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CWS stars often fade into obscurity
by Jim Callis
OMAHA--Texas may not have garnered a national seed in the NCAA tournament, but its College World Series championship was hardly a surprise. The Longhorns made it to baseball's Final Four the previous three seasons, including a national title in 2002, and as usual were loaded with talent.
Shortstop Seth Johnston and J. Brent Cox were All-Americans. Taylor Teagarden was the best defensive catcher in the nation. Center fielder Drew Stubbs looks like a lock to be one of the first position players drafted in 2006.
The entire rotation--Kyle McCulloch, Adrian Alaniz and Randy Boone--should be early-round picks next year. Fourth starter Kenn Kasparek is a 6-foot-10 potential first-rounder and went 8-0 as a freshman this spring.
None of those stars walked off with the Most Outstanding Player award, however. That honor went to a third baseman who arrived in Omaha with a career .227 average in two seasons as a Longhorn and a reputation for being more dangerous with his glove than with his bat.
David Maroul continued to flash the leather, but also did some damage at the plate. He homered in both games of the championship series and hit .500 with eight RBIs in five CWS games.
It was an unlikely performance for a player who was an afterthought 23rd-round pick of the Giants. Based on the track record of previous MOP winners, it's also unlikely Maroul will have a significant pro career.
Hamilton Set Tone
The College World Series created the Most Outstanding Player award in 1949, when it switched from a two-team to a four-team format and moved from Kalamazoo, Mich., to Wichita. The inaugural winner was Texas first baseman Tom Hamilton, who subsequently signed with the Philadelphia Athletics and would hit .197 in 66 major league at-bats.
Brief as it was, Hamilton had one of the best big league careers among MOPs in the predraft era. From 1949-64, just five of the 16 College World Series standouts reached the majors and none played extensively.
The first MOP to leave his mark on the majors was Arizona State third baseman Sal Bando (1965), who made four all-star teams and won three World Series with the A's. Forty years later, just three other MOPs have played in the All-Star Game.
The best is Minnesota outfielder/righthander Dave Winfield (1973) who hit .467 in Omaha but shone more on the mound. Winfield fanned 15 against eventual champion Southern California in his final start, then went straight to the majors with the Padres and became a Hall of Fame outfielder.
The other two all-stars are Arizona State second baseman Bob Horner (1977) and Cal State Fullerton third baseman Phil Nevin (1992). Horner is the only MOP to win a major award as a pro, earning National League rookie-of-the-year honors immediately after signing in 1978.
Beyond the all-stars, only three other MOPs have been big league regulars for a substantial period of time: Louisiana State second baseman Todd Walker (1993), Cal State Fullerton outfielder/lefthander Mark Kotsay (1995) and Miami third baseman Pat Burrell (1996). Texas righty Huston Street (2002), one of just four freshmen (along with Burrell) to capture the MOP award, could join that group.
Street, who has become Oakland's closer in his first full pro season, and Florida State second baseman Marshall McDougal (1999) became the two latest MOPs to make the majors with their debuts this year. Just 23 of the 57 MOPs have reached baseball's pinnacle, though the last two winners before Maroul (righthanders John Hudgins of Stanford and Jason Windsor of Cal State Fullerton) are off to promising starts as professionals.
Draft Status Tells All
There's a common denominator among the most successful MOPs. With the exception of Bando, a sixth-round pick in the inaugural draft, the others all were top 10 selections. Horner, Nevin and Burrell were No. 1 overall choices, while Winfield went fourth, Walker eighth and Kotsay ninth.
Every MOP taken in the first round has played in the majors. Arizona outfielder Terry Francona (1980) and Texas righthander Calvin Schiraldi (1983) carved out decent careers, while Tulsa first baseman Jerry Tabb (1971) and Louisiana State shortstop Brandon Larson (1997) earned cups of coffee.
Maroul has neither a lofty draft pedigree nor history on his side. He's a potential Gold Glove third baseman and has some pop, but he's going to have to tighten his strike zone and make further adjustments to hit as a pro. It's possible that he could get a look on the mound, as he threw in the 90s and fanned five of eight batters in his lone pitching appearance for the Longhorns.
There may be little glory in Maroul's future, as with most MOPs, but for 10 days at the College World Series, there was no better player. He'll always have Omaha.
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.