College Recruiting Notebook

Star-studded Stanford leads Pac-10 bumper crop






A look at top classes by region that missed the top 25 is below.

Subscribers can read complete breakdowns of the top 25 classes here.


Top 25 Recruiting Classes
1. Stanford
2. Louisiana State
3. UCLA
4. San Diego
5. Oregon
6. Florida
7. Georgia Tech
8. Arkansas
9. Rice
10. Cal State Fullerton
11. California
12. Vanderbilt
13. North Carolina
14. Oregon State
15. Oklahoma State
16. Southern California
17. San Diego State
18. Mississippi
19. South Carolina
20. Auburn
21. Oklahoma
22. Mississippi State
23. Nebraska
24. Louisville
25. Maryland
Last spring, the Pacific-10 Conference had its best regular season in the modern era, sending a record eight teams to regionals—three more than it ever had sent before. The league was loaded with talent from top to bottom, and many of its brightest stars were set to return for 2011.

The announcement this fall that California will eliminate its baseball program at the end of next season curtailed some of the Pac-10's momentum, but the league could nonetheless be in the midst of a golden era. The conference's already soaring talent level got a huge boost this fall, as Stanford, UCLA, Oregon, Cal, Oregon State and Southern California welcomed six of the nation's top 16 classes in Baseball America's recruiting rankings. Arizona, Arizona State and Washington State also brought in strong classes, ensuring that the Pac-10 will remain deep and competitive for years to come.

Stanford tops BA's recruiting rankings for the first time in the 11-year history of the rankings. The Cardinal brought in back-to-back top-three classes in 2001 and '02—in the midst of its five consecutive College World Series appearances—but the program's talent level dropped off a bit after 2003. Stanford did not reach Omaha again until 2008, and it missed regionals altogether in '07 and '09.

But the '08 CWS run helped lead to a banner recruiting haul in 2009, when Kenny Diekroeger, Mark Appel and Jake Stewart headlined the nation's No. 2 class. The Cardinal built on that momentum this year, bringing in three more superstar recruits in righthander A.J. Vanegas and sluggers Austin Wilson and Brian Ragira. Sweet-swinging infielder Lonnie Kauppila gives Stanford's class a fourth potential standout.

"These four wanted to be the first guys to come and all be first-round picks in three years," said long-time Stanford recruiting coordinator Dean Stotz. "They got very close to each other during the recruiting process, and I think that's a big reason we were able to hold them all. They're special kids—they like to read and do other things beyond just baseball."

Stanford always has targeted well-rounded, academic-minded students, and its ability to identify players who fit that description and also have elite baseball talent has long been the key to the program's success. Wilson, for instance, had some of the best raw power and arm strength in the 2010 draft, and he would have been a sure-fire first-round pick if not for his ironclad commitment to Stanford.

"Wilson's just a beast, better even than we thought he was. I can't believe there are very many guys with better tools than him," Stotz said. "We played a simulated game this fall, and the coaches pitched. He hit a ball off coach (Mark) Marquess that hit the lights in left field. That's almost impossible. So he's got ridiculous power, and he's a good runner with unbelievable arm strength."

The first pitch Ragira saw in a recent intrasquad was a 94 mph fastball from Appel—and he hit it over the center-field fence. Like Wilson, he has rare righthanded power potential.

"He's as good as advertised," Stotz said.

Then there's Vanegas, who has the polish to dominate college baseball from day one. UCLA coach John Savage compared him to former Southern California All-American Anthony Reyes, whom recruited to USC.

"I thought Vanegas was as good as any pitcher that went to college this year," Savage said.

That's saying something in a freshman class that also includes two unsigned first-rounders in Florida's Karsten Whitson and San Diego's Dylan Covey. And, of course, there are UCLA's own elite arms. Adam Plutko, Zach Weiss and Nick Vander Tuig might be the best trio of incoming pitchers in the nation, rivaling Florida's group of Whitson, Daniel Gibson and Keenan Kish.

Action Pac

Oregon, like UCLA, is already loaded with arms, so the Ducks were content to bring in the nation's best group of impact hitters. Stefan Sabol, Tyler Kuresa and Ryon Healy are all blue-chip prospects, and coaches and scouts in the West also rave about speedy outfielder Connor Hofmann, catcher Aaron Jones and outfielder Brett Thomas. Add those bats to Oregon's loaded pitching staff, and it's easy to envision the Ducks getting to Omaha in just their third season since the program was reinstated after a 28-year hiatus.

Cal, meanwhile, could make a huge splash in its farewell season if the core of its team stays intact. The Golden Bears were already deep and athletic, but they added two likely stars this fall in flame-thrower Eric Jaffe and catcher Andrew Knapp, perhaps the best incoming backstop in the nation.

