Team USA Top 20 Prospects
Cole leads the way for the second straight summer
Scouts generally agreed that Team USA's talent level was better in 2010 than it was a year before, though the team's top prospect is the same as last year's. There was a consensus group of five prospects—three power righties and a pair of five-tool outfielders—who stood out above the rest of the team. There was less agreement among scouts after that first tier, but players like Peter O'Brien, Jason Esposito and Tyler Anderson garnered some excitement, and there are plenty of solid prospects lower on the list, too.
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 (Jr., UCLA)
Cole tops this list for the second straight summer after going 2-0, 0.72 with 23 strikeouts and four walks in 25 innings. He battled through seven shutout innings against Cuba in the FISU title game, showing admirable composure and the ability to locate his fastball effectively on the inner part of the plate. That fastball is one of the most electric in college baseball, sitting in the mid-90s and topping out at 99—and it has arm-side run. The pitch rates as a true 80 offering on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he complements it with an 86-89 mph slider that some scouts project as a 70 pitch. When it's on, the slider has hard two-plane break, but there are still times the pitch can be flat and hittable. Cole's changeup continues to progress, and he leaned on it very effectively against Cuba, particularly since he was struggling to command his slider that day. The pitch has plenty of movement and good arm speed, giving Cole a third potential plus pitch. Cole has a durable, physical 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame and holds his velocity deep into games. Though there is some effort to his delivery, most scouts now believe he projects as a front-end starter rather than a power reliever in the big leagues.
2. George Springer, of (Jr. Connecticut)
In two seasons at UConn, Springer has hit 34 home runs while stealing 45 bases, showing off what one crosschecker called "a very rare speed/power combination." That package was on full display this summer—first in a brief but successful stint in the Cape Cod League, then for Team USA, with whom Springer hit .292/.342/.472 with two homers and 18 RBIs. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Springer is a physical specimen with freakish athleticism. He is very aggressive in all phases of the game and takes a big cut at the plate, generating serious bat speed and above-average raw power, though some scouts think his game power will be just average. Others, however, envision him as a potential 30-30 player down the road. His speed rates as at least above-average, and he uses it well on the basepaths. His outfield arm is above-average if a bit inconsistent, and though he played left for Team USA in deference to Jackie Bradley, he profiles as an average to plus defender in center. Springer's ceiling is huge, but he needs to adjust his approach to hit at higher levels. Scouts take issue with his load, as his hands are busy and close to his body before the pitch. He also is still learning to shorten his swing with two strikes and use the opposite field, though he made progress in that area late in the summer.
3. Jackie Bradley, of (Jr., South Carolina)
Undrafted and overlooked out of high school, Bradley emerged as a star in his freshman year at South Carolina, but his sophomore year got off to an inauspicious start when he broke his hamate bone in spring practice. He came back strong from the injury and led South Carolina to its first national title, winning Most Outstanding Player honors at the College World Series. He followed that up with a solid summer, hitting .318/.395/.394 with one homer and 11 RBIs while playing a brilliant center field. Bradley has at least average tools across the board, but his defense stand out most—he projects as at least a plus center fielder, and maybe plus-plus. He has a solid-average arm with a quick release and very good accuracy. Bradley's speed is just a tick above-average, but it plays up thanks to his "unbelievable instincts, both on the basepaths and in the outfield," as one crosschecker put it. Not overly physical at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Bradley still generates good bat speed in his lefthanded swing, and he projects to be an above-average hitter with average power. Most of his pop is to the pull side, and he takes big hacks at times but is also capable of shortening his swing, letting the ball travel and hitting hard line drives to left-center.
4. Matt Barnes, rhp (Jr., Connecticut)
Barnes was on the scouting radar in high school for his loose arm and projectable frame, but he has vaulted into the ranks of the elite prospects in two seasons at UConn, as his velocity has jumped and his feel for pitching has improved. He had a standout summer for Team USA, going 3-0, 1.42 with 26 strikeouts and five walks in 19 innings. Barnes' bread-and-butter is a lively 92-95 mph fastball with excellent downward angle. Some scouts think he has a chance for a plus fastball and three average secondary pitches. His 78-80 mph curveball is sharper than his 81-83 slider and has a chance to be a plus offering. He also flashes a promising changeup at 82-83, though it's still a work in progress. Barnes has a prototypical, lean pitcher's frame at 6-foot-4, 203 pounds, and his delivery has minimal effort, but he's still mastering his mechanics. He sometimes struggles to repeat his release point, and he is working on generating more leverage when he pitches out of the stretch. Barnes projects as a solid mid-rotation starter in the big leagues, with a chance to become better than that as he matures.
