2012 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team Top 20 Prospects
Scouts have been largely disappointed with the talent they have seen in college summer leagues this year, and USA Baseball's collegiate national team earned similarly lukewarm reviews.
"I thought it was very mediocre," one national crosschecker said.
One evaluator suggested that major league teams have been particularly aggressive in signing up-the-middle talents out of high school in recent years, helping explain why the top college hitters available in the 2013 draft look like corner bats. That was the case with Team USA as well, though the best prospects on the national team were pitchers. But there was no clear-cut, overwhelming choice for the team's No. 1 prospect.
1. Carlos Rodon, lhp (So., North Carolina State)
Baseball America's 2012 Freshman of the Year, Rodon did not have his best command early in the summer, but he still posted dominant numbers for Team USA, going 2-0, 1.42 with 21 strikeouts and seven walks in 19 innings. Though scouts did not see him at his best in the Prospect Classic, they still walked away enamored with his physical 6-foot-3 frame, power stuff and fierce competitiveness.
"If he was coming out next year, he and (Stanford's Mark Appel) would be talked about as the consensus No. 1s," a second national crosschecker said.
Hitters have trouble picking up Rodon's 92-96 mph fastball because he "throws out of his shirtsleeves," as the scout put it. He throws two variations of his hard slider—one at 80-84 and another at 85-87—but both have late bite. He can throw it more like a cutter on a righthanded hitters' back foot, or throw it with more sweep to get a lefty to chase. He also has the makings of a solid changeup, though it is a work in progress. Rodon needs to get better at holding runners, as he is slow to the plate and lacks a quality pickoff move. One scout also said he needs to learn to make adjustments better over the course of a game, but his upside is tantalizing.
2. Ryne Stanek, rhp (Jr., Arkansas)
An unsigned third-round pick out of high school in Kansas, Stanek went through some growing pains as a freshman but turned a corner last summer for Team USA, ranking third on this list a year ago. He blossomed into an ace as a sophomore this spring, then made two starts for Team USA before shutting down for the summer. Stanek has made great progress learning to control his lean 6-foot-4 frame and to repeat his delivery, though his deep takeaway and wrap behind his back sometimes hinders his command. If Stanek can fully harness his command, he has No. 1 starter stuff.
"It's big, big stuff—No. 1 overall pick stuff," a third crosschecker said.
Stanek works in the 93-96 mph range with armside life and flashes three very promising secondary pitches. His best offspeed pitch is an above-average 86-87 mph slider that is a little sharper and more consistent than his downer curve, though that also projects as solid-average to plus. He also has the makings of an average or better changeup with good arm speed and tailing, fading action.
3. Jonathon Crawford, rhp (Jr., Florida)
After pitching sparingly as a freshman, Crawford punctuated his breakout sophomore year with a no-hitter in regionals, then emerged as the backbone of Team USA's staff this summer.
"He's got electrifying stuff," Team USA head coach Dave Serrano said. "He's got the physique of a big leaguer, great makeup, great work ethic."
Crawford is strong and durable at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, and he attacked hitters this summer with a 92-96 mph fastball with tail and sink. His 82-84 mph slider projects as a second plus pitch, though he hangs it on occasion. He worked on developing a changeup, and though he used it sparingly, it flashed average. Scouts aren't in love with Crawford's somewhat herky-jerky delivery, which has some funk on the back side and some effort, causing some scouts to project him as a reliever. Others point out that he repeats his mechanics, even if they aren't textbook, and they believe his solid command is a sign he can stick as a starter.
4. Kris Bryant, 3b/of (Jr., San Diego)
Bryant established himself as a blue-chip prospect during his prep days and has only improved his game during his first two years at San Diego, earning freshman All-America honors in 2011 and first-team All-America honors in 2012. He ranked second on Team USA with an .876 OPS this summer, while playing a serviceable third base and then moving to right field down the stretch. Bryant is very athletic and loose for his size (6-foot-5, 215 pounds), and while he has good hands at the hot corner, a number of scouts wonder how well he'll be able to stay down on balls and think he fits better as a long-striding corner outfielder in the Jayson Werth mold. He is an average runner underway who took good angles to balls in right field this summer, and his plus arm is an asset in right.
Bryant has plenty of big tools, but his biggest is his raw righthanded power, which rates as well above-average. His bat path can still get long, though he has shortened it up since high school. Bryant can punish balls to right-center but sometimes struggles to turn on fastballs on the inner half. A couple of scouts observed that he starts in a low, wide crouch and then swings uphill, but mechanical flaws in his swing are deemed correctable. If he can harness his ability, his ceiling is high.
