Team USA Top 20 Prospects
Picking the top talents from the U.S. collegiate national team
With a 24-0 record, a pair of gold medals and a team ERA of 0.88, it's safe to say USA Baseball's collegiate national team dominated its competition this summer—especially on the mound. While the position player prospects were not on par with previous national teams, the group of pitchers on Team USA was a good representation of the top college arms in the 2009 draft class.
"It was a memorable summer," national team director Eric Campbell said. "Maybe our prospects with the bats weren't necessarily there, but it showed how special our pitching and defense was to finish 24-0."
The national team spent more than half of its season overseas in competition, giving scouts in the U.S. a short window to evaluate its players. Here is an in-depth look at how Team USA's prospects stack up, taking into consideration professional projection and performance this summer.
1. Stephen Strasburg, rhp (Jr., San Diego State)
"I think Strasburg's stuff is as good as anyone's we've ever had," Campbell said.
That's pretty high praise from an outfit that has seen the likes of Mark Prior, Kris Benson and David Price don its uniform. Strasburg is the standout prospect from the very talented Team USA pitching staff. He was the lone amateur selected to compete in the Olympics for the bronze-winning Team USA, and his success with the collegiate national team played a big part in that decision. During team trials, Strasburg got a chance to make a start against China's Olympic team. He went four innings, faced the minimum and struck out 10.
Strasburg made five official starts for the national team, picking up three wins and 48 strikeouts while compiling a 1.06 ERA. At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Strasburg is the complete pro-style power package on the mound. His fastball ranged from 94-99 mph this summer and typically sat between 95-97. Strasburg also throws a hard breaking ball that is anywhere from 78-84 mph, as he has the ability to add and subtract velocity from it effectively. The pitch breaks on two-planes and is a legitimate swing-and-miss offering. Strasburg also throws a changeup but rarely needs to use it at the collegiate level.
"On top of his stuff, what makes Strasburg special is his tremendous makeup and command," national team pitching coach Jerry Meyers said. "It's not just pure raw stuff. He has an idea of what he's trying to do and he's competitive."
Strasburg's competitive nature showed most late in the summer, as his performance was especially good down the stretch. He made two starts in the FISU World Collegiate Baseball Championship, winning both. He threw a combined 14 innings in those starts, allowing just two hits and no runs while striking out 22. Strasburg's final win helped send Team USA to the gold-medal game against Japan.
2. Mike Minor, lhp (Jr., Vanderbilt)
Following Strasburg on this list and in the national team's pitching rotation, Minor was considered the squad's co-ace and ended up getting the nod to start the FISU gold medal game against Japan. Minor pitched 9 2/3 shutout innings in that outing, striking out nine in the 12-inning thriller. BA's Summer Player of the Year, Minor went 3-0, 0.75 in six total appearances (five starts). He struck out 37 batters in 36 innings and allowed just five hits.
Minor has always been a successful pitcher but has been criticized for not throwing an average breaking ball. Over his first two seasons at Vandy, he threw a fastball, changeup and occasional slider. This summer, Minor added a curveball to his arsenal that made him even more effective against lefties. The best of his four pitches is a devastating changeup. Thrown from the same arm angle and with the same arm speed as his fastball, Minor's changeup is the type of pitch that is hard to hit even when a batter knows it's coming.
Minor's fastball sits between 89-91 mph but can get up to 93-94. With a 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame, Minor is both athletic and projectable. Scouts think he has a chance to consistently pitch in the low 90s as he advances into pro ball. Minor's mechanics and delivery are sound and deceptive. Fiercely competitive, Minor draws raves from scouts for his makeup, command and feel for pitching.
3. Kendal Volz, rhp (Jr., Baylor)
A starting pitcher at Baylor, Volz moved into the closer role for Team USA without any hiccups. In 13 appearances, Volz racked up eight saves and did not allow a single earned run. He threw 14 innings total, struck out 16 and allowed just six hits. Volz was on the mound for the final out of Team USA's season, inducing a game-ending ground ball to second base with the tying runner on third.
A 6-foot-4, 225-pound physical specimen, Volz is a powerful athlete with two power pitches. He attacks hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 95 and has even more future projection. Volz works off his fastball and commands it well in the zone. He also throws a hard slider at 82 mph with late, sharp break and depth. Those two pitches alone make Volz a candidate to be a closer at the big league level. However, he also throws an effective changeup. With his frame and the ability to use three pitches, Volz will at least be given a chance to start at the pro level.
