Team USA Top 20 Prospects
The U.S. college national team had to scramble for players more than usual this year. Of the 19 players who were pre-selected to the squad, 10 were busy with the College World Series when the summer schedule began. Team USA also played just 14 games, its fewest in its modern era, and had no major tournament on its docket, making it more difficult to lure players away from the Cape Cod League.
USA Baseball had to bring in 11 alternates as reinforcements, including a pair of undrafted seniors (Oral Roberts outfielder Chris Elder and San Francisco third baseman Stephen Yarrow) who signed pro contracts after playing for their country. Yet the summer was as successful for Team USA as it was hectic. The United States went 11-2-1 and won its biannual series against Japan's college all-stars.
While scouts bemoaned the depth of talent on Team USA—and in college baseball as a whole looking ahead to next year's draft—the team did feature two of the leading candidates to go No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft in Stanford righthander Mark Appel and Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero. The 2010 U.S. college national team featured seven players who would become first-round picks a year later, and the 2011 squad could match that total.
1. Mark Appel, rhp (Jr., Stanford):
Appel had both the best present stuff on the college national team and plenty of room to grow as a pitcher. The 6-foot-5, 190-pounder's arm works easily, delivering consistent 92-95 mph fastballs with good life in the strike zone. Hitters can't sit on his fastball because he throws a true slider, and he's working on developing a changeup.
"He had the best arm on the team by far," Team USA pitching coach Rob Walton (Oral Roberts) said. "He touched 99 once or twice, with a bunch of 98s. The ceiling on him is unbelievable. He's a Justin Verlander-type guy. His potential is unreal. He's as good as anyone I've seen in a while."
Appel did have the highest ERA on the team (5.00), in large part because he surrendered a grand slam against Japan in his lone start. Like Verlander, he hasn't dominated in college as much as his stuff should dictate, allowing 114 hits and striking out just 86 in 110 innings at Stanford last spring. Appel throws strikes but leaves his pitches over the plate and up in the zone too often, and he'll be nearly untouchable once he refines his command.
2. Deven Marrero, ss (Jr., Arizona State):
Marrero is a rare college shortstop with all-around tools and the ability to stay at the position, and he would have been an early-first-round pick this year had he been draft-eligible as a sophomore. He led Team USA in several categories, including hits (19), doubles (five), RBIs (14) and steals (six).
"He is really good defensively and he's a better hitter than I ever thought he would be in high school," a national crosschecker with an American League team said. He might be one of those guys who hits better with wood. He handles wood very well."
Marrero's performance with wood this summer (.322/.385/.441) was better than his numbers with the new BBCOR bats during the spring (.313/.352/.434). The 6-foot-1, 172-pounder tries to do too much and gets too rotational with his righthanded swing when he uses metal bats, while he's more under control and accelerates the bat head better with wood. He has the bat speed to handle quality fastballs and produce legitimate gap power, and he has the savvy to steal some bases with his average foot speed.
His arm, actions and instincts are his best assets at shortstop, and he also has solid range and good hands. He needs to settle down defensively and get more consistent, however, after making nine errors in 14 games.
3. Ryne Stanek, rhp (So., Arkansas):
The only thing that can stop Stanek from being a first-round pick in 2012 is the calendar. Sophomores are eligible if they turn 21 within 45 days of the draft, and he may just miss that cutoff with a July 26 birthday.
An alternate who made two appearances for Team USA before players came in from the College World Series, Stanek has late life on his 92-96 mph fastball and a pair of power breaking pitches in his hammer curveball and hard slider. His changeup is a solid offering as well, and he just needs to fill out his 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame and continue to improve his command.
"He will be special," Walton said. "He's a top-10-pick type of guy. He's up to 96, just electric, and has wipeout stuff with both of his breaking balls."
4. Kevin Gausman, rhp (So., Louisiana State):
Gausman's homestate Rockies considered drafting him in the first round two years ago out of high school, and he's expected to go that high as a draft-eligible sophomore next year. Tall and slender at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, he shows the potential for three plus pitches.
Gausman features armside run and sink on his 92-96 mph fastball, though his tendency to tilt his shoulder in his delivery affects his ability to work the corners and pitch down in the zone. He throws both a curveball and slider, which both have their moments. His changeup is a weapon because he sells it so well with his arm speed, and he added more depth to it this summer.