5. Bobby Wahl, rhp (Jr., Mississippi)
Wahl made a seamless transition from the Ole Miss bullpen as a freshman into the Friday starter role as a sophomore, going 7-4, 2.55 with 104 strikeouts in 99 innings. He went back to the bullpen for Team USA and showed flashes of his overpowering stuff, but the coaches used him cautiously because he experienced some soreness at the end of the long season.
Though Wahl's power arm and bulldog demeanor is well suited for the back of the bullpen, he has a starter's repertoire and showed he could hold his stuff deep into games during the spring. He threw downhill with a 92-94 mph fastball that topped out at 96 this summer. His solid-average power slider has a chance to be plus with some refinement, and some scouts have seen him flash a plus changeup with good arm speed, late fade and bottom. He showed inconsistent command of his entire repertoire this summer, but he also wasn't in peak form.
6. Marco Gonzales, lhp (Jr., Gonzaga)
The West Coast Conference pitcher of the year and a first-team All-American this spring as a two-way player, Gonzales impressed coaches and scouts with his polish and competitiveness this summer. He logged the second-most innings on the team, going 3-0, 2.82 with 29 strikeouts and five walks in 22 innings. Team USA's entire coaching staff compared him to Tom Glavine because of his savvy and his disappearing changeup, a plus to plus-plus offering.
"It's as good a changeup as I've ever seen—it's like a screwball actually," said Serrano, a noted changeup guru. "He really didn't like to utilize it against lefthanded hitters, but I convinced him to against Japan, and he tied them in knots with it."
Gonzales has good command of a tailing 88-90 mph fastball that touches 92, and his average slider is effective against lefties. He also flips in an occasional curveball, which some scouts think could be a fourth average offering. A stand-out two-way player for the Zags, Gonzales is an outstanding athlete who holds baserunners and fields his position very well.
7. D.J. Peterson, 3b/1b (Jr., New Mexico)
Peterson emerged as a college superstar as a sophomore this spring, hitting .419/.490/.734 with 17 homers and 78 RBIs to earn second-team All-America honors. He led Team USA with four homers this summer, and he stood out for his swing and approach as much as for his power, even though he hit just .241.
"He releases the ball as well as any righthanded hitter I've ever seen, I think," Team USA assistant Jason Gill said. "He keeps his hands back and stays through the ball really well. It's a wood-bat swing. It's not like you can pitch him one way, he can jump on a fastball, and I think he can hit offspeed as well."
Peterson generates easy righthanded power, and scouts project him to have plus to plus-plus power as he continues to mature. He showed the ability to grind out at-bats and walked as much as he struck out this summer. Defensively, Peterson has adequate infield actions and a playable arm at third, but scouts question his footwork and mobility. He could be a better fit at first, where he spent most of the summer. He's a below-average runner but not a base-clogger.
8. Trea Turner, 2b/3b/ss (So., North Carolina State)
Turner was a sensation as N.C. State's everyday third baseman this spring, posting an .891 OPS and leading the nation with 57 stolen bases in 61 tries. He shifted to second base this summer and continued to wreak havoc offensively, hitting .320 and accounting for 10 of Team USA's 21 steals.
Turner's calling card is his speed, which rates as an 80 on the 20-80 scale. Team USA's coaching staff included three former Cal State Fullerton coaches, and Turner reminded the staff of former Titan All-American Gary Brown, another premium runner who sometimes wore his emotions on his sleeve like Turner can. Turner needs to add strength to his wiry 6-foot-1, 171-pound frame and simplify his pre-pitch setup, which features a lot of movement and a big leg kick. His swing can get long, and scouts would like to see him cut down his strikeouts and improve his bunting skills to make better use of his speed. The righthanded-hitting Turner won't be a home run hitter but flashes decent pop to the gaps.
Turner held his own at second base, and the Wolfpack plans to use him at shortstop next spring. He played some short early this summer but was beat out for the job by the more advanced Kyle Farmer. Turner needs to improve his reads and angles and smooth out his actions, but he has time to prove he can handle short.
9. Michael Conforto, of (So., Oregon State):
Like Turner, Conforto was one of the most productive freshmen in college baseball this spring, hitting .349/.438/.601 with 13 homers and 76 RBIs to earn second-team All-America honors. A stress fracture in his shin hampered his productivity this summer, but he showed plenty of toughness by playing through it without ever complaining. And though he hit just .213, he contributed with a big home run against Cuba in a clutch situation.
"He was sore for us, never really got unleashed, but my God—special," Team USA director of national teams Eric Campbell said. "I think he's an RBI machine, a two-out guy that's going to beat you. A special hitter and competitor."