4. Kyle Gibson, rhp (Jr., Missouri)
Gibson settled into the setup role for Team USA and seemed to get better with every appearance he made. He tallied the most wins on the team (five) and tied Volz for the most appearances (13). He finished the summer with a 1.02 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 18 innings.
"He was so solid in his last few outings, which were all games we needed to get in position," Meyers said. "He did his job every time."
Gibson uses a three-pitch mix as a starter at Missouri, and he projects to start in pro ball. At 6-foot-6, 195 pounds, his tall, projectable frame fits the professional mold. Currently, his fastball sits between 89-91 mph but has late tail and sink. When sharp, Gibson can command the fastball with sink in the zone to produce groundball outs. Gibson's 84 mph slider is a true out pitch and is his best offering. He commands it well and can use it in any count. He also throws a changeup with deception and fade, making it at least an average pitch.
5. Andrew Oliver, lhp (Jr., Oklahoma State)
Oliver made the third-most starts (four) on the mound for Team USA and finished the summer 2-0, 0.93 with 24 strikeouts in 19 innings. Oliver's biggest start came against Canada in the FISU pool play round. He lasted five innings and only allowed one hit and one unearned run while striking out five.
A 6-foot-3, 210-pound lefthander, Oliver attacks hitters with his fastball first and foremost. He has very good command of a 90-93 mph heater that touches 95. Oliver has average arm speed and deception in his delivery, and the movement on his fastball makes it tough for hitters to read. Oliver also throws an average changeup and an improving slider for strikes. But he relies on moving his fastball up and down, in and out to put hitters away. All he lacks to become a top-tier prospect is a plus breaking ball.
6. Kentrail Davis, of (So., Tennessee)
Although he played in just nine official games for Team USA, Davis established himself as the top position player prospect on the squad. Before having to cut his summer short due to a wrist injury, Davis was batting .370 in 27 at-bats and was 2-for-2 in stolen bases.
Although he's undersized at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, Davis is compact and strong. He is an electric offensive player with explosive bat speed and running ability. Davis is a lefthanded hitter who drives the ball to all fields. Although he has a quick bat, Davis's swing is suited more for line drives and slashing the ball. Davis puts pressure on the defense with his speed, as he typically runs from home to first in 4.1 seconds.
While hitting the fastball is Davis' forte, he does struggle with timing of changeups. Also, due to his below-average arm and defensive ability, Davis is restricted to left field. Durability will also become a question mark, as he has been hampered by nagging injuries.
7. Blake Smith, of/rhp (Jr., California)
One of Team USA's most versatile players, Smith was second on the team (behind Davis) in hitting and didn't allow a run in his five appearances on the mound. In 55 at-bats, Smith batted .327 with three home runs and a .618 slugging percentage. As a pitcher, he went 1-0, 0.00 in nine innings, striking out 11. Smith was used in a relief role but was used sparingly on the mound thanks in part to his role as an everyday player.
It is still to be determined which way Smith will play at the pro level. Teams that feel he is better suited as a reliever type will most likely turn him in as a position player. However, those that like Smith's stuff on the mound enough to consider him a starter will turn him in as a pitcher. The decision will be tough as Smith is dynamic both on the mound and in the field.
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Smith is a strong, pro-bodied athlete. As a position player, he profiles best in right field, where he can utilize his strong arm and athleticism. Offensively, Smith is intriguing, as he has leverage in his swing and power potential to all fields. As a pitcher, has electric stuff, including a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96. He does have some effort in his delivery and on occasion can struggle getting the ball down in the zone. Smith's hard, downer curveball is a true out pitch.
8. Mike Leake, rhp/util (Jr., Arizona State)
Leake was Team USA's other two-way player and did just about everything for the squad.
"He's just a ballplayer that can play anywhere on the field," Myers said. "We also brought him out of the bullpen and even started him a couple times."
In 55 at-bats, Leake hit .236 with a home run and eight RBIs. As a pitcher, Leake threw 28 innings over eight appearances and finished 3-0, 0.64 with 24 strikeouts. While he played both roles for Team USA, Leake seems to fit the pitching mold best at the next level. This summer, Leake's fastball sat between 89-91 mph with sinking action. He also throws a curveball and changeup that could be average or better. Leake is a strike thrower and has plus command with the ability to throw each of his three pitches in any count. The question mark with Leake is his size and durability. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, his fastball velocity saw a drop from the spring to the summer.
