2012 Preseason All-America Team




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See also: 2012 Preseason All-America Charts

The 2011 college class was the type that comes around maybe once a decade. It was loaded with quality pitchers, starting with the first three picks in the draft (Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer) and a total of 11 first-rounders. Far from one-sided, it had a number of gifted position players, including an elite hitter (Anthony Rendon) and an exceptional athlete (George Springer).

Best Tools
Best Athlete: Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
Best Hitter: Tyler Naquin, Texas A&M
Best Power: Victor Roache, Georgia Southern
Fastest Runner: Krey Bratsen, Texas A&M
Best Fastball: Mark Appel, Stanford
Best Curveball: J.T. Chargois, Rice
Best Slider: Marcus Stroman, Duke
Best Changeup: Michael Wacha, Texas A&M
Best Command: Brady Rodgers, Arizona State
Best Defensive Catcher: Michael Zunino, Florida
Best Defensive Infielder: Deven Marrero, Arizona State
Best Defensive Outfielder: Travis Jankowski, Stony Brook
That group was the exception that proves the rule: Big league teams usually weaken the college crops by persuading high school players to turn pro rather than continue their educations. The 2012 college draft pool pales in comparison to last year's.

Stanford righthander Mark Appel enters the season as the favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Astros, though he's far from a lock. Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero and Florida catcher Mike Zunino are also candidates—and better than any college prospects at their positions in 2011—but all three have question marks.

Appel hasn't dominated hitters like his stuff says he should, Marrero has yet to prove he can make an impact offensively and Zunino isn't the most polished defender. Yet they still stand significantly apart from the rest of their college brethren.

"The college crop drops off pretty quick," a National League scouting director said. "Once you get past Appel, Marrero and Zunino, I don't know who would be No. 4."

Catchers

The first college catcher came off the board at No. 76 (James McCann to the Tigers) last year. That was the longest wait since 1974 and won't be repeated this June, when Zunino should go in the top 5-10 picks and Texas Christian's Josh Elander also could factor into the first round. They stand out more for their offense than their defense, though both should be able to remain behind the plate in pro ball.

Mike Zunino (Photo by Cliff Welch)
MIKE ZUNINO, FLORIDA: The 2011 Southeastern Conference player of the year, Zunino batted .371, led the league with 23 doubles and 19 homers, and helped the Gators to a second-place finish at the College World Series. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Zunino is strong and offers above-average righthanded power. He'll strike out some but not excessively, and draws a solid amount of walks, so he should hit for a solid average. He has good athleticism and speed for a catcher, moving well behind the plate. Zunino's catch-and-throw skills grade out more as average than plus, with his arm rating ahead of his receiving, though he has improved in two years at Florida. He still needs to prove his durability after turning down Team USA last summer and leaving the Cape Cod League after 11 games. He has the savvy expected from the son of a scout (his father Greg covers Florida for the Reds).

"Zunino does a lot of things really well," an American League scouting director said. "He's got a good arm, great energy and shows good leadership. He's a little stiff and botches a few balls, but his progression from high school to his freshman year to now in every part of his game is significant. Even if he's just an average defender, he can hit. What he has done the last two years in the SEC is pretty impressive."

Corner Infielders

Many of college baseball's best offensive prospects can be found on the infield corners. However, it's not out of the question that the first round passes without a college first or third baseman getting selected. Jacksonville first baseman Adam Brett Walker has to prove he can make consistent contact, Stanford third baseman Stephen Piscotty has to show he can hit for power and Clemson's Richie Shaffer has to find a defensive home. The best college corner-infield prospect is North Carolina sophomore Colin Moran, but he won't be draft-eligible until 2013 and scouting directors voted him to our All-America second team.