5. Sonny Gray, rhp (Jr., Vanderbilt)
Gray ranked third on this list a year ago after posting a 0.75 ERA working mostly in relief. He was even more dominant this summer, working six innings of a combined no-hitter in his first start and finishing 3-0, 0.38 with 37 strikeouts and four walks in 24 innings over five outings (four starts). He pitched well in big games and emerged as a clubhouse leader in his second tour with the collegiate national team. Gray's stuff is simply electric. He attacks hitters with a 93-96 mph two-seam fastball with good arm-side run, and his 82-85 power curveball gives him a second plus or better offering. He has excellent feel for the breaking ball, showing the ability to add and subtract velocity and change the break. He started throwing a slider this summer as well, and it was an out pitch at times, though it flattened out at other times. He has the makings of an effective changeup, but he seldom uses it in games at this stage. The biggest question about Gray is whether his 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame can withstand a starter's workload over a long professional season. Though he's a bit undersized, Gray has plenty of strength and maintains his velocity deep into games, but many scouts still believe he profiles as a power reliever down the road. He also needs to fine-tune his mechanics, as he has a tendency to spin out of his delivery, leading to fringy command at times. Scouts would like to see him pitch to contact more to help keep his pitch count down. Still, the scouting consensus is that Gray figures to be an impact big leaguer, in some capacity.
6. Peter O'Brien, c (Jr., Bethune-Cookman)
Even after hitting .386/.445/.748 with 20 homers as a sophomore this spring, O'Brien entered the summer as a bit of an unknown commodity to many scouts, who had not seen him against top-level competition. He quickly made a name for himself this summer, rivaling Springer and Rice's Anthony Rendon for most impressive batting practice displays. He went on to hit .306/.350/.694 with a team-best four home runs in 36 at-bats. O'Brien's best tool is his massive raw power, which rates as a 70 tool on the 20-80 scale. Clearly, his power plays in games as well, though his swing has some length and he can be vulnerable against fastballs on the inner half. When he cheats on those, he tends to be susceptible to sliders out of the zone. He doesn't figure to hit for a high average in pro ball, but he should be a passable hitter if he can refine his approach. He's fairly athletic for his size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), and he has a chance to be an average defender behind the plate, but he needs to clean up his receiving, which is just fair currently. O'Brien has above-average arm strength and a quick release, but his transfer is not always clean, leading to slower pop times. O'Brien simply needs polish, but all the ingredients are in place for him to be the first college catcher drafted next June.
7. Jason Esposito, 3b (Jr., Vanderbilt)
After turning down a seven-figure bonus out of high school, Esposito stepped right into Vandy's starting lineup as a freshman, and he took a major step forward as a sophomore this spring, hitting .359/.455/.599 with 12 homers and 31 stolen bases in 35 tries. He joined Team USA after Rendon fractured his ankle in the second game of the summer, and he proved an able replacement, hitting .273/.347/.386 with one homer in 44 at-bats. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Esposito is an excellent athlete who profiles well at third base. He is a strong defender with sure hands, quick feet, solid range and an above-average arm. He also projects for average to plus power as he matures physically. Esposito has a solid, up-the-middle approach at the plate, but his swing has a hitch that needs to be smoothed out. He runs very well for a third baseman and has outstanding instincts on the basepaths.
8. Tyler Anderson, lhp (Jr., Oregon)
Anderson's competitiveness and feel for pitching helped him crack Oregon's rotation as a freshman in 2009, and he emerged as one of the Pacific-10 Conference's best starters as a sophomore this spring, going 7-5, 2.98. He was even better for Team USA this summer, going 1-0, 0.00 with 14 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings, though he did not face USA's most formidable opponents. He has a durable 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame and an easy arm action, and while his herky-jerky delivery has some funk, he repeats it well. Anderson has very good command of a solid four-pitch mix. His 88-92 mph fastball has good arm-side run, and his 75-78 curveball and 81-83 slider both have good bite and both have chances to be slightly above-average offerings. He worked hard to improve his changeup this summer, and it projects as a fourth average pitch. Anderson is extremely poised, fields his position well and does a good job holding runners.
