

As a righthanded
hitter with modest power who lacks the actions for the middle of the
diamond, Forsythe profiles as somewhat of a tweener when evaluating his
tools. He has solid-average bat speed, drives balls well to both alleys
and has good feel for the strike zone. He’s a smart, aggressive
baserunner who turned in 4.2-second home-to-first times this summer,
making him an above-average runner.

Primarily a third baseman
at Arkansas, Forsythe spent most of the summer in left field, and while
he doesn’t hit for enough power to profile on the corners as a
professional, he got good jumps, took the right routes on line drives
and boosted his stock as a potential utility man. It might be a
stretch, but there could conceivably be a team out there that gives him
a chance to play center field or second base, which would maximize his
value.

“He scuffled with the bat as a freshman, but really
improved as his sophomore season went on,” an NL scout said. “I love
the results he gives you. He’s a gritty hitter and the type of guy from
a tools perspective that you don’t say, ‘Wow,’ but he has quality
at-bats, works counts and gets his pitch.”

14. Jordan Danks, of (Jr., Texas)

Because
of a powerful lefthanded bat and the ability to handle center field,
Danks offers an intriguing package. He started the summer as Team USA’s
leadoff hitter, struggled at the outset, then finished
the tour with a good showing at the World Port Tournament.

Danks,
whose older brother John pitches for the White Sox, has a fluid game
and a sweet swing with average bat speed. He has average raw power, but
his thin frame lacks significant room for additional growth, and he
doesn’t have a tremendous feel for hitting. He led the team in walks
with 25 but also struck out a team-high 36 times in 115 at-bats. He
struggled significantly making adjustments against some of the Asian
pitchers who had good secondary stuff. He’s an average defender with
solid-average speed to profile as a serviceable defender in center
field.

15. Roger Kieschnick, of (Jr., Texas Tech)

The
cousin of former big leaguer Brooks Kieschnick and a member of the ’06
U.S. college national team, Kieschnick had a good summer, tying Alvarez
for the team home runs lead (seven). That followed an explosive spring
with Texas Tech, when he hit 13 homers and led the Big 12 Conference
with 25 doubles.

Kieschnick has plus raw power despite his
fringe-average bat speed. He has strong wrists and forearms, and most
of his home runs come from his ability to overpower the ball, rather
than a product of a pure swing path or bat speed. While he has some
feel for the strike zone and pitch recognition, he’s overly aggressive
and prone to striking out. He improved his outfield defense and has an
average arm, but he’s a below-average runner who lacks premium athletic
ability. His value is tied in to his bat.

16. Jordy Mercer, rhp/ss (Jr., Oklahoma State)

Thanks
to Mercer’s versatility and hard-nosed approach, he landed a spot on
the national team. While he was used predominantly as a middle
infielder his first two seasons at Oklahoma State, he showed the best
on the mound this summer for Team USA and may have raised his profile as
an unrefined athlete with a quick arm and some room for improvement on
the mound.

Mercer works off a 91-92 mph fastball that has some
late life when it’s down in the zone. He’s aggressive, comes after
hitters and works quickly. He has a changeup, slider and curveball, but
presently his slider is the only secondary offering that shows put-away
potential. It comes in at 79 mph with tight spin and occasional plus
break.

17. Danny Espinosa, ss (Jr., Long Beach State)

Espinosa
has a long track record with USA Baseball, as he starred on the 2003
youth national team that won a gold medal at the World Youth
Championships in Taiwan. He got off to a miserable 0-for-20 start
playing for his LBSU head coach, Mike Weathers, but his slick fielding
kept him in the lineup.

A glove-first shortstop, Espinosa has
above-average speed and range, with supple hands, a quick first step,
good instincts and body control in the infield. He has an average arm
that plays up because he makes quick, clean exchanges on throws and has
good footwork on double plays. He has below-average bat speed and
didn’t look comfortable at the plate this summer. His approach
vacillates from at-bat to at-bat, and when he falls behind in the
count, he’ll swing and miss against breaking balls. He has good barrel
awareness and showed the ability to get bunts down well.

18. Eric Surkamp, lhp (Jr., North Carolina State)

A
Moeller High (Cincinnati) teammate of Andrew Brackman’s, Surkamp took
over N.C. State’s Friday night starter role as a sophomore and pitched
admirably. He made two appearances in New England before Team USA
trimmed its roster, then was invited back to the team when Lynn,
Thompson and Matusz left. The 6-foot-5, 216-pound southpaw earned his
lone win when he held Japan to four hits with two walks
and five strikeouts in seven innings during the World Port Tournament.

He’s
a soft-tossing lefty with a good feel for pitching. Surkamp’s fastball
sits at 86-87 mph and he complements it with average offerings in his
changeup and curveball. He doesn’t have a separating pitch, but has
plus control and average command, and he repeats his delivery. With his
size and clean arm action, he could add a bit of velocity down the road.

19. Scott Gorgen, rhp (Jr., UC Irvine)

Gorgen
was a key ingredient to UC Irvine’s run to the College World Series,
and when Team USA needed some pitchers to fill the staff, he was the
perfect choice. Lauded for his moxie and dogged demeanor, Gorgen made
just two starts for the squad, but one of them was a six-inning outing
against Cuba at the World Port Tournament, when he struck out 10 in six
innings before departing with a 3-2 deficit. “I loved this guy,”
Kinneberg said. “His competitiveness is off the charts.”

Gorgen’s
fastball sat at 88-89 mph. He’ll work it to both sides of the plate and
shows solid-average command. At 5-foot-10, it’s difficult for him to
create plane on his fastball.

20. Joe Kelly, rhp (So., UC Riverside)

Kelly
was a valuable piece of Team USA’s bullpen following his freshman
season at UC Riverside. He struggled to spot his pitches, walking seven
with nine strikeouts in 12 innings, and remains an unfinished product,
based in part to the fact he was not pitching full-time as a prep.

His
fastball ranged between 91-93 mph with occasional arm-side run and
sink. He pitched off it, doing his best to establish it on both halves
of the plate. He has a long, slingy arm action that makes it difficult
to find his release point with consistency and leads to
well-below-average command. His breaking ball and changeup are
rudimentary offerings that are difficult to project based on his arm
action.

College | #2008

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