Adam Brett Walker (Photo by Cliff Welch)
ADAM BRETT WALKER, JACKSONVILLE: If Walker goes in the first 28 selections, he'll surpass cup-of-coffee big leaguer Tom McMillan as the highest draft pick in Dolphins history. Walker has the size (6-foot-5, 222 pounds), strength and righthanded power to warrant first-round interest. He was the Atlantic Sun Conference player of the year in 2011, leading the league in hitting (.409) and doubles (23) and setting school records for hits (99) and total bases (165). He has exceptional raw power, though questions persist about how usable it may be after he struggled in the Cape Cod League, where he batted just .216 with 56 strikeouts in 134 at-bats. He had trouble handling high fastballs and laying off breaking balls out of the strike zone. The son of a former NFL running back of the same name, Walker is athletic for his size. He has average speed, giving him a chance to play the outfield in pro ball, though he has fringy arm strength and most scouts peg him as a first baseman in the long term. He moves well around the bag.

"There's some swing and miss but he's going to be a power hitter," a second NL scouting director said. "I think sometimes we overdo the swing and miss. He's a big kid who swings hard. He surprised me a lot when he ran a 6.8 (in the 60-yard dash) at their scout day. He's a big guy."

STEPHEN PISCOTTY, STANFORD: Piscotty is one of the best pure hitters in college baseball, ranking second in the Pacific-10 Conference (.364) and first in the Cape Cod League (.349) in batting a year ago. He has a pretty righthanded swing, an all-fields approach and makes consistent line-drive contact against all types of pitching. He's beginning to fill out his 6-foot-3 frame, now carrying 215 pounds, though scouts aren't completely sold on his power. Stanford has produced only one reliable big league home run threat (Carlos Quentin) in the last two decades, and Piscotty hit just six homers between Stanford and the Cape in 2011. He could develop average to solid power if he turns on more pitches and uses his legs more in his swing. He has seen time at first base, third base and the outfield in college. He's not particularly quick or reliable at the hot corner, though he has plenty of arm strength. He has been clocked as high as 94 mph as a relief pitcher.

"A lot of those Stanford guys don't hit for a lot of power, but he has a chance to come on," the AL scouting director said. "He has a pretty loose swing, strength and bat speed and pretty simple mechanics. He's athletic enough for third base, too."

Richie Shaffer (Photo by Tom Priddy)
RICHIE SHAFFER, CLEMSON: He isn't as physical as Walker and finished well behind Victor Roache in the NCAA Division I home run race in 2011, but Shaffer may have more usable power than any college prospect for this year's draft. He won the Cape Cod League home run derby at Fenway Park last summer, and he finished second in the league with six homers. While Walker and Roache generate their pop more with sheer strength, Shaffer drives the ball out of the park with bat speed. He has better control of the strike zone as well, though his righthanded power will come with whiffs, especially when he gets pull-happy. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Shaffer will improve his draft stock if he can handle third base after spending his freshman and sophomore seasons at first base. He has the plus arm for the hot corner, but he's a below-average runner who lacked quickness and polished footwork when he saw time there on the Cape.

"I was pretty excited to see his power," the AL scouting director said. "He has less holes in his swing than Walker or Roache. He relies less on strength and more on looseness and whippiness and bat speed."

Middle Infielders

Of the 22 players who started 100 or more big league games at shortstop in 2011, just five were college products. Most college shortstops wind up shifting to second or third base by the time they reach the majors, but Arizona State's Deven Marrero should beat the odds. He's the best legitimate college shortstop prospect since Troy Tulowitzki in 2005, though he's less physical and his game is totally different. Stanford's Kenny Diekroeger likely will have to move off shortstop and his stock has dipped since he entered last season as the No. 1-rated prospect for the 2012 draft, though he still could be a first-rounder. The 2011 draft featured a college second baseman (Kolten Wong) in the first round for just the third time in eight years, but there's no one close to that caliber this year.

Deven Marrero (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
DEVEN MARRERO, ARIZONA STATE: Had he been draft-eligible as a sophomore in 2011, Marrero would have been a first-round pick. Marrero is an outstanding shortstop with smooth actions. He reads balls well and has soft hands to go with plus range and arm strength. He'll have to play more under control defensively after making 30 errors last year in 80 games between Arizona State, Team USA and the Cape Cod League. Marrero also needs to settle down at the plate, where he sometimes tries to do too much and his righthanded swing can get too rotational. He slumped when the NCAA toned down bats last year, hitting just .313/.352/.434, and actually was more impressive when he used wood during summer ball. He has the bat speed and hand-eye coordination to hit for average, though scouts are uncertain how much pop the 6-foot-1, 194-pound righthanded hitter will have. He has the upside to produce 20-25 doubles and maybe 10 homers per year, which would be more than enough sock for a shortstop. He has solid speed that plays up on the bases and in the field because of his instincts.

