Pitchers Lead The Way On All-American Team
Scouting directors less impressed with 2010's bats
See also: Stats For All Three Preseason All-American Teams
For the second straight year following a 2008 bumper crop of hitters that included Pedro Alvarez, Buster Posey, Gordon Beckham and Justin Smoak, the college pitching talent significantly dwarfs the position players available in the draft.
The disparity is even more glaring on our preseason All-America team selected by major league scouting directors, which includes only NCAA Division I players and thus excludes CC of Southern Nevada catcher Bryce Harper, the top overall prospect and best power hitter in the 2010 draft. Furthermore, the top D-I position player is Rice sophomore third baseman Anthony Rendon, who won't be draft-eligible until 2011.
It's possible that a D-I hitter won't be selected in the first 10 picks, which hasn't happened since 2004, when Stephen Drew dropped to No. 15 because of signability concerns.
"It's shaping up as a pitching-heavy draft," an American League scouting director said. "In the 2007 draft, you saw a lot of teams doing a lot more over-slot deals and buying guys away from college. Now we're seeing the hit on the college position players."
While 2010's pitching class doesn't have a star the caliber of last year's No. 1 overall choice, Stephen Strasburg, it does have some of its best depth in years. Louisiana State's Anthony Ranaudo is a candidate to be the first pick, and Georgia Tech's Deck McGuire, Mississippi's Drew Pomeranz and Florida Gulf Coast's Chris Sale project as top-10 selections.
Harper could be the first player drafted in June, but there may not be a Division I catcher selected before the second round. There's not much to separate Louisiana State's Micah Gibbs, Miami's Yasmani Grandal, Texas' Cameron Rupp and UC Riverside's Rob Brantly at this point, and scouts hope that one or two of them can take a step forward this spring.
Micah Gibbs, Louisiana State
Gibbs is the top defender among college catchers, but he's more solid than spectacular. He receives well and used his average arm to throw out 32 percent of basestealers last spring. His intangibles, such as his savvy handling of a pitching staff, are more impressive than his tools and earn him comparisons to Jason Varitek. Like Varitek, Gibbs is a switch-hitter who will hit more for power than average. He's strong but his swing gets long at times, and he hit just .294 with aluminum bats for the national champs and .212 with wood in the Cape Cod League a year ago. His athleticism and speed are well below average.
"Gibbs is the best defensive catcher in college, but I'm not extremely geeked over him or any of the catchers," a second AL scouting director said. "I'm not sure he's going to provide enough bat. His lower half is a worry too, because it's already not real athletic and you wonder what it's going to look like after he catches five more years' worth of games."
Rendon fits nicely into the recent litany of stud college third basemen such as Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria and Pedro Alvarez, and he could go higher in the draft than any of them. The catch is that major league clubs will have to wait another year to get their hands on him. Arkansas third baseman Zack Cox will go in the first round this June if he continues the progress he made in the Cape Cod League last summer, but no first baseman projects to go that high in the 2010 draft.
Zack Cox, Arkansas
The top sophomore-eligible player in the draft, Cox hit 13 homers and won five games as a reliever to help Arkansas advance to the College World Series. He was even more impressive on the Cape, where he shed his pull-conscious approach and started driving balls to the opposite field. A lefthanded hitter, he has enough strength to have above-average power without trying to yank everything out of the park. He has the bat speed and hand-eye coordination to hit for average, though he needs to show more patience at the plate. While Cox has enough arm for third base, he needs to improve his hands and range to stay there as a pro. He's a below-average runner.
"We really like his bat," a National League scouting director said. "We liked it in high school, too. He should hit for average and power. He backspins the ball pretty well. And he should be OK at third base, too, once he gets some more time there."
Hunter Morris, Auburn
A second-round pick of the Red Sox in 2007, Morris was the highest-drafted high school player in that draft who opted for college. He offers some of the best lefthanded power in the draft, which he generates with his size and strength, and finished second in the Cape League with eight homers last summer. He's also willing to take a walk. However, there are concerns about how his approach will play in pro ball and he may not go higher than the third round. He tries to pull everything, has a huge uppercut in his stroke and swings and misses too much. He has made himself into a good defender at first base.
"If you catch him on the right day, he can do some things," the NL scouting director said. "He certainly passes the eyeball test, that's for sure. The million-dollar question for everybody is how much is he going to swing and miss? He did that in high school, too. But he does have that good look to him, and he has good raw power."
Anthony Rendon, Rice
Rendon filled up his trophy case last spring, when he was Baseball America's Freshman of the Year and became the first player to win Conference USA's player of the year and freshman of the year awards in the same season. He hit .388 with a Rice freshman-record 20 homers while walking (31) more than he struck out (23). The lone negative was a sprained ankle in the super-regionals that prevented him from playing summer ball. His hands and wrists are quick and strong, allowing him to consistently barrel balls. A shortstop in high school, he made a smooth transition to third base and projects as a solid-to-plus defender there in pro ball. He's a solid runner.
"If he were in this draft, he'd be the top college position player," an NL executive said. "He's a lot like Gordon Beckham. I'm not sure if he's going to end up at third base or second base, just like Beckham, but I can tell you this: He can really hit."
