2011 All-America Team Is Loaded
The consensus among scouting directors is that this year's draft talent pool is the best since 2005. Driving that optimism is an outstanding group of college pitchers.
UCLA righthander Gerrit Cole and Texas Christian lefthander Matt Purke stand at the head of the pitching class entering the college season. Righties Taylor Jungmann (Texas), Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt), Matt Barnes (Connecticut) and Trevor Bauer (UCLA) and lefties Danny Hultzen (Virginia) and Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech) could join them near the top of draft.
|Best Athlete: George Springer, Connecticut.
|Best Hitter: Anthony Rendon, Rice.
|Best Power: Anthony Rendon, Rice.
|Fastest Runner: Zach Cone, Georgia.
|Best Fastball: Gerrit Cole, UCLA.
|Best Curveball: Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt.
|Best Slider: Gerrit Cole, UCLA.
|Best Changeup: Noe Ramirez, Cal State Fullerton.
|Best Command: Danny Hultzen, Virginia.
|Best Defensive Catcher: James McCann, Arkansas.
|Best Defensive Infielder: Deven Marrero, Arizona State.
|Best Defensive Outfielder: Jackie Bradley, South Carolina.
"It looks like a good year to me," a National League scouting director said. "When have we had a draft with two of the top, top kids already having been first-rounders? College pitching is absolutely the strength of this draft. You have kids who can pitch and power arms with Purke and Cole."
Cole (Yankees, 2008) and Purke (Rangers, 2009) should repeat as first-rounders in June, and both are on the short list of candidates to go No. 1 overall to the Pirates. Neither is the favorite, though, because Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon's all-around talents have him in line to become the first college position player selected with the top pick since Pat Burrell in 1998.
The college hitters pale in comparison to the pitchers but still offer more depth than usual. Connecticut outfielder George Springer's high ceiling puts him in the mix for the No. 1 choice if he has a strong spring. As many as 10-12 college position players could go in the first round after just seven were drafted that high a year ago.
The one college position that stands out as a weakness in the 2011 draft is catcher, with no obvious player with all-around skills. Scouting directors voted Bethune-Cookman's Peter O'Brien, Oregon State's Andrew Susac and Utah's C.J. Cron to our Preseason All-America teams, but all three need to improve defensively to catch in the big leagues. The best defensive catcher available, Arkansas' James McCann, has yet to prove himself with the bat.
Peter O'Brien, Bethune-Cookman:
O'Brien won 2010 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference player of the year honors after batting .386 with 20 homers, then proved himself against stronger competition by leading the U.S. collegiate national team with four homers last summer. He offers as much raw righthanded power as any college player in the draft, though his swing is long, which makes him prone to strikeouts and unlikely to hit for a high average. He moves well for a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder but needs to upgrade his defense. He's not a natural receiver and still has to show he can handle quality pitching. His receiving struggles also impact his throwing, though he does have plus arm strength and a quick release.
"The kid has very good power," the NL scouting director said. "He's strong and he can throw. He has to improve his defense, but give the kid two or three years, and maybe he's a better version of Mike Napoli. He can swing the bat and really drive the ball."
Rice's Anthony Rendon is the latest in the line of outstanding college third basemen, following top-five draft picks Alex Gordon (2005), Ryan Zimmerman (2005), Evan Longoria (2006) and Pedro Alvarez (2008). Rendon might be the best all-around player of the bunch and could do something none of them did: go No. 1 overall in the draft. Vanderbilt third baseman Jason Esposito also has a chance to go in the first round, while the top first baseman, Southern California's Ricky Oropesa, projects as a second-rounder.
Ricky Oropesa, Southern California:
Oropesa's ticket is his lefthanded power. He packs a lot of strength in his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame, which combined with his bat speed allows him to crush the ball out of the park to all fields. He has hit 33 homers in two seasons with the Trojans, and he tied for the Cape Cod League lead with seven last summer. He's more of a masher than a pure hitter, as he has holes in his swing and struggles to recognize offspeed pitches. Along with the homers, he also topped the Cape with 52 strikeouts in 153 at-bats. He's more athletic than he looks, but he's still a below-average runner who's limited to first base, lessening the value of his above-average arm.
"He has the power and the body," an American League scouting director said. "He has hit a lot of home runs in a good conference. You worry about the swing and miss, but you just have to go out and scout him hard. He's a first baseman only, so one of his best tools goes out the door, his arm. But that kind of power is hard to find."
