U.S. Team Offers More Than Smoak, Alvarez

With almost a full month worth of coverage on the draft Class of 2008 under our belts, the talent level for next year’s draft appears to be strong. Having seen USA Baseball’s college national team play here in North Carolina for more than a week, it’s evident that the college crop is more than just the two big corner infielders, Justin Smoak (South Carolina, sophomore) and Pedro Alvarez (Vanderbilt, sophomore).The two players on Team USA that had modest reputations entering the summer who have made the best impression are the versatile Logan Forsythe and righthander Brett Hunter.

Both rising juniors, Forsythe of Arkansas and Hunter of Pepperdine have carved out integral roles with Team USA and quietly asserted themselves as early draft picks next year.

Hunter was up to 96 mph Wednesday night in a two-inning outing against Japan in Durham. His delivery is far from picture perfect, and he’s never going to have plus command, but he gets on top of the ball and he has a nasty slider at 78-81 mph that offers him a second outstanding pitch.

“There are cosmetic concerns but someone is going to like what it looks like when it gets to the plate,” said a National League scout in attendance. “He gets to a power release point and he’s got impressive arm strength.”

Forsythe’s .275 average is uninspiring, but his .396 on-base percentage is evidence of his advanced approach.

He’s switched between the leadoff spot and No. 2 hole (with Vandy’s Ryan Flaherty) atop Team USA’s lineup, and because he makes consistent hard contact and shows plus running times from home to first, he might be the catalyst Team USA seems to need to set the table for the heart of its order–Alvarez, Smoak and Arizona State’s Brett Wallace. He’s tied with Alvarez for the second-highest walk total (eight) on the team thus far.

Predominately a third baseman this season at Arkansas, Forsythe posted a .987 on-base-plus-slugging percentage as a sophomore, and he’s shown sound defensive skills in the outfield while making room for Alvarez at the hot corner. His versatility and hustle just enhance his value.

• Arizona State catcher Petey Paramore is the team leader in walks with 11. Paramore has shown passable catch-and-throw skills and a switch-hitting power bat, putting him in the mix with Forsythe and Wallace as the team’s best position-player prospects, behind Smoak and Alvarez.