"Marrero is absolutely a shortstop," the second NL scouting director said. "His best tool is how he plays the game. It's his instincts. He's pretty good at everything. He uses the whole field, he's a good baserunner and he makes all the plays defensively. He's an advanced college player at a premium position who will move pretty quickly."

Tony Renda
TONY RENDA, CALIFORNIA: Renda makes contact as easily as any player in college baseball. The 2011 Pac-10 player of the year, he led California's College World Series team with a .332 average and struck out just 28 times in 265 at-bats. Just 5-foot-8 and 173 pounds, he understands his limitations and employs a simple righthanded swing and an all-fields approach. The rest of Renda's tools are fringy, so he probably won't get drafted earlier than the third round, though he's a grinder who gets the most out of what he has. He provides occasional gap power and average baserunning ability. He's a reliable defender at second base, and he'll have to make it there because he lacks the arm strength for the left side of the infield, which hinders his potential as a utilityman.

"He's a good baseball player with bat-to-ball skills," the first NL scouting director said. "Nothing gives you goose bumps, but he's a good player. He doesn't have the arm for shortstop, which limits him to second base."

Outfielders

All three of our first-team outfielders—Stony Brook's Travis Jankowski, Texas A&M's Tyler Naquin and Georgia Southern's Victor Roache—ranked among college's biggest breakout stars in 2011. None of them was a full-time starter or hit more than .262 as a freshman. They have positioned themselves as possible first-round picks by starring in their sophomore seasons and in summer ball. None of them can match the extraordinary athleticism of George Springer or defense of Jackie Bradley from last year's class, but they all profile as potential solid regulars in the big leagues.

Travis Jankowski
TRAVIS JANKOWSKI, STONY BROOK: Jankowski batted .355 and topped the America East Conference with 30 steals in 34 tries last spring, then proved that performance was no fluke by winning MVP honors in the Cape Cod League. He's a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder whose speed grades from plus to plus-plus, and he uses it well in all facets of the game. He has a consistent approach and controls the strike zone, mainly hitting liners and grounders as he focuses on getting on base. His lefthanded swing can get uphill at times, which is unnecessary because he has below-average power. He draws some Jacoby Ellsbury, comparisons which don't really work because Jankowski has just 14 extra-base hits in two seasons at Stony Brook, though he did lead the Cape with seven triples. He's a quality defender in center field, where his good reads and jumps give him excellent range. His arm strength is average.

"He's pretty intriguing," the first NL scouting director said. "The swing is good, it's impact speed and he's a pretty good defensive outfielder."

TYLER NAQUIN, TEXAS A&M: Naquin sparked Texas A&M to the College World Series last season, when he won the Big 12 Conference batting title (.381) and led NCAA Division I in hits (104), and also was one of Team USA's top performers during the summer. He has the best bat and outfield arm in this year's college crop. He maintains a sound lefthanded swing and a consistent, disciplined approach. He has yet to show much home run power, with just four long balls in two seasons with the Aggies, but has the potential for more.He has some bat speed and the ability to backspin balls, though he still needs to add some strength to his 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame. Added pop will be key if Naquin is to profile as a corner outfielder. He's a slightly above-average runner with good defensive instincts who might be able to handle center field, but he has played solely in right in deference to Krey Bratsen at A&M and Michael Lorenzen (Cal State Fullerton) with the national team. His well above-average arm is an asset in right.

"Naquin hasn't really hit for power, but with his swing and body, I could see him hitting for more," the AL scouting director said. "He's a little unorthodox at the plate, but he squares it up consistently. The problem is that we haven't seen him play center field. If he can play center, he's a different bird."

