See also: Top 25 Recruiting Classes
Nearly $12 million worth of talent said, “Thanks, but no thanks” to Arizona State this summer. The Sun Devils’ heralded signing class lost three first-round picks (Eric Hosmer, Kyle Skipworth and Brett Lawrie), a supplemental first-rounder (Jaff Decker), a second-rounder (Brad Hand) and two late-round draftees who signed for significant bonuses (Jarek Cunningham and Alex Curry).
But for all that, no class in the nation can match Arizona State’s for sheer quantity of impact talent. The Sun Devils landed a 20-man recruiting class that features the country’s best group of junior college transfers and an intriguing blend of power, speed and athleticism amongst its position players. The amazing depth of the class lands Arizona State atop Baseball America’s 2008 recruiting rankings for the first time since 2000, though it’s the fifth time in that span the Sun Devils have ranked in the top three.
|TOP 25 CLASSES|
|1. Arizona State|
|6. Texas A&M|
|9. Texas Christian|
|15. Cal State Fullerton|
|16. Wichita State|
|17. Fresno State|
|19. Oklahoma State|
|22. Southern California|
|23. North Carolina State|
|24. Florida State|
“The thing we’re most proud of is even though we got hit hard by the draft, we were still able to bring in a really good group of kids,” recruiting coordinator Josh Holliday said. “Some schools get crushed by the draft and can’t overcome it, but we were able to recover. There’s a lot of (newcomers), and we needed that because we lost 14 guys drafted off last year’s team.”
The Sun Devils planned for the possibility they could lose some of their high-profile signees by bringing in as many athletic, versatile players as they could. Two-way players like Jordan Swagerty and Kole Calhoun fill multiple needs at once, as do premium athletes such as Zack MacPhee and Johnny Coy, who could play the infield or outfield. Jared McDonald and Drew Maggi can competently play anywhere on the infield.
No school brought in as many quality up-the-middle players as Arizona State. Swagerty and juco transfer Carlos Ramirez are two of the top incoming catchers in the nation; MacPhee and Riccio Torrez have the look of a truly special double-play combination; and Johnny Ruettiger, Calhoun and Brandon Magee are all capable of playing a good center field, though returner Jason Kipnis will likely hold the job in 2009.
But the class also has powerful corner bats in physical freshmen Zach Wilson and Abe Ruiz. ASU didn’t land the kind of pitching that Vanderbilt, Georgia or other classes brought in, but juco transfer Josh Spence, an Australian lefthander in the Jamie Moyer mold, will be a fine fit in the weekend rotation. Swagerty and Calhoun will fill vital roles in the pitching staff, and Ray Hanson’s upside is through the roof.
“We knew we had a lot of really draftable kids and a lot of talented kids,” Holliday said. “Not knowing who was going to show up, we said, ‘Let’s get quality athletes, good ballplayers, so if a guy has to play one game at second, the next at third, he can do it.’ We wanted to find those baseball players who were gamers, who love to play and have some flexibility in their game.”
SEC Arms Race Continues
As anyone affiliated with the Southeastern Conference will quickly tell you, it’s not easy to keep up in a league loaded with baseball powers from top to bottom. As a simple matter of survival, SEC teams must reload every single year, so they work the recruiting trail hard and take full advantage of their unrivaled facilities and fan support. So it shouldn’t be surprising to find four SEC schools among the top five in these rankings, and six SEC schools in the Dandy Dozen.
What might be a surprise is that Kentucky is No. 4, by far its highest spot ever in these recruiting rankings. Despite facing significant disadvantages (compared with the rest of the conference) in facilities, tradition and weather, the Wildcats landed the conference’s best recruit in righthander Alex Meyer, the centerpiece of a banner haul.
After turning down a $2 million offer from the Red Sox, Meyer leads an impressive group of blue-chip recruits heading into the SEC. Vanderbilt righty Sonny Gray, Georgia outfielder Zach Cone, Florida lefty Nick Maronde and Arkansas third baseman/righty Zack Cox all look like future All-Americans and potential first-round picks in three years.