Oregon State reloaded with a big class headlined by future ace righty Adam Duke and versatile, scrappy infielder Jake Rodriguez.

USC might have landed the second-best catcher in the West in Jake Hernandez, one of the headliners in a class that also includes fireballer Austin Wood, a junior-college transfer who ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the loaded Cape Cod League this summer.

Arizona was one of the nation's youngest teams last year, and the Wildcats added three coveted impact players in righty Konner Wade, infielder Johnny Field and catcher Taylor Mark.

Arizona State welcomed one of the best players in California in dynamic outfielder Cory Hahn, plus a strike-throwing winner in Trevor Williams. And Washington state welcomed one of the conference's top incoming power bats in juco transfer Taylor Ard, as well as an exciting five-tool talent in outfielder Jason Monda.

With that kind of talent infusion, happy days should be here to stay for the Pac-10.

Other Top Classes By Region

With around 300 Division I college baseball programs, it isn't easy to break into the top 25 in the recruiting class rankings. Every fall, there is an endless supply of coaches who are convinced their class belongs in the rankings, but there are many more quality classes than there are spots in the top 25. Here's a region-by-region look at some other schools that brought in strong classes relative to a normal recruiting class at their school, in their conference or in their region.

WEST

• While it was a banner recruiting year for the Pac-10, several other classes in the West are worth highlighting. San Diego's crop is the clear class of the West Coast Conference, but Pepperdine pulled of a coup by landing righthander Scott Frazier (No. 85 in BA's predraft Top 200), an unsigned fifth-round pick by the Phillies. "Frazier is as good a guy to going to school as there is," said one rival coach. Added another: "Frazier's a stud, man. I think he's got a chance to be a superstar." If that wasn't high enough praise, one scout said he would take Frazier over all the other elite arms in the West—including Dylan Covey, A.J. Vanegas and Adam Plutko.

"It's a powerful, athletic body, and such a nice downhill plane," the scout said. "I saw him just overmatching people at 94 mph, but he'll be a big, strong man, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him in the upper 90s region. The curveball really tightened up quite a bit this year, and he might also wind up with a plus changeup down the road. He could be the No. 1 overall pick in three years."

Observers weren't nearly as excited about the rest of Pepeprdine's class, but righty Jon Mscot, lefty Matt Maurer and two-way talent Eric Karch should all be solid contributors.

• Elsewhere in the WCC, Gonzaga boosted its team speed and athleticism with a deep class anchored by lefthander/first baseman Marco Gonzales, who ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the West Coast League this summer. His three-pitch mix includes an upper-80s fastball that touches 91, an above-average changeup and a solid curve.

UC Irvine secured the No. 2 class in the Big West thanks to a quartet of very projectable pitchers: Righthanders Andrew Thurman, Phillip Ferragamo and Sebastian Santos plus lefty Tyler Abbott all have loose arms and all stand 6-foot-3 or taller. And sparkplug shortstop Dillon Moyer, the son of ageless Phillies lefthander Jamie, has speed, instincts and defensive skills that could make him a favorite of coach Mike Gillespie.

• As usual, Fresno State brought in the best class in the Western Athletic Conference. Lefthander Tyler Linehan, an unsigned 14th-round pick, leads a group of four drafted players who showed up on campus. Linehan pitches in the 88-92 range, but his signature pitch is a big overhand curveball that gets plenty of swings and misses. Six-foot-7 righthander/outfielder Aaron Judge reminded some scouts of former Astros flame-thrower J.R. Richard. He pounds the bottom of the zone with a fastball that tops out at 93 and a tight downer curve, but he's also a physical righthanded hitter with power and good speed. And righty Will Anderson has advanced feel for pitching, a lively fastball that reaches the low 90s, a decent slurve and a splitter.

San Jose State brought in a strong class anchored by lefthander Roberto Padilla, who ran his fastball up to 91 mph and flashed a plus changeup and average curve as a freshman at Ohlone (Calif.) JC this spring. The Spartans also expect athletic infielders Jacob Valdez and Caleb Natov to make immediate impacts as freshmen.

• It was a strong recruiting year in the Mountain West, even beyond San Diego State's banner class. New Mexico's coaches believe their 23-man class is the best in the Ray Birmingham era. It has a pair of front-line anchors in righthander Jake McCasland and outfielder/lefthander Sam Wilson. McCasland ran his fastball up to 96 this summer and could step right into New Mexico's Friday starter role. Wilson, the top prep prospect and No. 2 overall prospect in New Mexico this spring, has a pure, compact lefthanded stroke and a fastball that reaches 90 from the left side.