5. Brian Johnson, 1b/lhp (Jr., Florida):
Johnson was Team USA's most effective reliever (0.63 ERA) in 2010, but this time around he pitched only sparingly and stood out more with his bat after arriving late from the College World Series. Though he played just four games, he led the squad with three homers after hitting just five in the spring.
Most scouts and coaches think Johnson's future is brighter as a lefthanded power hitter, and Walton compared him to Ryan Howard. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has plenty of strength and makes consistent hard contact to all fields. He'll need to improve defensively at first base.
The AL crosschecker preferred Johnson on the mound, however. He has the build to be a workhorse starter and fills the strike zone with 90-93 mph fastballs. His short slider can be a plus pitch at times but needs more bite, and he also has a decent changeup. For more on Johnson, see the latest Draft Dish
6. Marcus Stroman, rhp (Jr., Duke):
Stroman may have been the smallest player on the college national team at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, but he was also its most dynamic. He struck out 17 and allowed just two baserunners (no hits) in eight innings with Team USA, continuing to draw Tom Gordon comparisons that started last summer in the Cape Cod League.
A quick-twitch athlete who is both a starting pitcher and shortstop at Duke, Stroman generates quality arm speed. As a reliever, he works at 93-96 mph with his fastball and can throw it by hitters up in the zone. He also can embarrass lefties and righties alike with a nasty slider he commands to both sides of the plate.
"He's so much fun to watch," said Eric Campbell, USA Baseball's general manager of national teams. "He was our most electric guy. When he came into a game to pitch for us, it was the most exciting thing to happen with our college national team this summer. There was a buzz about him."
7. Josh Elander, c (Jr., Texas Christian):
Elander started just 38 games behind the plate in his first two seasons at Texas Christian, but he became Team USA's regular catcher when Florida catcher Michael Zunino opted not to join the team after the Gators made it to the finals of the College World Series.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound righthanded hitter showed the second-best pop on the team behind Johnson, driving the ball to all fields. Elander also got the job done defensively, receiving and blocking well and combating the running game with an average arm and quick release.
"He has close to Johnson's power and matched him in batting practice." head coach Tim Jamieson (Missouri) said. "We thought he'd be the backup to Zunino but he wound up being more than that and did a great job with out staff. He did it all well."
8. Andrew Mitchell, rhp (So., Texas Christian):
Mitchell started 2011 in Texas Christian's bullpen before emerging as the best starter on an injury-riddled staff down the stretch, concluding his freshman season with seven shutout innings against Oral Roberts in NCAA regional play. Team USA deployed him as a reliever, a role in which he showed two strikeout pitches.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder has a 93-96 mph heater with good tilt and a power slider with splitter-like action. His four-seam fastball lacks life at times and he'll have to do a better job of commanding it down in the strike zone. He projects as a big league set-up man or possibly a closer, and he could make it as a starter if he upgrades his control and changeup.
9. Michael Wacha, rhp (Jr., Texas A&M):
After throwing 130 innings in the spring and leading Texas A&M to the College World Series, Wacha still had enough left in the tank to allow just one earned run in two starts for Team USA. He relies on his changeup and his command, both of which were as good as anyone's on the national team.
Wacha uses his 6-foot-6, 195-pound frame to throw his pitches on a steep downhill plane. His straight changeup is more notable for its deception than its action, and he sets it up by locating his 90-93 mph fastball. His ultimate ceiling depends on whether he can come up with a solid breaking ball, and he made progress with a cutter/slider this summer.
10. Michael Lorenzen, of (So., Cal State Fullerton):
A veteran of the U.S. 16-and-under and 18-and-under national squads, Lorenzen led Team USA in hitting (.556) at the 2010 World Junior Championship. He had the most well-rounded package of tools on the college national team, though his game still needs some polish.
Lorenzen has a quick bat and some strength in his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame, but he'll have to shorten his righthanded swing and learn to control the strike zone better. He plays above his solid speed in center field, and he has an exceptional arm for his position. He was clocked at 93 mph as a high school pitcher and could get a shot on the mound in pro ball if he failed as a position player.