Vandy and Florida have reeled in elite classes before, but this is relatively new territory for Georgia, which landed a pair of unsigned third-round picks in Cone and outfielder Chase Davidson. Bulldogs coach David Perno said Georgia hadn’t even kept a top-five-round pick since the early 1990s, let alone a pair of third-rounders in the same year. Georgia also led all schools by bringing in four recruits who ranked in BA’s top 200 prospects heading into the draft.
Perno said it’s no mystery why the SEC did so well on the recruiting trail yet again.
“The new (ESPN) TV deal isn’t going to hurt, but I think it boils down to the stadium and fan interest,” he said. “Every week you’re going to a nice stadium that’s going to draw a lot of attention. In other conferences the top teams are as good as ours, but not all the way through. I don’t think there’s much comparison. We’ve got 12 strong now.”
Sparkling facilities don’t just help SEC teams recruit. The West Coast Conference experienced a recruiting bonanza in 2008, led by Santa Clara and Gonzaga, which both brought in fine hauls after pouring money into their facilities.
Gonzaga went down to Arizona and came away with five prime recruits. The headliner is Ryan Carpenter, a 6-foot-5 lefthander with a fastball that reaches 94 mph. Slick-fielding shortstop Ernesto Ortiz and two-way talents Royce Bolinger, Nick Carrillo and Andy Hunter complete Gonzaga’s impressive bounty from the Grand Canyon State.
“I’m from there, I grew up there, and I have quite a few connections down there,” Bulldogs recruiting coordinator Danny Evans said. “The one thing that has helped us is our facilities we just built, a $9.2 million stadium, it gives us a chance. A lot of the kids have never been to the Northwest, so when they come up to visit every one of those guys have fallen in love with it up here.”
Evans said the emergence of Gonzaga’s basketball team over the past decade has also raised the baseball team’s profile.
“When I was being recruited here (in the late 1990s), I didn’t know where Gonzaga was, or how to pronounce it,” Evans said. “Now with them getting so much national attention, the kids know where it is, what we’ve done, they know how to say the name. Now we don’t have to explain that much; they know about us. Now some of the bigger-name kids are contacting us; the attention has definitely changed.”
Santa Clara’s class also features prime two-way players, which help small private schools like those in the WCC to stretch their funds. Outfielder/lefthander Lucas Herbst and infielder/righty J.R. Graham figure to get significant time in both roles, while righthander/third baseman Jon Hughes will be relied upon mostly on the mound. Graham and Hughes are two of the best arms Santa Clara has ever brought in, as Graham runs his fastball up to 95 mph, while Hughes reaches 92 and has a pair of swing-and-miss pitches in his slider and split-finger. The Broncos also landed a talented lefthanded power bat in Ryan Rieger.
“We identified the holes we needed to plug in, and we got guys who would come in right away and make an impact,” Santa Clara recruiting coordinator Mike Zirelli said. “For instance, we had a senior center fielder and senior first baseman last year, so we got Herbst and Reiger to play right away. We lost our closer last year—well there you go, J.R. Graham.”
Loyola Marymount and St. Mary’s also reeled in above-average classes. LMU’s haul includes four quality lefthanders, led by John Lally, and a smooth-fielding shortstop with some gap power in Shon Roe. St. Mary’s brought in an instant WCC starter and future ace in righthander Kyle Barraclough, as well as a big power threat in Troy Channing.
And, of course, usual suspects Pepperdine and San Diego did well for themselves again. The Green Wave landed the conference’s two best recruits in lefthander/outfielder Aaron Gates and outfielder Brian Humphries. San Diego righty Chris Jensen has a similar repertoire to that of Hughes, while Bryan Haar can play a number of positions and could hit in the middle of the USD lineup as a freshman.
The WCC is often overlooked on a national level, but it is competitive every year, and this fall’s talent infusion should ensure it remains that way.
“I think a couple of new facilities with us and Gonzaga, San Diego is going to redo their stadium—kids get excited and realize it’s an up-and-coming conference,” Zirelli said.
