See also: Statistics for all three teams of our Preseason College All-Americans
Baseball America’s preseason college All-America teams are designed to be an early barometer of the rising talent in college baseball. The teams are chosen by major league scouting directors, ensuring that the players picked have the best potential as professionals, rather than a collection of players who have simply performed the best.
Thus, the preseason All-America teams serve as a primer for the upcoming draft, which recently has featured a heavy emphasis on college talent. Last year’s first round marked the fourth in a row and the fifth in the last six years where more than half of the 30 picks had four-year college experience. And whether you believe the influx of high-round picks coming from college is a byproduct of the college game’s improvement or is attributable solely to a recent trend in scouting, college baseball’s impact on the draft of late has been undeniable.
When surveying the amateur landscape this year, however, most scouts agree that the draft-eligible talent from college lacks the impact potential of the high school class of 2007. “We don’t seem to have much college depth on the West Coast, and that’s been something we’ve been able to count on in recent years,” said a scouting director with a National League club.
While the college position players eligible for this year’s draft are generally mediocre, there are both high-ceiling prospects and surprising depth available among catchers. Always a commodity in any draft, the crop of catchers included one of the country’s most dynamic players in Georgia Tech junior Matt Wieters, as well as Tennessee junior J.P. Arencibia, who led USA Baseball’s college national team with a .404 average and .579 slugging percentage last summer.
“Deepest group of college catchers in years,” an AL scouting director said. “Definite first-rounders in Wieters and Arencibia and lots of quality depth in (third-team selection Oregon State junior Mitch) Canham, (Texas junior Preston) Clark, (Kentucky junior Kenny) Coughlin and (Auburn junior Josh) Donaldson.”
|Matt Wieters, Jr.||Georgia Tech|
Although there are questions regarding Wieters’ long-term future behind the plate, in two seasons at Georgia Tech he’s provided nothing but answers. He has an advanced approach, with patience, poise and plenty of bat speed. He profiles to hit for average and power with wood, which he showed last summer when he ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Cape Cod League.
He’s flashed a mid-90s fastball off the mound as the Yellow Jackets’ closer, so arm strength is one of his greatest assets defensively.
“Wieters is tall for a catcher but receives and throws well,” an AL scouting director said. “His bat, specifically power, is a separator.”
Florida first baseman Matt LaPorta was a cinch preseason first-team All-American a year ago, but after a dreadful junior campaign, he returned to Gainesville for his senior season. Reports on his conditioning and performance in the fall were positive, which is noteworthy because the college crop of power hitters is feeble.
Sophomores Justin Smoak and Pedro Alvarez would be among the best bats available in this year’s draft, but Southeastern Conference pitchers have two more years to deal with them before the major league clubs can decide which one will be drafted first in 2008.
One AL scouting director summed up the position succinctly, saying, “Weakest crop in recent memory.”
|Pedro Alvarez, So.||Vanderbilt|
The Red Sox had interest in signing Alvarez, their 14th-round pick, in the summer of 2005, and they weren’t the only club that recognized his potential at the plate despite his unconventional pedigree. A product of Horace Mann High in the Bronx, Alvarez could be the best position player to come out of New York City since Manny Ramirez. He has a remarkably polished approach, with a feel for the strike zone to go along with plus-plus raw power. He has plenty of arm for third base.
|Justin Smoak, So.||South Carolina|
One of the highlights of the Winter Meetings in Orlando was ESPN’s Peter Gammons dropping Smoak’s name during BA’s annual awards gala, just one of many signs that Smoak has arrived as one of the country’s best hitters. His swing is smooth, repeatable and leveraged, and he allows balls to travel deep in the hitting zone. He has plus power to all fields, and is also a well-above-average defender with soft hands and efficient footwork.
Occasionally it’s difficult to discern the differences between a productive college player who is capable of leading his team to Omaha and one capable of competing as a professional. This year’s crop of upperclassmen, especially many of the middle infielders, have star potential in college but lack upside beyond.
Shortstops Darwin Barney (Oregon State), Brian Friday (Rice) and Stan Widmann (Clemson) are this year’s examples of key contributors on campus that come up short in the tools that translate in pro ball.
“In a word, second base, third base and shortstop are horrible,” an AL scouting director said. “It’s tough to project any in (the) first round (this year), possibly (Oklahoma State junior third baseman Matt) Mangini, and likely not any in the top two rounds . . . Brutal.”
|Zack Cozart, Jr.||Mississippi|
Average tools across the board were enough to earn Cozart first-team preseason honors. He has some offensive upside and solid defensive ability up the middle. “He’s your steady-Eddie guy,” an NL scouting director said. Cozart generates good bat speed, but last summer failed to separate himself while splitting time at shortstop with Barney and UCLA’s Brandon Crawford on Team USA, which leaves Cozart in position to earn respect with a breakout junior season.
|Jemile Weeks, So.||Miami|
Not unlike Alvarez, Weeks has made marked improvement since his days as an undersized, occasionally overmatched high school player. He makes consistent hard contact with enough pop to drive balls into the alleys, which puts his plus speed to use as he can really motor around the bases.