Scouts haven't been truly excited by a pure college shortstop since Troy Tulowitzki went seventh overall in the 2005 draft. Grant Green entered last spring with high expectations but had a so-so season. Cal State Fullerton's Christian Colon and Rice's Rick Hague don't blow observers away with their tools, but both are highly effective shortstops who could be the first two four-year college position players drafted in June.
Christian Colon, Cal State Fullerton
Christian Colon (Photo by Larry Goren)
No college player squeezes more out of his ability than Colon. His lone plus tool is his bat. He controls the strike zone so well and squares up balls so consistently that he may generate average big league power. His speed, range and arm are all fringe-average tools, yet he's an effective baserunner and basestealer and gets the job done at shortstop. He was at his best with Team USA last summer, hitting .362 with just six strikeouts in 94 at-bats, leading the college national team in homers (five), RBIs (37) and steals (24 in 26 attempts). He has made a full recovery from a broken left leg sustained last July when a Team Canada runner took him out with a hard slide on a double play.
"He's kind of like Dustin Pedroia in his total instincts for the game," the NL scouting director said. "At best, he's an average runner with an average arm, but he has good baserunning instincts and gets the most out of his arm. He has a plus bat and all the intangibles. If you think he has power, you can make a case that he's a five-tool player."
Ross Wilson, Alabama
The only repeat first-teamer from our 2009 preseason All-America team, Wilson was famous before he joined the Crimson Tide. He was one of the stars of the MTV reality show "Two-A-Days," which chronicled the lives of students at Hoover (Ala.) High, which Wilson quarterbacked to a state football title. His older brother John Parker Wilson starred at quarterback for Alabama, rewriting several school records. Despite his background, Ross is a blue-collar player on the diamond. He has power and arm strength, but he's a fringy runner who may not be quick enough to play second base at the next level. He'll probably be the last player on this All-America first team drafted, somewhere from the fourth to sixth round.
"If he has a good year, maybe he goes as high as the third round," the second AL scouting director said. "He swings the bat well and looks like an offensive guy. We'll see how he holds up at second base. He's a little rough there. But gosh darn, he plays hard."
Outfielders are unquestionably the strength of this year's college position-player crop. Middle Tennessee State's Bryce Brentz, Jacksonville State's Todd Cunningham and Virginia's Jarrett Parker are all potential first-round picks. Several other college outfielders should go in the first two rounds, a group that includes Texas-Arlington slugger Michael Choice and Cal State Fullerton speedster Gary Brown
Bryce Brentz, Middle Tennessee State
After hitting .329 with 18 homers as a freshman, Brentz exploded last spring and led Division I in hitting (.465), homers (28), total bases (214) and slugging (.930). He proved that breakout was no fluke by hitting .366/.416/.563 with wood bats with Team USA. He has tremendous bat speed and at least 65 power on the 20-80 scouting scale, though he can overswing and get pull-conscious at times. A solid-average runner with a plus arm that Middle Tennessee State put to use by making him their Friday starter a year ago, Brentz projects as a right fielder and some scouts think he might be able to play in center, where he'll play this spring.
"He swings the bat well," the NL executive said. "He has a very good approach and the ball jumps off his bat. I think he has a chance to be a legitimate center fielder, too."
Todd Cunningham, Jacksonville State
Cunningham is this year's version of A.J. Pollock, the Notre Dame center fielder whom the Diamondbacks drafted 17th overall last June. As with Pollock, no one doubts Cunningham's hitting ability but opinion is divided on the rest of his game. A switch-hitter with a sound swing from both sides of the plate, he has a mature approach and fine control of the strike zone. Scouts who like him think he has gap power and good speed, giving him a chance to stick in center field. His arm is average.
"Guys with his tools who perform like he did on the Cape tend to go high in the draft," the second AL scouting director said. "He has a little more power than A.J. Pollock did and I think he runs better—and I like Pollock. Guys who hit like that on the Cape don't fall off the turnip truck. They usually produce."
Jarrett Parker, Virginia
Scouts want to know which is the real Jarrett Parker. Is he the guy who hit .355/.450/.664 with 20 steals to lead Virginia to its first-ever College World Series berth last June, or is he the guy who batted .188/.361/.313 and looked exhausted in the Cape Cod League? If he's the former, he'll be a first-round pick because he's one of the better college athletes in the draft. At his best, Parker has the power, speed and on-base ability to be a dynamic offensive player. He also has the range and arm to play center field. He'll need to get stronger to hold up over the much longer season in pro ball, and he'll have to make more consistent contact.
"He has very good makeup and tools," the second AL scouting director said. "This is a huge performance year for him. He can answer a lot of questions about how he struggled on the Cape with his performance this year at Virginia. He could be a first-rounder, but he has to have a big year."
Eibner is the one two-way player with a legitimate first-round ceiling as both a hitter and pitcher. Most of the other top two-way threats—Cox, Brentz, Ball State second baseman/righthander Kolbrin Vitek and Tulane third baseman/righthander Rob Segedin—are considered much better hitters than pitchers. Virginia lefthander/first baseman Danny Hultzen will be drafted higher as a pitcher but isn't eligible until 2011.