Utah's strong class features three drafted players, led by center fielder Josh Alexander, a raw five-tool talent out of Arizona. The Utes expect fellow freshman Trey Nielsen to start immediately at third base and use his average fastball and good curve on the mound in relief.

Brigham Young might have landed the best arm in the MWC in righthander Taylor Cole, the former JC of Southern Nevada flamethrower who is returning from a Mormon mission. Cole has run his fastball into the mid-90s in the past, and he may also get some time at shortstop.

LOWER CENTRAL

Texas did not bring in the marquee arms that have anchored its recruiting classes over the last few years, but up-the-middle talents Mark Payton, Christian Summers and Jacob Felts make it a very solid class nonetheless. Payton, the top prep position player in Illinois this spring, was headed to Arizona State until coach Pat Murphy was ousted, at which point he changed course for Austin. He plays with boundless energy and has big tools for a 5-foot-8, 165-pounder, including plus speed, solid center-field defense and arm strength, a short swing and surprising pop. Summers was the best defensive shortstop in Texas this spring, but his swing is a work in progress. And Felts is a high-energy catcher with a strong arm and decent power potential.

Texas A&M outfielder Krey Bratsen (175) was one of the fastest players in the 2010 draft, capable of running the 60-yard dash in 6.35 seconds. The Aggies compare him to former Cal State Fullerton star Gary Brown and no doubt envision him wreaking havoc in assistant coach Matt Deggs' high-octane offense, but he'll need to make more consistent contact. Five-foot-9 outfielder Jace Statum brings more speed and a serious motor, as well as surprising strength in his lefthanded swing. And junior-college transfer Brandon Parrent's quality four-pitch mix features a fastball that reaches 92, making him a strong candidate for the weekend rotation.

• Righthander Trae Davis highlights another solid class at Baylor. A former football quarterback and basketball guard, Davis could take off now that he's focusing solely on baseball. His fastball has been clocked as high as 96 mph, and he also could contribute at the plate in time. The Bears surrounded him with a nice core of live arms in Tyler Bremer, Dillon Newman and Brad Kuntz.

Tulane might have found itself a true ace in 6-foot-5 righthander Randy LeBlanc (92), an unsigned 16th-round pick who turned down second-round money from the Marlins, according to Tulane's coaches. "I love him—I think he has a chance to be a Friday night starter pretty quickly," one scout said. "He's tall, projectable, and has a really quick arm. The kid's got a chance to pitch at 92-95, 96 mph in the next couple of years—a chance to sit there. He has a good breaking ball and a pretty good changeup, and he competes his butt off."

Texas Christian bolstered its pitching staff with four quality righthanders that all stand 6-foot-3 or taller. Tony Rizzotti has a sinking 90-94 mph fastball and swing-and-miss breaking ball. Andrew Mitchell works around 88-91 and flashes a plus slider. Nick Frey has a very good curveball, plenty of projection and good feel, but he needs to get stronger. And Stefan Crichton is an athletic sinker/slider guy who can reach 91.

SOUTHEAST

• Florida brought in the best class in the Sunshine State, of course, but the next-best class belongs to Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles welcomed four drafted players, led by outfielder Sean Dwyer (167), whose sweet lefthanded swing helped him rank as the No. 9 prospect in the Northwoods League this summer. FGCU believes loose-armed righty Harrison Cooney has a chance to be the next big arm out of the Atlantic Sun; he already works in the 88-93 range and flashes a tight, late-breaking 79-82 slider, and he just started pitching in March. Fellow righty Ricky Knapp, the son of Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp, has the advanced feel for pitching and polished three-pitch repertoire you would expect, and he figures to add velocity to his 86-89 fastball. And Alex Diaz was drafted as a shortstop but could make more of an impact on the mound, where he reaches 91 currently.

• Sticking in the A-Sun and the Sunshine State, Jacksonville also landed a banner class. Righty Chris Anderson was the top prep prospect in Minnesota this spring, with an excellent pitcher's frame and a fastball that reaches the low 90s. And shortstop Taylor Ratliff is a wiry-strong athlete with a promising lefthanded swing and average speed.

Stetson also put together a noteworthy class in a very strong year for the A-Sun. Palm Beach State CC transfer Ben Carhart will be a difference maker on both sides of the ball; the Hatters expect him to start at third base, hit in the middle of the lineup and occupy the closer role thanks to a 90-94 fastball and good slider. Polished prep lefty Austin Perez stands out for his command and the life on his 84-87 mph fastball, but his out pitch is a swing-and-miss downer curveball. Six-foot-8 righty Jimmy O'Neil throws downhill with an 87-91 heater and an excellent changeup.