Anthony Rendon, Rice:
Outside of avoiding ankle injuries that have limited his ability to play summer ball, Rendon has nothing left to prove. Baseball America's Freshman of the Year in 2009 and Player of the Year in 2010, the righthanded hitter has batted a combined .391/.497/.750 in two college seasons. He has strong hands and wrists, good hand-eye coordination and tremendous command of the strike zone, a combination of tools that makes him the best hitter in college baseball. At 6 feet and 190 pounds he's not the strongest player, but his bat speed and ability to consistently square up pitches may give him the most usable power in college as well. Rendon's offensive prowess often overshadows the rest of the game. He has solid speed and runs the bases well, and he's an outstanding defender at third base with above-average range and arm strength. He committed just five errors in 63 games last year.
"He might not have as much power as Evan Longoria, but he might have better bat-to-ball skills," a second NL scouting director said. "He's not as good defensively as Ryan Zimmerman, but he's pretty good at third base and a good combination of both those guys. He's a better pure hitter and defender than Pedro Alvarez, with not as much power. If you want to be picky, you could maybe say you'd like him to be more physical, but he's the best guy in the draft. If Rendon were in last year's draft, I think he would have gone 1-1."
In an odd twist, the second basemen stand out more than the shortstops this year. Hawaii's Kolten Wong's breakout summer in the Cape Cod League puts him in line to be just the third college second baseman selected in the first round of the last eight drafts. Arizona State's Zach MacPhee and Louisville's Ryan Wright are better than the typical second-base prospect as well. By contrast, the best shortstops (Stanford's Kenny Diekroeger and Arizona State's Deven Marrero) are sophomores who won't be draft-eligible until 2012. The top eligible shortstop, North Carolina's Levi Michael, has to prove he can play the position after spending his first two seasons at second and third base.
Kenny Diekroeger, Stanford:
A second-round pick by the Rays out of high school in 2009, Diekroeger spent his freshman year at Stanford at third base in deference to senior Jake Schlander but will move to shortstop this spring. He's a little big for the position at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, and his actions aren't the purest, but he has the athleticism and arm strength to handle the position. The top-rated prospect in the New England Collegiate Baseball League last summer, he's a righthanded hitter with quick hands and plenty of bat speed. He has gap power and should develop more pop as he adds strength to his wiry frame. He has slightly above-average speed but has yet to develop into much of a baserunning threat.
"I think he's a shortstop," a second AL scouting director said. "He's kind of big but he has a lot of ability and he's very athletic. He'll probably stick out more offensively, because that's what most people pay attention to, but he won't disappoint anyone with his defense."
Kolten Wong, Hawaii:
Wong starred last summer in the Cape League, hitting .341 and winning MVP honors. Manager Mike Roberts said he was a more advanced hitter, defender and basestealers than his son Brian, a two-time all-star with the Orioles, was at the same stage of his career. Wong has surprising tools for a 5-foot-9 player, starting with a quality lefthanded bat. He controls the strike zone well, has enough pop to drive balls into the gaps and knows how to use his slightly above-average speed on the bases. He played center field as a freshman before moving to second base as a sophomore. His range fits better at second base, and he has enough arm strength that the Rainbows have considered using him as a catcher.
"He has a very clean swing," the second NL scouting director said. "He's a baseball player and he's a pretty good athlete. He's not sexy, but he's a slam-dunk big leaguer."
In many years, UConn's George Springer would be an easy choice as the top college position prospect. While he has to take a back seat to Rendon, that doesn't mean that he'll last more than five picks in the draft. South Carolina's Jackie Bradley also will go toward the top of the round, and Indiana's Alex Dickerson and Louisiana State's Mikie Mahtook also have a chance to go in the first 33 picks. Texas Christian's Jason Coats and Georgia's Zach Cone also could play their way into the first round.
Jackie Bradley, South Carolina:
The best prospect in this year's college class who went undrafted out of high school, Bradley has made a name for himself in two years with the Gamecocks, highlighted by winning the Most Oustanding Player award at the 2010 College World Series. Bradley's not physical at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, but he has solid tools across the board and the instincts that allow him to play above them. Bradley is the best pure hitter this side of Rendon, with a nice lefthanded stroke, bat speed and fine strike-zone discipline. He has some pull power and has average pop overall. While his speed out of the batter's box to first base is just average, he runs much better than that on the bases and in center field. He's the best defensive outfielder in college baseball, covering both gaps with ease, and has an average arm.