Conforto has a compact lefthanded swing with good bat speed and plus raw power to the pull side. Scouts like his mature approach, though he occasionally gets caught out front and chops through the ball, as one scout put it. He started chasing balls down below the zone as the summer progressed, however. Due to his injury, Conforto only DHed this summer; though he's a below-average runner, he should be mobile enough for a corner outfield spot. His bat will carry him.
10. Trevor Williams, rhp (Jr., Arizona State):
After dominating out of the Arizona State bullpen as a freshman, Williams made a smooth transition to the weekend rotation as a sophomore this spring, going 12-2, 2.05 with 59 strikeouts and 13 walks in 110 innings. He threw 10 innings of relief this summer, posting a 1.80 ERA with five strikeouts and five walks. He made a bigger impact off the field.
"He has a magnetic personality," Team USA assistant George Horton said. "He seemed to be the leader of the pack. A lot of the pitchers gravitated toward him."
Williams doesn't miss as many bats as might be expected considering his power arm. He pounds the zone with his 91-95 mph fastball, but he lacks a true out pitch. His slider sometimes stays on one plane, and his curveball is more of a show pitch. He has good feel for his changeup, but he'll need to develop a better swing-and-miss offering to be more than a middle reliever in pro ball.
11. Michael Lorenzen, of/rhp (Jr., Cal State Fullerton)
A freshman All-American in 2011, Lorenzen's OPS dropped from .906 that season to .788 this spring, as his strikeout total nearly doubled. His offensive struggles carried over into the this summer, when he hit .171/.341/.171 in 44 plate appearances for Team USA. Lorenzen has put increased pressure on himself as his struggles to make consistent contact deepened, tinkering with his stance. His swing got too long and he adopted a slap approach this summer. Scouts want to see him get his hands inside the ball and drive it, taking advantage of the power in his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame. Scouts also laud his athleticism. Lorenzen is a slightly above-average runner with good range and instincts in center, giving him a chance to be a plus defender with a plus-plus arm. That arm also plays off the mound, where he was routinely 95-97 in a closer role for Fullerton this spring. So if his bat never comes around, his arm gives him a nice backup plan.
12. Austin Cousino, of (So., Kentucky)
Cousino hit .319/.408/.515 with nine homers and 15 steals to win Southeastern Conference freshman of the year and first-team all-freshman honors this spring. He caught fire down the stretch this summer and finished as Team USA's leading hitter (.351/.479/.459). The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Cousino has sneaky pop in his compact lefthanded swing, but he employed more of a contact approach with wood this summer, producing just four extra-base hits in 50 plate appearances. He did not pull the ball with authority this summer and struggled at times against breaking balls on the inner half, but he generally handles the bat well and is a good bunter. Cousino is a solid-average or slightly better runner, but his speed plays up because of his instincts. He is a plus defender with an average arm in center field, where he eventually beat out Lorenzen for the everyday job. As an undersized gamer without plus speed or power, Cousino might project as an extra outfielder in the big leagues, but he does have tools, and he has the makeup to get the most out of them.
13. Dan Child, rhp (Jr., Oregon State)
After pitching just five innings as a freshman in 2011, Child broke out that summer in the Northwoods League, ranking as the circuit's No. 6 prospect. He followed that up with a strong sophomore spring, going 6-4, 2.95 with 79 strikeouts and 25 walks in 107 innings, then carved out a role as a key bullpen piece for Team USA. Child's funky delivery—which includes a short arm swing and a high arm slot—leads to some difficulty repeating his release point and spotty command, making him profile best as a reliever in pro ball. But he has a durable 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame and a live arm. Child can be effectively wild with a heavy 91-94 mph fastball. His hard slider came on strong toward the end of the summer, showing much sharper tilt and giving him a chance for a second average to plus offering. He seldom used his changeup this summer. The USA coaching staff lauded Child for his mental toughness in tight spots this summer.
14. Jose Trevino, 3b/c (So., Oral Roberts)
Trevino hit .317/.358/.573 with 13 homers to earn second-team all-freshman honors this spring. Due to roster limitations, he did not make the trip to Cuba, but his teammates were thrilled when he rejoined the national team for Honkbal, attesting to his status as a clubhouse favorite. He wound up as the starting third baseman and No. 3-hole hitter for Team USA, bringing energy and providing a slew of competitive at-bats. Scouts liked Trevino's direct bat path and gap-to-gap approach. At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, he isn't built like a power-hitting corner infielder, but he doesn't get cheated in hitter's counts and could hit for fringe-average power down the road. He sometimes chases fastballs up, but he also isn't afraid to hit with two strikes. Trevino has soft hands and an average arm at third, though he needs to clean up his throwing motion a bit, as he has a tendency to push the ball at times. He's a below-average runner but could be athletic enough to handle second base. His future could be behind the plate, where he got some work in the Northwoods League this summer.