11. Tyler Naquin, of (So., Texas A&M).
Naquin was a catalyst for both Texas A&M's College World Series squad and Team USA, though scouts are still trying to determine if he's going to be a big league regular or more of a tweener. He has a good approach, lets pitches travel deep and has some bat speed and ability to impart backspin on the ball. But he also fouls off too many hittable pitches, and the lefthanded hitter is going to have to add strength to his 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame in order to profile as a right fielder.
His bat might fit better in center field, but he hasn't played their much because the Aggies have speedster Krey Bratsen and the U.S. national team had Lorenzen. Naquin might have the speed and instincts to handle center, and his well above-average arm is definitely suited for right.
12. Corey Knebel, rhp (So., Texas).
An unheralded recruit, Knebel ranked second in NCAA Division I with 19 saves as a freshman during the spring. An athletic 6-foot-3, 195-pounder, he attacks hitters with his 93-96 mph fastball. To remain a closer at the next level, he'll need to add more life down in the strike zone and use his promising curveball more often.
13. Brady Rodgers, rhp (Jr., Arizona State).
The epitome of a polished college pitcher, Rodgers had as many wins as walks (nine) as an Arizona State sophomore. The 6-foot-2, 187-pounder fills the strike zone with an 88-92 mph fastball and three solid secondary pitches in his curveball, slider and changeup. He's a good athlete and competitor with the upside of a No. 3 starter.
14. Dominic Ficociello, 1b (So., Arkansas).
As a switch-hitter who barrels the ball well from both sides of the plate, Ficociello had one of the better offensive ceilings on Team USA. The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder will show more game power once he fills out and tightens his strike zone. While he has played some third base, his odd throwing motion and lack of agility will limit him to first base in the long run.
15. Hoby Milner, lhp (Jr., Texas).
The son of former big leaguer Brian Milner, Hoby is a pitchability lefthander. He thrives thanks to location and deception, working primarily with an 86-89 mph fastball that tops out at 92, a solid changeup and a curveball that has its moments. He's resilient despite packing just 165 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, and his stuff could pick up if he adds some strength.
16. Erich Weiss, 3b (So., Texas).
Weiss was worn down after a long freshman season, and he didn't look like the same player who led Texas in all three slash stats at .348/.483/.518. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound lefthanded hitter went just 5-for-31 (.161) with 11 strikeouts for Team USA, though the USA Baseball staff acknowledged that his bat and power potential are better than that. An average runner with arm strength and decent infield actions, he looked out of sync at third base and might fit better in the outfield.
17. D.J. Baxendale, rhp (Jr., Arkansas).
His stuff isn't nearly as sexy as his college teammate Stanek's, but it was Baxendale who was Arkansas' ace last spring. The ultra-competitive Baxendale is similar to Rodgers in terms of size (6-foot-2, 190 pounds), stuff (88-92 mph fastball with late life down in the zone, solid changeup) and strike-throwing ability. His curveball and slider are just so-so breaking pitches, but he made nice strides with a mid-80s cutter during the summer.
18. Nolan Fontana, 2b (Jr., Florida).
Fontana was hit on the left hand by a pitch at the College World Series and wasn't fully healthy while going 2-for-16 (.125) with Team USA. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound lefty hitter makes contact and gets on base, where he has more savvy than speed. A shortstop at Florida, he has arm strength but his range may fit better at second base, where he played in deference to Marrero.
19. Matt Reynolds, 3b (Jr., Arkansas).
Reynolds batted just .233 in his first two seasons at Arkansas, but he wrested the third-base job from Weiss and went on to hit .322 in the Cape Cod League. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound righthanded hitter had more success after Team USA coaches changed the load in his swing, and he'll need to keep his stroke and approach toned down. He plays a solid third base and has the versatility to handle second base and fill in at shortstop.
20. Eric Anderson, rhp (Jr., Missouri).
A high-profile recruit who injured his shoulder before he arrived on campus at Missouri, Anderson had surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2010. His fastball sat at 92-93 mph before he got hurt and currently parks at 85-88 mph, but the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder keeps it down in the zone and used it well during two scoreless starts for Team USA. His slider/cutter and changeup have some promise, and he could develop a solid three-pitch mix as he puts his injury further behind him.