"If you want, you can pick the guy apart with a stopwatch," the first AL scouting director said. "But if you watch him with your eyes, he's a good runner and it plays. He goes and gets balls in the gaps really well. He covers ground like no one else and he's going to stay in center field. He's a very good hitter. He won't hit 30 homers, but he has some pop and he's a good player."
Alex Dickerson, Indiana (DH):
Dickerson won the Big Ten Conference triple crown last year with .419-24-75 numbers, then batted .500 in nine games in the Cape League before making Team USA and tiring late in the summer. Some scouts quibble with the load in his swing, but the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has pure hitting ability with plus power to all fields. One scouting director compared his offensive potential to Lance Berkman's. Dickerson's lefty bat will have to carry him in pro ball, because his other tools are below average. He lacks speed and range and has a fringy arm, and will need to work harder on his defense in order to remain in left field. His only other option is first base.
"He showed me a good swing last summer," the first NL scouting director said. "He's a good-sized kid with a good approach, very strong. He looks the part and I liked what I saw. I think he's athletic enough to play left field at the next level. We have time to improve his defense in pro ball."
Mikie Mahtook, Louisiana State:
Mahtook helped spur Louisiana State to the 2009 national championship when he crashed the lineup midway through the season as a freshman. He may not have a true plus tool, but he doesn't have a below-average tool either. A 6-foot-1, 192-pound righthanded hitter, he has bat speed, an all-fields approach and at least average raw power. He batted just .271 with Team USA last summer, with some scouts questioning his offensive ceiling because he had some stiffness in his swing and got under too many pitches. A slightly above-average runner, Mahtook will be more valuable to teams that believe he can play center field. He played there as a freshman, moved to right field as a sophomore and will return to center this spring. He's a former high school quarterback with solid arm strength.
"He has good tools and plays hard," the first NL scouting director said. "They're not as good as George Springer's tools, but they're solid tools across the board. I'm not sure he's going to stay in center field, though."
George Springer, Connecticut:
Scouts love Springer's combination of plus power and plus speed, which he has shown off by hitting 34 homers and stealing 45 bases in his first two years at Connecticut. Six-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he produces lightning bat speed from the right side of the plate with his quick hands and wrists. The lone concern with him is his propensity to swing and miss, though scouts believe he'll make more consistent contact and could have even more game power if he tones down his approach. His arm and range give him two more above-average tools and make him a solid defender in center field.
"He's the best athlete in college baseball with that speed and strength," the second NL scouting director said. "If he makes contact and adjusts that swing a little bit, he'll be the second college player taken."
Unlike last year, when Arkansas' Brett Eibner had first-round potential as both an outfielder and a pitcher, this year's first-team All-America utility player is viewed strictly as a pitcher by pro teams. Virginia's Danny Hultzen is a solid college hitter, but it's his pitching savvy that will push him into the upper half of the first round. Florida State's Mike McGee is the best all-around two-way performer in college baseball, though he's a senior who was drafted in the 14th round by the Diamondbacks last year.
Danny Hultzen, Virginia:
Hultzen has gone 20-2, 2.50 in two seasons with the Cavaliers despite having a fastball that often exhibits average velocity. That's a tribute to the depth of the lefthander's repertoire, command and attention to detail. His fastball ranges from 88-93 mph, and he uses it to set up his slider and changeup, both of which are above-average pitches. He mixes and commands all three of his pitches well. An athletic 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, he fields his position well and shuts down the running game with a terrific pickoff move.
"We've seen 88-93, but he pitches at 92-93 when he really needs to," the first AL scouting director said. "He has an innate ability to add and subtract, pitch with more fastball and less fastball. Our guys like him up there, right behind Gerrit Cole and Matt Purke. If you were facing a team that had good hitters and really needed to be pitched to, he might be the guy to take over any of them. He combines good stuff with the ability to pitch."
This year's college pitching depth is reminiscent of 2006, when seven college pitchers went in the first 11 picks, starting with Luke Hochevar and highlighted by Tim Lincecum. UCLA's Gerrit Cole and Texas Christian's Matt Purke are possible No. 1 overall selections, with Texas' Taylor Jungmann, Vanderbilt's Sonny Gray, Connecticut's Matt Barnes, Hultzen, Georgia Tech's Jed Bradley and UCLA's Trevor Bauer not far behind them. Barnes, Bradley and Bauer all could be top-10 selections, but there wasn't enough room for them on the All-America first team.