9. Noe Ramirez, rhp (Jr., Cal State Fullerton)
A consummate winner and dogged competitor, Ramirez has gone 21-3 over his first two seasons at Cal State Fullerton, and he excelled as Team USA's closer this summer, going 0-0, 2.70 with five saves and a 17-4 strikeout-walk mark in 13 innings. After a poor showing in trials, Ramirez came on strong as the summer progressed. His herky-jerky delivery lends his stuff plenty of deception, helping his running 88-91 mph fastball play up. He can reach back for 92-93 when he needs it, and his wiry 6-foot-3, 180-pound build and whippy arm action suggest he could continue to add velocity as he fills out. His best pitch is an outstanding changeup that falls out of the strike zone, and he can locate it to both sides of the zone. His sweeping 77-79 slider can be another out pitch at times, though it flattens out at other times, and he is working to back-door it more often. Some scouts project Ramirez as a middle reliever in pro ball, but others believe he has a chance to develop into a solid big league starter as he gets stronger.
10. Ryan Wright, 3b/1b/2b (Jr., Louisville)
Wright followed in the footsteps of 2009 Summer Player of the Year Christian Colon as Team USA's most consistent and best clutch hitter, batting .361/.451/.541 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 61 at-bats. Like Colon, Wright is instinctive and plays above his tools, and like Colon he has a chance to be an above-average hitter. He has a simple, smooth righthanded swing that produces hard line drives from gap to gap, and he excels at situational hitting, leading Team USA to hit-and-run with him often. His power is average at best, and scouts doubt he'll deliver enough pop to hold down a corner infield spot at the big league level. He played both corners capably for Team USA but was an All-American at second base for Louisville this spring, and his position is a question mark going forward. He's not a flashy defender but makes the routine plays and profiles best at second in pro ball, though some scouts envision him as a utility type. His speed is fringy at best, but his bat, feel for the game and professional makeup will carry him.
11. Brian Johnson, lhp (So., Florida)
Johnson was a premium prospect out of high school but slipped to the 27th round of the draft because of his firm commitment to Florida. He made an instant impact in Gainesville, garnering first-team freshman All-America honors as a two-way player and helping lead the Gators to Omaha. After working as a starter this spring, he thrived in Team USA's bullpen this summer, going 1-0, 0.63 with 16 strikeouts and five walks in 14 innings. Johnson has a physical 6-foot-3, 225-pound build and an effortless delivery. For his size, he is an excellent athlete who fields his position extraordinarily well. Johnson works in the 88-92 mph range with his fastball, which he is not afraid to throw inside against righthanded hitters. His downer curveball flashes plus; it eats up lefthanded hitters and is also effective against righties. Johnson just needs to develop better feel for his changeup to become a complete pitcher. He's a high-energy competitor who projects as a durable, innings-eating starter in the big leagues.
12. Drew Maggi, 2b/ss (SIGNED: Pirates)
After two seasons as a sparkplug shortstop/outfielder for Arizona State, Maggi was drafted in the 16th round as an eligible sophomore. He rallied from a poor start to hit .262/.387/.410 with a team-high 14 stolen bases as Team USA's second baseman, then signed with the Pirates for a $468,000 bonus at the end of the summer. Maggi's greatest assets are his intangibles. "He's a caged animal," USA coach Bill Kinneberg said. "I've never seen a guy as intense and passionate about the game of baseball." A crosschecker said Maggi's "tremendous instincts" and "field awareness, both offensively and defensively" were as good as he remembered seeing in a long time. A quick-twitch athlete at 6 feet, 172 pounds, Maggi is an above-average runner with excellent first-step burst and baserunning savvy. He lacks the arm strength for shortstop but can handle second base, where he takes great angles and has enough arm to turn the double play well. A righthanded contact hitter with good bat-handling skills, Maggi occasionally shows the ability to drive the ball into the gaps, and there are scouts who believe he has a chance to become an above-average hitter, albeit with well below-average power. Other scouts aren't convinced he is strong enough to hit enough to be a big league regular and project him as a versatile utilityman.
