Team USA Top 20
Cole's dominant summer stands out for USA Baseball
The summer was a mixed bag for USA Baseball's collegiate national team, which fared very well against perhaps its weakest schedule in years but fell just short in its most meaningful test in the annual Japan Series.
Scouts were largely disappointed with the team's talent level. After flamethrower Gerrit Cole, Team USA lacked sure-fire star power. Most of the other high-upside talents come with significant caveats, and the safest bets offer lower ceilings.
Team USA's mediocre talent pool (by its own lofty standards, anyway) is indicative of the weakness of the rising junior class. Ordinarily, the top candidates for the top half of the following year's first round begin to crystallize by the end of the summer, but scouts agree that the 2010 draft board is wide open right now, at least on the college side.
Here's a look at the top 20 prospects for Team USA this summer. A player's class in the upcoming school year is indicated in parentheses.
1. Gerrit Cole, rhp (So., UCLA)
Cole was utterly dominant for Team USA, going 4-0, 1.06 with 46 strikeouts and 10 walks in 34 innings. Scouts were unanimous in proclaiming him the national team's best prospect. "He's head and shoulders above the rest," one scouting director said. Added Team USA coach Rick Jones, "I've never coached a better arm than this one, and I've been doing this a long time."
Cole, the Yankees' unsigned first-round pick in 2008, sat in the 95-98 mph range all summer, topping out at 99-100 a few times in Canada at the end of the summer. His delivery is not effortless and he throws across his body a bit, but scouts express no significant concerns about his mechanics or arm action. His fastball command still rates as below-average, but he made progress this summer using a mid-90s two-seamer to get ground balls and keep his pitch count down. Cole flashes a plus slider at 85-87 mph, but he tends to overthrow it and must become more consistent with the pitch. He threw a changeup on occasion early in the summer before largely abandoning the pitch. Knocked in the past for his makeup, Cole earned plaudits for his toughness and fierce competitive spirit, and he showed true leadership potential this summer as well.
2. Christian Colon, ss (Jr., Cal State Fullerton)
A natural leader with three previous stints for USA Baseball national teams at different levels, Colon was named Team USA's captain this summer, and his on-field production matched his leadership. In 94 at-bats, Colon hit .362/.459/.617 and led the team in homers (five), RBIs (37) and stolen bases (24 in 26 attempts). Thanks to his keen baseball savvy, Colon plays above his relatively modest tools. He has just fringe-average speed but is an excellent basestealer because of his ability to read pitchers and get great jumps. His defense at shortstop gets mixed reviews; while he has a chance to play short at the next level, the general consensus is that his fringy range and arm strength will force him to move to second. But he can be an offensive second baseman, because his bat has a chance to be a plus tool. Colon makes consistent, hard contact to all fields and has excellent barrel awareness, allowing him to hit behind runners, hit-and-run and bunt effectively. He seldom strikes out, and he has added some home run power to the pull side as he has gotten stronger. His bat and makeup make Colon a very strong bet to reach the big leagues.
3. Sonny Gray, rhp (So., Vanderbilt)
Gray had success as both a starter and reliever for Vandy this spring, and he filled both roles again this summer, going 3-1, 0.75 with 27 strikeouts and eight walks in 24 innings over eight appearances (two starts). Gray's arm is lightning-quick, and though he does not generate much downhill plane thanks to his 5-foot-11 stature, he makes up for it by pitching off a two-seam fastball with arm-side run that sits in the 93-96 range and bumps 97-98 every once in a while (he does not throw a four-seamer). Aggressive and tenacious, Gray attacks hitters with the fastball and mixes in a 77-81 hammer curveball that can be plus at times, though sometimes it flattens out and he leaves it up in the zone. He toys with a changeup but is not comfortable enough with it to use it in games; he'll need to develop that third pitch to stick as a starter. His lack of physicality leads some scouts to project Gray as a reliever anyhow, but he has at least a chance to start, as his arm action is fairly easy and he maintains his stuff deep into outings.