Victor Roache
VICTOR ROACHE, GEORGIA SOUTHERN: Even the new BBCOR bats couldn't contain Roache's huge righthanded power. He led NCAA Division I last season with 30 homers, the most since Billy Becher hit 32 in 2003, and set Georgia Southern and Southern Conference records in the process. Six-foot-1 and 225 pounds, Roache is loaded with strength and has some quickness to his swing, though it can get stiff at times. He batted .326 as a sophomore and .316 in the Cape Cod League, but questions arose about his ability to hit for average when Cape pitchers started feeding him breaking balls. He didn't recognize them well and chased them out of the strike zone, leading to a .183 average with one homer and 31 strikeouts in his final 18 games. While Roache's value lies mainly with his power, he's not a bad athlete. He has fringy speed and average arm strength, tools that should make him at least an adequate left fielder.

"He reminds me of Greg Vaughn," the second NL scouting director said. "He's strong and athletic. He swings and misses, but that's how Vaughn was. He wasn't for everybody. Roache will hit home runs and he's going to strike out."

Utility

Last year's first-team utility player, Danny Hultzen, very clearly was going to be a full-time pitcher as a pro. Florida's Brian Johnson has a more uncertain future. More teams prefer him as a lefthanded pitcher, but it's also hard to ignore his lefthanded power, and he would be a first-round pick either way. His teammate, Austin Maddox, has morphed from more of a slugging prospect in high school to more of a mound prospect, while third-teamer J.T. Chargois of Rice definitely will be a pitcher at the next level.

Brian Johnson (Photo by Danny Parker)
BRIAN JOHNSON, FLORIDA: Johnson played in just four games for Team USA after the College World Series last summer, but he still led the national team with three homers. As a strong 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who makes consistent hard contact to all fields, Johnson has drawn some comparisons to Ryan Howard, and he may have the best lefthanded power in this college class. Nevertheless, a slight majority of scouts think Johnson has a brighter future on the mound. He's built for durability and eventually could slot into the No. 2 or 3 spot in a big league rotation. Though he pulls double duty, he has advanced feel for three pitches: a low-90s fastball that tops out at 94 mph, a short slider that grades as above-average at times and an effective changeup. As with many two-way players, his stuff figures to improve if he focuses full-time on pitching.

"We probably like him more as a pitcher, but it's close," the first NL scouting director said. "He throws three pitches for strikes, he's a pretty good athlete and he's lefthanded. Those guys are hard to find."

Pitchers

Any group of pitchers would have a tough time living up to the standard set by the 2011 college arms, who accounted for the top three picks in the draft and 11 first-round selections. Scouts aren't sure what to make of this year's crop. Stanford's Mark Appel is the 2012 draft's top-rated prospect and Louisiana State's Kevin Gausman also flashes front-of-the-rotation stuff, but neither had a winning record or averaged a strikeout per inning last season. A scarcity of lefthanders also is worrisome. Five college southpaws went in the first round a year ago, but Johnson is the lone lefty on our three All-America teams.

Mark Appel (Photo by Larry Goren)
MARK APPEL, STANFORD: It's easy to dream on Appel, who has exciting present stuff and the opportunity to improve significantly. He's a 6-foot-5, 190-pounder who effortlessly throws 92-95 mph fastballs with good life in the strike zone. His heater reaches as high as 99 mph, and hitters can't sit on it because he throws a true slider that ranks among the best in the college game. His changeup also has plus potential. Appel is athletic and repeats his delivery well, allowing him to consistently throw strikes. His command isn't as impressive as his control, as he leaves too many pitches over the middle of the plate or up in the zone, which is why he allowed 114 hits and struck out just 86 in 110 innings as a sophomore. His repertoire and inconsistency prompt comparisons to Justin Verlander, who didn't always overpower college competition while at Old Dominion.

"Why does he get hit so much? That's a great question," the first NL scouting director said. "If you grade out his pitches, they're all plus and he throws strikes. It's not great deception, but it's not like hitters see the ball real early out of his hand. If he comes out and dominates like he should, he'll solidify himself as the No. 1 pick."