• With four freshmen and six juco transfers, Central Florida's class is much smaller than its 10th-ranked 2009 class, but the Knights are convinced it is an impact group, with six players that have been drafted. The headliner is righty Ben Lively, who is capable of dominating with an 88-92 fastball and a power slurve. UCF says both Lively and Parkland (Ill.) JC transfer Danny Winkler turned down nearly $200,000 to attend UCF. Winkler's low-90s fastball has good arm-side run, and his slider and changeup are effective, giving him a chance to step into the Friday starter spot. Cypress (Calif.) JC transfer Erik Hempe adds pop, while Spencer Haynes and Trevor Shreve are strong defenders who should shore up the infield.

• Perennial powers Miami and Florida State were both ravaged by pro ball right before the signing deadline, but both still landed a few potential impact players. The pillar of Miami's class is catcher Shane Rowland, a defensive standout with a strong arm and exceptional instincts for all facets of the game. Outfielder Dale Carey is a premium athlete who is very raw, according to scouts, and lefty Bryan Radziewski reminds recruiting coordinator J.D. Arteaga of former Hurricane star Chris Hernandez for his polished four-pitch mix and feel for pitching. FSU's class is built around Eric Arce, a lefthanded hitting machine with big-time power potential but no real defensive position. The Seminoles also landed a potential front-line starter in righty Peter Miller, whose three pitch mix features a fastball up to 93, a good changeup and a slider.

• Two other ACC powers, Clemson and Virginia, brought in smaller classes without their usual star power. Clemson's class is highlighted by athletic, switch-hitting middle infielder Steve Wilkerson, who the Tigers say turned down $500,000 as a 15th-round pick by the Red Sox. Virginia is excited about outfielder Mitchell Shifflett, whose 6.3-second 60-yard dash time makes him one of the nation's fastest players. But many observers aren't sold on his bat. Scouts also express doubts about outfielder Mark Podlas' baseball instincts, but he has some athleticism and power potential.

• Second-year coach Tom Walter and recruiting coordinator Dennis Healy might have brought in the ACC's sleeper class at Wake Forest. Before coming down with an illness that sapped his strength this summer, outfielder Kevin Jordan showed a nice package of above-average raw tools, including speed, center-field defense and lefthanded hitting ability. If he makes a full recovery, he can be a star. Another Georgia prepster, James Harris, has provocative raw power, good speed and a strong arm that will play in right field.

Tennessee and Kentucky have the sleeper classes in the SEC. Evaluators raved about center fielder Andrew Toles, the centerpiece of the Volunteers' class. An unsigned fourth-round pick and son of an ex-NFL linebacker, Toles has three plus tools in his speed, arm strength and defense, and he shows good contact skills from the left side. The key to Kentucky's class is lefty Corey Littrell, whom the Wildcats believe can blossom into a first-rounder in three years. He has advanced command of a sinking 88-92 fastball, excellent changeup and solid curveball, and he's a strong competitor.

Alabama-Birmingham brought in the best class in the coaching staff's five-year tenure. The headliner is unsigned sixth-round pick Ivan De Jesus, an explosive player with plus-plus speed that "can really hit," in the words of one scout. "In my mind, he's a superstar waiting to happen," recruiting coordinator Perry Roth said. "He's got the 'it' factor."

• Sticking in Conference USA, East Carolina filled its dire need at shortstop by bringing in freshman Jack Reinheimer, a slick-fielding gamer with a nice righthanded swing. But he'll get some competition for the shortstop job from St. Petersburg CC transfer Timothy Younger, whose defense is his calling card.

• Despite losing ninth-rounder Austin Brice for a $205,000 bonus, Appalachian State brought in one of the top classes in the Southern Conference, led by sweet-swinging lefthanded hitter Trey Holmes and his brother Noah, a potential starter at third base as a freshman. The Mountaineers also expect lefthander/first baseman Lawrence Pardo to be a valuable two-way player. Western Carolina also did well, landing physical, powerful catcher Adam Martin and athletic righthander Jordan Smith, whose three-pitch mix includes an 88-90 fastball and tight mid-70s curve.

Troy secured the best class in the Sun Belt Conference, headlined by lefthander Jimmy Hodgskin (142). The projectable southpaw can run his 88-91 mph fastball up to 94, and he commands it to all parts of the strike zone. He also throws a very good changeup for strikes and is developing a breaking ball. The Trojans also think they landed a pair of middle-of-the-order bats in outfielder Drew Pritchard and first baseman Hunter Smith.