Added Evans, “The one thing we need to do now in the conference is make a postseason jump.”
Around The Nation
Here’s a rundown of some of the most intriguing classes that did not crack our top 25:
• Other schools that landed a player who ranked among Baseball America’s Top 200 prospects for the 2008 draft include Arizona, Oregon State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Wake Forest, UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State. Arizona hauled in the highest-ranked player in this group in loose-armed righthander Donny Roach (No. 94), whose quality four-pitch mix is highlighted by a 90-93 mph fastball and good curve. Catcher Jett Bandy and versatile Steve Secsky add power to the Wildcats’ class. Oregon State‘s class is highlighted by rangy outfielder Brent Warren (130), who earns comparisons to another Iowa prep product, Ryan Sweeney. Position players such as Warren and Canadian infielder Carter Bell dominate OSU’s class following last year’s pitching bonanza, and it contains seven junior college transfers who could make immediate impacts.
Brandon Miller (101), an offensive catcher with arm strength, headlines Georgia Tech‘s class, and righthander Mark Pope gives the Yellow Jackets a power arm with an 88-93 fastball and a very good curve. Miami‘s class contains one of the most recognizable names in the freshman class in Harold Martinez (160), who projected as a first-round pick before struggling this spring. Martinez should blossom into a power-hitting third baseman in college. The Hurricanes will be counting on Texas junior college transfers Chris Herrmann, Taylor Wulf and Scott Lawson to fill immediate holes in the infield and on the mound. Righthander Kevin Youst missed his senior season at American Heritage High after having Tommy John surgery, but he’s healthy now and could be the pick to click in this class. Wake Forest landed a huge arm in righthander Daniel Marrs, who has reached 97 mph in the past to go along with a promising split-finger, but he needs to refine his command. Shane Kroker (174) is a plus defender on the left side of the infield with a plus arm and plus speed, and he flashes serious bat speed as well. First baseman/outfielder/lefthander Austin Stadler should be a two-way star for the Demon Deacons. Righty Mac Williamson dropped off the map this spring but had run his fastball up to 94 last fall, and his upside is tantalizing.
UC Santa Barbara landed a bona fide future ace in Chris Joyce (184), a lefthander with four quality offerings. Joyce tops out at 92 from the left side, but righty Joe Gardner reaches 93 and has more projection in his 6-foot-5 frame. Corner bats Ryan Tregoning and Ryan Palermo add athleticism and power potential.
San Diego State‘s class is highlighted by two-way talent Ryan O’Sullivan (123). The Giants drafted O’Sullivan in the 10th round as a pitcher thanks to his lively 88-92 mph fastball and chance for four average to plus pitches, though they liked his bat enough to give him a shot as a hitter. The Aztecs plan to break him in as a middle infielder. Another 10th-round pick, outfielder Brandon Meredith, gives this class a legitimate power bat. The Aztecs also improved their depth in the infield and on the mound.
• Rice brought in the best class in Conference USA, a solid blend of power, speed and live arms. Anthony Rendon will hit for power and average and could step right into Rice’s starting second base job. Outfielders Steven Sultzbaugh and Jeremy Rathjen and shortstop Brock Holt add speed and defense, and Rathjen could develop into a power hitter as well. Righthanders Anthony Fazio and Jared Rogers and lefty Taylor Wall all have fastballs with good sink and a feel for pitching.
Memphis landed one of the best classes in school history, headlined by powerful catcher Shawn Ablett, prototype leadoff man Drew Martinez and hitting machine Jacob Wilson. East Carolina‘s solid class is led by three impact junior college transfers in catcher Jared Avchen and righties Zach Woods and Chris Heston.