This year’s class of draft-eligible college outfielders is especially uninspiring. No fewer than 25 different outfielders received at least a vote for one of the three All-America teams, and Julio Borbon was the only regular choice on ballots.
“Least exciting group in years,” an AL scouting director said. “Some potential with younger guys but very few sure-fire pro run producers.”
|Julio Borbon, Jr.||Tennessee|
Borbon, and to a lesser extent Mangini, were the position players to make the biggest move up follow lists last summer. Borbon’s speed has long been his calling card, but his four home runs (after hitting only one as a sophomore at Vanderbilt) for Team USA made enough of an impression to make his supporters project him as an everyday big league center fielder.
|Brad Chalk, Jr.||Clemson|
Chalk is also a well-above-average runner, but unlike Borbon, he hasn’t blossomed with the bat. He has a knack for putting the ball in play, and sticks to his slap-and-run approach. “He’s not going to drive the ball much at all, but he uses his tools and fits the role of a leadoff man,” an NL scouting director said. “His defense is solid, there’s nothing glaring on the negative side.”
|Kellen Kulbacki, Jr.||James Madison|
Kulbacki led the nation in home runs (17 of his 24 came at home) and slugging percentage and was second in batting as a sophomore in 2006. He earned a spot on BA’s 2006 All-America team and was an easy choice as Colonial Athletic Association preseason Player of the Year. His Cape performance last summer (.240 average with seven homers) was respectable, though at times he had trouble handling live fastballs.
|Joe Savery, Jr.||Rice|
There are few players in the college draft class with as much to prove this spring as Savery. A premium two-way standout, Savery repeats as a preseason first-team All-American, but hand and shoulder injuries have limited his production and time on the mound in his first two seasons at Rice. He’s drawn comparisons to Mark Mulder for his size and delivery, and could become an early pick in June if he can remain healthy.
Pitching is clearly the cream of this year’s college draft class. David Price and Andrew Brackman were the only two unanimous first-team choices, and stand out as the top arms in a junior class of college pitchers that is deep, talented and relatively well rounded.
“Strength of ’07 college draft,” an AL scouting director said. “Nice combination of power arms, both lefthanders and righthanders, along with guys with pitchability. (This group is also) mixed with starter potential as well as back-end bullpen arms.”
Those relievers factored prevalently in voting, as four pitchers who will spend the majority of their time in college bullpens this spring were named to the first two teams.
|Jake Arrieta, Jr.||Texas Christian|
Arrieta’s durable frame and repeatable arm action make him an intriguing prospect. His fastball has been up to 92 mph and he has a good feel for pitching, though he doesn’t possess any overwhelming stuff.
|Andrew Brackman, Jr.||N.C. State|
Brackman played basketball as well as baseball his first two years at North Carolina State, but chose to turn his focus to the diamond as a junior. He’s raw, but exhibits good body control and athleticism for a big man and his stuff, while inconsistent, is outstanding. He can run his fastball into the high-90s and his spike-curveball has two-plane break. Like Savery, Brackman is somewhat of enigma given his lack of pitching experience. The 6-foot-10 junior has just 71 college innings to his credit entering this season.
|Josh Fields, Jr.||Georgia|
Not since Auburn’s Gregg Olson has there been a college closer scouts unequivocally agreed would fill the same role in the big leagues, and while relievers are the strength of this year’s college draft class, there’s not a power arm that profiles as a cinch major league closer. Fields might be the best candidate to carry his aggressive approach to pitching and 96 mph heater to the majors, however, and his power breaking ball is also an asset.
|David Price, Jr.||Vanderbilt|
Price is also a two-time preseason first-teamer, and enters the spring as the best draft-eligible player in the country. The lean lefty delivers a mid-90s fastball and hard slider with above-average control and good all-around feel for pitching. “If I was picking No. 1, I know I would have a hard time walking by him if he stays healthy,” an NL scouting director said.
|Wes Roemer Jr.||Cal State Fullerton|
Roemer anchored a Fullerton staff that led the nation in ERA in 2006, and he went more than 65 innings before issuing his first walk of the season. His control augments a good feel for pitching and pedestrian stuff–a sinking fastball that tops out in the low-90s and a slider he’s shown a willingness to throw in any count.