Brett Eibner, Arkansas
The Astros drafted Eibner in the fourth round out of high school as a pitcher, and the majority of teams still prefer him on the mound. He's still figuring out his command and secondary pitches, but he sits at 92-94 mph with his fastball and flashes a promising slider/cutter. He suffered a mild elbow strain in the Cape League, but he will be Arkansas' Saturday starter this season. As a hitter, Eibner provides massive righthanded power and showed considerable pop from the left side while fooling around in batting practice on the Cape. As raw at the plate as he is on the mound, he's prone to strikeouts because his swing gets long and he gets pull-happy. He's an average runner with more than enough arm to be a good right fielder.
"I saw him this fall and he didn't pitch," the NL executive said. "When you watch him in batting practice, you don't blame him for wanting to hit. He can mash."
The four starters on our All-America first team all look like lock first-rounders, and it wouldn't be a huge upset if McGuire, Pomeranz or Sale overtook Ranaudo and became the first pitcher drafted. Several other pitchers have first-round-quality arms, most notably Ohio State's Alex Wimmers and Texas' Brandon Workman.
Deck McGuire, Georgia Tech
Deck McGuire (Photo by David Stoner)
McGuire succeeded immediately at Georgia Tech, going 8-1 as a freshman and winning Atlantic Coast Conference pitcher of the year honors as an encore. He uses his 6-foot-6 frame to throw his pitches on a steep downhill plane, making it difficult for hitters to make solid contact. His best pitch is his heavy 91-94 mph fastball, and he also has a downer curveball, a hard slider and an effective changeup. He has good command of his pitches and is built for durability.
"Hitters don't seem to get a ton of clean cuts off his fastball," an NL area scout said. "Both his slider and curveball have good shape and out-pitch potential, just depending on which day you see him. You're buying a solid package of pitches and a frame you'd like to think will log lots of innings in the middle of your rotation."
Drew Pomeranz, Mississippi
Pomeranz showed a knack for rising to the occasion in 2009. He turned in three quality starts in the NCAA tournament, including a 16-strikeout gem against Western Kentucky on two days of rest, and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against Germany while winning the championship game at the World Baseball Challenge for Team USA. Pomeranz goes after hitters with his 91-95 mph fastball, and he's nearly untouchable when he has his plus curveball working. Scouts wish that he used his changeup more often and that he had a smoother arm action, but those flaws won't prevent him from going high in the draft.
"I saw him as a freshman when I went to see another player and I thought he looked like a junior or senior," a second NL executive said. "He was throwing 86-88 mph, but I told our area scout, 'I'd take him right now.' Now he's throwing 91-95 mph with an average to better breaking ball. His changeup is OK and he has good size and everything else. We like him a little better than the other college pitchers."
Anthony Ranaudo, Louisiana State
Anthony Ranaudo (Photo by Chris Machian)
Ranaudo doesn't have much left to prove, which is why he's the top prospect among four-year college players. He won the championship clincher at the 2009 College World Series and is the nation's returning leader in both wins (12) and strikeouts (159 in 124 innings). He shows three plus pitches at times, working with a 91-94 mph fastball, a curveball and a changeup. He commands his entire arsenal and uses his 6-foot-7 frame to throw downhill. The only blemish on his résumé is a mild bout with elbow tendinitis that kept him out until mid-April of his freshman season, but his health is not a concern.
"He's the best pitcher in college baseball," the first NL executive said. "He has the total package: fastball, breaking ball, changeup and command."
Chris Sale, Florida Gulf Coast
After ranking among the national leaders in ERA (2.72) and strikeouts (104) last spring, Sale boosted his stock with a dominating turn in the Cape Cod League. He was the league's top prospect, pitcher of the year and the East Division's MVP at the all-star game. Sale eats hitters up by throwing a lively 90-93 mph fastball from a low arm slot, and he also can make them look silly with a quality changeup. His curveball ranks as his third pitch but has improved and is an effective offering.
"He's a low-three-quarters guy with great life on his fastball," the NL scouting director said. "I've seen him up to 95 mph, then he'll drop that changeup on you at 78. His curveball can get lefthanders running away from the plate on him. He competes and he's well coordinated. He's a little like Andrew Miller was, but his balance and command are better."
Kevin Jacob, Georgia Tech
Jacob he showed he can be an overpowering closer while ranking as the No. 1 prospect in the Alaska League last summer. He posted a 0.34 ERA, 12 saves, .101 opponent average and a 45-4 K-BB ratio in 27 innings, but his most impressive number was 98—the peak velocity of his fastball. Jacob usually works in the mid-90s and hitters can't sit on his heater because his slider is equally devastating. He made strides with improving his command.
"My god, does he have a good arm," the first NL executive said. "I saw him up to 97 mph in the fall, and his slider is nasty. Those are potentially two of the best pitches in the draft. He's unorthodox, over the top and throwing his glove way up in the air, but when his fastball and slider are on, those are two nasty pitches."