• As with the WCC, it was a fine recruiting year in the Big West, even beyond Fullerton and Santa Barbara. Long Beach State landed a characteristically strong class, led by quality righthanders Drew Gagnon and Mark Lincoln and speedy outfielder Tre Dennis. UC Irvine got a late start on its recruiting efforts as its coaching staff wasn’t hired until last September, but the Anteaters still did quite well for themselves. Third baseman Brian Hernandez is a typical scrappy UCI player who led California’s JC ranks in hits (84) and doubles (26) last year while batting .454. Shortstop Tommy Reyes is one of the most intriguing sleepers on the West Coast, and Matt Summers should make an impact in the outfield and on the mound. Another fine two-way talent, infielder/righthander Matt Jensen, headlines a strong Cal Poly class. Jensen sits around 90 and has touched 93 off the mound to go with a power breaking ball. Infielder Evan Busby, a scrappy switch-hitter, and outfielder Bobby Crocker, a physical, speedy outfielder, will be mainstays for the Mustangs. Righty Mason Radeke ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the California Collegiate League this summer thanks to a fastball up to 91 and excellent feel for pitching.
UC Riverside‘s class is anchored by a trio of outstanding recruits in table-setting middle infielder Eddie Young, power sinkerballer Matt Andriese and physical catcher Robert Brantley. Coaches on the West Coast rave about Brantley, in particular, for his power potential and catch-and-throw skills. Mike Nesbitt and Michael Hur should be quality outfielders for the Highlanders.
Cal State Northridge‘s banner haul is headlined by a pair of power arms in lefty Bryan Harper and righty China McCarney. Harper, the older brother of Las Vegas prep phenom Bryce Harper, has a loose arm, a projectable 6-foot-5 frame and a fastball that already reaches 91 mph. McCarney, a transfer from College of the Canyons, can run his fastball up to 97 mph and made progress this summer improving his feel for pitching. Lanky 6-foot-5 righty Wes Wright has added 20 pounds and now runs his sinker up to 90 mph. And lefty Steve Messner reaches 89 mph to go with a hammer curveball.
• North Carolina has been a fixture in the recruiting rankings in recent years, but the Tar Heels were hit hard by the draft, losing late-round picks Quinton Miller and Garrison Lassiter for huge bonuses just hours before the signing deadline. Still, righthander Jimmy Messer gives UNC a quality arm with a power sinker/slider repertoire and a bulldog mentality. Jacob Stallings, the son of Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings, could develop into a solid ACC catcher, and scrappy Matt Harrison helps plug a hole in the infield. Getting stud shortstop Levi Michael into school early at the semester break would be a huge boost for UNC.
The two former Big East schools in the ACC each landed a big-time impact arm. Boston College righthander Mike Dennhardt ranked as the No. 3 prospect in New Jersey this spring, ahead of Don Bosco Prep teammates and fellow impact ACC recruits Steven Proscia (Virginia) and Eric Pfisterer (Duke). Dennhardt has a stocky, durable build and a quality three-pitch mix that includes a fastball up to 93 mph, a hard 12-to-6 curveball and a promising changeup. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, landed power righthander Matthew Price from the Walker School in Georgia. Price impressed in pre-draft workouts by running his fastball up to 95 mph, then dropping down to a sidearm slot and throwing 90 mph with a vicious slider.
• There was not a weak recruiting class in the Pacific-10 Conference. California lost three key recruits to the draft, but the Golden Bears landed impact players in righties Erik Johnson and Matt Flemer, infielder Marcus Semien and outfielder Danny Oh. Johnson has a chance to be a premium draft pick in three years, thanks to his excellent command of an 88-92 mph fastball and his promising curveball and changeup. Semien is an explosive athlete with a ton of bat speed, and Oh’s lefthanded swing reminds the Bears of former All-American David Cooper’s at the same age.
Washington State brought in a strong class led by a trio of lefthanders who figure to make an immediate impact in Derek Jones, Rusty Shellhorn and Adam Conley. Shellhorn, in particular, is ready to seize a weekend rotation spot after using his mid-80s fastball and outstanding curveball to win state player of the year honors in Washington this spring. Jones, a two-way player, also has a promising bat, and Kyle Buchanan could develop into a front-line Pac-10 talent. Washington‘s balanced class is headlined by righthander/DH Andrew Kittredge, who drew comparisons to Yankees righty Ian Kennedy this spring for his stuff, command and poise. Also keep an eye on first baseman Kevin Komstadius, a quality lefthanded power bat.