13. Nolan Fontana, ss (So., Florida)
Fontana became a USA Baseball favorite during his days with the junior national team, proving himself as a leader and clutch performer. He has advanced baseball skills for his age, and he stepped immediately into Florida's starting shortstop job as a freshman this spring, earning freshman All-America honors largely for his defense (.986 fielding percentage) and table-setting ability (.437 OBP). He beat out fellow college shortstops Maggi and Brad Miller for the starting job with Team USA this summer, committing two errors in 17 games and hitting .250/.459/.273 with 16 walks and 11 strikeouts. There is nothing flashy about Fontana's game, and he's a bit undersized at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, but he's an extremely steady defender who makes his teammates better. He lacks elite range and arm strength at short, but he makes all the routine plays and is a very accurate thrower. He has a chance to stick at short in pro ball but projects better at second base. His best pure tool is his above-average speed. Offensively, Fontana bats from the left side, an asset for a middle infielder. He sprays the ball to all fields and grinds out long at-bats thanks to his excellent pitch recognition, plate discipline and ability to foul off tough pitches. He has a chance to be an average hitter with below-average (at best) power. Scouts are confident he will get the most out of his tools.
14. Mikie Mahtook, of (Jr., Louisiana State)
A football star in high school, Mahtook arrived at LSU with loads of ability but little polish. By the middle of his freshman year, he had taken over the Tigers' starting center-field job, and he was a key part of their national championship run. He was the No. 1 prospect in the Prospect League last summer, but he had a modest summer with Team USA this year, hitting .271/.368/.390 with one homer, six RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 11 tries. Mahtook has five-tool potential, but his most questionable tool is the most important one—his bat. His swing has too much stiffness, and his swing path is inconsistent—he often hit the lower half of the ball this summer, leading to many pop-ups. He has good strength in his 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame, but scouts don't anticipate him hitting for better than average power because of the flaws in his swing. He does have bat speed, however, and his approach is promising, as he is not a dead-pull hitter. Though he did not play center field this summer because of Bradley's presence, Mahtook has a chance to be a solid-average center fielder with at least a slightly above-average arm. His speed rates as at least a 55 on the 20-80 scale, and he was Team USA's second-best basestealer behind Maggi. His best asset is his overall athleticism, and he has a chance to be an everyday big leaguer if he can refine his hitting.
15. Brad Miller, if (Jr., Clemson)
Miller made dramatic strides offensively from his freshman year at Clemson to his sophomore season this spring, boosting his OPS from .750 to 1.018. But his defense at shortstop was a major issue, as he committed 32 errors (.894 fielding percentage), many on errant throws. He proved a valuable reserve for Team USA this summer, hitting .441/.525/.647 in 34 at-bats, and he drove the ball with much more authority than he did in his first tour with Team USA a year ago. The 6-foot, 175-pounder surprised scouts by flashing average raw power in batting practice, though he projects for below-average to fringe-average game power. Though he has gotten better at hitting hard line drives more consistently, he still needs to get stronger, and he must quiet down his lower half in his swing and become more direct to the ball. In time, he can be a slightly above-average hitter with a patient, mature approach. He's an excellent athlete with good speed, solid range and a strong arm at short, but he has a funky throwing motion and must become more consistent in all phases of his defense, but particularly his throwing. In particular, he had some problems throwing the ball to second base from deep in the hole this summer. He has a chance to play short down the road, but scouts are more comfortable projecting him at second base.
16. Scott McGough, rhp (Jr., Oregon)
The son of a former Indians farmhand, McGough excelled at shortstop in high school before attracting notice on the mound his senior year at a showcase in Jupiter, Fla., where he touched 93 mph. Despite his smallish build, his quick arm intrigued Oregon's coaching staff, and by his sophomore year he had blossomed into the Ducks' go-to reliever. He had a strong summer in Team USA's bullpen, going 1-1, 0.82 with 13 strikeouts and five walks in 11 innings, though he had more success against the softer part of USA's schedule than against the better competition. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, McGough is not physical but can run his fastball up to 94 mph. His slightly above-average heater sits in the low 90s, and he commands it well. His second pitch is a hard slider that has a chance to be a second slightly above-average pitch, though it is somewhat slurvy and could use some tightening. Some scouts report seeing McGough throw a plus changeup with good arm speed at 83-84 mph, but others say the pitch is still a work in progress and question if his hands are big enough to master it. He's also dabbling with a split-finger. There are scouts who believe he has a chance to be a late-rotation starter, but most profile him as a reliever.