"If you saw Leake this summer then you probably haven't seen him at his best," a National League scout said. "I have heard he's much harder, up to 94 mph early in the year but just got worn down."
9. Ryan Jackson, ss (Jr., Miami)
Jackson played 22 games in the middle of the infield for Team USA, committing five errors in 101 chances. At the plate he batted .232 with one home run and 13 RBIs in 69 at-bats. Even though he is regarded as one of the nation's top defenders, Jackson's role diminished down the stretch as he saw more time at second base or on the bench than at the shortstop position.
The consensus among scouts is that Jackson currently has the skill set necessary to play shortstop at big league level. His range, hands and arm strength are all average or better, and he does have the ability to make the spectacular play. However, the two main question marks with Jackson are his offense and durability. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Jackson is thin and lacks strength. Offensively, he is a singles and doubles hitter who takes his share of strikeouts.
"I don't know that there is going to be a lot of bat that comes along with the defense," an American League scouts said. "But, there is always a premium on guys that you believe can play in the middle of the diamond—especially shortstop."
10. Christian Colon, 2b/ss (So., Cal State Fullerton)
After Colon spent most of the summer season at second base, Team USA turned to him as its go-to shortstop in the last four games of the FISU tournament. Like Jackson, he made just five errors (in 103 chances), and he was the only player to start all 24 games. At the plate, Colon spent most of the summer batting between 2nd and 6th in the lineup and finished with a .263 batting average, one home run and 14 RBIs in 99 at-bats. Colon also stole five bases and struck out just seven times.
Out of high school, Colon was regarded as a bad-bodied second baseman with smooth fielding actions but limited range and a potent bat. However, after a year at Fullerton, Colon slimmed down to 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, added a little range and showed that he might be capable of playing shortstop at the pro level. Colon has soft hands, fluid actions and a strong arm, and he makes all the routine plays. His range is still a tick below average, but his consistent play gives him a shot to stay at the premium position. Colon also has a chance to be offensive at the next level. His swing has length through and inside the ball. Colon has an advanced approach and drives the ball to the opposite field as regularly as he pulls it. Running is not his strong suit as he typically gets down the line in 4.45 seconds.
11. Matt den Dekker, cf (Jr., Florida)
Team USA's best defensive outfielder, den Dekker made 20 starts in center field and was one of two players to play in all 24 games. Offensively, he struggled, batting .229 with a home run and 9 RBIs in 70 at-bats. Spending some time in the leadoff role, den Dekker did walk 11 times but also struck out 17 times.
Den Dekker is a lefthanded-hitting athlete with range and a strong arm in the outfield. Similar to Jackson, defense is not the question mark with den Dekker. At the plate is where he has more to prove. Criticized for swinging and missing too often, den Dekker struggled making contact with offspeed pitches during the summer. However, he has strength and a pro body, combined with athleticism and speed (4.1 seconds from home to first). If den Dekker turns it around at the plate in the spring, he will become a very interesting prospect.
12. Tyler Lyons, lhp (Jr., Oklahoma State)
Lyons joins Volz and Smith at the top of Team USA's ERA leaderboard, as he did not allow an earned run during the summer. In 11 appearances, including one start, Lyons finished 2-0, 0.00 with 17 strikeouts in 14 innings.
A four-pitch righty, Lyons throws a fastball topping out at 92 mph with sinking action. He also throws a curve and slider, both of which can be inconsistent but very good when he's sharp. His fourth pitch is a changeup that has fade. Lyons has a good professional frame (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and has a sound delivery with deception. A strike thrower, Lyons commands his fastball especially well, and he issued just two walks all summer.
13. Derek Dietrich, 3b/ss (So., Georgia Tech)
Dietrich added defensive versatility to Team USA as he was used mostly at third base, second base or left field. He started 15 games and played in 20, totaling a .259 batting average, one home run and four doubles in 54 at-bats.
The lefthanded-hitting Dietrich plays shortstop at Georgia Tech but profiles best at third base. At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, he is strong and has real projectable power to all fields. However, his play is somewhat inconsistent and he does have a tendency to swing and miss (15 strikeouts this summer). Scouts seem to be split on Dietrich, because at times he doesn't look smooth in anything he does. He's a decent runner, getting down the first base line in 4.25 seconds, and he has a very strong arm at third base even though he throws from an unconventional over-the-top release. He also has a solid glove and makes all the routine plays that he should.