4. Rick Hague, ss (Jr., Rice)
Hague starred for two seasons at shortstop for Rice, earning Freshman All-America honors in 2008, but he slid to third base for Team USA this summer to accommodate Colon. He played stellar defense at the hot corner, posting a .978 fielding percentage, and scouts who have seen him play shortstop believe that his range, arm and hands all rate as solid-average-to-plus at the position, though he does sometimes struggle going to his right. Hague is one of the few prospects in the rising junior class with a chance to be a legitimate five-tool player in pro ball. He's an average runner whose speed plays up because of his solid instincts, and his raw power rates as a 45 or 50 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Hague's bat is a bit of a mystery: He struck out 88 times and drew just 28 walks in 343 combined at-bats between this spring and summer, and he has a tendency to chase high fastballs and breaking balls low and away. His strikeout rate causes some evaluators to question his vision, but scouts still laud his easy, controlled swing and strong hands. Hague tied for the Team USA lead with a .371 batting average, and the ball jumps off his bat. He also is a tireless worker who plays the game hard.
5. Chad Bettis, rhp (Jr., Texas Tech)
Bettis was an unsigned eighth-rounder in 2007 who struggled in a starting role as a freshman at Texas Tech, but he found a home in the bullpen this spring, racking up seven saves for the Red Raiders. He remained in a closing role for Team USA, recording three saves and posting a 3.00 ERA with 11 strikeouts and three walks in nine innings over nine appearances. Bettis doesn't have great size but is more physical than Gray at 6-foot, 193 pounds, and his mechanics are fluid. Like Gray, he has a big arm and an aggressive approach, coming right at hitters with a 95-96 mph fastball that topped out at 98 in Japan. He commands his heater well and it has good life. That pitch is his bread-and-butter, and he works off it heavily, but he does flash an above-average slider with late break, though the pitch gets slurvy at times. Bettis' size, stuff, mentality and track record all strongly suggest that his professional future is in relief, but he has big league closer upside.
6. Bryce Brentz, of (Jr., Middle Tennessee State)
Few players in the nation have more upside than Brentz, who earned first-team All-America honors this spring after going .465/.535/.930 with 28 homers and 73 RBIs against mostly mid-major competition. A likely first-round pick as a righthanded hitter, Brentz is also a decent prospect on the mound, where the 6-foot, 190-pounder served as MTSU's Friday starter as a sophomore. The righthander made just five relief appearances for Team USA but started 17 games in the outfield, hitting .366/.416/.563 with two homers and 18 RBIs. Brentz had the most bat speed of any hitter on the national team, and his raw power rates as above-average or better. He's also an average runner with a chance to be a solid-average defender in right field with a plus arm. But he still has plenty of work to do as a hitter, as he tends to wail away with an out-of-control swing. He's a dead-pull, fastball hitter who showed little inclination to make adjustments against offspeed stuff or use other parts of the field, and his work ethic is a concern.
7. Drew Pomeranz, lhp (Jr., Mississippi)
Pomeranz established a reputation as a big-game pitcher in 2009, pitching brilliantly—repeatedly on short rest—for Ole Miss in the NCAA tournament, then shutting down Germany in USA's final game of the summer. He finished the summer 4-1, 1.75 with 48 strikeouts and nine walks in 26 innings. Scouts aren't crazy about Pomeranz's arm action, which has some stiffness and gets long in the back, leading to spotty command, particularly with his curveball. He needs to do a better job controlling counts and being more efficient with his pitches. Pomeranz pitched his best down the stretch for Team USA, attacking hitters with a 90-95 mph fastball that he locates well to his arm side. His 77-78 knuckle curve remains inconsistent but can be a wipeout pitch when it's on. He toys with a changeup but seldom uses it. At 6-foot-5, 231 pounds, Pomeranz has a pro build and power stuff from the left side, but he's not a great athlete and fields his position poorly. Questions also linger about his work ethic.
8. Michael Choice, of (Jr., Texas-Arlington)
Choice has posted back-to-back standout seasons for UT-A, batting .376 with seven homers as a freshman and .413 with 11 homers as a sophomore. He kept on hitting for Team USA, batting .350/.453/.550 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 60 at-bats. Choice packs huge raw power—the most of any Team USA player, including Brentz—into a 6-foot, 215-pound frame. He's a monster in batting practice, showing massive pop to right-center as well as to left, but he gears himself to pull in games. Despite his productivity, the word "raw" comes up repeatedly when scouts talk about Choice. He has some sweep to his swing and tends to swing through balls that he should hit. He also struggles against breaking balls. Choice is a slightly below-average runner with decent baserunning instincts. His arm is marginal and he profiles as an adequate defender in left field, though he must improve his jumps and routes.