17. Alex Dickerson, of (Jr., Indiana)
Dickerson has mashed since he set foot on Indiana's campus, hitting 38 homers in two years and posting a 1.277 OPS as a sophomore this spring. He made Team USA as the lefthanded DH and backup outfielder, hitting .250/.349/.389 with one homer and eight RBIs in 36 at-bats. He showed a loose swing and good bat speed early in the summer but seemed to wear out later. Scouts are not convinced he'll be the same offensive force with wood bats that he is with metal, largely because of his load in his swing. Dickerson's hands are too far from his body and he starts his swing with his arms in a barred position. Then he launches from a deep position and rotates his shoulders backward. It's not the prettiest swing, but he has feel for hitting and could be an average or slightly better hitter with at least average power. But Dickerson will have to hit an awful lot to become a big league regular, because his other tools lag behind. His 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame lacks athleticism, he's a below-average runner and he's a below-average defender in left field with a below-average arm.
18. Brett Mooneyham, lhp (Jr., Stanford)
Mooneyham was a high-level prospect out of high school who has not lived up to his talent in his first two years at Stanford. One scout who has watched him since high school and saw him again this summer described him as "a real disappointment," adding that "he doesn't seem to be able to make adjustments, and he just hasn't progressed." Poor control has plagued Mooneyham's college career: He has issued 116 walks in 154 career innings, though he has also struck out 171, an indication of his power stuff when he's on. But though he had a good summer for Team USA (going 2-0, 0.82 with eight strikeouts and two walks in 11 innings), Mooneyham did not show the power stuff for which he is known. In the past, he has reached the mid-90s, but this summer he pitched at 86-88 and topped out at 90. In big spots, he showed more faith in his slurvy breaking ball and decent changeup than in his fastball. A 6-foot-5, 235-pound lefty who has shown premium velocity in the past, Mooneyham clearly has significant upside, but scouts wonder if he'll ever harness his ability. His ugly arm action and complicated delivery make it more difficult for him to throw strikes. He has a hitch in the back of his delivery, where he stops and wraps his wrist; he struggles to repeat his release point; he struggles to stay on target with his eyes because his head is all over the place. But a club that thinks it can smooth out his mechanics could hit the jackpot with Mooneyham.
19. Sean Gilmartin, lhp (Jr., Florida State)
After going 12-3, 3.49 as Florida State's surprise freshman ace, Gilmartin slumped as a sophomore, going 9-8, 5.24. He showed good command of a four-pitch mix in the Team USA trials to earn a spot as a lefthanded reliever, but his struggles returned as the summer progressed. He finished 2-1, 4.35 in 10 innings and tended to nibble around the zone instead of throwing his stuff with conviction. Gilmartin does have feel for pitching and a chance for a quality three- or four-pitch mix, but he does not have a put-away pitch against better hitters. He pitches in the 86-88 mph range with his fringy fastball, though he can reach back for 90-91 now and then. His best pitch is his changeup, and he throws both a curveball at 72-74 mph and a slider at 80-81. Gilmartin has a solid pitcher's frame at 6-foot-2, 192 pounds, and his delivery works well, but he doesn't have a lot of projection. Most scouts envision him as a situational reliever at the next level, but others think he has a ceiling as a No. 4 starter.
20. Kyle Winkler, rhp (Jr., Texas Christian)
Winkler went 12-3, 3.39 as a sophomore this spring, highlighted by a gem against Texas in the decisive game of the Austin Super Regional to lead TCU to Omaha for the first time. He struggled in both of his College World Series outings and wasn't his sharpest this summer, though his numbers were fine: 1-0, 2.13 with 14 strikeouts and three walks in 13 innings of relief. His best pitch is a plus fastball in the 88-94 mph range with good sink, and his delivery has some deception. His command comes and goes, and he has a tendency to work up in the zone too often. He needs to develop an out pitch against righthanded hitters, as he has struggled with his feel for his slider this year. It's a flat pitch that needs more depth. He flashes a very promising changeup, however. At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Winkler lacks prototypical size for a starting pitcher in pro ball, and his body needs to be firmed up. He profiles as a middle reliever.