15. Adam Plutko, rhp (Jr., UCLA)
Plutko has established himself as one of college baseball's premier pitchers in two seasons as a weekend starter for UCLA, going 19-7, 2.26. His performance was a bit uneven in 14 innings over three appearances this summer, but scouts love his competitiveness and feel for pitching, even though he lacks knockout stuff. Plutko's biggest asset is his command of an 87-89 mph fastball. He's a flyball pitcher who likes to work up in the zone, but since his heater lacks premium velocity or movement, he'll have little margin for error in pro ball. His secondary stuff is fringe-average across the board. He has plenty of faith in his straight changeup, which he throws in any count. He mixes in his slider and curveball effectively, but neither is an out pitch. Plutko's moxie could carry him to the big leagues as a back-end starter, but his upside is limited.
16. Jake Reed, rhp (So., Oregon)
Reed ranked No. 128 on BA's Top 200 prospects list for the 2011 draft, but signability made him fall to the 40th round. He stepped immediately into Oregon's weekend rotation as a freshman and helped lead the Ducks to super regionals, going 8-4, 2.92. He posted a 2.08 ERA in nine innings over four appearances for Team USA. Reed worked in the 88-90 range and bumped 92 with tail and sink, and he pitches predominantly off his fastball. He'll need to clean up his funky, low-slot delivery in order to improve his command, as his release point sometimes fluctuates, he can be off-balance, and he has a head whack. That funk also makes it tougher for hitters to pick up his ball, however. His slider and changeup are marginal offerings at this stage, but they flash average. If he can improve his consistency, fine-tune his mechanics and add strength to his wiry 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame, he could have a future in the back of a big league rotation some day.
17. Johnny Field, of (Jr., Arizona)
Undersized but strong at 5-foot-10, 194 pounds, the hard-nosed Field was a key cog in Arizona's run to the national championship this spring, hitting .370/.476/.529 with 18 doubles and seven triples. Field stands out more for his "tremendous intangibles," as a crosschecker put it, than for his tools, but he has a natural feel for hitting, especially with runners in scoring position. Field wears out the gaps with a short righthanded swing with high effort. He projects as an average hitter in the big leagues with below-average power. He has below-average speed and arm strength, so he fits best in left field, where he lacks the size and pop to profile as an everyday regular. But he could have plenty of value as an offensive-minded reserve who does whatever is necessary to help his team win. "I wish I had eight Johnny Fields on every team I ever coached," Serrano said. "He's one of those lunch pail guys."
18. Adam Frazier, ss/2b (Jr., Mississippi State)
Frazier emerged as the everyday shortstop and primary catalyst for Mississippi State this spring, hitting .371/.482/.445 with a 50-24 walk-strikeout mark. He got off to a slow start with Team USA and was beaten out for the shortstop job by Kyle Farmer. Frazier handled his reserve role like a professional, though he went just 1-for-17 on the summer. At 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, the scrappy Frazier lacks physicality and standout tools, but scouts have seen a decent line-drive, gap-to-gap lefthanded stroke from him. He projects as a bottom-of-the-order pest who works counts and hits situationally. He's a 55 runner on the 20-80 scale with good instincts on the basepaths and at shortstop. Frazier has fairly fluid infield actions, but his fringy arm projects better at second base down the road.
19. Kyle Farmer, ss (Sr., Georgia)
Farmer has been a steadying presence for three years at Georgia, hitting over .300 each season and fielding .960 or better at shortstop for three straight years. Team USA valued his experience and consistency this summer, as he beat out Adam Frazier for the everyday shortstop job, hitting a solid .250/.333/.346. Farmer makes the routine plays at shortstop and has an average arm, but he lacks the range and actions to stick at short long-term. Scouts are also lukewarm at best on his bat, though he does a good job staying behind breaking balls and serving them into right field. He has below-average speed and well below-average power, and he projects as a utility player. A 35th-round pick by the Yankees this June, Farmer will head back to Georgia for his senior year.
20. David Berg, rhp (So., UCLA)
Berg was a revelation this spring, going 5-3, 1.46 in 74 innings over 50 appearances to capture freshman All-America honors. He wound up as a crucial piece of Team USA's bullpen as well, posting a 3.72 ERA in 10 innings over eight appearances, though his ERA was inflated by a rough final outing. Berg attacks the zone with a sinking 80-84 mph fastball from a sidearm slot. He has good deception and excels at inducing ground balls. He mixes in a 72-73 Frisbee slider and a changeup with the same sinking action as his fastball. Still, he struggled against lefthanded hitters this summer. Funky sidearmers who throw strikes can find their way to the big leagues—ask Chad Bradford and Darren O'Day—but he'll have to prove himself every step of the way.