9. Cody Wheeler, lhp (Jr., Coastal Carolina)
Wheeler had a breakout spring for the Chanticleers, going 10-1, 3.83 and firing a no-hitter against Hawaii. He was a key member of Team USA's rotation this summer, going 3-0, 2.42 with 31 strikeouts and 13 walks in 22 innings. Wheeler has a wiry, smallish 5-foot-11, 160-pound build, and his velocity was inconsistent over the course of the summer. He ran his fastball up to 94 mph at the Team USA trials but fluctuated between 84-90 for much of the summer, perhaps pacing himself too much early in games. In his final start against British Columbia, he focused on throwing every pitch with conviction and sat in the 89-92 range for seven innings, striking out 10 and allowing just two runs on two hits. His fastball has good movement, and he commands it inside and outside to both righties and lefties. Wheeler's 80-82 mph slider has sharp, late three-quarters break and can rate as a plus pitch at times. He has the makings of an average changeup, though it is less effective when his fastball velocity dips. Wheeler sometimes struggles pitching out of the stretch because he pays too much attention to runners, and he really does not need to because he has a very good step-back pickoff move.
10. Yasmani Grandal, c (Jr., Miami)
Scouts are divided on Grandal, who has a prospect pedigree dating to his standout prep career at Florida's Miami Springs High and his strong performance on the showcase circuit. He hit just .234 as a freshman for Miami but raised his average to .299 as a sophomore this spring, more than doubling his home run output in the process (from seven to 16). He struggled mightily with the bat this summer, hitting just .182/.291/.318, though he did slug three homers. Grandal is a switch-hitter with some pop from the left side, but he's a very poor hitter from the right side and seems unlikely to switch-hit as he moves through the professional ranks. Defense has always been Grandal's calling card, and he does a good job blocking balls in the dirt, but he has plenty of work to do on his receiving. Some scouts say he has a plus arm and quick release, but others swear they've never seen him demonstrate better than average arm strength. Grandal has a tendency to let his emotions get the better of him, and he sometimes carries his poor at-bats with him behind the plate. He has a durable 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame, but he has well-below-average athleticism.
11. Tyler Holt, of (Jr., Florida State)
One of the nation's top leadoff men during each of his first two years at Florida State, Holt kept on hitting with a wood bat this summer, tying Hague for the Team USA lead with a .371 average. Thanks to his contact bat and keen batting eye (24 walks and 12 strikeouts in 23 games this summer), Holt is an on-base machine (.513 OBP). He's a spray hitter who lacks strength but can beat out ground balls with his above-average speed. Though he stole 19 bases in 21 tries, Holt can get antsy on the basepaths and could be an even better basestealer if he can tone down his body language. He's a very emotional, energetic player, but scouts say he must improve his professionalism. Holt has a weak arm and is just adequate in center field despite his speed, causing some evaluators to project him as a left fielder or extra outfielder down the line.
12. Asher Wojchiechowski, rhp (Jr., The Citadel)
Wojchiechowski pounded the strike zone for Team USA this summer, to the tune of walking just four in 21 innings. He went 2-1, 2.18 with 29 strikeouts, after going just 3-3, 4.39 this spring for the Bulldogs. Wojchiechowski's physical, 6-foot-4, 205-pound build evokes Curt Schilling's, and he has an aggressive approach to match. He goes after hitters with a heavy 88-92 mph fastball that touched 94 at times in the spring, and he has decent feel for a breaking ball, though it can get slurvy. Like most pitchers, he gets into trouble when he leaves balls up in the zone over the middle of the plate.
13. Brad Miller, ss/2b (So., Clemson)
Scouts are divided on Miller; some see a premium athlete with a chance to be a quality middle of the diamond defender, while others see a player who lacks strength and has a funky throwing action. That Miller needs to add muscle to his 6-foot, 175-pound frame is unquestioned—he did not manage an extra-base hit in 55 at-bats this summer. He has a raw, metal-bat swing, but he does have very good plate discipline (16 walks and 12 strikeouts). Defensively, Miller has good instincts but plays out of control sometimes. He has enough range and arm strength to play shortstop in pro ball, though he played second for Team USA to accommodate Colon. His arm rates as above-average, but he has a very low, slinging motion that turns some scouts off. Miller is a solid-average runner.