• Kansas and Kansas State both brought in stronger-than-usual classes. In slugging first baseman Zac Elgie, the Jayhawks reeled in the best prospect to come out of the North Dakota since Darin Erstad, and the highest-drafted North Dakota high schooler ever (12th round by the Athletics). Projectable righthander Lee Ridenhour reaches 92 mph with a good slider, leading a deep group of promising arm. Kansas State’s class is led by athletic former football player Mike Kindel, who could develop into a major Big 12 power threat. Undersized outfielder Nick Martini has solid tools across the board, and lefthander Kyle Hunter is a competitor who throws three pitches for strikes.
Lefthanders J.R. Robinson and Mehdi Djbarr headline a large Oklahoma class that will fill a number of needs. Both rely on feel for pitching more than stuff, but both could slot into the weekend rotation immediately. Outfielder Kaleb Herren could be an impact bat for the sooner, as could Cameron Seitzer, the son of former big leaguer Kevin Seitzer.
• There was a drop-off after the top six classes in the SEC, but several other classes in the league are worth highlighting. South Carolina leaned heavily upon junior college transfers to fill many of its holes, led by catcher Justin Dalles, infielders Bobby Haney, Nick Ebert and Jeff Jones and lefthander Grimes Medlin. Louisiana State landed one of the best athletes in the nation in outfielder Mikie Mahtook, whose arm strength, speed and raw power all rate as legitimate above-average tools. Big-bodied infielder Beau Didier has a polished lefthanded stroke and big league bloodlines (grandfather Mel as a scout, dad Bob as a catcher), and 6-foot-6 lefty Chris Matulis has loads of projection. Tennessee‘s large class is led by infielder Cody Hawn, who has some length in his swing but also has good raw power. Righthander/catcher Matt Ramsey can run his fastball up to 94 mph.
• The sleeper class in the Big East is Cincinnati‘s. Little lefthander Josh Godfrey has excellent command of a three-pitch mix, and outfielder Dorian West is a short outfielder in the Kirby Puckett mold; his power and speed will both play at the college level. Athletic middle infielder Terrell Jones also has plenty of bat speed.
South Florida brought in a strong class for the second straight year, with five drafted players showing up on campus. Sam Mende, Paul Andrew Robinson and Sean Buckley bolster the Bulls’ infield, while lefthander Kyle Parker and righty Adrian Puig figure to be key parts of the USF pitching staff over the next three years.
• Coastal Carolina has made the jump into national prominence in recent years, and a strong recruiting class should help the Chanticleers stay there. Rhode Island righthander Anthony Meo has run his fastball up to 94 mph in the past and could be a front-line starter if he can improve his command. Physical outfielder Daniel Bowman has strong tools across the board, and Taylor Motter is an exceptional defensive shortstop.
Coach Jim Toman’s first recruiting class at Liberty lacks front-line talent but has plenty of depth. Competitive righty Mark Swanson leads a solid group of junior college arms headed to Liberty. Another juco transfer, outfielder Casey Brown, will step right into the middle of the lineup. Shortstop Matt Williams is a defensive whiz with good speed who should start as a freshman and be a mainstay for the Flames.
• As usual, Michigan has a solid class, led by projectable, athletic two-way player Tyler Mills and offensive catcher Coley Crank. But the best class in the Big Ten might belong to Indiana, which landed the conference’s best recruit in lefthander Blake Monar. With two standout breaking balls—a 12-to-6 curveball and a quality slider—Monar can more than compensate for a fringy fastball. Rangy shortstop Jake Dunning, a junior college transfer from Florida, will step right into a starting job, and Alex Dickerson leads a strong core of lefthanded hitting.
• Central Michigan brought in the best class in the Mid-American Conference, headlined by a trio of strong in-state recruits. Shortstop William Arnold stands out most for his stellar defensive skills. Righty Rick Dodridge pounds the strike zone with a good three-pitch mix highlighted by a sinker up to 89 mph. Undersized righty Zach Cooper ran his fastball up to 94 this summer.