CHRIS BECK, GEORGIA SOUTHERN: After producing one first-rounder (Joey Hamilton, 1991) in the first 47 drafts, Georgia Southern should have two this June in Beck and Roache. Beck made the leap from 2-4, 8.31 as a freshman to 9-5, 3.23 as a sophomore, then solidified his prospect status with a star turn in the Cape Cod League. He is strong and durable at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, consistently pitching with a 91-94 mph fastball that peaks at 96. He also throws a pair of promising low-80s secondary pitches, a three-quarters breaking ball and a changeup with sink and fade. Beck has a clean, repeatable delivery, which bodes well for his ability to fine-tune his control and command.

"I like the playability of his stuff better than Appel's or Gausman's," the AL scouting director said. "He doesn't have a lot of deception, but his fastball gets swings and misses because it has heavy life to it. He's at his best when he's throwing a true slider."

Kevin Gausman (Photo by Danny Parker)
KEVIN GAUSMAN, LOUISIANA STATE: Gausman drew some first-round interest out of high school two years ago, and he will generate much more as 2012's top draft-eligible sophomore. He's extremely projectable at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, and he already works at 92-96 mph and tickles the upper 90s with his fastball. He uses both a curveball and slider, and while both are effective, he'll have a better chance of developing a consistently plus breaker if he settles on one.

He can make hitters look bad with his changeup because it has good depth and he throws it with deceptive arm speed. Gausman repeatedly throws strikes, though his mechanics are less than conventional. He tends to tilt his shoulder in his delivery and drifts toward throwing close to straight over the top, which hampers his ability to pitch down in the zone and hit the corners.

"His delivery is a little different, which adds to his deception," the first NL scouting director said. "He shows you three good pitches. His stuff isn't as good as Appel's, but it's quality."

NOLAN SANBURN, ARKANSAS: Sophomores have to turn 21 within 45 days of the end of the draft to be eligible, and Sanburn barely qualifies with a July 21 birthdate. (Razorbacks teammate Ryne Stanek, a first-round talent, just missed because he was born five days later.) The Tigers drafted Sanburn as an outfielder out of high school two years ago, but Arkansas deployed him exclusively as a reliever in 2011 and will do so again this spring. He saved eight games as a freshman before ranking as the No. 1 prospect in the Northwoods League during the summer. He challenges hitters with two plus pitches, a fastball that tops out at 98 mph and a hard breaking ball that's more of a slider than a curveball. He also can show hitters a changeup and has the moxie to work the late innings. An athletic 6-foot-1, 205-pounder, Sanburn still has strides to make with his control and command.

"He was mostly 92-96 this fall, with a plus downer breaking ball that he can throw for strikes," a National League area scout said. "That kind of separates him a little bit, because hitters can't sit on his fastball. He's a Craig Kimbrel type. He's very competitive and he had a hell of a fall."

Marcus Stroman (Photo by Alyson Boyer Rode)
MARCUS STROMAN, DUKE: Stroman may stand just 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, but he has perhaps the most electric arm in college baseball. He ranked second in NCAA Division I with 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 2011, didn't allow a hit in eight innings with Team USA last summer and hasn't allowed a run in 33 career innings in the Cape Cod League. A premium athlete who also has seen extensive action at shortstop for Duke, he has drawn comparisons to Tom Gordon with his size, arm speed and stuff. Stroman has a 93-96 mph fastball that he can blast past hitters up in the strike zone. His nasty slider is even more devastating, and he can locate it on either side of the plate. He effortlessly fills the strike zone. While the Blue Devils will use him as their Friday night starter, he projects as a reliever in pro ball, with the upside to become a closer.

"Would you want the guy bigger? Of course," the AL scouting director said. "But he has the filthiest stuff in the country. If he were 6 feet tall, he'd probably go in the top five picks. He still might. He's small but he's athletic, repeats his delivery and throws strikes. I'm not saying it will be his ultimate role, but I don't see why you couldn't try him as a starter."