14. Kolten Wong, 2b/of (So., Hawaii)
A first-team freshman All-American as an outfielder this spring, Wong played mostly second base for Team USA, though he also filled in at third and the outfield. His versatility could help him carve out a career as a super utilityman in pro ball, though he has a chance to be an everyday second baseman with more repetitions at the position. Offensively, Wong excels at putting the ball in play, striking out just 10 times in 65 at-bats this summer, though he hit just .215. He has plenty of strength in his 5-foot-9, 180-pound frame, and he shows good power to the gaps with a chance to add a bit of home run power as he matures. Wong is an average runner who made great strides as a basestealer this summer while studying Colon and Holt.
15. Trevor Bauer, rhp (So., UCLA)
Bauer earned first-team freshman All-America honors after going 9-3, 2.99 for UCLA this spring, but he was not as impressive this summer, going 1-1, 4.67 and struggling mightily in the fourth game of the Japan Series. Some evaluators wonder how well his unusual stretching/throwing/warming up routine will translate to pro ball; Bauer starts throwing an hour and a half before a scheduled outing and throws between innings. He garners comparisons to a young Orlando Hernandez for his variation of arm angles with a four-pitch mix. Bauer worked mostly in the 86-90 mph range this summer after sitting in the 91-93 mph range at times this spring. He showed a tendency to overthrow his curveball and slider, both of which are marginal offerings currently. He has some life, deception and feel for pitching, but he's not overly physical at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds.
16. Nick Pepitone, rhp (Jr., Tulane)
A case can be made that Pepitone was even more dominant than Gerrit Cole this summer. In 15 innings over eight relief appearances, he allowed no runs and just two hits to go along with five walks and 10 strikeouts. At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, Pepitone pitches downhill with an 87-91 mph sinker that induces weak ground ball after weak ground ball. That pitch is his bread and butter, and he keeps hitters honest now and then with a below-average but passable slider and a very occasional four-seam fastball. Pepitone is built for the late innings, with an unflappable demeanor and good command of his sinker.
17. Tony Zych, rhp (So., Louisville)
Zych started the spring in the bullpen for Louisville before delivering two big starts for the Cardinals in the Big East tournament and regionals. He was back in the 'pen this summer, going 0-1, 2.93 with 17 strikeouts and five walks in 15 innings. Zych's arm strength is his greatest asset, but he's still learning how to pitch. His fastball sits at 91-92 mph and reaches 94, but he doesn't always finish his pitches and needs to be more consistent with his arm slot. He flashed a very good slider in the spring, but it was flat and slurvy for most of the summer. Zych is still a work in progress, but his upside is significant, and his composure and competitiveness are strengths.
18. Blake Forsythe, c (Jr., Tennessee)
Forsythe, the younger brother of former Arkansas and Team USA standout Logan Forsythe (now in Double-A with the Padres), followed his strong spring with a decent summer, hitting .293/.500/.466 in 58 at-bats. He drew 21 walks and struck out just 16 times, but some scouts would like to see him take a more aggressive approach at the plate. Forsythe shows average power and a fringy righthanded bat, and he has a tendency to struggle against greater velocity. He's a decent receiver with solid mobility behind the plate and a solid-average to plus arm.
19. Andy Wilkins, 1b/3b (Jr., Arkansas)
After slugging 18 home runs as a sophomore to lead Arkansas to the College World Series, Wilkins slumped for Team USA, batting just .232/.365/.406 with two homers in 69 at-bats. He flashed above-average power in batting practice but was overmatched in games, particularly by fastballs on the inner half. Wilkins needs to shorten up his swing and do a better job laying off pitches out of the strike zone. He's also a well-below-average runner and a poor defender at either corner infield position, though he profiles as a first baseman. His effort and toughness also disappointed some evaluators.
20. T.J. Walz, rhp (Jr., Kansas)
A walk-on at Kansas, Walz added 25 pounds of muscle in the offseason and had a breakout sophomore year for the Jayhawks, going 8-3, 4.70 with 88 strikeouts and 34 walks in 82 innings. He was solid for Team USA working mostly in relief, going 2-0, 2.89 with 22 strikeouts and six walks in 19 innings. Walz is a streaky pitcher who is difficult to beat when he's in rhythm, but his rhythm comes and goes. He has good arm strength and ran his fastball up to 94 this spring, but he topped out at 91 for Team USA. He has decent feel for pitching and flashes a solid-average or better breaking ball. Despite his added muscle, Walz is just 6-foot, 175 pounds, and he likely profiles as a middle reliever in pro ball.