14. Hunter Morris, 1b (So., Auburn)
At the beginning of the summer, Morris was Team USA's regular first baseman/DH, but he saw his role in the FISU tournament reduced to pinch-hitting. He made 10 starts and played in 19 games, batting .270 and hitting three home runs in 37 at-bats.
Lefthanded and big-bodied, Morris has big-time raw power and showed the ability to hit the ball a long way. However, at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, his body has not improved since high school and his below-average athleticism makes him a first base-only prospect. Morris is just a sophomore and has time to improve his ability to put together consistent quality at-bats.
15. Micah Gibbs, c (So., Louisiana State)
Gibbs was Team USA's starting catcher, getting the nod there and at first base in 21 games. He played in 23 games total and finished the summer with a .264 batting average with two home runs and 17 RBIs in 72 at-bats. He also had three hits in the FISU gold medal game, scoring the lone run against Japan.
Gibbs will be one of the most coveted college catchers in the 2010 draft. Defensively, he is average at best, producing pop times between 2.0-2.1 seconds, with below-average athleticism and an average arm. At 5-11, 225 pounds, Gibbs' frame doesn't excite scouts, but he is a switch-hitter with length in his swing and some power. He is a below-average runner, getting to first base in 4.5 seconds from the left side.
16. Chris Hernandez, lhp (So., Miami)
Used mostly in a starting role, Hernandez made five appearances for Team USA. He finished the summer 2-0, 1.69, striking out 22 in 16 innings. A 6-foot-1, 185-pound lefty, Hernandez works off an upper-80s fastball that is always moving. He throws a two-seam fastball with arm-side run and sink, inducing plenty of ground balls. He also throws a cutter that can jam righthanded hitters or get swing and misses from lefties. Hernandez mixes his fastball with a good changeup, curveball and slider. Hernandez is athletic on the mound and has a clean delivery that he consistently repeats.
17. A.J. Griffin, rhp (Jr., San Diego)
Griffin went 1-0, 1.62 in 17 innings over 10 relief appearances this summer. He struck out 18 while walking just five. Griffin is big, strong, pro-bodied righthander at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. He is a strike thrower and consistently got ahead in the count throughout the summer. Griffin works down in the zone with his 89-91 mph fastball. While he is not overpowering, he does induce ground ball after ground ball. He also throws an average changeup and experimented with multiple types of breaking balls, including a 64 mph flip curveball. However, down the stretch of the season, Griffin's slider was his best breaking pitch.
18. Josh Fellhauer, of (Jr., Cal State Fullerton)
Fellhauer was Team USA's steadiest outfielder, making 23 starts. Splitting time between center field and right field, Fellhauer batted .299 with two home runs and 15 RBIs in 87 at-bats. At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Fellhauer is undersized for the right field position at the pro level. While he does have some pop in his bat, his power projects as below-average in the corner positions. Batting lefthanded, Fellhauer has a serious arm bar hitch in the load of his swing that could give him problems when he is forced to use a wood bat against average fastballs. Most scouts feel Fellhauer doesn't have the range to play center field, as he is an average runner at best. He does show good instincts and an above-average arm and has a baseball player mentality. Fellhauer typically runs from home to first in 4.3 seconds from the left side and most likely projects as a fourth outfielder at the professional level.
19. Tommy Mendonca, 3b (Jr., Fresno State)
Added to the Team USA roster later due after his impressive performance in the College World Series, Mendonca started 13 games and appeared in 21. He spent most of his time at third base and batted .231 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 52 at-bats. One of his best offensive games came in the FISU gold medal game when he went 4-for-4.
There is no doubt that Mendonca has power, as he showed in the College World Series, but most of it is pull power and his swing has holes. Like Fellhauer, Mendonca loads his swing with an arm bar hitch. He has a tendency to swing and miss, as he led the team in strikeouts with 26 and walked just twice. He is a below-average runner, getting down the line in 4.4 seconds from the left side. Defensively, Mendonca has a solid-average arm and good instincts. He was spectacular defensively in Omaha but did not stand out as much this summer.
20. Jared Clark, 1b (Sr., Cal State Fullerton)
After the injury to Davis, Team USA added Clark to its roster in hopes he could add a little thump to its lineup. Clark did just, that blasting a team-leading four home runs in 13 games. He batted .279 with 11 RBIs and struck out just six times in 43 at-bats. Clark is returning to Fullerton for his senior season after leading his team in home runs, doubles, RBIs and walks. He has big-time raw power but lost some of his athleticism and feel for hitting after a knee injury in 2006. However, he should make an interesting senior sign in 2009.