• Eleven junior-college transfers form the bedrock of Liberty's class. Tony McClendon's good speed, strong arm and power potential could make him an instant starter in left field, and Casey Rasmus—brother of Colby—figures to start behind the plate thanks to his cannon arm and athleticism.

Charlotte, the perennial power of the Atlantic 10 Conference, once again brought in the best class in its league. The centerpiece is righthander Tyler Barnette, an unsigned ninth-round pick by the Red Sox with an 87-91 mph fastball and a loose, lean frame that hints at more of velocity to come. Lefthander Micah Bryan is similarly projectable and raw; like Barnette, he's a fastball-curveball pitcher who is working on developing a changeup.

NORTH

Illinois State followed up the best season in program history by bringing in the best recruiting class in the Missouri Valley Conference. The headliner is catcher Mike Hollenbeck, an unsigned 14th-round pick with intriguing lefthanded power and a strong arm behind the plate. Righthander Johnny Lieske has run his fastball up to 93 mph and flashed a plus slider at times. Shortstop Brock Stewart, the son of former Illinois State coach Jeff Stewart, needs to fill out his lanky frame, but he can hit and has a strong arm.

• The sleeper class in the MVC belongs to Southern Illinois. Shortstop Dakota Holcomb, a Colorado prep product, has excellent defensive skills and instincts that should make him an instant starter as a freshman. Athletic second baseman Jake Welch could be his double-play partner, and pitchers Tyler Dray and Matt Murphy have upside as well as enough polish to contribute early in their careers.

Penn State's class stands out in the Big Ten. Righthander Austin Urban was garnering top-five-rounds interest from Pennsylvania area scouts in April, thanks to an 89-93 mph fastball with sink and the makings of a quality slider. He has a loose arm action and lots of upside but needs to refine his command and mechanics. The Nittany Lions also reeled in a pair of interesting prospects from Massachusetts in strong-armed catcher Alex Farkes and projectable two-way talent T.J. Jann.

• The usual suspects in the Big Ten continued to recruit well. Minnesota's class is keyed by a pair of tall, loose, extremely projectable lefthanders in Tom Windle and D.J. Snelton. The Gophers also added three key lefthanded bats in right fielder Bobby Juan, second baseman Kyle Crocker and catcher Matt Halloran. Juan also can reach 94 off the mound and could eventually replace Scott Matyas as closer.

Michigan believes it found a pair of future stars in athletic outfielder Michael O'Neill and physical two-way player Alex Lakatos. O'Neill, the nephew of former big leaguer Paul O'Neill, has plus-plus speed and a quick righthanded stroke. Lakatos can touch 90 and has a power slider off the mound, and his power and speed will be assets on the other side of the ball.

• When Ohio State coach Bob Todd retired at the end of the 2010 season, the Buckeyes' signees were free to go elsewhere if they chose, but all 16 opted to honor their commitments to OSU. The crown jewel is righthander/first baseman Josh Dezse, who ran his fastball up to 95 mph this summer, prompting the Yankees to make a run at him as a 28th-round pick.

• The best class in New England might belong to Rhode Island. Though two of URI's impact newcomers—Pat Fortunato and Greg Annarummo—are four-year transfers who are not considered in our recruiting rankings, the class still features enough talented freshman that the Rams think it might be one of the top groups in school history. Speedy sparkplug Jeff Roy has a chance to earn the starting center field job as a freshman, and he should be a fine table-setter for URI. Lefthander Nick Naradowy has shown a high-80s fastball with good sink, a promising curveball and feel for a changeup in the past, and the Rams believe he is a future ace.

Connecticut also brought in a solid class, led by lefthanders David Mahoney and Brian Ward. The wiry, long-armed Mahoney has excellent hand speed that leads scouts to believe he will add velocity to a fastball that currently bumps 90, and he flashes a tight downer curve. Ward touched 91 this spring but will need to tighten his sweeping slider.

• In the Mid-American Conference, Bowling Green State's class stood out for its athleticism. Outfielder Alex Davison is a good all-around player with some pop in his lefthanded swing, solid speed and a strong arm. Wiry Brandon Howard has excellent middle infield actions and a good arm but must add strength. And righty Ethan McKenny's 12-to-6 curveball and diving changeup could help him earn a rotation spot as a freshman.

Central Michigan also reeled in one of the MAC's top classes, led by speedy infielder Tyler Hall, a transfer from Grand Rapids (Mich.) CC who could step right into the No. 3 hole in the lineup. Athletic catcher Matt Stevens is a converted shortstop with intriguing raw tools, and juco transfers Ryan Longstreth and Jon Weaver should shore up the weekend rotation.