Gerrit Cole, UCLA:
Cole helped pitch UCLA to the College World Series Finals last year, ranking third in NCAA Division I with 153 strikeouts in 123 innings, then starred with Team USA for the second consecutive summer. A 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, he's a physical righthander with the best pure stuff in the draft. The same also could have been said of Cole in 2008, when the Yankees made him a first-round pick out of high school. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, touches 99 mph and is just as notable for its electric life as its velocity. His slider can be just as devastating, arriving in the upper 80s and often featuring two-plane break, though it flattens out at times. He's a true power pitcher and has a changeup that shows flashes of becoming a plus pitch. There were worries about Cole's command and makeup when he was coming out of high school, but he has answered many of his questions. Though his delivery isn't effortless, it has improved and there's no reason to think he can't be a frontline starter.
"He's better than he was in high school, not that he couldn't have done the same things if he had signed," the first AL scouting director said. "He's improved everything. His stuff got better, his control got better, his delivery got a little bit better, his demeanor and maturity level got better. He has done some good things."
Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt:
Gray beat out Cole for the ERA lead on Team USA last summer, 0.38 to 0.72. He's not nearly as physical as Cole at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, but his stuff is nearly as electric. He pairs a lively 93-96 mph fastball with the best curveball in college baseball. He throws his curve in the mid-80s and has the ability to vary the velocity and break on the pitch. He began throwing a slider last summer, and while it's still a work in progress, it's also a plus pitch when it's on. He hasn't relied on his changeup much to this point, though it shows signs of effectiveness. While Gray has plenty of stuff, his lack of size and his inconsistent command lead many scouts to wonder if he won't be better suited for the bullpen in the major leagues. With his repertoire and competitiveness, he'd profile as a closer.
"I know Gerrit Cole and Matt Purke get most of the attention, but if you give me one guy to pitch Game Seven, I'm taking Sonny Gray," a third AL scouting director said. "His makeup is unbelievable. He has that attitude and the stuff to go with it."
Taylor Jungmann, Texas:
As a sophomore last year, Jungmann was the ace of a staff that led NCAA Division I with a 2.45 ERA and featured sandwich-, second- and fourth-round picks in Chance Ruffin, Brandon Workman and Cole Green. Jungmann has gone 6-0 in NCAA tournament play the last two seasons, including a five-hitter against Louisiana State in the 2009 CWS Finals. The righty attacks hitters with a 92-95 mph fastball and a hard slider, using his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame to pitch on a tough downward plane. His changeup is a solid third pitch. The only knocks on him are a short stride and effort in his delivery.
"You're talking about a guy who's 6-foot-6, throws his fastball up to 95, his slider is good and we like his changeup too," a third NL scouting director said. "He's got a chance to be a big league starter. Some guys might temper that a little bit because of his delivery, but he's got weapons."
Matt Purke, Texas Christian:
The Rangers were willing to pay Purke $6 million as the 14th overall pick in the 2009 draft, but Major League Baseball controlled the team's finances and wouldn't sign off on the deal. He might be in line for an even bigger payday as a draft-eligible sophomore. Baseball America's 2010 Freshman of the Year, Purke went 16-0, 3.02, led NCAA Division I in wins and carried the Horned Frogs to their first-ever College World Series berth. He has uncommon stuff for a lefthander, working at 91-94 mph with his fastball and overmatching hitters with a nasty slider. His changeup made strides when he began using it more last year and is on its way to becoming a solid third pitch. Six foot-4 and 180 pounds, Purke throws from a low three-quarters arm slot that adds life and deception to his pitches, though he gets too low and doesn't stay on top of his pitches at times. He's a tough competitor who relishes going after hitters.
"I would take Purke over Cole," the second NL scouting director said. "Purke's secondary stuff is better, and he's lefthanded too. He can get a little slingy at times and his stuff flattens out, but he's pretty good."
Tony Zych, Louisville (RP):
Scouts voted Zych as the top prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer after he led the circuit with 12 saves and sat at 97 mph in the all-star game. The Cardinals have tried Zych as a starter on occasion, but he has had more success as reliever and is better suited for the role. An athletic 6-foot-3, 188-pounder who was recruited as a two-way player capable of playing the middle infield, Zych relies on his fastball. It usually operates at 94-97 mph and looks quicker because of his funky delivery. His arm action isn't textbook, but it provides deception and doesn't keep him from throwing strikes. His slider has become a reliable second pitch.
"His stuff is good," the first AL scouting director said. "He has been successful on the Cape, and he has the fastball. Right now I'd say the slider is just average, but it's getting better. He could move quick."